"An' you be quite easy in your mind, now, Miss Anthea—about keepin' the money?"
"Quite!—Thank you, Adam—for—telling me. You can go now."
"Why then—Good-night! Miss Anthea, mam,—the mortgage is as good as paid,—there ain't no such 'ops nowhere near so good as our'n be. An'—you're quite free o' care, an' 'appy 'earted, Miss Anthea?"
"Quite—Oh quite, Adam!"
But when Adam's heavy tread had died away,—when she was all alone, she behaved rather strangely for one so free of care, and happy-hearted. Something bright and glistening splashed upon the paper before her, the pencil slipped from her fingers, and, with a sudden, choking cry, she swayed forward, and hid her face in her hands.
In which Adam proposes a game
"To be, or not to be!" Bellew leaned against the mighty hole of "King Arthur," and stared up at the moon with knitted brows. "That is the question!—whether I shall brave the slings, and arrows and things, and—speak tonight, and have done with it—one way or another, or live on, a while, secure in this uncertainty? To wait? Whether I shall, at this so early stage, pit all my chances of happiness against the chances of—losing her, and with her—Small Porges, bless him! and all the quaint, and lovable beings of this wonderful Arcadia of mine. For, if her answer be 'No,'—what recourse have I,—what is there left me but to go wandering forth again, following the wind, and with the gates of Arcadia shut upon me for ever? 'To be, or not to be,—that is the question!'"
"Be that you, Mr. Belloo, sir?"
"Even so, Adam. Come sit ye a while, good knave, and gaze upon Dian's loveliness, and smoke, and let us converse of dead kings."
"Why, kings ain't much in my line, sir,—living or dead uns,—me never 'aving seen any—except a pic'ter,—and that tore, though very life like. But why I were a lookin' for you was to ax you to back me up,—an' to—play the game, Mr. Belloo sir."
"Why—as to that, my good Adam,—my gentle Daphnis,—my rugged Euphemio,—you may rely upon me to the uttermost. Are you in trouble? Is it counsel you need, or only money? Fill your pipe, and, while you smoke, confide your cares to me,—put me wise, or, as your French cousins would say,—make me 'au fait.'"
"Well," began Adam, when his pipe was well alight, "in the first place, Mr. Belloo sir, I begs to remind you, as Miss Anthea sold her furnitur' to raise enough money as with what the 'ops will bring, might go to pay off the mortgage,—for good an' all, sir."
"Well, to-night, sir, Miss Anthea calls me into the parlour to ax,—or as you might say,—en-quire as to the why, an' likewise the wherefore of you a buyin' all that furnitur'."
"Did she, Adam?"
"Ah!—'why did 'e do it?' says she—'well, to keep it from bein' took away, p'raps,' says I—sharp as any gimblet, sir."
"Good!" nodded Bellew.
"Ah!—but it weren't no good, sir," returned Adam, "because she sez as 'ow your 'ome being in America, you couldn't really need the furnitur',—nor yet want the furnitur',—an' blest if she wasn't talkin' of handing you the money back again."
"Hum!" said Bellew.
"Seeing which, sir, an' because she must have that money if she 'opes to keep the roof of Dapplemere over 'er 'ead, I, there an' then, made up,—or as you might say,—concocted a story, a anecdote, or a yarn,—upon the spot, Mr. Belloo sir."
"Most excellent Machiavelli!—proceed!"
"I told her, sir, as you bought that furnitur' on account of you being wishful to settle down,—whereat she starts, an' looks at me wi' her eyes big, an' surprised-like. I told 'er, likewise, as you had told me on the quiet,—or as you might say,—con-fi-dential, that you bought that furnitur' to set up 'ouse-keeping on account o' you being on the p'int o' marrying a fine young lady up to Lonnon,—"
"What!" Bellew didn't move, nor did he raise his voice,—nevertheless Adam started back, and instinctively threw up his arm.
"I did sir."
"But you knew it was a—confounded lie."
"Aye,—I knowed it. But I'd tell a hundred,—ah! thousands o' lies, con-founded, or otherwise,—to save Miss Anthea."
"To save her?"
"From ruination, sir! From losing Dapplemere Farm, an' every thing she has in the world. Lord love ye!—the 'ops can never bring in by theirselves all the three thousand pounds as is owing,—it ain't to be expected,—but if that three thousand pound ain't paid over to that dirty Grimes by next Saturday week as ever was, that dirty Grimes turns Miss Anthea out o' Dapplemere, wi' Master Georgy, an' poor little Miss Priscilla,—An' what'll become o' them then,—I don't know. Lord! when I think of it the 'Old Adam' do rise up in me to that extent as I'm minded to take a pitch-fork and go and skewer that there Grimes to his own chimbley corner. Ye see Mr. Belloo sir," he went on, seeing Bellew was silent still, "Miss Anthea be that proud, an' independent that she'd never ha' took your money, sir, if I hadn't told her that there lie,—so that's why I did tell her that here lie."
"I see," nodded Bellew, "I see!—yes,—you did quite right. You acted for the best, and you—did quite right, Adam,—yes, quite right"
"And so—this is the game I am to play, is it?"
"That's it, sir; if she ax's you,—'are you goin' to get married?'—you'll tell her 'yes,—to a lady as you've knowed from your childhood's hour,—living in Lonnon,'—that's all, sir."
"That's all is it, Adam!" said Bellew slowly, turning to look up at the moon again. "It doesn't sound very much, does it? Well, I'll play your game,—Adam,—yes, you may depend upon me."
"Thankee, Mr. Belloo sir,—thankee sir!—though I do 'ope as you'll excuse me for taking such liberties, an' making so free wi' your 'eart, and your affections, sir?"
"Oh certainly, Adam!—the cause excuses—everything."
"Then, good-night, sir!"
So this good, well-meaning Adam strode away, proud on the whole of his night's work, leaving Bellew to frown up at the moon with teeth clenched tight upon his pipe-stem.
How Bellew began the game
Now in this life of ours, there be games of many, and divers, sorts, and all are calculated to try the nerve, courage, or skill of the player, as the case may be. Bellew had played many kinds of games in his day, and, among others, had once been famous as a Eight Tackle on the Harvard Eleven. Upon him he yet bore certain scars received upon a memorable day when Yale, flushed with success, saw their hitherto invincible line rent and burst asunder, saw a figure torn, bruised, and bleeding, flash out and away down the field to turn defeat into victory, and then to be borne off honourably to hospital, and bed.
If Bellew thought of this, by any chance, as he sat there, staring up at the moon, it is very sure that, had the choice been given him, he would joyfully have chosen the game of torn flesh, and broken bones, or any other game, no matter how desperate, rather than this particular game that Adam had invented, and thrust upon him.
Presently Bellew knocked the ashes from his pipe, and rising, walked on slowly toward the house. As he approached, he heard someone playing the piano, and the music accorded well with his mood, or his mood with the music, for it was haunting, and very sweet, and with a recurring melody in a minor key, that seemed to voice all the sorrow of Humanity, past, present, and to come.
Drawn by the music, he crossed the Rose Garden, and reaching the terrace, paused there; for the long French windows were open, and, from where he stood, he could see Anthea seated at the piano. She was dressed in a white gown of some soft, clinging material, and among the heavy braids of her hair was a single great, red rose. And, as he watched, he thought she had never looked more beautiful than now, with the soft glow of the candles upon her; for her face reflected the tender sadness of the music, it was in the mournful droop of her scarlet lips, and the sombre depths of her eyes. Close beside her sat little Miss Priscilla busy with her needle as usual, but now she paused, and lifting her head in her quick, bird-like way, looked up at Anthea, long, and fixedly.
"Anthea my dear," said she suddenly, "I'm fond of music, and I love to hear you play, as you know,—but I never heard you play quite so—dolefully? dear me, no,—that's not the right word,—nor dismal,—but I mean something between the two."
"I thought you were fond of Grieg, Aunt Priscilla."
"So I am, but then, even in his gayest moments, poor Mr. Grieg was always breaking his heart over something, or other. And— Gracious!—there's Mr. Bellew at the window. Pray come in, Mr. Bellew, and tell us how you liked Peterday, and the muffins?"
"Thank you!" said Bellew, stepping in through the long French window, "but I should like to hear Miss Anthea play again, first, if she will?"
But Anthea, who had already risen from the piano, shook her head:
"I only play when I feel like it,—to please myself,—and Aunt Priscilla," said she, crossing to the broad, low window-seat, and leaning out into the fragrant night.
"Why then," said Bellew, sinking into the easy-chair that Miss Priscilla indicated with a little stab of her needle, "why then the muffins were delicious, Aunt Priscilla, and Peterday was just exactly what a one-legged mariner ought to be."
"And the shrimps, Mr. Bellew?" enquired Miss Priscilla, busy at her sewing again.
"Out-shrimped all other shrimps so ever!" he answered, glancing to where Anthea sat with her chin propped in her hand, gazing up at the waning moon, seemingly quite oblivious of him.
"And did—He—pour out the tea?" enquired Miss Priscilla, "from the china pot with the blue flowers and the Chinese Mandarin fanning himself,—and very awkward, of course, with his one hand,—I don't mean the Mandarin, Mr. Bellew,—and very full of apologies?"
"Just as usual; yes he always does,—and every year he gives me three lumps of sugar,—and I only take one, you know. It's a pity," sighed Miss Priscilla, "that it was his right arm,—a great pity!" And here she sighed again, and, catching herself, glanced up quickly at Bellew, and smiled to see how completely absorbed he was in contemplation of the silent figure in the window-seat. "But, after all, better a right arm—than a leg," she pursued,—"at least, I think so!"
"Certainly!" murmured Bellew.
"A man with only one leg, you see, would be almost as helpless as an—old woman with a crippled foot,—"
"Who grows younger, and brighter, every year!" added Bellew, turning to her with his pleasant smile, "yes, and I think,—prettier!"
"Oh, Mr. Bellew!" exclaimed Miss Priscilla shaking her head at him reprovingly, yet looking pleased, none the less,—"how can you be so ridiculous,—Good gracious me!"
"Why, it was the Sergeant who put it into my head,—"
"Yes,—it was after I had given him your message about peaches, Aunt Priscilla and—"
"Oh dear heart!" exclaimed Miss Priscilla, at this juncture, "Prudence is out, to-night, and I promised to bake the bread for her, and here I sit chatting, and gossipping while that bread goes rising, and rising all over the kitchen!" And Miss Priscilla laid aside her sewing, and catching up her stick, hurried to the door.
"And I was almost forgetting to wish you 'many happy returns of the day, Aunt Priscilla!'" said Bellew, rising.
At this familiar appellation, Anthea turned sharply, in time to see him stoop, and kiss Miss Priscilla's small, white hand; whereupon Anthea must needs curl her lip at his broad back. Then he opened the door, and Miss Priscilla tapped away, even more quickly than usual.
