Long after Adam's cheery whistle had died away, Bellew sat, pipe in mouth, staring up at the moon. At length, however, he rose, and turned his steps towards the house.
He started, and turning, saw Anthea standing amid her roses. For a moment they looked upon each other in silence, as though each dreaded to speak, then suddenly, she turned, and broke a great rose from its stem, and stood twisting it between her fingers.
"Why did you—do it?" she asked.
"Do it?" he repeated.
"I mean the—fortune. Georgy told me—how you—helped him to find it, and I—know how it came there, of course. Why did you—do it?"
"You didn't tell him—how it came there?" asked Bellew anxiously.
"No," she answered, "I think it would break his heart—if he knew."
"And I think it would have broken his heart if he had never found it," said Bellew, "and I couldn't let that happen, could I?" Anthea did not answer, and he saw that her eyes were very bright in the shadow of her lashes though she kept them lowered to the rose in her fingers.
"Anthea!" said he, suddenly, and reached out his hand to her. But she started and drew from his touch.
"Don't!" she said, speaking almost in a whisper, "don't touch me. Oh! I know you have paid off the mortgage—you have bought back my home for me as you bought back my furniture! Why?—why? I was nothing to you, or you to me,—why have you laid me under this obligation,—you know I can never hope to return your money—oh! why,—why did you do it?"
"Because I—love you, Anthea, have loved you from the first. Because everything I possess in this world is yours—even as I am."
"You forget!" she broke in proudly, "you forget—"
"Everything but my love for you, Anthea,—everything but that I want you for my wife. I'm not much of a fellow, I know, but—could you learn to—love me enough to—marry me—some day, Anthea?"
"Would you have—dared to say this to me—before to-night?—before your money had bought back the roof over my head? Oh! haven't I been humiliated enough? You—you have taken from me the only thing I had left—my independence,—stolen it from me! Oh! hadn't I been shamed enough?"
Now, as she spoke, she saw that his eyes were grown suddenly big and fierce, and, in that moment, her hands were caught in his powerful clasp.
"Let me go!" she cried.
"No," said he, shaking his head, "not until you tell me if you—love me. Speak, Anthea."
"Loose my hands!" She threw up her head proudly, and her eyes gleamed, and her cheeks flamed with sudden anger. "Loose me!" she repeated. But Bellew only shook his head, and his chin seemed rather more prominent than usual, as he answered:
"Tell me that you love me, or that you hate me—whichever it is, but, until you do—"
"You—hurt me!" said she, and then, as his fingers relaxed,—with a sudden passionate cry, she had broken free; but, even so, he had caught and swept her up in his arms, and held her close against his breast. And now, feeling the hopelessness of further struggle, she lay passive, while her eyes flamed up into his, and his eyes looked down into hers. Her long, thick hair had come loose, and now with a sudden, quick gesture, she drew it across her face, veiling it from him; wherefore, he stooped his head above those lustrous tresses.
"Anthea!" he murmured, and the masterful voice was strangely hesitating, and the masterful arms about her were wonderfully gentle, "Anthea—do you—love me?" Lower he bent, and lower, until his lips touched her hair, until beneath that fragrant veil, his mouth sought, and found, hers, and, in that breathless moment, he felt them quiver responsive to his caress. And then, he had set her down, she was free, and he was looking at her with a new-found radiance in his eyes.
"Anthea!" he said, wonderingly, "why then—you do—?" But, as he spoke, she hid her face in her hands.
"Anthea!" he repeated.
"Oh!" she whispered, "I—hate you!—despise you! Oh! you shall be paid back,—every penny,—every farthing, and—very soon! Next week—I marry Mr. Cassilis!"
And so, she turned, and fled away, and left him standing there amid the roses.
Which tells how Bellew left Dapplemere in the dawn
Far in the East a grey streak marked the advent of another day, and upon all things was a solemn hush, a great, and awful stillness that was like the stillness of Death. The Earth was a place of gloom, and mist, where spectral shadows writhed, and twisted, and flitted under a frowning heaven, and out of the gloom there came a breath, sharp, and damp, and exceeding chill.
Therefore, as Bellew gazed down from the frowning Heaven to the gloom of Earth, below, with its ever-moving, misty shapes, he shivered involuntarily.
In another hour it would be day, and with the day, the gates of Arcadia would open for his departure, and he must go forth to become once more a wanderer, going up and down, and to and fro in the world until his course was run.
And yet it was worth having lived for, this one golden month, and in all his wanderings needs must he carry with him the memory of her who had taught him how deep and high, how wide and infinitely far-reaching that thing called "Love" may really be.
And—Porges!—dear, quaint, Small Porges! where under heaven could he ever find again such utter faith, such pure unaffected loyalty and devotion as throbbed within that small, warm heart? How could he ever bid "Good-bye" to loving, eager, little Small Porges?
And then there was Miss Priscilla, and the strong, gentle Sergeant, and Peterday, and sturdy Adam, and Prudence, and the rosy-cheeked maids. How well they all suited this wonderful Arcadia! Yes, indeed he, and he only, had been out of place, and so—he must go—back to the every-day, matter-of-fact world, but how could he ever say "Good-bye" to faithful, loving Small Porges?
Far in the East the grey streak had brightened, and broadened, and was already tinged with a faint pink that deepened, and deepened, as he watched. Bellew had seen the glory of many a sun-rise in divers wild places of the Earth, and, hitherto, had always felt deep within him, the responsive thrill, the exhilaration of hope new born, and joyful expectation of the great, unknown Future. But now, he watched the varying hues of pink, and scarlet, and saffron, and gold, with gloomy brow, and sombre eyes.
Now presently, the Black-bird who lived in the apple-tree beneath his window, (the tree of the inquisitive turn of mind), this Black-bird fellow, opening a drowsy eye, must needs give vent to a croak, very hoarse and feeble; then, (apparently having yawned prodigiously and stretched himself, wing, and leg), he tried a couple of notes,—in a hesitating, tentative sort of fashion, shook himself,—repeated the two notes,—tried three, found them mellower, and more what the waiting world very justly expected of him; grew more confident; tried four; tried five,—grew perfectly assured, and so burst forth into the full, golden melody of his morning song.
