A SPRIGHTLY LOVE STORY.
BY MRS. FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT
AUTHOR OF "KATHLEEN," "PRETTY POLLY PEMBERTON," "LINDSAY'S LUCK," "IN CONNECTION WITH THE DE WILLOUGHBY CLAIM," "THE MAKING OF A MARCHIONESS," "THE METHODS OF LADY WALDERHURST," ETC.
NEW YORK HURST & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
COPYRIGHT, 1877 By T. B. PETERSON & BROTHERS.
MRS. BURNETT'S NOVELETTES.
Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of the most charming among American writers. There is a crisp and breezy freshness about her delightful novelettes that is rarely found in contemporaneous fiction, and a close adherence to nature, as well, that renders them doubly delicious. Of all Mrs. Burnett's romances and shorter stories those which first attracted public attention to her wonderful gifts are still her best. She has done more mature work, but never anything half so pleasing and enjoyable. These masterpieces of Mrs. Burnett's genius are all love stories of the brightest, happiest and most entertaining description; lively, cheerful love stories in which the shadow cast is infinitesimally small compared with the stretch of sunlight; and the interest is always maintained at full head without apparent effort and without resorting to the conventional and hackneyed devices of most novelists, devices that the experienced reader sees through at once. No more sprightly novel than "Theo" could be desired, and a sweeter or more beautiful romance than "Kathleen" does not exist in print, while "Pretty Polly Pemberton" possesses besides its sprightliness a special interest peculiar to itself, and "Miss Crespigny" would do honor to the pen of any novelist, no matter how celebrated. "Lindsay's Luck," "A Quiet Life," "The Tide on the Moaning Bar" and "Jarl's Daughter" are all worthy members of the same collection of Mrs. Burnett's earlier, most original, best and freshest romances. Everybody should read these exceptionally bright, clever and fascinating novelettes, for they occupy a niche by themselves in the world's literature and are decidedly the most agreeable, charming and interesting books that can be found anywhere.
I. PREPARING FOR A JOURNEY
II. THE ARRIVAL
III. THE MEETING
IV. THEO'S DIARY
V. THE SEPARATION
VI. THEO GOES TO PARIS
VII. "PARTING IS SWEET SORROW"
VIII. THEO'S FIRST TROUBLE
IX. WHAT COMES OF IT ALL
PREPARING FOR A JOURNEY.
A heavy curtain of yellow fog rolled and drifted over the waste of beach, and rolled and drifted over the sea, and beneath the curtain the tide was coming in at Downport, and two pair of eyes were watching it. Both pair of eyes watched it from the same place, namely, from the shabby sitting-room of the shabby residence of David North, Esq., lawyer, and both watched it without any motive, it seemed, unless that the dull gray waves and their dull moaning were not out of accord with the watchers' feelings. One pair of eyes—a youthful, discontented black pair—watched it steadily, never turning away, as their owner stood in the deep, old-fashioned window, with both elbows resting upon the broad sill; but the other pair only glanced up now and then, almost furtively, from the piece of work Miss Pamela North, spinster, held in her slender, needle-worn fingers.
There had been a long silence in the shabby sitting-room for some time—and there was not often silence there. Three rampant, strong-lunged boys, and as many talkative school-girls, made the house of David North, Esq., rather a questionable paradise. But to-day, being half-holiday, the boys were out on the beach digging miraculous sand-caves, and getting up miraculous piratical battles and excursions with the bare-legged urchins so numerous in the fishermen's huts; and Joanna and Elinor had been absent all day, so the room left to Theo and her elder sister was quiet for once.
It was Miss Pamela herself who broke the stillness. "Theo," she said, with some elder-sister-like asperity, "it appears to me that you might find something better to do than to stand with your arms folded, as you have been doing for the last half hour. There is a whole basketful of the boys' socks that need mending and—"
"Pam!" interrupted Theo, desperately, turning over her shoulder a face more like the face of some young Spanish gipsy than that of a poor English solicitor's daughter. "Pam, I should really like to know if life is ever worth having, if everybody's life is like ours, or if there are really such people as we read of in books."
"You have been reading some ridiculous novel again," said Pamela, sententiously. "If you would be a little more sensible, and less romantic, Theodora, it would be a great deal better for all of us. What have you been reading?"
The capable gipsy face turned to the window again half-impatiently.
"I have been reading nothing to-day," was the answer. "I should think you knew that—on Saturday, with everything to do, and the shopping to attend to, and mamma scolding every one because the butcher's bill can't be paid. I was reading Jane Eyre, though, last night. Did you ever read Jane Eyre, Pamela?"
"I always have too much to do in attending to my duty," said Pamela, "without wasting my time in that manner. I should never find time to read Jane Eyre in twenty years. I wish I could."
"I wish you could, too," said Theo, meditatively. "I wish there was no such thing as duty. Duty always appears to me to be the very thing we don't want to do."
"Just at present, it is your duty to attend to those socks of Ralph and Arthur's," put in Pamela, dryly. "Perhaps you had better see to it at once, as tea will be ready soon, and you will have to cut bread for the children."
The girl turned away from the window with a sigh. Her discussions on subjects of this kind always ended in the same unsatisfactory manner; and really her young life was far from being a pleasant one. As the next in age to Pamela, though so many years lay between them, a hundred petty cares fell on her girlish shoulders, and tried her patience greatly with their weight, sometimes. And in the hard family struggle for everyday necessities there was too much of commonplace reality to admit of much poetry. The wearisome battling with life's needs had left the mother, as it leaves thousands of women, haggard, careworn, and not too smooth in disposition. There was no romance about her. She had fairly forgotten her girlhood, it seemed to lie so far behind; and even the unconquerable mother-love, that gave rise to her anxieties, had a touch of hardness about it. And Pamela had caught something of the sharp, harassed spirit too. But Theo had an odd secret sympathy for Pamela, though her sister never suspected it. Pamela had a love-story, and in Theo's eyes this one touch of forlorn romance was the silver lining to many clouds. Ten years ago, when Pamela had been a pretty girl, she had had a lover—poor Arthur Brunwalde—Theo always mentally designated him; and only a week before her wedding-day, death had ended her love-story forever. Poor Pamela! was Theo's thought: to have loved like Jane Eyre, and Agnes Wickfield, and Lord Bacon, and to have been so near release from the bread-and-butter cutting, and squabbling, and then to have lost all. Poor Pamela, indeed! So the lovely, impulsive, romance-loving younger sister cherished an odd interest in Pamela's thin, sharp face, and unsympathizing voice, and in picturing the sad romance of her youth, was always secretly regardful of the past in her trials of the present.
As she turned over the socks in the basket, she glanced up now and then at Pamela's face, which was bent over her work. It had been a pretty face, but now there were faint lines upon it here and there; the features once delicate were sharpened, the blue eyes were faded, and the blonde hair faded also. It was a face whose youth had been its beauty, and its youth had fled with Pamela North's happiness. Her life had ended in its prime; nay, not ended, for the completion had never come—it was to be a work unfinished till its close. Poor Arthur Brunwalde!
A few more silent stitches, and then the work slipped from Theo's fingers into her lap, and she lifted her big, inconsistent eyes again.
"Pam," she said, "were you ever at Lady Throckmorton's?"
A faint color showed itself on Pamela's faded face.
"Yes," she answered, sharply, "I was once. What nonsense is running in your mind now, for goodness sake?"
Theo flushed up to her forehead, no half flush; she actually glowed all over, her eyes catching a light where her delicate dark skin caught the dusky red.
"Don't be cross, Pam," she said, appealingly. "I can't help it. The letter she sent to mamma made me think of it. Oh, Pam! if I could only have accepted the invitation."
"But you can't," said Pam, concisely. "So you may as well let the matter rest."
"I know I can't," Theo returned, her quaint resignation telling its own story of previous disappointments. "I have nothing to wear, you know, and, of course, I couldn't go there, of all places in the world, without something nice."
There was another silence after this. Theo had gone back to her work with a sigh, and Miss Pamela was stitching industriously. She was never idle, and always taciturn, and on this occasion her mind was fully occupied. She was thinking of Lady Throckmorton's invitation too.
Her ladyship was a half-sister of their father's, and from the height of her grandeur magnanimously patronizing now and then. It was during her one visit to London, under this relative's patronage, that Pamela had met Arthur Brunwalde, and it was through her that the match had been made. But when Arthur died, and she found that Pamela was fixed in her determination to make a sacrifice of her youth on the altar of her dead love, Lady Throckmorton lost patience. It was absurd, she said; Mr. North could not afford it, and if Pamela persisted, she would wash her hands of the whole affair. But Pamela was immovable, and, accordingly, had never seen her patroness since. It so happened, however, that her ladyship had suddenly recollected Theo, whose gipsy face had once struck her fancy, and the result of the sudden recollection was another invitation. Her letter had arrived that very morning at breakfast time, and had caused some sensation. A visit to London, under such auspices, was more than the most sanguine had ever dared to dream of.
"I wish I was Theo," Joanna had grumbled. "She always gets the lion's share of everything, because Elin and I are a bit younger than she is."
And Theo had glowed up to her soft, innocent eyes, and neglected the bread-and-butter cutting, to awaken a moment later to sudden despair.
