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wi' the mark of the scarlet woman on her, ye'll may-be have the kindness to shut the window, for I hae got the toothache, wi' their infernal pantins and bong-bongs."
So apostrophised, Roger fell back into his seat, sarcastically begging his companion's pardon; and while the window was being pulled up and fastened, he opened his note, and scarcely crediting his senses, read the mysterious words
“Your brother sailed for Australia by the ‘Lioness' steam ship, his address there is Carlyon and Co., Quay Street, Melbourne ; if you have good news do not delay, or it may come too late.”
There was no more, and the hand was evidently a feigned one-over and over he read the lines, examining every separate word, as if each could explain the strange meaning, and satisfy his curiosity. The letters were traced with a trembling and apparently agitated hand, and it was a woman's writing, but still not that of a highly educated woman ; and then suddenly there sprang up a gleam of light in the darkness. He thought of Rhoda-could she have seen him, and knowing, as he had long suspected, Harry's movements, taken this method of helping him in the search? If she knew so much, she could give him every information he sought; he would return to Paris-but how find her? It was evident she had no intention of being recognised, or why should she have taken such a mysterious way of communicating the intelligence which was so precious ? And in despair Roger was obliged to confess to himself that such a search would be vague, if not hopeless, and the precious time so lost might in turn lose him the clue to his brother's destination.
At Dover he fell in with Charley Elmes, who, after beating about the bush for nearly half the journey to town, succeeded in putting Roger in mind that he had given him an open invitation to Thornhill ; which invitation-being on a fortnight's leave, and having paid his dutiful respects to his father and stepmother, then at Dover-he, Captain Elmes, would like very much to take advantage of; and having enlightened Roger, and obtained the desired permission, he proceeded to lay bare certain advantages of fortune which had lately befallen him by the death of a second cousin, whereby an old title would lapse, and Charley, in right of his mother as the direct female branch, would inherit a rent-roll of some £15,000 a year, and one of the finest old places in Warwickshire.
“ By Jove, you're a lucky fellow !" sighed Roger, who could not see why his friend should stutter and blush over such a stroke of good fortune. “And you'll give up soldiering, of course ?”
“ Not till I marry; I mean," he added, as Roger took his cigar out of his teeth and uttered a long whistle, “not just at present; I-I rather
а like the service, and if I can get my promotion in any decent time I
think-that is—but of course I should be guided by circumstances; I don't seem to mind much whether I get my majority or not, fellows wont be leaving again so thick as they have been for a long time, and really the service is slow work."
“When you've quite done mystifying yourself, and talking such infernal nonsense,” interrupted Roger, “perhaps you'll have the kindness to tell me if I'm to congratulate you ; and, if it's not a secret, to enlighten me with the name of the fortunate female who is to bring you to reason. Nay, never blush, man! I've no doubt you've done the business handsomely; what's the colour, dark or fair-when's the happy day to be?”
“I-I've not asked her yet, but—" and Charley stopped ; Roger was watching the smoke of his cigar, or would have seen the matter was no joking one ; but he only thought of the fun of chaffing Charley, and so went on.
“Not asked her yet, haven't you? Then I'll take you five to one in tens she don't have you. You're far too modest, and girls, when they see a fellow frightened of them, are sure to say no."
"I hope not, Roger," was the reply; and spoken, too, so seriously that Wimborne raised his head to have a look at Charley; and saw just enough on the honest handsome face to make him sorry he had hazarded the last remark.
“It's serious, is it, old fellow? Well, I wish you luck from my heart; she's a fortunate girl, if she's only the sense to find it out, whoever she is, and I hope she'll let me be best man.”
Thank you, Roger,” and Charley leant out of the window for some three or four minutes, bringing his head in with the information that it was very misty and miserable, and that he hoped the pheasants were plentiful at Thornhill.
So the conversation took a new turn, and it was finally decided that Roger should try and get their old friend, Willy Weymouth, to go down with them, if he could persuade himself that the War Department could pull through a week without his august presence.
LOVE ASLEEP, NOT DEAD.
AND SO Roger was home again ; his journey had been a fruitless one. He had told his story, and now, seated upon a low stool at his mother's feet, was making a faint attempt to speak cheerily of the ultimate chances of picking up intelligence of Harry's whereabouts, and the plan he proposed following. There was very little comfort to be given, however ; still less in consequence of the way in which Lady Wimborne had permitted
her hopes to override all imaginary difficulties, and hope once indulged becomes a tenant hard to eject.
It has been said that it is “ better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all ;” but it is not better to have hoped and then been suddenly convinced that this hope was a vain false shadow. A lost or disappointed love leaves a tender grace over the years that are gone, although, as Tennyson says, this grace never comes back ;” and the very happiness and bliss of the past causes the present to seem bleaker and harder. Still the memory is sweeter than any lonely loveless lot could be. Love may be hopeless, and the heart may throb and beat full of love without a shadow of hope. But a heart without love is scarcely human ; and there is no brighter moment than that when, the heart first throbbing at the sound of a voice, and the eyelids veiling what a poet calls “the windows of the soul,” one stands on the threshold of this new and charmed life. Much as the future has to offer, the future does not come within our ken ; the present, and the present only, fills up the sum of our thoughts; and it may be that hope-such as we understand hope—may never enter the heart ; if it does, and fate forbids its realisation, it is, as I have said, a tenant hard to eject.
Gerald Guest knew this, and Lady Wimborne was learning it-learning it, too, in a strange way; she had tried hard and persistently to root up all weakness from her heart, and steel her nature against every gentle feeling. She had set herself the task, and when she knew it by rote was fain to be content, trusting the difficulty was over. She had yet to discover she was only a woman, and the truth was coming in upon her
a now; inch by inch, even as the tide steals in slowly, wearily, but inevitably, nearer and nearer, the rocks smoothly pitiless behind, the creeping cruel sea before-on they came, these waves of fate, rising higher, higher, and higher, unto the last.