Then Bellew, leaning out from his casement, as the first bright beams of the rising sun gilded the top-most leaves of the tree, thus apostrophised the unseen singer:
"I suppose you will be piping away down in your tree there, old fellow, long after Arcadia has faded out of my life. Well, it will be only natural, and perfectly right, of course,—She will be here, and may, perhaps, stop to listen to you. Now if, somehow, you could manage to compose for me a Song of Memory, some evening when I'm gone,—some evening when She happens to be sitting idle, and watching the moon rise over the upland yonder; if, at such a time, you could just manage to remind her of—me, why—I'd thank you. And so,—Good-bye, old fellow!"
Saying which, Bellew turned from the window, and took up a certain bulging, be-strapped portmanteau, while the Black-bird, (having, evidently, hearkened to his request with much grave attention), fell a singing more gloriously than ever.
Meanwhile, Bellew descended the great, wide stair, soft of foot, and cautious of step, yet pausing once to look towards a certain closed door, and so, presently let himself quietly out into the dawn. The dew sparkled in the grass, it hung in glittering jewels from every leaf, and twig, while, now and then, a shining drop would fall upon him as he passed, like a great tear.
Now, as he reached the orchard, up rose the sun in all his majesty filling the world with the splendour of his coming,—before whose kindly beams the skulking mists and shadows shrank affrighted, and fled utterly away.
This morning, "King Arthur" wore his grandest robes of state, for his mantle of green was thick sewn with a myriad flaming gems; very different he looked from that dark, shrouded giant who had so lately been Conspirator No. Two. Yet, perhaps for this very reason, Bellew paused to lay a hand upon his mighty, rugged hole, and, doing so, turned and looked back at the House of Dapplemere.
And truly never had the old house seemed so beautiful, so quaint, and peaceful as now. It's every stone and beam had become familiar and, as he looked, seemed to find an individuality of its own, the very lattices seemed to look back at him, like so many wistful eyes.
Therefore George Bellew, American Citizen, millionaire, traveller, explorer, and—LOVER, sighed as he turned away,—sighed as he strode on through the green and golden morning, and resolutely—looked back no more.
Of the moon's message to Small Porges, and how he told it to Bellew—in a whisper
Bellew walked on at a good pace with his back turned resolutely towards the House of Dapplemere, and thus, as he swung into that narrow, grassy lane that wound away between trees, he was much surprised to hear a distant hail. Facing sharp about he espied a diminutive figure whose small legs trotted very fast, and whose small fist waved a weather-beaten cap.
Bellew's first impulse was to turn, and run. But Bellew rarely acted on impulse; therefore, he set down the bulging portmanteau, seated himself upon it, and taking out pipe and tobacco, waited for his pursuer to come up.
"Oh Uncle Porges!" panted a voice, "you did walk so awful fast, an' I called, an' called, but you never heard. An' now, please,—where are you going?"
"Going," said Bellew, searching through his pockets for a match, "going, my Porges, why—er—for a stroll, to be sure,—just a walk before breakfast, you know."
"But then—why have you brought your bag?"
"Bag!" repeated Bellew, stooping down to look at it, "why—so—I have!"
"Please—why?" persisted Small Porges, suddenly anxious. "Why did you—bring it?"
"Well, I expect it was to—er—to bear me company. But how is it you are out so very early, my Porges?"
"Why, I couldn't sleep, last night, you know, 'cause I kept on thinking, and thinking 'bout the fortune. So I got up—in the middle of the night, an' dressed myself, an' sat in the big chair by the window, an' looked at the Money Moon. An' I stared at it, an' stared at it till a wonderful thing happened,—an' what do you s'pose?"
"I don't know."
"Well,—all at once, while I stared up at it, the moon changed itself into a great, big face; but I didn't mind a bit, 'cause it was a very nice sort of face,—rather like a gnome's face, only without the beard, you know. An' while I looked at it, it talked to me, an' it told me a lot of things,—an' that's how I know that you are—going away, 'cause you are, you know,—aren't you?"
"Why, my Porges," said Bellew, fumbling with his pipe, "why Shipmate, I—since you ask me—I am."
"Yes, I was 'fraid the moon was right," said Small Porges, and turned away. But Bellew had seen the stricken look in his eyes, therefore he took Small Porges in the circle of his big arm, and holding him thus, explained to him how that in this great world each of us must walk his appointed way, and that there must, and always will be, partings, but that also there must and always shall be, meetings:
"And so, my Porges, if we have to say 'Good-bye' now,—the sooner we shall meet again,—some day—somewhere."
But Small Porges only sighed, and shook his head in hopeless dejection.
"Does—she—know you're going,—I mean my Auntie Anthea?"
"Oh yes, she knows, Porges."
"Then I s'pose that's why she was crying so, in the night—"
"Yes;—she's cried an awful lot lately, hasn't she? Last night,—when I woke up, you know, an' couldn't sleep, I went into her room, an' she was crying—with her face hidden in the pillow, an' her hair all about her—"
"Yes; an' she said she wished she was dead. So then, a course, I tried to comfort her, you know. An' she said 'I'm a dreadful failure, Georgy dear, with the farm, an' everything else. I've tried to be a father and mother to you, an' I've failed in that too,—so now, I'm going to give you a real father,'—an' she told me she was going to marry—Mr. Cassilis. But I said 'No'—'cause I'd 'ranged for her to marry you an' live happy ever after. But she got awful angry again an' said she'd never marry you if you were the last man in the world—'cause she 'spised you so—"
"And that would seem to—settle it!" nodded Bellew gloomily, "so it's 'Good-bye' my Porges! We may as well shake hands now, and get it over," and Bellew rose from the portmanteau, and sighing, held out his hand.
"Oh!—but wait a minute!" cried Small Porges eagerly, "I haven't told you what the Moon said to me, last night—"
"Ah!—to be sure, we were forgetting that!" said Bellew with an absent look, and a trifle wearily.
"Why then—please sit down again, so I can speak into your ear, 'cause what the Moon told me to tell you was a secret, you know."
So, perforce, Bellew re-seated himself upon his portmanteau, and drawing Small Porges close, bent his head down to the anxious little face; and so, Small Porges told him exactly what the Moon had said. And the Moon's message, (whatever it was), seemed to be very short, and concise, (as all really important messages should be); but these few words had a wondrous, and magical effect upon George Bellew. For a moment he stared wide-eyed at Small Porges like one awaking from a dream, then the gloom vanished from his brow, and he sprang to his feet. And, being upon his feet, he smote his clenched fist down into the palm of his hand with a resounding smack.
