"Oh!" groaned Gerald, "if you would let me throw it all up without these wretched quibbles."
"Not your father's honour," said his aunt.
"Nor our honesty," said Clement. "It is galling enough to have your whole position in life depend on the word of a worthless woman, but there are things that must be taken patiently, as the will of One who knows."
"It is so hard to accept it as God's will when it comes of human sin," said Geraldine.
"Human thoughtlessness," said Clement; "but as long as it is not by our own fault we can take it as providential, and above all, guard against impatience, the real ruin and destruction."
"Yes," said Lance, "sit on a horse's head when he is down to keep him from kicking."
"So you all are sitting on my head," said Gerald; "I shall get out and walk-a good rush on the moors."
"Wait at least to allow your head to take in my scheme," said Clement.
"Provided it is not sitting still," said Gerald.
"Far from it. Only it partly depends on my lady and mistress here-"
"I guess," said Geraldine. "You know I am disposed that way by Dr. Brownlow's verdict."
"And 'that way' is that we go ourselves to try to trace out this strange allegation-you coming too, Gerald, so that we shall not quite be sitting on your head."
"But my sister?"
"We will see when we have recovered her," said Mrs. Grinstead.
"I would begin with a visit to Stella and her husband," said Clement; "Charlie could put us in the way of dealing with consuls and vice- consuls."
"Excellent," cried his sister; "Anna goes of course, and I should like to take Francie. It would be such an education for her."
"Well, why not?"
"And what is to become of Adrian?"
"Well, we should not have been here more than six months of course."
"I could take him," said Lance, "unless Alda holds poor old Froggatt & Underwood beneath his dignity."
"That can be considered," said Clement; "it approves itself best to me, except that he is getting on so well here that I don't like to disturb him."
"And when can you come up to town with me?" demanded Gerald; "tomorrow?"
"To-morrow being Saturday, it would be of little use to go. No, if you will not kick, master, I must go home to-morrow, and look up poor 'Pur,' also the organ on Sunday. Come with me, and renew your acquaintance. We will make an appointment with your attorney, Clem, and run up on Monday evening, see him on Tuesday."
Gerald sighed, submitting perforce, and they let him out to exhale as much impatience as he could in a tramp over the hills, while they sat and pitied him from their very hearts.
CHAPTER XXV. DESDICHADO
'Perish wealth and power and pride, Mortal boons by mortals given; But let constancy abide- Constancy's the gift of Heaven.-SCOTT.
Lancelot and Gerald did not obtain much by their journey to London. Gerald wanted to begin with Mr. Bast, van proprietor, but Lance insisted on having the lawyer's counsel first, and the advice amounted to exhortations not to commit themselves, or to make offers such as to excite cupidity, especially in the matter of Ludmilla, but to dwell on the fact of her being so close to the age of emancipation, and the illegality of tyrannical training.
This, however, proved to be wasted advice. Mr. Bast was impervious. He undertook to forward a letter to Mr. O'Leary, but would not tell where, nor whether wife and daughter were with him. The letter was written, and in due time was answered, but with an intimation that the information desired could only be given upon the terms already mentioned; and refusing all transactions respecting the young lady mentioned, who was with her natural guardians and in no need of intervention.
They were baffled at all points, and the lawyer did not encourage any idea of holding out a lure for information, which might easily be trumped up. Since Lancelot had discovered so much as that the first marriage had taken place at Messina, and the desertion at Trieste, as well as that the husband was said to have been a native of Piedmont, he much recommended personal investigation at all these points, especially as Mr. Underwood could obtain the assistance and interest of consuls. It was likely that if neither uncle nor nephew made further demonstration, the O'Learys would attempt further communication, which he and Lance could follow up. This might be a clue to finding "the young lady"-to him a secondary matter, to Gerald a vital one, but for the present nothing could be done for her, poor child.
So they could only return to Rockquay to make immediate preparations for the journey. Matters were simplified by Miss Mohun, who, hearing that Clement's doctors ordered him abroad for the winter, came to the rescue, saying that she should miss Fergus and his lessons greatly, and she thought it would be a pity for Mrs. Edgar to lose their little baronet, just after having given offence to certain inhabitants by a modified expulsion of Campbell and Horner, and therefore volunteering to take Adrian for a few terms, look after his health, his morals, and his lessons, and treat him in fact like a nephew, "to keep her hand in," she said, "till the infants began to appear from India."
This was gratefully accepted, and Alda liked the plan better than placing him at Bexley, which she continued to regard as an unwholesome place. The proposal to take Franceska was likewise welcome, and the damsel herself was in transports of delight. Various arrangements had to be made, and it was far on in August that the farewells were exchanged with Clipstone and Beechcroft Cottage, where each member of the party felt that a real friend had been acquired. The elders, ladies who had grown up in an enthusiastic age, were even more devoted to one another than were Anna and Mysie. Gillian stood a little aloof, resolved against "foolish" confidences, and devoting herself to studies for college life, in which she tried to swallow up all the feelings excited by those ship letters.
Dolores had her secret, which was to be no longer a secret when she had heard from her father, and in the meantime, with Gerald's full concurrence, she was about to work hard to qualify herself for lecturing or giving lessons on physical science. She could not enter the college that she wished for till the winter term, and meant to spend the autumn in severe study.
"We will work," was the substance of those last words between them, and their parting tokens were characteristic, each giving the other a little case of mathematical instruments, "We will work, and we will hope."
"And what for?" said Dolores.
"I should say for toil, if it could be with untarnished name," said Gerald.
"Name and fame are our own to make," said Dolores, with sparkling eyes.
This was their parting. Indeed they expected to meet at Christmas or before it, so soon as Mr. Maurice Mohun should have written. Gerald was, by the unanimous wish of his uncles, to finish his terms at Oxford. Whatever might be his fate, a degree would help him in life.
He had accepted the decision, though he had rather have employed the time in a restless search for his mother and sister; but after vainly pursuing two or three entertainments at fairs, he became amenable to the conviction that they were more likely to hear something if they gave up the search and kept quiet, and both Dolores and Mrs. Henderson promised to be on the watch.
The state of suspense proved an admirable tonic to the whole being of the young man. His listlessness had departed, and he did everything with an energy he had never shown before. Only nothing would induce him to go near Vale Leston, and he made it understood that his twenty-first birthday was to be unnoticed. Not a word passed between Gerald and his aunt as to the cause of the journey, and the doubt that hung over him, but nothing could be more assiduous and tender than his whole conduct to her and his uncle throughout the journey, as though he had no object in life but to save them trouble and make them comfortable.
The party started in August, travelled very slowly, and he was the kindest squire to the two girls, taking them to see everything, and being altogether, as Geraldine said, the most admirable courier in the world, with a wonderful intuition as to what she individually would like to see, and how she could see it without fatigue. Moreover, on the Sunday that occurred at a little German town, it was the greatest joy to her that he sought no outside gaiety, but rather seemed to cling to his uncle's home ministrations, and even to her readings of hymns. They had a quiet walk together, and it was a day of peace when his gentle kindness put her in mind of his father, yet with a regretful depth she had always missed in Edgar.
Nor was there any of that old dreary, half-contemptuous tone and manner which had often made her think he was only conforming to please her, and shrinking from coming to close quarters, where he might confess opinions that would grieve her. He was manifestly in earnest, listening and joining in the services as if they had a new force to him. Perhaps they had the more from the very absence of the ordinary externals, and with nothing to disturb the individual personality of Clement's low, earnest, and reverent tones. There were tears on his eyelashes as he rose up, bent over, and kissed his Cherie. And that evening, while Clement and the two nieces walked farther, and listened to the Benediction in the little Austrian church, Gerald sat under a linden-tree with his aunt, and in the fullness of his heart told her how things stood between him and Dolores.
Geraldine had never been as much attracted by Dolores as by Gillian and Mysie, but she was greatly touched by hearing that the meeting and opening of affection had been on the discovery that Gerald was probably nameless and landless, and that the maiden was bent on casting in her lot with him whatever his fate might be.
He murmured to himself the old lines, with a slight alteration-
"I could not love thee, dear, so much, Loved I not justice more."
"Yes, indeed, Cherie, our affection is a very different and better thing than it would be if I were only the rich young squire sure of my position."
"I am sure it is, my dear. I honour and love her for being my boy's brave comforter-comforter in the true sense. I see now what has helped you to be so brave and cheery. But what will her father say?"
"He will probably be startled, and-and will object, but it would be a matter of waiting anyway, the patience that the Vicar preaches, and we have made up our minds. I'll fight my own way; she to prepare by her Cambridge course to come and work with me, as we can do so much better among the people-among them in reality, and by no pretence."
"Ah! don't speak as if you gave up your cause."
"Well, I won't, if you don't like to hear it, Cherie," he said, smiling; "but anyway you will be good to Dolores."
"Indeed I will do my best, my dear. I am sure you and she, whatever happens, have the earnest purpose and soul to do all the good you can, whether from above or on the same level, and that makes the oneness of love."
"Thank you, Cherie carissima. You see the secret of our true bond."
"One bond to make it deeper must be there. The love of God beneath the love of man."
CHAPTER XXVI. THE SILENT STAR
Then the traveller in the dark Thanks you for your tiny spark; He would not know which way to go If you did not twinkle so.-JANE TAYLOR.
