BY MRS. G.C. HUDDLESTON
[Transcriber's note: These images were taken from Early Canadian Online and there are several pages where the text is missing on the images. These have been marked "unreadable."]
Yet we shall one day gain, life part, Clear prospect o'er our being's whole, Shall see ourselves, and learn at last Our true affinities of soul.
The Publishers have to acknowledge their great indebtedness to MR. DAVISON, President, and MR. DAVY, Secretary, of the Toronto Mechanics' Institute, who, on being applied to, kindly gave to them for publication the only copy of this Work, which, so far as they knew, was in Canada at the time, and which the Directors of the Institute, with a commendable spirit of enterprise, had secured for their Library.
I. SWEET SEVENTEEN
III. GENTLE ANNIE
IV. SATURDAY AT HOME
V. A WOODLAND WALK
VII. THE GARRISON SLEIGH CLUB
VIII. FIXING UP A PRANCE
IX. CROSS PURPOSES
XI. EFFECTS OF TOBOGGINING
XII. THE LAKE SHORE ROAD
XIII. NORTHERN LIGHTS
XIV. THE TRYST
XV. AN ENIGMATICAL LETTER
XVII. DID YOU PROPOSE THEN?
XVIII. LYNDON'S LANDING
XIX. CALF LOVE
XX. THE PRINCE PHILANDER
XXI. A PERILOUS SAIL
XXII. AT LAST
XXIII. LOLA'S BIRTHDAY
XXIV. LITTLE PITCHERS
XXVI. CROSSING THE HERRING POND
XXVII. HARRY DUTTON
XXVIII. ROUGH WEATHER
XXIX. BLUEBELL'S DEBUT IN THE OLD COUNTRY
XXX. NO CARDS
XXXI. BROMLEY TOWERS
XXXII. THE SPRING WOODS
XXXIII. LORD BROMLEY INTERVIEWS DUTTON
XXXIV. HARRY GOES TO THE BALTIC
XXXV. A DISCOVERY
XXXVI. IN DEATH THEY WERE NOT DIVIDED
XXXVII. AN UNEXPECTED RENCONTRE
XXXVIII. OLD HEAD ON YOUNG SHOULDERS
XXXIX. THE LOAN OF A LOVER
XL. THE MINIATURE
XLI. A LOCK OF HAIR
I see her now—the vision fair, Of candour, innocence, and truth, Stand tiptoe on the verge of air, 'Twixt childhood and unstable youth.
It was the "fall" in Canada, and the leaves were dying royally in purple, crimson and gold. On the edge of a common, skirting a well-known city of Ontario, stood a small, rough-cast cottage, behind which the sun was setting with a red promise of frost, his flaming tints repeated in the fervid hue of the Virginian creeper that clothed it.
This modest tenement was the retreat of three unprotected females, two of whom were seated in silent occupation close to a black stove, which imparted heat, but denied cheerfulness. The elder was grey and tintless as her life,—harsh wisdom wrung from sad experience ever on lips thin and tight, as though from habitually repressing every desire. The younger, a widow, was scarcely passed middle age, small of stature, but wizened beyond her years by privation and sorrow.
A smell of coal-oil, that most unbearable of odours, pervaded the interior of the cottage, revealing that the general servant below in lighting the lamp had, as usual, upset some, and was retaining the aroma by smearing it off with her apron.
Presently a quick, light step tripped over the wooden side-walk, a shadow darkened the window, and a vision of youth and freshness burst into the dingy little parlour.
A rather tall, full-formed young Hebe was Theodora Leigh, of that pure pink and white complexion that goes farther to make a beauty than even regularity of feature; her long, sleepy eyes were just the shade of the wild hyacinth; indeed, her English father always called her "Bluebell," after a flower that does not grow on Transatlantic soil.
But they were Irish-eyes, "put in with a dirty finger," and varying with every mood. Gooseberry eyes may disguise more soul, but they get no credit for it. Humour seemed to dance in that soft, blue fire; poetry dreamed in their clear depths; love—but that we have not come to yet; they were more eloquent than her tongue, for she was neither witty nor wise, only rich in the exuberant life of seventeen, and as expectant of good will and innocent of knowledge of the world as a retriever puppy.
Apparently, Miss Bluebell was not in the suavest of humours, for she flung her hat on to one crazy chair, and herself on another, with a vehemence that caused a sensible concussion.
"My dear, how brusque you are," said Mrs. Leigh, plaintively.
"So provoking," muttered Bluebell.
"What's gone wrong with the child now?" said Miss Opie, the elder proprietress of the domicile.
"Why," said Bluebell, "I met the Rollestons, and they asked: me to their picnic at the Humber on Friday; but how can I go? Look here!" and she pointed to a pair of boots evidently requiring patching. "Oh, mother! could you manage another pair now? Miss Scrag has sent home my new 'waist,' and I can do up my hat, but these buckets are only fit for the dusthole."
Mrs. Leigh sighed,—"A new pair, with side-springs, would cost three dollars. No, Bluebell, I can't indeed."
"I might as well be a nun, then, at once," said the girl, with tears in her voice; and a sympathetic dew rose in Mrs. Leigh's weary eyes at the disappointment she could not avert from her spoiled darling.
"Bluebell," said Miss Opie, "if you read more and scampered about less, your mind would be better fortified to bear these little reverses."
"Shut up!" muttered Bluebell, in the artless vernacular of a school-girl, half turning her shoulder with an impatient gesture.
The entrance of the tea-things created a diversion, but the discontented girl sat apart, while the hideousness of her surroundings came upon her as a new revelation. Certainly, in Canada, in a poverty-stricken abode, taste seems more completely starved than in any other country.
Bluebell, in her critical mood, noted the ugly delf tea-things, so badly arranged; the black stove, four feet into the room, with its pipe running through a hole in the wall; the ricketty horsehair chairs and wire blind for the window, "gave" on the street, where gasping geese were diving in the gutters for the nearest approach to water they could find.
Scarcely less repugnant were the many-coloured crotchet-mats and anti-macassars with which Miss Opie loved to decorate the apartment; nor was a paper frill adorning a paltry green flower-vase wanting to complete the tasteless tout ensemble.
The evening wore on; Mrs. Leigh proceeded with the turning of an old merino dress; Miss Opie adjusted her spectacles, and read Good Words. Bluebell sat down to the piano and executed a selection from Rossini's 'Messe Solennelle' with force and fervour.
"You play very well, child," said Miss Opie.
"That is fortunate," said Bluebell, "for I mean to be a governess."
"You mean you want a governess," retorted the other. "Why, what in the world do you know?"
"More than most children of ten years old. I might get a hundred dollars a year. Mamma, I could buy myself new boots then."
"You are nothing but a self-willed child yourself, unable to bear the slightest disappointment," said Miss Opie.
"Never mind," said Mrs. Leigh, coaxingly; "I'll see if I cannot get you the boots. They will give me credit at the store."
"No, no; I know you can't afford it; they were new last April. Mamma is oil to your vinegar, Aunt Jane."
"And you the green young mustard in the domestic salad—hot enough, and, like all ill weeds, growing apace."
"Then it is field mustard, and not used for salad," said Bluebell, anxious for the last word. And, escaping from the room, went to place some bones in the shed, for a casual in the shape of a starving cur, who called occasionally for food and a night's lodging.
About twenty years ago, when this melancholy Mrs. Leigh was a lovely young Canadian of rather humble origin, Theodore Leigh, a graceless subaltern in the Artillery, had just returned from leave, and, going one day to the Rink, was "regularly flumocksed," as he expressed it, by the vision of Miss Lesbia Jones skimming over the ice like a swallow on the wing. And when she proceeded to cut a figure of 8 backwards, and execute another intricate movement called "the rose," his admiration became vehement, and, seizing on a brother-officer he had observed speaking to her, demanded an introduction.
"To the 'Tee-to-tum'? Oh, certainly."
Miss Lesbia was very small, and wore the shortest of petticoats, which probably suggested the appellation.
Fatigued with her evolutions, she had sunk with a pretty little air of abandon on the platform, and her destiny, in a beaver coat and cap, was presented by Mr. Wingfield.
After this, a common object at the Rink was a tall young man, in all the agonies of a debut on skates, and a bewitching little attendant sprite shooting before and around him, occasionally righting him with a fairy touch when he evinced too wild a desire to dash his brains against the wall.
At all the sleighing parties, also, Miss Lesbia's form was invariably observed in Mr. Leigh's cutter, with a violet and white "cloud" matching the robe borders and ribbons on the bells; and he and the "Tee-to-tum" spun round together in half the valses of every ball during the winter.
Perhaps, after all, the attachment might have lived and died without exceeding the "muffin" phase, had not the "beauty," Captain of the battery cut in, and made rather strong running, too, partly because he considered her "fetching," and partly, he said, "from regard to Leigh, who was making an ass of himself."
Jealousy turned philandering into earnest. Theodore went straight to the maiden aunt, with whom Miss Jones resided, and, after most vehement badgering, got her consent to a private marriage within three days. The poor spinster, though much flustered, knowing his attentions to Lesbia had been a good deal talked about, felt almost relieved to have it settled respectably, though so abruptly.
On the appointed day, having obtained a week's leave, Theodore, with his best man, the last joined subaltern, dashed up to the church-door in a cutter, just in time to receive Lesbia and her bewildered chaperone.
After the ceremony, they started off for their week's honeymoon to the Falls; and the best man, absolved from secrecy, spread the news through the regiment.
Theodore had scribbled off the intelligence in reckless desperation to his father, of whom he was the only child, and Sir Timothy Leigh, a proud and ambitious man, never forgave the irrevocable piece of folly so cavalierly announced to him.
Theodore received a letter from the family lawyer, couched in the terms of sorrowful reprehension such functionaries usually assume on similar occasions.
