Susan Warner, 1819-1885 & Anna Warner 1824-1915, The Gold of Chickaree (1876), Putnam's edition 1876
Produced by Daniel FROMONT
The Gold of Chickaree seen by The Atlantic monthly, Volume 39, Issue 233, March 1877, pp. 370-371
"It is said to criticise The Gold of Chickaree, or stories like it, without making use of such violent methods as excite the scorn of those who criticise the critics. They say mere denunciation is of no service and should never be employed; as if there were not too many books already without truth or beauty, which cry aloud for some one to point out in print, as every one does in conversation, their utter worthlessness. The Gold of Chickaree is a continuation of Wych Hazel, and the two stories are as much alike as two halves of a slate pencil. Wych Hazel herself is rich and insufferably pert; her lover, Rollo, Dane, Duke, or Olaf, as he is called indifferently, is rich and in his ways 'masterful.' The earlier novel ends with the engagement of these two, and here is described their sudden marriage, which they forebore announcing even to their guests at dinner, who were unexpectedly delighted by witnessing this wedding later in the evening. This is a capital notion for entertaining company, and far superior to music, singing, or charades. The other incidents of the novel are of the flimsiest sort; round dancing and the theatre come in for intolerant abuse. All the poor people get Christmas presents, and one son of Belial, who is anxious to run away with his neighbors wife, is bought off for thirty thousand dollars, a mere bagatelle in this moral Monte Christo. For the same sum of money it might have been possible to close a theatre for a winter or to bribe penniless young men to give up dancing a dozen Germans. Besides their lavish extravagance, the most noteworthy thing about the people is their morbid self-consciousness; they are never at their ease; they are forever trying to impress one another with their own brilliant wit. It is a poor story."
GOLD OF CHICKAREE
BY THE SAME AUTHORS.
SUSAN AND ANNA WARNER.
12mo, cloth. Price, $2.00.
"We have not the faintest hesitation in placing this work above anything the authors have given us, and, furthermore, in placing it among the very strongest novels in character development which have been written within the past two years. * * * We can promise every lover of fine fiction a wholesome feast in the book." Boston Traveller.
"One of the best written and mots entertaining books recently sent out by any of the favorites of the novel reading public." Albany Journal.
"The Misses Warner have altogether surpassed themselves in this story, and have produced one of the brightest and breeziest tales of the season." N.Y. Evening Mail.
Sent, post-paid, upon receipt of price.
GOLD OF CHICKAREE
SUSAN AND ANNA WARNER,
Authors of "WIDE, WIDE WORLD," and "DOLLARS AND CENTS," "WYCH HAZEL," etc.
"Of the gold, the silver, and the brass, and the iron, there is no number. Arise, therefore, and be doing; and the Lord be with thee."2 Chronicles.
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
27 AND 29 WEST 23D STREET
BY G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS,
CHAPTER II.WHAT COMES OF ON-DIT
CHAPTER III.CROSS THREADS
CHAPTER IV.ABOUT THE GUARDIANSHIP
CHAPTER V.ASLEEP AND AWAKE
CHAPTER VI.A MAN AND HIS MONEY
CHAPTER VII.THE EMERALD
CHAPTER VIII.ACORNS AND ACORN-CUPS
CHAPTER IX.ROLLO'S EXPERIMENT
CHAPTER X.ROLLO'S COMPANY
CHAPTER XI.STARLIGHT AND FIRELIGHT
CHAPTER XII.COFFEE AND BUNS
CHAPTER XIII.UNDER THE CHESTNUT TREES
CHAPTER XIV.THE WORTH OF A FEATHER
CHAPTER XV.CONFIDENTIAL TALK
CHAPTER XVI.DR. ARTHUR'S NEWS
CHAPTER XVII.ALONE IN THE FIGHT
CHAPTER XX.ABOUT CHRISTMAS
CHAPTER XXI.THE LOSS OF POWER
CHAPTER XXII.PREPARATORY FREAKS
CHAPTER XXIII.FOR BETTER FOR WORSE
CHAPTER XXIV.ONE AND ONE ARE TWO
CHAPTER XXV.PRIM'S TRUNK
CHAPTER XXVI.AN ACCOUNT AT THE BANK
CHAPTER XXVII.THE WORLD AND HIS WIFE
CHAPTER XXVIII. PLEASURE BY EXPRESS
CHAPTER XXIX.SOCIAL DUTIES
CHAPTER XXX.A TRAVELLING CLOCK
CHAPTER XXXI.NOVICE WORK
CHAPTER XXXIV.GOLD AT INTEREST
GOLD OF CHICKAREE
'Papa,' said Primrose, very thoughtfully, 'do you think Hazel will marry Duke?'
Dr. Maryland and his daughter were driving homeward after some business which had taken them to the village.
'She will if she knows what is good for her,' the doctor answered decidedly.
'But she has been away from Chickaree now nearly a year.'
'I don't know what her guardian is thinking of,' Dr. Maryland said, somewhat discontentedly.
'Duke is her guardian too,' remarked Primrose.
'You land a fish sometimes best with a long line, my dear.'
'People say she has been very gay at Newport.'
'I am sorry to hear it.'
'Do you think, papa, she would ever settle down and be quiet and give all such gayety up?'
'The answer to that lies in what I do not know, my dear.'
'Papa,' Primrose went on, after the pause of a minute, 'don't you think the will was rather hard upon Hazel?'
'No,' said the doctor, decidedly. 'What can a girl want more?'
'But if she does not like Duke?'
'She is not obliged to marry him.'
'But she can't marry anybody else, papa, without losing all her fortune, that is'
'Till she is twenty-five, my dear; only till she is twenty-five. She is not obliged to wait any longer than that, and no woman need be married before she is twenty-five.'
Primrose laughed a little privately at the statement which she did not combat. She was thinking that Duke did not look at all depressed, and querying whether it was because he knew more than she did, or because he did not care. The old buggy stopped before the door of the long, low, stone house, and the conversation went no further.
Meanwhile, far away in the city, the young lady in question had discovered what nobody knew, and at last had unveiled her own secret. Not doubtingly, as she had glanced at it before, but beyond question, as an accepted fact. She hid it well from other people; she was at no pains to hide it from herself. Pains would have been of no use. If, in the somewhat secluded quiet of the first part of the winter, she had contrived a little to confuse things, it was no longer possible the moment she was out in the world again. Well she knew that she would rather live over three minutes in the red room when she had unconsciously pleased Mr. Rollo's taste, than to dance the gayest dance with such men as Stuart Nightingale, or do miles of promenading with the peers of Mr. May. For to Wych Hazel, to care for anybody so, was to care not two straws for anybody else. The existence, almost, of other men sank out of sight. She heard their compliments, she laughed at their talk, but through it all neither eye nor ear would have missed the faintest token of Mr. Rollo's presence; and since he was not there, she amused herself with mental comparisons not very flattering to the people at hand. She could not escape their admiration, but it was rather a bore. She care to have them stand round her, and join her in the street, and ask her to drive? She enjoy their devotion? 'In idea' she belonged to somebody else, some time ago; now, the idea was her own; and she cared no more for the rest of the world than if they had been so many lay figures. It was not too easy, sometimes, to hide this; not easy always to look long enough at the hearts laid at her feet, to give them the sympathetic courtesy which was their due. She never had tried her hand at flirting; but it was left for this season to stamp Miss Kennedy as 'the most unapproachable woman in town.' Which, however, unfortunately, made her more popular than ever. She was so lovely in her shy reserve; the hardwon favours were so delightful; the smiles so witching when they came; and nobody ever suspected that what she did with all her triumphs was to mentally bestow them on somebody else. They belonged to him, now, not to her, and for her had no other value.
It was a very timid consciousness of all this that Hazel allowed herself, even yet. Thoughts were scolded out of sight and shut up and hushed; but none the less they had their way; and the sudden coming of forbidden thoughts, and the half oblivion of things at hand, made the prettiest work that could be in face and manner. A sweeter shyness than that of the girl who had nothing to hide watched all doors that led to her secret; a fairer reserve than mere timidity kept back what belonged to one man alone. A certain womanly veil over the girlish face but made the beautiful life changes more beautiful still. If anything, she looked younger than she had done the year before.
All this being true, why then did Miss Kennedy throw herself into the whirl of society, and carry her elder guardian about with her from place to place, till they had nearly made the round of all the gay scenes of winter and summer? Very simply and plainly, she said to herself, because there was nothing else to do. Of course she could not settle down permanently away from home; and as to going back to Chickareeto rides, and walks, and talkswith September hurrying on as if everybody was in a hurry to have it that was out of the question. The very idea took her breadth away. Till September Mr. Rollo had pledged himself to be quiet; longer it could not be expected of him. No, she must keep her distance, and keep moving; and if she had to meet her fate, meet it at least on a sudden. She could not sit still and watch it coming, step by step; she could not even sit still and think about it. If she could have persuaded Mr. Falkirk, Hazel would have gone straight to Europe, and stayed there tillshe did not know when. She had an overpowering dread of going home, and seeing Mr. Rollo, and having herself and her secret brought out into the open day. So she rushed about from one gay place to another, and hid herself in the biggest crowds she could find; and all the while went to his 'penny readings' (in imagination), and counted the days that were yet left before the end of September. But the tension began to tell upon her, and her face took a delicate look that Mr. Falkirk did not like to see, in spite of the ready colour that flickered there in such fitful fashion. And then, Dr. Arthur Maryland, watching her one night at the Ocean House, with his critical eyes, gave his opinion, unasked. All that appeared was purely professional.
'She would be better at home, Mr. Falkirk, with different surroundings, and more quiet. Just now she is attempting too much. But do not tell her I say so.'