"By heaven!" he exclaimed, and took a turn to and fro across the width of the lane, and seeing Small Porges watching him, caught him suddenly up in his arms, and hugged him.
"And the moon will be at the full, tonight!" said he. Thereafter he sat him down upon his portmanteau again, with Small Porges upon his knee, and they talked confidentially together with their heads very close together and in muffled tones.
When, at last, Bellew rose, his eyes were bright and eager, and his square chin, prominent, and grimly resolute.
"So—you quite understand, my Porges?"
"Yes, yes—Oh I understand!"
"Where the little bridge spans the brook,—the trees are thicker, there."
"Aye aye, Captain!"
"Then—fare thee well, Shipmate! Goodbye, my Porges,—and remember!"
So they clasped hands, very solemnly, Big Porges, and Small Porges, and turned each his appointed way, the one up, the other down, the lane. But lo! as they went Small Porges' tears were banished quite; and Bellew strode upon his way, his head held high, his shoulders squared, like one in whom Hope has been newborn.
How Anthea gave her promise
"And so—he—has really gone!" Miss Priscilla sighed as she spoke, and looked up from her needle-work to watch Anthea who sat biting her pen, and frowning down at the blank sheet of paper before her. "And so, he is—really—gone?"
"Who—Mr. Bellew? Oh yes!"
"He went—very early!"
"And—without any breakfast!"
"That was—his own fault!" said Anthea.
"And without even—saying 'Good-bye'!"
"Perhaps he was in a hurry," Anthea suggested.
"Oh dear me, no my dear! I don't believe Mr. Bellew was ever in a hurry in all his life."
"No," said Anthea, giving her pen a vicious bite, "I don't believe he ever was; he is always so—hatefully placid, and deliberate!" and here, she bit her pen again.
"Eh, my dear?" exclaimed Miss Priscilla, pausing with her needle in mid-air, "did you say—hatefully?"
"I—hate him, Aunt Priscilla!"
"That was why I—sent him away."
"You—sent him away?"
"Oh Aunt Priscilla!—surely you never—believed in the—fortune? Surely you guessed it was—his money that paid back the mortgage,—didn't you, Aunt,—didn't you?"
"Well, my dear—. But then—he did it so very—tactfully, and—and—I had hoped, my dear that—"
"That I should—marry him, and settle the obligation that way, perhaps?"
"Well, yes my dear, I did hope so—"
"Oh!—I'm going to marry—"
"Then why did you send—"
"I'm going to marry Mr. Cassilis—whenever he pleases!"
"Anthea!" The word was a cry, and her needle-work slipped from Miss Priscilla's nerveless fingers.
"He asked me to write and tell him if ever I changed my mind—"
"Oh—my dear! my dear!" cried Miss Priscilla reaching out imploring hands, "you never mean it,—you are all distraught to-day—tired, and worn out with worry, and loss of sleep,—wait!"
"Wait!" repeated Anthea bitterly, "for what?"
"To—marry—him! O Anthea! you never mean it? Think,—think what you are doing."
"I thought of it all last night, Aunt Priscilla, and all this morning, and—I have made up my mind."
"You mean to write—?"
"To tell Mr. Cassilis that you will—marry him?"
But now Miss Priscilla rose, and, next moment, was kneeling beside Anthea's chair.
"Oh my dear!" she pleaded, "you that I love like my own flesh and blood,—don't! Oh Anthea! don't do what can never be undone. Don't give your youth and beauty to one who can never—never make you happy,—Oh Anthea—!"
"Dear Aunt Priscilla, I would rather marry one I don't love than have to live beholden all my days to a man that I—hate!" Now, as she spoke, though her embrace was as ready, and her hands as gentle as ever, yet Miss Priscilla saw that her proud face was set, and stern. So, she presently rose, sighing, and taking her little crutch stick, tapped dolefully away, and left Anthea to write her letter.
And now, hesitating no more, Anthea took up her pen, and wrote,—surely a very short missive for a love-letter. And, when she had folded, and sealed it, she tossed it aside, and laying her arms upon the table, hid her face, with a long, shuddering sigh.
In a little while, she rose, and taking up the letter, went out to find Adam; but remembering that he had gone to Cranbrook with Small Porges, she paused irresolute, and then turned her steps toward the orchard. Hearing voices, she stopped again, and glancing about, espied the Sergeant, and Miss Priscilla. She had given both her hands into the Sergeant's one, great, solitary fist, and he was looking down at her, and she was looking up at him, and upon the face of each, was a great and shining joy.
And, seeing all this, Anthea felt herself very lonely all at once, and, turning aside, saw all things through a blur of sudden tears. She was possessed, also, of a sudden, fierce loathing of the future, a horror because of the promise her letter contained. Nevertheless she was firm, and resolute on her course because of the pride that burned within her.
So thus it was that as the Sergeant presently came striding along on his homeward way, he was suddenly aware of Miss Anthea standing before him; whereupon he halted, and removing his hat, wished her a "good-afternoon!"
"Sergeant," said she, "will you do something for me?"
"Anything you ask me, Miss Anthea, mam,—ever and always."
"I want you to take this letter to—Mr. Cassilis,—will you?"
The Sergeant hesitated unwontedly, turning his hat about and about in his hand, finally he put it on, out of the way.
"Will you, Sergeant?"
"Since you ask me—Miss Anthea mam—I will."
"Give it into his own hand."
"Miss Anthea mam—I will."
"Thank you!—here it is, Sergeant." And so she turned, and was gone, leaving the Sergeant staring down at the letter in his hand, and shaking his head over it.
Anthea walked on hastily, never looking behind, and so, coming back to the house, threw herself down by the open window, and stared out with unseeing eyes at the roses nodding slumberous heads in the gentle breeze.
So the irrevocable step was taken! She had given her promise to marry Cassilis whenever he would, and must abide by it! Too late now, any hope of retreat, she had deliberately chosen her course, and must follow it—to the end.
"Begging your pardon, Miss Anthea mam—!"
She started, and glancing round, espied Adam.
"Oh!—you startled me, Adam,—what is it?"
"Begging your pardon, Miss Anthea, but is it true as Mr. Belloo be gone away—for good?"
"Why then all I can say is—as I'm sorry,—ah! mortal sorry I be, an' my 'eart, mam, my 'eart likewise gloomy."
"Were you so—fond of him, Adam?"
