(Margaret Wolfe Hamilton)
Author of "Phylis," "Airy Fairy Lilian," "Portia," Etc,. Etc.
NEW YORK HURST AND COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Transcriber's Note: The Table of Contents was not printed in this book. It has been created for the convenience of the reader.
CHAPTER I. CHAPTER XX. CHAPTER II. CHAPTER XXI. CHAPTER III. CHAPTER XXII. CHAPTER IV. CHAPTER XXIII. CHAPTER V. CHAPTER XXIV. CHAPTER VI. CHAPTER XXV. CHAPTER VII. CHAPTER XXVI. CHAPTER VIII. CHAPTER XXVII. CHAPTER IX. CHAPTER XXVIII. CHAPTER X. CHAPTER XXIX. CHAPTER XI. CHAPTER XXX. CHAPTER XII. CHAPTER XXXI. CHAPTER XIII. CHAPTER XXXII. CHAPTER XIV. CHAPTER XXXIII. CHAPTER XV. CHAPTER XXXIV. CHAPTER XVI. CHAPTER XXXV. CHAPTER XVII. CHAPTER XXXVI. CHAPTER XVIII. CHAPTER XXXVII. CHAPTER XIX. CHAPTER XXXVIII.
"On hospitable thoughts intent."
"Positively he is coming!" says Mr. Massereene, with an air of the most profound astonishment.
"Who?" asks Molly, curiously, pausing with her toast in mid-air (they are at breakfast), and with her lovely eyes twice their usual goodly size. Her lips, too, are apart; but whether in anticipation of the news or of the toast, it would be difficult to decide. "Is any one coming here?"
"Even here. This letter"—regarding, with a stricken conscience, the elegant scrawl in his hand—"is from Tedcastle George Luttrell (he is evidently proud of his name), declaring himself not only ready but fatally willing to accept my invitation to spend a month with me."
"A month!" says Molly, amazed. "And you never said a word about it, John."
"A month!" says Letitia, dismayed. "What on earth, John, is any one to do with any one for a month down here?"
"I wish I knew," replies Mr. Massereene, getting more and more stricken as he notices his wife's dejection, and gazing at Molly as though for inspiration. "What evil genius possessed me that I didn't say a fortnight? But, to tell you the honest truth, Letty, it never occurred to me that he might come."
"Then why did you ask him?" says Letitia, as sharply as is possible for her. "When writing, you might have anticipated so much: people generally do."
"Do they?" says Mr. Massereene, with an irrepressible glance at Molly. "Then you must only put me down as an exception to the general rule. I thought it only civil to ask him, but I certainly never believed he would be rash enough to go in for voluntary exile. I should have remembered how unthinking he always was."
"But who is he?" asks Molly, impatiently, full of keen and pleasurable excitement. "I die of vulgar curiosity. What is he like? Is he young, handsome? Oh, John, do say he is young and good-looking."
"He was at school with me."
"Oh!" groans Molly.
"Does that groan proceed from a conviction that I am in the last stage of decay?" demands Mr. Massereene. "Anything so rude as you, Molly, has not as yet been rivaled. However, I am at a disadvantage: so I forgive, and will proceed. Though at school with me, he is at least nine years my junior, and can't be more than twenty-seven."
"Ah!" says Molly. To an Irish girl alone is given the power to express these two exclamations with proper effect.
"He is a hussar, of a good family, sufficiently good looks, and, I think, no fortune," says Mr. Massereene, as though reading from a doubtful guide-book.
"How delightful!" says Molly.
"How terrific!" sighs Letitia. "Fancy a hussar finding amusement in lambs, and cows, and fat pigs, and green fields!"
"'Green fields and pastures new,'" quotes Mr. Massereene. "He will have them in abundance. He ought to be happy, as they say there is a charm in variety."
"Perhaps he will find some amusement in me," suggests Molly, modestly. "Can it be possible that he is really coming? Oh, the glory of having a young man to talk to, and that young man a soldier! Letitia," to her sister-in-law, "I warn you it will be no use for you to look shocked, because I have finally made up my mind to flirt every day, and all day long, with Tedcastle George Luttrell."
"Shocked!" says Letitia, gravely. "I would be a great deal more shocked if you had said you wouldn't; for what I should do with him, if you refused to take him in hand, is a thing on which I shudder to speculate. John is forever doing questionable things, and repenting when it is too late. Unless he means to build a new wing—" with a mild attempt at sarcasm,—"I don't know where Mr. Luttrell is to sleep."
"I fear I would not have time," says Massereene, meekly; "the walls would scarcely be dry, as he is coming—the day after to-morrow."
"Not until then?" says Letitia, ominously calm. "Why did you not make it to-day? That would have utterly precluded the possibility of my getting things into any sort of order."
"Letitia, if you continue to address me in your present heartless style for one minute longer, I shall burst into tears," says Mr. Massereene. And then they all laugh.
"He shall have my room," says Molly, presently, seeing that perplexity still adorns Letitia's brows, "and I can have Lovat's."
"Oh, Molly, I will not have you turned out of your room for any one," says Letitia; but she says it faintly, and is conscious of a feeling of relief at her heart as she speaks.
"But indeed he shall. It is such a pretty room that he cannot fail to be impressed. Any one coming from a hot city, and proving insensible to the charms of the roses that are now creeping into my window, would be unfit to live. Even a hussar must have a soft spot somewhere. I foresee those roses will be the means of reducing him to a lamb-like meekness."
"You are too good, Molly. It seems a shame," says Letitia, patting her sister-in-law's hand, and still hesitating, through a sense of duty; "does it not, John?"
"It is so difficult to know what a woman really means by the word, 'shame,'" replies John, absently, being deep in the morning's paper. "You said it was a shame yesterday when the cat drank all the cream; and Molly said it was a shame when Wyndham ran away with Crofton's wife."
"Don't take any notice of him, Letty," says Molly, with a scornful shrug of her pretty shoulders, turning her back on her brother, and resuming the all-important subject of the expected visitor.
"Another railway accident, and twenty men killed," says Mr. Massereene, in a few minutes, looking up from his Times, and adopting the lugubrious tone one always assumes on such occasions, whether one cares or not.
"Wasn't it fortunate we put up those curtains clean last week?" murmurs Letitia, in a slow, self-congratulatory voice.
"More than fortunate," says Molly.
"Twenty men killed, Letty!" repeats Mr. Massereene, solemnly.
"I don't believe there is a spare bath in the house," exclaims Letitia, again sinking into the lowest depth of despair.
"You forget the old one in the nursery. It will do for the children very well, and he can have the new one," says Molly.
"Twenty men killed, Molly!" reiterates Mr. Massereene, a faint gleam of surprised disgust creeping into his eyes.
"So it will, dear. Molly, you are an immense comfort. What did you say, John? Twenty men killed? Dreadful! I wonder, Molly, if I might suggest to him that I would not like him to smoke in bed? I hear a great many young men have that habit; indeed, a brother of mine, years ago, at home, nearly set the house on fire one night with a cigar."
"Let me do all the lecturing," says Molly, gayly; "there is nothing I should like better."
"Talk of ministering angels, indeed!" mutters Mr. Massereene, rising, and making for the door, paper and all. "I don't believe they would care if England was swamped, so long as they had clean curtains for Luttrell's bed."
"A lovely lady, garmented in light From her own beauty."
The day that is to bring them Luttrell has dawned, deepened, burst into perfect beauty, and now holds out its arms to the restful evening. A glorious sunny evening as yet, full of its lingering youth, with scarce a hint of the noon's decay. The little yellow sunbeams, richer perhaps in tint than they were two hours agone, still play their games of hide-and-seek and bo-peep among the roses that climb and spread themselves in all their creamy, rosy, snowy loveliness over the long, low house where live the Massereenes, and breathe forth scented kisses to the wooing wind.
A straggling house is Brooklyn, larger, at the first glance, than it in reality is, and distinctly comfortable, yet with its comfort, a thing very far apart from luxury, and with none of the sleepiness of an over-rich prosperity about it. In spite of the late June sun, there is a general air of life, a tremulous merriment, everywhere: the voices of the children, a certain laugh that rings like far-off music, the cooing of the pigeons beneath the eaves, the cluck-cluck of the silly fowls in the farm-yard,—all mingle to defy the creeping sense of laziness that the day generates.
"It is late," says Mr. Massereene to himself, examining his watch for the fifteenth time as he saunters in a purposeless fashion up and down before the hall door. There is a suppressed sense of expectancy both in his manner and in the surroundings. The gravel has been newly raked, and gleams white and untrodden. The borders of the lawn that join on to it have been freshly clipped. A post in the railings, that for three weeks previously has been tottering to its fall, has been securely propped, and now stands firm and uncompromising as its fellows.
"It is almost seven," says Letitia, showing her fresh, handsome face at the drawing-room window. "Do you think he will be here for dinner, John?"
"I am incapable of thought," says John. "I find that when a man who is in the habit of dining at six is left without his dinner until seven he grows morose. It is a humiliating discovery. Surely the stomach should be subservient to the mind; but it isn't. Letitia, like a good girl, do say you have ordered up the soup."
"But, my dear John, had we not better wait a little longer?"
"My dear Letitia, most certainly not, unless you wish to raise a storm impossible to quell. At present I feel myself in a mood that a very little more waiting will render ferocious. Besides,"—seeing his wife slightly uneasy,—"as he did not turn up about six, he cannot by any possibility be here until half-past eight."
"And I took such trouble with that dinner!" says Letitia, with a sigh.
"I am more glad to hear it than I can tell you," says her husband, briskly. "Take my word for it, Letty, your trouble won't go for nothing."
"Gourmand!" says Letitia, with the smile she reserves alone for him.
* * * * *
"I don't believe he is coming at all," says Molly, pettishly, coming out from the curtains of the window, and advancing straight into the middle of the room.
Under the chandelier, that has been so effectively touched up for this recreant knight, she stands bathed in the soft light of the many candles that beam down with mild kindliness upon her. It seems as though they love to rest upon her,—to add yet one more charm, if it may be, to the sweet, graceful figure, the half-angry, wholly charming attitude, the tender, lovable, fresh young face.
Her eyes, large, dark, and blue,—true Irish eyes, that bespeak her father's race,—shine with a steady clearness. They do not sparkle, they are hardly brilliant; they look forth at one with an expression so soft, so earnest, yet withal so merry, as would make one stake their all on the sure fact that the heart within her must be golden.