Anthea was half-sitting, half-kneeling among the cushions in the corner of the deep window, apparently still lost in contemplation of the moon. So much so, that she did not stir, or even lower her up-ward gaze, when Bellew came, and stood beside her.
Therefore, taking advantage of the fixity of her regard, he, once more, became absorbed in her loveliness. Surely a most unwise proceeding—in Arcadia, by the light of a midsummer moon! And he mentally contrasted the dark, proud beauty of her face, with that of all the women he had ever known,—to their utter, and complete disparagement.
"Well?" enquired Anthea, at last, perfectly conscious of his look, and finding the silence growing irksome, yet still with her eyes averted,—"Well, Mr. Bellew?"
"On the contrary," he answered, "the moon is on the wane!"
"The moon!" she repeated, "Suppose it is,—what then?"
"True happiness can only come riding astride the full moon you know,—you remember old Nannie told us so."
"And you—believed it?" she enquired scornfully.
"Why, of course!" he answered in his quiet way.
Anthea didn't speak but, once again, the curl of her lip was eloquent.
"And so," he went on, quite unabashed, "when I behold Happiness riding astride the full moon, I shall just reach up, in the most natural manner in the world, and—take it down, that it may abide with me, world without end."
"Do you think you will be tall enough?"
"We shall see,—when the time comes."
"I think it's all very ridiculous!" said Anthea.
"Why then—suppose you play for me, that same, plaintive piece you were playing as I came in,—something of Grieg's I think it was,—will you, Miss Anthea?"
She was on the point of refusing, then, as if moved by some capricious whim, she crossed to the piano, and dashed into the riotous music of a Polish Dance. As the wild notes leapt beneath her quick, brown fingers, Bellew, seated near-by, kept his eyes upon the great, red rose in her hair, that nodded slyly at him with her every movement. And surely, in all the world, there had never bloomed a more tantalizing, more wantonly provoking rose than this! Wherefore Bellew, very wisely, turned his eyes from its glowing temptation. Doubtless observing which, the rose, in evident desperation, nodded, and swayed, until, it had fairly nodded itself from its sweet resting-place, and, falling to the floor, lay within Bellew's reach. Whereupon, he promptly stooped, and picked it up, and,—even as, with a last, crashing chord, Anthea ceased playing, and turned, in that same moment he dropped it deftly into his coat pocket.
"Oh! by the way, Mr. Bellew," she said, speaking as if the idea had but just entered her mind, "what do you intend to do about—all your furniture?"
"Do about it?" he repeated, settling the rose carefully in a corner of his pocket where it would not be crushed by his pipe.
"I mean—where would you like it—stored until you can send, and have it—taken away?"
"Well,—I—er—rather thought of keeping it—where it was if you didn't mind."
"I'm afraid that will be—impossible, Mr. Bellew."
"Why then the barn will be an excellent place for it, I don't suppose the rats and mice will do it any real harm, and as for the damp, and the dust—"
"Oh! you know what I mean!" exclaimed Anthea, beginning to tap the floor impatiently with her foot. "Of course we can't go on using the things now that they are your property, it—wouldn't be—right."
"Very well," he nodded, his fingers questing anxiously after the rose again, "I'll get Adam to help me to shift it all into the barn, to-morrow morning."
"Will you please be serious, Mr. Bellew!"
"As an owl!" he nodded.
"Why then—of course you will be leaving Dapplemere soon, and I should like to know exactly when, so that I can—make the necessary arrangements."
"But you see, I am not leaving Dapplemere soon or even thinking of it."
"Not?" she repeated, glancing up at him in swift surprise.
"Not until—you bid me."
"But I—I understood that you—intend to—settle down?"
"Certainly!" nodded Bellew, transferring his pipe to another pocket altogether, lest it should damage the rose's tender petals. "To settle down has lately become the—er—ambition of my life."
"Then pray," said Anthea, taking up a sheet of music, and beginning to study it with attentive eyes, "be so good as to tell me—what you mean."
"That necessarily brings us back to the moon again," answered Bellew.
"But what in the world has the moon to do with your furniture?" she demanded, her foot beginning to tap again.
"Everything!—I bought that furniture with—er—with one eye on the moon, as it were,—consequently the furniture, the moon, and I, are bound indissolubly together."
"You are pleased to talk in riddles, to-night, and really, Mr. Bellew, I have no time to waste over them, so, if you will excuse me—"
"Thank you for playing to me," he said, as he held the door open for her.
"I played because I—I felt like it, Mr. Bellew."
"Nevertheless, I thank you."
"When you make up your mind about—the furniture,—please let me know."
"When the moon is at the full, yes."
"Can it be possible that you are still harping on the wild words of poor old Nannie?" she exclaimed, and once more, she curled her lip at him.
"Nannie is very old, I'll admit," he nodded, "but surely you remember that we proved her right in one particular,—I mean about the Tiger Mark, you know."
Now, when he said this, for no apparent reason, the eyes that had hitherto been looking into his, proud and scornful,—wavered, and were hidden under their long, thick lashes; the colour flamed in her cheeks, and, without another word, she was gone.
How the Sergeant went upon his guard
The Arcadians, one and all, generally follow that excellent maxim which runs:
"Early to bed, and early to rise Makes a man healthy, and wealthy, and wise."
Healthy they are, beyond a doubt, and, in their quaint, simple fashion, profoundly wise. If they are not extraordinarily wealthy, yet are they generally blessed with contented minds which, after all, is better than money, and far more to be desired than fine gold.
Now whether their general health, happiness, and wisdom is to be attributed altogether to their early to bed proclivities, is perhaps a moot question. Howbeit, to-night, long after these weary Arcadians had forgotten their various cares, and troubles in the blessed oblivion of sleep, (for even Arcadia has its troubles) Bellew sat beneath the shade of "King Arthur" alone with his thoughts.
Presently, however, he was surprised to hear the house-door open, and close very softly, and to behold—not the object of his meditations, but Miss Priscilla coming towards him.
As she caught sight of him in the shadow of the tree, she stopped and stood leaning upon her stick as though she were rather disconcerted.
"Aunt Priscilla!" said he, rising.
"Oh!—it's you?" she exclaimed, just as though she hadn't known it all along. "Dear me! Mr. Bellew,—how lonely you look, and dreadfully thoughtful,—good gracious!" and she glanced up at him with her quick, girlish smile. "I suppose you are wondering what I am doing out here at this unhallowed time of night—it must be nearly eleven o'clock. Oh dear me!—yes you are!—Well, sit down, and I'll tell you. Let us sit here,—in the darkest corner,—there. Dear heart!—how bright the moon is to be sure." So saying, Miss Priscilla ensconced herself at the very end of the rustic bench, where the deepest shadow lay.
"Well, Mr. Bellew," she began, "as you know, to-day is my birthday. As to my age, I am—let us say,—just turned twenty-one and, being young, and foolish, Mr. Bellew, I have come out here to watch another very foolish person,—a ridiculous, old Sergeant of Hussars, who will come marching along, very soon, to mount guard in full regimentals, Mr. Bellew,—with his busby on his head, with his braided tunic and dolman, and his great big boots, and with his spurs jingling, and his sabre bright under the moon."
"So then—you know he comes?"
"Why of course I do. And I love to hear the jingle of his spurs, and to watch the glitter of his sabre. So, every year, I come here, and sit among the shadows, where he can't see me, and watch him go march, march, marching up and down, and to and fro, until the clock strikes twelve, and he goes marching home again. Oh dear me!—it's all very foolish, of course,—but I love to hear the jingle of his spurs."
"And—have you sat here watching him, every year?"
"And he has never guessed you were watching him?"
"Good gracious me!—of course not."
"Don't you think, Aunt Priscilla, that you are—just a little—cruel?"
"Cruel—why—what do you mean?"
"I gave him your message, Aunt Priscilla."
"That 'to-night, the peaches were riper than ever they were.'"
"Oh!" said Miss Priscilla, and waited expectantly for Bellew to continue. But, as he was silent she glanced at him, and seeing him staring at the moon, she looked at it, also. And after she had gazed for perhaps half a minute, as Bellew was still silent, she spoke, though in a very small voice indeed.
"And—what did—he say?"
"Who?" enquired Bellew.
"Why the—the Sergeant, to be sure."
"Well, he gave me to understand that a poor, old soldier with only one arm left him, must be content to stand aside, always and—hold his peace, just because he was a poor, maimed, old soldier. Don't you think that you have been—just a little cruel—all these years, Aunt Priscilla?"
"Sometimes—one is cruel—only to be—kind!" she answered.
"Aren't the peaches ripe enough, after all, Aunt Priscilla?"
"Over-ripe!" she said bitterly, "Oh—they are over-ripe!"
"Is that all, Aunt Priscilla?"
"No," she answered, "no, there's—this!" and she held up her little crutch stick.
"Is that all, Aunt Priscilla?"
"Oh!—isn't—that enough?" Bellew rose. "Where are you going—What are you going to do?" she demanded.
"Wait!" said he, smiling down at her perplexity, and so he turned, and crossed to a certain corner of the orchard. When he came back he held out a great, glowing peach towards her.
"You were quite right," he nodded, "it was so ripe that it fell at a touch."
But, as he spoke, she drew him down beside her in the shadow:
"Hush!" she whispered, "Listen!"
Now as they sat there, very silent,—faint and far-away upon the still night air, they heard a sound; a silvery, rhythmic sound, it was,—like the musical clash of fairy cymbals which drew rapidly nearer, and nearer; and Bellew felt that Miss Priscilla's hand was trembling upon his arm as she leaned forward, listening with a smile upon her parted lips, and a light in her eyes that was ineffably tender.
Nearer came the sound, and nearer, until, presently, now in moonlight, now in shadow, there strode a tall, martial figure in all the glory of braided tunic, and furred dolman, the three chevrons upon his sleeve, and many shining medals upon his breast,—a stalwart, soldierly figure, despite the one empty sleeve, who moved with the long, swinging stride that only the cavalry-man can possess. Being come beneath a certain latticed window, the Sergeant halted, and, next moment, his glittering sabre flashed up to the salute; then, with it upon his shoulder, he wheeled, and began to march up and down, his spurs jingling, his sabre gleaming, his dolman swinging, his sabre glittering, each time he wheeled; while Miss Priscilla leaning forward, watched him wide-eyed, and with hands tight clasped. Then, all at once,—with a little fluttering sigh she rose.
Thus, the Sergeant as he marched to and fro, was suddenly aware of one who stood in the full radiance of the moon,—and with one hand outstretched towards him. And now, as he paused, disbelieving his very eyes, he saw that in her extended hand she held a great ripe peach.
"Sergeant!" she said, speaking almost in a whisper, "Oh Sergeant—won't you—take it?"
The heavy sabre thudded down into the grass, and he took a sudden step towards her. But, even now, he hesitated, until, coming nearer yet, he could look down into her eyes.
Then he spoke, and his voice was very hoarse, and uneven:
"Miss Priscilla?" he said, "Priscilla?—Oh, Priscilla!" And, with the word, he had fallen on his knees at her feet, and his strong, solitary arm was folded close about her.