"But—but I have nothing fit to wear, mamma," she said, in anguished tones.
"No," answered Mrs. North, two or three new lines showing themselves on her harassed forehead; "and we can't afford to buy anything. You can't go, Theo."
And so the castle which had towered so promisingly in the air a moment ago, was dashed to the dust with one touch of shabby gentility's tarnished wand. The glow died out of Theo's face, and she went back to her bread-and-butter cutting with a soreness of disappointment which was, nevertheless, not without its own desperate resignation. This was why she had watched the tide come in with such a forlorn sense of sympathy with the dull sweep of the gray waves, and their dull, creeping moan; this was why she had been rash enough to hope for a crumb of sympathy even from Pamela; and this also was why, in despairing of gaining it, she bent herself to her unthankful labor again, and patched and darned until the tide had swept back again under the curtain of fog, and there was no more light, even for the stern taskmaster, poverty.
The silence was effectually broken in upon after this. As soon as the street lamps began to twinkle in the murkiness outside, the boys made their appearance—Ralph, and Arthur, and Jack, all hungry, and dishevelled, and of course, all in an uproar. They had dug a cave on the shore, and played smugglers all the evening; and one fellow had brought out a real cutlass and a real pistol, that belonged to his father, and they had played fighting the coast-guard, and they were as hungry as the dickens now; and was tea ready, and wouldn't Pam let them have some strawberry-jam?
Pamela laid her work aside, and went out of the room, and then Ralph, who was in the habit of patronizing Theo occasionally, came to his favorite corner and sat down, his rough hands clasped round his knees, boy-fashion.
"I say, Theo," he began. "I wonder how much it would cost a fellow to buy a cutlass—a real one?"
"I don't know," Theo answered, indifferently. "I never bought a cutlass, Ralph."
"No, of course you never did. What would a girl want with a cutlass? But couldn't you guess, now—just give a guess. Would it cost a pound?"
"I daresay it would," Theo managed to reply, with a decent show of interest. "A good one."
"Well, I'd want a good one," said Ralph, meditatively; "but if it would cost a pound, I shall never have one. I say, Theo, we never do get what we want at this house, do we?"
"Not often," said Theo, a trifle bitterly.
Ralph looked up at her.
"Look here," he said, sagaciously. "I know what you are thinking of. I can tell by your eyes. You're thinking about having to stay at home from Lady Throckmorton's, and it is a shame too. If you are a girl, you could have enjoyed yourself in your girl's way. I'd rather go to their place in Lincolnshire, where old Throckmorton does his hunting. The governor says that a fellow that was a good shot could bag as much game as he could carry, and it wouldn't take long to shoot either. I can aim first rate with a bow and arrow. But that isn't what you want, is it? You want to go to London, and have lots of dresses and things. Girls always do; but that isn't my style."
"Ah, Ralph!" Theo broke out, her eyes filling all at once. "I wish you wouldn't! I can't bear to hear it. Just think of how I might have enjoyed myself, and then to think that—that I can't go, and that I shall never live any other life than this!"
Ralph opened his round Saxon eyes, in a manner slightly expressive of general dissatisfaction.
"Why, you're crying!" he said. "Confound crying. You know I don't cry because I can't go to Lincolnshire. You girls are always crying about something. Joanna and Elin cry if their shoes are shabby or their gloves burst out. A fellow never thinks of crying. If he can't get the thing he wants, he pitches in, and does without, or else makes something out of wood that looks like it."
Theo said no more. A summons from the kitchen came to her just then. Pam was busy with the tea-service, and the boys were hungry—so she must go and help.
Pamela glanced up at her sharply as she entered, but she did not speak. She had borne disappointments often enough, and had lived over them to become seemingly a trifle callous to their bitterness in others, and, as I have said, she was prone to silence. But it may be that she was not so callous after all, for at least Theo fancied that her occasional speeches were less sharp, and certainly she uttered no reproof to-night. She was grave enough, however, and even more silent than usual, as she poured out the tea for the boys. A shadow of thoughtfulness rested on her thin sharp face, and the faint, growing lines were almost deepened; but she did not "snap," as the children called it; and Theo was thankful for the change.
It was not late when the children went to bed, but it was very late when Pamela followed them; and when she went up-stairs, she was so preoccupied as to appear almost absent-minded. She went to her room and locked the door, after her usual fashion; but that she did not retire was evident to one pair of listening ears at least. In the adjoining bedroom, where the girls slept, Theo lay awake, and could hear her every movement. She was walking to and fro, and the sounds of opening drawers and turned keys came through the wall every moment. Pamela had unaccountable secret ways, Joanna always said. Her room was a sanctuary, which the boldest did not dare to violate lightly. There were closets and boxes there, whose contents were reserved for her own eyes alone, and questions regarding them seldom met with any satisfactory answer. She was turning over these possessions to-night, Theo judged, from the sounds proceeding from her chamber. To be truthful, Theo had some curiosity about the matter, though she never asked any questions. The innate delicacy which prompted her to reverence the forlorn aroma of long-withered romance about the narrow life had restrained her. But to-night she was so wide-awake, and Joanna and Elin were so fast asleep, that every movement forcing itself upon her ear, made her more wide-awake still. The turning of keys and unlocking of drawers roused her to a whimsical meditative wonder. Poor Pam! What dead memories and coffined hopes was she bringing out to the dim light of her solitary candle? Was it possible that she ever cried over them a little when there was no one to see her relaxing mood? Poor Pam! Theo sighed again, and was just deciding to go to sleep, if possible, when she heard a door open, which was surely Pamela's, and feet crossing the narrow corridor, which were surely Pamela's own, and then a sharp yet soft tap on the door, and a voice which could have been no other than Pamela's, under any possibility.
"Theo!" it said, "I want you for a short time. Get up."
Theo was out upon the floor, and had opened the door in an instant, wider awake than ever.
"Throw something over you," said Pamela, in the dry tone that always sounded almost severe. "You will take cold if you don't. Put on a shawl or something, and come into my room."
Theodora caught up a shawl, and, stepping across the landing, stood in the light, the flare of the candle making a queer, lovely picture of her. The shawl she had wrapped carelessly over her white night-dress was one of Lady Throckmorton's gracious gifts; and although it had been worn by every member of the family in succession, and was frayed, and torn, and forlorn enough in broad daylight, by the uncertain Rembrandt glare of the chamber-candle, its gorgeous palm-leaf pattern and soft folds made a by no means unpicturesque or unbecoming drapery, in conjunction with the girl's grand, soft, un-English eyes, and equally un-English ebon hair.
"Shut the door," said Pamela. "I want to speak to you."
Theo turned to obey, wonderingly, but, as she did so, her eyes fell upon something which made her fairly start, and this something was nothing less than the contents of the opened boxes and closets. Some of said contents were revealed through raised lids; but some of them were lying upon the bed, and the sight of them made the girl catch her breath. She had never imagined such wealth—for it seemed quite like wealth to her. Where had it all come from? There were piles of pretty, lace-trimmed garments, boxes of handkerchiefs, ribbons, and laces, and actually a number of dresses, of whose existence she had never dreamed—dresses quaint enough in fashion, but still rich and elaborate.
"Why, Pam!" she exclaimed, "whose are they? Why have you never—"
Pamela stopped her with an abrupt gesture.
"They are mine," she said. "I have had them for years, ever since Arthur—Mr. Brunwalde died. They were to have been my bridal trousseau, and most of them were presents from Lady Throckmorton, who was very kind to me then. Of course, you know well enough," with dry bitterness, "I should never have had them otherwise. I thought I would show them to you to-night, and offer them to you. They may be of use just now."
She stopped and cleared her throat here, with an odd, strained sound; and before she went on, she knelt down before one of the open trunks, and began to turn over its contents.
"I wish you to go to Lady Throckmorton's," she said, speaking without looking at the amazed young face at her side. "The life here is a weary one for a girl to lead, without any change, and the visit may be a good thing for you in many ways. My visit to Lady Throckmorton's would have made me a happy woman, if death had not come between me and my happiness. I know I am not at fault in saying this to you. I mean it in a manner a girl can scarcely understand—I mean, that I want to save you from the life you must lead, if you do not go away from here."
Her hands were trembling, her voice, cold and dry, as it usually was, trembled too, and the moment she paused, the amazed, picturesque young figure swooped down upon her as it were, falling upon its knees, flinging its white-robed arms about her, and burying her in an unexpected confusion of black hair and oriental shawl, showering upon her loving, passionate little caresses. For the first time in her life, Theo was not secretly awed by her.
"Why, Pam!" she cried, the tears running down her cheeks. "Dear, old, generous Pamela! Do you care for me so much—enough to make such a sacrifice! Oh, Pam! I am only a girl as you say; but I think that, because I am a girl, perhaps I understand a little. Do you think that I could let you make such a sacrifice? Do you think I could let you give them to me—the things that were to have belonged to poor, dead Arthur's wife? Oh, my generous darling! Poor dead Arthur! and the poor young wife who died with him!"
For some time Pamela said nothing, but Theo felt the slender, worn form, that her arms clasped so warmly, tremble within them, and the bosom on which she had laid her loving, impassioned face throb strangely. But she spoke at length.