Her nut-brown hair, drawn back from her low brow into a loose coil behind, is enriched here and there with little sunny tresses, while across her forehead a few wavy locks—veritable love-locks, in Molly's case—wander idly, not as of a set purpose, but rather as though they have there drifted of their own gay will.
Upon her cheeks no roses lie,—unless they be the very creamiest roses that ever eye beheld. She is absolutely without color until such occasions rise as when grief or gladness touch her and dye her lovely skin with their red glow.
But it is her mouth—at once her betrayer and her chief charm—that one loves. In among its many curves lies all her wickedness,—the beautiful mouth, so full of mockery, laughter, fun, a certain decision, and tenderness unspeakable.
She smiles, and all her face is as one perfect sunbeam. Surely never has she looked so lovely. The smile dies, her lips close, a pensive sweetness creeps around them, and one terms one's self a fatuous fool to have deemed her at her best a moment since; and so on through all the many changes that only serve to show how countless is her store of hidden charms.
She is slender, but not lean, round, yet certainly not full, and of a middle height. For herself, she is impulsive; a little too quick at times, fond of life and laughter, as all youth should be, while perhaps (that I should live to say it!) down deep within her, somewhere, there hides, but half suppressed and ever ready to assert itself, a wayward, turbulent vein that must be termed coquetry.
Now, at this instant the little petulant frown, born of "hope deferred," that puckers up her forehead has fallen into her eyes, notwithstanding the jealous guard of the long curling lashes, and, looking out defiantly from thence, gives her all the appearance of a beloved but angry child fretting at the delay of some coveted toy.
"I don't believe he is coming at all," she says, again, with increased emphasis, having received no answer to her first assertion, Letitia being absorbed in a devout prayer that her words may come true, while John is disgracefully drowsy. "Oh, fancy the time I have wasted over my appearance, and all for nothing! I won't be able to get up the enthusiasm a second time: I feel that. How I hate young men,—young men in the army especially! They are so selfish and so good-for-nothing, with no thought for any one on earth but Number One. Give me a respectable, middle-aged squire, with no aspirations beyond South-downs and Early York."
"Poor Molly Bawn!" says John, rousing himself to meet the exigencies of the moment. "'I deeply sympathize.' And just when you are looking so nice, too: isn't she, Letty? I vow and protest, that young man deserves nothing less than extinction."
"I wish I had the extinguishing of him," says Molly, viciously. Then, laughing a little, and clasping her hands loosely behind her back, she walks to a mirror, the better to admire the long white trailing robe, the faultless face, the red rose dying on her breast. "And just when I had taken such pains with my hair!" she says, making a faint grimace at her own vanity. "John, as there is no one else to admire me, do say (whether you think it or not) I am the prettiest person you ever saw."
"I wouldn't even hesitate over such a simple lie as that," says John; "only—Letty is in the room: consider her feelings."
"A quarter to nine. I really think he can't be coming now," breaks in Letitia, hopefully.
"Coming or not coming, I shan't remain in for him an instant longer this delicious night," says Molly, walking toward the open window, under which runs a balcony, and gazing out into the still, calm moonlight. "He is probably not aware of my existence; so that even if he does come he will not take my absence in bad part; and if he does, so much the better. Even in such a poor revenge there is a sweetness."
"Molly," apprehensively, "the dew is falling."
"I hope so," answers Molly, with a smile, stepping out into the cool, refreshing dark.
Down the wooden steps, along the gravel path, into the land of dreaming flowers she goes. Pale moonbeams light her way as, with her gown uplifted, she wanders from bed to bed, and with a dainty greediness drinks in the honeyed breathings round her. Here now she stoops to lift with gentle touch a drooping head, lest in its slumber some defiling earth come near it; and here she stands to mark a spider's net, brilliant with dews from heaven. A crafty thing to have so fair a home!—And here she sighs.
"Well, if he doesn't come, what matters it? A stranger cannot claim regret. And yet what fun it would have been! what fun! (Poor lily, what evil chance came by you to break your stem and lay your white head there?) Perhaps—who knows?—he might be the stupidest mortal that ever dared to live, and then—yet not so stupid as the walls, and trees, and shrubs, while he can own a tongue to answer back. Ah! wretched slug, would you devour my tender opening leaves? Ugh! I cannot touch the slimy thing. Where has my trowel gone? I wish my ears had never heard his name,—Luttrell; a pretty name, too; but we all know how little is in that. I feel absurdly disappointed; and why? Because it is decreed that a man I never have known I never shall know. I doubt my brain is softening. But why has my tent been pitched in such a lonely spot? And why did he say he'd come? And why did John tell me he was good to look at, and, oh! that best of all things—young?"
A sound,—a step,—the vague certainty of a presence near. And Molly, turning, finds herself but a few yards distant from the expected guest. The fates have been kind!
A tall young man, slight and clean-limbed, with a well-shaped head so closely shaven as to suggest a Newgate barber; a long fair moustache, a long nose, a rather large mouth, luminous azure eyes, and a complexion the sun has vainly tried to brown, reducing it merely to a deeper flesh-tint. On the whole, it is a very desirable face that Mr. Luttrell owns; and so Molly decides in her first swift glance of pleased surprise. Yes, the fates have been more than kind.
As for Luttrell himself, he is standing quite still, in the middle of the garden-path, staring at this living Flora. Inside not a word has been said about her, no mention of her name had fallen ever so lightly into the conversation. He had made his excuses, had received a hearty welcome; both he and Massereene had declared themselves convinced that not a day had gone over the head of either since last they parted. He had bidden Mrs. Massereene good-night, and had come out here to smoke a cigar in quietude, all without suspicion that the house might yet contain another lovelier inmate. Is this her favorite hour for rambling? Is she a spirit? Or a lunatic? Yes, that must be it.
Meanwhile through the moonlight—in it—comes Molly, very slowly, a perfect creature, in trailing, snowy robes. Luttrell, forgetting the inevitable cigar,—a great concession,—stands mutely regarding her as, with warm parted lips and a smile, half amused, half wondering, she gazes back at him.
"Even a plain woman may gain beauty from a moonbeam; what, then, must a lovely woman seem when clothed in its pure rays?"
"You are welcome,—very welcome," says Molly, at length, in her low, soft voice.
"Thank you," returns he, mechanically, still lost in conjecture.
"I am not a fairy, nor a spirit, nor yet a vision," murmurs Molly, now openly amused. "Have no fear. See," holding out to him a slim cool hand; "touch me, and be convinced, I am only Molly Massereene."
He takes the hand and holds it closely, still entranced. Already—even though three minutes have scarcely marked their acquaintance—he is dimly conscious that there might possibly be worse things in this world than a perpetual near-to "only Molly Massereene."
"So you did come," she goes on, withdrawing her fingers slowly but positively, and with a faint uplifting of her straight brows, "after all. I was so afraid you wouldn't, you were so long. John—we all thought you had thrown us over."
To have Beauty declare herself overjoyed at the mere fact of your presence is, under any circumstances, intoxicating. To have such an avowal made beneath the romantic light of a summer moon is maddening.
"You cared?" says Luttrell, in hopeful doubt.
"Cared!" with a low gay laugh. "I should think I did care. I quite longed for you to come. If you only knew as well as I do the terrible, never-ending dullness of this place, you would understand how one could long for the coming of any one."
Try as he will, he cannot convince himself that the termination of this sentence is as satisfactory as its commencement.
"When the evening wore on," with a little depressed shake of her head, "and still you made no sign, and I began to feel sure it was all too good to be true, and that you were about to disappoint me and plead some hateful excuse by the morning post, I almost hated you, and was never in such a rage in my life. But," again holding out her hand to him, with a charming smile "I forgive you now."
"Then forgive me one thing more,—my ignorance," says Luttrell, retaining the fingers this time with much increased firmness. "And tell me who you are."
"Don't you know, really? You never heard of me from John or—— What a fall to my pride, and when in my secret heart I had almost flattered myself that——"
"Oh, nothing—only—— By the bye, now you have confessed yourself ignorant of my existence, what did bring you down to this uninteresting village?" All this with the most perfect naivete.
"A desire," says Luttrell, smiling in spite of himself, "to see again your—what shall I say?"—hesitating—"father?"
"Nonsense," says Molly, quickly, with a little frown. "How could you think John my father? When he looks so young, too. I hope you are not stupid: we shall never get on if you are. How could he be my father?"
"How could he be your brother?"
"Step-brother, then," says Molly, unwillingly. "I will acknowledge it for this once only. But never again, mind, as he is dearer to me than half a dozen real brothers. You like him very much, don't you?" examining him anxiously. "You must, to take the trouble to come all the way down here to see him."
"I do, indeed, more than I can say," replies the young man, with wise heartiness that is yet unfeigned. "He has stood to me too often in the old school-days to allow of my ever forgetting him. I would go farther than Morley to meet him, after a lengthened absence such as mine has been."
"India?" suggests Molly, blandly.
"Yes." Here they both pause, and Molly's eyes fall on her imprisoned hand. She is so evidently bent on being again ungenerous that Luttrell forces himself to break silence, with the mean object of distracting her thoughts.
"Is it at this hour you usually 'take your walks abroad?'" he asks, smoothly.
"Oh, no," laughing; "you must not think that. To-night there was an excuse for me. And if there is blame in the matter, you must take it. But for your slothfulness, your tardiness, your unpardonable laziness," spitefully, "my temper would not have driven me forth."
"But," reproachfully, "you do not ask the cause of my delay. How would you like to be first inveigled into taking a rickety vehicle in the last stage of dissipation and then deposited by that vehicle, without an instant's warning, upon your mother earth? For my part, I didn't like it at all."
"I'm so sorry," says Molly, sweetly. "Did all that really happen to you, and just while I was abusing you with all my might and main? I think I shall have to be very good to you to make up for it."
"I think so too," says Luttrell, gravely. "My ignominious breakdown was nothing in comparison with a harsh word thrown at me by you. I feel a deep sense of injury upon me."
"It all comes of our being in what the papers call 'poor circumstances,'" says Molly, lightly. "Now, when I marry and you come to see me, I shall send a carriage and a spirited pair of grays to meet you at the station. Think of that."