In which Porges Big, and Porges Small discuss the subject of Matrimony
"What is it, my Porges?"
"Well,—I'm a bit worried, you know."
"Yes,—'fraid I shall be an old man before my time, Uncle Porges. Adam says it's worry that ages a man,—an' it killed a cat too!"
"And why do you worry?"
"Oh, it's my Auntie Anthea, a course!—she was crying again last night—"
"Crying!" Bellew had been lying flat upon his back in the fragrant shadow of the hay-rick, but now he sat up—very suddenly, so suddenly that Small Porges started. "Crying!" he repeated, "last night! Are you sure?"
"Oh yes! You see, she forgot to come an' 'tuck me up' last night, so I creeped downstairs,—very quietly, you know, to see why. An' I found her bending over the table, all sobbing, an' crying. At first she tried to pretend that she wasn't, but I saw the tears quite plain,—her cheeks were all wet, you know; an' when I put my arms round her—to comfort her a bit, an' asked her what was the matter, she only kissed me a lot, an' said 'nothing! nothing,—only a headache!'"
"And why was she crying, do you suppose, my Porges?"
"Oh!—money, a course!" he sighed.
"What makes you think it was money?"
"'Cause she'd been talking to Adam,—I heard him say 'Good-night,' as I creeped down the stairs,—"
"Ah?" said Bellew, staring straight before him. His beloved pipe had slipped from his fingers, and, for a wonder, lay all neglected. "It was after she had talked with Adam, was it, my Porges?"
"Yes,—that's why I knew it was 'bout money; Adam's always talking 'bout morgyges, an' bills, an' money. Oh Uncle Porges, how I do—hate money!"
"It is sometimes a confounded nuisance!" nodded Bellew.
"But I do wish we had some,—so we could pay all her bills, an' morgyges for her. She'd be so happy, you know, an' go about singing like she used to,—an' I shouldn't worry myself into an old man before my time,—all wrinkled, an' gray, you know; an' all would be revelry, an' joy, if only she had enough gold, an' bank-notes!"
"And she was—crying, you say!" demanded Bellew again, his gaze still far away.
"You are quite sure you saw the—tears, my Porges?"
"Oh yes! an' there was one on her nose, too,—a big one, that shone awful' bright,—twinkled, you know."
"And she said it was only a headache, did she?"
"Yes, but that meant money,—money always makes her head ache, lately. Oh Uncle Porges!—I s'pose people do find fortunes, sometimes, don't they?"
"Why yes, to be sure they do."
"Then I wish I knew where they looked for them," said he with a very big sigh indeed, "I've hunted an' hunted in all the attics, an' the cupboards, an' under hedges, an' in ditches, an' prayed, an' prayed, you know,—every night."
"Then, of course, you'll be answered, my Porges."
"Do you really s'pose I shall be answered? You see it's such an awful' long way for one small prayer to have to go,—from here to heaven. An' there's clouds that get in the way; an' I'm 'fraid my prayers aren't quite big, or heavy enough, an' get lost, an' blown away in the wind."
"No, my Porges," said Bellew, drawing his arm about the small disconsolate figure, "you may depend upon it that your prayers fly straight up into heaven, and that neither the clouds, nor the wind can come between, or blow them away. So just keep on praying, old chap, and when the time is ripe, they'll be answered, never fear."
"Answered?—Do you mean,—oh Uncle Porges!—do you mean—the Money Moon?" The small hand upon Bellew's arm, quivered, and his voice trembled with eagerness.
"Why yes, to be sure,—the Money Moon, my Porges,—it's bound to come, one of these fine nights."
"Ah!—but when,—oh! when will the Money Moon ever come?"
"Well, I can't be quite sure, but I rather fancy, from the look of things, my Porges, that it will be pretty soon."
"Oh, I do hope so!—for her sake, an' my sake. You see, she may go getting herself married to Mr. Cassilis, if something doesn't happen soon, an' I shouldn't like that, you know."
"Neither should I, my Porges. But what makes you think so?"
"Why he's always bothering her, an' asking her to, you see. She always says 'No' a course, but—one of these fine days, I'm 'fraid she'll say 'Yes'—accidentally, you know."
"Heaven forbid, nephew!"
"Does that mean you hope not?"
"Then I say heaven forbid, too,—'cause I don't think she'd ever be happy in Mr. Cassilis's great, big house. An' I shouldn't either."
"Why, of course not!"
"You never go about asking people to marry you, do you Uncle Porges!"
"Well, it could hardly be called a confirmed habit of mine."
"That's one of the things I like about you so,—all the time you've been here you haven't asked my Auntie Anthea once, have you?"
"No, my Porges,—not yet."
"Oh!—but you don't mean that you—ever will?"
"Would you be very grieved, and angry, if I did,—some day soon, my Porges?"
"Well, I—I didn't think you were that kind of a man!" answered Small Porges, sighing and shaking his head regretfully.
"I'm afraid I am, nephew."
"Do you really mean that you want to—marry my Auntie Anthea?"
"As much as Mr. Cassilis does?"
"A great deal more, I think."
Small Porges sighed again, and shook his head very gravely indeed:
"Uncle Porges," said he, "I'm—s'prised at you!"
"I rather feared you would be, nephew."
"It's all so awful' silly, you know!—why do you want to marry her?"
"Because, like a Prince in a fairy tale, I'm—er—rather anxious to—live happy ever after."
"Oh!" said Small Porges, turning this over in his mind, "I never thought of that."
"Marriage is a very important institution, you see, my Porges,—especially in this case, because I can't possibly live happy ever after, unless I marry—first—now can I?"
"No, I s'pose not!" Small Porges admitted, albeit reluctantly, after he had pondered the matter a while with wrinkled brow, "but why pick out—my Auntie Anthea?"
"Just because she happens to be your Auntie Anthea, of course."
Small Porges sighed again:
"Why then, if she's got to be married some day, so she can live happy ever after,—well,—I s'pose you'd better take her, Uncle Porges."
"Thank you, old chap,—I mean to."
"I'd rather you took her than Mr. Cassilis, an'—why there he is!"
"Mr. Cassilis. An' he's stopped, an' he's twisting his mestache."
Mr. Cassilis, who had been crossing the paddock, had indeed stopped, and was twisting his black moustache, as if he were hesitating between two courses. Finally, he pushed open the gate, and, approaching Bellew, saluted him with that supercilious air which Miss Priscilla always declared she found so "trying."
"Ah, Mr. Bellew! what might it be this morning,—the pitchfork—the scythe, or the plough?" he enquired.
"Neither, sir,—this morning it is—matrimony!"
"Eh!—I beg your pardon,—matrimony?"
"With a large M, sir," nodded Bellew, "marriage, sir,—wedlock; my nephew and I are discussing it in its aspects philosophical, sociological, and—"
"That is surely rather a—peculiar subject to discuss with a child, Mr. Bellew—"
"Meaning my nephew, sir?"
"I mean—young George, there."
"Precisely,—my nephew, Small Porges."
"I refer," said Mr. Cassilis, with slow, and crushing emphasis, "to Miss Devine's nephew—"
"And mine, Mr. Cassilis,—mine by—er—mutual adoption, and inclination."
"And I repeat that your choice of subjects is—peculiar, to say the least of it."
"But then, mine is rather a peculiar nephew, sir. But, surely it was not to discuss nephews,—mine or anyone else's, that you are hither come, and our ears do wait upon you,—pray be seated, sir."
"Thank you, I prefer to stand."
"Strange!" murmured Bellew, shaking his head, "I never stand if I can sit, or sit if I can lie down."
"I should like you to define, exactly, your position—here at Dapplemere, Mr. Bellew."
Bellew's sleepy glance missed nothing of the other's challenging attitude, and his ear, nothing of Mr. Cassilis's authoritative tone, therefore his smile was most engaging as he answered:
"My position here, sir, is truly the most—er—enviable in the world. Prudence is an admirable cook,—particularly as regard Yorkshire Pudding; gentle, little Miss Priscilla is the most—er Aunt-like, and perfect of housekeepers; and Miss Anthea is our sovereign lady, before whose radiant beauty, Small Porges and I like true knights, and gallant gentles, do constant homage, and in whose behalf Small Porges and I do stand prepared to wage stern battle, by day, or by night."
"Indeed!" said Mr. Cassilis, and his smile was even more supercilious than usual.
"Yes, sir," nodded Bellew, "I do confess me a most fortunate, and happy, wight who, having wandered hither and yon upon this planet of ours, which is so vast, and so very small,—has, by the most happy chance, found his way hither into Arcady."
"And—may I enquire how long you intend to lead this Arcadian existence?"
"I fear I cannot answer that question until the full o' the moon, sir,—at present, I grieve to say,—I do not know."
Mr. Cassilis struck his riding-boot a sudden smart rap with his whip; his eyes snapped, and his nostrils dilated, as he glanced down into Bellew's imperturbable face.
"At least you know, and will perhaps explain, what prompted you to buy all that furniture? You were the only buyer at the sale I understand."
"Who—bought anything, yes," nodded Bellew.
"And pray—what was your object,—you—a stranger?"
"Well," replied Bellew slowly, as he began to fill his pipe, "I bought it because it was there to buy, you know; I bought it because furniture is apt to be rather useful, now and then,—I acquired the chairs to—er—sit in, the tables to—er—put things on, and—"
"Don't quibble with me, Mr. Bellew!"
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Cassilis!"
"When I ask a question, sir, I am in the habit of receiving a direct reply,—"
"And when I am asked a question, Mr. Cassilis, I am in the habit of answering it precisely as I please,—or not at all."
"Mr. Bellew, let me impress upon you, once and for all, that Miss Devine has friends,—old and tried friends, to whom she can always turn for aid in any financial difficulty she may have to encounter,—friends who can more than tide over all her difficulties without the—interference of strangers; and, as one of her oldest friends, I demand to know by what right you force your wholly unnecessary assistance upon her?"
"My very good sir," returned Bellew, shaking his head in gentle reproof, "really, you seem to forget that you are not addressing one of your grooms, or footmen,—consequently you force me to remind you of the fact; furthermore,—"
"That is no answer!" said Mr. Cassilis, his gloved hands tight-clenched upon his hunting-crop,—his whole attitude one of menace.
"Furthermore," pursued Bellew placidly, settling the tobacco in his pipe with his thumb, "you can continue to—er demand, until all's blue, and I shall continue to lie here, and smoke, and gaze up at the smiling serenity of heaven."
The black brows of Mr. Cassilis met in a sudden frown, he tossed his whip aside, and took a sudden quick stride towards the recumbent Bellew with so evident an intention, that Small Porges shrank instinctively further within the encircling arm.
But, at that psychic moment, very fortunately for all concerned, there came the sound of a quick, light step, and Anthea stood between them.