"It was Mr. Vellum's painful duty to inform him that Sir Timothy would decline to receive him on his return to England; that two hundred a year would be placed annually to his credit at Cox's; but the estates not being entailed, that was the utmost farthing he need ever expect from him."
Such was the gist of the communication, and Theodore, hardened by his father's severity, and unable to bear the privations of a narrow income, absented himself more and more from their wretched lodgings, and tried to drown his cares by drinking himself into a state of semi-idiocy.
There is little more to relate of this ill-starred marriage, of which Bluebell was the fruit; for soon after her birth young Leigh was killed by being upset out of a dog-cart.
Driving home with unsteady hands from mess one night, he collided with a street car, which inevitably turned over the two-wheeled vehicle. Theodore was pitched out, his head striking on the iron rails, and never breathed again.
Whatever grief Sir Timothy may have felt at his son being snatched from him, unreconciled and unforgiven, did not show itself in mercy to the widow.
Mr. Vellum was again in requisition, and proposed, on behalf of Sir Timothy, to make Mrs. Leigh a suitable allowance on condition that she remained in Canada, and delivered over the child to her grandfather, to be brought up and educated as his heiress. In case these terms were refused, she would continue to receive annually two hundred a-year; but no farther assistance would be granted.
Lesbia, in her loneliness and bereavement, was heart-broken at this unfeeling proposition, and Bluebell being too young for a choice, she consulted the voice of Nature alone, and refused to part with her child.
The maiden aunt, Miss Opie, willingly received them. She had a mere pittance, and lived in a boarding house; but, by joining their slender purses, they took the cottage in which we find them.
Thus in extreme poverty was Bluebell reared until her seventeenth year, though by personal privation Mrs. Leigh sent her to the school par excellence; attended by most of the girls in the city, whether their parents were "in" or "out" of society. Bluebell having the prestige of an English father, own son of a baronet, and military into the bargain, was considered in the former class, and included at an early age in the gaieties of the winter.
A new friend, who had been particularly kind to her, was Mrs. Rolleston, wife of the Colonel of a regiment quartered there, and to her Bluebell repaired to make sorrowful excuses for the projected picnic, and also to confide the scheme that possessed her mind of earning money as a musical teacher or nursery governess.
Mrs. Rolleston felt half inclined to laugh at the unformed impulsive child, who was such a pet in their household, but seemed far too babyish and unmethodical to be recommended for any situation; yet remembering her mother's straitened circumstances, and that the girl probably wanted some pocket-money, she listened sympathetically, and promised to turn it over in her mind.
Music she knew Bluebell thoroughly understood and excelled in. She had for years received instruction gratis from the organist at the Cathedral, who, originally attracted by her lovely voice singing in the choir, took her up with enthusiasm, and taught her harmony and thorough bass. Thus, instead of only practising a desultory accomplishment, she was able to compose and arrange her tuneful ideas correctly.
A dark striking-looking girl interrupted them. This was Cecil Rolleston, the eldest daughter of the house, or rather she stood in that relation to the Colonel, being the offspring of his first wife.
"Come out and play croquet, Bluebell," said she; "the children are having a game; they only let me go on condition of bringing you,"—and she led the way through the window into a charming garden, with large shady maple-trees just beginning to drop their deep-dyed, variegated leaves on the turf; the bluebirds were already gone, but the red and ashen-hued robin, nearly the size of a jay, still rustled through the boughs.
A little white dog, with a ribbon on, was holding a ball within its feathery toes, and playing with it as a cat does a mouse; a gardener was refreshing the thirsty flowers, which had outgrown their strength; and Fleda, Estelle, and Lola, twelve, eleven, and nine, were playing croquet with the zest of recent emancipation from lessons.
The governess, a dark, sallow expositor of the arts and sciences, also wielded a mallet, and Cecil and Bluebell completed the six.
The sides were pretty equally cast, and the combatants were in a most interesting crisis of the game, when Colonel Rolleston entered the garden.
He was a very handsome man, and as is often the case with the only male in a family of women, so studied and given in to by all his female entourage, that he would not have been pleased, whatever their occupations, if he were not immediately rallied round by a little court of flatterers.
"Estelle," said the governess, "offer your papa your mallet, and ask him to be so kind as to play with us." The child's face lengthened; she had not much hope of his refusing it, but advanced with her request.
"Must I?" said the Colonel.
"Oh, yes!" said the chorus of voices; "be my partner—be mine."
"Don't tear me to pieces among you," said he, with a deprecating gesture.
"Take Bluebell on your side, papa," cried Cecil; "she is very good, and we'll keep Miss Prosody, who is equally so."
And thus they proceeded, the Colonel radiant with every successful stroke, and blaming mallet, ball, and ground when otherwise, reiterating, "I can't make a stroke to-day."
Bluebell was very fond of the Colonel, who liked pretty faces about him, and had been kind to her; but she could not resist a slight feeling of repulsion at what she considered an abject maneuver of Miss Prosody's. His ball, by an unskilful miss, was left in her power; her duty to her side required her to crack it to the other end of the ground, but a glance at the irritable gloom of his countenance induced her to discover it to be more to her advantage to attack one rather beyond, and, judiciously missing it left her own blue one an easy stroke for him.
The shadows dispersed, and, all playfulness, the Colonel apostrophized his prize, which he succeeded in hitting. "Here is my little friend in blue; shall I hurt it? no, I will not harm it." By-play of relief and gratitude on the governess's part, as he requited her amiability by merely taking two off, leaving his interesting friend in blue unmoved.
This naturally did not enhance the interest of the children who felt it was not the game of croquet that was being played. Cecil, replying with a laughing glance to the indignant eye-telegraphy of Fleda, began to play at random; and Bluebell and Lola, not finding much antagonism from the other side, soon pulled the Colonel through his hoops and won the game. After which, Bluebell retraced her steps across the common, accompanied part of the way by Miss Rolleston, to whom she also confided her governess's projects.
Cecil was very fond of her; she had few companions, and her sisters were mere children. All the time the younger girl was talking, she was silently revolving a plan. It so happened this Cecil was in rather independent circumstances for a young lady, maternal relative having left her a legacy at twelve years old which, by the time she was twenty-one, would bring in a thousand a year.
In the mean time, she drew half that sum annually, and, of course, contributed to the domestic expenses. How much pleasanter it would be for Bluebell to live with them than with strangers. She might be her musical teacher; singing duets even brought out her own voice surprisingly; it would be delightful to practise together; the children had no taste for music, neither did Mrs. Rolleston care for it. Besides, she felt a generous pleasure in the prospect of assisting her friend, poor Bluebell, who often had to deny herself a mere bit of ribbon from want of a shilling to pay for it. It might require a little management at home, so she would not hint at it yet, and, with a warm caress and a gay farewell nod, they separated.
Next morning, Mrs. Leigh, still engaged in the resuscitation of the merino dress, was surprised by a visit from Mrs. Rolleston. That lady, for a wonder, considering her errand, had come alone, for it was seldom that any little domestic arrangement was entered on without the personal supervision of the Colonel.
However, there was a counter-attraction at barracks this morning, and having, so to speak, held a board on Cecil's proposition, and opposed, argued, and thoroughly talked it over, Mrs. Rolleston was empowered to suggest to Mrs. Leigh a plan for taking Bluebell into their family as musical companion to Cecil and nursery governess to Freddy, the heir apparent, aetat. four. The poor little lady did not seem much elated at the proposal. "I know my child will wish it," she said. "I can give her no variety, no indulgences, and she is of an age when occupation and society are a necessity to her. I sometimes feel," she murmured, with a sigh, "that I have stood in her light by not agreeing to her grandfather's conditions."
A look of curiosity from Mrs. Rolleston elicited an explanation, and she heard for the first time the whole history of Bluebell's antecedents.
"Why," cried she, much excited, "I remember that Sir Timothy before I married; there are so many Leighs, it never struck me he might be your father-in-law. I recollect hearing he had disinherited his son, but he has adopted a grandnephew, which, I am afraid, looks bad for Bluebell." And she listened with renewed interest to Mrs. Leigh's diffuse reminiscences, while her protege appeared to her in a new and romantic light, and she pictured half-a-dozen possibilities for her future.
From a miniature of the graceless Theodore which Mrs. Leigh produced, there could be no doubt of the resemblance to his daughter in air and feature; the long sleepy eyes were identical, though the slightly insolent expression of Theodore's was, happily, wanting.
"He was the best of husbands," whimpered the widow, on whose placid mind the shortcomings of the dissipated youth seemed to have left no impression; "but he was hardly treated in this world, and so he was taken to a better."
Before Mrs. Rolleston left, it was arranged that Bluebell was to make her first essay in governessing on Freddy Rolleston, her Sundays to be spent as often as possible with her mother; and ere another week had passed, she and her effects were transferred to the Maples.
A bed was made up for her in a little room of Cecil's and the tuition of Freddy carried on in the nursery; for Mrs. Rolleston having some doubts as how the amateur and professional governess might amalgamate, avoided letting her entrench on Miss Prosody's premises.
That lady, indeed, was disposed to look upon her with suspicion and incipient dislike. She had always been treated with great consideration—quite one of the family, and cared not for "a rival near her throne." Who was Bluebell that she should be made so much of?—a little nursery governess with no attainments, and yet Cecil's inseparable companion! She was a prime favourite with the Colonel, whose "ways" she had made a judicious study of, and treated with considerable tact. He always mentioned her as "that dear invaluable creature, Miss Prosody." She could occasionally put an idea into his mind which he mistook for his own, as, for instance, when he observed to his wife,—"What a pity that girl has such a preposterous name, and that you all have the habit of calling her by it. The other evening that idiot, young Halkett must needs say, 'What a lovely pet name!' I can tell you I took him up pretty short. You really must not have her down so much, if these boys think they may talk nonsense to her."