"I won't," says Luttrell; "because I don't believe I would care to see you at all when—you are married." Here, with a rashness unworthy of him, he presses, ever so gently, the slender fingers within his own. Instantly Miss Massereene, with a marked ignoring of the suggestion in his last speech, returns to her forgotten charge.
"I don't want to inconvenience you," she says, demurely, with downcast lids, "but when you have quite done with my hand I think I should like it again. You see it is awkward being without it, as it is the right one."
"I'm not proud," says Luttrell, modestly. "I will try to make myself content if you will give me the left one."
At this they both laugh merrily; and, believe me, when two people so laugh together, there is very little ice left to be broken.
"And are you really glad I have come?" says Luttrell, bending, the better to see into her pretty face. "It sounds so unlikely."
"When one is starving, even dry bread is acceptable," returns Molly, with a swift but cruel glance.
"I refuse to understand you. You surely do not mean——"
"I mean this, that you are not to lay too much stress on the fact of my having said——"
"Well, Luttrell, where are you, old fellow? I suppose you thought you were quite forgotten. Couldn't come a moment sooner,—what with Letitia's comments on your general appearance and my own comments on my tobacco's disappearance. However, here I am at last. Have you been lonely?"
"Not very," says Mr. Luttrell, sotto voce, his eyes fixed on Molly.
"It is John," whispers that young lady mysteriously. "Won't I catch it if he finds me out here so late without a shawl? I must run. Good-night,"—she moves away from him quickly, but before many steps have separated them turns again, and, with her fingers on her lips, breathes softly, kindly—"until to-morrow." After which she waves him a last faint adieu and disappears.
"In my lady's chamber."
When John Massereene was seven years old his mother died. When he was seventeen his father had the imprudence to run away with the favorite daughter of a rich man,—which crime was never forgiven. Had there been the slightest excuse for her conduct it might have been otherwise, but in the eyes of her world there was none. That an Amherst of Herst Royal should be guilty of such a plebeian trick as "falling passionately in love" was bad enough, but to have her bestow that love upon a man at least eighteen years her senior, an Irishman, a mere engineer, with no money to speak of, with nothing on earth to recommend him beyond a handsome face, a charming manner, and a heart too warm ever to grow old, was not to be tolerated for a moment. And Eleanor Amherst, from the hour of her elopement, was virtually shrouded and laid within her grave so far as her own family was concerned.
Not that they need have hurried over her requiem, as the poor soul was practically laid there in the fourth year of her happy married life, dying of the same fever that had carried off her husband two days before, and leaving her three-year-old daughter in the care of her step-son.
At twenty-one, therefore, John Massereene found himself alone in the world, with about three hundred pounds a year and a small, tearful, clinging, forlorn child. Having followed his father's profession, more from a desire to gratify that father than from direct inclination, he found, when too late, that he neither liked it nor did it like him. He had, as he believed, a talent for farming; so that when, on the death of a distant relation, he found himself, when all was told, the possessor of seven hundred pounds a year, he bought Brooklyn, a modest place in one of the English shires, married his first love, and carried her and Molly home to it.
Once or twice in the early part of her life he had made an appeal to old Mr. Amherst, Molly's grandfather, on her behalf,—more from a sense of duty owing to her than from any desire to rid himself of the child, who had, indeed, with her pretty, coaxing ways, made a very cozy nest for herself in the deepest recesses of his large heart. But all such appeals had been unavailing. So that Molly had grown from baby to child, from child to girl, without having so much as seen her nearest relations, although Herst Royal was situated in the very county next to hers.
Even now, in spite of her having attained her eighteenth year, this ostracism is a matter of the most perfect indifference to Molly. She has been bred in a very sound contempt for the hard old man who so cruelly neglected her mother,—the poor mother whose love she never missed, so faithfully has John fulfilled her dying wishes. There is no poverty about this love, in which she has grown and strengthened: it is rich, all-sufficing. Even Letitia's coming only added another ray to its brightness.
They are a harmonious family, the Massereenes; they blend; they seldom disagree. Letitia, with her handsome English face, her tall, posee figure, and ready smile, makes a delicious centre-piece; John a good background; Molly a bit of perfect sunlight; the children flecks of vivid coloring here and there. They are an easy, laughter-loving people, with a rare store of contentment. They are much affected by those in their immediate neighborhood. Their servants have a good time of it. They are never out of temper when dinner is a quarter of an hour late. They all very much admire Molly, and Molly very much agrees with them. They are fond of taking their tea in summer in the open air; they are not fond of over-early rising; they never bore you with a description of the first faint beams of dawn; they fail to see any beauty in the dew at five o'clock in the morning; they are very reasonable people.
Yet the morning after his arrival, Luttrell, jumping out of his bed at eight o'clock, finds, on looking out of his window that overhangs the garden, Flora already among her flowers. Drawing back hastily,—he is a modest young man,—he grows suddenly energetic and makes good speed with his toilet.
When he is half dressed—that is, when his hair is brushed; but as yet his shirt is guiltless of a waistcoat—he cannot refrain from looking forth again, to see if she may yet be there, and, looking, meets her eyes.
He is slightly abashed; she is not. Mr. Massereene in his shirt and trousers is a thing very frequently seen at his window during the summer mornings. Mr. Luttrell presents much the same appearance. It certainly does occur to Molly that of the two men the new-comer is decidedly the better looking of the two, whereat, without any treachery toward John, she greatly rejoices. It does not occur to her that a blush at this moment would be a blush in the right place. On the contrary, she nods gayly at him, and calls out:
"Hurry! You cannot think what a delicious morning it is." And then goes on with her snipping and paring with the heartiest unconcern. After which Luttrell's method of getting into the remainder of his clothes can only be described as a scramble.
"How did you sleep?" asks Molly, a few minutes later, when he has joined her, looking up from the rose-bush over which she is bending, that holds no flower so sweet as her own self. "Well, I hope?"
"Very well, thank you," with a smile, his eyes fixed immovably upon the fresh beauty of her face.
"You look suspicious," says she, with a little laugh. "Are you thinking my question odd? I know when people are put over-night in a haunted chamber they are always asked the next morning whether they 'slept well,' in the fond hope that they didn't. But you need not be nervous. Nothing so inspiriting——"
"Is that a joke?" demands he, interrupting her, gravely.
"Eh? Oh, no! how could you think me guilty of such a thing? I mean that nothing so hopeful as an undeniable ghost has ever yet appeared at Brooklyn."
"Are you sure? Perhaps, then, I am to be the happy discoverer, as this morning early, about dawn, there came an unearthly tapping at my window that woke me, much to my disgust. I got up, but when I had opened the shutters could see nothing. Was not that a visitation? I looked at my watch, and found it was past four o'clock. Then I crept into my bed again, crestfallen,—'sold' with regard to an adventure."
"That was my magpie," cries Molly, with a merry laugh: "he always comes pecking at that hour, naughty fellow. Oh, what a tame ending to your romance! Your beautiful ghost come to visit you from unknown regions, clad in white and rustling garments, has resolved itself into a lame bird, rather poverty-stricken in the matter of feathers."
"I take it rather hardly that your dependent should come to disturb me," says Luttrell, reproachfully. "What have I done to him, or how have I ingratiated myself, that he should forsake you for me? I did not think even a meagre bird could have shown such outre taste. What fancy has he for my window?"
"Your window?" says Molly, quickly; then as quickly recollecting, she stops short, blushing a warm and lovely crimson. "Oh, of course,—yes, it was odd," she says, and, breaking down under the weight of her unhappy blush, busies herself eagerly with her flowers.
"Have I taken your bedroom?" asks he, anxiously, watching with cruel persistency the soft roses that bloom again at his words. "Yes, I see I have. That is too bad; and any room would have been good enough for a soldier. Are you sure you don't hate me for all the inconvenience I have caused you?"
"I can't be sure," says Molly, "yet. Give me time. But this I do know, that John will quarrel with us if we remain out here any longer, as breakfast must be quite ready by this. Come."
"When you spoke of my chamber as being haunted, a little time ago," says Luttrell, walking beside her on the gravel path, his hands clasped behind his back, "you came very near the truth. After what you have just told me, how shall I keep from dreaming about you?"
"Don't keep from it," says she, sweetly; "go on dreaming about me as much as ever you like. I don't mind."
"But I might," says Luttrell, "when it was too late."
"True," murmurs Molly, innocently: "so you might. John says all dreams arise from indigestion."
"As through the land at eve we went."
Seven long blissful summer days have surrendered themselves to the greedy past. It is almost July. To-day is Wednesday,—to-morrow June will be no more.
"Molly," says Mr. Massereene, with the laudable intention of rousing Molly's ire, "this is the day for which we have accepted Lady Barton's invitation to go to the Castle, to meet Lord and Lady Rossmere."
"'This is the cat that killed the rat, that did something or other in the house that Jack built,'" interrupts Molly, naughtily.
"And on this occasion you have not been invited," goes on John, serenely, "which shows she does not think you respectable,—not quite fit for polite society; so you must stay at home, like the bold little girl, and meditate on your misdemeanors."
"Lady Barton is a very intelligent person, who fully understands my abhorrence of old fogies," says Miss Massereene, with dignity.
"Sour grapes," says John. "But, now that you have given such an unfair turn to Lady Barton's motives, I feel it my duty to explain the exact truth to Luttrell. When last, my dear Tedcastle, Molly was invited to meet the Rossmeres, she behaved so badly and flirted so outrageously with his withered lordship, that he became perfectly imbecile toward the close of the entertainment, and his poor old wife was reduced almost to the verge of tears. I blushed for her; I did indeed."
"Oh, John! how can you say such things before Mr. Luttrell? If he is foolish enough to believe you, think what a dreadful opinion he will have of me!" With a lovely smile at Luttrell across the bowl of flowers that ornaments the breakfast-table. "And with such a man, too! A terrible old person who has forgotten his native language and can only mumble, and who has not got one tooth in his mouth or one hair on his head, and no flesh at all to speak of."
"What a fetching description!" says Luttrell. "You excite my curiosity. He is not 'on view,' is he?"
"Not yet," says Molly, with an airy laugh. "Probably when he dies they will embalm him, and forward him to the British Museum, as a remarkable species of his kind; and then we shall all get the full value of one shilling. I myself would walk to London to see that."