And so they came to Buda, where Charles Audley represented English diplomatic interests on the banks of the Danube. When the quaint old semi-oriental-looking city came in sight and the train stopped, the neat English-looking carriage, with gay Hungarian postillions, could be seen drawn up to meet them outside the station.
Charles and his father, now Sir Robert, were receiving them with outstretched hands and joyous words, and in a few seconds more they were with their little Stella! Yes, their little Stella still, as Clement and Cherry had time to see, when Gerald and the two girls had insisted on walking, however far it might be, with the two Audleys, though Charlie told them that no one ever walked in Hungary who could help it, and that he should be stared at for bringing such strange animals.
Geraldine had stayed with Stella once before, and Clement had made one hurried and distressful rush in the trouble about Angela; but that was at Munich, and nearly nine years ago, before the many changes and chances of life had come to them. To Stella those years had brought two little boys, whose appearance in the world had been delayed till the Audley family had begun to get anxious for an heir, but while the Underwoods thought it was well that their parents, especially their father, should have time to grow a little older.
And Stella looked as daintily, delicately pretty as ever, at first sight like a china shepherdess to be put under a glass shade, but on a second view, with a thoughtful sweetness and depth in her face that made her not merely pretty but lovely. How happy she was, gazing at her brother and sister, and now and then putting a question to bring out the overflow of home news, so dear to her. For she was still their silent star, making very few words evince her intense interest and sympathy.
Even when they were at home, in the house that looked outside like a castle in a romance, but which was so truly English within, and the two little fellows of four and three came toddling to meet her, shrinking into her skirts at sight of the new uncle and aunt, there was a quiet gentle firmness-all the old Stella-in her dealings with them, as she drew them to kiss and greet the strangers. Robbie and Theodore were sturdy, rosy beings, full of life, but perfectly amenable to that sweet low voice. Their father and grandfather might romp with them to screaming pitch, and idolize them almost to spoiling, yet they too were under that gentle check which the young wife exercised on all around.
She was only thirty-one, and so small, so fair and young in looks, that to her elder sister her pretty matronly rule would at first seem like the management of a dolls' house, even though her servants, English, German, or Magyar, obeyed her implicitly; and for that matter, as Charlie and Sir Robert freely and merrily avowed, so did they. The young secretary was her bounden slave, and held her as the ideal woman, though there came to be a little swerving of his allegiance towards the tall and beautiful Franceska, who had insensibly improved greatly in grace and readiness on her travels, and quite dazzled the Hungarians; while Anna was immensely exultant, and used to come to her aunt's room every night to talk of her lovely Francie as a safety-valve from discussing the matter with Francie herself, who remained perfectly simple and unconscious of her own charms. Geraldine could not think them quite equal to the more exquisite and delicately-finished, as well as more matured, beauty of little Stella, but that was a matter of taste.
The household was more English than Hungarian, or even German, and there were curious similitudes to the Vale Leston Priory arrangements, which kept Stella's Underwood heart in mind. There had to be receptions, and it was plain that when she put Fernan's diamonds on, Mrs. Audley was quite at home and at perfect ease in German and Hungarian society, speaking the languages without hesitation when she did speak, while in her quiet way keeping every one entertained, showing the art de tenir un salon, and moreover, preserving Francie from obtrusive admiration in a way perhaps learnt by experience on that more perilous subject, Angela, who had invited what Francie shrank from. The two girls were supremely happy, and Francie seemed to have a fountain of joy that diffused a rose- coloured spray over everything.
One of the famous concerts of Hungarian gipsies was given, and in that Clement and Geraldine were alike startled by tones recalling those of the memorable concert at Bexley, all the more because they seemed to have a curious fascination for Gerald. Moreover, those peculiar eyes and eyelashes, the first link observed between him and the Little Butterfly, were so often repeated in the gipsy band that it was plain whence they were derived. Charles Audley thought it worth while to find means of inquiry among the gipsies as to whether anything was known of Zoraya Prebel or her brother Sebastian; but after some delay and various excitements nothing was discovered, but that there had been a family, who were esteemed recreants to their race, and had sold their children to the managers of German or Italian bands of musicians. One brother had come back a broken man, who had learnt vices and ruined himself, though he talked largely of his wonderful success in company with his sister, who had made grand marriages. What had become of her he did not know; and when Gerald went with Mr. Audley to a little mountain valley to visit him, he had been dead for a week or more.
All this had made some delay, and it was almost the end of the long vacation. Charles Audley undertook to go to Trieste with the travellers, and make inquiries about Zoraya and her first husband. Sir Robert, the Skipper, as the family still termed him, had written for his yacht to meet him there, and be ready for him to convey the party to Sicily. He professed that he could not lose sight of Franceska, with whom he declared himself nearly as much smitten as ever he had been with his daughter-in-law.
They left that pretty creature in her happy home, and arrived at Trieste, where Charles Audley set various agencies to work, and arrived at a remembrance of Giovanni Benista, an impresario, having been in a state of great fury at his wife, his most able performer, having fled from him just as he had been at the expense of training and making her valuable. He tried to have her pursued, but there was reason to think that she had been smuggled away in an English or American ship, and nothing could be done.
Thus much of the story then was confirmed, and Gerald had little or no doubt of the rest of it, but he was obliged to leave the pursuit of the quest to his uncle and aunt, being somewhat consoled for having to return to England by the expectation of hearing from Mr. Maurice Mohun.
Twice he returned for his aunt's last kiss, nay, even a third time, and then with the half-choked words, "My true, my dearest mother!"
And he absolutely bent his knee as he asked for his uncle Clement's blessing.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE RED MANTLE
And deemed themselves a shameful part Of pageant which they cursed in heart.-SCOTT.
Dolores was waiting till the Christmas term to go to her college. The fame of her volcanic lectures had reached Avoncester, and she was entreated to repeat them at the High School there. The Mouse-trap had naturally been sent to Miss Vincent, the former governess, who had become head-mistress of the High School at Silverton, and she wrote an urgent request that her pupils might have the advantage of the lectures. Would Dolores come and give her course there, and stay a few days with her, reviving old times?
Dolores consented, being always glad of an opportunity of trying her wings, though she had not the pleasantest recollections connected with Silverton, but she would be really glad to see Miss Vincent, who had been always kind to her. So she travelled up to Silverton, and found the head-mistress living in cheerful rooms, with another of the teachers in the same house, all boarding together, but with separate sitting-rooms.
Dolores' first walk was to see Miss Hackett. It was quite startling to find the good old lady looking exactly the same as when she had come to luncheon at Silverfold, and arranged for G. F. S., and weakly stood up for her sister nine years previously, those years which seemed ages long ago to the maiden who had made the round of the world since, while the lady had only lived in her Casement Cottage, and done almost the same things day by day.
There was one exception, however, Constance had married a union doctor in the neighbourhood. She came into Silverton to see her old acquaintance, and looked older and more commonplace than Dolores could have thought possible, and her talk was no longer of books and romances, but of smoking chimneys, cross landlords, and troublesome cooks, and the wicked neglects of her vicar's and her squire's wife. As Dolores walked back to Silverton, she heard drums and trumpets, and was nearly swept away by a rushing stream of little boys and girls. Then came before her an elephant, with ornamental housing and howdah, and a train of cars, meant to be very fine, but way-worn and battered, with white and piebald steeds, and gaudy tinselly drivers, and dames in scarlet and blue, much needing a washing, distributing coloured sheets about the grand performance to take place that night at eight o'clock, of the Sepoy's Death Song and the Bleeding Bride.
Miss Vincent had asked Miss Hackett to supper, and prepared herself and her fellow-teacher, Miss Calton, for a pleasant evening of talk, but to her great surprise, Dolores expressed her intention of going to the performance at the circus.
"My dear," said Miss Vincent, "this is a very low affair-not Sanger's, nor anything so respectable. They have been here before, and the lodging-house people went and were quite shocked."
"Yes," said Dolores, "but that is all the more reason I want to go. There is a girl with them in whom we are very much interested. She was kidnapped from Rockquay at the time this circus was there. At least I am almost sure it is the same, and I must see if she is there."
"But if she is you cannot do anything."
"Yes, I can; I can let her brother know. It must be done, Miss Vincent. I have promised, and it is of fearful consequence."
"Should you know her?"
"Oh yes. I have often talked to her in Mrs. Henderson's class. I could not mistake her."
Miss Hackett was so much horrified at the notion of a G. F. S. "business girl" being in bondage to a circus, that she gallantly volunteered to go with Miss Mohun, and Miss Vincent could only consent.
The place of the circus was an open piece of ground lying between Silverton and Silverfold, and thither they betook themselves-Miss Hackett in an old bonnet and waterproof that might have belonged to any woman, and Dolores wearing a certain crimson ulster, which she had bought in Auckland for her homeward voyage, and which her cousins had chosen to dub as "the Maori." After a good deal of jostling and much scent of beer and bad tobacco they achieved an entrance, and sat upon a hard bench, half stifled with the odours, to which were added those of human and equine nature and of paraffin. As to the performance, Dolores was too much absorbed in looking out for Ludmilla, together with the fear that Miss Hackett might either faint or grow desperate, and come away, to attend much to it; and she only was aware that there was a general scurrying, in which the horses and the elephant took their part; and that men and scantily dressed females put themselves in unnatural positions; that there was a firing of pistols and singing of vulgar songs, and finally the hero and heroine made their bows on the elephant's back.