"Mr. Cassilis!—Mr. Bellew!" she exclaimed, her cheeks flushed, and her bosom heaving with the haste she had made, "pray whatever does this mean?"
Bellew rose to his feet, and seeing Cassilis was silent, shook his head and smiled:
"Upon my word, I hardly know, Miss Anthea. Our friend Mr. Cassilis seems to have got himself all worked up over the—er—sale, I fancy—"
"The furniture!" exclaimed Anthea, and stamped her foot with vexation. "That wretched furniture! Of course you explained your object in buying it, Mr. Bellew?"
"Well, no,—we hadn't got as far as that."
Now when he said this, Anthea's eyes flashed sudden scorn at him, and she curled her lip at him, and turned her back upon him:
"Mr. Bellew bought my furniture because he intends to set up house-keeping—he is to be married—soon, I believe."
"When the moon is at the full!" nodded Bellew.
"Married!" exclaimed Mr. Cassilis, his frown vanishing as if by magic. "Oh, indeed—"
"I am on my way to the hop-gardens, if you care to walk with me, Mr. Cassilis?" and, with the words, Anthea turned, and, as he watched them walk away, together,—Bellew noticed upon the face of Mr. Cassilis an expression very like triumph, and, in his general air, a suggestion of proprietorship that jarred upon him most unpleasantly.
"Why do you frown so, Uncle Porges?"
"I—er—was thinking, nephew."
"Well, I'm thinking, too!" nodded Small Porges, his brows knitted portentously. And thus they sat, Big, and Little Porges, frowning in unison at space for quite a while.
"Are you quite sure you never told my Auntie Anthea that you were going to marry her?" enquired Small Porges, at last.
"Quite sure, comrade,—why?"
"Then how did she know you were going to marry her, an' settle down?"
"Marry—her, and settle down?"
"Yes,—at the full o' the moon, you know."
"Why really—I don't know, my Porges,—unless she guessed it."
"I specks she did,—she's awful' clever at guessing things! But, do you know—"
"I'm thinking I don't just like the way she smiled at Mr. Cassilis, I never saw her look at him like that before,—as if she were awful' glad to see him, you know; so I don't think I'd wait till the full o' the moon, if I were you. I think you'd better marry her—this afternoon."
"That," said Bellew, clapping him on the shoulder, "is a very admirable idea,—I'll mention it to her on the first available opportunity, my Porges."
But the opportunity did not come that day, nor the next, nor the next after that, for it seemed that with the approach of the "Hop-picking" Anthea had no thought, or time, for anything else.
Wherefore Bellew smoked many pipes, and, as the days wore on, possessed his soul in patience, which is a most excellent precept to follow—in all things but love.
Which relates a most extraordinary conversation
In the days which now ensued, while Anthea was busied out of doors and Miss Priscilla was busied indoors, and Small Porges was diligently occupied with his lessons,—at such times, Bellew would take his pipe and go to sit and smoke in company with the Cavalier in the great picture above the carved chimney-piece.
A right jovial companion, at all times, was this Cavalier, an optimist he, from the curling feather in his broad-brimmed beaver hat, to the spurs at his heels. Handsome, gay, and debonair was he, with lips up-curving to a smile beneath his moustachio, and a quizzical light in his grey eyes, very like that in Bellew's own. Moreover he wore the knowing, waggish air of one well versed in all the ways of the world, and mankind in general, and, (what is infinitely more),—of the Sex Feminine, in particular. Experienced was he, beyond all doubt, in their pretty tricks, and foibles, since he had ever been a diligent student of Feminine Capriciousness when the "Merry Monarch" ruled the land.
Hence, it became customary for Bellew to sit with him, and smoke, and take counsel of this "preux chevalier" upon the unfortunate turn of affairs. Whereof ensued many remarkable conversations of which the following, was one:
BELLEW: No sir,—emphatically I do not agree with you. To be sure, you may have had more experience than I, in such affairs,—but then, it was such a very long time ago.
THE CAVALIER: (Interrupting, or seeming to)!!!
BELLEW: Again, I beg to differ from you, women are not the same to-day as they ever were. Judging by what I have read of the ladies of your day, and King Charles's court at Whitehall,—I should say—not. At least, if they are, they act differently, and consequently must be—er—wooed differently. The methods employed in your day would be wholly inadequate and quite out of place, in this.
THE CAVALIER: (Shaking his head and smirking,—or seeming to)!!!
BELLEW: Well, I'm willing to bet you anything you like that if you were to step down out of your frame, change your velvets and laces for trousers and coat, leave off your great peruke, and wear a derby hat instead of that picturesque, floppy affair, and try your fortune with some Twentieth Century damsel, your high-sounding gallantries, and flattering phrases, would fall singularly flat, and you would be promptly—turned down, sir.
THE CAVALIER: (Tossing his love-locks,—or seeming to)!!!
BELLEW: The "strong hand," you say? Hum! History tells us that William the Conqueror wooed his lady with a club, or a battle-axe, or something of the sort, and she consequently liked him the better for it; which was all very natural, and proper of course, in her case, seeing that hers was the day of battle-axes, and things. But then, as I said before, sir,—the times are sadly changed,—women may still admire strength of body, and even—occasionally—of mind, but the theory of "Dog, woman, and walnut tree" is quite obsolete.
THE CAVALIER: (Frowning and shaking his head,—or seeming to)!!!
BELLEW: Ha!—you don't believe me? Well, that is because you are obsolete, too;—yes sir, as obsolete as your hat, or your boots, or your long rapier. Now, for instance, suppose I were to ask your advice in my own case? You know precisely how the matter stands at present, between Miss Anthea and myself. You also know Miss Anthea personally, since you have seen her much and often, and have watched her grow from childhood into—er—glorious womanhood,—I repeat sir glorious womanhood. Thus, you ought to know, and understand her far better than I,—for I do confess she is a constant source of bewilderment to me. Now, since you do know her so well,—what course should you adopt, were you in my place?
THE CAVALIER: (Smirking more knowingly than ever,—or seeming to)!!!
BELLEW: Preposterous! Quite absurd!—and just what I might have expected. Carry her off, indeed! No no, we are not living in your bad, old, glorious days when a maid's "No" was generally taken to mean "Yes"—or when a lover might swing his reluctant mistress up to his saddle-bow, and ride off with her, leaving the world far behind. To-day it is all changed,—sadly changed. Your age was a wild age, a violent age, but in some respects, perhaps, a rather glorious age. Your advice is singularly characteristic, and, of course, quite impossible, alas!—Carry her off, indeed!
Hereupon, Bellew sighed, and turning away, lighted his pipe, which had gone out, and buried himself in the newspaper.
Of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, and the third finger of the left hand
So Bellew took up the paper. The house was very quiet, for Small Porges was deep in the vexatious rules of the Multiplication Table, and something he called "Jogafrey," Anthea was out, as usual, and Miss Priscilla was busied with her numerous household duties. Thus the brooding silence was unbroken save for the occasional murmur of a voice, the jingle of the housekeeping keys, and the quick, light tap, tap, of Miss Priscilla's stick.
Therefore, Bellew read the paper, and let it be understood that he regarded the daily news-sheet as the last resource of the utterly bored.
Now presently, as he glanced over the paper with a negative interest his eye was attracted by a long paragraph beginning:
At St. George's, Hanover Square, by the Right Reverend the Bishop of——, Silvia Cecile Marchmont, to His Grace the Duke of Ryde, K.G., K.C.B.
Below followed a full, true, and particular account of the ceremony which, it seemed, had been graced by Royalty. George Bellew read it half way through, and—yawned,—positively, and actually, yawned, and thereafter, laughed.
"And so, I have been in Arcadia—only three weeks! I have known Anthea only twenty-one days! A ridiculously short time, as time goes,—in any other place but Arcadia,—and yet sufficient to lay for ever, the—er—Haunting Spectre of the Might Have Been. Lord! what a preposterous ass I was! Baxter was quite right,—utterly, and completely right! Now, let us suppose that this paragraph had read: 'To-day, at St. George's, Hanover Square, Anthea Devine to—' No no,—confound it!" and Bellew crumpled up the paper, and tossed it into a distant corner. "I wonder what Baxter would think of me now,—good old faithful John. The Haunting Spectre of the Might Have Been,—What a preposterous ass!—what a monumental idiot I was!"
"Posterous ass, isn't a very pretty word, Uncle Porges,—or continental idiot!" said a voice behind him, and turning, he beheld Small Porges somewhat stained, and bespattered with ink, who shook a reproving head at him.
"True, nephew," he answered, "but they are sometimes very apt, and in this instance, particularly so."
Small Porges drew near, and, seating himself upon the arm of Bellew's chair, looked at his adopted uncle, long, and steadfastly.
"Uncle Porges," said he, at last, "you never tell stories, do you?—I mean—lies, you know."
"Indeed, I hope not, Porges,—why do you ask?"
"Well,—'cause my Auntie Anthea's 'fraid you do."
"When she came to 'tuck me up,' last night, she sat down on my bed, an' talked to me a long time. An' she sighed a lot, an' said she was 'fraid I didn't care for her any more,—which was awful' silly, you know."
"Yes, of course!" nodded Bellew.
"An' then she asked me why I was so fond of you, an' I said 'cause you were my Uncle Porges that I found under a hedge. An' then she got more angrier than ever, an' said she wished I'd left you under the hedge—"
"Did she, my Porges?"
"Yes; she said she wished she'd never seen you, an' she'd be awful' glad when you'd gone away. So I told her you weren't ever going away, an' that we were waiting for the Money Moon to come, an' bring us the fortune. An' then she shook her head, an' said 'Oh! my dear,—you mustn't believe anything he says to you about the moon, or anything else, 'cause he tells lies,'—an' she said 'lies' twice!"
"Ah!—and—did she stamp her foot, Porges?"
"Yes, I think she did; an' then she said there wasn't such a thing as a Money Moon, an' she told me you were going away very soon, to get married, you know."
"And what did you say?"
"Oh! I told her that I was going too. An' then I thought she was going to cry, an' she said 'Oh Georgy! I didn't think you'd leave me—even for him.' So then I had to s'plain how we had arranged that she was going to marry you so that we could all live happy ever after,—I mean, that it was all settled, you know, an' that you were going to speak to her on the first—opportunity. An' then she looked at me a long time an' asked me—was I sure you had said so. An' then she got awful' angry indeed, an' said 'How dare he! Oh, how dare he!' So a course, I told her you'd dare anything—even a dragon,—'cause you are so big, an' brave, you know. So then she went an' stood at the window, an' she was so angry she cried,—an' I nearly cried too. But at last she kissed me 'Good night' an' said you were a man that never meant anything you said, an' that I must never believe you any more, an' that you were going away to marry a lady in London, an' that she was very glad, 'cause then we should all be happy again she s'posed. So she kissed me again, an' tucked me up, an' went away. But it was a long, long time before I could go to sleep, 'cause I kept on thinking, an' thinking s'posing there really wasn't any Money Moon, after all! s'posing you were going to marry another lady in London!—You see, it would all be so—frightfully awful, wouldn't it?"