"So would I," says Luttrell, "if you would promise to tell me the day you are going."
"Letitia, I feel myself de trop, whatever you may," exclaims John, rising. "And see how time flies; it is almost half-past ten. Really, we grow lazier every day. I shudder to think at what hour I shall get my breakfast by the time I am an old man."
"Why, you are as old as the hills this moment," says Molly, drawing down his kind face, that bears such a strong resemblance to her own, to bestow upon it a soft sweet kiss. "You are not to grow any older,—mind that; you are to keep on looking just as you look now forever, or I will not forgive you. Now go away and make yourself charming for your Lady Barton."
"Oh, I don't spend three hours before my looking-glass," says John, "whenever I go anywhere." He is smoothing her beautiful hair with loving fingers as he speaks. "But I think I will utter one word of warning, Ted, before I leave you to her tender mercies for the day. Don't give in to her. If you do, she will lead you an awful life. At first she bullied me until I hardly dared to call my soul my own; but when I found Letitia I plucked up spirit (you know a worm will turn), and ventured to defy her, and since that existence has been bearable."
"Letitia, come to my defense," says Molly, in a tragic tone, stretching out her arms to her sister-in-law, who has been busy pacifying her youngest hope. As he has at last, however, declared himself content with five lumps of sugar and eight sweet biscuits, she finds time to look up and smile brightly at Molly.
"Letitia, my dear, don't perjure yourself," says John. "You know I speak the truth. A last word, Luttrell." He is standing behind his sister as he speaks, and taking her arms he puts her in a chair, and placing her elbows on the table, so that her pretty face sinks into her hands, goes on: "The moment you see her take this attitude, run! don't pause to think, or speculate; run! Because it always means mischief; you may know then that she has quite made up her mind. I speak from experience. Good-bye, children. I hope you will enjoy each other's society. I shall be busy until I leave, so you probably won't see me again."
As Letitia follows him from the room, Molly turns her eyes on Luttrell.
"Are you afraid of me?" asks she, with a glance half questioning, half coquettish.
"I am," replies he, slowly.
* * * * *
"Now you are all my own property," says Molly, gayly, three hours later, after they have bidden good-bye to Mr. and Mrs. Massereene, and eaten their own luncheon tete-a-tete. "You cannot escape me. And what shall we do with ourselves this glorious afternoon? Walk?—talk?—or——"
"Talk," says Luttrell, lazily.
"No, walk," says Molly, emphatically.
"If you have made up your mind to it, of course there is little use in my suggesting anything."
"Very little. Not that you ever do suggest anything," maliciously. "Now stay there, and resign yourself to your fate, while I go and put on my hat."
Along the grass, over the lawn, down to the water's edge, over the water, and into the green fields beyond, the young man follows his guide. Above, the blazing sun is shining with all its might upon the goodly earth; beneath, the grass is browning, withering beneath its rays; and in the man's heart has bloomed that tenderest, cruelest, sweetest of all delights, first love.
He has almost ceased to deny this fact to himself. Already he knows, by the miserable doubts that pursue him, how foolishly he lies to himself when he thinks otherwise. The sweet carelessness, the all-satisfying joy in the present that once was his, has now in his hour of need proved false, and, flying, leaves but a dull unrest in its place. He has fallen madly, gladly, idiotically in love with beautiful Molly Massereene.
Every curve of her pliant body is to him an untold poem; every touch of her hands is a new delight; every tone of her voice is as a song rising from out of the gloom of the lonely night.
"Here you are to stand and admire our potatoes," says Molly, standing still, and indicating with a little sweep of her hand the field in question. "Did you ever see so fine a crop? And did you notice how dry and floury they were at dinner yesterday?"
"I did," says Luttrell, lying very commendably.
"Good boy. We take very great pride out of our potatoes (an Irish dish, you will remember), more especially as every year we find ours are superior to Lord Barton's. There is a certain solace in that, considering how far short we fall in other matters when compared with him. Here is the oat-field. Am I to understand you feel admiration?"
"Of the most intense," gravely.
"Good again. We rather feared"—speaking in the affected, stilted style of a farming report she has adopted throughout—"last month was so deplorably wet, that the oats would be a failure; but we lived in hope, and you may mark the result here again: we are second to none. The wheat-field——" With another slight comprehensive gesture. "By the bye," pausing to examine his face, "am I fulfilling my duties as a hostess? Am I entertaining you?"
"Very much indeed. The more particularly that I was never so entertained before."
"I am fortunate. Well, that is the wheat. I don't know that I can expect you to go into ecstasies over it, as I confess to me it appears more or less weak about the head. Could one say that wheat was imbecile?"
"In these days," politely, "one may say anything one likes."
"Yes? You see that rain did some damage; but after all it might have been worse."
"You will excuse my asking the question," says Luttrell, gravely, "but did you ever write for the Farmer's Gazette?"
"Never, as yet. But," with an irrepressible smile, "your words suggest to me brilliant possibilities. Perhaps were I to sit down and tell every one in trisyllables what they already know only too well about the crops, and the weather, and the Colorado beetle, and so forth, I might perchance wake up some morning to find myself famous."
"I haven't the faintest doubt of it," says Tedcastle, with such flattering warmth that they both break into a merry laugh. Not that there is anything at all in the joke worthy of such a joyous outburst, but because they are both so young and both so happy.
"Do you think I have done enough duty for one day?" asks Molly. "Have I been prosy enough to allow of my leaving off now? Because I don't think I have got anything more to say about the coming harvest, and I wouldn't care to say it if I had."
"Do you expect me to say that I found you 'prosy'?"
"If you will be so very kind. And you are quite sure no one could accuse me of taking advantage of John's and Letty's absence to be frivolous in my conversation?"
"And you will tell John what a sedate and gentle companion I was?"
"I will indeed, and more,—much more."
"On the contrary, not a word more: if you do you will spoil all. And now," says Molly, with a little soft, lingering smile, "as a reward for your promises, come with me to the top of yonder hill, and I will show you a lovely view."
"Is it not delicious here?" suggests Mr. Luttrell, who can scarcely be called energetic, and who finds it a difficult matter to grow enthusiastic over landscapes when oppressed by a broiling sun.
"What! tired already?" says Molly, with fine disregard of subterfuge.
"No, oh, no," weakly.
"But you are," reproachfully. "You are quite done up. Why, what would you do if you were ordered on a long day's march?"
"I dare say I should survive it," says Tedcastle, shortly, who is rather offended at her putting it in this light.
"Well, perhaps you might; but you certainly would have nothing to boast of. Now, look at me: I am as fresh as when we started." And in truth, as she stands before him, in her sky-blue gown, he sees she is as cool and bright and unruffled as when they left the house three-quarters of an hour ago. "Well," with a resigned sigh that speaks of disappointment, "stay here until I run up,—I love the place,—and I will join you afterward."
"Not I!" indignantly. "I'm good yet for so much exertion, and I don't believe I could exist without you for so long. 'Call, and I follow—I follow,' even though 'I die,'" he adds to himself, in a tone of melancholy.
Up the short but steep hill they toil in silence. Halfway Miss Massereene pauses, either to recover breath or to give encouragement.
"On the top there is always a breeze," she says, in the voice one adopts when determined to impress upon the listener what one's own heart knows to be doubtful.
"Is there?" says Luttrell, gloomily, and with much disbelief.
At length they gain the wished-for top. They stand together, Molly with her usually pale cheeks a little flushed by the exercise, but otherwise calm and collected; Luttrell decidedly the worse for wear. And, yes, there actually is a breeze,—a sighing, rustling, unmistakable breeze, that rushes through their hair and through their fingers, and is as a draught from Olympus.
"There, didn't I tell you?" cries Molly, with all the suspicious haste and joy that betrays how weak has been her former hope. "Now, do say you are glad I brought you up."
"What need? My only happiness is being with you," says the young man, softly.
"See how beautiful the land is,—as far as one can discern all green and gold," says she, unheeding his subdued tenderness. "Honestly, I do feel a deep interest in farming; and of all the grain that grows I dearly love the barley. First comes the nice plowed brown earth; then the ragged bare suspicion of green; then the strengthening and perfecting of that green until the whole earth is hidden away; then the soft, juicy look of the young blades nodding and waving at each other in the wind, that seems almost tender of them, and at last the fleecy, downy ears all whispering together."
"When you speak in that tone you make me wish myself a barleycorn," says Tedcastle, smiling. "Sit down here beside me, will you, and tell me why your brother calls you 'Molly Bawn'?"
"I hardly know," sinking down near him on the short, cool grass: "it was a name he gave me when I was a little one. John has ever been my father, my mother, my all," says the girl, a soft and lovely dew of earnest affection coming into her eyes. "Were I to love him all my life with twice the love I now bear him, I would scarcely be grateful enough."
"Happy John! Molly! What a pretty name it is."
"But not mine really. No. I was christened Eleanor, after my poor mother, whose history you know. 'Bawn' means fair. 'Fair Molly,'" says she, with a smile, turning to him her face, that resembles nothing so much as a newly-opened flower. "I had hair quite golden when a child. See," tilting her hat so that it falls backward from her head and lies on the greensward behind. "It is hardly dark yet."
"It is the most beautiful hair in the world," says he, touching with gentle, reverential fingers the silken coils that glint and shimmer in the sunlight. "And it is a name that suits you,—and you only."
"Did I never sing you the old Irish song I claim as my own?"
"You never sang for me at all."
"What! you have been here a whole week, and I have never sung for you?" With widely-opened eyes of pure surprise. "What could I have been thinking about? Do you know, I sing very nicely." This without the faintest atom of conceit. "Listen, then, and I will sing to you now."
With her hands clasped around her knees, her head bare, her tresses a little loosened by the wind, and her large eyes fixed upon the distant hills, she thus sweetly sings:
"Oh, Molly Bawn! why leave me pining, All lonely waiting here for you, While the stars above are brightly shining, Because they've nothing else to do? Oh, Molly Bawn! Molly Bawn!
"The flowers late were open keeping, To try a rival blush with you, But their mother, Nature, set them sleeping With their rosy faces washed in dew. Oh, Molly Bawn! Molly Bawn!
"The village watch-dog here is snarling; He takes me for a thief, you see; For he knows I'd steal you, Molly darling, And then transported I should be! Oh, Molly Bawn! Molly Bawn!"