Miss Hackett wanted to depart before the Bleeding Bride came on, but Dolores entreated her to stay, and she heroically endured a little longer. This seemed, consciously or not, to be a parody of the ballad of Lord Thomas and Fair Annet, but of course it began with an abduction on horseback and a wild chase, in which even the elephant did his part, and plenty more firing. Then the future bride came on, supposed to be hawking, during which pastime she sang a song standing upright on horseback, and the faithless Lord Thomas appeared and courted her with the most remarkable antics of himself and his piebald steed.
The forsaken Annet consoled herself with careering about, taking a last leave of her beloved steed-a mangy-looking pony-and performing various freaks with it, then singing a truculent song of revenge, in pursuance of which she hid herself to await the bridal procession. And as the bride came on, among her attendants Dolores detected unmistakably those eyes of Gerald's! She squeezed Miss Hackett's hand, and saw little more of the final catastrophe. Somehow the bride was stabbed, and fell screaming, while the fair Annet executed a war dance, but what became of her was uncertain. All Dolores knew was, that Ludmilla was there! She had recognized not only the eyes, but the air and figure.
When they got free of the crowd, which was a great distress to poor Miss Hackett, Dolores said-
"Yes, it is that poor girl! She must be saved!"
"How? What can you do?"
"I shall telegraph to her brother. You will help me, Miss Hackett?"
"But-what-who is her brother?" said Miss Hackett, expecting to hear he was a carpenter perhaps, or at least a clerk.
"Mr. Underwood of Vale Leston-Gerald Underwood," answered Dolores. "His father made an unfortunate marriage with a singer. She really is his half-sister, and I promised to do all I could to help him to find her and save her. He is at Oxford. I shall telegraph to him the first thing to-morrow."
There was nothing in this to object to, and Miss Hackett would not be persuaded not to see her to the door of Miss Vincent's lodgings, though lengthening her own walk-alone, a thing more terrible to her old-fashioned mind than to that of her companion.
Dolores wrote her telegram-
"Dolores Mohun, Valentia, Silverton, to Gerald Underwood, Trinity College, Oxford. Ludmilla here. Circus. Come."
She sent it with the more confidence that she had received a letter from her father with a sort of conditional consent to her engagement to Gerald, so that she could, if needful, avow herself betrothed to him; though her usual reticence made her unwilling to put the matter forward in the present condition of affairs. She went out to the post-office at the first moment when she could hope to find the telegraph office at work, and just as she had turned from it, she met a girl in a dark, long, ill-fitting jacket and black hat, with a basket in her hand.
"Lydia!" exclaimed Dolores, using the old Rockquay name.
"Miss Dolores!" she cried.
"Yes, yes. You are here! I saw you last night."
"Me! Me! Oh, I am ashamed that you did. Don't tell Mr. Flight."
There were tears starting to her eyes.
"Can I do anything for you?"
"No-no. Oh, if you could! But they have apprenticed me."
"My mother and Mr. O'Leary."
"Are they here?"
"Yes. They wanted money-apprenticed me to this Jellicoe! I must make haste. They sent me out to take something to the wash, and buy some fresh butter. They must not guess that I have met any one."
"I will walk with you. I have been telegraphing to your brother that I have found you."
"Oh, he was so good to me! And Mr. Flight, I was so grieved to fail him. They made me get up and dress in the night, and before I knew what I was about I was on the quay-carried out to the ship. I had no paper-no means of writing; I was watched. And now it is too dreadful! Oh, Miss Dolores! if Mrs. Henderson could see the cruel positions they try to force on me, the ways they handle me-they hurt so; and what is worse, no modest girl could bear the way they go on, and want me to do the same. I could when I was little, but I am stiffer now, and oh! ashamed. If I can't-they starve me-yes, and beat me, and hurt me with their things. It is bondage like the Israelites, and I don't want to get to like it, as they say I shall, for then-then there are those terrible songs to be sung, and that shocking dress to be shown off in. My mother will not help. She says it is what she went through, and all have to do, and that I shall soon leave off minding; but oh, I often think I had rather die than grow like-like Miss Bellamour. I hope I shall (they often frighten me with that horse), only somehow I can't wish to be killed at the moment, and try to save myself. And once I thought I would let myself fall, rather than go on with it, but I thought it would be wicked, and I couldn't. But I have prayed to God to help me and spare me; and now He has heard. And will my brother be able-or will he choose to help me?"
"I am sure of it, my poor dear girl. He wishes nothing more."
"Please turn this way. They must not see me speak to any one."
"One word more. How long is the circus to be here?"
"We never know; it depends on the receipts-may go to-morrow. Oh, there-"
She hurried on without another word, and Dolores slowly returned to Miss Vincent's lodgings. Her lecture was to be given at three o'clock, but she knew that she should have to be shown the school and class-rooms in the forenoon. Gerald, as she calculated the trains, might arrive either by half-past twelve or a quarter past four.
Nervously she endured her survey of the school, replying to the comments as if in a dream, and hurrying it over, so as must have vexed those who expected her to be interested. She dashed off to the station, and reached it just in time to see the train come in. Was it-yes, it was Gerald who sprang out and came towards her.
"Dolores! My gallant Dolores! You have found her!"
"Yes, but in cruel slavery-apprenticed."
"That can be upset. Her mother-is she here?"
"Yes, and O'Leary. They sold her, apprenticed her, and these people use her brutally. She told me this morning. No, I don't think you can get at her now."
"I will see her mother at any rate. I may be able to buy her off. Where shall I find you?"
Dolores told him, but advised him to meet her at Miss Hackett's, whom she thought more able to help, and more willing than Miss Vincent, in case he was able to bring Ludmilla away with him.
"Have you heard from my father?"
"Yes-what I expected."
"But it will make no difference in the long run."
"Dearest, do I not trust your brave words? From Trieste I hear that the endeavour of Benista to recover his wife is proved. There's one step of the chain. Is it dragging us down, or setting us free?"
"Free-free from the perplexities of property," cried Dolores. "Free to carve out a life."
"Certainly I have wished I was a younger son. Only if it could have come in some other way!"
Dolores had to go to luncheon at Miss Vincent's, and then to deliver her lecture. It was well that she had given it so often as almost to know it by heart, for the volcano of anxiety was surging high within her.
As she went out she saw Gerald waiting for her, and his whole mien spoke of failure.
"Failed! Yes," he said. "The poor child is regularly bound to that Jellicoe, the master of the concern, for twenty-five pounds, the fine that my uncle brought on the mother, as O'Leary said with a grin, and she is still under sixteen."
"Is there no hope till then?"
"He and O'Leary declare there would be breach of contract if she left them even then. I don't know whether they are right, but any amount of mischief might be done before her birthday. They talk of sending her to Belgium to be trained, and that is fatal."
"Can't she be bought off?"
"Of course I tried, but I can't raise more than seventy pounds at the utmost just now."
"I could help. I have twenty-three pounds. I could give up my term."
"No use. They know that I shall not be of age till January, besides the other matter. I assured them that however that might end, my uncles would honour any order I might give for the sake of rescuing her, but they laughed the idea to scorn. O'Leary had the impudence to intimate, however, that if I chose to accept the terms expressed, 'his wife might be amenable.'"
"Five hundred for evidence on the previous marriage in my favour; but I am past believing a word that she says, at least under O'Leary's dictation. She might produce a forgery. So I told him that my uncle was investigating the matter with the consul in Sicily; and the intolerable brutes sneered more than over at the idea of the question being in the hands of the interested party, when they could upset that meddling parson in a moment."
"Can nothing be done?"
"I thought of asking one of your old ladies whether there is a lawyer or Prevention of Cruelty man who could tell me whether the agreement holds, but I am afraid she is too old. You saw no mark of ill- usage?"
"Oh no. They would be too cunning."
"If we could help her to escape what a lark it would be!"
"I do believe we could" cried Dolores. "If I could only get a note to her! And this red ulster! I wonder if Miss Hackett would help!"
Dolores waited for Miss Hackett, who had lingered behind, and told her as much of the facts as was expedient. There was a spice of romance in the Hackett soul, and the idea of a poor girl, a G. F. S. maiden, in the hands of these cruel and unscrupulous people was so dreadful that she was actually persuaded to bethink herself of means of assistance.
"Where did you meet the girl?" she said. Dolores told her the street.
"Ah! depend upon it the things were with Mrs. Crachett, who I know has done washing for people about on fair-days, when they can't do it themselves. She has a daughter in my G. F. S. class; I wonder if we could get any help from her."
It was a very odd device for a respectable associate and member of G. F. S. to undertake, but if ever the end might justify the means it was on the present occasion. Fortune favoured them, for Melinda Crachett was alone in the house, ironing out some pale pink garments.
"Are you washing for those people on the common, Melinda?" asked Miss Hackett.
"Yes, Miss Hackett. They want them by seven o'clock to-night very particular, and they promised me a seat to see the performance, miss, if I brought them in good time, and I wondered, miss, if you would object."
"Only tell me, Melinda, whom you saw."
"I saw the lady herself, ma'am, the old lady, when I took the things."
"No young person?"
"Yes, ma'am. It was a very nice young lady indeed that brought me down this pink tunic, because it got stained last night, and she said her orders was to promise me a ticket if it came in time; but, oh my! ma'am, she looked as if she wanted to tell me not to come."