"I will not say it is not a sacrifice," she said. "I should not speak truly if I did. I have never told you of these things before, and why I kept them; because such a life as ours does not make people understand one another very clearly; but to-night, I remembered that I was a girl too once, though the time seems so far away; and it occurred to me that it was in my power to help you to a happier womanhood than mine has been. I shall not let you refuse the things. I offer them to you, and expect you to accept them, as they are offered—freely."
Neither protest nor reasoning was of any avail. The elder sister meant what she said, with just the settled precision that demonstrated itself upon even the most trivial occasions; and Theo was fain to submit now, as she would have done in any smaller matter.
"When the things are of no further use, you may return them to me," Pamela said, dryly as ever. "A little managing will make everything as good as new for you now. The fashion only needs to be changed, and we have ample material. There is a gray satin on the bed there, that will make a very pretty dinner-dress. Look at it, Theo."
Theo rose from her knees with the tears scarcely dry in her eyes. She had never seen such dresses in Downport before. These things of Pamela's had only come from London the day of Arthur's death, and had never been opened for family inspection. Some motherly instinct, even in Mrs. North's managing economy, had held them sacred, and so they had rested. And now, in her girl's admiration of the thick, trailing folds of the soft gray satin, Theodora very naturally half forgot her tears.
"Pamela!" she said, timidly, "do you think I could make it with a train? I never did wear a train, you know, and—"
There was such a quaint appeal in her mellow-lighted eyes, that Pamela perceptibly softened.
"You shall have half a dozen trains if you want them," she said; and then, half-falteringly, added, "Theo, there is something else. Come here."
There was a little carven ebony-box upon the dressing-table, and she went to it and opened it. Upon the white velvet lining lay a pretty set of jewels—sapphires, rarely pellucid; then clear pendants sparkling like drops of deep sea-water frozen into coruscant solidity.
"They were one of Mr. Brunwalde's bridal gifts to me," she said, scarcely heeding Theo's low cry of admiration. "I should have worn them upon my wedding-day. You are not so careless as most girls, Theodora, and so I will trust them to you. Hold up your arm and let me clasp one of the bracelets on it. You have a pretty arm, Theo."
It was a pretty arm in truth, and the flashing, rose-tinted pendants set it off to a great advantage. Theo, herself, scarcely dared to believe her senses. Her wildest dreams had never pictured anything so beautiful as these pretty, modest sapphires. Was it possible that she—she was to wear them? The whole set of earrings, necklace, bracelets, rings, and everything, with all their crystallized drops and clusters! It was a sudden opening of the gates of fairyland! To go to London would have been happiness enough; but to go so like an enchanted princess, in all her enchanted finery, was more than she could realize. A color as brilliant as the scarlet in Lady Throckmorton's frayed palm-leaf shawl flew to her cheeks, she fairly clapped her hands in unconscious ecstasy.
"Oh, Pam!" she cried, with pathetic gratitude. "How good you are—how good—how good! I can't believe it, I really can't. And I will take such care of them—such care of everything. You shall see the dresses are not even crushed, I will be so careful." And then she ended with another little shower of impulsive caresses.
But it was late by this time, and with her usual forethought—a forethought which no enthusiasm could make her forget—Pamela sent her back to bed. She would be too tired to sew to-morrow, she said, prudently, and there was plenty of hard work to be done; so, with a timid farewell-kiss, Theo went to her room, and in opening her door, awakened Joanna and Elin, who sat up in bed, dimly conscious of a white figure wrapped in their august relative's shawl, and bearing a candle to light up scarlet cheeks, and inconsistent eyes, and tangled back hair.
"I am going to London," the voice pertaining to this startling figure broke out. "Joanna and Elin, do you hear? I am going to London, to Lady Throckmorton's."
Joanna rubbed her eyes sleepily.
"Oh, yes!" she said, not too amiably by any means. "Of course you are. I knew you would. You are everlastingly going somewhere, Theo, and Elin and I stay at home, as usual. Lady Throckmorton will never invite us, I know. Where are your things going to come from?" snappishly.
"Pamela!" was Theo's deprecating reply. "They are the things that belonged to her wedding outfit. She never wore them after Mr. Brunwalde died, you know, Joanna, and she is going to lend them to me."
"Let us go to sleep, Elin," Joanna grumbled, drowsily. "We know all about it now. It's just like Pam, with her partiality. She never offered to lend them to us, and we have wanted them times and times, worse than ever Theo does now."
And then Theo went to bed also; but did not sleep, of course; only lay with eyes wide open to the darkness, as any other girl would have done, thinking excitedly of Pamela's generous gifts, and of Lady Throckmorton, and, perhaps, more than once the strange chance which had brought to light again the wedding-day, that was never more than the sad ghost of a wedding, and the bridal gifts that had come to the bride from a dead hand.
A great deal of hard work was done during the following week. The remodelling of the outfit was no light labor: but Pamela was steady to her trust, in her usual practical style. She trimmed, and fitted, and cut, until the always-roughened surface of her thin forefinger was rougher than ever. She kept Theo at work at the smaller tasks she chose to trust to her, and watched her sharply, with no shadow of the softened mood she had given the candle-lighted bedroom a glimpse of. She was as severe upon any dereliction from duty as ever, and the hardness of her general demeanor was not a whit relaxed. Indeed, sometimes Theo found herself glancing up furtively from her tasks, to look at the thin, sharp face, and wondering if she had not dreamed that her arms had clasped a throbbing, shaken form, when they faced together the ghost of long dead love.
But the preparations were completed at last, and the trunks packed; and Lady Throckmorton had written to say that her carriage would meet her young relative's arrival. So the time came when Theo, in giving her farewell kisses, clung a little closely about Pamela's neck, and when the cab-door had been shut, saw her dimly through the smoky glass, and the mistiness in her eyes; saw her shabby dress, and faded face, and half-longed to go back; remembered sadly how many years had passed since she had left the dingy sea-port town to go to London, and meet her fate, and lose it, and grow old before her time in mourning it; saw her, last of all, and so was whirled up the street, and out of sight. And in like manner she was whirled through the thronged streets of London, when she reached that city at night, only that Lady Throckmorton's velvet-lined carriage was less disposed to rattle and jerk over the stones, and more disposed to an aristocratic, easily-swung roll than the musty vehicle of the Downport cabman.
There was a queer, excited thrill in her pulses as she leaned back, watching the gaslights gleaming through the fog, and the people passing to and fro beneath the gaslights. She was so near her journey's end that she began to feel nervous. What would Lady Throckmorton look like? How would she receive her? How would she be dressed? A hundred such simple, girlish wonders crowded into her mind. She would almost have been glad to go back—not quite, but almost. She had a lingering, inconsistent recollection of the contents of her trunks, and the sapphires, which was, nevertheless, quite natural to a girl so young, and so unused to even the most trivial luxuries. She had never possessed a rich or complete costume in her life; and there was a wondrous novelty in the anticipation of wearing dresses that were not remodelled from Pamela's or her mother's cast-off garments.
When the carriage drew up before the door of the solid stone house, in the solid-looking, silent square, she required all her courage. There was a glare of gaslight around the iron grating, and a glare of gaslight from the opening door, and then, after a little confusion of entrance, she found herself passing up a stair-case, under the guidance of a servant, and so was ushered into a large, handsome room, and formally announced.
An elderly lady was sitting before the fire reading, and on hearing Theo's name, she rose, and came forward to meet her. Of course, it was Lady Throckmorton, and, having been a beauty in her long past day, even at sixty-five Lady Throckmorton was quite an imposing old person. Even in her momentary embarrassment, Theo could not help noticing her bright, almond-shaped brown eyes, and the soft, close little curls of fine snow-white hair, that clustered about her face under her rich, black-lace cap.
"Theodora North, is it?" she said, offering her a wrinkled yet strong white hand. "I am glad to see you, Theodora. I was afraid you would be too late for Sir Dugald's dinner, and here you are just in time. I hope you are well, and not tired."
Theo replied meekly. She was quite well, and not at all tired, which seemed to satisfy her ladyship, for she nodded her handsome old head approvingly.
"Very well, then, my dear," she said. "I will ring for Splaighton to take you up-stairs, and attend to you. Of course, you will want to change your dress for dinner, and you have not much time. Sir Dugald never waits for anybody, and nothing annoys him more than to have dinner detained."
Accordingly, greatly in awe of Sir Dugald, whoever he might be, Theodora was pioneered out of the room again, and up another broad stair-case, into an apartment as spacious and luxurious as the one below. There her toilet was performed and there the gray satin was donned in some trepidation, as the most suitable dress for the occasion.
She stepped before the full-length mirror to look at herself before going down, and as she did so, she was conscious that her waiting-woman was looking at her too in sedate approval. The gray satin was very becoming. Its elaborate richness and length of train changed the undeveloped girl, to whom she had given a farewell glance in the small mirror at Downport, to the stateliest of tall young creatures. Her bare arms and neck were as soft and firm as a baby's; her riant, un-English face seemed all aglow of color and mellow eyes. But for the presence of the maid, she would have uttered a little cry of pleasure, she was so new to herself.