"An odd old song, isn't it?" she says, presently, glancing at him curiously, when she has finished singing, and waited, and yet heard no smallest sound of praise. "You do not speak. Of what are you thinking?"
"Of the injustice of it," says he, in a low, thoughtful tone. "Had you not a bounteous store already when this last great charm was added on? Some poor wretches have nothing, some but a meagre share, while you have wrested from Fortune all her best gifts,—beauty——"
"No, no! stop!" cries Molly, gayly; "before you enumerate the good things that belong to me, remember that I still lack the chiefest: I have no money. I am without doubt the most poverty-stricken of your acquaintances. Can any confession be more humiliating? Good sir, my face is indeed my fortune. Or is it my voice?" pausing suddenly, as though a cold breath from the dim hereafter had blown across her cheek. "I hardly know."
"A rich fortune either way."
"And here I am recklessly imperiling one," hastily putting on her hat once more, "by exposing my precious skin to that savage sun. Come,—it is almost cool now,—let us have a good race down the hill." She slips her slender fingers within his,—a lovable trick of hers, innocent of coquetry,—and, Luttrell conquering with a sigh a wild desire to clasp and kiss the owner of those little clinging fingers on the spot, together they run down the slope into the longer grass below, and so, slowly and more decorously, journey homeward.
* * * * *
On their return they find the house still barren of inmates; no sign of the master or mistress anywhere. Even the servants are invisible. "It might almost be the enchanted palace," says Molly.
Two of the children, seeing her on the lawn, break from their nurse, who is sleeping the sleep of the just, with her broad back against an elm, and running to Molly, fling their arms around her. She rewards them with a kiss apiece, one of which Luttrell surreptitiously purloins from the prettiest.
"Oh, you have come back, Molly. And where have you been?"
"Over the hills and far away."
"Very far away? But you brought her back again," nodding a golden head gravely at Luttrell; "and nurse said you wouldn't. She said all soldiers were wicked, and that some day you would steal our Molly. But you won't," coaxingly: "will you, now?"
Luttrell and Molly laugh and redden a little.
"I doubt if I would be able," he says, without raising his eyes from the child's face.
"I don't think you are a soldier at all," declares the darker maiden, coming more boldly to the front, as though fortified by this assertion. "You have no sword; and there never was a soldier without a sword, was there?"
"I begin to feel distinctly ashamed of myself," says Luttrell. "I have a sword, Daisy, somewhere. But not here. The next time I come I will bring it with me for your special delectation."
"Did you ever cut off any one's head?" asks the timid, fair-haired Renee, in the background, moving a few steps nearer to him, with rising hope in her voice.
"Miss Massereene, if you allow this searching examination to go on, I shall sink into the ground," says Luttrell. "I feel as if the eyes of Europe were upon me. Why cannot I boast that I have sent a thousand blacks to glory? No, Renee, with shame I confess it, I am innocent of bloodshed."
"I am so glad!" says the darker Daisy, while the gentler looking child turns from him with open disappointment.
"Do you think you can manage to amuse yourself for a little while?" says Molly. "Because I must leave you; I promised Letty to see after some of her housekeeping for her: I won't be too long," with a view to saving him from despair.
"I will see what a cigar can do for me," replies he, mournfully. "But remember how heavily time drags—sometimes."
Kissing her hand to him gayly, she trips away over the grass, leaving him to the tender mercies of the children. They, with all the frightful energy of youth, devote themselves to his service, and, seizing on him, carry him off to their especial sanctum, where they detain him in durance vile until the welcome though stentorian lungs of the nurse make themselves heard.
"There, you may go now," says Daisy, giving him a last ungrateful push; and as in a body they abscond, he finds himself depressed, but free. Not only free, but alone. This brings him back to thoughts of Molly. How long she is! Women never do know what time means. He will walk round to the yard and amuse himself with the dogs until she has finished her tiresome business.
Now, the kitchen window looks out upon the path he means to tread;—not only the kitchen window, but Molly. And as Luttrell comes by, with his head bent and a general air of moodiness about him, she is so far flattered by his evident dullness that she cannot refrain from tapping at the glass to call his attention.
"Have you been enjoying yourself?" asks she, innocently. "You look as if you had."
He starts as her voice so unexpectedly meets his ear, and turns upon her a face from which all ennui has fled.
"Do I?" he says. "Then my looks lie. Enjoying myself, with a pack of small demons! For what do you take me? No, I have been wretched. What on earth are you doing down there? You have been hours about it already. Surely, whatever it is, it must be done now. If you don't come out shortly you will have murder on your soul, as I feel suicidal."
"I can't come yet."
"Then would you let me—might I——"
"Oh, come here if you like," says Molly. "I don't mind, if you don't."
Without waiting further invitation, Luttrell goes rapidly round, descends the kitchen steps, and presently finds himself in Molly's presence.
It is a pretty old-fashioned, low-ceilinged kitchen, full of quaint corners and impossible cupboards so high up in the wall as at first sight to be pronounced useless.
A magnificent fire burns redly, yet barely causes discomfort. (Why is it that a fire in the kitchen fails to afflict one as it would, if lit in summer, in the drawing-room or parlor?) Long, low benches, white as snow, run by the walls. The dresser—is there anything prettier than a well-kept dresser?—shines out conceitedly from its own place, full of its choicest bravery. In the middle of the gleaming tiles stands the table, and beside it stands Molly.
Such a lovely Molly!—a very goddess of a Molly!
Her white arms, bare to the elbow, are covered with flour; a little patch of it has found a resting-place on the right side of her hair, where undoubtedly one hand must have gone to punish some amorous lock that would wander near her lips. Her eyes are full of light; her very lips are smiling. Jane, the cook, at a respectful distance, is half ashamed at the situation of her young lady; the young lady is not at all ashamed.
"Do you like me?" cries she, holding her floury arms aloft. "Are you lost in admiration? Ah! you have yet to learn how universal are my gifts. I can cook!"
"Can you?" says Luttrell, with a grimace. "What are you making now? I am anxious to know."
"Positively," bending a little forward, the better to see him; "you look it. Why?"
"That I may avoid it by and by." Here, with a last faint glimmer of prudence, he retires to the other end of the table.
"Have you come here to insult me in my own domain?" cries Molly wrathfully. "Rash youth, you rush upon your fate; or, to speak more truthfully, your fate intends to rush on you. Now take the consequences."
With both her hands extended she advances on him, fell determination in her eye. Alas for his coat when those ten snowy fingers shall have marked it for their own!
"Mercy!" cries Luttrell, falling on his knees at her feet. "Anything but that. I apologize, I retract; I will do penance; I will even eat it, every bit; I will——"
"Will you go away?"
"No," heroically, rising to his full height, "I will not. I would rather be white from head to heel than leave this adorable kitchen."
There is a slight pause. Mercy and vengeance are in the balance, and Molly holds the scales. After a brief struggle mercy triumphs.
"I forgive you," says Molly, withdrawing; "but as punishment you really must help me, as I am rather late this evening. Here, stone these," pushing toward him a plateful of raisins."
"Law, miss, I'll do 'em," says Jane, who feels matters are going too far. To have a strange gentleman, one of the "high-up" gentry, a "reel millingtary swell," stoning raisins in her kitchen is more than she can reconcile herself to in silence; she therefore opens the floodgates of speech. "He'll soil hisself," she says, in a deep, reproachful whisper, fixing an imploring eye on Molly.
"I hope so," murmurs that delinquent, cheerfully. "He heartily deserves it. You may go and occupy yourself elsewhere, Jane; Mr. Luttrell and I will make this pudding. Now go on, Mr. Luttrell; don't be shirking your duty. It is either do or die."
"I think it is odds on the dying," says he.
Silence for at least three minutes,—in this case a long, long time.
"I can't find anything in them," ventures he, at last, in a slightly dejected tone; "and they're so horrid sticky."
"Nothing in them? Nonsense! you don't know how to go about it. Look. I'll show you. Open them with your first finger and thumb—so; and now do you see them?" triumphantly producing a round brown article on the tip of her finger.
"Where?" asks Luttrell, bending forward.
"There," says Molly, bending too. Their heads are very close together. The discreet Jane has retired into her pantry. "It is the real thing. Can't you see it?"
"Scarcely. It is very small, isn't it?"
"Well, it is small," Miss Massereene confesses, with reluctance; "it certainly is the smallest I ever saw. Still——"
By this time they are looking, not at the seed of the raisin, but into each other's eyes, and again there is an eloquent pause.
"May I examine it a little closer?" Luttrell asks, as though athirst for information, possessing himself quietly of the hand, raisin-stone, flour, and all, and bringing it suspiciously near to his lips. "Does it—would it—I mean does flour come off things easily?"
"I don't know," returns Molly, with an innocent gravity that puts him to shame. "Off some things it washes readily enough; but—mind you, I can't say for certain, as I have had no experience; but I don't think——"
"Yes?" seeing her hesitate.
"Well, I don't think," emphasizing each word with a most solemn nod, "it would come off your moustache in a hurry."
"I'll risk it, anyhow," says Luttrell, stooping suddenly to impress a fervent kiss upon the little powdered fingers he is holding.
"Oh! how wrong, how extremely wrong of you!" exclaims Miss Massereene, as successfully shocked as though the thought that he might be tempted to such a deed has never occurred to her. Yet, true to her nature, she makes no faintest pretense at withdrawing from him her hand until a full minute has elapsed. Then, unable longer to restrain herself, she bursts into a merry laugh,—a laugh all sweetest, clearest music.
"If you could only see how funny you look!" cries she. "You are fair with a vengeance now. Ah! do go and see for yourself." Giving him a gentle push toward an ancient glass that hangs disconsolately near the clock, and thereby leaving another betraying mark upon the shoulder of his coat.
Luttrell, having duly admired himself and given it as his opinion that though flour on the arms may be effective, flour on the face is not, has barely time to wipe his moustache free of it when Mrs. Massereene enters.
"You here," exclaims she, staring at Tedcastle, "of all places in the world! I own I am amazed. Oh, if your brother officers could only see you now, and your coat all over flour! I need hardly inquire if this is Molly's doing. Poor boy!" with a laugh. "It is a shame. Molly, you are never happy unless you are tormenting some one."