The advice chimed in well with Mr. Falkirk's own private notions and opinions. It pleased him not to have his ward so given up to society, so engrossed with other people, as for months he had been obliged to see her. Mr. Falkirk had a vague sense of danger, comparable to the supposed feelings of a good mother-hen which has followed her brood of ducklings to the edge of the water. For Mr. Falkirk's attendance seemed to himself not much more valuable or efficient to guard from evil than the said mother-hen's clucking round the pond. True, he stood by, and saw Wych Hazel was there; he went and came with her; but the waves of the social entertainment floated her hither and thither, and he could scarce follow at a distance, much less navigate for her. What she was doing, or saying, or engaging to do, was quite beyond his ken or his management. Besides, Mr. Falkirk thought it ill that the beautiful home at Chickaree should be untenanted; and ill that Wych Hazel's tastes and habits should be permanently diverted from home joys and domestic avocations. He was very much in the dark about Rollo; but, knowing nothing about the secret compact for the year, and seeing that Rollo did not of late seek his ward's society, and that Wych Hazel shunned to come near his neighbourhood, and affected any other place rather, he half comforted himself with the thought that as yet his little charge was his only, and her sweet trust and affection unshared by anybody who had a greater claim.
So Mr. Falkirk issued his decree, and made his arrangements; that is, he told Wych Hazel he thought she ought to go to Chickaree for the rest of the season; and, seeing that she must, Wych Hazel agreed.
It came to be now the end of August. And all through the season, Rollo had kept at his work or his play in the Hollow, and he had not sought out Wych Hazel in her various abiding places. Perhaps he was too busy; perhaps he was constantly expecting that her wanderings would cease, and she would return to her own home. Perhaps he guessed partly at the reason for her keeping at a distance, and would not hurry her by any premature importunity. And, perhapsfor some men are sohe was willing that she should run to the end of her line, see all that she cared to see, and find, if she could find, anything that she liked better than him. It might have been patiently or impatiently; but Rollo waited, and did not recalldid not go after her. And now she was coming home.
It was September and one week of it gone. Rollo had ridden over to Dr. Maryland's to dinner, and the little party was just sitting down to the table, when Dr. Arthur arrived. He had been, we know, at Newport, on business of his own, where Wych Hazel and Mr. Falkirk were, and was just returned after an absence of some weeks. He was a lion, of course, as any one is in a country home who has ventured out into the great sea of the world and come home again; and his sisters could hardly serve him fast enough, or listen eagerly enough to his talk at the dinner-table. Though Prim cared most for the sound of his voice, and Mrs. Coles for what it had to tell.
'And you saw Miss Kennedy, Arthur, did you?' this latter lady asked, with a view to getting intelligence through various channels at once, keeping her ears for him and her eyes for Rollo.
'I saw Miss Kennedy.'
'How was she looking, Arthur?' said Prim.
'Not very well, I thought. That is, well according to you ladies, but not according to us doctors.'
'Not well?' echoed Prim in dismay; while Rollo said nothing and did not even look.
'Rather delicate, it seemed to me,' said Dr. Arthur. 'But she is coming to-morrow, Prim, so you can judge for yourself.'
'Is she as much admired as ever?' quoth Mrs. Coles, eyeing Rollo hard by stealth and not making much of him.
'More. And deserves it.'
'How does she deserve more?' said Rollo.
'I am not good at descriptions,' Dr. Arthur answered, somewhat briefly.
'I suppose she takes all she gets?' said Prudentia.
'Difficult to do anything else with it.'
'Who is her special admirer now, or the most remarkable? for she reckons them by scores.'
'All seemed to be special. One or two young Englishmen made themselves pretty prominent.'
'That Sir Henry somethingwas he one of them? Is he there?'
'Crofton? Yes, he was there.'
'What do people say, Arthur? Who of them is going to have her?'
'People say something. And know nothing.'
'That's truesometimes. But whom does she dance with oftenest? Did you notice?'
'I saw her dance but once, and so could not notice,' said Dr. Arthur.
'Well, what was that? and whom with? If you saw her dance only once, that might tell something.'
'No, it might not; for I never went into the ball-room. This once that I spoke of was at a private party, and the dancing was on the lawn. Crofton was her partner then.'
'Crofton was her partner! Sir Henry Crofton. Waltzing with her? Then he'll be the man, you see if he won't. Was he waltzing with her?'
'Nonsense, Prudentia!' said her sister. 'He won't be the one; and it proves nothing if she was waltzing with him. Why shouldn't she waltz with him, as well as with anybody else?'
'You'll see,' said Prudentia. 'Answer my question, Arthur. Was it a waltz?'
'A waltz they call it,' said Dr. Arthur, with considerable disgust. 'I should choose a longer name, and call it an abomination.'
'I don't believe Arthur is a good witness, Prim,' said Rollo. 'His testimony gets confused. Does he ever go walking in his sleep in these daysnights, I mean?'
'I was awake then,' said Dr. Arthur. 'And why you women don't put that thing down!'
'Arthur!' said Prim, half laughing but half fearful too, 'it's rather hard on the people who don't go, to tell them they ought to put a stop to it; and the people who do go, some of them, do it very innocently.'
'Yes!' said Dr. Arthur, 'and any man who takes such a young, pure face into the whirligig ought to be shot!'
'I daresay she'll marry Sir Henry Crofton,' said Mrs. Coles.
But Rollo did not seem terrified, and did not seem to pay much attention to the whole thing, she thought. He was rather silent the rest of the dinner; but so he had been the former part of it, ever since Dr. Arthur had come home to talk. To Prudentia he never said more words than were civilly necessary. As soon as dinner was over he mounted and rode away.
WHAT COMES OF ON-DIT.
Wych Hazel had not wanted to come home. But neither did she at all wish to arouse Mr. Falkirk's suspicions by a too strenuous resistance; and besides, when he really made up his mind to a thing, she had to yield; so, with much secret trepidation, and a particularly wayward outside development, she made the journey; and late the next night after Dr. Arthur's revelations, laid her head on the pillows on her own room at Chickaree, with a strange little feeling of gladness, that half began to take the trepidation in hand. Wellit was not the end of September yet: she would have a little breathing space. And thenWych Hazel dropped asleep.
Things 'happen,' as we say, strangely sometimes. Threads which should lie smooth and straight alongside of each other and make no confusion, get all snarled, and twisted, and thrown crosswise of each other by just a little breeze of influence, or some slight impulse on one side. And so it fell next day.
Mrs. Powder, who had also been at Newport, and left it three days before Wych Hazel, had engaged her and Mr. Falkirk to lunch for this very day, the next after their arrival. That was one thread, not necessarily touching, one would say, the grand event of the day, which was Rollo's coming and visit at Chickaree. For that visit was to have been made right early in the morning, and Collingwood was ordered, and even mounted, when there came a message from the mills. Some complication or accident of business made the master's presence necessary. Rollo went to the Hollow, and stayed there till he had but just time left to get to Chickaree before luncheon. This thread was twisted.
The carriage at the door. Rollo threw himself off his horse and went in. He was too late. Just within the door he met the little lady he came to see, standing in her pretty draperies of mantle and veil, ready for her drive; and Mr. Falkirk was behind her.
'O Mr. Rollo!' she said (fortified with this last fact) 'you have come for lunch!'
'Have I?' said he, as he took her hand in the old-fashioned way. 'I see I shall not get it.'
'Will getting it to-morrow help you to dispense with it to-day? We are engaged at Mrs. Powder's. You see I must go.'
'I see you must go. I have been delayed.'
Mr. Falkirk, according to his accustomed tactics, passed out upon the veranda after giving his own greeting, leaving the others alone. Rollo had come with a face flushed with pleasure and riding; now a certain shade fell upon it; his brow grew grave, as if with sudden thought.
'I will not detain you,' he said, after seeing that Mr. Falkirk was at a safe distance; 'only let me ask one question. Arthur Maryland says he saw you waltzing with that English Crofton. I know it is not true; but tell me so, that I may contradict him. He was mistaken.'
'Dr. Arthur! was he there?' voice and face too shewed a sudden check.
'But he did not see that?' said Rollo, with eyes which seemed as if they would deny the fact by sheer force of will.
Her eyes had no more than glanced at him hitherto, shyly withholding themselves. But now they looked full into his face, using the old, wistful, girlish right of search; watching him as keenly as sometimes he watched her. She answered gravely:
'How could Dr. Arthur be mistaken in what he says he saw?'
'Is it true?' came with an astonished, fiery glance of the gray eyes. She draw herself up a little, stepping back.
'It is truesince he says sothat he saw me among the rest.'
It is not often that we see a man lose colour from intense feeling. Wych Hazel's eyes saw it now. Rollo stood still before her, quite still, for a space of time that neither could measure, growing very pale, while at the same time the lines on lip and brow gradually took a firmer and firmer set. Motionless as an iron statue, and assuming more and more the fixedness of one, he stood, while minute after minute slipped by. To Wych Hazel the time probably seemed measureless and endless; while to Rollo, in the struggle and tumultuous whirl of feeling, it was only a single sharp point of existence. He stood with his eyes cast down; and without raising them, without uttering another syllable, for which I suppose he had not self-control, at last he bowed gravely and low, and turned away. In another minute, the bay horse and his rider went past the door and were gone.
On her part, Wych Hazel had stood waiting, expecting him to speak, scanning his face with eager scrutiny. Then, with a grave shadow of disappointment upon her own, looked down again, nerving herself for the words of anger which must follow such a look. But when he turned, she raised her head quickly and looked after him, following with her eyes as long as eyes could follow, listening as long as ears could hearthen drew her veil over her face and went down and entered the carriage. Answering, somehow, Mr. Falkirk's words; and, somehow, taking her part in Mrs. Powder's festivities.
O the interminable length of those bridges from life-point to life- point, over which we must sometimes pass at a foot-pace! Is anything more intolerable than the monotonous tramp, tramp, of the meaningless steps? Is anything more sickening than the easy sway of the bridge, which seems to make the whole world reel, while in truth it is only ourselves? If Wych Hazel had been asked afterwards who was at Mrs. Powder's, and what was said, and when she came home, she could not have told a word. She came home with a scarlet spot on either cheek, burning brighter and brighter. They were very beautiful, people said.
But to-morrow he would come, when his anger was cooled down. What if he did?for pain this time had used a trident. He had doubted her. Then he could doubt her! Then, he never could trust. And what was anything after that? Not her discretion merely, as before; not her obedience; but her word! Well, he would come, and she would tell himthat would be one little shred of comfort, at least. But he had looked at her so! and thenhe had turned his eyes away. And no matter what she told him, or what he might believe then, that look had gone down to the depths of her heart. He had doubted her!