Mrs. Rolleston was rather surprised at the irritation with which this was said; to be sure she had heard Miss Prosody, previous to young Halkett's foolish remark, lamenting that Bluebell "did not show more reserve with gentlemen guests, and that she put herself so much on an equality with Cecil." The Colonel was a domestic man, and liked cheerfulness at his fireside, of which he himself was to be the centre and inspiration; anything approaching bad spirits, silence, or headaches he always resented.
Bluebell was well enough as contributing to the liveliness of the little society—a pretty smiling young girl is seldom de trop; but then she must be satisfied without lovers, whose presence the Colonel considered subversive of all rational comfort.
Good-natured Mrs. Rolleston pursued the even tenor of her way, the Colonel's fidgets had a soporific effect on her nerves and created no corresponding alarms; her idol, Freddy, was satisfied with the new administration, and ceased to wage internecine warfare with his nurse; and certainly the unwonted tranquillity consequent was a decided boon to the rest of the household.
In the greenest growth of the Maytime We rode where the roads were wet; Between the dawn and the daytime The spring was glad that we met. —Swinburne.
Two or three months passed, the bluebirds and robins had all disappeared, and the snow-birds, hardy scions of the feathered tribe capable of withstanding the rigours of a Canadian winter, were alone to be seen. The Rinks had been flooded, and skating was going on with vigour; the snow was not quite in a satisfactory state as yet; but a few sleighs jingled merrily about with their bright bits of colour, the edging of fur robes and ribbon on the sleigh bells. A general impulse of joyful anticipation ran through all the young people as winter unlocked her stores of amusement, and the keen sabre-like air, so bracing and exhilarating, stirred the life in young veins, and set their spirits dancing with exuberant vitality.
The Rollestons, who had only come out in the spring, were attracted with everything. Not a sleigh passed but there was a rush from the children to the window, and Colonel Rolleston, who was building one, received fresh suggestions about it most days from his excited family.
Every morning Cecil, under Bluebell's tuition, practised skating at the Rink, and had devised an original and becoming costume to be assumed as soon as she had attained sufficient command of her limbs not to object to a share of public attention. In the afternoon the Rink was generally crowded, and many of the Colonel's regiment evinced an eagerness to help Cecil along, and pretend to receive instruction from the skilful and blooming Bluebell; so poor Mrs. Rolleston was then invariably detailed by the Colonel for chaperone duty, and sat shivering on the platform while Cecil was being initiated in the mysteries of "Dutch rolls" and "outside edge." On one of these occasions she was roused by a well-known voice calling her by name, and turned round in joyful surprise to greet a young man just come in.
"My dear Bertie, were have you sprung from? Have you been to our house?"
"Just left it and my traps. Lascelles suddenly gave up his leave, which I applied for, and have got a week certain, and most likely all of it, for there are plenty of Captains down there; so I thought I would look you up to begin with."
"To begin with! You must stay here all the time—make it head quarters, at any rate. You have been travelling all the summer, and there's nothing to do now."
"Moose," murmured Bertie. "Ah! there's Cecil."
Cecil, skating hand-in-hand to the tune of "Paddle your own canoe," was not sufficiently disengaged to remark her mother's companion. His eyes followed her with a keen, comprehensive glance, which Mrs. Rolleston observed complacently.
"Don't you think her much improved?—much prettier?" asked she.
"Skating always suits a well-made girl. That black and scarlet get-up, too, is very becoming, but pretty—hardly."
"She is, however, very much admired," said Mrs. Rolleston, warmly, for a step-mother.
"Ah!" cried Bertie, with a slight accent of bitterness, "reasons enough for that. How well some of these girls skate! Who is that shooting-star?"
The planet in question gyrated towards them, dropped on one knee on the platform for the relief of strained ankles, and, as she addressed Mrs. Rolleston, caught a look of decided admiration on Bertie's face.
A Canadian girl is nothing if not self-possessed; she sustained the gaze with the most perfect calmness.
"Bluebell, this is my brother, Captain Du Meresq. Cecil ought to rest; will you go and tell her to come here?"
"Who is that young beauty whom you addressed in the language of flowers?" asked he.
"Nonsense, Bertie! she is Freddy's governess. You must not begin to talk absurdity to her; you will annoy Edward."
"He don't object to fair faces on his own account."
"Well, this particular one is more bother than pleasure to him. You know his horror of 'danglers'; he is afraid of aimless flirtations with Bluebell, who, being also Cecil's companion, is constantly in the drawing-room."
"Ah, my beloved niece," said Captain Du Meresq, as he gave Cecil considerable support from the ice to the platform.
"What has given us this unexpected treat?" said she, with a warmer hue than usual in her clear, pale cheek.
"My anxiety to see your new companion."
"Whose existence, I suppose, you have just heard of."
"It has been my loss," retorted he. "Fascinating young creature! The name Bluebell just describes those wild hyacinth eyes."
"Oh! Bertie," said his sister and Cecil together, "how absurd you are about girls."
"And then," persisted he, "that charming tawny hair and milk white skin."
"One might think you were describing an Alderney cow. It's a pity she is not called 'Daisy' or 'Cowslip.'"
"Girls are all alike," said Captain Du Meresq, sententiously. "Even you, my beloved Cecil, who are a woman of mind, can't stand my wild admiration of—Cowslip."
Cecil raised her eyebrows, and a scornful beam shot from the dark eyes that were her chief attraction.
"Nor could the 'dairy flower' herself, I should think. It's no use rhapsodizing before me, Bertie; I shall not tell her in any confidential communication, whatever you may think."
"Ah, well," said Captain Du Meresq, with a sigh, "let us hope the ingenious child may understand the universal language of the eyes, for I hear papa would not approve of my speaking to her."
Mrs. Rolleston was becoming fidgetty. To some women, as they advance in years, an inability of separating chaff from earnest becomes more pronounced, and the uppermost wish of her mind at present was to see a real attachment between Bertie and Cecil. Albert Du Meresq was only her half-brother; but he had become her charge in infancy under terrible circumstances, which we will briefly relate.
When Mr. Du Meresq married his mother, a wilful Irish beauty, Mrs. Rolleston was a shy, reserved girl of thirteen, and became very jealous of her father's exclusive devotion to his bride and neglect of herself.
Lady Inez looked upon her as rather a nuisance, and was coldly critical upon her appearance and manner. She was an unsparing mimic, and frequently exercised the faculty on her step-daughter, whose nervousness became awkwardness in the constant expectation of being turned into ridicule. Consequently, she cordially disliked not only Lady Inez, but the little step-brother, who was made of so much importance, till one ghastly day changed the aspect of events.
Like a fearful dream it had seemed—a strange carriage rolling to the door, from which emerged her father and another gentleman carrying a terrible burden, looking supernaturally long in a riding-habit. White scared faces flitted about; but life was extinct, and there was no frantic riding for doctors.
There had been a hunt-breakfast that morning, and she well remembered the envy she had felt at seeing Lady Inez ride gaily forth with the rest on a favourite horse.
"She has everything," thought Bella, "'Reindeer' was promised to me when he was a foal, and I have never been on his back."
But Lady Inez was lying there, with the mark of "Reindeer's" iron hoof on her temple. They had come down together at a blind fence; the horse, entangled in her habit, struck out once, as thorough-breds will, but it was a death-blow.
The voice of the child, crying alone and neglected in the nursery, aroused Bella from a horror stricken stupor. Her father's despair made him unapproachable, but she might comfort Bertie, forgotten by his attendants.
From this time she became almost a mother to him, for Mr. Du Meresq went abroad, and they were left alone in the deserted house for some years.
Bertie had left Eton, and just obtained a commission in the —— Hussars, when his father died, leaving him a moderate fortune, which steadily decreased as years went by. It had approached attenuation by this time, and Mrs. Rolleston felt as distracted and perplexed as a duckling's hen foster-mother, at the vagaries of the happy-go-lucky, reckless Irish blood in Bertie, which did not flow in her own veins.
She looked forward to marrying him to Cecil, as the best chance of relieving his pecuniary difficulties and reforming his unsteadiness.
Captain Du Meresq had stayed with them for six weeks some time ago, when he and Cecil became inseparable companions, and it was then that the idea had dawned upon her. She would not openly discuss it with her brother—that would have too much the appearance of a plot: but her lively satisfaction at the prospect was apparent enough, and Bertie knew her co-operation would not be wanting.
He had thought of it more than once. What chance had he not calculated to get him through his sea of difficulties; but a thousand a year alone seemed scarcely sufficient temptation to matrimony, to which he did not seriously incline. Indeed, his warm impressionable nature was not the temperament of a fortune-hunter.
He was attracted with Cecil, and got rather fond of her in the six weeks he had been trying to make her in love with him, not with any mercenary view, but because such was his usual custom with girls.
But he was afflicted with a keen eye for beauty, and Cecil was plain to most eyes, and too colourless for his taste, though she possessed a lovely figure, thorough-bred little head, and a pale, intelligent, expressive face.
Bluebell's lilies and roses and Hebe-like contour caught his eye in a moment, of which Cecil felt an instinctive conviction; but though, with a woman's keenness, underrating no point of attraction in her friend, she considered her wanting in style, which deficiency she dwelt on now with secret satisfaction. For though not in the least anxious to monopolize general admiration, that of Bertie Du Meresq was unfortunately a sensitive point with Cecil, for that six weeks had been the intensest period of her life—the dawning of "love's young dream."
She had never met him since childhood till then, when they were thrown together with the intimacy of near connexions. There was not, of course, the slightest real relationship, but Bertie jestingly called her his niece, perhaps, to establish a right of chaperonage.
He used to make her come down to breakfast en Amazone, and took her the most enchanting rides in that Seductive April weather. Her equestrian experience previously had been limited to steady macadamizing on the roads. Bertie took her as the crow flies, never pulled a fence, but merely gave her a lead, and Cecil, who had plenty of nerve, exulted in the new excitement. The farmers might not have thought it a very orthodox month for this amusement; but hunting was scarcely over, though the copses were filled with primroses, and violets scented the hedgerows; the birds sang as they only do when the great business of their year is commencing. And then she had such a mount, a perfect hunter of her quasi-uncle's. It never refused, and took its fences with such ease a child might have sat it.