"Poor girl! She is a G. F. S. member, Melinda, and I do believe you would be doing a very good deed if you could help us to get her away from those people."
Melinda's eyes grew round with eagerness. She had no doubts respecting what Miss Hackett advised her to do, and there was nothing for it but to take the risk. Then and there Dolores sat down and pencilled a note, directing Ludmilla to put on the red ulster after her performance, if possible, when people were going away, and slip out among them, joining Melinda, who would convey her to Miss Hackett's. This was safer than for Gerald to be nearer, since he was liable to be recognized. Still it was a desperate risk, and Dolores had great doubts whether she should ever see her red Maori again.
So in intense anxiety the two waited in Miss Hackett's parlour, where the good lady left them, as she said, to attend to her accounts, but really with an inkling or more of the state of affairs between them. Each had heard from New Zealand, and knew that Maurice Mohun was suspending his consent till he had heard farther from home, both as to Gerald's character and prospects, and there was no such absolute refusal, even in view of his overthrow of the young man's position, as to make it incumbent on them to break off intercourse. Colonial habits modified opinion, and to know that the loss was neither the youth's own fault nor that of his father, would make the acceptance a question of only prudence, provided his personal character were satisfactory. Thus they felt free to hold themselves engaged, though Gerald had further to tell that his letters from Messina purported that an old priest had been traced out who had married the impresario, Giovanni Benista, a native of Piedmont, to Zoraya Prebel, Hungarian, in the year 1859, when ecclesiastical marriages were still valid without the civil ceremony.
"Another step in my descent," said Gerald. "Still, it does not prove whether this first husband was alive. No; and Piedmont, though a small country, is a wide field in which to seek one who may have cut all connection with it. However, these undaunted people of mine are resolved to pursue their quest, and, as perhaps you have heard, are invited to stay at Rocca Marina for the purpose."
"I should think that was a good measure; Mr. White gets quarry-men from all the country round, and would be able to find out about the villages."
"But how unlikely it is that one of these wanderers would have kept up intercourse with his family! They may do their best to satisfy the general conscience, but I see no end to it."
"And a more immediate question-what are we to do with your sister if she escapes to-night? Shall I take her to Mrs. Henderson?"
"She would not be safe there. No, I must carry her straight to America, the only way to choke off pursuit."
"You! Your term!"
"Never mind that. I shall write to the Warden pleading urgent private business. I have enough in hand for our passage, and the 'Censor' will take my articles and give me an introduction. I shall be able to keep myself and her. I have a real longing to see Fiddler's Ranch."
"But can you rough it?" asked Dolores, anxiously looking at his delicate girlish complexion and slight figure.
"Oh yes! I was born to it. I know what it was when Fiddler's Ranch was far from the civilization of Violinia, as they call it now. I don't mean to make a secret of it, and grieve your heart or Cherie's. She has had enough of that, but I must make the plunge to save my sister, and if things come round it will be all the better to have some practical knowledge of the masses and the social problems by living among them."
"Oh that I could make the experiment with you!"
"You will be my inspiration and encouragement, and come to me in due time."
He came round to her, and she let him give her his first kiss.
"God will help us," she said reverently; "it is the cause of uprightness and deliverance from cruel bondage."
The plans had been settled; Gerald had arranged with a cab which was to take him and his sister to a house five miles out in the country, of which Miss Hackett had given the name, so that they might seem to have been spending the evening with her. Thence it was but a step to the station of a different railway from that which went through Silverton, and they would go by the mail train to London, where Ludmilla could be deposited at Mrs. Grinstead's house at Brompton, where Martha could provide her with an outfit, while Gerald saw the editor of the 'Censor', got some money from the bank, telegraphed to Oxford for his baggage, and made ready to start the next morning for Liverpool, whither he had telegraphed to secure a second-class passage to New York for G. F. Wood and Lydia Wood, the names which he meant to be called by.
"The first name I knew," he said, "the name of Tom Wood, is far more real to me or my father than Edgar Underwood ever could be."
He promised that Dolores should have a telegram at Clipstone by the time she reached it, for she had to give her second lecture the next day, and was to return afterwards. All this had been discussed over and over again, and there had been many quakings and declarations that the scheme had failed, and that neither girl could have had courage, nor perhaps adroitness, and that the poor prisoner had been re-captured. Gerald had made more than one expedition into the little garden to listen, and had filled the house with cold air before he returned, sat down in a resigned fashion, and declared-
"It is all up! That comes of trusting to fools of girls."
He sprang up and out into the vestibule. Miss Hackett opened the door into the back passage. There stood the "red mantle" and Melinda Crachett. Gerald took the trembling figure in his arms with a brotherly kiss.
"My little sister," he said, "look to me," then gave her to Dolores, who led her into the drawing-room, and put her into an arm-chair.
She could hardly stand, but tried to jump up as Miss Hackett entered.
"No, no, my poor child, she said, "sit still! Rest. Were you followed?"
"No; I don't think they had missed me."
She was so breathless that Miss Hackett would have given her a glass of wine, but she shook her head,
"Oh no, thank you! I've kept the pledge."
The tea-things were there, waiting for her arrival. Dolores would have helped her take off the red garment, but she shrank from it. She had only her gaudy theatrical dress beneath. How was she to go to London in it? However, Miss Hackett devised that she should borrow the little maid-servant's clothes, and Gerald undertook to send them back when Martha should have fitted her out at Brompton. The theatrical costume Miss Hackett would return by a messenger without implicating Melinda Crachett. They took the girl up-stairs to effect the change, and restore her as much as they could, and she came down with her rouge washed off, and very pale, but looking like herself, as, poor thing, she always did look more or less frightened, and now with tears about her eyelids, tears that broke forth as Gerald went up to her, took her by the hand, and said-
"Brighten up, little sister; you have given yourself to me, and I must take care of you now."
"Ah, I do beg your pardon, but my poor mother-I didn't know-"
"You don't want to go back?"
"Oh no, no," and she shuddered again; "but I am sorry for her. She has such a hard master, and she used to be good to me."
Miss Hackett had come opportunely to make her drink some tea, and then made both take food enough to sustain them through the night journey. Then, and afterwards, they gathered what had been Ludmilla's sad little story. Her father, in spite of his marriage, which was according to the lax notions of German Protestants, had been a fairly respectable man, very fond of his little daughter, and exceedingly careful of her, though even as a tiny child he had made her useful, trained her to singing and dancing, and brought her forward as a charming little fairy, when it was all play to her.
"Oh, we were so happy in those days," she said tearfully.
When he died it was with an injunction to his wife not to bring up Ludmilla to the stage now that he was not there to take care of her. With the means he had left she had set up her shop at Rockquay, and though she had never been an affectionate mother, Ludmilla had been fairly happy, and had been a favourite with Mr. Flight and the school authorities, and had been thoroughly imbued with their spirit. A change had, however, come over her mother ever since an expedition to Avoncester, when she had met O'Leary. She had probably always contrived a certain amount of illicit trade in tobacco and spirits by means of the sailors in the foreign traders who put into the little harbour of Rockquay; but her daughter was scarcely cognizant of this, and would not have understood the evil if she had done so, nor did it affect her life. O'Leary had, however, been the clown in Mr. Schnetterling's troupe, and had become partner with Jellicoe. The sight of him revived all Zoraya's Bohemian inclinations, and on his side he knew her to have still great capabilities, and recollected enough of her little daughter to be sure that she would be a valuable possession. Moreover, Mrs. Schnetterling had carried her contraband traffic a little too far, especially where the boys of the preparatory school were concerned. She began to fear the gauger and the policeman, and she had consented to marry O'Leary at the Avoncester register office, meaning to keep the matter a secret until she could wind up her affairs at Rockquay. Even her daughter was kept in ignorance.
Two occurrences had, however, precipitated matters. One was the stir that Clement had made about the school-boys' festival, ending in the fine being imposed; the other, the discovery that the graceful, well- endowed young esquire was the child who had been left to probable beggary with a dying father twenty years previously.
Jellicoe, the principal owner of the circus, advanced the money for the fine, on condition of the girl and her mother becoming attached to the circus; and the object of O'Leary was to make as much profit as possible out of the mystery that hung over the young heir of Vale Leston. His refusal to attend to the claim on him, together with spite at his uncle, as having brought about the prosecution, and to Mr. Flight for hesitating to remunerate the girl for the performance that was to have been free; perhaps too certain debts and difficulties, all conspired to occasion the midnight flitting in such a manner as to prevent the circus from being pursued.
Thenceforth poor Lida's life had been hopeless misery, with all her womanly and religious instincts outraged, and the probability of worse in future. Jellicoe, his wife, and O'Leary had no pity, and her mother very little, and no principle; and she had no hope, except that release might come by some crippling accident. Workhouse or hospital would be deliverance, since thence she could write to Mrs. Henderson.
She shook and trembled still lest she should be pursued, though Miss Hackett assured her that this was the last place to be suspected, and it was not easy to make her eat. Presently Gerald stood ready to take her to the cab.
Dolores came to the gate with them. There was only space for a fervent embrace and "God bless you!" and then she stood watching as they went away into the night.
CHAPTER XXVIII. ROCCA MARINA
There was of course in Adeline A calm patrician polish in the address, Which ne'er can pass the equinoctial line Of anything which nature could express.-BYRON.