Lady Wimborne had trusted in her own strength, and in the lessons she had taught herself, as she thought, perfectly. And so trusting, she had been caught by the tide, the waters had gathered round her, and so blinded had she been, that not until they were closing round her feet, did she see her danger.
And all the depression that falling upon her had seemed to crush her to the earth, she told herself was hope deferred, anxiety for Harry's welfare, all motherly love. She told herself this, and there let the matter rest, making no effort or struggle against the weakness. And here she not only deceived herself, but Gerald Guest also ; that she did the latter was no marvel; some men, when they fix their desires and thoughts upon some particular aim, some goal commonsense pronounces unattainable, are apt to imagine the difficulties greater than really exist ; molehills become mountains, they are ready to take the goods the gods provide in a sort of passive just-what-I-ought-to-have way, and now and then
these same gods, being in an amiable mood, give us what we set our fleshly hearts upon, a consummation which causes us to fancy ourselves supremely happy-wbile, on the other hand, let the desire be withheld, then comes the test; women toil on, the aim hidden deep, but still ever ruling, directing, and furthering every action; the spirit may out-work the flesh, but once received, once taken home into the soul, no earthly obstacle will root out the passion.
Men have a different way of encountering difficulties which present themselves in the form of personal trials; thwarted once they will turn to some other aim, and, although the old sore will sting sometimes, there are plenty of opiates at hand to deaden the pain ; a strong mind either conquers by a bold stroke, or succumbs at once; while the weaker mind, never dreaming of victory, expects no conquest; and where there is no equal contest, there is neither victory nor submission.
Captain Guest for a brief period had allowed the faint chance of winning Lady Wimborne's love to overleap all the visible barriers that lay between them; but then, when carried away by excitement and passion he had rashly risked his chance on a single stroke, and betraying his hopes had met with the pitying, shrinking repulse, he told himself that he had done with hope, and thus determined to see no light, and seek no help, began the difficult task of reasoning himself out of love into friendship. She had begged him to stay at Thornhill, and never lost an opportunity of making him feel that his presence was not only a comfort and relief to her, but that it was necessary—there was no more shrinking from him, not a sign of agitation, and as Gerald, being no clairvoyant, knew nothing whatever of the scene in the locked dressing-room, it is scarcely to be marvelled at if he never suspected the fiery trial that was going on beneath the quiet surface.
He had watched her during dinner, but there was never a sign he could interpret for hope; and now having narrowly escaped the rector's clutches by referring him to Weymouth as a War Office authority, he sat himself down at a distant table with the Field spread open before him ; but the racing intelligence, brilliant though it was, had no attraction ; he saw the names of horses upon whose work hung the fate of thousands, and by whose success his own fortune was likely to be not lightly affected, but they conveyed no meaning to his senses; he heard the
; low-toned murmur of Lady Wimborne's voice only, and once or twice, with a thrill of excitement, his own name ; glancing up he could watch the expression of her face, and drink in the mad gratification of gazing unreproved, and truly a very pretty picture the mother and son made, seated so lovingly. Life in the East had developed the lad's figure and bronzed the pale, almost girlish delicacy of complexion, while the mouse's fur upon the upper lip we saw him coaxing so tenderly during the last talk to Harry, had ripened into a long silky coal-black moustache;
the lines about his mouth had deepened, and told their own story as to the weak parts of Roger's character, but his mother saw them not; and after all, the lad who dare sit by his mother's knee and look up in her eyes as Roger Wimborne was now doing, is not very far gone on the down-hill road.
One arm was resting on Lady Wimborne's lap, holding her hand in his, and his face lighting up, changing and softening or flushing with excitement as he spoke, had a strange wild beauty in it-a very handsome and passionate face it was, one that, however, attracts women rather than men, a face you might sacrifice all earth can give to see soften into love, and yet which, even so won, you dare never trust.
He had much of his mother's beauty and expression, and Gerald saw, with something akin to pain, how the flashing changes in the lad's face seemed to shadow themselves in his mother's.
Once she looked suddenly across the room ; Gerald was looking at her at the moment-he forgot that, shaded as the small reading-lamp beside him was, it was impossible that she could see whether his eyes were fixed, as his attitude indicated, upon the newspaper or not-and every nerve quivered as he sat there spell-bound by the eyes that were fixed with such a world of tender pity and sadness upon his.
Suddenly Roger started, and, looking up in his mother's face, said something that seemed to recal her to herself; and, although he now remembered that she could not have seen the fierce passionate eyes that had been gazing at her, he saw the colour flush up to her brow, and she bent down to kiss the hand Roger held up, with a mock outcry of pain.
Rising, Gerald walked into the smaller room, where Silvia was sitting at the piano, playing Mendelssohn's Lieder once more, for the edification of Charley Elmes, who, looking very uncomfortable upon a music stool, was in the seventh heaven of spoonyness, and blind and deaf to anything sublunary except the blue-eyed flaxen-haired angel touching the white keys of the pianoforte, and charming forth such delightfully melancholy music-music which chimed in so harmoniously with Charley's sentimental state of despondency.
Twice during the half-hour thus spent had Captain Elmes made up his mind to ask the question upon which hung the issues of light or darkness. Twice had he actually opened his lips so to speak, and each time the lips had been too dry to give utterance to the important question; and Silvia played on, often in utter forgetfulness of poor Charley's existence, and thinking mostly of the conversation that had taken place between Gerald Guest and herself, as they sat in the firelighted library before dinner ; and when, led on by her questions, he had talked of his past life, describing scenes of danger and trial in which he had taken part. Charley, however, could not see her thoughts.