Well, the night wore away, somehow, between bitter waking pain and snatches of exhausted sleep; and then the morningas mornings sometimes willseemed to speak comfort. He would come, and she would tell him.
But he did not come. And one day followed another, and still there came not even a message; and Wych Hazel waited. No one guessed how little she eat in those days, no one guessed how little she slept; the one thing she knew of herself was, that no earthly temptation could have made her leave the house for five minutes. She rose up earlyfor he might come then; and she sat up till impossible hours, lest they might be the only ones left free by business. But under all this watching, the keen, three-pointed pain never relaxed its pressure. What was the use of anything, after that? and yet she longed for his coming with an intensity that could not be measured.
Earlier in the year,certainly before his declaration,she would not have waited so long, without taking the matter into her own hands and writing. But the twenty-fifth was close at hand; how could she do anything to bring herself to his notice, or call him to her side? And he was almost a stranger now; she had seen him but once since near a year ago. And on the twenty-fifth, at least, she must see him. Alas! what could she say to him then? unless that. But she could not think of it now. Her mind clasped hold of just one thought: he will come then. 'He wants me to understand how angry he is,' thought Hazel to herself as the tenth day crept slowly by. 'Does he think I am made of iron, like himself, I wonder?'
And so we judge and misjudge each other, the best of us; and how can we help it? Misjudgments will be, must be; the only thing left to human finiteness and short-sightedness is frank dealing. There is one possible remedy in that.
Rollo did not come to Chickaree, and he did not write. How long Wych could have borne to wait without herself writing, to clear herself, it is difficult to say. A week passed, the second week was in progress, the twenty-fifth was not more than a week off, when Mr. Falkirk announced at dinner one day that Rollo was just setting off upon a journey.
'He's going to see some great manufacturing establishment in the northeast somewhere, and can't attend to my business, he tells me, before the fifth or sixth of next month; he hopes to be back by that time.'
Mr. Falkirk thought the non-intercourse between the Hollow and Chickaree a very significant fact; but it was not his plan to annoy his ward by seeming to see anything it was not necessary he should see. It cannot be said that he was quite satisfied with the condition of things, indeed; however, he knew it was hopeless to attack Wych Hazel in the hope of getting information; and with what patience he might, he waited too; the third in that unrestful attitude.
With that strange double life which she had been leading of late, Wych Hazel heard Mr. Falkirk's announcement and poured out his 'after-dinner coffee' with a steady hand. Then asked when Mr. Rollo was to go. He had gone already, that very day. And till when must this other business wait? Till the second week in October. Then she knew that he had thrown her off. No other earthly thing would have kept him away on the twenty-fifth, without even a word. Could he have done it, unless his liking for her had changed? Would he have done it, caring for her asshe thought he had cared a year ago? With these questions beating back and forth in her mind,so she went though the rest of the day. Receiving visiters, giving Mr. Falkirk his tea, sitting with him through the evening; until, at last, it was done and he had gone, and she could be alone. It never even crossed her mind to go to bed that night.
Whatever the new day may do with things that are sure, it is yet rather gentle with uncertainties; making fair little suggestions, and giving stray touches of light, in a way that is altogether hopeful and beguiling. And so, when that weary moonlight night had spent its glitter, and the tender dawn came up, Hazel breathed free over a new thought. Mr. Falkirk might be mistaken! His own business might fill Mr. Rollo's hands until the second week in October, that word proved nothing at all about his staying away. She would wait and see. No use in trusting people just while you can keep watch. And so, though the secret pain at her heart did never disappear, and though at best her next meeting with Mr. Rollo could not be very pleasant, still Hazel did hold up her head, and hope, and wait, with a woman's ready faith, and a courage that died out in the twilight and revived in the dawn, and kept her in a fever of suspense and expectation. It wearied her so unspeakably, in the long hours of practical daylight and unmanageable night, that sometimes she could hardly bear it. The world seemed to turn round till she could not catch her thoughts; and nerves overstrung and on the watch, made her start and grow pale with the commonest little sounds of every day and every night.
She had never had many people to love; she had never (before) loved anybody very much; and the truth and dignity which had kept her from all forms of love-trifling, so kept the hidden treasures of her heart all sparkling with their own freshness. They had never been passed about from hand to hand; no weather-stains, no worn-out impressions were there. What the amount might be, Wych Hazel had never guessed until in these dark days she began to tell it over; making herself feel so poor! For, after all, what is the use of a treasure which nobody wants?
Not the least among her troubles was the painful hiding them all. She must laugh and talk and entertain Mr. Falkirk; she must guard her face when the mail-bag came in, and steady the little hand stretched out for her letters; must meet and turn off all Mrs. Bywank's looks and words; must dress and go out, and dress and receive people at home. Ah, how hard it was!and no one to whom she could speak, no lap where she could lay down her head, and pour out her sorrows.
Slowly, as the days went by, and hope grew fainter, and the dawn turned cold, there grew up in Wych Hazel's mind an intense longing to lay hold of something that was still; something that would stand; something beyond the wind and above the waves; and slowly, gradually, the words she had read to Gyda came back, and made themselves a power in her mind:
"I will be with him in trouble."
Oh for some one to be with her! Oh for something she could grasp, and stop this endless swaying and rocking and trembling of all things else! And then, following close, came other words, more lately learned. Not now read over, with those pencil marks beside them; but read often enough before, happily, to have been learned by heart; and now passing and re-passing in unceasing procession before her thoughts.
"For the love of Christ constraineth us."
The love that could be counted on; the Presence that was sure!
And so, reaching her hands out blindly through the dark, the girl did now and then lay hold of the Eternal strength, and for a while sometimes found rest. But there came other days and hours when she seemed to be clinging to she hardly knew what, with the full rush and sweeping of the tide around her; conscious only that she was not quite swept away; until when at last the twenty-third was past, and three days of grace had followed suit, Hazel rose up one morning with this one thought: if she did not see somebody to speak to, she should die.
And in all the world there was but one person to whom she could speak, for but one had guessed her secret; even Gyda. It seemed to the girl afterwards as if at this time again her mother's prayers must have been around her; so clear and swift and instinctive were her decisions, in the chaos of all other things. No danger now of meeting any one at the cottage. But how to get there? Not through Morton Hollow, not on Jeannie Deans,oh no, oh no! If she went, she must go by that other almost impossible way, which was not a way. She would drive to the foot of the hill, and leave the carriage there, and not take Lewis to see where she went.
How she did it, Hazel never remembered afterwards. She left the carriage with a cheery word to Reo, and then set her face to the hill; the little feet toiling on with swift eagerness through briers and over stones, finding her way she knew not how; conscious only that she did not feel the ground under her feet, but seemed to be walking on nothing, so that she had every now and then a sort of fear of pitching forward. She had set out in good season, but it was past midday when she stood before the cottage. If she knocked as no other hand had ever knocked there; if her face at the opening door startled Gyda beyond words; of this, too, the girl knew nothing. For with the first sight of Gyda, there came such a surge of the sorrows in which she was plunged, that Hazel stepped one step within the door and dropped all unconscious at the old Norsewoman's feet.
Gyda was quite unable to lift her, light as the burden would have been; but what she could she was prompt and skilful to do. She brought cushions to put under Wych Hazel's head, applied cold water and hartshorn; for Gyda was too much in request as a village nurse and doctor to be unsupplied with simple remedies. With tender care she used what she had, till the girl opened her eyes and found Gyda's brown face hovering over her. Even then the old woman said not a word. She waited till Wych Hazel's senses were clear, and the young lady had roused herself up to a sitting position on the floor. Gyda's eyes were too keen not to see that the mind was more disturbed than the body.
'My little lady,' she said wistfully, 'what ails thee?'
Hazel passed her hands over her face, and tried to collect her thoughts.
'I am a great deal of trouble,'she said slowly; for the touch of the wet hair was suggestive, and it seemed to her just then that she was nothing but trouble to anybody.
'And what is it that is troubling thee?' said Gyda, stooping down with her hand on Wych Hazel's shoulder, the wrinkled, sweet old face looking earnestly for the answer.
'How can you set things right?' said Hazel, with her usual inroad to the midst of the case. 'How can you set them right, when you do not know where they are wrong?'
'Will my lady tell me what is wrong?' said the old woman, probably judging this statement of the position too vague to be acted upon. 'But come and sit down, and see the fire, and get comfortable; and tell me; and then we'll know.'
Wych Hazel rose and came to the fire as she was bid, and looked at it, seeing nothing; but her next words touched another point.
'Why do such things come upon people?' she said.
The old Norsewoman stood beside her, watching with all the wisdom of her loving, wise heart to see where the hurt was and what the medicine must be. She put her hand again upon Wych Hazel's shoulder as she looked.
'What has come?' she said. 'It's notmy lad?' she added, with evidently a sudden startle of apprehension.
'He is away, you know,' said Hazel, with an immediate reserve of voice. 'I know nothing of him.'
'What has come to my lad's lady?'
A quick spasm of pain passed over the face she was watching. 'Hush!' the girl said under her breadth. 'I am not that.'
'Then something wants to be set right,' said the old woman quietly. 'What is it, dear? Tell me, and the Lord will shew us how to do.'
'If He cared, he would have hindered,' said Hazel drearily.
'He doesn't hinder, sometimes, to shew us that he cares,' said Gyda. 'You may not question his love, dear; you'll be sure to get wrong if you do.' And then bending nearer, so as to look close in the girl's face, with her little black eyes shining both keen and tender, she repeated, 'My lad's lady, what is it? I am his servant, and so I am her servant.'
If anything could have broken down the fierce self-control in which Hazel had been entrenched for the last ten days, it was perhaps the repetition of those words. But tears were biding their time; none had come, none could come yet. Only her lips trembled.
'Please, please!' she said, raising her hand in mute pleading. Then adding, in a tone that went to Gyda's heart, 'He has doubted my word. There is nothing to be done.'
'My lad? Olaf?'
'It seems ye've doubted him. Is that it?'
'His truth? Never.'
'Nein, not his truth. But you have doubted him, yet. What cause had he to doubt your word?'