"Terribly dreadfully awful, my Porges."
"But you never do tell lies,—do you, Uncle Porges?"
"An'—there is a Money Moon, isn't there?"
"Why of course there is."
"An' you are going to marry my Auntie Anthea in the full o' the moon, aren't you?"
"Yes, my Porges."
"Why then—everything's all right again,—so let's go an' sit under the hay-stack, an' talk 'bout ships."
"But why of ships?" enquired Bellew, rising.
"'Cause I made up my mind, this morning, that I'd be a sailor when I grow up,—a mariner, you know, like Peterday, only I'd prefer to have both my legs."
"You'd find it more convenient, perhaps."
"You know all 'bout oceans, an' waves, and billows, don't you Uncle Porges?"
"Well, I know a little."
"An' are you ever sea-sick,—like a 'landlubber?'"
"I used to be, but I got over it."
"Was it a very big ship that you came over in?"
"No,—not so very big, but she's about as fast as anything in her class, and a corking sea-boat."
"What's her name?"
"Her name?" repeated Bellew, "well, she was called the—er 'Silvia.'"
"That's an awful' pretty name for a ship."
"Hum!—so so,—but I have learned a prettier, and next time she puts out to sea we'll change her name, eh, my Porges?"
"We?" cried Small Porges, looking up with eager eyes, "do you mean you'd take me to sea with you,—an' my Auntie Anthea, of course?"
"You don't suppose I'd leave either of you behind, if I could help it, do you? We'd all sail away together—wherever you wished."
"Do you mean," said Small Porges, in a suddenly awed voice, "that it is—your ship,—your very own?"
"But,—do you know, Uncle Porges, you don't look as though you had a ship—for your very own, somehow."
"You see, a ship is such a very big thing for one man to have for his very own self. An' has it got masts, an' funnels, an' anchors?"
"Lots of 'em."
"Then, please, when will you take me an' Auntie Anthea sailing all over the oceans?"
"Just so soon as she is ready to come."
"Then I think I'd like to go to Nova Zembla first,—I found it in my jogafrey to-day, an' it sounds nice an' far off, doesn't it?"
"It does, Shipmate!" nodded Bellew.
"Oh! that's fine!" exclaimed Small Porges rapturously, "you shall be the captain, an' I'll be the shipmate, an' we'll say Aye Aye, to each other—like the real sailors do in books,—shall we?"
"Aye, aye Shipmate!" nodded Bellew again.
"Then please, Uncle Por—I mean Captain,—what shall we name our ship,—I mean the new name?"
"Well, my Porges,—I mean, of course, shipmate,—I rather thought of calling her—Hallo!—why here's the Sergeant."
Sure enough, there was Sergeant Appleby sitting under the shade of "King Arthur"—but who rose, and stood at attention as they came up.
"Why Sergeant, how are you?" said Bellew, gripping the veteran's hand. "You are half an hour before your usual time, to-day,—nothing wrong, I hope?"
"Nothing wrong, Mr. Bellew, sir—I thank you. No, nothing wrong, but this—is a—memorable occasion, sir. May I trouble you to—step behind the tree with me—for half a moment, sir?"
Suiting the action to the word, the Sergeant led Bellew to the other side of the tree, and there, screened from view of the house, he, with a sudden, jerky movement, produced a very small leather case from his pocket, which he handed to Bellew.
"Not good enough—for such a woman—I know, but the best I could afford, sir!" said the Sergeant appearing profoundly interested in the leaves overhead, while Bellew opened the very small box.
"Why—it's very handsome, Sergeant!" said Bellew, making the jewels sparkle in the sun,—"anyone might be proud of such a ring."
"Why, it did look pretty tidy—in the shop, sir,—to me, and Peterday. My comrade has a sharp eye, and a sound judgment in most things, sir—and we took—a deal of trouble in selecting it. But now—when it comes to—giving it to Her,—why it looks—uncommon small, and mean, sir."
"A ruby, and two diamonds, and very fine stones, too, Sergeant!"
"So I made so bold as to—come here sir," pursued the Sergeant still interested in the foliage above, "half an hour afore my usual time—to ask you, sir—if you would so far oblige me—as to—hand it to her—when I'm gone, sir."
"Lord, no!" said Bellew, smiling and shaking his head, "not on your life, Sergeant! Why man it would lose half its value in her eyes if any other than you gave it to her. No Sergeant, you must hand it to her yourself, and, what's more, you must slip it upon her finger."
"Good Lord! sir!" exclaimed the Sergeant, "I could never do that!"
"Oh yes you could!"
"Not unless you—stood by me—a force in reserve, as it were, sir."
"I'll do that willingly, Sergeant."
"Then—p 'raps sir—you might happen to know—which finger?"
"The third finger of the left hand, I believe Sergeant."
"Here's Aunt Priscilla now," said Small Porges, at this juncture.
"Lord!" exclaimed the Sergeant, "and sixteen minutes afore her usual time!"
Yes,—there was Miss Priscilla, her basket of sewing upon her arm, as gentle, as unruffled, as placid as usual. And yet it is probable that she divined something from their very attitudes, for there was a light in her eyes, and her cheeks seemed more delicately pink than was their wont. Thus, as she came toward them, under the ancient apple-trees, despite her stick, and her white hair, she looked even younger, and more girlish than ever.
At least, the Sergeant seemed to think so, for, as he met her look, his face grew suddenly radiant, while a slow flush crept up under the tan of his cheek, and the solitary hand he held out to her, trembled a little, for all its size, and strength.
"Miss Priscilla, mam—" he said, and stopped. "Miss Priscilla," he began again, and paused once more.
"Why—Sergeant!" she exclaimed, though it was a very soft little exclamation indeed,—for her hand still rested in his, and so she could feel the quiver of the strong fingers, "why—Sergeant!"
"Miss Priscilla,—" said he, beginning all over again, but with no better success.
"Goodness me!" exclaimed Miss Priscilla, "I do believe he is going to forget to enquire about the peaches!"
"Peaches!" repeated the Sergeant, "Yes, Priscilla."
"'Cause he's brought you a ring," Small Porges broke in, "a very handsome ring, you know, Aunt Priscilla,—all diamonds an' jewels, an' he wants you to please let him put it on your finger—if you don't mind."
"And—here it is!" said the Sergeant, and gave it into her hand.
Miss Priscilla stood very silent, and very still, looking down at the glittering gems, then, all at once, her eyes filled, and a slow wave of colour dyed her cheeks:
"Oh Sergeant!" she said, very softly, "Oh Sergeant, I am only a poor, old woman—with a lame foot!"
"And I am a poor, old soldier—with only one arm, Priscilla."
"You are the strongest, and gentlest, and bravest soldier in all the world, I think!" she answered.
"And you, Priscilla, are the sweetest, and most beautiful woman in the world, I know! And so—I've loved you all these years, and—never dared to tell you so, because of my—one arm."
"Why then," said Miss Priscilla, smiling up at him through her tears, "if you do—really—think that,—why,—it's this finger, Sergeant!"
So the Sergeant, very clumsily, perhaps, because he had but the one hand, slipped the ring upon the finger in question. And Porges, Big, and Small, turning to glance back, as they went upon their way saw that he still held that small white hand pressed close to his lips.
Coming events cast their shadows before
"I s'pose they'll be marrying each other, one of these fine days!" said Small Porges as they crossed the meadow, side by side.
"Yes, I expect so, Shipmate," nodded Bellew, "and may they live long, and die happy, say I."
"Aye, aye, Captain,—an' Amen!" returned Small Porges.
Now as they went, conversing of marriage, and ships, and the wonders, and marvels of foreign lands,—they met with Adam who stared up at the sky and muttered to himself, and frowned, and shook his head.
"Good arternoon, Mr. Belloo sir,—an' Master Georgy!"
"Well, Adam, how are the hops?"
"'Ops sir,—there never was such 'ops,—no, not in all Kent, sir. All I'm wishin' is that they was all safe picked, an' gathered. W'ot do you make o' them clouds, sir,—over there,—jest over the p'int o' the oast-house?"
Bellew turned, and cast a comprehensive, sailor-like glance in the direction indicated.
"Rain, Adam, and wind,—and plenty of it!" said he.
"Ah! so I think, sir,—driving storm, and thrashing tempest!"
"Well, sir,—p'raps you've never seen w'ot driving rain, an' raging wind, can do among the 'op-bines, sir. All I wish is that they 'ops was all safe picked an' gathered, sir!" And Adam strode off with his eye still turned heaven-ward, and shaking his head like some great bird of ill-omen.
So the afternoon wore away to evening, and with evening, came Anthea; but a very grave-eyed, troubled Anthea, who sat at the tea-table silent, and preoccupied,—in so much, that Small Porges openly wondered, while Miss Priscilla watched over her, wistful, and tender.
Thus, Tea, which was wont to be the merriest meal of the day, was but the pale ghost of what it should have been, despite Small Porges' flow of conversation, (when not impeded by bread and jam), and Bellew's tactful efforts. Now while he talked light-heartedly, keeping carefully to generalities, he noticed two things,—one was that Anthea made but a pretence at eating, and the second, that though she uttered a word, now and then, yet her eyes persistently avoided his.
Thus, he, for one, was relieved when tea was over, and, as he rose from the table, he determined, despite the unpropitious look of things, to end the suspense, one way or another, and speak to Anthea just so soon as she should be alone.
But here again he was balked and disappointed, for when Small Porges came to bid him good-night as usual, he learned that "Auntie Anthea" had already gone to bed.
"She says it's a head-ache," said Small Porges, "but I 'specks it's the hops, really, you know."
"The hops, my Porges?"
"She's worrying about them,—she's 'fraid of a storm, like Adam is. An' when she worries,—I worry. Oh Uncle Porges!—if only my prayers can bring the Money Moon—soon, you know,—very soon! If they don't bring it in a day or two,—'fraid I shall wake up, one fine morning, an' find I've worried, an' worried myself into an old man."
"Never fear, Shipmate!" said Bellew in his most nautical manner, "'all's well that ends well,'—a-low, and aloft all's a-taunto. So just take a turn at the lee braces, and keep your weather eye lifting, for you may be sure of this,—if the storm does come,—it will bring the Money Moon with it."
Then, having bidden Small Porges a cheery "Good-night"—Bellew went out to walk among the roses. And, as he walked, he watched the flying wrack of clouds above his head, and listened to the wind that moaned in fitful gusts. Wherefore, having learned in his many travels to read, and interpret such natural signs and omens, he shook his head, and muttered to himself—even as Adam had done before him.
Presently he wandered back into the house, and, filling his pipe, went to hold communion with his friend—the Cavalier.
And thus it was that having ensconced himself in the great elbow-chair, and raised his eyes to the picture, he espied a letter tucked into the frame, thereof. Looking closer, he saw that it was directed to himself. He took it down, and, after a momentary hesitation, broke the seal, and read:
Miss Devine presents her compliments to Mr. Bellew, and regrets to say that owing to unforeseen circumstances, she begs that he will provide himself with other quarters at the expiration of the month, being the Twenty-third inst.
