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  ― 128 ―

Lilac and Moonbeams.

“But, Grandfather——”

“It's not a bit of use, Marjorie. I think”—grimly—“you should know me by this. No”—hastily—“tears won't do me any good. A nice guardian I would consider myself to the sacred trust imposed upon me, first by your father on his death-bed, later by your mother, if I entertained the young man's absurd proposition for a moment. Marriage, indeed! Eh? you know your own mind? Ha, ha! That remark borders on the tragic. Does the thistledown know its destination when it floats overhead, caught by every wandering breeze? Does the summer day, rising clear and cloudless, know its mood when clouds gather low on the horizon? No, child—for a few years yet I must be the guiding breeze to the downy atom, the storm portend for the cloudless sky. Your mind! Bah! the mind of a butterfly poising in hesitation over the roses in spring.”

“But, Grandfather, grandmother—your Marjorie—was no older than I.”

“What, now? Your grandmother no older than you? No older, no older?” Ah! the lilac nodding in the moonlight, and the fluttering curtains framing the bonny red roses.

“But”—pulling himself together with a start—“that was a very different matter. I was ten years older than she. I had my own sheep station, though, true, that was not through energy of my own. There was no mawkish sentiment about me, I can tell you. I simply saw in your grandmother the woman who would make me a good sensible wife, and I married her, that's all.”

A choked voice from the foot of the table was heard remarking nervously that “something of this sort had happened to Ted.”

“Tut, tut! Why, only a year ago you had a mane of untidy hair hanging about your shoulders, getting caught in my buttons, and mopping up the gravy at meal times. As for that young man—well, simply this: I refuse to discuss the situation.”

With proud little head carried haughtily to conceal tears of mortification, Marjorie stepped through the door opening on to the lawn.

How can he be so cruel? she thought miserably—he who is usually the soul of kindness. Poor grandma! Perhaps it is as well she didn't live long. How dreary it must have been to live with Grandpa before he got nice and mellowed with age. Fancy marrying a girl of 19 because she would make him a “good sensible wife.”

“Marjorie! Marjorie!”

A voice irritable with the effort of sustaining a hostile attitude taken up for controversial purposes recalled her. With cheeks aflame and a heart full


  ― 129 ―
of resentment, Marjorie re-entered, wilfully blind to the flagrant transparency of the old man's simulated antagonism.

“Yes, Grandfather?”

“Did you find the ‘Amateur Gardener,’ as I desired? I want to see what it says about lifting tulips.”

“No, Grandfather.”

“Then, my child,” with mild exasperation, “go and look for it. It is in the study somewhere, and with it is that treatise I am writing on seed potatoes as exponents of the Darwinian theory. Look intelligently, for goodness' sake, child, and don't waste your time calculating the niceties of the drop from the study window as a means of escape from life as judged by your present tragic acceptation of the term.”

Marjorie looked “intelligently.” She turned out every nook and corner of the study (replacing everything she displaced, oh! most rare of women!), every cupboard and shelf overhauled, and still no “Amateur Gardener,” nor yet a treatise on seed potatoes. It was monotonous work, and Marjorie was fretful and inclined to tears.

Dragging open a drawer in an old bureau, she turned over the contents carelessly.

Her own name traced in faded ink arrested her attention. A bundle or letters lay uppermost, folded square, all yellow with age, and emitting a faint odour of bygone perfume.

Marjorie's understanding sub-consciously took in the written words traced in old-fashioned penmanship, the sight of her own name rendering her temporarily oblivious to the impropriety of her action.

“Oh, Marjorie, Marjorie, my little love! Do you remember that evening? The moonlight traced the shadows of the lilac blossoms on the carpet, and their perfume filled the room. You were sitting at the piano, darling, and you sang an old-world refrain. As you sat there, with the moonbeams resting lovingly on your bonny brown hair, my heart failed me, for very love, Marjorie mine. Your angel face seemed part of the angel world, the white frock you wore, the lace kerchief knotted at your breast, the red, red rose in your hair, all part of a dream picture. And, coming through the garden door, I saw you thus. Ah, me! Marjorie, that gown you wore, I have it still. When, too, I am called upon to offer up my soul that gown will be enclosed in the wooden casket which bears my shell—that gown and a tiny lock of silken hair. He would——”

Marjorie read no more. When she realised the awfulness of her action she grew white to the lips with self-loathing.

“How could I do such a thing?” she sobbed contritely, as she dragged the “Amateur Gardener” and the paper on Darwin's theory out of the drawer. “I never realised. It was such a lovely letter, I did not seem able to stop… Poor old Grandfather: no ‘mawkish sentiment’ about you, poor old darling, with your scars hidden, and your seared heart jealously guarded.… I must tell him I did it. I'll go right away now, before my courage reaches vanishing-point.”

Just then an idea occurred to Marjorie, and she sat down suddenly in her Grandfather's armchair.




  ― 130 ―

Her face flushed and paled by turn. “Dare I, dare I?” she thought. “No; I could never carry it through—I'd break down, I'm sure.”

Then, resolutely, “Yes, I must, for Ted's sake. Grandpa can at worst only kill me.”

And she stole guiltily upstairs to where was kept an old brass-clamped trunk.

Grandfather was walking across the lawn, all bathed in pale moonlight. He leaned heavily on his stick, and his thoughts were far away.

“Forty years to-day, Marjorie mine, since I brought you a white-robed angel woman to your home—the home you grew to love so well. Ah! Marjorie, how could you leave it and me so desolate and forlorn?

He climbed nearly up the grassy slope, the weight of memory heavy upon him. Crossing the verandah, he entered the room. As he did so a faint cry escaped him. The moonbeams threw a silvery shimmer through the swaying curtain, and traced the nodding lilac blooms in fantastic wreaths on the carpet. The quiet room was bathed in a moonlight almost unearthly.

At the piano sat a figure robed in muslin gown, quaintly, primly, stiffly fashioned. How waxen her white shoulders looked, rising from the draping of a lace kerchief, mellow with age, and knotted at her breast. How glossy the dark-brown hair, coiled low in the old-world style, with a red, red rose resting in the coils. How tremulous with nervous apprehension the fresh young voice, crooning softly, plaintively, an old-world refrain.

“Marjorie! Marjorie!”

The old man started forward, the light of bygone days shining in his eyes.

“Marjorie——”

But Marjorie had risen, and with warm flesh and blood arms was clinging to him.

“I love him, Grandfather, even as she loved you in the days you wrote about. Oh! Grandfather, out of the happiness that was yours give us our share.”

The old man sank into a chair, and passed his hand over his dim eyes.

“You are right, child,” he said, “and I am wrong. It would have marred her happiness on this, the anniversary of our dawning joys, had she thought there beat one heart less glad than ours. Yes, yes, you are right! Go, Marjorie, and gather me a spray of the lilac framed in moonbeams.… Now pin it in my coat. She gathered such another spray, and fastened it with loving fingers. Just thirty-nine years to-day—but ah! she did it unbidden.”

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