Or they would ride dreamily on in woody glades, both alike susceptible to the shafts of sunlight, quivering on the leaves, the sudden gush of fragrance after a shower, and all the myriad appeals of spring to those who have that touch of poetry in their clay which is the key of fairy-land, their horses meantime snatching at the young green boughs as they sauntered lazily on; and Du Meresq, who had travelled in all sorts of strange out-of-the way places, described weirder scenes in other lands, and pictured a fuller, more vivid life than she in her routine existence had dreamed of.
Bertie was always all in all to the woman he was with, provided no other was present; and Cecil, young, and full of sympathy and intelligence, was a delightful companion. His appreciation, felt and expressed, of her quickness of comprehension was most agreeable flattery; the more so as he confided in her so fully, even consulting her about his own private affairs, for he was very hard pressed at this time, and she, who had never known the want of money, took the deepest interest in it all.
He seemed never able to bear her out of his sight. If she played, he was hanging over the piano; if he had letters to write, Cecil must do it from his dictation; and yet he would avow sometimes before her such extravagant adoration for some pretty girl, that Cecil, chilled and surprised, would feel more than ever doubtful of her own influence; and the honeyed words she had treasured up, faded away as void of significance. And then one day,—suddenly,—on her return from a croquet-party, she heard he had received a telegram, and gone, leaving a careless message of adieu.
Poor Cecil! with the instinct of the wounded animal to its lair, she rushed to her own room, locked the door, and walked about in a tearless abandonment of grief, disappointment, and surprise. How could he leave her without one word? She felt half stunned, and her brain seemed capable of only the dull reiteration that "Bertie was gone." Tears welled up to her eyes then, when the sound of the first dinner-bell drove them back. She felt she must battle alone with this strange affliction; and trying to efface from her features all evidence of the shock she had sustained, descended to dinner, looking rather more stately than usual.
It annoyed her to observe that her step-mother glanced deprecatingly at her, and was inclined to be extra affectionate. This would never do. Like most young girls, she was generally rather silent when not interested in the discussions of her elders. But now she never let conversation drop. The incidents of the croquet-party furnished a safe topic. Colonel Rolleston thought the gentle dissipation had made his daughter quite lively. Afterwards she took refuge at the piano, which was imprudent, for music only too surely touches the chord of feeling, and every piece was associated with Bertie. Cecil shut the instrument, and effected a strategical retreat to her bed-room, where, in the luxury of solitude, she might worry and torment herself to her heart's content. His absence was trial enough, but the sting lay in the way it was done, which was such a proof of indifference, that shame urged her to crush out all thoughts of him, and suffer anything rather than let him see the impression his careless affection had made on her.
And so Cecil passed through her first "baptism of fire" alone and unsuspected; but time had softened much of her resentment ere they met again.
The time I've lost in wooing, In watching and pursuing The light that lies In woman's eyes, Has been my heart's undoing. —Moore.
"Bluebell," said little Lola, bursting into the nursery, where Freddy, rather a tyrant in his affections, had insisted on her singing him to sleep, "Ma says you have got to dine down to-night, and Miss Prosody,
too. Won't she be in a way, for her white muslin never came home from the wash, and she had begun altering the barege; so I asked Felda to tell her," said Lola, diplomatically. "Do you know Bertie has come?" (His nieces never prefaced his name with the formality of uncle.) "Oh of course, you must have seen him at the Rink. Do you like him? He is sure to like you, at first, at any rate," said Lola, who apparently, like other lookers-on saw most of the game. "And don't tell, but I believe he hates Miss Prosody."
"Why?" asked Bluebell, absently.
"Well, one day he was whispering to Cecil, with their heads very near together. Miss Prosody was looking for a book in a recess behind the door, close to them; but they never saw her till she moved away, and I heard Bertie mutter something about an 'inquisitive old devil.' But don't tell, mind. There's the bell; I must go to tea," Exit Lola, and Bluebell flew off with some alacrity to her bed-room to prepare.
"Bluebell," cried Cecil, opening the intervening door, "can I lend you anything?" It pleased her to supply her friend's deficiencies of toilet when a sudden summons to a domestic field-day had been issued.
"Is it a party?" said the other. "I have only my eternal black-net dress."
"Just Mr. Vavasour and Captain Deveril," both in her father's regiment; they never either of them alluded to Bertie. "Here are some fixings for it," returning with a lapful of silver acorns and oak leaves, "unless you would prefer butter-cups. What a thing it is to have a complexion like yours, that everything goes with,"—and Cecil looked with half envy at the girl, whose blue eyes were bluer, and hair and cheeks brighter, than usual, as she chattered away with a vivacity, of which, perhaps, the nattering glances of Captain Du Meresq may have been the secret spring.
Bluebell hadn't the slightest idea of assuming the demure demeanour of a governess in society; the Rollestons had been her great friends before, and did not treat her as if she was in any altered position; not so, however, Miss Prosody, who would have reduced her to the status of a nursery-maid had it been in her power.
That austere virgin was talking, or rather listening, in a sympathetic manner to Colonel Rolleston as the girls entered the room; but her eye had taken in every detail of Miss Leigh's costume, and disapprovingly remarked the silver oak leaves that festooned the black-net dress, and Maltese cross and bracelets that accompanied it, all of which she well knew belonged to Cecil.
The three young men were talking together.
"Du Meresq," said Captain Deveril, "you get more leave than any other fellow. You were in the Prairies in July, England in the spring, and now here you are at large again in January."
"You must have a rattling good chief," said Mr. Vavasour, "I don't think, Mrs. Rolleston, the Colonel is ever able to spare us quite so often."
"You see," said Bertie, "there's no demand for leave among our fellows just now; they are all in love at Montreal, and there's so much going on there. Lascelles most imprudently gave up his to drive Miss Ellery about a little longer."
"Oh, ah, I know her," said young Vavasour; "girl with grey eyes, and head always on one side when she's valsing; looks as if she was kissing her own shoulder."
"Will she land him, do you think?" said Deveril.
"Not she," said Bertie. "I have known him in as bad a scrape before; he'll get away to England soon; he always bolts when the family becomes affectionate."
A discordant gong resounding through the house was followed by the announcement of dinner.
"Come, my dear Miss Prosody," said the Colonel, complacently, leading her forth; he hadn't near done his recital of the morning's field-day, which required that delicate tact and judicious prompting to extort from him that, though not really Brigadier on the occasion, his opinion and authority had actually directed the proceedings.
Generally any amount of this affectionate incense was forthcoming from his wife and daughter; but to-night they both seemed a little distrait and occupied with Bertie, which, however, was a loss little felt with Miss Prosody present, whose motto seemed that of the volunteers, "Always ready," and her "soothing treatment" was certainly equal to that of either of the others.
"It's you and I, Miss Bluebell," said young Vavasour, hastily offering his arm, while Bertie who had hesitated an instant, gave his to Cecil. The momentary reluctance was not lost upon her, she become rather silent, ditto Captain Du Meresq; but their opposite neighbours were in a full flow of chatter.
"I saw you on the Rink, Miss Leigh, I wish I could skate like you. What is that thing you do with a broom??"
"Take a good deal of cultivating to produce. I should think? Are you going to the M'Nab's ball?"
"No; I am not asked. The others are."
"But you do go to balls sometimes?"
"Oh, yes; Mrs. Rolleston promised I should; but I can't go without an invitation, and I very seldom get one."
"I daresay not," said Jack hotly; "they don't want their daughters cut out."
"Stuff," cried Bluebell, with a sudden blush, which was not occasioned by the remark, but by the expression of Bertie Du Meresq's eyes that she had caught for about the third time since dinner began. It was very provoking; they had a sort of magnetic power, that forced her to look that way, and she fancied she detected a half-pleased smile in recognition of the involuntary suffusion.
"We are going; to 'fix up a prance' after the garrison sleigh drive on the 10th," continued young Vavasour; "will you come my sleigh, Miss Leigh?"
Bluebell's face brightened with anticipation; then she looked down, and demurred,—"I don't know that I shall be able to go."
"That's only a put off, I am sure; you came out last garrison sleigh-drive."
"Yes, because Colonel Rolleston took me in his, but I mustn't expect to go every time; and you see there's Freddy; but I should like it awfully, Mr. Vavasour."
"Well, I know they will make you come," said he confidently. "Promise me you won't drive with any other fellow."
"No fear of that; I don't suppose any one else will ask me."
"Wouldn't they," thought Vavasour. "I know two or three of our fellows are death on driving her."
"Cecil," said Bertie, suddenly, "I think you have grown much quieter."
"I am sure I might make the same remark, and for the purposes of conversation it requires two to talk."
"You are so stiff, or something," murmured he; "not like the jolly little girl who used to ride with me in the Farwoods. Those were pleasant days, Cecil—at least, I thought so."
"You got very suddenly tired of them, however."
"That I didn't," exclaimed he. "I was obliged to go."
"It was a yachting excursion, wasn't it?" carelessly.
"Yes, ostensibly; I had business too. Do you know Cecil very nearly wrote to you. But then, I thought you wouldn't care to hear from me, and might think it a bore answering."
Cecil was silent. "Did you miss me, my child?"
She forgot her resolves, and met his eyes with a dark, soft look.
Bertie pressed her hand under the table, and for a moment they were oblivious of anything passing around.
"Sweet or dry, sir?" said the deep voice of the liveried [unreadable], for the second time of asking.
Du Meresq darted a searching glance at the man, who looked as stolid as the Serjeant in 'Our's.' No one could have guessed he was thinking what a piquante anecdote it would be to relate to his inamorata, the cook, over their supper-beer. Bertie gave a laughing but relieved glance at his neighbour, whose eyes were fixed on her plate. They both began simultaneously talking louder, with an exaggerated openness, on general topics. Mrs. Rolleston joined in.