Bellew read the lines slowly, twice over, then, folding the note very carefully, put it into his pocket, and stood for a long time staring at nothing in particular. At length he lifted his head, and looked up into the smiling eyes of the Cavalier, above the mantel.
"Sir," said he, very gravely, "it would almost seem that you were in the right of it,—that yours is the best method, after all!" Then he knocked the ashes from his pipe, and went, slowly, and heavily, up-stairs to bed.
It was a long time before he fell asleep, but he did so at last, for Insomnia is a demon who rarely finds his way into Arcadia. But, all at once, he was awake again,—broad awake, and staring into the dark, for a thousand voices seemed to be screaming in his ears, and eager hands were shaking, and plucking at window and lattice. He started up, and then he knew that the storm was upon them, at last, in all its fury,—rain, and a mighty wind,—a howling raging tempest. Yes, a great, and mighty wind was abroad,—it shrieked under the eaves, it boomed and bellowed in the chimneys, and roared away to carry destruction among the distant woods; while the rain beat hissing against the window-panes.
Surely in all its many years the old house of Dapplemere had seldom borne the brunt of such a storm, so wild,—so fierce, and pitiless!
And, lying there upon his bed, listening to the uproar, and tumult, Bellew must needs think of her who had once said:
"We are placing all our hopes, this year, upon the hops!"
How Small Porges, in his hour of need, was deserted by his Uncle
"Ruined, sir!—Done for!—Lord love me! they ain't worth the trouble o? gatherin'—w'ot's left on 'em, Mr. Belloo sir."
"So bad as that, Adam?"
"Bad!—ah, so bad as ever was, sir!" said Adam, blinking suspiciously, and turning suddenly away.
"Has Miss Anthea seen,—does she know?"
"Ah! she were out at dawn, and Oh Lord, Mr. Belloo sir! I can't never forget her poor, stricken face,—so pale and sad it were. But she never said nothing, only: 'Oh, Adam!—my poor hops!' An' I see her lips all of a quiver while she spoke. An' so she turned away, an' came back to the 'ouse, sir. Poor lass! Oh poor lass!" he exclaimed, his voice growing more husky. "She's made a brave fight for it, sir,—but it weren't no use, ye see,—it'll be 'Good-bye' for her to Dapplemere, arter all, that there mortgage can't never be paid now,—nohow."
"When is it due?"
"Well, according to the bond, or the deed, or whatever they calls it,—it be doo—tonight, at nine o'clock, sir,—though Old Grimes,—as a special favour, an' arter much persuading,—'ad agreed to hold over till next Saturday,—on account o' the 'op-picking. But now—seeing as there ain't no 'ops to be picked,—why he'll fore-close to-night, an' glad enough to do it, you can lay your oath on that, Mr. Belloo sir."
"To-night!" said Bellew, "to-night!" and he stood, for a while with bent head, as though lost in profound thought. "Adam," said he, suddenly, "help me to harness the mare, I must drive over to the nearest rail-road depot,—hurry, I must be off, the sooner, the better."
"What!—be you—goin' sir?"
"D'ye mean as you're a-goin' to leave her—now, in the middle o' all this trouble?"
"Yes, Adam,—I must go to London—on business,—now hurry, like a good fellow." And so, together they entered the stable, and together they harnessed the mare. Which done, staying not for breakfast, Bellew mounted the driver's seat, and, with Adam beside him, drove rapidly away.
But Small Porges had seen these preparations, and now came running all eagerness, but ere he could reach the yard, Bellew was out of ear-shot.
So there stood Small Porges, a desolate little figure, watching the rapid course of the dogcart until it had vanished over the brow of the hill. And then, all at once the tears welled up into his eyes hot, and scalding, and a great sob burst from him, for it seemed to him that his beloved Uncle Porges had failed him at the crucial moment,—had left him solitary just when he needed him most.
Thus Small Porges gave way to his grief, hidden in the very darkest corner of the stable, whither he had retired lest any should observe his weakness, until having once more gained command of himself, and wiped away his tears with his small, and dingy pocket-handkerchief, he slowly re-crossed the yard, and entering the house went to look for his Auntie Anthea.
And, after much search, he found her—half-lying, half-kneeling beside his bed. When he spoke to her, though she answered him, she did not look up, and he knew that she was weeping.
"Don't, Auntie Anthea,—don't!" he pleaded. "I know Uncle Porges has gone away, an' left us, but you've got me left, you know,—an' I shall be a man—very soon,—before my time, I think. So—don't cry,—though I'm awful' sorry he's gone, too—just when we needed him the most, you know!"
"Oh Georgy!" she whispered, "my dear, brave little Georgy! We shall only have each other soon,—they're going to take Dapplemere away from us,—and everything we have in the world,—Oh Georgy!"
"Well, never mind!" said he, kneeling beside her, and drawing one small arm protectingly about her, "we shall always have each other left, you know,—nobody shall ever take you away from me. An' then—there's the—Money Moon! It's been an awful' long time coming,—but it may come to-night, or tomorrow night. He said it would be sure to come if the storm came, an' so I'll find the fortune for you at last. I know I shall find it some day a course—'cause I've prayed, an' prayed for it so very hard, an' He said my prayers went straight up to heaven, an' didn't get blown away, or lost in the clouds. So—don't cry, Auntie Anthea let's wait—just a little longer—till the Money Moon comes."
In which shall be found mention of a certain black bag
"Get me a pen, and ink!"
Now any ordinary mortal might have manifested just a little surprise to behold his master walk suddenly in, dusty and dishevelled of person, his habitual languor entirely laid aside, and to thus demand pen and ink, forthwith. But then, Baxter, though mortal, was the very cream of a gentleman's gentleman, and the acme of valets, (as has been said), and comported himself accordingly.
"Oblige me by getting this cashed."
"Bring half of it in gold."
"Sir," said Baxter, glancing down at the slip of paper, "did you say—half, sir?"
"Yes, Baxter,—I'd take it all in gold only that it would be rather awkward to drag around. So bring half in gold, and the rest in—five pound notes."
"Very good, sir!"
"Take a cab!"
"Certainly sir." And Baxter went out, closing the door behind him. Meanwhile Bellew busied himself in removing all traces of his journey, and was already bathed, and shaved, and dressed, by the time Baxter returned.
Now gripped in his right hand Baxter carried a black leather bag which jingled as he set it down upon the table.
"Got it?" enquired Bellew.
"I have, sir."
"Good!" nodded Bellew. "Now just run around to the garage, and fetch the new racing car,—the Mercedes."
Once more Baxter departed, and, while he was gone, Bellew began to pack,—that is to say, he bundled coats and trousers, shirts and boots into a portmanteau in a way that would have wrung Baxter's heart, could he have seen. Which done, Bellew opened the black bag, glanced inside, shut it again, and, lighting his pipe, stretched himself out upon an ottoman, and immediately became plunged in thought.
So lost was he, indeed, that Baxter, upon his return was necessitated to emit three distinct coughs,—(the most perfectly proper, and gentleman-like coughs in the world) ere Bellew was aware of his presence.
"Oh!—that you, Baxter?" said he, sitting up, "back so soon?"
"The car is at the door, sir."
"The car?—ah yes, to be sure!—Baxter."
"What should you say if I told you—" Bellew paused to strike a match, broke it, tried another, broke that, and finally put his pipe back into his pocket, very conscious the while of Baxter's steady, though perfectly respectful regard.
"Baxter," said he again.
"Sir?" said Baxter.
"What should you say if I told you that I was in love—at last, Baxter!—Head over ears—hopelessly—irretrievably?"
"Say, sir?—why I should say,—indeed, sir?"
"What should you say," pursued Bellew, staring thoughtfully down at the rug under his feet, "if I told you that I am so very much, in love that I am positively afraid to—tell her so?"
"I should say—very remarkable, sir!"
Bellew took out his pipe again, looked at it very much as if he had never seen such a thing before, and laid it down upon the mantelpiece.
"Baxter," said he, "kindly understand that I am speaking to you as—er—man to man,—as my father's old and trusted servant and my early boy-hood's only friend; sit down, John."
"Thank you, Master George, sir."
"I wish to—confess to you, John, that—er—regarding the—er—Haunting Spectre of the Might Have Been,—you were entirely in the right. At that time I knew no more the meaning of the—er—the word, John—"
"Meaning the word—Love, Master George!"
"Precisely; I knew no more about it than—that table. But during these latter days, I have begun to understand, and—er—the fact of the matter is—I'm—I'm fairly—up against it, John!"
Here, Baxter, who had been watching him with his quick, sharp eyes nodded his head solemnly:
"Master George," said he, "speaking as your father's old servant, and your boyhood's friend,—I'm afraid you are."
Bellew took a turn up and down the room, and then pausing in front of Baxter, (who had risen also, as a matter of course), he suddenly laid his two hands upon his valet's shoulders.
"Baxter," said he, "you'll remember that after my mother died, my father was always too busy piling up his millions to give much time or thought to me, and I should have been a very lonely small boy if it hadn't been for you, John Baxter. I was often 'up against it,' in those days, John, and you were always ready to help, and advise me;—but now,—well, from the look of things, I'm rather afraid that I must stay 'up against it'—that the game is lost already, John. But which ever way Fate decides—win, or lose,—I'm glad—yes, very glad to have learned the true meaning of—the word, John."
"Master George, sir,—there was a poet once—Tennyson, I think, who said,—'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,' and I know—that he was—right. Many years ago,—before you were born, Master George, I loved—and lost, and that is how I know. But I hope that Fortune will be kinder to you, indeed I do."
"Thank you, John,—though I don't see why she should be." And Bellew stood staring down at the rug again, till aroused by Baxter's cough:
"Pray sir, what are your orders, the car is waiting downstairs?"
"Orders?—why—er—pack your grip, Baxter, I shall take you with me, this time, into Arcadia, Baxter."
"For how long, sir?"
"Probably a week."
"Very good, sir."
"It is now half-past three, I must be back in Dapplemere at eight. Take your time—I'll go down to look at the machine. Just lock the place up, and—er—don't forget the black bag."
Some ten minutes later the great racing car set out on its journey, with Bellew at the wheel, and Baxter beside him with the black bag held firmly upon his knee.
Their process was, necessarily, slow at first, on account of the crowded thoroughfares. But, every now and then, the long, low car would shoot forward through some gap in the traffic, grazing the hubs of bus-wheels, dodging hansoms, shaving sudden corners in an apparently reckless manner. But Baxter, with his hand always upon the black leather bag, sat calm and unruffled, since he knew, by long experience, that Bellew's eye was quick and true, and his hand firm and sure upon the wheel.
Over Westminster Bridge, and along the Old Kent Road they sped, now fast, now slow,—threading a tortuous, and difficult way amid the myriad vehicles, and so, betimes, they reached Blackheath.