'Appearances. They were all against me. But there is no use in trusting, unless you trust.'
'Has Olaf done you wrong, you think, and no cause?'
'I did not come to complain of him,' said the girl quickly. 'ButI had nobody to speak toand I wasdying by inches.'
'Suppose you complain, dear,' said the old woman, with a smile which was anything but unsympathetic. 'Complain, and make the worst of it; then we will know how to begin. Say all he has done, as bad as it is, and we will see what it means, maybe.'
The wistful eyes looked up at her, then down again. She answered softly:
'He thought, he had reason to think, that I had broken my promise. And he did not wait, nor try, for an explanation. That is one thing.'
'How could he have reason to think that, my lady?'
'Because of something I could not help,' said Hazel. 'You know that can be,' she added with an appealing look, as if to see whether Gyda doubted her too.
'Did you speak to him?'
'He gave me no chance. I have not seen him sincesincehe looked at me so,' said Hazel.
'Maybe he had his own part to bear,' said the old woman. 'But Olaf will be back again in a few days.'
'Yes,'said the girl slowly,'that makes no difference. He has given me up.'
'Love doesn't give up,' said Gyda. 'He asked me, a few days ago, to pray for him, that he might be strong to do right. I wot, it'll be an easier part then he thought of!'
But the words touched a sore spot. 'No,' the girl thought to herself. 'Love does not give up!' She sat very white and still. Then, after a while, looked up at Gydaone of her fair looks.
'You did not know,' she said gently, 'that he was asking you to pray against me.'
Gyda met her eyes, first without replying; her hand left Wych Hazel's shoulder and came upon her hair, touching it softly. That old, brown, wrinkled face was so sweet and quiet that it seemed a very stronghold of comfort and counsel and help. Counsel and comfort came in a very simple form this time.
'Dear,' she said, in her slow utterance,'he loves you.'
But Hazel was not inclined to debate that question with anybody but herself. She leaned her head back and shut her eyes, finding curious soothing in the touch of Gyda's hand. Nobody ever touched her so in these days, and she had been very, very lonely. Then suddenly she started up, sitting forward and speaking eagerly.
'You must not tell him!' she said; 'you must not even tell him that I have been here. You must not say one word. Promise me!'
'Till you tell him?' said Gyda placidly.
'Will you promise?' Hazel repeated. 'Things that cannot stand of themselves had betterfall.'
'What is it that cannot stand, dear?'
'I did not come here to talk about that,' said Hazel, laying her head back again. 'I came to talk about myself. Or to do something, besides think.'
'I'll hear,' said Gyda. 'Nothing's going to fall that ought to stand. Talk, my dear.'
All the while she was standing just at Wych Hazel's shoulder, touching her head with a slight touch; in her face and voice the utmost soothing charm of tender tranquillity. She had been doubtless a Norwegian peasant woman, and had known little of what we call refining advantages in outward things; but love and peace and sympathy had made her wonderfully delicate and quick to divine the needs of those with whom she dealt. It was a hard little hand, but a very soft touch upon Wych Hazel's curls. Furthermore, it was evident, that beyond her sympathy with her visiter's present distress, Gyda was not disturbed about the matter in hand.
'The days have been so long, all these weeks,' said Hazel. 'And the nights were longer than the days.'
'Ah, yes. And you couldn't trust the Lord with your trouble?'
'I thinkI did try, sometimes,' said the girl slowly, 'but I do not quite know. I was in such confusion, and other things came in, and I was afraid of doing itonly to please him, because'
'Eh,' said Gyda. 'Yes, to please who, dear?'
Hazel put up one little hand and laid it upon Gyda's, so giving her answer.
'Because,' she began again presently, 'I had thoughtit had seemed as ifmaybethat was the reason of it all. Do such things come upon people for doing wrong things, when they do not know they are wrong?'
'Mayhap,' said Gyda, who through the obscurities of this speech threaded her way to one thing only. 'It's only the straight way, dear, that has no crooks in it. But seeisn't my lad's lady in the straight way?'
'But I meanI do not know how to tell you,' she said, covering her face with her hands. 'When he had grown so goodand I had not,I thought, perhaps, that was the reason. I thought of it last winter, before this came; and I have never seen him sincebut once. I might seemdifferentto him, you know,' Hazel added, in her girlish way. Then she took her hands down and looked at Gyda, searching for her answer. But Gyda gently smiled.
'I think you'll soon know,' she said. 'Suppose you don't think any more about it, till he comes.'
Hazel was silent a few minutes, but thinking all the while as hard as she could. She was in no hurry now for Mr. Rollo to come; her dread of seeing him again was extreme. And by this time another matter claimed her attention, over and above everything else; she must get home while she could. If physical prostration and reaction went on at the rate they had begun, it would not take much longer to make the scramble over the hill a sheer impossibility.
'I must go,' she said abruptly. 'But you will let me come once more?'
Gyda was about to answer, when she turned her head sharply towards the door. Her ears caught a sound in that direction, and the next instant Wych Hazel's ears caught it too; the sound of steps, quick steps, a man's steps, coming along the flag-stones outside the cottage. A hand on the door, the door open, and Rollo himself was there.
ABOUT THE GUARDIANSHIP.
He came in with the same quick, energetic footstep, looking grave, certainly, but brown and ruddy, like a man with all his forces about him, and with a bright greeting ready for Gyda. And then his face changed suddenly, and his manner. He came up to Wych Hazels side, bent down to take her hand, and said with grave earnestness and all his wonted deferential gentleness,
I am glad to find you here!
One could almost have heard the bolts and bars with which, at the sound of his footsteps, the girl shut herself in. But all colour was shut off as well. She rose to her feet, laying one hand on the chair back to steady herself, and answered simply, I am just going. And she turned to Gyda. But Rollo prevented her.
Wont you sit down again? said he. A minute or two? I have something to say to you, and now is the best time?
He turned to Gyda, but the old Norwegian was already leaving the room, and the two were alone. And perhaps to give her timeor himselfhe stood for a moment still and thoughtful by the side of the fireplace. And Hazel, who had thought she would take the first moment that offered to clear her name of the blot left upon it, sat in a sort of spell, and could not speak.
I want you, he began at length, with that same grave gentleness; he had himself well in hand now;I want you to give me, as a friend, some explanation of that which you told me the other day.
As a friendhe had not then forgotten the day of the month. That was one passing thought. And then, if Mr. Rollo had interest in new displays of character, he had a chance to prosecute the study, and see Wych Hazel as other people sometimes saw her; so far off she seemed in her reserve. This was not the sprite who had disputed his authority and pelted him with sharp speeches; nor the shy girl who had blushed if he but came near her; there was not even the faintest tinging of the cheeks, nor the least gleam from out the deep shadows of the eyes. Only in one way did the slightest agitation betray itself; but twice she began to speak, and twice could not command her lips; the third time she conquered them and went on. With down-looking eyes, and head a little bent, and hands quietly folded, as if they were too tired to hold each other in the old way, and that pathetic quiver still every now and then sweeping round her mouth and chin, Wych Hazel went straight to the midst of things, as if not daring to waste strength on preliminaries.
Sir Henry Crofton had laid a wageror vowed a vowthat he would not go back to England until he had waltzed with me. I saw him once or twice in the fall, and in town he came often to the house, and after that I met him everywhere. And he very often asked me to waltz. And I always refused.
One nightshe drew her breath, as if the words stifled herthen went on swiftly, as before, preventing all questions: One night, at Newport, we were both at an out-door party. There was music, of course; everybody was dancing. Except me. Sir Henry made his usual request, and then asked me to walk instead.
"Do you really never waltz?" he said, as we passed up and down. I told him no.
"But why not?" I said, one of my guardians disapproved of it.
"Is he here to-night?"No.
"Then, he will never know what you do." I said then, that I had promised.
"Then it was not for my own pleasure I had given it up?" I said, no.
"Didnt I sometimes wish for the pleasure again?" Sometimes, I confessed, when I heard the music.
"Had I promised for always?" No.
"O well!it was very easy to forget the precise date." I said (here for an instant a flush came) that I had not forgotten it.
We were standing just then by the open lawn and the circle of dancers; andI thinkmy foot stirred a little, answering the measure if a new waltz which the band struck up. In an instant, before I had time to think or speak, he had whirled me off among the crowd. So much taller than I, so much stronger, so skilled a dancer, that at first I could only go where I was taken, obliged to keep the step, in my own self-defence. One hand of course he held; but the otherdid nottouch him. And, presently, I made him let me go. But (we had gone so fast) not till we had taken rather more than one round, I think, I am not quit sure. And I always mean to tell you.The voice fell a little, breaking off short.
She had not looked at him once since he came in; she did not look now, to see how her story was received, but sat still, feeling as if her very life were at stand. His face had changed notably as she went on; its burden of grave care cleared away; his brow grew full of light; the eyebrows came into their wonted line; but Rollos eyes were the eyes of a man whose soul is on fire. He stood breathlessly at first, then sitting down beside the girl got possession of one of her hands, but only so speaking his sympathy or eagerness; till as she finished he brought it to his lips, or rather bowed his lips to it and kissed the little hand over and over. He made no other answer; he said no word at all, till the dark flush which had kindled in his face at her story a little faded away. Then, still holding her hand perhaps unconsciously close, he said, low enough,
And what about the guardianship, Hazel?
The girl was in that state when to withstand or to bear seems equally difficult: there is no strength for either; and the colour which flitted over her face at his demonstrations was less of shyness than of intense feeling. It all went now, at his words.
I thought, she said (the words came too quick, but she could not help it) that you had resigned, Mr. Rollo.
Rollo got the other hand into his keeping, and merely inquired in the same tone what she wanted him to do?
I used to want you to trust me. But it would not be any use now.
Rollos lips touched her hand again, both hands. What about the guardianship, Hazel? he repeated, with a glow and sparkle of the gray eyes, which yet had an odd veil of softness over them. But a man will be a man. I am afraid Rollo was smiling at the same time.