It was a late autumn or winter day, according to the calendar, when The Morning Star steamed up to the quay of Rocca Marina, but it was hard to believe it, for all the slope of one of the Maritime Alps lay stretched out basking in the noonday sunshine, green and lovely, wherever not broken by the houses below, or the rocks quarried out on the mountain side. Some snow lay on the further heights, enough to mark their forms, and contrast with the soft sweetness of the lap of the hills and the glorious Mediterranean blue.
Anna and Franceska stood watching and exclaiming in a trance of delight, as one beauty after another revealed itself-the castellated remnant of the old tower, the gabled house with stone balconies and terraces, with parapets and vases below, the little white spire of the church tower of the English colony, looking out of the chestnut and olive groves above, and the three noble stone pines that sheltered the approach.
Mr. White, in his launch, came out with exulting and hearty welcome to bring them ashore, through the crowd of feluccas, fishing-vessels, and one or two steamers that filled the tiny bay, and on landing, the party found an English wagonette drawn by four stout mules waiting to receive them-mules, as being better for the heights than horses.
Anna and Franceska insisted on walking with Mr. White and Sir Robert, and they fairly frisked in the delicious air of sea and mountain after being so long cramped on board ship, stopping continually with screams of delight over violets or anemones, or the views that unfolded themselves as they went higher and higher. The path Mr. White chose was a good deal steeper than the winding carriage road cut out of the mountain side, and they arrived before the mules with Mrs. Grinstead and her brother, at the Italian garden, with a succession of broad terraces protected and adorned with open balustrades, with vases of late blooming flowers at intervals, and broad stone steps, guarded by carved figures, leading from one to another.
"It is like Beauty's palace," sighed out in delight Francie to her sister.
"There's Beauty," laughed Anna, as at the open window upon the highest verandah-shaded balcony appeared the darkly handsome Maura and Mrs. White, her small features as pretty as ever, but her figure a good deal more embonpoint than in Rockquay times.
Hers was a very warm welcome to the two sisters and their friend, and to the others who reached the front door a few minutes later. Such an arrival was very pleasant to her, for it must be confessed that, save for the English visitors, who were always gladly received, the life at Rocca Marina was a dull one, in spite of its being near enough to San Remo by the railway for expeditions for a day.
Within, the dwelling was a combination of the old Italian palace with English comforts. Mr. White, in his joy at possessing his graceful lady wife, had spared no expense in making it a meet bower for her, and Geraldine was as much amused as fascinated by the exquisiteness of all around her; as she sat, in a most luxurious chair, looking out through the open window at the blue sea, yet with a lively wood fire burning under a beauteous mantelpiece; statues, pictures, all that was recherche around, while they drank their English tea out of almost transparently delicate cups, filled by Maura out of a beautifully chased service of plate on a marble mosaic table.
"And now you must let me show you your rooms," said Mrs. White. "I thought you would like to have them en suite, for I am such a poor creature that I cannot breakfast down-stairs, and Mr. White is obliged to be out early."
So she led the way through a marble hall, pillared in different colours, rich and rare, with portraits of ancient Contes and Contessas on the walls, up a magnificent stone stair with a carved balustrade, to a suite indeed, where, at the entrance, Sibby was found very happy at her welcome from Mrs. Mount, who was equally glad to receive a countrywoman.
There was a sitting-room with a balcony looking out on the bay, a study and bedroom beyond for Clement on one side, and on the other charmingly fitted rooms for Geraldine, for her nieces, and her maid; and Mrs. White left them, telling them the dinner hour, and begging them to call freely and without scruple for all and everything they could wish for. Nothing would be any trouble.
"We have even an English doctor below there," she said, pointing to the roofs of the village. "There are so many accidents that Mr. White thought it better to be provided, so we have a little hospital with a trained nurse."
It was all very good, very kind, yet the very family likeness to Lilias Merrifield and Jane Mohun made Geraldine think how much more simple in manner one of them would have been without that nouveau riche tone of exultation.
"Here is a whole packet of letters," ended Mrs. White, "that came for you these last two or three days."
She pointed to a writing-table and went away, while the first letters so amazed Geraldine that she could think of nothing else, and hastened to summon Clement.
It was from Gerald, posted by the pilot from on board the steamer, very short, and only saying-
"I know you will forgive me, or rather see that I do not need pardon for rescuing my sister. Anywhere in England she would be in danger of being reclaimed to worse than death. Dolores will tell you all the situation, and I will send a letter as soon as we arrive at New York. No time for more, except that I am as much as ever
"Your own, my Cherie's own, "GERALD."
There followed directions how to send letters to him through the office of the 'Censor'.
Then she opened, written on the same day, a letter from Dolores Mohun, sent in obedience to his telegram, when he found that time for details failed him. It began-
"DEAR MRS. GRINSTEAD,
"I know you will be shocked and grieved at the step that your nephew has taken, but when you understand the circumstances, I think you will see that it was unavoidable for one of so generous and self- sacrificing a nature. I may add, that my aunt Lily is much touched, and thoroughly approves, and my uncle Jasper says imprudence is better than selfishness."
After this little preamble ensued a full and sensible account of Ludmilla's situation and sufferings at the circus, and the history of her escape, demonstrating (to the writer's own satisfaction) that there was no other means of securing the poor child.
Of course the blow to Geraldine was a terrible one.
"We have lost him," she said.
"That does not follow," said Clement. "It is quite plain that he does not mean to cut himself off from us, and America is not out of reach."
"It is just the restless impatience that you warned him against. As if he could not have taken her to the Hendersons."
"She would not have been safe there, unless acts of cruelty could have been proved."
"Or to us, out here."
"My dear Cherry, imagine his sudden arrival with such an appendage! I really think the boy has acted for the best."
"Giving up Oxford too!"
"That can be resumed."
"And most likely that wretched little girl will run off in a month's time. It is in the blood."
"Come, come, Cherry. I can't have you in this uncharitable mood."
"Then I mustn't say what I think of that Dolores abetting him."
"No, I like her letter."
It fell hard upon Geraldine to keep all to herself, while entertained in full state by her hosts. Perhaps Adeline would have liked something on a smaller scale, for she knew what was ostentatious; but though Mr. White had once lived in a corner of the castle, almost like an artisan; since he had married, it had become his pride to treat his guests on the grandest London scale, and the presence of Sir Robert Audley for one night evoked all his splendours. He made excuses for having no one to meet the party but the chaplain and his wife and the young doctor, who he patronizingly assured them was "quite the gentleman," and Theodore White- "Just to fill up a corner and amuse the young ladies." Theodore had been lately sent out, now a clerk, soon to be a partner; but he was very shy, and did not amuse the young ladies at all! Indeed, he was soon so smitten with admiration for Franceska, that he could do nothing but sit rapt, looking at her under his eyelids.
The chaplain had received an offer of preferment in England, and was anxious to go home as soon as possible. Clement was now so well, that after assisting the next day in the week's duties among the people, and at the pretty little church that Mr. White had built, he ventured to accept the proposal of becoming a substitute until the decision was made or another chaplain found. He was very happy to be employed once more in his vocation.
The climate suited him exactly, and the loan of the chaplain's house would relieve him and Geraldine from the rather oppressive hospitality of the castle. The search for Benista's antecedents would of course go on with the assistance of Mr. White and his Italian foreman, but both assured him that the inquiry might be protracted, as winter was likely to cut off the communications with many parts of the interior, and many of the men would be at their distant homes till the spring advanced.
Meantime, Geraldine and her nieces had a home life, reading, studying Italian, drawing with endless pleasure, and the young ones walking about the chestnut-covered slopes. She sat in the gardens or drove with Mrs. White in her donkey-chaise, and would have been full of enjoyment but for the abiding anxiety about Gerald. It was rather a relief not to be living in the same house with the Whites, whose hospitality and magnificence were rather oppressive. Mr. White wanted to have everything admired, and its cost appreciated; and Adeline, though clever enough, had provoking similarities and dissimilarities to her sisters. The same might be said of Maura, to whom Francie at first took a great fancy, but Anna, who had seen more of the world, had a sense of distrust.
"There's something fawning about her ways," said she, "and I don't know whether she is quite sincere."
"Perhaps it is only being half Greek," said Geraldine.
However, the two families met every day, and Mrs. White called their intercourse "such a boon, such a charming friendship," all unaware that there was no real confidence or affection.
They had not long been seated when the little Italian messenger boy brought them a budget of letters. Of course the first that Geraldine opened was in her nephew's writing. It had been written at intervals throughout the voyage, and finished on landing at New York.
Passing over the expressions of unabated affection, and explanation of the need of removing Ludmilla out of reach of her natural guardians, with the date on the second day of the voyage, the diary continued:
"Whom, as the fates would have it, should I have encountered but the Cacique! Yes, old Fernan and Marilda have the stateliest of state- rooms in this same liner, and he was as much taken aback as I was when we ran against one another over a destitute and disconsolate Irish family in the steerage. Marilda is as yet invisible, as is my poor little Lida. It is unlucky, for the good man is profuse in his offers of patronage, and I don't mean to be patronized."
Then, after some clever descriptions of the fellow second-class passengers in his own lively vein, perhaps a little forced, so as not to betray more than he intended, that he felt them uncongenial, there came-
"Lida is up again; she is a sweet little patient person, and I cannot withstand Fernan's wish to present her to his wife, who remains prostrate at present, and will till we get out of the present stiff breeze and its influences.