And now the powerful machine hummed over that ancient road that had aforetime, shaken to the tread of stalwart Roman Legionaries,—up Shooter's Hill, and down,—and so into the open country.
And, ever as they went, they talked. And not as master and servant but as "between man and man,"—wherefore Baxter the Valet became merged and lost in Baxter the Human,—the honest John of the old days,—a gray haired, kindly-eyed, middle-aged cosmopolitan who listened to, and looked at, Young Alcides beside him as if he had indeed been the Master George, of years ago.
"So you see, John, if all things do go well with me, we should probably take a trip to the Mediterranean."
"In the—'Silvia,' of course, Master George?"
"Yes; though—er—I've decided to change her name, John."
"Ah!—very natural—under the circumstances, Master George," said honest John, his eyes twinkling slyly as he spoke, "Now, if I might suggest a new name it would be hard to find a more original one than 'The Haunting Spectre of the—"
"Bosh, John!—there never was such a thing, you were quite right, as I said before, and—by heaven,—potato sacks!"
"Eh,—what?—potato sacks, Master George?"
They had been climbing a long, winding ascent, but now, having reached the top of the hill, they overtook a great, lumbering market cart, or wain, piled high with sacks of potatoes, and driven by an extremely surly-faced man in a smock-frock.
"Hallo there!" cried Bellew, slowing up, "how much for one of your potato-sacks?"
"Get out, now!" growled the surly-faced man, in a tone as surly as his look, "can't ye see as they're all occipied?"
"Get out, now!" repeated the man, scowling blacker than ever.
"I'll give you a sovereign for one."
"Now, don't ye try to come none o' your jokes wi' me, young feller!" growled the carter. "Sovereign!—bah!—Show us."
"Here it is," said Bellew, holding up the coin in question. "Catch!" and, with the word, he tossed it up to the carter who caught it, very dexterously, looked at it, bit it, rubbed it on his sleeve, rang it upon the foot-board of his waggon, bit it again and finally pocketed it.
"It's a go, sir," he nodded, his scowl vanishing as by magic; and as he spoke, he turned, seized the nearest sack, and, forthwith sent a cascade of potatoes rolling, and bounding all over the road. Which done, he folded up the sack, and handed it down to Bellew who thrust it under the seat, nodded, and, throwing in the clutch, set off down the road. But, long after the car had hummed itself out of sight, and the dust of its going had subsided, the carter sat staring after it—open-mouthed.
If Baxter wondered at this purchase, he said nothing, only he bent his gaze thoughtfully upon the black leather bag that he held upon his knee.
On they sped between fragrant hedges, under whispering trees, past lonely cottages and farm-houses, past gate, and field, and wood, until the sun grew low.
At last, Bellew stopped the automobile at a place where a narrow lane, or cart track, branched off from the high road, and wound away between great trees.
"I leave you here," said he as he sprang from the car, "this is Dapplemere,—the farmhouse lies over the up-land, yonder, though you can't see it because of the trees."
"Is it far, Master George?"
"About half a mile."
"Here is the bag, sir; but—do you think it is—quite safe—?"
"Under the circumstances, Master George, I think it would be advisable to—to take this with you." And he held out a small revolver. Bellew laughed, and shook his head.
"Such things aren't necessary—here in Arcadia, John,—besides, I have my stick. So good-bye, for the present, you'll stay at the 'King's Head,'—remember."
"Good-night, Master George, sir, goodnight! and good fortune go with you."
"Thank you!" said Bellew, and reached out his hand, "I think we'll shake on that, John!"
So they clasped hands, and Bellew turned, and set off along the grassy lane. And, presently, as he went, he heard the hum of the car grow rapidly fainter and fainter until it was lost in the quiet of the evening.
The shadows were creeping down, and evening was approaching, as Bellew took his way along that winding lane that led to the House of Dapplemere.
Had there been anyone to see, (which there was not), they might have noticed something almost furtive in his manner of approach, for he walked always under the trees where the shadows lay thickest, and paused, once or twice, to look about him warily. Being come within sight of the house, he turned aside, and forcing his way through a gap in the hedge, came by a roundabout course to the farm-yard. Here, after some search, he discovered a spade, the which, (having discarded his stick), he took upon his shoulder, and with the black leather bag tucked under his arm, crossed the paddock with the same degree of caution, and so, at last, reached the orchard. On he went, always in the shadow until, at length, he paused beneath the mighty, knotted branches of "King Arthur." Never did conspirator glance about him with sharper eyes, or hearken with keener ears, than did George Bellew,—or Conspirator No. One, where he now stood beneath the protecting shadow of "King Arthur,"—or Conspirator No. Two, as, having unfolded the potato sack, he opened the black leather bag.
The moon was rising broad, and yellow, but it was low as yet, and "King Arthur" stood in impenetrable gloom,—as any other thorough-going, self-respecting conspirator should; and now, all at once, from this particular patch of shadow, there came a sudden sound,—a rushing sound,—a chinking, clinking, metallic sound, and, thereafter, a crisp rustling that was not the rustling of ordinary paper.
And now Conspirator No. One rises, and ties the mouth of the sack with string he had brought with him for the purpose, and setting down the sack, bulky now and heavy, by Conspirator No. Two, takes up the spade and begins to dig. And, in a while, having made an excavation not very deep to be sure, but sufficient to his purpose, he deposits the sack within, covers it with soil, treads it down, and replacing the torn sod, carefully pats it down with the flat of his spade. Which thing accomplished, Conspirator No. One wipes his brow, and stepping forth of the shadow, consults his watch with anxious eye, and, thereupon, smiles,—surely a singularly pleasing smile for the lips of an arch-conspirator to wear. Thereafter he takes up the black bag, empty now, shoulders the spade, and sets off, keeping once more in the shadows, leaving Conspirator No. Two to guard their guilty secret.
Now, as Conspirator No. One goes his shady way, he keeps his look directed towards the rising moon, and thus he almost runs into one who also stands amid the shadows and whose gaze is likewise fixed upon the moon.
"Ah?—Mr. Bellew!" exclaims a drawling voice, and Squire Cassilis turns to regard him with his usual supercilious smile. Indeed Squire Cassilis seems to be even more self-satisfied, and smiling than ordinary, to-night,—or at least Bellew imagines so.
"You are still agriculturally inclined, I see," said Mr. Cassilis, nodding towards the spade, "though it's rather a queer time to choose for digging, isn't it?"
"Not at all, sir—not at all," returned Bellew solemnly, "the moon is very nearly at the full, you will perceive."
"Well, sir,—and what of that?"
"When the moon is at the full, or nearly so, I generally dig, sir,—that is to say, circumstances permitting."
"Really," said Mr. Cassilis beginning to caress his moustache, "it seems to me that you have very—ah—peculiar tastes, Mr. Bellew."
"That is because you have probably never experienced the fierce joys of moon-light digging, sir."
"No, Mr. Bellew,—digging—as a recreation, has never appealed to me at any time."
"Then sir," said Bellew, shaking his head, "permit me to tell you that you have missed a great deal. Had I the time, I should be delighted to explain to you exactly how much, as it is—allow me to wish you a very good evening."
Mr. Cassilis smiled, and his teeth seemed to gleam whiter, and sharper than ever in the moon-light:
"Wouldn't it be rather more apropos if you said—'Good-bye' Mr. Bellew?" he enquired. "You are leaving Dapplemere, shortly, I understand,—aren't you?"
"Why sir," returned Bellew, grave, and imperturbable as ever,—"it all depends."
"Depends!—upon what, may I ask?"
"The moon, sir."
"And pray—what can the moon have to do with your departure?"
"A great deal more than you'd think—sir. Had I the time, I should be delighted to explain to you exactly how much, as it is,—permit me to wish you a very—good evening!"
Saying which, Bellew nodded affably, and, shouldering his spade, went upon his way. And still he walked in the shadows, and still he gazed upon the moon, but now, his thick brows were gathered in a frown, and he was wondering just why Cassilis should chance to be here, to-night, and what his confident air, and the general assurance of his manner might portend; above all, he was wondering how Mr. Cassilis came to be aware of his own impending departure. And so, at last, he came to the rick-yard,—full of increasing doubt and misgivings.
How the money moon rose
Evening had deepened into night,—a night of ineffable calm, a night of an all pervading quietude. A horse snorted in the stable nearby, a dog barked in the distance, but these sounds served only to render the silence the more profound, by contrast. It was, indeed, a night wherein pixies, and elves, and goblins, and fairies might weave their magic spells, a night wherein tired humanity dreamed those dreams that seem so hopelessly impossible by day.
And, over all, the moon rose high, and higher, in solemn majesty, filling the world with her pale loveliness, and brooding over it like the gentle goddess she is. Even the distant dog seemed to feel something of all this, for, after a futile bark or two, he gave it up altogether, and was heard no more.
And Bellew, gazing up at Luna's pale serenity, smiled and nodded,—as much as to say, "You'll do!" and so stood leaning upon his spade listening to:
"That deep hush which seems a sigh Breathed by Earth to listening sky."
Now, all at once, upon this quietude there rose a voice up-raised in fervent supplication; wherefore, treading very softly, Bellew came, and peeping round the hay-rick, beheld Small Porges upon his knees. He was equipped for travel and the perils of the road, for beside him lay a stick, and tied to this stick was a bundle that bulged with his most cherished possessions. His cheeks were wet with great tears that glistened in the moon-beams, but he wept with eyes tight shut, and with his small hands clasped close together, and thus he spoke,—albeit much shaken, and hindered by sobs:
"I s'pose you think I bother you an awful lot, dear Lord,—an' so I do, but you haven't sent the Money Moon yet, you see, an' now my Auntie Anthea's got to leave Dapplemere—if I don't find the fortune for her soon. I know I'm crying a lot, an' real men don't cry,—but it's only 'cause I'm awful—lonely an' disappointed,—an' nobody can see me, so it doesn't matter. But, dear Lord, I've looked an' looked everywhere, an' I haven't found a single sovereign yet,—an' I've prayed to you, an' prayed to you for the Money Moon an'—it's never come. So now, dear Lord, I'm going to Africa, an' I want you to please take care of my Auntie Anthea till I come back. Sometimes I'm 'fraid my prayers can't quite manage to get up to you 'cause of the clouds, an' wind, but to-night there isn't any, so, if they do reach you, please—Oh! please let me find the fortune, and, if you don't mind, let—him come back to me, dear Lord,—I mean my Uncle Porges, you know. An' now—that's all, dear Lord, so Amen!"
As the prayer ended Bellew stole back, and coming to the gate of the rick-yard, leaned there waiting. And, presently, as he watched, he saw a small figure emerge from behind the big hay-stack and come striding manfully toward him, his bundle upon his shoulder, and with the moon bright in his curls.
But, all at once, Small Porges saw him and stopped, and the stick and bundle fell to the ground and lay neglected.