It was like a dream, the going down-stairs in the light and brightness, and listening to the soft sweep of the satin train; but it was singularly undream-like to be startled as she was by the rushing of a huge Spanish mastiff, which bounded down the steps behind her, and bounding upon her dress, nearly knocked her down. The animal came like a rush of wind, and simultaneously a door opened and shut with a bang; and the man who came out to follow the dog, called to him in a voice so rough that it might have been a rush of wind also.
"Sabre!" he shouted. "Come back, you scoundrel!" and then his heavy feet sounded upon the carpet. "The deuce!" he said, in an odd, low mutter, which sounded as though he was speaking half to her, half to himself. "My lady's protege, is it? The other Pamela! Rather an improvement on Pamela, too. Not so thin."
Theo blushed brilliantly—a full-blown rose of a blush, and hesitated, uncertain what etiquette demanded of her under the circumstances. She did not know very much about etiquette, but she had an idea that this was Sir Dugald, whoever Sir Dugald might be. But Sir Dugald set her mind at rest on nearing her.
"Good-evening, Theodora," he said, unceremoniously. "Of course, it is Theodora."
Theo bowed, and blushed more brilliantly still.
"All the better," said this very singular individual. "Then I haven't made a mistake," and, reaching, as he spoke, the parlor door at the foot of the stairs, and finding that the mastiff was stretched upon the mat, he favored him with an unceremonious, but not unfriendly kick, and then opened the door, the dog preceding them into the room with slow stateliness.
"You are a quick dresser, I am glad to see, Theodora," said Lady Throckmorton, who awaited them. "Of course, there is no need of introducing you two to each other. Sir Dugald does not usually wait for ceremonies."
Sir Dugald looked down at the lovely face at his side with a ponderous stare. He might have been admiring it, or he might not; at any rate, he was favoring it with a pretty close inspection.
"I believe Sir Dugald has not introduced himself to me," said Theo, in some confusion. "He knew that I was Theodora North; but I—"
"Oh!" interposed her ladyship, as collectedly as if she had scarcely expected anything else, "I see. Sir Dugald Throckmorton. Theodora—your uncle."
By way of returning Theo's modest little recognition of the presentation, Sir Dugald nodded slightly, and, after giving her another stare, turned to his mastiff, and laid a large muscular hand upon his head. He was not a very prepossessing individual, Sir Dugald Throckmorton.
Lady Throckmorton seemed almost entirely oblivious of her husband's presence; she solaced herself by ignoring him.
When they rose from the table together, the authoritative old lady motioned Theo to a seat upon one of the gay foot-stools near her.
"Come and sit down by me," she said. "I want to talk to you, Theodora."
Theo obeyed with some slight trepidation. The rich-colored old brown eyes were so keen as they ran over her. But she seemed to be satisfied with her scrutiny.
"You are a very pretty girl, Theodora," she said. "How old are you?"
"I am sixteen," answered Theo.
"Only sixteen," commented my lady. "That means only a baby in Downport, I suppose. Pamela was twenty when she came to London, and I remember—Well, never mind. Suppose you tell me something about your life at home. What have you been doing all these sixteen years?"
"I had always plenty to do," Theo answered. "I helped Pamela with the housework and the clothes-mending. We did not keep any servant, so we were obliged to do everything for ourselves."
"You were?" said the old lady, with a side-glance at the girl's slight, dusky hands. "How did you amuse yourself when your work was done?"
"We had not much time for amusements," Theo replied, demurely, in spite of her discomfort under the catechism; "but sometimes, on idle days, I read or walked on the beach with the children, or did Berlin-wool work."
"What did you read?" proceeded the august catechist. She liked to hear the girl talk.
"Love stories," more demurely still, "and poetry, and sometimes history; but not often history—love stories and poetry oftenest."
The clever old face was studying her with a novel sort of interest. Upon the whole, my lady was not sorry she had sent for Theodora North.
"And, of course, being a Downport baby, you have never had a lover. Pamela never had a lover before she came to me."
A lover. How Theodora started and blushed now to be sure!
"No, madame," she answered, and, in a perfect wonder of confusion, dropped her eyes, and was silent.
But the very next instant she raised them again at the sound of the door opening. Somebody was coming in, and it was evidently somebody who felt himself at home, and at liberty to come in as he pleased, and when the fancy took him, for he came unannounced entirely.
Theo found herself guilty of the impropriety of gazing at him wonderingly as he came forward, but Lady Throckmorton did not seem at all surprised.
"I have been expecting you, Denis," she said. "Good-evening! Here is Theodora North. You know I told you about her."
Theo rose from her footstool at once, and stood up tall and straight—a young sultana, the youngest and most innocent-looking of sultanas, in unimperial gray satin. The gentleman was looking at her with a pair of the handsomest eyes she had ever seen in her life.
Then he made a low, ceremonious bow, which had yet a sort of indolence in its very ceremony, and then having done this much, he sat down, as if he was very much at home indeed.
"I thought I would run in on my way to Broome street," he said. "I am obliged to go to Miss Gower's, though I am tired out to-night."
"Obliged!" echoed her ladyship.
"Well—yes," the gentleman answered, with cool negligence. "Obliged in one sense. I have not seen Priscilla for a week."
The handsome, strongly-marked old eyebrows went up.
"For a week," remarked their owner, quite sharply. "A long time to be absent."
It was rather unpleasant, Theodora thought, that they should both seem so thoroughly at liberty to say what they pleased before her, as if she was a child. Their first words had sufficed to show her that "Miss Gower's"—wherever Miss Gower's might be, or whatever order of place it was—was a very objectionable place in Lady Throckmorton's eyes.
"Well—yes," he said again. "It is rather a long time, to tell the truth."
He seemed determined that the matter should rest here, for he changed the subject at once, having made this reply, thereby proving to Theo that he was used to having his own way, even with Lady Throckmorton. He was hard-worked, it seemed, from what he said, and had a great deal of writing to do. He was inclined to be satirical, too, in a careless fashion, and knew quite a number of literary people, and said a great many sharp things about them, as if he was used to them, and stood in no awe whatever of them and their leonine greatness. But he did not talk to her, though he looked at her now and then; and whenever he looked at her, his glance was a half-admiring one, even while it was evident that he was not thinking much about her. He did not remain with them very long, scarcely an hour, and yet she was almost sorry to see him go. It was so pleasant to sit silent and listen to these two worldly ones, as they talked about their world. But he had promised Priscilla that he would bring her a Greek grammar she required; and a broken promise was a sin unpardonable in Priscilla's eyes.
When he was gone, and they had heard the hall-door close upon him, the stillness was broken in upon by my lady herself.
"Well, my dear," she said, to Theodora. "What is your opinion of Mr. Denis Oglethorpe?"
"He is very handsome," said Theo, in some slight embarrassment. "And I think I like him very much. Who is Priscilla, aunt?"
She knew that she had said something amusing by Lady Throckmorton's laughing quietly.
"You are very like Pamela, Theodora," she said. "It sounds very like Pamela—what Pamela used to be—to be interested in Priscilla."
"I hope it wasn't rude?" fluttered the poor little rose-colored sultana.
"Not at all," answered Lady Throckmorton. "Only innocent. But I can tell you all about Priscilla in a dozen words. Priscilla is a modern Sappho. Priscilla is an elderly young lady, who never was a girl—Priscilla is my poor Denis Oglethorpe's fiancee."
"Oh!" said Theodora.
Her august relative drew her rich silk skirts a little farther away from the heat of the fire, and frowned slightly; but not at Theodora—at Priscilla, in her character of fiancee.
"Yes," she went on. "And I think you would agree with me in saying poor Denis Oglethorpe, if you could see Priscilla."
"Is she ugly?" asked Theo, concisely.
"No," sharply. "I wish she was; but at twenty-two she is elderly, as I said just now—and she never was anything else. She was elderly when they were engaged, five years ago."
"But why—why didn't they get married five years ago, if they were engaged?"
"Because they were too poor," Lady Throckmorton explained; "because Denis was only a poor young journalist, scribbling night and day, and scarcely earning his bread and butter."
"Is he poor now?" ventured Theo again.
"No," was the answer. "I wish he was, if it would save him from the Gowers. As it is, I suppose, if nothing happens to prevent it, he will marry Priscilla before the year is out. Not that it is any business of mine, but that I am rather fond of him—very fond of him, I might say, and I was once engaged to his father."
Theo barely restrained an ejaculation. Here was another romance—and she was so fond of romances. Pamela's love-story had been a great source of delight to her; but if Mr. Oglethorpe's father had been anything like that gentleman himself, what a delightful affair Lady Throckmorton's love-story must have been! The comfortable figure in the arm-chair at her side caught a glow of the faint halo that surrounded poor Pam; but in this case the glow had a more roseate tinge, and was altogether free from the funereal gray that in Pamela always gave Theo a sense of sympathizing discomfort.