"12th.-The presentation is over, and it has ended in Lida devoting herself to the succour of Marilda, and likewise of her maid, who is a good deal worse than herself.
* * * * *
"16th.-These amiable folks want to take Lida off with them, not to say myself, to their 'Underwood' in the Rockies; but I don't intend her to be semi-lady's-maid, semi-companion, as she is becoming, but to let her stand on her own legs, or mine, and put her to a good school at New York. I have finished an article on 'Transatlantic Travellers' for the 'Censor', also some reviews, and another paper that may pave my way to work in New York or elsewhere. My craving is for the work of hard hands, but I look at mine, and fear I run more to the brain than the hands. My father must have been of finer physique than the Sioux bullet left to me; but I have no fears."
"No, indeed," sighed Geraldine; "he has not the fine athletic strength of his dear father, but still-still I think there is that in him which Edgar had not."
"Force of character," said Clement, "even if he is wrong-headed. Here is Fernan's letter-
"'Imagine my amazement at finding Gerald on board with us. He tells me that you are aware of his escapade, so I need not explain it. He is not very gracious to either of us, and absolutely refuses all offers of assistance either for himself or his sister. However, I hope to be able to keep a certain watch over him without offending him, and to obviate some of the difficulties in his way, perhaps unknown to him. Marilda has, as usual, suffered greatly on the voyage, but the little Lida, as he calls her, has been most attentive and useful both to her and her maid, who was quite helpless, and much the worst of the two. My wife was much prejudiced against Lida at first, but has become very fond of her, and is sure that she is a thoroughly good girl-worth the sacrifice Gerald has made for her. In his independent mood, he will not hear of our offering a home to the poor child; but if, as I hope, your researches turn out in his favour, he may consent to let us find suitable education for her. At any rate, I promise Geraldine not to leave these two young things to their fate, though I may have to act secretly. I can never forget how I took him from his father's side, and the baptism almost in blood. We go to New Orleans first, and after the cold weather home, but letters to the Bank will find us.'"
"Good, dear old Fernan and Marilda!" cried Geraldine, "I can see their kindness, and how, with all their goodness, it must jar on Gerald's nerves."
"I hope he won't be an ass," returned Clement. "Such patient goodness ought not to be snubbed by-" He caught his sister's eye, and made his last words "youthful theorists."
Mrs. Henderson too forwarded a letter from Lida, being sure that it would be a great pleasure to Mrs. Grinstead. It went into many more particulars about the miseries of the circus training than had been known before, and the fears and hints which made it plain that it had been quite right to avail herself of the means of escape; after which was added-
"I never thought to be so happy as I am here. My brother is the noblest, most generous, most kind of creatures, and that he should do all this for me, after all the harm he has suffered from my poor mother! It quite overpowers me when I think of it. I see a tear has dropped, but it is such a happy one. Please tell Mr. Flight what peace and joy this is to me, after all my prayers and trying to mind what he said. There are such a gentleman and lady here, cousins to my brother, Sir Ferdinand and Lady Travis Underwood. She has been more or less ill all through the voyage, and her maid worse, and she has let me do what I could for her, and has been kindness itself. They were at the bazaar. Did you see Sir Ferdinand? He is the very grandest and handsomest man I ever did see, and so good to all the poor emigrants in the steerage. He is very kind to me; but I see that my brother will not have me presume. They have bidden me write to them in any need. I never thought there could be so many good people out of Rockquay. Please give my duty to Mr. Flight and Lady Flight, good Miss Mohun, and dear Miss Dolores. I wear her ulster, and bless the thought of her."
CHAPTER XXIX. ROWENA AND HER RIVAL
And yet if each the other's name In some unguarded moment heard, The heart that once you thought so tame Would flutter like a wounded bird.-ANON.
Letters continued to come with fair regularity; and it was understood that Gerald, with Lida, had taken up his quarters in an "inexpensive" boarding-house at New York, where he had sent Lida to a highly- recommended day-school, and he was looking out for employment. His articles had been accepted, he said; but the accounts of his adventures and of his fellow-inmates gave the sense that there was more humour in the retrospect than in the society, and that they were better to write about than to live with. He never confessed it, but to his aunt, who understood him, it was plain that he found it a different thing to talk philanthropic socialism, or even to work among the poor, and to live in the society of the unrefined equals.
Then he wrote that Lida had come one day and told him that one of the girls, with whom she had made friends, had a bad attack of cough and bronchitis, and could not fulfil an engagement that she had made to come and sing for a person who was giving lectures upon national music. "'I looked at some of her songs,' little Lida said in her humble way, 'and I know them. Don't you think, brother, I might take her part?' Well, not to put too fine a point upon it, it was not an unwelcome notion, for my articles, though accepted, don't bring in the speedy remuneration with which fiction beguiles the aspirant. Only one of them, which I send you, has seen the light, and the 'Censor' is slow, though sure, so dollars for immediate expenses run short. I called on the fellow, Mr. Gracchus B. Van Tromp, to see whether he were fit company for my sister, and I found him much superior to his name-gentlemanlike and intelligent, not ill-read, and pretty safe, like most Yankees, to know how to behave to a young girl. When he found I could accompany my sister on piano or violin he was transported. Moreover, he could endure to be enlightened by a Britisher on such little facts as the true history of Auld Robin Gray and the Wacht am Rhein. The lecture was a marked success. We have another tonight, 16th. It has resulted in a proposal to these two interesting performers to accompany the great Gracchus on a tour through the leading 'cities,' lecturing by turns with him and assisting. He has hitherto picked up as he could 'local talent,' but is glad of less uncertain help, and so far as appears, he is superior to jealousy, though he sees that I'm better read, 'and of the cut that takes the ladies.' It is no harm for Lida; she was not learning much, and I can cultivate her better when I have her to myself, and get her not to regard me so much like a lion, to be honoured with distant respect and obedience. We shall get dollars enough to keep us going till my talents break upon the world, and obtain stunning experiences for the 'Censor'. My father's dear old violin is coming to the front. Our first start will be at Boston; but continue to write to Gerald F. Wood, care of Editor of 'Cole's Weekly'."
"How like his father!" was the natural exclamation; but the details that followed in another week were fairly satisfactory, and the spirit of independence was a sound one, which had stood harder proofs than perhaps his home was allowed to know, though these were early days.
February was beginning to open the buds and to fill the slopes with delicate anemones, as well as to bring back Mr. White's workmen, among whom Clement could make inquiries. One young man knew the name of Benista as belonging to a family in a valley beyond his own, but it was not an easily accessible one, and a fresh fall of snow had choked the ravine, and would do so for weeks to come.
Yet all was lovely on the coast, and Mr. White having occasion to go to San Remo, offered to take the three girls with him.
"Young ladies always have a turn for shops," said he.
"I want to see the coast," said Franceska, with a little dignity.
"But I do want some gloves-and some blue embroidery silk, thank you, Mr. White," said Anna, more courteously.
"And I want some handkerchiefs, if Mr. White will take me too!" returned Uncle Clement in the same tone.
"I know so well what you mean, dear," observed Maura, sotto voce to Francie. "It is so trying to be supposed mere common-place, when one's thoughts are on the beautiful and romantic."
It was just one of the sayings that had begun to go against Francie's taste, and she answered-
"Mr. White is very good-natured."
"Ah, yes, but so-so-you know."
Francie was called, and left Mr. White's description to be unutterable.
The two elder ladies spent the day together, and Mrs. Grinstead then heard that Jane Mohun had written, that both Lord Ivinghoe and Lady Phyllis Devereux were recovering from the influenza, and that Lord Rotherwood had had a slight touch of the complaint.
"It is a very serious thing in our family," said Adeline, with all the satisfaction of having a family, especially with a complaint, and she began to enumerate the victims of the Devereux house and her own, only breaking off to exclaim, "I really shall write at once to beg them all to come here for the rest of the winter, March winds and all. My cousin Rotherwood has never been here, and they might be quite quiet among relations. So unlike a common health resort."
Mrs. White's hospitable anticipations were forestalled. The party came home from San Remo in high spirits. They had met Lord Rotherwood and his son in the street, they had been greeted most warmly, and brought to luncheon at the villa, where they found not only Lady Rotherwood and Phyllis, but Mysie Merrifield.
It was explained that their London doctor had strongly advised immediate transplantation before there was time to catch fresh colds, and a friend of the Marchioness, who permanently possessed a charming house at San Remo, had offered it just as it was for the spring. The journey had been made at once, with one deviation on Lord Rotherwood's part, to beg for Mysie, as an essential requisite to his "Fly's" perfect recovery. A visit had been due before, only deferred by the general illness, and no difficulty was made in letting it be paid in these new and delightful scenes. Phyllis had been there before. She was weak and languid, and would much rather have stayed at home, except for seeing Mysie's delight in the mountains and the blue Mediterranean, which she dimly remembered from her infancy at Malta. Only she made it a point of honour not to allow that the sea was bluer than the bay of Rockquay.
Ivinghoe was looking ill and disgusted, but brightened up at the sight of the visitors, and his mother, who thought Monte Carlo too near, though she had kept as far from it as possible, accepted the more willingly Mr. White's cordial invitation to come and spend a day or two at Rocca Marina. Trifles were so much out of the good lady's focus of vision that the possible dangers in that quarter never occurred to her, though Maura was demurely bridling, and Francie, all unawakened, but prettier than ever, was actually wearing a scarlet anemone that Ivinghoe had given to her.