If anything could be called clear in Hazels mind, at that minute of supreme and universal confusion, it was, that belonging to somebody was getting to be much more than an idea. And that Mr. Rollo should merely pay her the compliment of requesting to have the fact put in words, might be highly characteristic on his part, but was not exactly composing on hers. How could she think, or speak, without even one hand free? And droop her head as she might, what could the soft falling hair do, but touch up the beautiful flushes which Hazel felt, if she did not see? Her words, when they came, went to a very self-evident point.
Butif you wanted itwhy did you give it up?
Give upwhat? came with undoubted astonishment from Rollos lips.
You stayed away said the girl, under her breath.
I have come back. And I want my sentence.
In a sort of desperation, Hazel gathered up her courage, as if realizing that she was face to face with the one question of her life, where she must risk anything but mistakes.
But, she said,but, Mr. Rollo,you did not mean to want it. When you stayed away.
He laughed. Look here! said he, I want it now, Hazel. Ill stand all your questions, after you have answered mine.
I think mine come first, she said softly,and something of the sorrow which had hung about the questions crept into her voice. Because, there might beat least, there might have beenthings which I could not explain. And thenas you could doubt me once, you would again. And I could not bear that twice! said Hazel, with a sudden quickness which told more than it meant. Nerve herself as she would, her hands were trembling now.
Rollo was not a man of more than average patience, sometimes. Nevertheless, though sorely tempted, he controlled the desire to give her kisses instead of rebukes, and answered quietly and gravely:
I took your own word once against yourself. I will never do it again, Hazel! So take care what you say to me. Have you nothing to say to me now?
If she had, it was not forthcoming.
About the guardianship, Hazel?
She hesitated a littlenot much; thinking of the face she dared not look at, and which she had scarcely seen for a year; answering then with a grave quietness which again was very like herself, where deep feeling was at work; the girlish voice falling and trembling just a little:
If you want ityou can have it, Mr. Rollo.
He took her in his arms then, very tenderly and gravely, kissing her on lips and cheeks with kisses which seemed to tell of a wish to indemnify himselfand her too,for the last three weeks; but then, having got what he wanted, for several minutes thereafter spoke not; partly for his own sake perhaps, partly for hers. A stillness more mighty than words, and quite beyond their sphere. When he did speak again, it was in a different key.
How comes your hair to be wet?
Mine? O! said Hazel, starting,It is nothing but a little water.
No, said Rollo laughing, nothing else. The question is, how came a little water on your hair?
What a question! It was put there. And if you want to know why, I will tell you. On purpose.
Who did it?
But that answer was slow to come. Gyda, she said at last.
'Gyda!' echoed Rollo, starting up a little, and removing Wych Hazel to a little distance from him, that he might look in her face better. 'For what purpose has Gyda been putting cold water on your hair?'
'O! I was tired when I got here,' Hazel said, trying to look up and laugh, and somehow failing. 'AndandAnd it does not signify the least in the world now.'
Rollo looked at her a minute silently, and then demanded imperiously to know 'what didn't signify?'
'Being faint is nothing,' she said. 'At least, after you have got over it.'
'What made you faint?' in the same tone.
Now Hazel had no mind to go into that; partly for the intrinsic merits of the case, but also with a growing consciousness that with those waves of trouble which had ebbed away so fast her strength was going too. That false strength of tension and self-control, by means of which she had lived and held her head up, through all these last weeks. Even excitement was giving way to reaction; and Hazel dreaded lest, before she knew it, she should break down; lest, before she could hinder it, that wilful fountain of unshed tears might insist on having its way. She knew from old experience what that meant; but (except for the slight specimen before Prim's eyes) nobody had ever seen her in one of her tear-storms, and she did not mean that any one should. And at the same time, belonging to somebody puts hindrances in the way of unseen escape; and the next thing would be, that some tender word or touch would find its way to the very depths which had been so lonely and sweep away all her defences. Then there was the walk! She answered, studying her case,
'I think, two or three things. But let me go now, please, Mr. Rollo. I must go home,it is late.'
'Let you go?' said he, in a curious, considerative way, as if studying several things.
'Yes,' she said, trying to get ready to get up from her chair. He sat looking at her, then touched again the wet hair. What was he thinking about?
'It seems to me,' he said slowly, 'you must have some of Gyda's porridge before you go.'
'Oh, no!' she said with some eagerness. 'I could not! Just let me go' and she rose up, steadying herself with one hand upon the chair-back. Rollo rose too, but it was to take her in his arms.
'The carriage is not here,' he said, looking at her and noting how well she needed the support he gave.
'Not just hereReo is waiting,' Hazel answered, flushing and drooping her head, and feeling as if every minute took her more and more out of her own reach.
'Where is he waiting?'
'Never mindWhere I left him. O Mr. Rollo! let me go!'
'But you see I must know, if I am to fetch him. Where is he, Wych?'
'At the foot of the hill.'No use! She could not debate matters, but her head bent lower.
'Reo was not at the foot of the hill when I came.'
'I meanthe other hill.'
'What other hill?'
'Oh!'she said deprecatingly; then went straight through. 'I came the other way.'
'I don't know but one way,' he answered half laughing.
'You will have to teach me. But something else must be done first. Come here and sit down again. You can hardly stand. You must rest and have a cup of coffee before I let you go anywhere. What sort of guardianship do you think you have come into?' he said very gently.
He put Wych Hazel in her chair, and then stooped down upon the hearth to lay brands together and coax up the decayed fire. Having made it burn, he turned and took an observation of her face. She had given one eager look after him as he turned away, but now was not looking, apparently, at anything, unless at some hidden point which she was trying to master; for her breath came a little quick, and her hands held each other tight; she was not even leaning back in her chair. And as to resting her head on her hands, Hazel would as soon have dared do anything. Well she knew, that with even that slight veil between her and the outer world, the last remnant of self-command would go. No, she must face it out, somehow, and drink the coffee, and wait. If only Gyda would not come in! And what would she say when she did?'and I could not stop her now,' thought Hazel to herself, 'If I say three words about anything!'She passed her hands over her eyes with a quick gesture, then put them down and held them tight. Could she run away? No, she was not strong enough, if she had the chance. And to be overtaken and brought back!she had tried that once. And all the while, as she sat thinking, these surges of repressed sorrow and joy and everything else that had filled her heart for the last month and the last hour, seemed to be just rolling nearer and nearer, gathering up their force as she lost hers; and how she was to stop them Hazel did not know. Onlyshe must not break down there. Not before him. But the colour left her face again in the struggle.
Rollo needed very small observation to move him to action. The first point was to bring up to the hearth a large wooden chair, half settee, with arms of very ample proportions; looking as if anybody less than a burly old ship-captain or fat landlady would be quite lost and cast away in it. This chair Rollo proceeded to line and partially fill with cushions from whence obtained, was best known to himself; making sundry journeys into an inner room; from which finally he brought a great soft gray shawl, looking suspiciously like a travelling plaid, and laid it over the chair, cushions and all. Taking Wych Hazel's hands then, he softly transferred her from her own chair to this, and placed a cushion under her feet. Then considered her with a grave face and eyes from which no one of average self-confidence would have hoped to conceal anything.
'Where is the carriage?' said he, taking one of the little hands in his own.
'Justin the cross-road.'
'What cross-road? Didn't you come through the Hollow?'
'No.'The word just audible.
He was silent half a minute, considering this statement.
'How did you get here?'
'Over the hill.' Hazel was watching herself jealously, fending off, as it were, the very tones of his voice. But the next step it was hard to fend off. Guessing perhaps part, and with his quick eyes seeing part, Rollo for a few minutes said nothing at all. But his lips came upon Wych Hazel's face with a recognition of what she did not want recognized, and an answering of it, touched and tender and sorrowful, as if he would have kissed it out of existence. 'My little Hazel!' he said at last; and that was all.
The girl struggled hard with herself to bear it. She had ventured that one look as he went to the fire, but had known instantly that she must not risk another; and then, somehow, she had controlled her voice to answer his questions, and had nerved her face when he placed her in the cushioned chair. But if he had turned her defences!and, with that, Hazel gave way. She caught her hand from him, and turning half round laid her head and hands upon the chair, and let the flood come she had kept back so bravely. Sobbing, as perhaps it had never entered his mind that anybody could sob; her head bent as if one wave after another was going right over it. A spring freshet after the winter frost, telling a little what the ice had been.
Rollo's life had been a good deal of himself alone. Prim was all the sister he had ever known, and nearly all the mother too; unless Gyda might have the better claim to that title. All the readier, perhaps, he was able to deal with this burst of thoroughly natural passion, thoroughly womanish as it also was. His point of view had not been spoiled by feminine pettinesses. He took this paroxysm of what it was; something that must in the first instance have its way and work its own relief. He did not speak to Hazel at first, nor attempt to check the outflow of feeling which he contemplated with a very grave brow. Indeed for a minute or two he left the room and went out to speak to Gyda. Coming back, he remained quite silent and still until the first violence of tears had spent itself; then he sat down by Wych Hazel's side and began a series of mute testimonials that he was there, and that he had entered upon his life-long right to share and soothe whatever troubles concerned her. His hand upon her hand, or upon her hair, or on her cheek; and then her name half-whispered in her ear in a grieved tone of voice.
'I did not mean' she said at last, trying for words. 'O you should have let me go!I knew, I knew!'
Precisely what, Hazel dared not think; but perhaps, the idea that he was learning anything about her, was as good a tonic as she could have had just then. She came back to her quiet bearing very fast, pushing her other self out of sight, locking it up and sealing it down, and setting her little foot upon it with extraordinary vehemence of purpose. Rollo did nothing to hinder this operation. Indeed he rather left her to herself, while he as usual made himself busy in helping Gyda, who came in to get her table ready. Rollo drew the table up into Wych Hazel's neighbourhood, and when it was set, took upon himself the oversight of Gyda's pot of coffee, which was on the coals before the fire. He seemed to be quite at home in the business; and smiling up at Wych Hazel as he stooped to his cookery, asked her "if she liked the smell of coffee?"
'Yes, I think so,' she answered, not too sure of anything in the world just then.
'Never smelt it before, perhaps?'
The lips gave way, but the smile so nearly turned into trembling, that Hazel checked them both together.
'I don't believe you know how to make it.'
'Well' said Hazel somewhat vaguely, from under her shadowing hands.