"But I always make it up to them afterward: don't I, now, Letty?" murmurs Molly, sweetly, speaking to Letitia, but directing a side-glance at Luttrell from under her long, dark lashes: this side-glance is almost a promise.
"Well, so you have come at last, Letty. And how did you enjoy your 'nice, long, happy day in the country,' as the children say?"
"Very much, indeed,—far more than I expected. The Mitchells were there, which added a little to our liveliness."
"And my poor old mummy, was he there? And is he still holding together?"
"Lord Rossmere? He is indeed, and was asking most tenderly for you. I never saw him look so well."
"Oh! it grows absurd," says Molly, in disgust. "How much longer does he intend keeping up the farce? He must fall to pieces soon."
"He hasn't a notion of it," says Letitia, warming to her description; "he has taken a new lease of his life. He looked only too well,—positively ten years younger. I think myself he was 'done up.' I could see his coat was padded; and he has adorned his head with a very sleek brown wig."
"Jane," says Molly, weakly, "be so good as to stand close behind me. I feel as if I were going to faint directly."
"Law, miss!" says Jane, giving way to her usual expletive. She is a clean and worthy soul where pots and pans are concerned, but apart from them can scarcely be termed eloquent.
"You are busy, Jane," says Mr. Luttrell, obligingly, "and I am not. (I see you are winding up that long-suffering pudding.) Let me take a little trouble off your hands. I will stand close behind Miss Massereene."
"He had quite a color too," goes on Letitia, mysteriously, "a very extraordinary color. Not that of an old man, nor yet of a young one, and I am utterly certain it was paint. It was a vivid, uncompromising red; so red that I think the poor old thing's valet must have overdone his work, for fun. Wasn't it cruel?"
"Are you ready, Jane?" murmurs Molly, with increasing weakness.
"Quite ready, miss," returns Luttrell, with hopeful promptness.
"I asked John on the way home what he thought," goes on Letitia, with an evident interest in her tale, "and he quite agrees with me that it was rouge, or, at all events, something artificial."
"One more word, Letitia,"—faintly,—"a last one. Has he had that sole remaining tooth in the front of his mouth made steady?"
"No," cries Mrs. Massereene, triumphantly, "he has not. Do you too remember that awful tooth? It is literally the only thing left undone, and I can't imagine why. It still waggles uncomfortably when he talks, and his upper lip has the same old trick of catching on it and refusing to come down again until compelled. Sir John was there, and took me in to luncheon; and as I sat just opposite Lord Rossmere I could see distinctly. I particularly noticed that."
"You have saved me," cries Molly, briskly. "Had your answer been other than it was, I would not have hesitated for a moment: I would have gone off into a death-like swoon. Thank you, Jane,"—with a backward nod at Luttrell, whom she has refused to recognize: "I need not detain you any longer."
"Mrs. Massereene, I shall never forgive you," says Luttrell.
"And is this the way you entertain your guests, Molly?" asks Letitia. "Have you spent your day in the kitchen?"
"The society of the 'upper ten' is not good for you, Letitia," says Molly, severely. "There is a faint flavor of would-be sarcasm about you, and it doesn't suit you in the least: your lips have not got the correct curve. No, my dear: although unnoticed by the nobility of our land, we, too, have had our 'nice, long, happy day in the country.' Haven't we, Mr. Luttrell?"
"Do you think he would dare say 'No' with your eyes upon him?" says Letitia, laughing. "By and by I shall hear the truth. Come with me"—to Tedcastle—"and have a glass of sherry before your dinner: I am sure you must want it, after all you have gone through."
"Gather the roses while ye may; Old time is still a-flying; And the same flower that smiles to-day To-morrow will be dying."
It is four o'clock, and a hush, a great stillness, born of oppressive heat, is over all the land. Again the sun is smiting with hot wrath the unoffending earth; the flowers nod drowsily or lie half dead of languor, their gay leaves touching the ground.
"The sky was blue as the summer sea, The depths were cloudless overhead; The air was calm as it could be; There was no sight or sound of dread,"
quotes Luttrell, dreamily, as he strays idly along the garden path, through scented shrubs and all the many-hued children of light and dew. His reverie is lengthened yet not diffuse. One little word explains it all. It seems to him that word is everywhere: the birds sing it, the wind whistles it as it rushes faintly past, the innumerable voices of the summer cry ceaselessly for "Molly."
"Mr. Luttrell, Mr. Luttrell," cries some one, "look up." And he does look up.
Above him, on the balcony, stands Molly, "a thing of beauty," fairer than any flower that grows beneath. Her eyes like twin stars are gleaming, deepening; her happy lips are parted; her hair drawn loosely back, shines like threads of living gold. Every feature is awake and full of life; every movement of her sweet body, clad in its white gown, proclaims a very joyousness of living.
With hands held high above her head, filled with parti-colored roses, she stands laughing down upon him; while he stares back at her, with a heart filled too full of love for happiness. With a slight momentary closing of her lids she opens both her hands and flings the scented shower into his uplifted face.
"Take your punishment," she whispers, saucily, bending over him, "and learn your lesson. Don't look at me another time."
"It was by your own desire I did so," exclaims he, bewildered, shaking the crimson and yellow and white leaves from off his head and shoulders. "How am I to understand you?"
"How do I know, when I don't even understand myself? But when I called out to you 'Look up,' of course I meant 'look down.' Don't you remember the old game with the handkerchief?—when I say 'Let go,' 'hold fast;' and when I say 'Hold fast,' 'let go?' You must recollect it."
"I have a dim idea of something idiotic, like what you say."
"It is not idiotic, but it suits only some people; it suits me. There is a certain perverseness about it, a determination to do just what one is told not to do, that affects me most agreeably. Did I"—glancing at the rosy shower at his feet—"did I hurt you much?" With a smile.
There is a little plank projecting from the wood-work of the pillars that supports the balcony: resting his foot on this, and holding on by the railings above, Luttrell draws himself up until his face is almost on a level with hers,—almost, but not quite: she can still overshadow him.
"If that was all the injury I had received at your hands, how easy it would be to forgive!" says he, in a low tone.
"Poor hands," says Molly, gazing at her shapely fingers, "how have they sinned? Am I to understand, then, that I am not forgiven?"
"You are unkind to me."
"Dreadfully unkind to me. Can you deny it? Now, tell me what this crime is that I have committed and you cannot pardon."
"I will not," says the young man, turning a little pale, while the smile dies out of his eyes and from round his lips. "I dread to put my injuries into words. Should they anger you, you might with one look seal my death-warrant."
"Am I so blood-thirsty? How badly you think of me!"
"Do I?" Reading with the wistful sadness of uncertainty her lovely face. "You know better than that. You know too—do you not?—what it is I would say,—if I dared. Oh, Molly, what have you done to me, what witchery have you used, that, after escaping for twenty-seven long years, I should now fall so hopelessly in——"
"Hush!" says Molly, quickly, and, letting her hand fall lightly on his forehead, brings it slowly, slowly, over his eyes and down his face, until at length it rests upon his lips rebukingly. "Not another word. You have known me but a few days,—but a little short three weeks,—and you would——"
"Yes, I would," eagerly, devouring with fond kisses the snow-flake that would stay his words. "Three weeks,—a year,—ten years,—what does it matter? I think the very first night I saw you here in this garden the mischief was done. My heart left me. You stole the very best of me; and will you give nothing in exchange?"
"I will not listen," says Molly, covering her ears with her hands, but not so closely that she must be deaf. "Do you hear? You are to be silent."
"Do you forbid me to speak?"
"Yes; I am in a hurry; I cannot listen,—now," says this born coquette, unable to release her slave so soon.
"Some other time,—when you know me better,—you will listen then: is that what you mean?" Still detaining her with passionate entreaty both in tone and manner. "Molly, give me one word of hope."
"I don't know what I mean," she says, effecting her escape, and moving back to the security of the drawing-room window, which stands open. "I never do know. And I have not got the least bit of memory in the world. Do you know I came out here to tell you tea was to be brought out for us under the trees on the lawn; and when I saw you I forgot everything. Is that a hopeful sign?" With a playful smile.
"I will try to think so; and—don't go yet, Molly." Seeing her about to enter the drawing-room. "Surely, if tea is to be on the lawn, it is there we ought to go."
"I am half afraid of you. If I consent to bestow upon you a little more of my society, will you promise not to talk in—in—that way again to me?"
"I will have no 'buts.' Promise what I ask, or I will hide myself from you for the rest of the day."
"I swear, then," says he; and, so protected, Miss Massereene ventures down the balcony steps and accompanies him to the shaded end of the lawn.
By this time it is nearly five o'clock, and as yet oppressively warm. The evening is coming with a determination to rival in dull heat the early part of the day. The sheep in great white snowy patches lie panting in the distant corners of the adjoining fields; the cows, tired of whisking their foolish tails in an unsuccessful war with the insatiable flies, are all huddled together, and give way to mournful lows that reproach the tarrying milkmaid.
Above in the branches a tiny bird essays to sing, but stops half stifled, and, forgetting the tuneful note, contents itself with a lazy "cluck-cluck" that presently degenerates still further into a dying "coo" that is hardly musical, because so full of sleep.
Molly has seated herself upon the soft young grass, beneath the shade of a mighty beech, against the friendly trunk of which she leans her back. Even this short walk from the house to the six stately beeches that are the pride and glory of Brooklyn has told upon her. Her usually merry eyes have subsided into a gentle languor; over them the white lids droop heavily. No little faintest tinge of color adorns her pale cheeks; upon her lap her hands lie idle, their very listlessness betokening the want of energy they feel.
At about two yards' distance from her reclines her guest, full length, his fingers interlaced behind his head, looking longer, slighter than usual, as with eyes upturned he gazes in silence upon the far-off, never-changing blue showing through the net-work of the leaves above him.
"Are you quite used up?" asks Molly, in the slow, indifferent tone that belongs to heat, as the crisp, gay voice belongs to cold. "I never heard you silent for so long before. Do you think you are likely to die? Because—don't do it here, please: it would give me such a shock."
"I am far more afraid I shall live," replies her companion. "Oh, how I loathe the summer!"
"You are not so far gone as I feared: you can still use bad language. Now, tell me what sweet thought has held you in thrall so long."
"If I must confess it, I have been thinking of how untold a luxury at this moment would be an iced bath."