In the intervening days, Rocca Marina was in a wonderful state of preparation. The master of it was genuinely and honestly kindly and simple-hearted, and had entertained noble travellers before, who had been attracted by his extensive and artistic works; but no words can describe the satisfaction of his wife. In part there was the heartfelt pleasure of receiving the cousin who had been like one of her brothers in the home of her childhood; but to this was added the glory of knowing that this same cousin was a marquis, and that the society of San Remo, nay of all the Riviera and the Italian papers to boot, would know that she was a good deal more than the quarry- owner's wife. Moreover, like all her family, there was a sense of Lady Rotherwood's coming from a different sphere, and treating them with condescension. Jane and Lily might laugh, but to Adeline it was matter of a sort of aggressive awe, half as asserting herself as "Victoria's" equal and relation, half as protecting her from inferior people.
Geraldine perceived and was secretly amused. Of course all the party dined at the castle on Saturday night, and heard some lamentations that there was no one else to meet the distinguished guests, for the young doctor was not thought worthy.
"But I knew you would like a family party best, and the Underwoods are-almost connections, though-"
In that "though" was conveyed their vast inferiority to the house of Mohun.
"I always understood that it was a very good old family," said Lady Rotherwood.
"Clement Underwood is one of the most valuable clergy in London," said her lord; "I am glad he is recovering. I shall be delighted to hear him again."
Maura was standing under the pergola with Lord Ivinghoe.
"And is not it sad for poor Franceska Vanderkist? -Oh! you know about poor Mr. Gerald Underwood?" said Maura, blushing a little at the awkward subject.
"Of course," said Ivinghoe impatiently. "He is in America, is he not? But what has she to do with it?"
"Oh, you know, after being his Mona, and all. It can't go any further till it is cleared up."
Phyllis and Mysie came up, asking Maura to tell them the name of a mountain peak with a white cap. The party came up to dinner, which was as genial and easy as the host and Lord Rotherwood could make it, and as stiff and grand as the hostess could accomplish, aided by the deftness and grace of her Italian servants. In the evening Theodore came up to assist in the singing of glees, and Clement's voice was a delightful and welcome sound in his sister's ears. Ivinghoe stood among the circle at the piano, and enjoyed. He and his sister were not particularly musical, but enough to enjoy those remarkable Underwood voices. After that Maura never promoted musical evenings.
An odd little Sunday-school for the children of the English workmen had been instituted at Rocca Marina, where Maura had always assisted the chaplain's wife, and Anna and Francie shared the work. Mysie heard of it with enthusiasm, for, as Ivinghoe told her, she was pining for a breath of the atmosphere, but she came down to enjoy the delights thereof alone, taking Maura's small class. Maura was supposed to be doing the polite to Lady Phyllis, but in point of fact Phyllis was lying down in the balcony of her mother's dressing-room, and Maura was gracefully fanning herself under a great cork tree, while Lord Ivinghoe was lying on the grass.
Francie looked languid, and said it was getting dreadfully hot, but Mrs. Grinstead took no notice, trusting that the cessation of attentions would hinder any feeling from going deeper, so that-as she could not help saying to herself-she might not have brought the poor child out of the frying-pan into the fire-not an elegant proverb, but expressing her feeling!
More especially did it do so, when she found that Lord Rotherwood was so much delighted with the beauty and variety of the marbles of Rocca Marina as to order a font to be made of them for the church that was being restored at Clarebridge, and he, and still more his son, found constant diversion in running over by train from San Remo to superintend the design, and to select the different colours and patterns of the stones as they were quarried out and bits polished so as to show their beauty. Their ladies often accompanied them, and these expeditions generally involved luncheon at the castle, and often tea at the parsonage, but it might be gradually observed, as time went on, that there was a shade of annoyance on the part of the great house at the preference sometimes unconsciously shown for the society of the smaller one.
Mysie openly claimed Anna as her own friend of some standing, and both she and Phyllis had books to discuss, botanical or geological discoveries to communicate or puzzle out, with Mrs. Grinstead or her nieces. Lord Rotherwood had many more interests in common with Clement Underwood than with Mr. White, and even the Marchioness, though more impartial and on her guard, was sensible to Mrs. Grinstead's charm of manner and depth of comprehension. She patronized Adeline, but respected Mrs. Grinstead as incapable of and insensible to patronage.
That her gentlemen should have found such safe and absorbing occupation in the opposite direction to Monte Carlo was an abiding satisfaction to her, and she did not analyze the charms of the place as regarded her son. She had seen him amused by other young ladies, as he certainly was now by that Miss White, who was very handsome and very obliging.
She knew and he knew all the antecedents too well for alarm, till one day she saw Maura's face, as she made him pull down a spray of banksia from the side of a stone wall, and watched the air of gallant courtesy with which he presented it.
Francie watched it too, as she had watched the like before, and said nothing, but there was an odd, dull sense of disappointment, and the glory had faded away from sea and sky, spring though it was. Yet there were pressures of the hand in greeting and parting, and kind, wistful looks, as if of sympathy, little services and little attentions, that set her foolish little heart bounding, in a way she was much ashamed to feel, and would have been more utterly ashamed to speak of, or to suppose observed. She only avowed to Anna that it was very warm, weary weather, and that she was tired of absence, and felt homesick, but Aunt Cherry was so kind that she must not be told.
Lady Rotherwood proposed moving away, but her husband and son would not hear of it till their font was finished.
It was not unwelcome to any one of the elder ladies that the young officer's leave would be over in another week. Geraldine was glad that Francie should be freed from the trial of seeing attention absorbed by Maura, and herself so often left in the lurch, so far as that young lady could contrive it, for though not a word was said, the brightened eye and glowing cheek, whenever Lord Ivinghoe brought her forward, or paid her any deference or civility, were dangerous symptoms. Peace of mind in so modest and innocent a maiden would probably come back when the excitement was once over.
As to Adeline, there was nothing she dreaded so much as the commotion that would be excited if Ivinghoe's flirtation came to any crisis. His mother would never forgive her, his father would hardly do so; she would feel like a traitor to the whole family, and all her attempts to put a check on endeavours on Maura's part to draw him on- an endeavour that began to be visible to her-were met by apparent unconsciousness or by tears. And when she ventured a word to her husband, he gruffly answered that his niece's father had been an officer in the army, and he could make it worth any one's while to take her! Young lords were glad enough in these days to have something to put into their pockets.
CHAPTER XXX. DREAMS AND NIGHTINGALES
Then in that time and place I spoke to her.-TENNYSON.
"Office of 'Lacustrian Intelligencer,' "Jonesville, Ohio, "March 20. "DEAREST CHERIE,
"I told you in my last that the chief boss in the office at New York had written to me that he had been asked to send an intelligent young man to sub-edit the Lacustrian Intelligencer at Jonesville, a rising city on Lake Erie. I thought it would be worth while to look at it, especially as we were booked to give a lecture at Sandusky, and moreover our relations to Gracchus have been growing rather strained, and I do not think this wandering life good for Lida in the long run; nor are my articles paid enough for to be a dependence. So after holding forth at Sandusky, we took our passage in a little steamer which crosses the little bay in the Lake to Jonesville-one of those steamers just like a Noah's Ark.
"Presently Lida came up and touched me, saying in her little awe- struck whisper (which has never been conquered), 'Brother, I am sure I saw one of mother's cigarettes.' I said 'Bosh!' thinking it an utter delusion; but she was so decided and so frightened, that I told her to go into the saloon, and went forward. A woman was going about the deck, offering the passengers a basket of candies, lights, cigarettes, and cigars. Saving for Lida's words, I never should have recognized her; she was thin to the last degree, haggard, yellow, excessively shabby and forlorn-looking, and with a hollow cough; but as her eyes met mine (those eyes that you say are our water-mark) both of us made a sort of leap as if to go overboard, and I went up to her at once, and would have spoken, but she cried out, 'What have you done with Lida?' I answered that she was safe, and demanded in my turn where were O'Leary and Jellicoe. 'Drowned, drowned,' she said, 'in the wreck of the Sirius. They'll never trouble you more. But Lida!' I thought that it was safe to take her into the saloon to see Lida, when they fell into each other's arms, and afforded the spectators a romantic spectacle. Don't think I am making a joke of it, for it was tragic enough in the result of the agitation. Blood was choking the poor woman. We could only lay her down on the couch, and happily there were lemons on board. There was a good-natured Irishman who gave me all the help he could, even to the carrying her to his house, where his wife was equally kind. He fetched the priest, a French Canadian, and the doctor, and Lida has been watching over her most tenderly; poor things-they seem really to have cared for one another, and Lida will be the happier for having done these last duties.
"21st. She is a little better. So far as we have gathered from one who must not talk nor be agitated, the circus had got into difficulties and debt to Bast, the van proprietor. I believe Lida's voice was their last hope, and they had some ghastly scheme of disposing of her in Belgium. When they lost her, their chances were over, and with the proceeds of their last exhibition, Jellicoe and the O'Leary pair left the elephant, etc., to take care of themselves and make their excuses to Mr. Bast, and started for Liverpool and the U. S. in the Sirius. Storms overtook them, the women were put into the first boat, those which followed were swamped. Poor fellows, I own I can't sing a pious dirge for them. There were three days of hunger and exposure before the boat was picked up, and she was finally landed at Quebec, where she was laid up with pleurisy in the hospital. And there was a subscription for the wrecked when she came out, which enabled her to set up this reminiscence of her old trade, drifting from one pier or boat to another till she came to this one, but all the time with this awful cough. The doctor thinks it her knell; her lungs are far gone, but she may probably rally in some degree for the summer, though hardly so as to be moved.