"You must stay over the sleighing-party, Bertie."
"I hate driving a hired sleigh," said he. "I wish I could get mine up; but the Grand Trunk would be sure to deliver it the day after the fair."
"But you have your musk-ox robes here; they would dress up the shabbiest sleigh. I only saw one set like them on New Year's Day, when we had at least sixty sleighs up here."
"How did you enjoy that celebration?"
"I think," said Cecil, "it is rather tiresome for ladies to have to stay in all day and receive, while the gentlemen go out calling. We had a spread, of course—luncheon, tea, coffee, everything. One man, who had a large acquaintance, came before breakfast, and they were rushing in all day. It would have been well enough if they were not in such a hurry; but they just swallowed a glass of wine, and the burden of all their remarks was, 'I have been to a dozen places already, and have about thirty or forty more to do.'"
"Could not you two young ladies make them linger over smiles and wine?" laughed Bertie. "We are not such duffers at Montreal."
"No, indeed. I saw Bluebell give a man a scalding cup of coffee, with the most engaging smile. There was a nervous glance at the clock. 'Oh, thank you, Miss Leigh, how hot it is! I shall never have time to drink it,' just as if he had a train to catch."
"They have an arrear of balls and dinners to call for; that is the only day in the year a good many ever can pay visits—the civilians, I mean."
The Colonel, who had now exhausted conversation with Miss Prosody, had leisure to observe the determined flirtation of young Vavasour with Bluebell. That unformidable young person being only seventeen, of course looked upon him as a mere boy, and her chaffing manner was not at all to the Colonel's taste, whose attention was drawn to it by an expressive glance from Miss Prosody; so he telegraphed to his wife, who soon signalled her female following from the room.
Bertie got to the door, and as Bluebell passed through last of the ladies, she again met that look of interest and admiration Du Meresq had practised so often.
Shyness hitherto had been no infirmity of this young Canadian; but Bertie somehow had mesmerized her into a state of consciousness—it was a cobwebby kind of fetter, but the first she had worn.
"Come and talk to me Bluebell," said Mrs. Rolleston, "as Cecil is so studious."
The former glanced at her friend, and involuntarily whispered—"How well she looks to-night!"
Cecil was sitting apart, utterly absent as it seemed, but her eyes were shining, and there was a soft brightness about her as she turned over the pages of a book. It was "The Wanderer,"—one that Bertie had brought with him.
Mrs. Rolleston agreed and interpreted it her own way. Bluebell drew a long rocking-chair by her side, and they fell into a pleasant little talk. Mrs. Rolleston always made a pet of this child; she was the best of step-mothers, but stood a little in awe of Cecil.
Du Meresq came in shortly before the rest; the elder girl did not even look up, but her face again lit. He stood a l'Anglais, with his back to the fire, talking to his sister, and occasionally, though without any particular empressement, addressing Bluebell, who thought his voice sweeter than any man's she had ever heard. It made her unconsciously modulate her own, which as yet had the untuned accents of early girlhood; but the spell was on her, and she felt, for the first time, at a loss for words. Yet when Mrs. Rolleston shortly after sent her to the piano, it was more of disappointment than a relief. Some one was following to turn the leaves—only Mr. Vavasour—odious, officious boy! Who wanted him?
"Pray, don't," cried she, pettishly. "You are sure to do it all wrong."
"Let me try," pleaded Jack. "If you just look at me I shall know when to turn."
"Well, see if you can bring that book" (indicating a very heavy one at the bottom of a pile) "without spilling the rest, or dropping it on your toes. Thank you. Now you had better go away; this is not at all the sort of music you would understand."
"Classical, I suppose. I am afraid my taste is too uncultivated."
"Come, Miss Leigh," said the Colonel, half-impatiently, "we are all expectation."
Bertie had approached Cecil, and taken up the book she was reading. It was open at "Aux Italiens," and he murmured low some of the verses:—
"I thought of the dress she wore last time, When we stood 'neath the cypress trees together, In that lost land, in that soft clime, In the crimson evening weather. Of her muslin dress, for the eve was hot, And her warm white neck in its golden chain. And her full soft hair, just tied in a knot, And falling loose again."
Mrs. Rolleston thought they looked very like lovers bending over the same book, and their eyes speaking to each other, and in harmony with it went rippling on one of the wildest and most plaintive of the Lieders under Bluebell's sympathetic and brilliant fingers.
"What a magnificent touch that child has!" said Du Meresq, pausing to listen.
"She has quite a genius for music;" and, mentally, she commented, "I never heard her play better."
"She plays," said Bertie, "as if she were desperately in love."
"With Mr. Vavasour?" laughed Cecil.
"With no one, I dare say. It indicates, however, a besoin d'aimer."
Cecil took up "The Wanderer" again, but she soon found they were not en rapport. The captain's temperament was now, ear and fancy, under the spell of the fair musician.
Bertie was soon by the piano, but Bluebell ceased almost directly after. He had brought from Montreal [unreadable] Minstrel Melodies, then just out, and asked her to try one. She excused herself on the plea that it was a man's song, so he began it himself. Who has not suffered from the male amateur, who comes forward with bashful fatuity to favour the company with a strain tame and inaudible as a nervous school girl's? Bertie was no musician, and his songs were all picked up by ear, but there was a passion and timbre in the tenor voice, fascinating if unskilful, and the refrain of "Gentle Annie,"
"Shall we never more behold her, Never hear that winning voice again, Till the spring time comes, gentle Annie, Till the wild flowers are scattered o'er the plain?"
lingered with its mournful, tender inflection in more than one ear that night.
Afterwards the two young men from the barracks, muffled to the chin in buffalo robes, lit the inevitable cigar, and jingled merrily off to the music of the bells.
SATURDAY AT HOME.
Unhasp the lock—like elves set free, Flit out old memories; A strange glow gathers round my heart. Strange moisture dims mine eyes. —Lawrance.
Cecil woke the next morning with the feeling that something pleasant had happened; and then she remembered that Bertie Du Meresq was actually in the house, and the old folly as likely as ever to begin again; but, not possessing the self-examining powers of Anthony Trolloppe's heroines, she made no attempt to argue herself out of her unreasonable happiness, and, indeed, dwelt far more than necessary on the warm, sudden hand-clasp so inopportunely witnessed by full private Bowers. She came down radiant, and looking positively handsome; but when did a too sunny dawn escape a cloud ere noon? Bertie seemed different somehow,—was not certain he could get more leave,—was even doubtful about asking for it; and Cecil's mental Mercury, which had been "set fair," went down to "change." In reality, Du Meresq not being so etherealized by love, felt out of sorts, and not up to the mark that morning, and, therefore, probably opined with Moore—
"Thus should woman's heart and looks, At noon be cold as winter brooks, Nor kindle till the night returning Brings their genial hour for burning."
At any rate, he actually went to the barracks with the Colonel, "as if he couldn't get enough of that," thought Cecil, "when he is not on leave."
But after severe reflections on herself for caring a straw about it, Cecil had forgiven him, and a deceitful sunbeam peeped through in the prospect of meeting at luncheon, only to be again overcast, as the Colonel returned without the recreant Bertie.
This second reverse overthrew her afternoon arrangements, for she had reckoned on Du Meresq's escort to the Rink. This being Saturday, Bluebell always went home till the following day, and Mrs. Rolleston would not be available even for a drive, for she hated sleighing, and was looking forward to writing her English letters in the cozy drawing-room, and sociably imbibing afternoon tea with any visitors hardy enough to face the bitter northwester, happily so rare a visitant in that sufficiently inclement climate.
But Cecil preferred facing any weather to her own thoughts, and, encountering three Astrakhan-jacketed and fur-capped sisters under convoy of Miss Prosody, was carried off by them to enliven their dismal constitutional.
In the meantime, Captain Du Meresq, having lunched at the barracks, drove with Mr. Vavasour to the Rink, expecting to find both girls there: but speculating rather the most on the chance of having a more unrestrained conversation with Bluebell than he cared for under the eyes of her responsible guardians. His projects also were to prove futile, for that young person was speeding over the frozen tract on the common at the time. The snow was as dry and hard as powdered sugar, and her cloud was stiff with her frozen breath; her ears felt as though she had thrust them into a holly-bush, and the razor-like wind in that unsheltered spot must have arrested the circulation of any less healthy and youthful pedestrian. The morning had dawned prosperously for her, as Mrs. Rolleston had accorded permission to join the sleigh-party, the summum bonum of her hopes; and the gratification was rendered more complete by a charming present from Cecil of an ermine cap, muff lined with scarlet, and ermine neck-tie, fastened by its cunning little head and tail.
Bluebell was picturing their effect on the velveteen jacket hitherto so coldly furnished forth, and thinking that Cecil must have ordered them from Montreal with a view to this party, as they had arrived so opportunely. She remembered now that Lola had, apparently, been struggling with a secret for some days; and yet, when she, Bluebell, had been so ecstatic, Cecil had seemed more thoughtful than sympathetic and merely acknowledging her thanks by a quiet kiss, had escaped from the room.
Two expectant faces were peering over the blind at the cottage, watching the gay footsteps battling across the common. Even Aunt Jane looked forward to seeing this weekly messenger from the outer world, which, needless to say, kept well aloof from these poor and insignificant ladies.
Bluebell always brought every piece of gossip she could collect to feed Miss Opie's inquisitive mind who was in no way exempt from the sin supposed to most easily beset spinsterhood and her girlish spirits brightened the quiet cottage and left their echo behind through the dull week. She was by no means an unmixed good when she lived there. Her vivacity, having nothing to expend itself on, often turned to desperate fits of discontent and ennui, but now, coming home was a holiday and change.