The next day she wrote to Pamela:
"I have not had time yet to decide how I like Lady Throckmorton," she said. "She is very kind to me, and asks a good many questions. I think I am a little afraid of her; but perhaps that is because I do not know her very well. One thing I am sure of, she doesn't like either Sir Dugald or his dog very much. We had a caller last night—a gentleman. A Mr. Denis Oglethorpe, who is a very great favorite of Lady Throckmorton. He is very handsome, indeed. I never saw any one at all like him before—any one half so handsome and self-possessed. I liked him very much because he talked so well, and was so witty. I had on the gray satin when he came, and the train hung beautifully. I am glad we made it with a train, Pamela. I think I shall wear the purple cloth to-night, as Lady Throckmorton said that perhaps he might drop in again, and he knows so many grand people, that I should like to look nice. There seems to be a queer sort of friendship between aunt and himself, though somehow I fancied he did not care much about what she said to him. He is engaged to be married to a very accomplished young lady, and has been for several years; but they were both too poor to be married until now. The young lady's name is Priscilla Gower; and Lady Throckmorton does not like her, which seems very strange to me. She is as poor as we are, I should imagine, for she gives French and Latin lessons, and lives in a shabby house. But I don't think that is the reason Lady Throckmorton does not like her. I believe it is because she thinks she is not suited to Mr. Oglethorpe. I hope she is mistaken, for Mr. Oglethorpe is very nice indeed, and very clever. He is a journalist, and has written a book of beautiful poetry. I found the volume this morning, and have been reading it all day. I think it is lovely; but Lady Throckmorton says he wrote it when he was very young, and makes fun of it now. I don't think he ought to, I am sure. I shall buy a copy before I return, and bring it home to show you. I will write to mamma in a day or so. With kisses and love, and a hundred thanks again for the dresses, I remain, my dearest Pamela, your loving and grateful,
But Denis Oglethorpe did not appear again for several days. Perhaps business detained him; perhaps he went oftener to see Priscilla. At any rate, he did not call again until the end of the week.
Lady Throckmorton was in her private room when he came, and as he made his entrance with as little ceremony as usual, he ran in upon Theodora. Now, to tell the truth, he had, until this moment, forgotten all about that young person's very existence. He saw so many pretty girls in a day's round, and he was so often too busy to notice half of them—though he was an admirer of pretty girls—that it was nothing new to see one and forget her, until chance threw them together again. Of course, he had noticed Theodora North that first night. How could a man help noticing her? And the something beautifully over-awed and bashfully curious in her lovely, uncommon eyes, had half amused him. And yet, until this moment, he had forgotten her, with the assistance of proofs, and printers, and Priscilla.
But when, after running lightly up the stair-case, he opened the drawing-room door, and saw a tall, lovely figure in a closely-fitting dress of purple cloth, bending over Sabre, and stroking his huge, tawny head with her supple little tender hand, he remembered.
"Ah, yes!" he exclaimed, in an admiring aside. "To be sure; I had forgotten Theodora."
But Theodora had not forgotten him. The moment she saw him she stood up blushing, and with a light in her eyes. It was odd how un-English she looked, and yet how thoroughly English she was in that delicious, uncomfortable trick of blushing vividly upon all occasions. She was quite unconscious of the fact that the purple cloth was so becoming, and that its sweep of straight, heavy folds made her as stately as some Rajah's dark-eyed daughter. She did not feel stately at all; she only felt somewhat confused, and rather glad that Mr. Denis Oglethorpe had surprised her by coming again. How Mr. Denis Oglethorpe would have smiled if he had known what an innocent commotion his simple presence created!
"Lady Throckmorton is up-stairs reading," she explained. "I will go and tell her you are here." There were no bells in the house at Downport, and no servants to answer if any one had rang one, and, very naturally, Theo forgot she was not at Downport.
"Excuse me. No," said Mr. Denis Oglethorpe. "I would not disturb her on any account; and, besides, I know she will be down directly. She never reads late in the evening. This is a very handsome dog, Miss North."
"Very handsome, indeed," was Theo's reply. "Come here, Sabre."
Sabre stalked majestically to her side, and laid his head upon her knee. Theo stroked him softly, raising her eyes quite seriously to Mr. Oglethorpe's face.
"He reminds me of Sir Dugald himself," she said.
Mr. Denis Oglethorpe smiled faintly. He was not very fond of Sir Dugald, and the perfect gravity and naivete with which this pretty, unsophisticated young sultana had made her comment had amounted to a very excellent joke.
"Does he?" he returned, as quietly as possible, and then his glance meeting Theo's, she broke into a little burst of horror-stricken self-reproach.
"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed. "I oughtn't to have said that, ought I? I forgot how rude it would sound; but, indeed, I only meant that Sabre was so slow and heavy, and—and so indifferent to people, somehow. I don't think he cares about being liked at all."
She was so abashed at her blunder, that she looked absolutely imploring, and Mr. Denis Oglethorpe smiled again. He felt inclined to make friends with Theodora.
"There is a little girl staying at Lady Throckmorton's," he had said to Priscilla. "A relative of hers. A pretty creature, too, Priscilla, for a bread-and-butter Miss."
But just at this moment, he thought better of the matter. What tender, speechful eyes she had! He was aroused to a recognition of their beauty all at once. What contour there was in the turn of arm and shoulder under the close-fitting purple cloth! He was artistically thankful that there was no other trimming of the straight bodice than the line of buttons that descended from the full white ruff of swansdown at her throat, to her delicate, trim waist. Her unconscious stateliness of girlish form, and the conscious shyness of her manner, were the loveliest inconsistency in the world.
"Oh, I shall not tell Sir Dugald," he said to her, good-humoredly. "Besides, I think the comparison an excellent one. I don't know anything in London so like Sir Dugald as Sir Dugald's dog."
Theodora stroked Sabre, apologetically, but could scarcely find courage to speak. She had stood somewhat in awe of Mr. Denis Oglethorpe, even at first, and her discomfort was rapidly increasing. He must think her dreadfully stupid, though he was good-humored enough to make light of her silly speech. Certainly Priscilla never made such a silly speech in her life; but then, how could one teach French and Latin, and be anything but ponderously discreet?
Mr. Denis Oglethorpe was not thinking of Priscilla's wisdom, however; he was thinking of Theodora North; he was thinking that he must have been very blind not to have seen before that his friend's niece was a beauty of the first water, young as she was. But he had been tired and fagged out, he remembered, on the first occasion of their meeting—too tired to think of anything but his appointment at Broome street, and Priscilla's Greek grammar. And now in recognizing what he had before passed by, he was quite glad to find the girl so young and inexperienced—so modest, in a sweet way. It was easy, as well as proper enough, to talk to her unceremoniously without the trouble of being diffuse and complimentary. So he made himself agreeable, and Theodora listened until she quite forgot Sir Dugald, and only remembered Sabre, because his big heavy head was on her knee, and she was stroking it.
"And you were never in London before?" he said at length.
"No, sir," Theo answered. "This is the first time. I was never even out of Downport before."
"Then we must take you to see the lions," he said, "if Lady Throckmorton will let us, Miss Theodora. I wonder if she would let us? If she would, I have a lady friend who knows them all, from the grisliest, downward, and I know she would like to help me to exhibit them to you. How should you like that?"
"Better than anything in the world," glowing with delighted surprise. "If it wouldn't be too much trouble," she added, quite apologetically.
Mr. Denis Oglethorpe smiled.
"It would be simply delightful," he said. "I should like it better than anything in the world, too. We will appeal to Lady Throckmorton."
"When Priscilla was in London—" Theodora was beginning a minute later, when the handsome face changed suddenly as her companion turned upon her in evident surprise.
"Priscilla?" he repeated, after her.
"How stupid I am!" she ejaculated, distressedly. "I meant to say Pamela. My eldest sister's name is Pamela, and—and—"
"And you said Priscilla by mistake," interposed Oglethorpe, with a sudden accession of gravity. "Priscilla is a little like Pamela."
It needed nothing more than this simple slip of Theodora North's tongue to assure him that Lady Throckmorton had been telling her the story of his engagement to Miss Gower, and, as might be anticipated, he was not as devoutly grateful to her ladyship as he might have been. He was careless to a fault in some things, and punctilious to a fault in others; and he was very punctilious about Priscilla Gower. He was not an ardent lover, but he was a conscientiously honorable one, and, apart from his respect for his betrothed, he was very impatient of interference with his affairs; and my lady was not chary of interfering when the fancy seized her. It roused his pride to think how liberally he must have been discussed, and, consequently, when Lady Throckmorton joined them, he was not in the most amiable of moods. But he managed to end his conversation with Theo unconstrainedly enough. He even gained her ladyship's consent to their plan. It was curiously plain how they both appeared to agree in thinking her a child, and treating her as one. Not that Theo cared about that. She had been so used to Pamela, that she would have felt half afraid of being treated with any greater ceremony; but still she could clearly understand that Mr. Oglethorpe did not speak to her as he would have spoken to Miss Gower. But free from any touch of light gallantry as his manner toward the girl was, Denis Oglethorpe did not forget her this night. On the contrary, he remembered her very distinctly, and had in his mind a very exact mental representation of her purple robe, soft white ruff, and all, as he buttoned up his paletot over his chest in walking homeward. But he thought of her carelessly and honestly enough, as a beautiful young creature years behind him in experience, and utterly beyond him in all possibility of any sentimental fancy.