"'An iced bath'!" With as much contempt as she can summon. "How prosaic! And I quite flattered myself you were thinking of me." She says this as calmly as though she had supposed him thinking of his dinner.
Tedcastle's lips part in a faint smile, a mere glimmer,—a laugh is beyond him,—and he turns his head just so far round as will permit his eyes to fall full upon her face.
"I fancied such thoughts on my part tabooed," he says. "And besides, would they be of any advantage to you?"
"No material advantage, but they would have been only fair. I was thinking of you."
"Were you? Really!" With such overpowering interest as induces him to raise himself on his elbow, the better to see her. "You were thinking—that——"
"Don't excite yourself. I was wondering whether, when you were a baby, your nose—in proportion, of course—was as lengthy and solemn as it is now."
"Pshaw!" mutters Mr. Luttrell, angrily, and goes back to his original position.
"If it was," pursues Molly, with a ruthless and amused laugh, "you must have been an awfully funny baby to look at." She appears to find infinite amusement in this idea for a full minute, after which follows a disgusted silence that might have lasted until dinner-hour but for the sound of approaching footsteps.
Looking up simultaneously, they perceive Letitia coming toward them, with Sarah behind, carrying a tray, on which are cups, and small round cakes, and plates of strawberries.
"I have brought you your tea at last," cries Letitia, looking like some great fair goddess, with her large figure and stately walk and benign expression, as she bears down upon them. She is still a long way off, yet her voice comes to them clear and distinct, without any suspicion of shouting. She is smiling benevolently, and has a delicious pink color in her cheeks.
"We thought you had forgotten us," says Molly, springing to her feet with a sudden return of animation. "But you have come in excellent time, as we were on the very brink of a quarrel that would have disgraced the Kilkenny cats. And what have you brought us? Tea, and strawberries, and dear little hot cakes! Oh, Letty, how I love you!"
"So do I," says Luttrell. "Mrs. Massereene, may I sit beside you?"
"For protection?" asks she, with a laugh.
In the meantime Molly has arranged the tray before herself, and is busily engaged placing all the worst strawberries and the smallest cake on one plate.
"Before you go any further," says Luttrell, "I won't have that plate. Nothing shall induce me. So you may spare your trouble."
"Then you may go without any, as I myself intend eating all the others."
"Mrs. Massereene, you are my only friend. I appeal to you; is it fair? Just look at all she is keeping for herself. If I die for it, I will get my rights," exclaims Tedcastle, goaded into activity, and springing from his recumbent position, makes straight for the tray. There is a short but decisive battle; and then, victory being decided in favor of Luttrell, he makes a successful raid upon the fruit, and retires covered with glory and a good deal of juice.
"Coward, thief! won't I pay you for this?" cries Molly, viciously.
"I wouldn't use school-boy slang if I were you," returns Luttrell, with provoking coolness, and an evident irritating appreciation of the fruit.
Fortunately for all parties, at this moment John appears upon the scene.
"It is warm," says he, sinking on the grass, under the weak impression that he is imparting information.
"I think there is thunder in the air," says Letitia, with a mischievous glance at the late combatants, at which they laugh in spite of themselves.
"Not at all, my dear; you are romancing," says ignorant John. "Well, Molly Bawn, where is my tea? Have you kept me any?"
"As if I would forget you! Is it not an extraordinary thing, Letty, that Sarah cannot be induced to bring us a tea-pot? Now, I want more, and must only wait her pleasure."
"Remonstrate with her," says John.
"I am tired of doing so. Only yesterday I had a very lengthy argument with her on the subject, to the effect that as it was I who was having the tea, and not she, surely I might be allowed to have it the way I wished. When I had exhausted my eloquence, and was nearly on the verge of tears, I discovered that she was still at the very point from which we started. 'But the tea is far more genteeler, Miss Molly, when brought up without the tea-pot. It spoils the look of the tray.' I said 'Yes, the want of it does,' with much indignation; but I might as well have kept my temper."
"Much better," says Luttrell, placidly.
"I do hate having my tea poured out for me," goes on Molly, not deigning to notice him. "I am convinced Sarah lived with a retired tallow-chandler, or something equally horrible, before she came to us. She has one idol to which she sacrifices morning, noon, and night, and I think she calls it 'style.'"
"And what is that?" interposes Luttrell, anxiously.
"I don't know, but I think it has something to do with not putting the tea-pot on the tray, for instance, and taking the pretty fresh covers off the drawing-room chairs when any one is coming, to convince them of the green damask beneath. And once when, during a passing fit of insanity, I dressed my hair into a pyramid, she told me I looked 'stylish.' It took me some time to recover that shock to my vanity."
"I like 'stylish' people myself," says John. "Lady Barton, I am positive, is just what Sarah means by that, and I admire her immensely,—within bounds, of course, my dear Letitia."
"Dreadful, vulgar woman!" says Molly, with a frown. "I'm sure I wouldn't name Letty in the same day with her."
"We all know you are notoriously jealous of her," says John. "Her meridian charms eclipse yours of the dawn."
"How poetical!" laughs Molly. "But the thing to see is Letitia producing the children when her ladyship comes to pay a visit. She always reminds me of the Mother of the Gracchi. Now, confess it, Letty, don't you think Lady Barton's diamonds and rubies and emeralds grow pale and lustreless beside your living jewels?"
"Indeed I do," returns Letitia, with the readiest, most unexpected simplicity.
"Letitia," cries Molly, touched, giving her a little hug, "I do think you are the dearest, sweetest, truest old goose in the world."
"Nonsense, my dear!" says Letitia, with a slow pleased blush that is at once so youthful and so lovely.
"Oh! why won't Sarah come?" says Molly, recurring suddenly to her woes. "I know, even if I went on my knees to Mr. Luttrell, he would not so far trouble himself as to go in and find her; but I think she might remember my weakness for tea."
"There she is!" exclaims John.
To their right rises a hedge, on which it has been customary for ages to dry the household linen, and moving toward it appears Sarah, armed with a basket piled high to the very top.
"Sarah," calls Molly, "Sarah—Sarah!"
Now, Sarah, though an undeniably good servant, and a cleanly one, striking the beholder as a creature born to unlimited caps and spotless aprons, is undoubtedly obtuse. She presents her back hair and heels—that would not have disgraced an elephant—to Miss Massereene's call, and goes on calmly with her occupation of shaking out and hanging up to dry the garments she has just brought.
"Shall I go and call her?" asks Luttrell, with some remains of grace and an air of intense fatigue.
"Not worth your while," says John, with all a man's delicious consideration for a man; "she must turn in a moment, and then she will see us."
For two whole minutes, therefore, they gaze in rapt silence upon the unconscious Sarah. Presently Mr. Massereene breaks the eloquent stillness.
"There is nothing," says he, mildly, "that so clearly declares the sociability—the bon camaraderie, so to speak—that ought to exist in every well-brought-up family as the sight of washing done at home. There is such a happy mingling and yet such a thorough disregard of sex about it. It is 'Hail, fellow! well met!' all through. If you will follow Sarah's movements for a minute longer you will better understand what I mean. There! now she is spreading out Molly's pale-green muslin, in which she looked so irresistible last week. And there goes Daisy's pinafore, and Bobby's pantaloons; and now she is pausing to remove a defunct grasshopper from Renee's bonnet! What a charming picture it all makes, so full of life! There go Molly's stock——"
"John," interrupts Molly, indignantly, who has been frowning heavily at him for some time without the smallest result.
"If you say another word," puts in Luttrell, burying his face in the grass, with a deep groan, "if you go one degree further, I shall faint."
"And now comes my shirt," goes on John, in the same even tone, totally unabashed.
"My dear John!" exclaims Letitia, much scandalized, speaking in a very superior tone, which she fondly but erroneously believes to be stern and commanding, "I beg you will pursue the subject no further. We have no desire whatever to learn any particulars about your shirts."
"And why not, my dear?" demands Mr. Massereene, his manner full of mild but firm expostulation. "What theme so worthy of prolonged discussion as a clean shirt? Think of the horrors that encompass all the 'great unwashed,' and then perhaps you will feel as I do. In my opinion it is a topic on which volumes might be written: if I had time I would write them myself. And if you will give yourself the trouble to think, my dear Letitia, you will doubtless be able to bring to mind the fact that once a very distinguished and reasonable person called Hood wrote a song about it. Besides which——"
"She is looking now!" cries Molly, triumphantly. "Sarah—Sa—rah!"
"The 'bells they go ringing for Sarah,'" quotes Mr. Luttrell, irrelevantly. But Sarah has heard, and is hastening toward them, and wrath is for the present averted from his unlucky head.
Smiling, panting, rubicund, comes Sarah, ready for anything.
"Some more tea, Sarah," says Molly, with a smile that would corrupt an archbishop. Molly is a person adored by servants. "That's my cup."
"And that's mine," says Tedcastle, turning his upside down on his saucer. "I am particular about getting my own cup, Sarah, and hope you will not mistake mine for Miss Massereene's. Fill it, and bring it back to me just like this."
"Yes, sir," says Sarah, in perfect good faith.
"And, Sarah—next time we would like the tea-pot," puts in Mr. Massereene, mildly.
"Oh, we fell out,—I know not why,— And kissed again with tears."
They are now drawing toward the close of July. To Luttrell it appears as though the moments are taking to themselves wings to fly away; to more prosaic mortals they drag. Ever since that first day in the garden when he betrayed his love to Molly, he had been silent on the subject, fearful lest he gain a more decided repulse.
Yet this enforced silence is to him a lingering torture; and as a school-boy with money in his pocket burns till he spend it, so he, with his heart brimful of love, is in torment until he can fling its rich treasures at his mistress's feet. Only a very agony of doubt restrains him.
Not that this doubt contains all pain; there is blended with it a deep ecstasy of joy, made to be felt, not spoken; and all the grace and poetry and sweetness of a first great passion,—that thing that in all the chilling after-years never wholly dies,—that earliest, purest dew that falls from the awakening heart.
"O love! young love! Let saints and cynics cavil as they will, One throb of yours is worth whole years of ill."
So thinks Luttrell; so think I.
To-day Molly has deserted him, and left him to follow his own devices. John has gone into the next town on some important errand connected with the farm: so perforce our warrior shoulders his gun and sallies forth savagely, bent on slaying aught that comes in his way. As two crows, a dejected rabbit, and an intelligent squirrel are all that present themselves to his notice, he wearies toward three o'clock, and thinks with affection of home. For so far has his air-castle mounted that, were Molly to inhabit a hovel, that hovel to him would be home.