All the inhabitants, old ladies, and new girl (for each successive one went away to better herself after a few weeks residence), assembled simultaneously at the hall door, and drew their visitor from the bitter blast into the stove lit parlour. One yet more humble welcomer was there of the vagabond tribe—petty larceny in every curve of his ungainly form, and his spirit so broken by adversity that he only ventured to wag his shabby tail in recognition of his benefactress.
This was Bluebell's casual—one of a too common race in Canada of homeless, starved animals there being no Refuge or dog tax to compel them to live under protection or not at all.
This reclaimed cur after overcoming his strong suspicion of poison, had supported himself for sometime on the food Bluebell placed for him in the shed and when emboldened by hunger and the handsome treatment he had received he ventured into the house, he was authorized to remain as watch dog and protector.
In the summer, too, horses were added to her pensioners and invited in to graze on the patch of enclosed grass at the back of the cottage, till it fell short from being burned up or eaten, for the common was haunted with gaunt, famished quadrupeds, who, in the drought of summer, were still left to look for the mockery of subsistence on the bare, parched ground.
It was a cheerful party gathered round the tea-table, quite lavishly set forth in honour of the guest. Scones and tea cakes were plenteously saturated with butter, regardless of its winter price (the old ladies would breakfast on bread and scrape the rest of the week with uncomplaining self-denial), and a heavy plum cake formed the piece de resistance.
Trove, for olfactory reasons, was accommodated with his share on a rug in the passage. Bluebell was the chief talker, with her week's arrears of news. Captain du Meresq's arrival created a little buzz of interest.
"Is he handsome?" asked Mrs. Leigh, sentimentally, whose thoughts had flown back to earlier days.
Bluebell looked up with an odd, perplexed glance. "Upon my word, I don't know."
"Ah! there were more good-looking people in my day," said her mother. "There was Captain Fletcher, in your poor father's regiment, the handsomest man that was ever seen,—fresh-coloured, with golden whiskers, and long, drooping moustache. All we girls were wild about him. Is Captain Du Meresq at all like that?"
"Not in the least. I can't describe him—fine-shaped head, such strange eyes. Oh! I dare say you would think him hideous," with a conscious laugh.
Miss Opie coughed suspiciously. "It is unfortunate," said she, "when you are in such a pleasant situation, that any disturbing element should enter. I hope, Bluebell, you will be very circumspect in your demeanour towards this gentleman."
"What," said Bluebell, in demure imitation of her manner, "would you consider an appropriate attitude for me to assume towards him?"
"These fine Captains are too fond of turning young girls' heads," said Miss Opie, shaking her own; "'leading captive silly women,' as we read. If he attempt any foolish, trifling conversation, you should check it with cold civility."
Bluebell burst into an irreverent fit of laughter, and even Mrs. Leigh said,—"Oh, those are your English ideas, Aunt Jane; we are not so stiff in Canada."
Mrs. Opie having been a governess for ten years in the mother country, was looked upon as a naturalized Briton.
"I think the old country must be very dull," said Bluebell. "Miss Prosody is always pursing up her mouth and bridling if I laugh and talk with any of the officers; and one day I distinctly overheard her whisper to the Colonel,—'very forward,' and nod towards me."
"It is, however, well to profit by such remarks," returned Miss Opie; "there is doubtless some truth in them, however unpalatable."
"But," urged the girl, "Colonel Rolleston can't bear one to be silent or dull; he always asks if one isn't well; and I shouldn't think you could call Captain Du Meresq a flirt. Why, he has hardly spoken ten words to me yet,"—but a sudden glow came to her cheeks as she remembered how many he had looked.
"Well, well, I was only warning you. Fetch the backgammon board; your mother has won seven games and I nine since you went."
Bluebell complied, and, settling the ladies on either side of a papier-mache table, opened the piano, and began dreamily playing through the music of the night before. Trove, finding the door ajar, had pushed in, and lay near the instrument, listening in that strange way some dogs do if the tones come from the heart, and not merely the fingers.
Having got through the last evening's repertoire, she sat musing on the music-stool, and then crooned rather low an old song of her mother's, beginning,—
"They tell me thou art the favoured guest In many a gay and brilliant throng; No wit like thine to wake the jest, No voice like thine to raise the song."
"Oh! that is too old-fashioned," said Mrs. Leigh, and Miss Opie coughed dryly. But why need Bluebell have blushed so consciously, as she dashed into Lightning galops and Tom Tiddler quadrilles, till Trove, like a dog of taste, took his offended ears and outraged nerves off to his lair in the lobby?
His fair mistress soon after sought her bower, a scantily furnished retreat, but, like most girls' rooms, taking a certain amount of individuality from its occupier. Everything in the little room was blue, and each article a present. Photographs of school friends were suspended from the wall with ribbons of her name-sake colour. It was in the earlier days of the art, when a stony stare, pursed lips, and general rigidity were considered essential to the production of the portrait.
Blue, also, were the pincushion and glass toilet implements on the dressing-table, and a rocking-chair had its cushion embroidered in bluebells—a tribute of affection from a late schoolfellow.
The bed was curtainless, and neutral except as to its blue valance, and the carpet only cocoa-nut matting, which, however, harmonized fairly with the prevailing cerulean effect.
Bluebell was writing in a book, guarded by a Bramah, some profound reflections on "First Impressions." She never lost the key nor forgot to lock this volume—a saving clause of common-sense protecting a farrago of nonsence.
"Ces beaux jours, quand j'etais si malheureux." Have you ever, reader, taken up an old journal written in early youth, and thought how those intensely black and white days have now mingled into unnoticeable grey, half-thankful that the old ghosts are laid, half-regretful for that keener susceptibility to joy and sorrow gone by? Then, as "the hand that has written it lays it aside," there is, perhaps, a pang at the reflection of how the paths now diverge of those who once walked together as—
"Time turns the old days to derision, Our loves into corpses—or wives; And marriage, and death, and division, Make barren our lives."
But Bluebell knows nothing of that. She is at the scribbling age, and can actually endure to describe, as if they were new and entirely original, the dawning follies of seventeen.
In England a heroine might have wound up such sentimental exercises with gazing out on the moonlit scene; but nine degrees below zero was unfavourable for the wooing of Diana. The "cold light of stars" was no poetical figure, and Bluebell, frozen back to the prosaic, piled up the stove, and crept into bed, where her waking dreams soon merged into sleeping ones.
A WOODLAND WALK.
I hope, pretty maid, you won't take it amiss, If I tell you my reason for asking you this, I would see you safe home (now the swain was in love), Of such a companion if you would approve. Your offer, kind shepherd, is civil, I own, But I see no great danger in going alone; Nor yet can I hinder, the road being free For one as another, for you as for me.
It was Sunday afternoon. Bluebell was on her way to the Maples, and had not proceeded far when she observed a Robinson Crusoe-looking figure in one of those grotesque fur caps and impossible hooded blankets that the fashionable Briton in Canada so fondly affects. She was speculating idly upon whom it could be.
"Not Mr. Gordon, though the 'Fool's-cap' is like his; and Major Simeon has one of those. Oh, Captain Du Meresq!"
She bowed rather undecidedly, and then moved on abruptly.
But Bertie did not pass by.
"Are you returning?" asked he. "They can't get on without you. Freddy has dropped a cinder into his nurse's tea, and set fire to the straw in the cat's basket."
Bluebell laughed shyly.
"I have been to see mamma. Do not let me bring you out of your way, Captain Du Meresq,"—for he had turned back with her.
"Oh, I was only going for a walk," said Bertie, innocently,—a harmless amusement that, without any other object, he was simply incapable of undertaking. "Hadn't I better see you home; there's a brute of a dog down there who sprang out at me! I broke my stick across his head, and then, of course, I had to apologize, being disarmed."
"I know that fierce dog. He belongs to a cabman; but I always speak to him, and he never attacks me."
"Even a lion itself would flee from a maid in the pride of her purity," laughed Bertie. "But, Miss Leigh, must we positively go shivering across this bleak desert again?—isn't there some sheltered way through the wood?"
"There certainly is; but it is three miles round, and, I dare say, full of drifts."
"Never mind, all the better fun. Up this way?"
"Oh, but isn't it late? I think they will be expecting me before."
"There's nobody at home, if that's all," said Bertie. "They have gone to the Cathedral, and most likely will turn into tea at the Van Calmonts."
The scrambling walk was a temptation, the common hideous and cold.
"We must walk very quick, then."
"Run, if you like. Come along, there's a dear child."
Bluebell coloured furiously.
"Maybe I won't go at all now!"
"That is so like a girl," said Bertie impatiently; "standing coquetting in the cold. Now, you are offended. What did I say? Only called you a child."
"You had no business to speak so," said Bluebell, angry at his familiar manner, but rather at a loss for words. "Why can't you call me Miss Leigh, like everybody else?" and the indignant little beauty paused, with hot cheeks, and feeling desperately awkward.
Du Meresq bit his lip to hide a smile. He was half afraid she would dash off and terminate the interview.
"Dear me!" said he. "When you are a little older you will think youth a very good fault. Will you forgive me this once, Miss Leigh, and I will not call you anything else?—for the present" (sotto voce).
Bluebell was mollified, and rather proud of the good effects of her reproof, notwithstanding the half-inaudible rider. Du Meresq, also, was satisfied, for, without further opposition, they had struck into the wood. Unused to the Britannic hamper of a chaperone, Bluebell saw nothing singular in the proceeding. So they crunched over the snow, keeping, as far as possible, the dazzling track marked by the wheels of the sleigh-waggons, and plentifully powdered by the snow-laden trees; now up to their knees in a drift, from which Bertie had the pleasure of extricating his companion, who forgot her shyness in the difficulties of the path, and, not being given to silence, was laughing and talking away unreservedly.
"What a strange girl she is!" thought Bertie. "Who would think, to hear her chattering now, she could have made that prim little speech? I must not go on too fast; it reminds me of that Irish girl who said, the first time I squeezed her hand, 'Ah, Captain Du Meresq, but you are such a bould flirt!'"