"Well, Miss Anthea,—considering as he were—the best, good-naturedest, properest kind o' gentleman as ever was; when I tell you as over an' above all this, he could use his fists better than any man as ever I see,—him having knocked me into a dry ditch, though, to be sure I likewise drawed his claret,—begging your pardon, I'm sure, Miss Anthea; all of which happened on account o' me finding him a-sleeping in your 'ay, mam;—when I tell you furthermore, as he treated me ever as a man, an' wern't noways above shaking my 'and, or smoking a pipe wi' me—sociable like; when I tell you as he were the finest gentleman, and properest man as ever I knowed, or heard tell on,—why, I think as the word 'fond' be about the size of it, Miss Anthea mam!" saying which, Adam nodded several times, and bestowed an emphatic backhanded knock to the crown of his hat.
"You used to sit together very often—under the big apple tree, didn't you, Adam?"
"Ah!—many an' many a night, Miss Anthea."
"Did he—ever tell you—much of his—life, Adam?"
"Why yes, Miss Anthea,—told me summat about his travels, told me as he'd shot lions, an' tigers—away out in India, an' Africa."
"Did he ever mention—"
"Well, Miss Anthea?" said he enquiringly, seeing she had paused.
"Did he ever speak of—the—lady he is going to marry?"
"Lady?" repeated Adam, giving a sudden twist to his hat.
"Yes,—the lady—who lives in London?"
"No, Miss Anthea," answered Adam, screwing his hat tighter, and tighter.
"Why—what do you mean?"
"I mean—as there never was no lady, Miss Anthea,—neither up to Lonnon, nor nowhere's else, as I ever heard on."
"But—oh Adam!—you—told me—"
"Ah!—for sure I told ye, but it were a lie, Miss Anthea,—leastways, it weren't the truth. Ye see, I were afraid as you'd refuse to take the money for the furnitur' unless I made ye believe as he wanted it uncommon bad. So I up an' told ye as he'd bought it all on account o' him being matrimonially took wi' a young lady up to Lonnon—"
"And then—you went to—him, and warned him—told him of the story you had invented?"
"I did, Miss Anthea; at first, I thought as he were going to up an' give me one for myself, but, arterwards he took it very quiet, an' told me as I'd done quite right, an' agreed to play the game. An' that's all about it, an' glad I am as it be off my mind at last. Ah' now, Miss Anthea mam, seeing you're that rich—wi' Master Georgy's fortun',—why you can pay back for the furnitur'—if so be you're minded to. An' I hope as you agree wi' me as I done it all for the best, Miss Anthea?"
Here, Adam unscrewed his hat, and knocked out the wrinkles against his knee, which done, he glanced at Anthea:
"Why—what is it, Miss Anthea?"
"Nothing, Adam,—I haven't slept well, lately—that's all"
"Ah, well!—you'll be all right again now,—we all shall,—now the mortgage be paid off,—shan't we, Miss Anthea?"
"We 'ad a great day—over to Cranbrook, Master Georgy an' me, he be in the kitchen now, wi' Prudence—a-eating of bread an' jam. Good-night, Miss Anthea mam, if you should be wanting me again I shall be in the stables,—Good-night, Miss Anthea!" So, honest, well-meaning Adam touched his forehead with a square-ended finger, and trudged away. But Anthea sat there, very still, with drooping head, and vacant eyes.
And so it was done, the irrevocable step had been taken; she had given her promise! So now, having chosen her course, she must follow it—to the end.
For, in Arcadia, it would seem that a promise is still a sacred thing.
Now, in a while, lifting her eyes, they encountered those of the smiling Cavalier above the mantel. Then, as she looked, she stretched out her arms with a sudden yearning gesture:
"Oh!" she whispered, "if I were only—just a picture, like you."
Which, being the last, is, very properly, the longest in the book
In those benighted days when men went abroad cased in steel, and, upon very slight provocation, were wont to smite each other with axes, and clubs, to buffet and skewer each other with spears, lances, swords, and divers other barbarous engines, yet, in that dark, and doughty age, ignorant though they were of all those smug maxims, and excellent moralities with which we are so happily blessed,—even in that unhallowed day, when the solemn tread of the policeman's foot was all unknown,—they had evolved for themselves a code of rules whereby to govern their life, and conduct. Amongst these, it was tacitly agreed upon, and understood, that a spoken promise was a pledge, and held to be a very sacred thing, and he who broke faith, committed all the cardinal sins. Indeed their laws were very few, and simple, easily understood, and well calculated to govern man's conduct to his fellow. In this day of ours, ablaze with learning, and culture,—veneered with a fine civilization, our laws are complex beyond all knowing and expression; man regulates his conduct—to them,—and is as virtuous, and honest as the law compels him to be.
This is the age of Money, and, therefore, an irreverent age; it is also the age of Respectability (with a very large R),—and the policeman's bludgeon.
But in Arcadia—because it is an old-world place where life follows an even, simple course, where money is as scarce as roguery, the old law still holds; a promise once given, is a sacred obligation, and not to be set aside.
Even the Black-bird, who lived in the inquisitive apple tree, understood, and was aware of this, it had been born in him, and had grown with his feathers. Therefore,—though, to be sure, he had spoken no promise, signed no bond, nor affixed his mark to any agreement, still he had, nevertheless, borne in mind a certain request preferred to him when the day was very young. Thus, with a constancy of purpose worthy of all imitation, he had given all his mind, and thought, to the composition of a song with a new theme. He had applied himself to it most industriously all day long, and now, as the sun began to set, he had at last corked it all out,—every note, every quaver, and trill; and, perched upon a look-out branch, he kept his bold, bright eye turned toward a certain rustic seat hard by, uttering a melodious note or two, every now and then, from pure impatience.
And presently, sure enough, he spied her for whom he waited,—the tall, long limbed, supple-waisted creature—whose skin was pink and gold like the peaches and apricots in the garden, and with soft, little rings of hair that would have made such an excellent lining to a nest. From this strictly utilitarian point of view he had often admired her hair, (had this Black-bird fellow), as she passed to and fro among her flowers, or paused to look up at him and listen to his song, or even sometimes to speak to him in her sweet, low voice.
But to-day she seemed to have forgotten him altogether, she did not even glance his way, indeed she walked with bent head, and seemed to keep her eyes always upon the ground.