The friendship existing between Lady Throckmorton and this young man was a queer, inconsistent sentiment enough, and yet was a friendship, and a mature one. The two had encountered each other some years ago, when Denis had been by no means in his palmiest days. In fact, my lady had picked him up when he stood in sore need of friends, and Oglethorpe never forgot a favor. He never forgot to be grateful to Lady Throckmorton; and so, despite the wide difference between their respective ages and positions, their mutual liking had ripened into a familiarity of relationship which made them more like elder sister and younger brother than anything else. Oglethorpe, junior, was pretty much what Oglethorpe, senior, had been, and notwithstanding her practical views, Lady Throckmorton liked him none the worse for it. She petted and patronized him, questioned and advised him, and if he did not please her, rated him roundly without the slightest compunction. In fact, she was a woman of caprices even at sixty-five, and Denis Oglethorpe was one of her caprices.
And, in like manner, Theodora North became another of them. Finding her tractable, she became quite fond of her, in her own way, and was at least generous to lavishness in her treatment of her.
"You are very handsome, indeed, Theodora," she said to her a few days after her arrival. "Of course, you know that—ten times handsomer than ever poor Pamela could have been. Your figure is perfect, and you have eyes like a Syrian, instead of a commonplace English woman. I am going to give you a rose-pink satin dress. Rose-pink is just your shade, and some day, when we go out together, I will lend you some of my diamonds."
After this whimsical manner she lavished presents upon her whenever she had a new fancy. In truth, her generosity was constitutional, and she had been generous enough toward Pamela, but she had never been so extravagant as she was with Theodora. Theodora was an actual beauty, of an uncommon type, in the face of her ignorance of manners and customs. Pamela had never, at her best, been more than a delicately pretty girl.
In the meantime, Denis Oglethorpe made friendly calls as usual, and always meeting Theodora, found her very pleasant to talk to and look at. He found out her enthusiastic admiration for the poetic effusions of his youth, and in consideration thereof, good-humoredly presented her with a copy of the volume, with some very witty verses written on the fly-leaf in a flourishing hand. It was worth while to amuse Theodora, she was so pretty and unassuming in her delight at his carelessly-amiable efforts for her entertainment. She was only a mere child after all at sixteen, with Downport in the background; so he felt quite honestly at ease in being attentive to her girlish requirements. Better that he should amuse her than that she should be left to the mercy of men who would perhaps have the execrable taste to spoil her pretty childish ways with flattery.
"Don't let all these fine people and fine speeches turn your head, Theodora," he would say, in a tone that might either have been jest or earnest. "They spoiled me in my infancy, and my unfortunate experience causes me to warn you."
But whether he jested or not, Theo was always inclined to listen to him with some degree of serious belief. She took his advice when it was proffered, and regarded his wisdom as the wisdom of an oracle. Who should know better than he what was right? His indifference to the rule of opinion could only be the result of conscious perfection, and his careless satires were to her the most brilliant of witticisms. He paid her his first compliment the night the rose-colored satin-dress came home.
They were going to see Faust together with Lady Throckmorton, and she had finished dressing early, and came down to the drawing-room, and there Denis found her when he came up-stairs—the thick, lustrous folds of satin billowing upon the carpet around her feet, something white, and soft, and heavy wrapped about her.
He was conscious of a faint shock of delight on first beholding her. He had just left Priscilla, pale and heavy-eyed, in dun-colored merino, poring over a Greek dictionary, and the sudden entering the bright room, and finding himself facing Theodora North in rose-colored satin, was a little like electricity.
"Oh! it's Theodora, is it?" he said, slowly, when he recovered himself. "Thank you, Theodora."
"What for?" asked Theo, blushing.
"For the rose-colored satin," he returned, complacently. "It is so very becoming. You look like a sultana, my dear Theodora."
Theo looked up at him for a second, and then looked down. Much as she admired Mr. Denis Oglethorpe, she never quite comprehended him. He had such an eccentric fashion of being almost curt sometimes. She had seen him actually give a faint start when he entered, and she had not understood that, and now he had paid her a compliment, but with so much of something puzzling hidden in his quiet-sounding voice, that she did not understand that either—and he saw she did not.
"I have been making a fine speech to Theodora," he said to Lady Throckmorton, when she came in. "And she does not comprehend it in the least."
It was somewhat singular, Theo thought, that he should be so silent after this, for he was silent. He even seemed absent-minded, for some reason or other. He did not talk to her as much as usual, and she was quite sure he paid very little attention to Faust.
But during the final act she found that he was not looking at the stage at all; but was sitting in the shadow of the box-curtain watching herself. She had been deeply interested in Marguerite a minute before, and, in her heart-touched pleasure, had leant upon the edge of the box, her whole face thrilled with excitement. But the steady gaze magnetized her, and drew her eyes round to the shadowy corner where Denis sat; and she positively turned with just such a start as he himself had given when Theodora North, in rose-colored satin, burst upon him, in such vivid, glowing contrast to Priscilla Gower, in dun merino.
"Oh!" she said, and though the little exclamation was scarcely more than an indrawn breath, Denis heard it, and came out of his corner to take a seat at her side, and lean over the box-edge also.
"What is it, Theodora?" he asked, in a low, clear voice. "Is it Marguerite?"
She looked at him in a little fright at herself. She did not know why she had exclaimed—she scarcely knew how; but when she met his unembarrassed eyes, she began to think that possibly it might be Marguerite. Indeed, a second later, she was quite sure it had been Marguerite.
"Yes—I think so," she faltered. "Poor Marguerite! If she could only have saved him?"
"How?" he asked.
"I don't—at least I scarcely know; but I think the author ought to have made her save him, someway. If—if she could have suffered something, or sacrificed something—"
"Would she have done it if she could?" commented Denis, languidly. He had quite recovered himself by this time.
"I would have done it if I had been Marguerite," Theo half whispered.
In his surprise he forgot his self-possession. He turned upon her suddenly, and meeting her sweet, world-ignorant eyes, felt the faint, pained shock once more, and strangely enough his first thought was a disconnected one of Priscilla Gower.
"You?" he said, the next moment. "Yes, I believe you would, Theodora."
He was sure she would, after that swift glance of his, and—Well, what a happy man he would be for whom this tender young Marguerite would suffer or be sacrificed. The idea had really never occurred to him before that Theodora North was nearly a woman; but it occurred to him now with all the greater force, because he had been so oblivious to the fact before.
He sat by her side until the curtain fell; but his silent mood seemed to have come upon him again. He was very much interested in Marguerite after this, Theo thought; but it is very much to be doubted whether he could have given a clear account of what was passing before his eyes upon the stage. He did not even go into the house with them when they returned; but as he stood upon the door-step, touching his hat in a final adieu, he was keenly alive to a consciousness of Theodora North at the head of the stair-case, with billows of glistening rose-pink satin lying on the rich carpet about her feet, as she half turned toward him to bid him good-night.
Bright as the future was, it left a sense of discomfort, he could not explain why. He dismissed the carriage, and walked down the street, feeling fairly depressed in spirits.
He had, perhaps, never given the girl a thought before, unless when chance had thrown them together, and even then his thoughts had been common admiring ones. She had pleased him, and he had tried to amuse her in a careless, well-meant fashion, though he had never made fine speeches to her, as nine men out of ten would have done. He had been so used to Priscilla, that it never occurred to him that a girl so young as this one could be a woman. And, after all, his blindness had not been the result of any frivolous lack of thought. A sharp experience had made him as thoroughly a man of the world as a man may be; but it had not made him callous or indifferent to the beauties of life. No one would ever have called him emotional, or prone to enthusiasms of a weak kind, and yet he was by no means hard of heart. He had quiet fancies of his own about people and things, and many of these reticent, rarely-expressed ideas were reverent, chivalrous ones of women. The opposing force of a whole world could never have shaken his faith in Priscilla Gower, or touched his respect for her; but though, perhaps, he had never understood it so, he had never felt very enthusiastically concerning her. Truly, Priscilla Gower and enthusiasm were not in accordance with each other. Chance had thrown them together when both were very young, and propinquity did the rest. Propinquity is the strongest of agents in a love affair, and in Denis Oglethorpe's love affair, propinquity had accomplished what nothing else would have been likely to have done. The desperate young scribbler of twenty years had been the lodger of the elder Miss Gower, and Priscilla, aged seventeen, had brought in his frugal dinners to him, and receipted his modest bills on their weekly payment.
Priscilla at seventeen, silent, practical, grave and handsome, had, perhaps, softened unconsciously at the sight of his often pale face—he worked so hard and so far into the night; when at length they became friends, Priscilla gravely, and without any hesitation, volunteered to help him. She could copy well and clearly, and he could come into her aunt's room—it would save fires. So she helped him calmly and decorously, bending her almost austerely-handsome young head over his papers for hours on the long winter nights. It is easy to guess how the matter terminated. If ever he won success he determined to give it to Priscilla—and so he told her. He had never wavered in his faith for a second since, though he had encountered many beautiful and womanly women. He had worked steadily for her sake, and shielded her from every care that it lay within his power to lighten. He was not old Miss Elizabeth Gower's lodger now—he was her niece's husband in perspective. He was to marry Priscilla Gower in eight months. This was why Theodora North, in glistening rose-pink satin, sent him home confronting a suddenly-raised spirit of pain. Twice, in one night, he had found himself feeling toward Theodora North as he had never felt toward Priscilla Gower in his life. Twice, in one night, he had turned his eyes upon this girl of sixteen, and suffered a sudden shock of enthusiasm, or something like it. He was startled and discomfited. She had no right to win such admiration from him—he had no right to give it.