"That being the case, I have been to the Lacustrian office, and engaged myself to be its hack, since I must have some fixed pay while she lives. Perhaps I shall be able to do a little extra writing and lecturing, especially if she gets better, enough to spare Lida to help me. Her voice really is a lovely soprano, and draws wonderfully, but I don't want it to be strained too early. Our good Irishwoman, Mrs. Macbride, is willing to let us have her two rooms, left empty by her sons going west, and her daughter marrying, on fair terms, Lida promising to be a sort of help and to teach the children. We shall eat with them. I shall be at the office all day and half the night, so I don't need a sitting-room. Don't be anxious, dear old Cherie. We shall do very well, and it is only for a time. Lida is like a little angel, and as thankful for a smile from her mother as if she had been the reprobate runaway. "Your ever-loving "GERALD."
This was the letter that came to Mrs. Grinstead, and one with similar information went to Dolores Mohun at her college at Cambridge. Dolores, who had found Mysie much more sympathetic than Gillian, could not but write the intelligence to her, and Mysie was so much struck with the beauty of the much-injured brother and sister devoting themselves to their mother, that she could not help telling the family party at breakfast.
"That's right," said Lord Rotherwood. "The mother can clear up the doubt if any one can. Is there nothing about it?"
"No," replied Mysie; "I should think the poor woman was too ill to be asked."
"They must not let her slip through their fingers without telling," added Ivinghoe.
"I have a mind to run over to Rocca Marina and see what more they have heard there," said Lord Rotherwood. "I suppose your letter is from one of the girls there?"
"Oh no, it is from Dolores."
"Dolores! She is at Cambridge. Then this news must have been round by Clipstone! They must have known it for days past at Rocca!" exclaimed Lord Rotherwood.
"No," said Mysie, "this came direct to Dolores from Gerald Underwood himself. -Oh, didn't you know? I forgot, nobody was to know till Uncle Maurice gave his consent."
"Consent to what?" exclaimed Ivinghoe.
"To Dolores and Gerald! Oh dear, mamma said so much to me about not telling, but I did think Cousin Rotherwood knew everything. Please-"
Whatever she was going to ask was cut short by Ivinghoe's suddenly striking on the table so as to make all the cups and saucers ring as he exclaimed-
"If ever there lived a treacherous Greek minx!" Then, "I beg your pardon, mother."
He was off: they saw him dash out of the house. There was a train due nearly at this time, as all recollected.
"Papa, had not you better go with him?" said Lady Rotherwood.
"He will get on much better by himself, my dear," and Lord Rotherwood threw himself back in his chair and laughed heartily and merrily, to the amazement and mystification of the two girls. "You will have a beauty on your hands, my lady."
"Well, as long as it is not that horrid White girl-" said her ladyship, breaking off there.
"A very sorry Rebecca," said her lord, laughing the more.
But the Marchioness rose up, and the two cousins had to accept the signal.
The train, after the leisurely fashion of continental railways, kept Ivinghoe fuming at the station, and rattled along so as to give travellers a full view of the coast, more delightful to them than to the youth, who had rushed off with intentions, he scarce knew what, of setting right the consequences of Maura's-was it deception, or only a thought, of which the wish was father?
He reached the station that led to the works at Rocca Marina. The sun was high, the heat of the day coming on, and as he strode along, the workmen were leaving off to take their siesta at noontide. On he went, across the private walks in the terraced garden, not up the broad stone steps that led to the house, but to a little group of olive trees which cut off the chaplain's house from the castle gardens, and where stood a great cork tree, to whose branches a hammock had been fastened, and seats placed under it. As he opened the gate a little dog's bark was heard, and he was aware of a broad hat under the tree. Simultaneously a small Maltese dog sprang forward, and Francie's head rose from leaning over the little table with a start, her cheeks deeper rose than usual, having evidently gone to sleep over the thin book and big dictionary that lay before her.
"Oh!" she said, "it is you. Was I dreaming?"
"I am afraid I startled you."
"No-only"-she still seemed only half awake-"it seemed to come out of my dream."
"Then you were dreaming of me?"
"Oh no. At, least I don't know," she said, the colour flushing into her face, as she sat upright, now quite awake and alive to the question, between truthfulness and maidenly modesty.
"You were-you were; you don't deny it!" And as she hung her head and grew more distressfully redder and redder, "You know what that means."
"Indeed-indeed-I couldn't help-I never meant! Oh-"
It was an exclamation indeed, for Uncle Clement's head appeared above the hammock, where he too had been dozing over his book, with the words-
"Halloo, young people, I'm here!"
Franceska would have fled, but Ivinghoe held her hand so tight that she could not wrench it away. He held it, while Clement struggled to the ground, and then said-
"Sir, there is no reason you or all the world should not know how I love this dearest, loveliest one. I came here this morning hoping that she may grant me leave to try to win her to be my own."
He looked at Francie. Her head drooped, but she had not taken her hand away, and the look on her face was not all embarrassment, but there was a rosy sunrise dawning on it.
All Clement could say was something of "Your father."
"He knows, he understands; I saw it in his eyes," said Ivinghoe.
To Clement the surprise was far greater than it would have been to his sister, and the experience was almost new to him, but he could read Francie's face well enough to say-
"My dear, I think we had better let you run in and compose yourself, or go to your aunt, while I talk to Lord Ivinghoe."
Trembling, frightened, Francie was really glad to be released, as her lover with one pressure said-
"I shall see you again, sweetest."
She darted away, and Clement signed to Ivinghoe to sit down with him on the bench under the tree.
"I should like this better if you had brought your father's full assent," he said.
"There was no time. I only read his face; he will come to-morrow."
"Yes, to catch the train. I hurried away the moment I learnt that- that her affections were not otherwise engaged. I never saw any one like her. She has haunted me ever since those days at Rockquay; but- but I was told that she cared for your nephew, and I could not take advantage of him in his absence. And now I have but three days more."
"Whoever told you was under a great error," said Clement gravely, "and you have shown very generous self-command; but the advantages of this affair are so much the greatest on one side, that you cannot wonder if there is hesitation on our part, till we explicitly know that our poor little girl would not be unwelcome to your parents."
"I know that no one can compare with her for-for everything and anything," stammered Ivinghoe, breaking from his mother's language into his father's, "and my father admires her as much as I do- almost."
"But what will he and your mother say to her being absolutely penniless?"
"And worse-child to a spendthrift, a man of no connection, except on his mother's side."
"She is your niece, your family have bred her up, made her so much more than exquisitely lovely."
"She is a good little girl," said Clement, "but what are we? No, Ivinghoe, I do not blame you for speaking out, and she will be the happier for the knowledge of your affection, but it will not be right of us to give free consent, without being fully assured of that of Lord and Lady Rotherwood."
Ivinghoe could only protest, but Clement rose to walk to the house, where his sister was sitting under the pergola in the agitation of answering Gerald's letter, and had only seen Francie flit by, calling to her sister in a voice that now struck her as having been strange and suppressed.
Clement trusted a good deal to his sister's quicker perceptions and habit of observation to guide his opinion in the affair that had burst on him, and was relieved that when Ivinghoe, like the well-bred young man that he was, went up to her, and taking her hand said, "I have been venturing to put my fate into the hands of your niece," she did not seem astonished or overwhelmed, but said-
"She is a dear good girl; I do hope it will be for her happiness-for both."
"Thank you," he said fervently. "It will be the most earnest desire of my life."
Geraldine thought it best to go in quest of Francie, whom she found with Anna, incoherent and happy in the glory of the certainty that she was loved, after the long trial of suppressed, unacknowledged suspense. No fears of parents, no thought of inequalities had occurred to trouble her-everything was absorbed in the one thought- "he really did love her." How should she thank God enough, or pray enough to be worthy of such joy? There was no room for vexation or wonder at the delay, nor the attentions paid to Maura. She hushed Anna, who was inclined to be indignant, and who was obliged afterwards to pour out to her aunt all her wonder, though she allowed that on his side there was nothing to be really called flirtation, it was all Maura-"she was sure Maura was at the bottom of it."
"My dear, don't let us be uncharitable; there is no need to think about it. Let us try to be like Francie, and swallow all up in gladness. Your mother-"
"Oh, I can't think what she will do for joy. It will almost make her well again."
"But remember, we don't know what his parents will say."
And with that sobering thought they had to go down to luncheon, where Francie sat blushing and entranced, too happy to speak, and Ivinghoe apparently contented to look at her. Afterwards he was allowed to take possession of her for the afternoon, so as to be able to tease her about what she was dreaming about him. After all it had probably been evoked by the dog's bark and his step; for she had thought a wolf was pursuing her, and that he had come to save her. It was quite enough to be food for a lover.
Clement would have wished to keep all to themselves, at least till the paternal visit was over, but Ivinghoe's days were few, and he made sure of bringing his parents on the morrow. An expedition had been arranged to the valley where some of the Benista family were reported to live, since the snows had departed enough for safety; but this must needs be deferred, and there was no doubt that the "reason why" would be sought out.