Sheltered from the bleak wind the walk on the crisp track was enjoyable enough; the "strange eyes," being now on a line with and not confronting her, were less embarrassing, and the slight awe she still felt of him only gave a piquancy to the companionship.
"Are you not very glad we came this way?" Bertie was saying.
"If we had only snow-shoes," cried the breathless Bluebell, for the third time slipping into a drift, but struggling out before Du Meresq could do more than catch her hand.
"Poor little fingers! how cold they are," trying to put them in with his own into his large beaver gloves.
"Oh, I wish you would be sensible," stammered Bluebell, much confused.
"What's the use of being sensible," retorted he, "when it is so much pleasanter being otherwise? Time enough for that when anybody's by."
But Bluebell wrenched her hand away, bringing off the glove, which she threw on the snow.
"Is that a challenge, Miss Bluebell? Must take up the gauntlet? Good gracious, my dear child, you are not really annoyed? Well, we will be sensible, as you call it. Only you must begin; I don't know how."
"Evidently," said Bluebell, very tartly, drawing as far away as the exigencies of the track would admit. She could hold her own well enough with the young subalterns she had hitherto flirted with, but this man was older, and had a bewildering effect on her.
"Are you and Cecil great friends?" asked Bertie, presently, with the air of having forgotten the fracas.
"I hope so," coming out of her offended silence at this neutral topic. "I know I like her well enough."
"And do you tell each other everything, after the manner of young ladies?"
"No-o," said Bluebell, reflectively; "not like the girls at school. You see Cecil is older than I, and cleverer, I suppose, and doesn't talk much nonsense."
"Did she ever speak of me?" asked Bertie.
"Hardly ever; the others have mentioned you often."
"Cecil is a very sensible girl," with a re-assured countenance; "and as you never talk nonsense, I suppose you won't mention the trivial fact of our having taken this walk?"
"Why in the world not?" opening her large violet eyes full upon him.
"'Speech is silver, but silence is golden,' you unsophisticated child," returned he, enigmatically.
Bluebell considered. "Why, of course, I shall tell Mrs. Rolleston what made me so late."
"But not if she doesn't ask you?"
"But why not? There is no harm in it," said the girl, persistently.
"No, no; but if you had lived as long as I, you would know that people always try and interfere with anything pleasant. I should so like to take this walk with you every week, Bluebell."
Bluebell looked down; she was vaguely flattered by his caring to repeat the walk which she thought must be so unimportant to him,—it would be something to look forward to, for she had enjoyed it, though she could not tell why.
"But, Captain Du Meresq—" she began.
"Call me Bertie, when we are alone," said he.
They had entered on the street, Bluebell was wavering, but the last sentence, "when we are alone," struck her ear unpleasantly.
"How can I?" said she; "I do not know you well enough."
"Walk with me sometimes," whispered Bertie, "and that reason will disappear, but don't say a word about it to-day, there's a dear girl. I had better make tracks for the club; you will be at home in five minutes,"—and Du Meresq ceremoniously lifted his cap, for many eyes were about, and disappeared down another block.
Bluebell on finding herself alone, went through a disagreeable reaction. It was certainly only a few yards to her destination; but it was annoying to be left so abruptly, and an air of secrecy thrown over her actions too. Did she like him, or hate him? She could not determine; her fancy and her vanity were both touched, doubtless; then, remembering Miss Opie's exhortations, a gleam of fun twinkled in her eyes as she thought of what her horror would have been at Bertie's affectionate ease of manner.
All the same she crept into the house, feeling very underhand and uncomfortable. None of the party had returned, so reprieved for the present she went up to the nursery.
Freddy was roaring on his back, he had just thrown "Peep-of-Day" at the nurse's head, which had been unwisely offered to him as a substitute for his favourite trumpet, when its excruciating blasts become too unbearable.
"Oh, I'm sure I'm glad you have come back, miss, for I don't know how to abide that wearyin' child, as don't know what a whipping is. Here's your governess, sir, as will put you in the corner."
"Hold your tongue, you fool!" cried Freddy with supreme contempt.
The suaviter in modo was, indeed, the only treatment allowed in that nursery. Bluebell retreated with a highly-coloured scrap-book to the window, which she feigned complete absorption in. Freddy glanced at it out of the tail of his eye.
"Show me that, Boobell."
"I don't know, Freddy," said the girl, feeling some slight moral coercion incumbent on her. "Do you think you will call nurse a fool again?"
"She shouldn't bother," said the infant, confidentially, climbing into her lap, but declining to commit himself to any pledges of good behaviour. "Show me the book."
Half-an-hour after, Mrs. Rolleston looking in, saw a pretty little picture—the old nurse was nodding in a rocking-chair. Bluebell's fair young face was bending over Freddy, seated on her lap, with as arm round her neck, his cherubic visage beaming with interest as he listened to the classic tale of "Three Wishes." It was easier to her to continue the recital, while a dread of being questioned prevented her looking up.
"Bluebell is telling Freddy such a beautiful fairy story," said Mrs. Rolleston, to some one who had followed her to the nursery.
"I wish she would tell fairy stories to me," said Bertie.
In aught that from me lures thine eyes My jealousy has trial; The lightest cloud across the skies Has darkness for the dial. —Lord Lytton.
Bluebell had no difficulty in preserving silence about the Sunday's escapade. It never occurred to Mrs. Rolleston to enquire what time she had returned, and an evasive answer to Cecil was all that it entailed. But she was very much perplexed by the change in Captain Du Meresq's manner. The cold civility recommended by Miss Opie seemed all on his side. Nothing but good-humoured indifference was apparent in his manner. Their acquaintance did not seem to have progressed further than the first evening; indeed, it had rather retrograded; and she could almost imagine she had dreamt the tender speeches he had lavished on her in the Humber woods.
Cecil and he were out sleighing most afternoons, and Bluebell was thrown on nursery and school-room for companionship—insipid pabulum to the vanity of a young lady in her first glimpse of conquest, and who believed she had stricken down a quarry worthy of her bow. Having nothing to distract her, she considered the problem exhaustively from morning till night, and, if she were not in love with him before, she had got him into her head now, if not into her heart. His being so much with Cecil did not strike her as any clue to the mystery. They were relations, of course, or nearly the same thing; there was no flirting in their matter-of-fact intercourse.
Cecil found her one afternoon reading over the bed-room fire, in a somewhat desponding attitude. Miss Rolleston had just come in from a drive, her slight form shrouded in sealskins, an air of brightness and vivacity replacing her usual rather languid manner.
"You wouldn't think it was snowing from my cloak," cried she. "It is though—quite a heavy fall, if you can call anything so light heavy. We were quite white when we came in, but it shakes off without wetting."
"It won't be very good sleighing, then, to-morrow, and the wind is getting up, too."
"And what have you been doing, Bluebell?"
"I walked with the children and Miss Prosody in the Queen's Park," said the latter, rather dolefully.
"And it was very cold and stupid, I suppose?" said Cecil, kindly. "Come down to the drawing-room and try some duets."
There were two or three visitors below and Bertie, and some tea was coming in. They were looking at a picture of Cecil's just returned from being mounted as a screen. It was a group of brilliant autumn leaves—the gorgeous maple, with its capricious hues, an arrow-shaped leaf, half red, half green, like a parrot's feather, contrasting with another "spotted like the pard," and then one blood-red. The collecting of them had been an interest to the children in their daily walks, and Cecil had arranged them with artistic effect.
One of the visitors was a rather pretty girl, whom Bluebell had known formerly. She gave her, however, only a distant bow, while she answered with the greatest animation any observation of Captain Du Meresq's. This young lady was to be one of the sleighing party next day, and, as far as she could admit such a humiliating fact, was trying to convey to him, that she was as yet unappropriated for any particular sleigh.
"Who is to drive you, Miss Rolleston?" asked she, suspecting, from his backwardness in coming forward, that the object of her intentions might be engaged there.
"I am going in the last sleigh, with Major Fane. We take the luncheon and pay the turnpikes. He is Vice-President this time."
"By-the-bye, Du Meresq," said the Colonel, rather exercised to find a lady of the party without a swain, "whom have you asked?"
"Oh, everybody is engaged," said Bertie, mendaciously ignoring Miss Kendal's half-admission of being open to an offer. "I shall not join the drive at all, unless," he added, in a hesitating manner, as if it was a sudden thought, "Miss Leigh will compassionate me, and allow me to take charge of her."
Bluebell, confused by this unexpected proposition, and by feeling so many eyes turned upon her, did not immediately make any answer; then a vexatious remembrance intruded itself, and she replied, with what that individual would have thought most unnecessary concern,—
"I am very sorry—I mean—I believe I am half-engaged to Mr. Vavasour."
"I should think you were," said Mrs. Rolleston. "I don't know what he would say if you threw him over."
"Oh!" said Bertie, plaintively, "if that insinuating youth has been beforehand, of course there's no chance for me. Well, I am out of the hunt,"—and he carelessly whistled a bar of "Not for Joseph" in reply to a suggestive motion of his sister's towards Miss Kendal.
"I should think it so dull," said that young lady, tossing her head, "to be engaged so long before. I do not intend to decide till the day."
"What shall you keep all your admirers in suspense till the last moment?" said Bertie, with a covert sneer, for he was angry at her slighting behaviour to Bluebell. "What a scramble there will be!"
Miss Kendal was not altogether satisfied with the tone of the remark, so she commenced tying on her cloud, observing sharply, "Well, mamma, we shall be benighted if we stay any longer."
Bertie dutifully attended them to the sleigh, and won the elder lady's heart by the skill with which he tucked round her the fur robes and the parting grace of his bow.
She was about to purr out some commendation, when—"What a bear that man is!" burst with startling vehemence from Miss Kendal's coral lips.
"Oh! my dear, what can you mean? I thought he seemed so agreeable."