"Why—my Porges!" said Bellew, a trifle huskily, perhaps, "why, Shipmate!" and he held out his hands. Then Small Porges uttered a cry, and came running, and next moment Big Porges had him in his arms.
"Oh, Uncle Porges!—then you—have come back to me!"
"Aye, aye, Shipmate."
"Why, then—my prayers did reach!"
"Why, of course,—prayers always reach, my Porges."
"Then, oh!—do you s'pose I shall find the fortune, too?"
"Not a doubt of it,—just look at the moon!"
"Why, haven't you noticed how—er—peculiar it is to-night?"
"Peculiar?" repeated Small Porges breathlessly, turning to look at it.
"Why, yes, my Porges,—big, you know, and—er—yellow,—like—er—like a very large sovereign."
"Do you mean—Oh! do you mean—it's—the—" But here Small Porges choked suddenly, and could only look his question.
"The Money Moon?—Oh yes—there she is at last, my Porges! Take a good look at her, I don't suppose we shall ever see another."
Small Porges stood very still, and gazed up at the moon's broad, yellow disc, and, as he looked the tears welled up in his eyes again, and a great sob broke from him.
"I'm so—glad!" he whispered. "So—awful—glad!" Then, suddenly, he dashed away his tears and slipped his small, trembling hand into Bellew's.
"Quick, Uncle Porges!" said he, "Mr. Grimes is coming to-night, you know—an' we must find the money in time. Where shall we look first?"
"Well, I guess the orchard will do—to start with."
"Then let's go—now."
"But we shall need a couple of spades, Shipmate."
"Oh!—must we dig?"
"Yes,—I fancy that's a—er—digging moon, my Porges, from the look of it. Ah! there's a spade, nice and handy, you take that and I'll—er—I'll manage with this pitchfork."
"But you can't dig with a—"
"Oh! well—you can do the digging, and I'll just—er—prod, you know. Ready?—then heave ahead, Shipmate."
So they set out, hand in hand, spade and pitch-fork on shoulder, and presently were come to the orchard.
"It's an awful big place to dig up a fortune in!" said Small Porges, glancing about. "Where do you s'pose we'd better begin?"
"Well, Shipmate, between you and me, and the pitch-fork here, I rather fancy 'King Arthur' knows more than most people would think. Any way, we'll try him. You dig on that side, and I'll prod on this."
Saying which, Bellew pointed to a certain spot where the grass looked somewhat uneven, and peculiarly bumpy, and, bidding Small Porges get to work, went round to the other side of the great tree.
Being there, he took out his pipe, purely from force of habit, and stood with it clenched in his teeth, listening to the scrape of Small Porges' spade.
Presently he heard a cry, a panting, breathless cry, but full of a joy unspeakable:
"I've got it!—Oh, Uncle Porges—I've found it!"
Small Porges was down upon his knees, pulling and tugging at a sack he had partially unearthed, and which, with Bellew's aid, he dragged forth into the moonlight. In the twinkling of an eye the string was cut, and plunging in a hand Small Porges brought up a fistful of shining sovereigns, and, among them, a crumpled banknote.
"It's all right, Uncle Porges!" he nodded, his voice all of a quaver. "It's all right, now,—I've found the fortune I've prayed for,—gold, you know, an' banknotes—in a sack. Everything will be all right again now." And, while he spoke, he rose to his feet, and lifting the sack with an effort, swung it across his shoulder, and set off toward the house.
"Is it heavy, Shipmate?"
"Awful heavy!" he panted, "but I don't mind that—it's gold, you see!" But, as they crossed the rose-garden, Bellew laid a restraining hand upon his shoulder.
"Porges," said he, "where is your Auntie Anthea?"
"In the drawing-room, waiting for Mr. Grimes."
"Then, come this way." And turning, Bellew led Small Porges up, and along the terrace.
"Now, my Porges," he admonished him, "when we come to the drawing-room windows,—they're open, you see,—I want you to hide with me in the shadows, and wait until I give you the word—"
"Aye, aye, Captain!" panted Small Porges.
"When I say 'heave ahead, Shipmate,'—why, then, you will take your treasure upon your back and march straight into the room—you understand?"
"Aye, aye, Captain."
"Why, then—come on, and—mum's the word."
Very cautiously they approached the long French windows, and paused in the shadow of a great rose-bush, near-by. From where he stood Bellew could see Anthea and Miss Priscilla, and between them, sprawling in an easy chair, was Grimes, while Adam, hat in hand, scowled in the background.
"All I can say is—as I'm very sorry for ye, Miss Anthea," Grimes was saying. "Ah! that I am, but glad as you've took it so well,—no crying nor nonsense!" Here he turned to look at Miss Priscilla, whose everlasting sewing had fallen to her feet, and lay there all unnoticed, while her tearful eyes were fixed upon Anthea, standing white-faced beside her.
"And when—when shall ye be ready to—leave, to—vacate Dapplemere, Miss Anthea?" Grimes went on. "Not as I mean to 'urry you, mind,—only I should like you to—name a day."
Now, as Bellew watched, he saw Anthea's lips move, but no sound came. Miss Priscilla saw also, and catching the nerveless hand, drew it to her bosom, and wept over it.
"Come! come!" expostulated Grimes, jingling the money in his pockets. "Come, come, Miss Anthea, mam!—all as I'm axing you is—when? All as I want you to do is—"
But here Adam, who had been screwing and wringing at his hat, now stepped forward and, tapping Grimes upon the shoulder, pointed to the door:
"Mister Grimes," said he, "Miss Anthea's told ye all as you come here to find out,—she's told ye as she—can't pay, so now,—s'pose you—go."
"But all I want to know is when she'll be ready to move, and I ain't a going till I do,—so you get out o' my way!"
"S'pose you go!" repeated Adam.
"Get out o' my way,—d'ye hear?"
"Because," Adam went on, "if ye don't go, Mister Grimes, the 'Old Adam' be arising inside o' me to that degree as I shall be forced to ketch you by the collar o' your jacket, and—heave you out, Mr. Grimes, sir,—so s'pose you go."
Hereupon Mr. Grimes rose, put on his hat, and muttering to himself, stamped indignantly from the room, and Adam, shutting the door upon him, turned to Miss Anthea, who stood white-lipped and dry-eyed, while gentle little Miss Priscilla fondled her listless hand.
"Don't,—don't look that way, Miss Anthea," said Adam. "I'd rayther see you cry, than look so. It be 'ard to 'ave to let the old place go, but—"
"Heave ahead, Shipmate!" whispered Bellew.
Obedient to his command Small Porges, with his burden upon his back, ran forward, and stumbled into the room.
"It's all right, Auntie Anthea!" he cried, "I've got the fortune for you,—I've found the money I prayed for,—here it is, oh!—here it is!"
The sack fell jingling to the floor, and, next moment, he had poured a heap of shining gold and crumpled banknotes at Anthea's feet.
For a moment no one moved, then, with a strange hoarse cry, Adam had flung himself down upon his knees, and caught up a great handful of the gold; then while Miss Priscilla sobbed with her arms about Small Porges, and Anthea stared down at the treasure, wide-eyed, and with her hands pressed down upon her heart, Adam gave a sudden, great laugh, and springing up, came running out through the window, never spying Bellew in his haste, and shouting as he ran:
"Grimes!" he roared, "Oh! Grimes, come back an' be paid. Come back—we've had our little joke wi' you,—now come back an' be paid!"
Then, at last, Anthea's stony calm was broken, her bosom heaved with tempestuous sobs, and, next moment, she had thrown herself upon her knees, and had clasped her arms about Small Porges and Aunt Priscilla, mingling kisses with her tears. As for Bellew, he turned away, and, treading a familiar path, found himself beneath the shadow of "King Arthur." Therefore, he sat down, and lighting his pipe, stared up at the glory of the full-orbed moon.
"Happiness," said he, speaking his thought aloud, "'Happiness shall come riding astride the full moon!' Now—I wonder!"
In which is verified the adage of the cup and the lip.
Now as he sat thus, plunged in thought, he heard the voice of one who approached intoning a familiar chant, or refrain,—the voice was harsh, albeit not unmusical, and the words of the chant were these:
"When I am dead, diddle diddle, as well may hap, Bury me deep, diddle diddle, under the tap, Under the tap, diddle diddle, I'll tell you—"
"Lord!" exclaimed the singer, breaking off suddenly, "be that you, Mr. Belloo, sir?"
"Yea, in good sooth, Adam, the very same,—but you sing, Adam?"
"Ah!—I sing, Mr. Belloo, sir, an' if you ax me why, then I tell you because I be 'appy-'earted an' full o' j-o-y, j'y, sir. The mortgage be paid off at last, Mr. Belloo, sir,—Miss Anthea be out o' debt,—free, sir,—an' all along o' Master Georgy, God bless him!"
"Oh!" said Bellew, "—er—that's good!"
"Good!" exclaimed Adam, "Ah, Mr. Belloo sir! it be more than good,—it's saved Miss Anthea's home for her, and—betwixt you an' me, sir,—I think it's saved her too. An' it be all along o' that Master Georgy! Lord sir! many's the time as I've watched that theer blessed b'y a-seekin', an' a-searchin', a pokin' an' a pryin' round the place a-lookin' for 'is fortun',—but, Lord bless my eyes an' limbs, sir!—I never thought as he'd find nothin'."
"Why, of course not, Adam."
"Ah!—but that's jest where I were mistook, Mr. Belloo, sir,—because 'e did."
"Did what, Adam?"
"Found the fortun' as he were always a-lookin' for,—a sack o' golden soverings, sir, an' bank-notes, Mr. Belloo, sir,—bushels on 'em; enough—ah! more 'n enough to pay off that mortgage, and to send that theer old Grimes about his business,—an' away from Dapplemere for good an' all, sir."
"So Grimes is really paid off, then, is he, Adam?"
"I done it myself, sir,—wi' these here two 'ands,—Three thousand pound I counted over to him, an' five hundred more—in banknotes, sir, while Miss Anthea sat by like one in a dream. Altogether there were five thousand pound as that blessed b'y dug up out o' the orchard—done up all in a pertater sack, under this very i-dentical tree as you'm a set-tin' under Mr. Belloo sir. E'cod, I be half minded to take a shovel and have a try at fortun'-huntin' myself,—only there ain't much chance o' findin' another, hereabouts; besides—that b'y prayed for that fortun', ah! long, an' hard he prayed, Mr. Belloo sir, an'—'twixt you an' me, sir, I ain't been much of a pray-er myself since my old mother died. Anyhow, the mortgage be paid off, sir, Miss Anthea's free, an' 'tis joy'ful, an' 'appy-'earted I be this night. Prudence an' me'll be gettin' married soon now,—an' when I think of her cookin'—Lord, Mr. Belloo sir!—All as I say is God bless Master Georgy! Good-night, sir! an' may your dreams be as 'appy as mine,—always supposin' I do dream, —which is seldom. Good-night, sir!"