'That's a gentle confession of ignorance. Here comes Gyda, and porridge. What else is to bring, Gyda?'
He went off, and came back in another minute with his hands full. Porridge and flad-brod and cheese and cream and broiled fish were set on the table; the coffee was at the fire. Rollo stood a moment surveying things, the old woman by the table, the little woman in the chair.
'You may kiss her hand, Gyda,' he said, in a tone that implied everything.
Hazel received this announcement and its consequences with a great flush. Only, with the way she had of putting some pretty grace into the most disturbing things, the little fingers locked themselves round Gyda's furtively, for a second, so giving the recognition which she could not speak. And Gyda was too gently wise to say a word. After that, both combined to wait upon Hazel, though Gyda did not get a chance to do much. And Hazel tried hard to obey injunctions and eat porridge, principally because it gave her something to do; but her performance was unsatisfactory, except in the matter of coffee, which she drank rather eagerly.
'Now,' said Rollo, 'tell me where to find Reo.'
'Where?'with a swift up-look, almost too swift to see,'why!' And then Hazel remembered to her confusion, that she did not know. 'II supposehe would have brought me to the nearest point. Of course.'
As no doubt Reo would, if he had known where she was going! That thought confronted her next; and with a dim consciousness of having stopped the carriage at a venture, for fear he should know, Hazel began again:
'At least,'. But there was no going on from that point. 'Is it very far along the foot of the hill?' she ventured, without any look this time.
'I should say,' returned Rollo gravely, 'it might be about some five miles.'
Hazel leaned her head on her hand and tried to recollect,and nothing stood out from all that morning's work but the pain and the difficulty and the fatigue.
He sat down and took the little hand again.
'Which way did you come over the hill, Wych?'
'I do not know.'If it must come, it must!'I was thinking only of getting up; and you know there are not many landmarks. At least, I do not remember any.'
'Did you come through the wood?'
'No. I am sure of that.'
'Then did you come east or west of it?'
'I do not remember the wood at all,' said Hazel, feeling very much ashamed of herself. 'I was not looking. But there were no houses I am sure of that.'
'What did you see, Hazel?' softly.
'I think, of all people to cross-examine one!' said the girl, in her extremity sending a little bit of her old self to the front. 'I am certain I can find the way, Mr. Rollo, without the trouble of considering what I did not see, or what I did.'
'May I venture to ask, what orders you gave Reo?'
'The usual orders; to wait till I came.'
Rollo laughed a little, but if his face did not mean that he understood the whole matter, it did not mean anything. It was very grave, though he laughed.
He went off, and left Wych Hazel again to herself, with only Gyda moving about and keeping up the fire. It was a full mile over the hill to the cross-road where the carriage was standing, and Hazel had a good time of quiet all to herself. As once before that day, she had looked up the moment Rollo turned and so watched him out of sight. And now Hazel sat among her cushions, her head down against the side of her chair, looking into the winking embers with very grave wide-open eyes. Mentally, she knew there had come a great lull over all troublous things; a lull which she was not just then strong enough to disturb by handling it in detail. But physically, she felt shattered, and very little able to practise self- defence; and she began to long to get home, and by herself, where no keeping-up of any sort would be needful. One thing was yet to do, however. So when Gyda had ended her work and sat down at the corner of the hearth, Hazel left her cushions and knelt down beside her.
'Mrs. Borresen'she said with a hand on her arm, her face upraised.
'My lady,' said Gyda, turning her bright eyes upon Hazel with a happy look.
'You will not tell him anything of all this? my coming, and all about it? And what I said?'
'No need,' said Gyda placidly. 'My lady will tell it herself.'
A very resolved little gesture of the girl's head dismissed that statement. She was silent a minute.
'And then,' she began again, more hesitatingly, 'at least you will not speak of it. Norofa year ago?'
'Last year?' said Gyda. 'When my lady came here before? That was not for him to know. That was only me alone. To-day my lady will tell him about, when she pleases.' And Gyda smiled over this statement benignly.
Hazel leaned her head against Gyda's arm gazing down into the firelight; it seemed to her to-day as if she had to think over anything a great many times to get used to it. She must be tired. The afternoon light was waning fast when the quick step outside was heard again, and Rollo came in. He surveyed the group quietly, and then went off to his room to change his dress. And when he returned to relieve the guard, it was with a most composed and unexciting manner. He scarcely said three words, till a boy brought the message that the carriage was waiting in the Hollow. Then he wrapped the great plaid shawl round Hazel, for the evening had fallen chill and her dress was thin, and they went out into the dusky twilight for the walk down to the carriage.
Dusky, and yet clear; a cloudless depth of sky out of which stars were brightening; a still air with almost a breath of frost in it; outlines of the Hollow hills darkly drawn against the soft twilight sky; the silence of evening, when mill-work was done, over all and in everything. Rollo did not speak, and they heardif they heardonly the sound of their own steps down the path. When they were in the carriage, Rollo presently, with a gentle word, untied Wych Hazel's flat hat and took it off; drew a corner of the shawl over her head, and putting his arm round her made her lay down her head upon his shoulder and lean upon him.
'But Mr. Rollo' said Hazel timidly, finding that her acted remonstrance had no effect.
'I am quite able to sit up.'
'I have no faith whatever in that statement.'
'If you will let me trythe other,'Hazel began.
'The other shoulder?'
But the answer to that tarried. Hazel knew perfectly well that if she spoke in the first minute she would laugh; which was not at all according to her present system of tactics. And in the second, her words were not ready, and by the time the third came it was rather too late. So silence reigned, while Reo sent the horses along, over the level smooth road, and the evening air came in crisp and fresh at the open window, and stars looked down winking in their quiet way of saying sweet things. They always do, when one is happy; sometimes in other states of mind they seem high above sympathy. But to-night they looked down at Hazel confidentially, and crickets and nameless insects chirruped along by the roadside; and on and on the carriage rolled, mile after mile. Rollo was as still as the stars, almost. And so was Wych Hazel, for a long time; still as anything could be that lived. Suddenly a question broke from her.
'What was it you were going to say to me?'
'When?' The word came with a ring of many thoughts, through which a grave tenderness most vibrated.
'You said, that was the best time. And you did not take it,' said Hazel.
'Hush,' said he softly and gravely. 'All has been said; except that I shall never forgive myself, Hazel.'
ASLEEP AND AWAKE.
Wych Hazel went to her room so utterly spent, so completely prostrate, that even Phoebe could not talk during her ministrations; nor dared Mrs. Bywank find fault. Why Miss Wych must needs tire herself to death, over nobody knows what, was a trial to the good housekeeper's patience as well as her curiosity; but for that night the only thing was to let her sleep. It was the only thing next day. The reaction, once fairly set in, was strong in proportion to the causes which had prepared for it and brought it about; and Wych Hazel lay in a motionless stupor of sleep, from which nothing could rouse her up. She would open her eyes perhaps, and answer a question, but anything more than that was plainly beyond her strength; and for three days and three nights she lay, as helpless as a little child. "Sleeping her life out," Phoebe said, and certainly frightening Mrs. Bywank half to death; but in reality passing safely out from under the mortal illness that had hung over her by a thread.
And so, on the fourth morning after the day of events, Hazel did fairly wake up, and dress herself, and go down stairs; devoutly hoping that nobody but Mr. Falkirk might come to breakfast, and extremely ready to dispense with him.
Wrapping herself in the soft folds of a crimson morning dress, which at least would keep her in countenance; her face more delicate than pale; her step rather hesitating than slow; her thoughts in a maze of dreamland as misty and bright and shy as the morning sunbeams that went everywhere and just kept out of reach. What had happened before these three days, that, Hazel knew well enough. But what had happened since that? Had Jeannie Deans been here, with her master?and not finding the lady of the house on hand, had they then gone straight to Mr. Falkirk? And if so, what was his probable state of mind?did he know? or guess? And how many more times had her other guardian come to Chickaree? and what had he thought of the tidings about her? and at what unexpected point of the day or the minute was she to meet him, on a sudden? Her step lingered on the last stairwent noiselessly along the hall; and then the next thing Mr. Falkirk knew, was a light hand on his shoulder and a soft
'My dear!' said Mr. Falkirk suddenly rising, 'I am very glad to see you.' And he took her hand, which was not common, and looked at her as if to convince himself that all was right.
'Are you, sir?' she said with a laugh. 'You are sure it is not a hallucination, Mr. Falkirk?'
'I am sure of nothing, Miss Hazel, except that I see you. At my time of life, confidence in any conclusions is somewhat shaken. What has been the matter with you?'
'I have been having my own way, sir,which has agreed with me admirably,' returned Miss Hazel with an arch of her eyebrows. 'There is nothing like it, I find. Will you come to breakfast, Mr. Falkirk?'
Her guardian cast two or three rather inquiring looks at her; but seeing that she undoubtedly was well, and probably had not been ill, he contentedly and unsuspiciously, man-like, dismissed the subject and came to breakfast as she bade him.
'It is so long since I had my own way,' he remarked dryly, 'I have forgotten how it feels. Your state of serene satisfaction is unknown to me. How long do you intend to keep it up, Miss Hazel?'
'Until some restless person puts it to flight, sir, I suppose. That is the usual fate of my serene states, as you call them.'
'It occurs to me,' Mr. Falkirk went on, 'that in our recent search after fortune and in the general hallucination which in such a search prevails, I am a good honest big Newfoundland dog transformed into the present shape for the more efficient performance of the duty of barking round his mistress. I feel that to be about my present status and dignity, plainly expressed.'
'The way gentlemen make statements!' said Wych Hazel. 'Perhaps you are aware, sir, who brought me home here, a month ago, when I did not want to come?'
'I don't remember it,' said Mr. Falkirk. 'I only remember who took me to all the watering-places on the continentwhere I didn't want to go. I should like to be informed, Miss Hazel, when the search after fortune is to endwhen I may reasonably hope to resume my own shape again? You may not suppose it; but barking tries a man's powers.'
'I had not perceived it, sir. On the contrary, your voice has been particularly sonorous of late.'
'Are you aware it is the first of October, Miss Hazel?'