"I as good as told him," muttered the ruffled fair, too angry to be reticent, "that I had no one to drive me to-morrow; and I think it was real rude asking that Bluebell Leigh before my face,—a mere nursery governess—and not giving me so much as the chance of refusing him."
"But you said," urged Mrs. Kendal, who did not see beyond the proverbial nasal tip, "that you would not decide on your sleigh till the day."
"I only know," said the daughter, with dark emphasis, "I wouldn't drive with him now, if he went on his bended knees to ask me."
"Thank you, Bella," said Bertie, returning. "Nice little game you had cut out for me! What an odious girl!"
Cecil's jealous instinct detected the root of this animosity, more especially guided thereto by his attempt to secure Bluebell as a companion, which had surprised her not too agreeably.
"What is her crime," said she, sarcastically, "beyond a rather transparent design of driving with you Bertie?"
"She is hung with bangles like an Indian squaw, and has a Yankee twang in her voice."
"She pretended to scarcely remember me," said Bluebell, "though we were at school together."
"Jealous, I dare say," laughed Bertie. "Is she an admirer of Jack Vavasour's?"
"Fancy any one admiring a boy like that!" said Bluebell, who did not feel in charity with her allotted charioteer.
Bertie had advanced to take her cup, and as she said this, it seemed to Cecil he touched her hand caressingly under cover of it.
"I dare say," said she sharply, "Alice Kendal has as many admirers as other people, and, perhaps, can dispense with counting Captain Du Meresq among them."
Bluebell looked up, astonished at her manner; but Bertie perceived it with more intelligence, and the thought, "What a bore it will be if she is jealous," afterwards passed through his mind,—by which may be inferred he had had in contemplation the acquisition of "Heaven's last best gift."
THE GARRISON SLEIGH CLUB.
'T were a pity when flowers around us rise, To make light of the rest, if the rose be not there; And the world is so rich in resplendent eyes, 'T were a pity to limit one's love to a pair. —Moore.
"I never saw a prettier sight in my life," cried Cecil, as she stood with a motley group in the verandah of "The Maples," the rendezvous of the sleighing party. As each sleigh turned in at the gate and deposited its freight, it fell into rank which extended all round the lawn, till scarcely a space was left on the drive that encircled it, and the air rang with the bells on the nodding horses' heads.
"What the—blazes!" ejaculated Bertie, as Mr. Vavasour rounded the corner at a trot in a red-wheeled tandem, scarlet plumes on the horses, and the robes a combination of black bear-skins and scarlet trimming. The leader, a recent importation from England, better acquainted with the hunting-field than the traces, reared straight on end; but a judicious flick on her ear sent her with a bound almost into the next sleigh, and the tandem drew up at the hall door to an inch.
"Post? mail-cart? nonsense!" said Jack, shaking hands all round 'mid an avalanche of chaff. "Nice cheerful colour for a cold day; that's all."
"Quite scorching," said Major Fane. "Well, Miss Rolleston, if they leave us behind at the turnpikes, we shall never lose sight of them with Jack's flames for a beacon."
"How do you like your tandem, Bluebell?" asked Cecil, "and how far do you expect to get before Mr. Vavasour upsets you?" added she, sotto voce.
"I don't care if he chooses a good place," laughed Bluebell.
"Why, I thought Bertie wasn't going," said, Mrs. Rolleston, as that individual drove up in a modest cutter with a gentleman companion.
"I think he changed his mind when he heard Miss Kendal was going with papa," said Cecil.
"I believe we are all here," said Colonel Rolleston, who was to lead the procession, coming out with the great lady of the party, an eccentric dowager peeress, who having "tired her wing" with flying through the States, was now perching awhile before re-crossing the Herring-pond. Miss Kendal and a subaltern, pressed into the service, placed themselves in the back seat, well smothered in wolf-skins, and the first sleigh moved off to the admiration of the school-room party at the window, who, with the partiality of childhood, thought their papa's the most beautiful turn-out in the city.
"Mr. Vavasour's horse is up the bank," screamed Fleda. "How much better papa drives; he went off so quickly and quietly. I wouldn't be Bluebell! Mr. Vavasour can hardly get out at the gate."
"If papa had to drive one horse before another, perhaps he couldn't either," said Lola, who had been watching with great interest the erratic course of Jack's leader.
Twenty sleighs were off in a string, the crowd cheering them to the echo as they dashed through Queen's Park; but on gaining Carleton Street they were obliged carefully to keep the track, as the sides of the road were deep and treacherous.
"The Colonel is making the pace very slow," remarked Mr. Vavasour; "like to drive, Miss Leigh? they are going very smoothly."
Bluebell, whose knowledge of horses was about equal to her opportunities of instruction, unhesitatingly assented. Jack's gratification thereat was somewhat tempered, when he saw the bewilderment apparent in his flighty pair at the very original manner in which she handled her "lines."
"I suppose," said that young lady, with the composure of ignorance, "we are all right as long as this bald-face horse keeps its nose pointing at Captain Delamere's back."
"Quite so," said Jack, cheerily; "don't take the whip, you are only winding it round your own neck. I'll give Dahlia a lick in the face if she turns out of the rank."
They were winding down a hill, and took a road at the bottom at right angles to it. Colonel Rolleston, in the first sleigh, was blandly pointing out to Lady Hampshire the coup d'oeil of the whole procession as they described two sides of a triangle.
"Do you like my plumes?" asked Jack, relaxing his surveillance on Dahlia, as her left ear, which had been laid back in a suggestive manner, resumed its accustomed position.
"Like them," echoed Bluebell; "it's just like a hearse, bar the colour, which is frightful. I wouldn't have come if I had known I was to be driven in such a fire-engine."
"There now," rather crest-fallen. "I chose them because you said you were fond of scarlet, otherwise I should have preferred blue, except that I might have been taken for one of the 10th, who mount their regimental colours on everything."
"I like the 10th," said Bluebell, perversely; "they are all good-looking except the Adjutant, who got his nose sliced off by a Sikh, and the.... goodness what's that?" as a fearful shout, followed by a sudden checking of horses, brought the whole line to a stand-still.
"What's the matter?" was passed from one sleigh to another up to the front: the return message, shouted and taken up as each one interpreted it, became soon about as intelligible as it does in the game of Russian scandal, and for the next few minutes everybody was conjecturing at once.
"Here's Du Meresq," cried Jack, as Bertie came ploughing through the snow.
"Halloa, guard! what's wrong on the line?"
"Run into a goods' train," said he, keeping on his course to the Vice-President's sleigh.
"Du Meresq never tells one anything," said Jack; "I hate a mysterious fellow; somebody's capsized, I suppose, and he's gone for some brandy."
"Perhaps for a shovel," suggested Bluebell. "Colonel Rolleston may have come to a drift."
"Don't see how we are to reverse our engine," replied Jack, looking each side of the road, where the snow was piled four or five feet.
Bertie, however, had not gone for a shovel, which would have been perfectly useless, but to explain the situation and assist in turning round the sleighs. In front of Colonel Rolleston was a huge rampart of snow, extending for some distance. The wind setting dead in that direction, had drifted it across, and buried the track several feet. This road had been clear the day before, for Bertie and Cecil had driven it to ascertain, but the wind had changed and snow fallen during the night.
Major Fane's sleigh was successfully turned, after a great deal of assistance to the horses, who floundered up to their shoulders; and to this haven of refuge Du Meresq was conducting several young ladies, for each sleigh having to turn on the spot where their progress was arrested, a certain number of upsets was inevitable.
"Come, Miss Leigh," said a voice beneath her, "you mustn't stick to the ship any longer. Why, this is the worst bit of all. You can't jump; trust to me." And to Jack's indignation, Bertie lifted her from the wheel and carried her through some deep snow to a dry place. There was a certain amount of excuse for it, as he couldn't have deposited her in the drift, and turning the tandem took up its owner's whole attention, and the services of three or four volunteers; but he fancied Du Meresq had squeezed the little hand before he relinquished it, and ere the tell-tale blush had passed from Bluebell's face, Jack had turned, jumped out and replaced her in the tandem with quiet decision.
Bluebell, confused by the powerless way she had been handed about between her two admirers, could not rally directly, and sat meditating an early snubbing for Jack, but a ridiculous incident soon distracted her attention.
"Get out? No, thank you, Captain Du Meresq," cried Lilla Tremaine, a tall, handsome girl in the sleigh behind; "you'd find me a precious weight to carry, and I am very comfortable where I am. Turn away, Captain Delamere, we'll sink or swim together."
Thus urged, the individual called on made his effort; the sleigh turned, indeed, but on its side, and the adventurous Miss Tremaine, summarily ejected, sank to her waist in the deep snow, her crinoline rising as she descended, spread out under her arms, looking like an inverted umbrella. Jack and Bluebell were suffocating with the laughter they vainly tried to hide, and Bertie, who was on foot, took in the situation at once, and rushed to the rescue.
"Put your arms round my neck, Miss Tremaine," cried he, peremptorily.
The poor girl, half crying with shame and cold, did so, and Du Meresq, grasping her firmly round the waist, endeavoured to drag her forth.
"It's even betting she pulls him in," cried Jack, in a most unfeeling ecstasy, for Miss Tremaine was no pocket Venus—rather answered the Irishman's description of "an armful of joy."
"Oh, dear!" said poor Lilla, trembling with cold, as she found herself on terra firma, "I never can go on; the snow has made me quite wet through."
"Of course you can't," said Bertie, decidedly; "you'd catch your death of cold. Delamere, you drive on with the other Miss Tremaine," for they had both been in his sleigh, "and I'll take Miss Lilla home in my cutter, where she can get dry clothes. You must all pass their house on your way back, when we can fall in again; so that's all settled. Oh, Meredith, I forgot you. Hitch on to some other sleigh, there's a good fellow. I am on ambulance duty; somebody tell Colonel Rolleston—presently."
Then Bertie, who had his own reasons for hurrying, placed Miss Tremaine, still shivering from her snow bath, in the cutter, and drove rapidly off.