But as his walk in the night-air cooled him, it cooled his ardor of self-examination somewhat. His discontent was modified by the time he reached his own door, and took his latch-key out of his pocket. The face that had looked down upon him beneath the light at the head of the stair-case, had faded into less striking color—it was only a girl's face again. He was on better terms with himself, and his weakness seemed less formidable.
"I will keep my promise to-morrow," he said, "and Priscilla shall go with us. Poor Priscilla!—poor girl! Rose-pink satin would scarcely be in good taste in Broome street."
The promise he had made was nothing more than a ratification of the old one. They were to see the lions together, and Priscilla was to guide them.
And when the morrow came, he found it, after all, safe enough, and an easy enough matter, to tuck Theodora's small, gloved hand under his arm, when they set out on their tour of investigation and discovery. The girl was pretty enough, too, in her soft, black merino—her "best" dress in Downport—but she was not dazzling. The little round, black-plumed hat was becoming also; but in his now more prosaic mood, he could stand that, too, pretty as it was in an innocent, unconsciously-coquettish way. Theo was never coquettish herself in the slightest degree. She was not world-wise enough for that yet. But she was quite exhilarating to-day; so glad to be out even in the London fog of November; so glad to be taken lion-hunting; so delighted with the shops and their gay windows; so ready to let her young tongue run on in a gay stream of chatter, altogether so bright, and pretty, and joyous, that her escort was fain to be delighted too.
"Guess where we are going to first?" said he. (He had not before openly spoken of Priscilla to her.)
She glanced up into his face, brightly. She remembered what he had told her about his lady friend.
"I don't exactly know the name of the place," she said; "but I think I know the name of the person we are going to see."
"Do you?" was his reply. "Then say it to me—let me hear it."
"Miss Gower," she answered, softly, in a pretty reverence for him. "Miss Priscilla Gower."
He nodded, slightly, with a curious mixture of expressions in his face.
"Yes," he said. "Miss Gower, or rather Miss Priscilla Gower, as you say. Number twenty-three, Broome street; and Broome street is not a fashionable locality, my dear Theodora."
"Isn't it?" queried Theo. "Why not?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"Ask Lady Throckmorton," he said. "But do you know who Miss Priscilla Gower is, Theodora?"
Her bright eyes crept up to his, half-timidly; but she said nothing, so he continued.
"Miss Priscilla Gower is the young lady to whom I am to be married next July. Did you know that?"
"Yes," answered Theo, looking actually pleased, and blushing beautifully as he looked down at her. "But I am very much obliged to you for telling me, Mr. Oglethorpe."
"Why?" he asked. It was very preposterous, that even though his mood was so prosaic and paternal a one, he was absurdly, vacantly sensible of feeling some uneasiness at the brightness of her upturned face. For pity's sake, why was it that he was impelled to such a puerile weakness—such a vanity, as he sternly called it.
"Because," returned Theo, "it makes me feel as if—I mean it makes me happy to think you trust me enough to tell me about what has made you happy. I hope—oh! I do hope Miss Priscilla Gower will like me."
He had been looking straight before him while she spoke, but this brought his eyes to hers again, and to her face—bright, appealing, upturned—and he found himself absolutely obliged to steady himself with a jesting speech.
"My dearest Theodora," he said. "Miss Priscilla Gower could not possibly help it."
Comforting as this assurance was to her, it must be confessed she found herself somewhat over-awed on reaching Broome street, and being taken into the tiny, dwarfed-looking parlor of number twenty-three; Miss Elizabeth Gower herself was there, in her company-cap, and long-cherished company-dress of snuff-colored satin. There were not many shades of difference in either her snuff-colored gown, or her snuff-colored skin, or her neat, snuff-colored false-front, Theo fancied, but she was not at all afraid of her. She was a trifle afraid of Miss Priscilla. Miss Priscilla was sitting at the table reading when they entered, and as she rose to greet them, holding her book in one hand, the thought entered Theo's mind that she could comprehend dimly why Lady Throckmorton disliked her, and thought her unsuited to Denis Oglethorpe. There was an absence of anything girl-like in her fine, ivory-pale face, somehow, though it was a young face and a handsome face, at whose fine lines and clear contour even a connoisseur could not have caviled. Its long almond-shaped, agate-gray eyes, black-fringed and lustrous as they were, still were silent eyes—they did not speak even to Denis Oglethorpe.
"I am glad you have come," she said, simply, extending her hand in acknowledgment of Denis's introduction. The quietness of this greeting speech was a fair sample of all her manner. It would have been sheerly impossible to expect anything like effusiveness from Priscilla Gower. The most sanguine and empty-headed of mortals would never have looked for it in her. She was constitutionally unenthusiastic, if such a thing may be.
But she was gravely curious in this case concerning Theodora North. The fact that Denis had spoken of her admiringly was sufficient to arouse in her mind an interest in this young creature, who was at once, and so inconsistently, beautiful, timid, and regal, without consciousness.
"Three years more will make her something wonderful, as far as beauty is concerned," he had said; and, accordingly, she had felt some slight pleasure in the anticipation of seeing her.
Yet Theo had some faint misgivings during the day as to whether Miss Priscilla Gower would like her or not. She was at first even inclined to fear that she would not, being so very handsome, and grave, and womanly. But toward the end of their journeying together, she felt more hopeful. Reticent as she was, Priscilla Gower was a very charming young person. She talked well, and with much clear, calm sense; she laughed musically when she laughed at all, and could make very telling, caustic speeches when occasion required; but still it was singular what a wide difference the difference of six years made in the two girls. As Lady Throckmorton had said, it was not a matter of age. At twenty-two Theodora North would overflow with youth as joyously as she did now at seventeen; at seventeen Priscilla Gower had assisted her maiden aunt's lodger to copy his manuscript with as mature a gravity as she would have displayed to-day.
"I hope," said Theodora, when, after their sight-seeing was over, she stood on the pavement before the door in Broome street, her nice little hand on Denis Oglethorpe's arm, "I hope you will let me come to see you again, Miss Gower."
Priscilla, standing upon the door-step, smiled down on her blooming girl's face, a smile that was a little like moonlight. All Priscilla's smiles were like moonlight. Theo's had a delicious glow of the sun.
"Yes," she said, in her practical manner. "It will please me very much to see you, Miss Theodora. Come as often as you can spare the time."
She watched the two as they walked down the street together, Theo's black feather glossy in the gaslight, as it drooped its long end against Oglethorpe's coat, and as she watched them, she noticed even this trifle of the feather, and the trifling fact that though Theo was almost regal in girlish height, she was not much taller than her companion's shoulder. It was strange, she thought afterward, that she should have done so; but even while thinking it strange in the afterward that came to her, she remembered it all as distinctly as ever, and knew that to the last day of her life she would never quite forget the quiet of the narrow, dreary street, the yellow light of the gas-lamps, and the two figures walking away into the shadow, with their backs toward her, the girl holding Denis Oglethorpe's arm, and the glossy feather in her black hat drooping its tip upon his shoulder.
Up-stairs, in a sacred corner of the chamber Lady Throckmorton had apportioned to her, Theodora North kept her diary. Not a solid, long-winded diary, full of creditable reflections upon the day's events, but, on the contrary, a harmless little book enough—a pretty little book, bound in pink and gold, and much ornamented about the corners, and greatly embellished with filagree clasps. Lady Throckmorton had given it to her because she admired it, and, in a very natural enthusiasm, she had made a diary of it. And here are the entries first recorded in its gilt-edged pages:
December 7.—Mr. Oglethorpe was so kind as to remember his promise about showing me the lions. Enjoyed myself very much. Miss Priscilla Gower went with us. She is very dignified, or something; but I think I like her. I am sure I like her, so I will go to see her again. I wonder how it is she reminds me of Pamela without being like Pamela at all. Poor Pam always so sharp in her ways, and I do not think Miss Gower ever could speak sharply at all. And yet she reminds me of Pam.
December 14.—Went to the theatre again with Lady Throckmorton and Mr. Oglethorpe. I wonder if the rose-pink satin is not becoming to me? I thought it was; but before I went up-stairs to dress, Mr. Oglethorpe said to me, "Don't put on the rose-pink satin, Theodora." I am sorry that he does not think it is pretty. Wore a thin, white-muslin dress, and dear, dearest old Pamela's beautiful sapphires. The muslin had a long train.
December 18.—Mr. Oglethorpe came to-night with a kind of message from Miss Gower.
From these innocent extracts, persons of an unlimited experience might draw serious conclusions; but when she made said entries, kneeling before her toilet-table, each night, our dear Theodora thought nothing about them at all. She had nothing else in particular to write about at present, so, in default of finding a better subject, she jotted down guileless remembrances of Denis Oglethorpe and the length of her trains.
But one memorable evening, on going into the sitting-room, with the pink and gold volume in her hand, she encountered Sir Dugald, who seemed to be in an extraordinary frame of mind, and withal nothing loth to meet her.