'Time for chestnuts, isn't it?' said the girl. 'I had forgotten all bout them.'
'There are other nuts to crack besides chestnuts. The owner of the house you had last winter has written to ask if you want it again this year.'
'Talk of the restlessness of women!' said Hazel. 'Here are we but just settled in the country, and Mr. Falkirk already proposing to return to town.'
'I don't know what you are,' said Mr. Falkirk, 'but I am not settled. Of course, coming home at the end of the season, I have no cook; and Gotham informs me that the kitchen chimney smokes. I should think it did, to judge by the condition of my beefsteaks.'
'I am very sorry, sir! Suppose you condescend to my beefsteaks until the cook and the smoke change places? The blue room is in perfect orderand would suit your state of mind,' said Miss Wych, eyeing Mr. Falkirk with an air of deep gravity. 'Then there is always Europe'
'Is that the next thing!' exclaimed Mr. Falkirk, with a positively alarmed air. 'I have been expecting it.'
'I wanted to go last year, you know, sir,and (if nobody said anything against it) I think I should write at once and secure my passage.'
'To what quarter of the world, miss Hazel?'
'We might go round, sir; and stop where things promised fairest.'
'We might. Then I am to understand you do not like the promise of things at Chickaree?'
'What do you take to be the promise of things here, at present, Mr. Falkirk?'
'Quite beside the question, Miss Hazel. Am I to tell this man you don't want the house in Fiftieth street?'
'I should prefer another house, I think,' said Hazel gravely. 'Mr. Falkirk, I had a letter from Kitty Fisher this morning, and she sends you her love.'
Mr. Falkirk gave an inarticulate grumble.
'You may throw it back to her, my dear; her own love is all she cares about; and as I don't care about it, we are suited. Do I understand that you wish me to look for another house, then?'
'I did hint at Europe,'said Wych Hazel. 'But if it amuses you to look for houses, sir, I have no sort of objection.'
Mr. Falkirk laid down his knife and fork, and looked across the table.
'It don't amuse me to look for anything in a fog, my dear. Do you want to go to Europe?'
'O well, we need not go this week, sir! Shall I invite all the neighbourhood to a grand chestnutting, when Kitty Fisher comes?'
'Miss Hazel, that girl is not proper company for you. I hope you will not ask her to help in your merrymakings; she understands nothing but a romp. And, my dear, if you know your own mind I wish you would be so kind as to let me know it. To go to Europe this fall, you must be off in three weeks at latest. Have you spoken to Rollo about it?'
'Truly, I have not!' said Wych Hazel, with a glow which however Mr. Falkirk charged to displeasure. 'Did you ever know me speak to him about anything connected with my own affairs, sir?'
'I don't know, my dear. He has a word to say concerning them. Do you wish me to sound him on the subject, then?'
'Did you ever succeed in "sounding" him, sir? on any subject?' said the young lady, consulting her watch, and with all her senses on the alert for interruptions. What were 'business' hours at Morton Hollow, she wondered? Then she rose up, and passing round to Mr. Falkirk, gave him a smile that was very sweet and not a bit teasing.
'I must go and rest, sir. I find sitting up tires me to-day. But you will come to dinner?'
She went off with that quick step, betaking herself to the crimson room; for to-day Hazel seemed to prefer high-coloured surroundings. There sat for awhile before the great picture, thinking of many things; and there, still down on her foot cushion, laid her head in one of the easy chairs and went to sleep; with the gray cat dozing and purring in the same chair, close by her head. Only the cat's eyelashes were not wet, and Wych Hazel's were.
A MAN AND HIS MONEY.
It is a pity somebody had not come to see; and somebody would, only that Rollo had a good many things to attend to just now besides his own pleasure. Instead, when the morning was half over, came Miss Phinney Powder, and the sleep and the attitude were broken up. Hazel went to her in the drawing-room.
Miss Josephine was in an unsettled state of mind; for she first placed herself on an ottoman by the fire-place, then got up and went to the window and stood looking out; all the while rattling on of indifferent things, in a rather languid way; then at last came and sank down in a very low position at Wych Hazel's feet on the carpet. She was a pretty girl; might have been extremely pretty, if her very pronounced style of manners had not drawn lines of boldness, almost of coarseness, where the lip should have been soft and the eyebrow modest. The whole expression was dissatisfied and jaded to-day, over and above those lines, which even low spirits could not obliterate.
'It must be awfully nice to have such a place as this all to yourselfhouse and all;just to yourself! You needn't be married till you've a mind to. Don't you think it's a great bore to be married?'
'People can always wait,' said Wych Hazel.
'Wait?' said Phinney. 'For what?'
'For such a great bore,' said Hazel, stroking the cat.
'How can you wait?' said Phinney.
'Why! you must be married, you know, some time; and it don't do to stay till you can't get a good chance. It's such a bore!' said the poor girl helplessly.
Somehow, Hazel's own happiness made her rather tender towards these notes of complaint.
'What do you mean?' she said, leaning down by Phinney. 'I would not take even "a good chance" to be miserable.'
'I'm just in a fix,' said Josephine, 'and I can't get out of it. And I came to see you on purpose to talk. I thought maybe you would have some sympathy for me. Nobody has at home.'
'Sympathy! What about?'
'Papa wants me to marry somebodywho comes pestering me every other day.'
Josephine looked disconsolately out of the window. The weary face was eloquent of the system under which she declared herself suffering.
'Somebody you do not like?' said Hazel.
'O I like himI like him pretty well; he's rather jolly on the whole; butthat's another thing from being married, you know. I like very well to have him round,bringing me flowers and doing everything I bid him; I have made rather a slave of him, that's a fact; it's awfully ridiculous! He doesn't dare say his soul's his own, if I say it's mine, and I snub him in every other thing. But then it's another thing to go and marry him. Maybe he wouldn't like me to snub him, if I was his wife. Mamma don't dare do it to papa, I know; unless she does it on the sly.'
Hazel drew back rather coldly.
'I think it is extremely probable he would not like it,' she said. 'He is not much of a man, to stand it now.'
'Not?' cried Josephine. 'Why what is the good of a man if you can't snub him? And if a man pretends to like you, of course he'll stand anything you give him. O I like the bridle figure in the German that suits me;when I'm the driver; but the Germans are all over for this season. Aren't you awfully sorry?'
'No. And a girl ought to be ashamed to talk as you do, Josephine!'
'Now hush! You shan't snub me. I came to you for comfort. Why ought I to be ashamed to talk so? Don't you like to have your own way?'
'My own way does not trend in that direction,' said Miss Kennedy. 'And I should scorn to have it over such a weak thing as a man who would let a girl fool him to his face.'
'Men like such fooling. I know they do. I can do just what I like with them. But then if I was married,I don't suppose I could fool so many at once. Why, Hazel, if you don't have your own way with men who let you, who will you have it with? Not the men who won't let you;such a bluebeard of a man as your guardian, for instance. O do tell me! don't you sometimes get tired of living?'
'We are talking about your affairs this morning,' said Hazel. 'I should get tired of living, very soon, I think, at your rate.'
'I am,' said Josephine. And she looked so. 'Sometimes I am ready to wish I had never been born. What's the good of living, anyhow, Hazel, when the fun's over?'
'Fun?' Hazel repeated,how was she to tell this girl what seemed to her just now the good of living?
'Yes. You know all the summer there have been the garden parties and the riding parties, and the Germans, and the four-in-hand parties, and all sorts of delightful things; and now they're all over; and it makes me so blue! To be sure, by and by, there will be the season in town; but that won't be much till after the holidays, anyhow; and I feel horridly. And now comes Charteris bothering me. What would you do, Hazel?'
'What would I do?' Hazel repeated again, with a curious feeling that there was but one man in the world, and so of course what could anybody do! A little shy of the subject too, and feeling her cheeks grow warm in the discussion. 'Do you like him very much, Josephine?'
'Very much?'deliberately. 'No. I don't think I like him very much. But papa says that will come fast enough when I am married. He says,you know Charteris is awfully rich,he says, papa says, this marriage will give me such a "position." Mamma don't conceive that one of her daughters can want position. But then, papa is a little lower down than mamma, you know. Well, I should have "position,' and everything else I wantcarriages and jewels, you know; diamonds; don't you like diamonds? I could have all I want. If I only could have them without the man!'
'You could live with him all your life, you think? by the help of the diamonds?'
'Papa says so. And mamma says so. I don't get any feeling at home. Annabella is wholly engaged in getting up parties to go to Dane Rollo's readings in Morton Hollow; that's all she thinks about. Isn't he too ridiculous?'
'I asked about Mr. Charteris,' said Wych Hazel, knitting her brows a little. 'And it is you who must live with himnot your father and mother. Could you do it, Josephine? with him alone?'
'One must live with somebody, I suppose,' said Josephine, idly pulling threads of wool from a foot mat near her.
'Well could you live without him?' said her questioner, taking a short cut to her point of view.
'Charteris? He ain't the jolliest man I know.'
'Answer!' said Hazel, knitting her brows again.
'Live without Charteris? I should say I could. From my present point of view. Easy! But it comes back to that awful bore, Hazel; a girl has got to be married. I wish I was a man.'
'Then I would,' said Wych Hazel quietly.
'Live without Mr. Charteris. And as you cannot be a man, suppose you talk like a woman.'
'What do you mean?' said Phinney, looking doubtfully at her. 'I haven't come here to be snubbed, I know. Aren't you sorry for me?'
'No,not when you talk so. A girl has not "got to be married." And if you marry some one you can live without, you deserve what you will get.'
'What will I get?' said Josephine.
'John Charteriswithout the bouquets and the fooling.'
'I don't know but he's very good,' said Josephine meditatively. 'And Hazel, a girl can't live without getting married. What should I do, for instance?'
'Wait till the right person comes,' said Hazel. 'And if he never comes, be thankful that you escaped the wrong one.'
'But suppose the right person, as you call him, is poor?' said the young lady with a peculiar subdued inflexion of voice.
'O, is that it!' said Wych Hazel. 'Then if he thinks you can make him rich. I would keep up the delusion.'
'But I can't, Hazel. Papa hasn't much to give any of us. He has just enough to get along with comfortably.'