Therefore the black-bird hopped a little further along the branch, and peered over to look down at her with first one round eye, and then the other, as she sank upon the seat, near by, and leaned her head wearily against the great tree, behind. And thus he saw, upon the pint and gold of her cheek, something that shone, and twinkled like a drop of dew.
If the Black-bird wondered at this, and was inclined to be curious, he sturdily repressed the weakness,—for here was the audience—seated, and waiting—all expectation for him to begin.
So, without more ado, he settled himself upon the bough, lifted his head, stretched his throat, and, from his yellow bill, poured forth a flood of golden melody as he burst forth into his "Song of Memory."
And what a song it was!—so full of passionate entreaty, of tender pleading, of haunting sweetness, that, as she listened, the bright drop quivering upon her lashes, fell and was succeeded by another, and another. Nor did she attempt to check them, or wipe them away, only she sat and listened with her heavy head pillowed against the great tree, while the Blackbird, glancing down at her every now and then with critical eye to mark the effect of some particularly difficult passage, piped surely as he had never done before, until the listener's proud face sank lower and lower, and was, at last, hidden in her hands. Seeing which, the Black-bird, like the true artist he was, fearing an anti-climax, very presently ended his song with a long-drawn, plaintive note.
But Anthea sat there with her proud head bowed low, long after he had retired for the night. And the sun went down, and the shadows came creeping stealthily about her, and the moon began to rise, big and yellow, over the up-land; but Anthea still sat there with her head, once more resting wearily against "King Arthur," watching the deepening shadows until she was roused by Small Porges' hand upon hers and his voice saying:
"Why,—I do believe you're crying, Auntie Anthea, an' why are you here—all alone, an' by yourself?"
"I was listening to the Black-bird, dear,—I never heard him sing quite so—beautifully, before."
"But black-birds don't make people cry,—an' I know you've been crying—'cause you sound—all quivery, you know."
"Do I, Georgy?"
"Yes,—is it 'cause you feel—lonely?"
"You've cried an awful lot, lately, Auntie Anthea."
"Have I, dear?"
"Yes,—an' it—worries me, you know."
"I'm afraid I've been a great responsibility to you, Georgy dear," said she with a rueful little laugh.
"'Fraid you have; but I don' mind the 'sponsibility,—'I'll always take care of you, you know!" nodded Small Porges, sitting down, the better to get his arm protectingly about her, while Anthea stooped to kiss the top of his curly head. "I promised my Uncle Porges I'd always take care of you, an' so I will!"
"Uncle Porges told me—"
"Never mind, dear,—don' let's talk of—him."
"Do you still—hate him, then, Auntie Anthea?"
"Hush, dear!—it's very wrong to—hate people."
"Yes, a course it is! Then—perhaps, if you don't hate him any more—you like him a bit,—jest a—teeny bit, you know?"
"Why—there's the clock striking half-past eight, Georgy!"
"Yes, I hear it,—but—do you,—the teeniest bit? Oh! can't you like him jest a bit—for my sake, Auntie Anthea? I'm always trying to please you,—an' I found you the fortune, you know, so now I want you to please me,—an' tell me you like him—for my sake."
"But—Oh Georgy dear!—you don't understand."
"—'cause you see," Small Porges, continued, "after all, I found him for you—under a hedge, you know—"
"Ah!—why did you, Georgy dear? We were so happy—before—he came—"
"But you couldn't have been, you know; you weren't married—even then, so you couldn't have been really happy, you know;" said Small Porges shaking his head.
"Why Georgy—what do you mean?"
"Well, Uncle Porges told me that nobody can live happy—ever after, unless they're married—first. So that was why I 'ranged for him to marry you, so you could both be happy, an' all revelry an' joy,—like the fairy tale, you know."
"But, you see, we aren't in a fairy tale, dear, so I'm afraid we must make the best of things as they are!" and here she sighed again, and rose. "Come, Georgy, it's much later than I thought, and quite time you were in bed, dear."
"All right, Auntie Anthea,—only—don't you think it's jest a bit—cruel to send a boy to bed so very early, an' when the moon's so big, an' everything looks so—frightfully fine? 'sides—"
"Well, what now?" she asked, a little wearily as, obedient to his pleading gesture, she sat down again.
"Why, you haven't answered my question yet, you know."
"What question?" said she, not looking at him.
"'Bout my—Uncle Porges."
"You do like him—jest a bit—don't you?—please?" Small Porges was standing before her as he waited for her answer, but now, seeing how she hesitated, and avoided his eyes, he put one small hand beneath the dimple in her chin, so that she was forced to look at him.
"You do, please,—don't you?" he pleaded.
Anthea hesitated; but, after all,—He was gone, and nobody could hear; and Small Porges was so very small; and who could resist the entreaty in his big, wistful eyes? surely not Anthea. Therefore, with a sudden gesture of abandonment, she leaned forward in his embrace, and rested her weary head against his manly, small shoulder:
"Yes!" she whispered.
"Jest as much as you like—Mr. Cassilis?" he whispered back.
"A—bit more—jest a teeny bit more?"
"A—lot more,—lots an' lots,—oceans more?"
The word was spoken, and, having uttered it, Anthea grew suddenly hot with shame, and mightily angry with herself, and would, straightway, have given the world to have it unsaid; the more so, as she felt Small Porges' clasp tighten joyfully, and, looking up, fancied she read something like triumph in his look.
She drew away from him, rather hastily, and rose to her feet.
"Come!" said she, speaking now in a vastly different tone, "it must be getting very late—"
"Yes, I s'pecks it'll soon be nine o'clock, now!" he nodded.
"Then you ought to be in bed, fast asleep instead of talking such—nonsense, out here. So—come along—at once, sir!"
"But, can't I stay up—jest a little while? You see—"
"You see, it's such a—magnif'cent night! It feels as though—things might happen!"
"Don't be so silly!"
"Well, but it does, you know."
"What do you mean—what things?"
"Well, it feels—gnomy, to me. I s'pecks there's lots of elves about—hidden in the shadows, you know, an' peeping at us."
"There aren't any elves,—or gnomes," said Anthea petulantly, for she was still furiously angry with herself.
"But my Uncle Porges told me—"
"Oh!" cried Anthea, stamping her foot suddenly, "can't you talk of anyone, or anything but—him? I'm tired to death of him and his very name!"
"But I thought you liked him—an awful lot, an'—"
"Well, I don't!"