Crossing a stile and a high wall, he finds himself in the middle of the grounds that adjoin the more modest Brooklyn. The shimmer of a small lake makes itself seen through the branches to his right, and as he gains its bank a boat shoots forth from behind the willows, and a gay voice sings:
"There was a little man, And he had a little gun, And his bullets they were made of lead, lead, lead; He went to a brook, And he saw a little——"
"Oh, Mr. Luttrell, please, please don't shoot me," cries Molly, breaking down in the song with an exaggerated show of feigned terror.
"Do you call yourself a 'duck'?" demands Luttrell, with much scorn. "Is there any limit to a woman's conceit? Duck, indeed! say rather——"
"Swan? Well, yes, I will, if you wish it: I don't mind," says Molly, amiably. "And now tell me, are you not surprised to see me here?"
"I am, indeed. Are you ubiquitous? I thought I left you safe at home."
"So you did. But I never counted on your staying so long away. I was tired of waiting for you. I thought you would never come. So in despair I came out here by myself."
"So you absolutely missed me?" says Luttrell, quietly, although his heart is beating rapidly. Too well he knows her words are from the lips alone.
"Oh, didn't I!" exclaims she, heartily. "You should have seen me standing at the gate peering up and down for you and bemoaning my fate, like that silly Mariana in the moated grange. Indeed, if I had been photographed then and there and named 'Forsaken,' I'm positive I would have sold well."
"I don't doubt it."
"Then I grew enraged, and determined to trouble my head no more about you; and then—— It was lucky I came here, wasn't it?"
"Very lucky,—for me. But you never told me you had a boat on the lake."
"Because I hadn't,—at least not for the last two months,—until yesterday. It got broken in the spring, and they have been ever since mending it. They are so slow down here. I kept the news of its return from you a secret all yesterday, meaning to bring you here and show it you as a surprise; and this is how my plan has ended."
"But are you allowed? I thought you did not know the owners of this place."
"Neither do we. He is a retired butcher, I fancy (he doesn't look anything like as respectable as a grocer), with a fine disregard for the Queen's English. We called there one day, Letitia and I (nothing would induce John to accompany us), but Mrs. Butcher was too much for Letitia,—too much for even me," cries Molly, with a laugh, "and I'm not particular: so we never called again. They don't bear malice, however, and rather affect our having our boat here than otherwise. Jump in and row me for a little while."
Over the water, under the hanging branches they glide to the sweet music of the wooing wind, and scarcely care to speak, so perfect is the motion and the stillness.
Luttrell, with his hat off and a cigar between his lips, is far happier than he himself is at all aware. Being of necessity opposite her, he is calmly feasting himself upon the sweet scenery of Molly's face, or else letting his eyes wander to where her slender fingers drag their way through the cool water, leaving small bubbles in their track.
"It is a pity the country is so stupid, is it not?" says Molly, breaking the silence at length, and speaking in a regretful tone. "Because otherwise there is no place like it."
"Some country places are not at all stupid. There are generally too many people about. I think Brooklyn's principal charm is its repose, its complete separation from the world."
"Well, for my own part," seriously, "I think I would excuse the repose and the separation from the world, by which, I suppose, you mean society. I have no admiration for cloisters and convents myself; I like amusement, excitement. If I could, I would live in London all the year round," concludes Molly, with growing animation.
"Oh, horror!" exclaims Luttrell, who, seven years before, thought exactly as she does now, and who occasionally thinks so still. "Who that ever lived for six months among all its grime and smoke and turmoil but would pine for this calmer life?"
"I lived there for more than six months," says Molly, "and I didn't pine for anything. I thought it charming. It is all very well for you"—dejectedly—"who are tired of gayety, to go into raptures over calmness and tranquillity, and that; but if you lived in Brooklyn from summer until winter and from winter back again to summer, and if you could count your balls on one hand,"—holding up five wet open fingers,—"you would think just as I do, and long for change."
"I never knew you had been to London."
"Yes: when I was sixteen I spent a whole year there, with a cousin of my father's, who went to Canada with her husband's regiment afterward. But I didn't go out much, she thought me too young, though I was quite as tall as I am now. She heard me sing once, and insisted on carrying me up with her to get me lessons from Marigny. He took great pains with me: that is why I sing so well," says Molly, modestly.
"I confess I often wondered where your exquisite voice received its cultivation, its finish. Now I know. You were fortunate in securing Marigny. I have known him refuse dozens through want of time; or so he said. More probably he would not trouble himself to teach where there was no certainty of success. Well, and so you dislike the country?"
"No, no. Not so much that. What I dislike is having no one to speak to. When John is away and Letty on the tread-mill—that is, in the nursery—I am rather thrown on my own resources; and they are not much. Your coming was the greatest blessing that ever befell me. When I actually beheld you in your own proper person on the garden path that night, I could have hugged you in the exuberance of my joy."
"Then why on earth didn't you?" says Luttrell, reproachfully, as though he had been done out of something.
"A lingering sense of maiden modesty and a faint idea that perhaps you might not like it alone restrained me. But for that I must have given way to my feelings. Just think, if I had," says Molly, breaking into a merry laugh, "what a horrible fright I would have given you!"
"Not a horrible one, at all events. Molly," bending to examine some imaginary thing in the side of the boat, "have you never—had a—lover?"
"A lover? Oh, yes, I have had any amount of them," says Molly, with an alacrity that makes his heart sink. "I don't believe I could count my adorers: it quite puzzles me to know where to begin. There were the curates,—our rector is not sweet-tempered, so we have a fresh one every year,—and they never fail me. Three months after they come, as regular as clock-work, they ask me to be their wife. Now, I appeal to you,"—clasping her hands and wrinkling up all her pretty forehead,—"do I look like a curate's wife?"
"You do not," replies Luttrell, emphatically, regarding with interest the debonnaire, spirituelle face before him: "no, you most certainly do not."
"Well, I thought not myself; yet each of those deluded young men saw something angelic about me, and would insist on asking me to share his lot. They kept themselves sternly blind to the fact that I detest with equal vigor broth and old women."
"Intolerable presumption!" says Luttrell, parenthetically.
"Was it? I don't think I looked at it in that light. They were all very estimable men, and Mr. Rochfort was positively handsome. You, you may well stare, but some curates, you know, are good-looking, and he was decidedly High Church. In fact, he wasn't half so bad as the generality of them," says Molly, relentingly. "Only—it may be wrong, but the truth is I hate curates. I think nothing of them. They are a mixture of tea and small jokes, and are ever at a stand-still. They are always in the act of budding,—they never bloom; and then they are so afraid of the bishop."
"I thank my stars I'm not a curate," says Luttrell, devoutly.
"However,"—regretfully,—"they were something: a proposal is always an excitement. But the present man is married; so that makes it impossible for this present year. There was positively nothing to which to look forward. So you may fancy with what rapture I hailed your coming."
"You are very good," says Luttrell, in an uncertain tone, not being quite sure whether he is intensely amused or outrageously angry, or both. "Had you—any other lovers?"
"Yes. There was the last doctor. He poisoned a poor man afterward by mistake, and had to go away."
"After I declined to assist him in the surgery," says Molly, demurely. "It was a dreadful thing,—the poisoning, I mean,—and caused a great deal of scandal. I don't believe it was anybody's fault, but I certainly did pity the man he killed. And—it might have been me, you know; think of that! He was very much attached to me; and so was the Lefroys' eldest son, and James Warder, and the organist, to say nothing of the baker's boy, who, I am convinced, would cut his throat to oblige me to-morrow morning, if I asked him."
"Well, don't ask him," says Luttrell, imploringly. "He might do it on the door-step, and then think of the horrid mess! Promise me you won't even hint at it until after I am gone."
"I promise," says Molly, laughing.
Onward glides the boat; the oars rise and fall with a tuneful splash. Miss Massereene, throwing her hat with reckless extravagance into the bottom of the punt, bares her white arm to the elbow and essays to catch the grasses as she sweeps by them.
"Look at those lilies," she says, eagerly; "how exquisite, in their broad green frames! Water-sprites! how they elude one!" as she makes a vigorous but unsuccessful grab at some on her right hand.
"Very beautiful," says Luttrell, dreamily, with his eyes on Molly, not on the lilies.
"I want some," says Molly, revengefully; "I always do want what don't want me, and vice versa. Oh! look at those beauties near you. Catch them."
"I don't think I can; they are too far off."
"Not if you stoop very much for them. I think if you were to bend over a good deal you might do it."
"I might; I might do something else, too," says Luttrell, calmly, seeing it would be as easy for him to grasp the lilies in question as last night's moon: "I might fall in."
"Oh, never mind that," responds Molly, with charming though premeditated unconcern, a little wicked desire to tease getting the better of her amiability.
Luttrell, hardly sure whether she jests or is in sober earnest, opens his large eyes to their fullest, the better to judge, but, seeing no signs of merriment in his companion, gives way to his feelings a little.
"Well, you are cool," he says, slowly.
"I am not, indeed," replies innocent Molly. "How I wish I were 'cool,' on such a day as this! Are you?"
"No," shortly. "Perhaps that is the reason you recommended me a plunge; or is it for your amusement?"
"You are afraid," asserts Molly, with a little mischievous, scornful laugh, not to be endured for a moment.
"Afraid!" angrily. "Nonsense! I don't care about wetting my clothes, certainly, and I don't want to put out my cigar; but"—throwing away the choice Havana in question—"you shall have your lilies, of course, if you have set your heart on them."
Here, standing up, he strips off his coat with an air that means business.
"I don't want them now," says Molly, in a degree frightened, "at least not those. See, there are others close behind you. But I will pluck them myself, thank you: I hate giving trouble. No, don't put your hands near them. I won't have them if you do."
"Because you are cross, and I detest cross people."
"Because I didn't throw myself into the water head foremost to please you?" with impatient wrath. "They used to call that chivalry long ago. I call it folly. You should be reasonable."
"Oh, don't lose your temper about it," says Molly.
Now, to have a person implore you at any time "not to lose your temper" is simply abominable; but to be so implored when you have lost it is about the most aggravating thing that can occur to any one. So Luttrell finds it.