'There are other things in the world besides money, I suppose?' said Hazel. 'And I know there could be no starvation wages for me, like diamonds from a hand I did not love.'
'I like diamonds though,' said Josephine. 'And it's dreadful to be poor. You don't know anything about it, Hazel. You're of no consequence, you have no power, nobody cares about you, even you've got to ask leave to speak; and then nobody listens to you! I mean, after you are too old to flirt. I don't want to be poor. And Mr. Charteris would put me beyond all that. He has plenty. And they say I would love him well enough by and by. It's such a bore!' And the young lady leaned her head upon her hand with a really disconsolate face.
'I thought you just said somebody does care about you?'
'Did I? I don't recollect.'
'You said "the right person" was poor. Which would seem to imply that he is in existence.'
'Well, he might just as well not,' said Josephine in the same tone. 'They would never hear of my marrying him. It's all very nice to drive four-in-hand with somebody, and dance the German with him; and have good times at pic-nics and such things; but when it came to settling down in a little bit of a house, without a room in it big enough for a German; and ingrain carpets on the floorsI couldn't, Hazel!' said the girl with a shudder. 'And there it is, you see.'
Wych Hazel looked at herand then she laughed.
'There is nothing much more fearful than "the right person" on ingrain carpets,' she said mockingly. 'Except, perhaps, the wrong one on Turkey.'
'Turkey carpets are jolly under your feet,' said Josephine. 'And after all, I wonder if it matters so much about the man? At least, when you can't have the right one. Well, you don't help me much. Annabella wanted to know if you wouldn't join a party to hear Dane Rollo read, Saturday night? She is crazy about those readings. I believe she's touched about him. Will you go?'
'No. Josephine, it matters everything about the man,' said Hazel earnestly. 'What sort of a life do you expect, if you begin with a false oath?'
'A false oath?'
'Yes. Think what you have to promise.'
'What do I have to promise?'
'You know,' said Hazel impatiently. 'You have seen people married often enough to remember what they must say.'
'I never thought about what they said. It's just a form; that's all.'
'You would like to have Mr. Charteris consider his part just a form?'
'I never thought anything else about it. It is a form that would give me a right to the diamonds, you know, or anything else his money could buy. O dear! if one could have the things without the man! Will you go to hear Rollo read?'
'Well you had better think about it,' said Hazel. 'If it is only a form, it will give you a clear right to be miserable. I advise you to go straight home and study the words, and try them with different names. And do not really say them to anyone they do not fit. Do you hear me, Josephine?'
The girl was looking up in her face with a look strange for her; a look studious of Wych Hazel herself; searching, somewhat wondering, secretly admiring. The look went off to the window with a half sigh.
' "Fais que dois, advienne que pourra," ' Hazel added softly.
'I don't know what I ought to do!' said Josephine. 'How can I? If Stuart Nightingale had anything but what he spendsO what's the use talking about it, Hazel? Suppose I hadn't money to dress myself decently?'
'A man who has nothing but what he spends, spends too much,' said Wych Hazel, with a smile to herself over the duration of Mr. Nightingale's "life-long" heartbreak of the fall before. 'Do you mean that he would not spare a little for you?'
'He hasn't enough for both,' said Josephine, looking very dismal. 'T'other one has enough for a dozen.'
'Did you never hear,' said her hostess laughing, 'thatin certain circumstances
' "Half enough for one, is always
' " More than just enough for two?" '
'No,' said Josephine abstractedly. 'Who comes here that rides a light bay horse?'
'Everybody comes here. But I seldom look at their horses. Why?'
'One went by just now. I was looking at the horse, and I hadn't time to see the rider. He'll come in, I suppose. If Annabella knew all, she wouldn't care so much about this match; for just as soon as I marry John Charteris, papa'll sell Paul Charteris his piece of land; and that's a job Dane Rollo wouldn't like.'
'Why not?' said Hazel with a desperate calmness, and her heart beginning to beat so that it half took her breath away. 'Is it land Mr. Rollo wants for himself?'
'He wouldn't like anybody else to have it, you bet!' replied Miss Powder, at last getting up from the floor and shaking herself into order. 'I must go.'
'But I said, why not?' Wych Hazel repeated. 'Thereyou have ripped off your flounce.'
'I did that getting out of the phaeton. O well!it'll have to go so till I get home. Everybody will know I didn't dress myself so on purpose; and besides, nobody will see it. Not till I get there. You haven't a needle and silk, have you, Hazel?'
'Yes, if you will come up to my room for it,' said Hazel, glad enough of an excuse to get her away. But Miss Powder had no mind to be spirited off. She had her own views, and excused herself.
'O thank you! but it's not worth while; and I can't wait, either. Well, I must go and meet my fate, I suppose.'
'What does Mr. Charteris want with more land?' said Hazel, arranging the torn flounce.
'O, to serve Rollo out, you know, for being so mean.'
'Is that it!' said Wych Hazel. 'How? I do not understand.'
'Why,' said Josephine, watching the door, which she expected would open to admit the rider of the bay horse whoever he might be, 'papa has a bit of land not worth much to him, just above Mr. Morton's ground that that pirate has bought; just above the mills. If Paul Charteris can get that, he will know what use to put it to. That will do, my dear, I dare say. I am awfully obliged for your care of my respectability.'
'What use?' said Hazel seriously. 'Here is one more tear'
'O I don't understand those things. Do you know what water power means?'
'Wellif Paul Charteris gets that land,and if I marry John Charteris he willhe'll cut off the water power. I don't know what it means, nor how he'll do it; but Mr. Rollo's mills will stop. And in that case, somebody at home will hate Paul Charteris! Well, she'd better have stood by me then.'
The young lady detached herself at last, with a kiss to Wych Hazel, and bowled away in her little basket-wagon.
Hazel let her see herself out from the door of the drawing room, and then stood still in the middle of the floor with a hand on each side of her face. Not however considering the land question just then. She had seen Mr. Rollo but three times for a whole year,so ran the first thought. And she had not seen him at all, since the other night,so chimed in the second. And these three days of sleep and unconsciousness had confused the universe to that degree, that whether the world was round or triangular or square might be called a nicely balanced question. Had the bay horse stopped?then where was his rider?
Hazel darted out of a side door, and stood still to consider. Walked slowly along for a step or two, (flying about did not just agree with her to-day) then took her way to the red room, entering noiselessly; also by a side door. Blushing as if she had not done her duty in that respect the other day, and so had large arrears to make up; but not losing the delicate look even so.
'How do you do, Mr. Rollo?' she said softly, and holding out her hand,rather, it must be confessed, across a great easy chair which stood in the way. He had been making up the fire when she came in, and had looked up and let the tongs drop just before she spoke. Rollo was cool enough however to see the easy chair and come round it; but his greeting was grave and wordless. Perhaps he too remembered that she had not seen him since the other night. At any rate, anxiety and sympathy and infinite tenderness had more to express than could be put into words, for the power of words is limited. When he did speak, it was a simple demand to know how she did? 'Very well,' she said, softly as before.
'Is it very well?' he said earnestly. 'And how has it been these three days?'
'OI have been sleepy. As perhaps you heard,' she said, with the pretty curl of her lips.
He looked at her a minute, then suddenly releasing her, turned away to the fire and picked up his tongs again. 'I wish you would do something to comfort me!' he exclaimed. And the strong grey eyes were full of tears.
Hazel gave him an extremely astonished look, which went away, and came again, and once more came back, growing very wistful. She moved a step nearer to him, then stood still.
'What is it, Mr. Rollo?' she said with one of her sweet intonations, which was certainly 'comfort' so far as it went. 'What am I to do? I mean'she added timidly, 'what have I done?'for it was greatly Hazel's habit to somehow charge things back upon herself. But Rollo mended the fire with scrupulous exactness, put it in perfect order, set up his tongs; and then stood by the mantel-piece, leaning his elbows there and looking down at his work. Hazel watched him, at first with shy swift glances, then, as he did not look up, her look became more steady. What was he thinking of? It must be something she had done,something which he had just heard of, perhaps,some wild piece of mischief or thoughtlessness executed last summer or in the spring. Was he wondering whether he could ever bring her into order, and make her 'stand?'was he meditating the form of some new promise for her to take? winding in the ends of free action into a new knot which she was to draw tight? But (so circumstances do alter cases) it did not terrify her much, if he was; what did try her, was to see him stand there wearing such a face, and to feel that in some way she was the cause of it. So she stood looking at him, not quite knowing all there was in her own face the while; and began to feel tired, and moved a soft step back again, and rested her hand on the great chair.
'Mr. Rollo'she ventured,'you never used to mind telling me of anywaysof mine, which you did not like; orthingsI had done. And I suppose I can bear it just as well now. Though that is not saying much, I am afraid.'
At her first word he had looked up, and when she had finished, came and put her into the big chair and sat down beside it. She dared not look at him now; his eyes were snapping with fun.
'What is all this?' he said. 'What do you want me to tell you, Wych?'
'I thought Nothing,' she said rather hastily retreating within herself again. 'But I did not quite understand you, Mr. Rollo.'
'What do you consider the proper thing to do, when you do not understand me?'
A little inarticulate sound seemed to say that the course might vary in different cases. 'Generally,' said Hazel, 'I wait and puzzle it out by myself.'
'I would always like to help you.'
She laughed a little, shyly, as if asking help were quite another matter, especially about unknown things. But pondering this one a minuteit looked so harmless,out it came, in Hazel's usual abrupt fashion.
'What you said about "comfort" Mr. Rollo,I did not suppose you had ever wanted comfort in your life.'
'Didn't you?' He did not want much just now!
'Well, what did you mean?'
'You suppose that I have been in a contented state of mind all summer, for instance?'
'The point in hand is, why you are less contented to-day,' said Hazel preserving her gravity.
'What made you faint at Gyda's?and why have you slept three whole days since?' he said gravely. 'You had better not bring it up, Wych, or I shall want comfort again.'
'Othese three days?' said Hazel. 'I have just been having my own way; as I told Mr. Falkirk; and it has agreed with me splendidly. It was no doing of mine, to send for Dr. Marylandbut Byo always fidgets over me.'