"What pretty book have you there, Theodora?" he asked, in his usual amiably uncivilized manner.
"It is my diary," Theo answered. "Lady Throckmorton gave it to me. I put things down in it."
"Oh, oh!" was the reply, taking hold of both Sabre's ears, and chuckling. "Put things down, do you? What sort of things do you put down, eh, pretty Theodora? Lovers, eh? Literary men, eh?"
Theo grew pink all over—pink as to cheeks, pink as to slim white throat, even pink as to small ears. She was almost frightened, and her fright was of a kind such as she had never experienced before. But it was not Sir Dugald she was afraid of—she was used to him. It was something new of which she had never thought until this very instant.
"Literary men, eh?" Sir Dugald went on. "Do you put down what their names are, and what they do, and how they make mistakes, and take the wrong young lady to see Norma, and Faust and Il Trovatore? Il Trovatore's a nice opera; Theo and Leonora sounds something like Theodora. It doesn't sound anything like Priscilla, does it? The devil fly away with Priscilla, I say. Priscilla isn't musical, is it, Leonora?"
Once having freed herself from him, which was by no means an easy matter, Theo flew up-stairs, tremulous, breathless, flushed. She did not stop to think. She had seen the drawing-room empty and unlighted, save by a dull fire, on her way down-stairs, so she turned to the drawing-room. She had been conscious of nothing but Sir Dugald, so she had not heard the hall-door open; and, not having heard the hall-door open, had, of course, not heard Denis Oglethorpe come in. So, in running into the fire-lit room, she broke in upon that gentleman, who was standing in the shadow, and it must be confessed was rather startled by her sudden entrance and curiously-excited face.
He stopped her short, however, collectedly enough.
"What is the matter, Theodora?" he demanded.
She slipped down upon a footstool, all in a flutter, when she saw him, she was so shaken; and then, in her sudden abasement and breathless tremor, gave vent to a piteous little half-sob, though she was terribly ashamed of it.
"I—I don't know," she answered him. "It's—it's nothing at all." But he knew better than that, and guessing very shrewdly that he was not wholly unconnected with the matter himself, questioned her as closely as was consistent with delicacy, and, in the end, after some diplomacy, and a few more of surprised, piteous, little unwilling half-sobs, gleaned a great deal of the truth from her.
"It was only—only something Sir Dugald said about you and Miss Gower, and—and something about me," she added, desperately.
"Oh!" he said, looking so composed about it that the very sight of his composure calmed her, and made her begin to think she had seen a mountain in a mole-hill. "Sir Dugald? Only Sir Dugald? What did he say, may I ask, as it—it is about myself and Miss Gower?"
Of course he might ask, but the difficulty lay in gaining any definite answer. Theodora blushed, and then actually turned a little pale, looking wondrously abased in her uncalled-for confusion; but she was not at all coherent in her explanations, which were really not meant for explanations at all.
"Il Trovatore was so beautiful!" she burst out, finally; "and so was Faust; and I had never been to the opera in all my life before, and, of course—" blushing and palpitating, but still looking at him without a shade of falsehood in her innocent, straightforward eyes; "of course, I couldn't. How could I be so silly, and vain, and presuming, as to think of—of—of—"
She stopped here, as might be expected, and, if the room had been light enough, she might have seen a shadow fall on Oglethorpe's face, as he prompted her.
Her eyes fell. "Of what Sir Dugald said," she ended, in a troubled half-whisper.
There was a slight pause, in which both pairs of eyes looked down—Theodora's upon the rug of tiger-skin at her feet, Oglethorpe's at Theodora herself. They were treading upon dangerous ground, he knew, and yet in the midst of his fierce anger at his weakness, he was conscious of a regret—a contemptible regret, he told himself—that the eyes she had raised to his own a moment ago, had been so very clear and guilelessly honest in their accordance with the declaration her lips had made.
"But, my dear Theodora," he at length broke the silence by saying, carelessly, "why should we trouble ourselves about that elderly Goth, or Vandal, if you choose—Sir Dugald? Who does trouble themselves about Sir Dugald, and his amiably ponderous jocoseness? Not Lady Throckmorton, I am sure; not society in general, you must know; consequently, let us treat Sir Dugald with silent contempt, in a glorious consciousness of our own spotless innocence."
He was half uneasy under his satirical indifference; though he was so accustomed to conceal his thoughts under indifference and satire, he was scarcely sure enough of himself at this minute; but, despite this, he carried out the assumed mood pretty well.
"We have no need to be afraid of Sir Dugald's Vandalism, if we have no fear of ourselves, and, considering, as you so very justly observed, that it is quite impossible for us to be silly, and vain, and presuming toward each other. I think we must be quite safe. I believe you said it would be impossible, Theodora?"
Just one breath's space, and Theodora North looked up at him, as it were through the influence of an electric flash of recognition. There was a wild, sweet, troubled color on her cheeks, and her lips were trembling; her whole face seemed to tremble; her very eyes had a varying tremulous glow.
"Quite impossible, wasn't it, Theodora?" he repeated, and though he had meant it for nothing more than a careless, daring speech, his voice changed in defiance of him, and altered, or seemed to alter, both words and their meaning. What, in the name of madness, he would have been rash enough to say next, in response to the tremor of light and color in the upturned face, it would be hard to say, for here he was stopped, as it were, by Fortune herself.
Fortune came in the form of Lady Throckmorton, fresh from Trollope's last, and in a communicative mood.
"Ah! You are here, Denis, and you, too, Theodora? Why are you sitting in the dark?" And, as she bent over to touch the bell, Theodora rose from her footstool to make way for her—rose with a little sigh, as if she had just been awakened from a dream which was neither happy nor sad.
It was very plainly Lady Throckmorton's business to see, and, seeing, understand the affairs of her inexperienced young relative; but if Lady Throckmorton understood that Theodora North was unconsciously endangering the peace of her girlish heart, Lady Throckmorton was very silent, or very indifferent about the matter. But she was not moulded after the manner of the stern female guardians usually celebrated in love stories. She was not mercenary, and she was by no means authoritative. She had sent for Theo with the intention of extending to her the worldly assistance she had extended to Pamela, and, beyond that, the matter lay in the girl's own hands. Lady Throckmorton had no high views for her in particular; she wanted to see her enjoy herself as much as possible until the termination of her visit, in whatever manner it terminated, whether matrimonially or otherwise. Besides, she was not so young as she had been in Pamela's time, and, consequently, though she was reasonably fond of her handsome niece, and more than usually generous toward her, she was inclined to let her follow her own devices. For herself, she had her luxurious little retiring-room, with its luxurious fires and lounges; and after these, or rather with these, came an abundance of novels, and the perfect, creamy chocolate her French cook made such a masterpiece of—novels and chocolate standing as elderly and refined dissipations. And not being troubled with any very strict ideas of right or wrong, it would, by no means, have annoyed her ladyship to know that her handsome Theodora had out-generalled her pet grievance, Priscilla Gower. Why should not Priscilla Gower be out-generalled, and why should not Denis marry some one who was as much better suited to him, as Theodora North plainly was?
"Tut! tut!" she said to Sir Dugald. "Why shouldn't they be married to each other? It would be better than Priscilla Gower, if Theodora had nothing but Pam's gray satin for her bridal trousseau."
So Theo was left to herself, and having no confidant but the pink and gold journal, gradually began to trust to its page some very troubled reflections. It had not occurred to her that she could possibly be guilty in admiring Mr. Denis Oglethorpe so much as she did, and in feeling so glad when he came, and so sorry when he went away. She had not thought that it was because he was sitting near her, and talking to her between the acts; that Il Trovatore and Faust had been so thrillingly beautiful and tender. And this was quite true, even though she had not begun to comprehend it as yet.
She had no right to feel anxious about him; and yet, when, after having committed himself in the rash manner chronicled, he did not make his appearance for nearly two weeks, she was troubled in no slight degree. Indeed, though the thought was scarcely defined, she had some unsophisticated misgivings as to whether Miss Priscilla Gower might not have been aroused to a sense of the wrongs done her through the medium of Il Trovatore, and so have laid an interdict upon his visits; but it was only Sir Dugald who had suggested this to her fancy.
But by the end of the two weeks, she grew tired of waiting, and the days were so very long, that at length, not without some slight compunction, she made up her mind to go and pay a guileless visit to Miss Priscilla Gower herself.
"I am going to see Miss Gower, aunt," she ventured to say one morning, at the breakfast table.
Sir Dugald looked up from his huge slice of broiled venison, clumsily jocose after his customary agreeable manner.
"What's that, Leonora?" he said. "Going to see the stern vestal, are you? Priscilla, eh?"
Lady Throckmorton shrugged her shoulders in an indifferent sarcasm. She was often both sarcastic and indifferent in her manner toward Sir Dugald.
"Theo's in-goings and out-goings are scarcely our business, so long as she enjoys herself," she said. "Present my regards to the Miss Gowers, my dear, and say I regret that my health does not permit me to accompany you."
A polite fiction by the way, as my lady was looking her best. It was only upon state occasions, and solely on Denis' account, that she ever submitted to Broome street, albeit the fat, gray horses, and fat gray coachman did occasionally recognize the existence of that remote locality.