"But, you said—"
"Never mind what I said! It's time you were in bed asleep,—so come along—at once, sir!"
So they went on through the orchard together, very silently, for Small Porges was inclined to be indignant, but much more inclined to be hurt. Thus, they had not gone so very far, when he spoke, in a voice that he would have described as—quivery.
"Don't you think that you're—just the teeniest bit—cruel to me, Auntie Anthea?" he enquired wistfully, "after I prayed an' prayed till I found a fortune for you!—don't you, please?" Surely Anthea was a creature of moods, to-night, for, even while he spoke, she stopped, and turned, and fell on her knees, and caught him in her arms, kissing him many times:
"Yes,—yes, dear, I'm hateful to you,—horrid to you! But I don't mean to be. There!—forgive me!"
"Oh!—it's all right again, now, Auntie Anthea, thank you. I only thought you were jest a bit—hard, 'cause it is such a—magnif'cent night, isn't it?"
"Yes dear; and perhaps there are gnomes, and pixies about. Anyhow, we can pretend there are, if you like, as we used to—"
"Oh will you? that would be fine! Then, please, may I go with you—as far as the brook? We'll wander, you know,—I've never wandered with you in the moonlight,—an' I do love to hear the brook talking to itself,—so—will you wander—jest this once?"
"Well," said Anthea, hesitating, "it's very late!—"
"Nearly nine o 'clock, yes! But Oh!—please don't forget that I found a fortune for you—"
"Very well," she smiled, "just this once."
Now as they went together, hand in hand through the moonlight, Small Porges talked very fast, and very much at random, while his eyes, bright, and eager, glanced expectantly towards every patch of shadow,—doubtless in search of gnomes, and pixies.
But Anthea saw nothing of this, heard nothing of the suppressed excitement in his voice, for she was thinking that by now, Mr. Cassilis had read her letter,—that he might, even then, be on his way to Dapplemere. She even fancied, once or twice, that she could hear the gallop of his horse's hoofs. And, when he came, he would want to—kiss her!
"Why do you shiver so, Auntie Anthea, are you cold?"
"Well, then, why are you so quiet to me,—I've asked you a question—three times."
"Have you dear? I—I was thinking; what was the question?"
"I was asking you if you would be awful frightened s'posing we did find a pixie—or a gnome, in the shadows; an' would you be so very awfully frightened if a gnome—a great, big one, you know,—came jumping out an'—ran off with you,—should you?"
"No!" said Anthea, with another shiver, "No, dear,—I think I should be—rather glad of it!"
"Should you, Auntie? I'm—so awful glad you wouldn't be frightened. A course, I don't s'pose there are gnomes—I mean great, big ones,—really, you know,—but there might be, on a magnif'cent night, like this. If you shiver again Auntie you'll have to take my coat!"
"I thought I heard a horse galloping—hush!"
They had reached the stile, by now, the stile with the crooked, lurking nail, and she leaned there, a while, to listen. "I'm sure I heard something,—away there—on the road!"
"I don't!" said Small Porges, stoutly,—"so take my hand, please, an' let me 'sist you over the stile."
So they crossed the stile, and, presently, came to the brook that was the most impertinent brook in the world. And here, upon the little rustic bridge, they stopped to look down at the sparkle of the water, and to listen to its merry voice.
Yes, indeed to-night it was as impertinent as ever, laughing, and chuckling to itself among the hollows, and whispering scandalously in the shadows. It seemed to Anthea that it was laughing at her,—mocking, and taunting her with—the future. And now, amid the laughter, were sobs, and tearful murmurs, and now, again, it seemed to be the prophetic voice of old Nannie:
"'By force ye shall be wooed and by force ye shall be wed, and there is no man strong enough to do it, but him as bears the Tiger Mark upon him!'"
The "Tiger Mark!" Alas! how very far from the truth were poor, old Nannie's dreams, after all, the dreams which Anthea had very nearly believed in—once or twice. How foolish it had all been! And yet even now—
Anthea had been leaning over the gurgling waters while all this passed through her mind, but now,—she started at the sound of a heavy foot-fall on the planking of the bridge, behind her, and—in that same instant, she was encircled by a powerful arm, caught up in a strong embrace,—swung from her feet, and borne away through the shadows of the little copse.
It was very dark in the wood, but she knew, instinctively, whose arms these were that held her so close, and carried her so easily—away through the shadows of the wood,—away from the haunting, hopeless dread of the future from which there had seemed no chance, or hope of escape.
And, knowing all this, she made no struggle, and uttered no word. And now the trees thinned out, and, from under her lashes she saw the face above her; the thick, black brows drawn together,—the close set of the lips,—the grim prominence of the strong, square chin.
And now, they were in the road; and now he had lifted her into an automobile, had sprung in beside her, and—they were off, gliding swift, and ever swifter, under the shadows of the trees.
And still neither spoke, nor looked at each other; only she leaned away from him, against the cushions, while he kept his frowning eyes fixed upon the road a-head; and ever the great car flew onward faster, and faster; yet not so fast as the beating of her heart, wherein shame, and anger, and fear, and—another feeling strove and fought for mastery.
But at last, finding him so silent, and impassive, she must needs steal a look at him, beneath her lashes.
He wore no hat, and as she looked upon him,—with his yellow hair, his length of limb, and his massive shoulders, he might have been some fierce Viking, and she, his captive, taken by strength of arm—borne away by force.—By force!
And, hereupon, as the car hummed over the smooth road, it seemed to find a voice,—a subtle, mocking voice, very like the voice of the brook,—that murmured to her over and over again:
"By force ye shall be wooed, and by force ye shall be wed."
The very trees whispered it as they passed, and her heart throbbed in time to it:
"By force ye shall be wooed, and by force ye shall be wed!" So, she leaned as far from him as she might, watching him with frightened eyes while he frowned ever upon the road in front, and the car rocked, and swayed with their going, as they whirled onward through moonlight and through shadow, faster, and faster,—yet not so fast as the beating of her heart wherein was fear, and shame, and anger, and—another feeling, but greatest of all now, was fear. Could this be the placid, soft-spoken gentleman she had known,—this man, with the implacable eyes, and the brutal jaw, who neither spoke to, nor looked at her, but frowned always at the road in front.
And so, the fear grew and grew within her,—fear of the man whom she knew,—and knew not at all. She clasped her hands nervously together, watching him with dilating eyes as the car slowed down,—for the road made a sudden turn, hereabouts.
And still he neither looked at, nor spoke to her; and therefore, because she could bear the silence no longer, she spoke—in a voice that sounded strangely faint, and far-away, and that shook and trembled in spite of her.
"Where are you—taking me?"
"To be married!" he answered, never looking at her.
"Wait and see!" he nodded.
"Oh!—but what do—you mean?" The fear in her voice was more manifest than ever.
"I mean that you are mine,—you always were, you always must and shall be. So, I'm going to marry you—in about half-an-hour, by special license."
Still he did not even glance towards her, and she looked away over the country side all lonely and desolate under the moon.
"I want you, you see," he went on, "I want you more than I ever wanted anything in this world. I need you, because without you my life will be utterly purposeless, and empty. So I have taken you—because you are mine, I know it,—Ah yes! and, deep down in your woman's heart, you know it too. And so, I am going to marry you,—yes I am, unless—" and here, he brought the car to a standstill, and turning, looked at her for the first time.
And now, before the look in his eyes, her own wavered, and fell, lest he should read within them that which she would fain hide from him,—and which she knew they must reveal,—that which was neither shame, nor anger, nor fear, but the other feeling for which she dared find no name. And thus, for a long moment, there was silence.
At last she spoke, though with her eyes still hidden:
"Unless!" she repeated breathlessly.
"Anthea,—look at me!"
But Anthea only drooped her head the lower; wherefore, he leaned forward, and—even as Small Porges had done,—set his hand beneath the dimple in her chin, and lifted the proud, un-willing face:
"Anthea,—look at me!"
And now, what could Anthea do but obey?
"Unless," said he, as her glance, at last, met his, "unless you can tell me—now, as your eyes look into mine,—that you love Cassilis. Tell me that, and I will take you back, this very instant; and never trouble you again. But, unless you do tell me that, why then—your Pride shall not blast two lives, if I can help it. Now speak!"
But Anthea was silent, also, she would have turned aside from his searching look, but that his arms were about her, strong, and compelling. So, needs must she suffer him to look down into her very heart, for it seemed to her that, in that moment, he had rent away every stitch, and shred of Pride's enfolding mantle, and that he saw the truth, at last.
But, if he had, he gave no sign, only he turned and set the car humming upon its way, once more.
On they went through the midsummer night, up hill and down hill, by cross-road and bye-lane, until, as they climbed a long ascent, they beheld a tall figure standing upon the top of the hill, in the attitude of one who waits; and who, spying them, immediately raised a very stiff left arm, whereupon this figure was joined by another. Now as the car drew nearer, Anthea, with a thrill of pleasure, recognized the Sergeant standing very much as though he were on parade, and with honest-faced Peterday beside him, who stumped joyfully forward, and,—with a bob of his head, and a scrape of his wooden leg,—held out his hand to her.
Like one in a dream she took the sailor's hand to step from the car, and like one in a dream, she walked on between the soldier and the sailor, who now reached out to her, each, a hand equally big and equally gentle, to aid her up certain crumbling, and time-worn steps. On they went together until they were come to a place of whispering echoes, where lights burned, few, and dim.
And here, still as one in a dream, she spoke those words which gave her life, henceforth, into the keeping of him who stood beside her,—whose strong hand trembled as he set upon her finger, that which is an emblem of eternity.
Like one in a dream, she took the pen, and signed her name, obediently, where they directed. And yet,—could this really be herself,—this silent, submissive creature?
And now, they were out upon the moon-lit road again, seated in the car, while Peterday, his hat in his hand, was speaking to her. And yet,—was it to her?
"Mrs. Belloo, mam," he was saying, "on this here monumentous occasion—"
"Monumentous is the only word for it, Peterday!" nodded the Sergeant.
"On this here monumentous occasion, Mrs. Belloo," the sailor proceeded, "my shipmate, Dick, and me, mam,—respectfully beg the favour of saluting the bride;—Mrs. Belloo, by your leave—here's health, and happiness, mam!" And, hereupon, the old sailor kissed her, right heartily. Which done, he made way for the Sergeant who, after a moment's hesitation, followed suit.
"A fair wind, and prosperous!" cried Peterday, flourishing his hat.
"And God—bless you—both!" said the Sergeant as the car shot away.
So, it was done!—the irrevocable step was taken! Her life and future had passed for ever into the keeping of him who sat so silent beside her, who neither spoke, nor looked at her, but frowned ever at the road before him.
On sped the car, faster, and faster,—yet not so fast as the beating of her heart wherein there was yet something of fear, and shame,—but greatest of all was that other emotion, and the name of it was—Joy.
Now, presently, the car slowed down, and he spoke to her, though without turning his head. And yet, something in his voice thrilled through her strangely.
"Look Anthea,—the moon is at the full, to-night."
"Yes!" she answered.
"And Happiness shall come riding astride the full moon!" he quoted. "Old Nannie is rather a wonderful old witch, after all, isn't she?"
"And then there is—our nephew,—my dear, little Porges! But for him, Happiness would have been a stranger to me all my days, Anthea. He dreamed that the Money Moon spoke to him, and—but he shall tell you of that, for himself."
But Anthea noticed that he spoke without once looking at her; indeed it seemed that he avoided glancing towards her, of set design, and purpose; and his deep voice quivered, now and then, in a way she had never heard before. Therefore, her heart throbbed the faster, and she kept her gaze bent downward, and thus, chancing to see the shimmer of that which was upon her finger, she blushed, and hid it in a fold of her gown.
"You have no regrets,—have you?"
"No," she whispered.
"We shall soon be—home, now!"
"And are you—mine—for ever, and always? Anthea, you—aren't—afraid of me any more, are you?"
"Nor ever will be?"
"Nor—ever will be."
Now as the car swept round a bend, behold yet two other figures standing beside the way.
"Yo ho, Captain!" cried a voice, "Oh—please heave to, Uncle Porges!"
And, forth to meet them, came Small Porges, running. Yet remembering Miss Priscilla, tapping along behind him, he must needs turn back,—to give her his hand like the kindly, small gentleman that he was.
And now—Miss Priscilla had Anthea in her arms, and they were kissing each other, and murmuring over each other, as loving women will, while Small Porges stared at the car, and all things pertaining thereto, more especially, the glaring head-lights, with great wondering eyes.
At length, having seen Anthea, and Miss Priscilla safely stowed, he clambered up beside Bellew, and gave him the word to proceed. What pen could describe his ecstatic delight as he sat there, with one hand hooked into the pocket of Uncle Porges' coat, and with the cool night wind whistling through his curls. So great was it, indeed, that Bellew was constrained to turn aside, and make a wide detour, purely for the sake of the radiant joy in Small Porges' eager face.
When, at last, they came within sight of Dapplemere, and the great machine crept up the rutted, grassy lane, Small Porges sighed, and spoke:
"Auntie Anthea," said he, "are you sure that you are married—nice an'—tight, you know?"
"Yes, dear," she answered, "why—yes, Georgy."
"But you don't look a bit diff'rent, you know,—either of you. Are you quite—sure? 'cause I shouldn't like you to disappoint me,—after all."
"Never fear, my Porges," said Bellew, "I made quite sure of it while I had the chance,—look!" As he spoke, he took Anthea's left hand, drawing it out into the moonlight, so that Small Porges could see the shining ring upon her finger.
"Oh!" said he, nodding his head, "then that makes it all right I s'pose. An' you aren't angry with me 'cause I let a great, big gnome come an' carry you off, are you, Auntie Anthea?"
"Why then, everything's quite—magnif'cent, isn't it? An' now we're going to live happy ever after, all of us, an' Uncle Porges is going to take us to sail the oceans in his ship,—he's got a ship that all belongs to his very own self, you know, Auntie Anthea,—so all will be revelry an' joy—just like the fairy tale, after all."
And so, at last, they came to the door of the ancient House of Dapplemere. Whereupon, very suddenly, Adam appeared, bare-armed from the stables, who, looking from Bellew's radiant face to Miss Anthea's shy eyes, threw back his head, vented his great laugh, and was immediately solemn again.
"Miss Anthea," said he, wringing and twisting at his hat, "or—I think I should say,—Mrs. Belloo mam,—there ain't no word for it! least-ways not as I know on, nohow. No words be strong enough to tell the J-O-Y—j'y, mam, as fills us—one an' all." Here, he waved his hand to where stood the comely Prudence with the two rosy-cheeked maids peeping over her buxom shoulders.
"Only," pursued Adam, "I be glad—ah! mortal glad, I be,—as 'tis you, Mr. Belloo sir. There ain't a man in all the world,—or—as you might say,—uni-verse, as is so proper as you to be the husband to our Miss Anthea—as was,—not nohow, Mr. Belloo sir. I wish you j'y, a j'y as shall grow wi' the years, an' abide wi' you always,—both on ye."
"That is a very excellent thought Adam!" said Bellew, "and I think I should like to shake hands on it." Which they did, forthwith.
"An' now, Mrs. Belloo mam," Adam concluded, "wi' your kind permission, I'll step into the kitchen, an' drink a glass o' Prue's ale—to your 'ealth, and 'appiness. If I stay here any longer I won't say but what I shall burst out a-singing in your very face, mam, for I do be that 'appy-'earted,—Lord!"
With which exclamation, Adam laughed again, and turning about, strode away to the kitchen with Prudence and the rosy-cheeked maids, laughing as he went.
"Oh my dears!" said little Miss Priscilla, "I've hoped for this,—prayed for it,—because I believe he is—worthy of you, Anthea, and because you have both loved each other, from the very beginning; oh dear me; yes you have! And so, my dears,—your happiness is my happiness and—Oh, goodness me! here I stand talking sentimental nonsense while our Small Porges is simply dropping asleep as he stands."
"'Fraid I am a bit tired," Small Porges admitted, "but it's been a magnif'cent night. An' I think, Uncle Porges, when we sail away in your ship, I think, I'd like to sail round the Horn first 'cause they say it's always blowing, you know, and I should love to hear it blow. An' now—Good-night!"
"Wait a minute, my Porges, just tell us what it was the Money Moon said to you, last night, will you?"
"Well," said Small Porges, shaking his head, and smiling, a slow, sly smile, "I don't s'pose we'd better talk about it, Uncle Porges, 'cause, you see, it was such a very great secret; an 'sides,—I'm awful sleepy, you know!" So saying, he nodded slumberously, kissed Anthea sleepily, and, giving Miss Priscilla his hand, went drowsily into the house.
But, as for Bellew it seemed to him that this was the hour for which he had lived all his life, and, though he spoke nothing of this thought, yet Anthea knew it, instinctively,—as she knew why he had avoided looking at her hitherto, and what had caused the tremor in his voice, despite his iron self-control; and, therefore, now that they were alone, she spoke hurriedly, and at random:
"What—did he—Georgy mean by—your ship?"
"Why, I promised to take him a cruise in the yacht—if you cared to come, Anthea."
"Yacht!" she repeated, "are you so dreadfully rich?"
"I'm afraid we are," he nodded, "but, at least, it has the advantage of being better than if we were—dreadfully poor, hasn't it?"
Now, in the midst of the garden there was an old sun-dial worn by time, and weather, and it chanced that they came, and leaned there, side by side. And, looking down upon the dial, Bellew saw certain characters graven thereon in the form of a poesy.
"What does it say, here, Anthea?" he asked. But Anthea shook her head:
"That, you must read for yourself!" she said, not looking at him.
So, he took her hand in his, and, with her slender finger, spelled out this motto.
Time, and youthe do flee awaie, Love, Oh! Love then, whiles ye may.
"Anthea!" said he, and again she heard the tremor in his voice, "you have been my wife nearly three quarters of an hour, and all that time I haven't dared to look at you, because if I had, I must have—kissed you, and I meant to wait—until your own good time. But Anthea, you have never yet told me that you—love me—Anthea?"
She did not speak, or move, indeed, she was so very still that he needs must bend down to see her face. Then, all at once, her lashes were lifted, her eyes looked up into his—deep and dark with passionate tenderness.
"Aunt Priscilla—was quite—right," she said, speaking in her low, thrilling voice, "I have loved you—from the—very beginning, I think!" And, with a soft, murmurous sigh, she gave herself into his embrace.
Now, far away across the meadow, Adam was plodding his homeward way, and, as he trudged, he sang to himself in a harsh, but not unmusical voice, and the words of his song were these:
"When I am dead, diddle diddle, as well may hap You'll bury me, diddle diddle, under the tap, Under the tap, diddle diddle, I'll tell you why, That I may drink, diddle diddle, when I am dry."