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24. CHAPTER XXIV.

The Caricature.

note

How easy it is to make resolutions! To say overnight, ‘To-day I have been silly, but to-morrow I will be wise and collected. So and so must be my feelings,’ &c. But however diligently we may have conned the lesson, a very small deviation in any of the circumstances we have imagined, upsets all the pre-conceived plan. People look and speak and act otherwise than we expected, and our answer, which we had so cleverly settled, wont fit at all. Then we are awkward and nervous, and so gradually or at once, down falls our wonderful construction for defence.

Isabel determined to be very indifferent and calm. It would not do to be silent and grave, and so to call forth any remark from Mr. and Mrs. Scott. She must go on precisely as she had always before done with their guests. Yet she must guard against the slightest appearance of meeting him even halfway. She thought she had schooled herself to be, as well as to seem to be, uninterested and indifferent with regard to him and his movements. But this was difficult in his presence. Mr. Herbert probably found no such trouble, for it was at his option to go or to stay; yet he remained, expressing his enjoyment of the peace and quiet of the country, after the heat and bustle of Sydney, a few days of which had made him much disposed to taking his passage back again as soon as possible, and throwing up all the settlement of business which he came to conduct.

‘What, then you were not ill from the voyage?’ asked Mr. Scott.




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‘No; I am a capital sailor. I don't own to being ‘ill’ at all, as you will have it I was. It was pure bother and worry.’

‘You must find great changes even in the time of your absence!’ remarked Mrs. Scott.

‘Yes, of course! Yes, many, wonderful changes!’ It was also clearly ascertained in conversation that Mr. Herbert had lived in the same district with the Langs, a fact which Mr. Scott had forgotten, or was ignorant of; for the acquaintance begun at Bath, had not been much renewed in the colony. Mr. Herbert merely assented dryly, and turned the subject directly, which was put down by the Scotts as out of delicacy to Miss Lang's feelings. Isabel, on her part, also simply allowed the fact, and that she had not deemed a formal introduction necessary.

‘O!’ said Mrs. Scott, ‘but of course he didn't know you; young people change and grow.’

And on the idea that Isabel had been very young, for Mr. Herbert had once said he knew her as ‘a child,’ Mrs. Scott did not think it at all odd that their acquaintance was so slight. But though circumstances were thus smooth and easy, and by a little management she was never thrown in his way except when the whole party were assembled, Isabel actually suffered from the continual strain it was to one of her impulsive temperament, to keep up the required unmoved exterior. After a few days, she became restless in his absence, listening and watching for even the sound of his voice or footstep, though in his presence it was almost worse. Every turn of his voice, each movement, excited her to explain to herself its meaning; unconsciously she watched his incomings and his outgoings, and never lost a word of his conversation even if not addressed to the party in general, but to Mr. or Mrs. Scott personally. Isabel felt sure that he was ill and in some trouble. He could not deceive her by his plausible way of accounting for it all, or by his affectation of indolence. His pale face made her sorry, in spite of his stiff way of disclaiming any claim to the title of invalid. She knew by the inflection of his voice that he was sometimes dejected, though his funny stories kept Mr. and Mrs. Scott alive and excited them to laughter. Isabel couldn't laugh. They rallied her, as having no sense of wit or fun, as failing to appreciate a good joke, and so on. And she knew not how to answer, but listened with burning cheeks, and feeling that his eye had been turned on her, either in wonder or perhaps stern contempt for her affectation, in setting up another character to her employers. She, whose fault had been loving a joke but too well! Then, when released from observation, and relieved from the necessity of any further acting, she would sit for hour after hour without a light, trying to calm herself, to


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get down her beating pulses, to cool her head and hands in the night breeze. Sometimes, wholly overcome, she would cry with shame at breaking down so in her efforts, and for her miserable want of proper pride. Her aching heart was a shame and reproach to her. For why should she care if he was ill or unhappy? What was it to her, though he had a cough and put his hand on his side so often as if in pain? Why should she fidget herself to watch if he got a comfortable seat, or was out of a draught, a thing which he always had disliked, and which the Scotts never noticed or felt,—or if the children's spirits led them to talk too loud or too fast? What was all this to her?

One day, owing to rain, there was no going out, and Mr. Scott had brought all his children to the drawing-room by way of amusement to himself. His wife was away occupied in some household matter. But after the little girls had shown off their accomplishments by repeating poetry, and playing a tune, and answering questions in arithmetic, and the proud and fond father was proceeding to draw out their cleverness by proposing that they should read aloud by turns, Isabel, having observed the weary, pre-occupied look on Mr. Herbert's face, as he watched the rain and stroked his moustaches, made a whispering proposal to amuse them by telling them a story. This was received gladly, only Mr. Scott stipulated that the story should go on where they were. So she drew them to a corner, one at her side, the other on a stool at her feet, and in a low, clear voice, she gained their full interest. Once, towards the end, on looking up, she met Mr. Herbert's eyes bent on her with an expression of mournful inquiry. She hurried over the conclusion, and not heeding the pathetic requests of ‘Tell it again'—'Tell us another,’ she went away. At the door she fancied she heard a voice say—'It is my turn now—I know a wonderful tale.’ And this voice was not the father's.

Did he do it to divert them from following and teasing her? And what did that look mean? It required a vigorous taking herself to task, followed by a course of quick pacing to and fro her room, to calm her at all. Not till she had bathed her face well in cold water, and forced herself to sing a verse of a song to prove the steadiness and clearness of her voice, would she return.

No one looked up on her entering the room. The little girls were full of animated delight at Mr. Herbert's powers as story-teller; and after tea Mr. Scott persuaded his guest to have a trial of skill at chess, which led them on and on, being well matched, till it was bedtime.

But after five days had so come and gone, Isabel began to show signs of ailment. She was thinner and had constant fever about her; no


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appetite, and no power of sleeping at night. She felt irritable too, and was easily upset, tears being provokingly near the surface, which distressed her very much. She knew she was ill, and spoke of going home to consult their own doctor, at which Mrs. Scott demurred. It looked as if she could not be cared for and nursed with them. Why, was not the medical man who attended them as good as another? And, meaning kindly, she annoyed Isabel by sending for this Mr. Blackett unknown to her. He said there was a good deal of excitement and fever in the system. ‘Had she been over-working herself? Did she tax her brain too much?’ Quiet, and as much open air as possible, was advised; this, with some cooling medicine, would probably stop the feeling. If not, he should prescribe another remedy on his next visit. And Isabel's lips quivered into a sickly, sad smile, as she wondered to herself ‘if medicine would cure her.’

Following this advice, Isabel went out earlier than usual the next day. They walked to the fenced paddock—a favourite place for the children's games, and while they were engrossed by their play, she leant against the fence, feeling unequal to much walking. It was no longer a strange thing for her to ‘think.’ Fast and free crowded in many thoughts. They presented themselves generally as questions—questions which were never answered. She dreaded them, and yet seemed to have lost all power of bidding them avaunt! Like spectres which haunt a fever-stricken patient, so did these fancies and doubts haunt her, and give her no rest. She could not be anywhere but they were there too.

After remaining lost in these reflections, with eyes fixed on the ground, seeing nothing, and elbows resting wearily on the topmost rail, she exclaimed aloud, under sudden impulse—

‘I can't understand it! It is a mystery—a wretched mystery!’

‘What is such a mystery, Miss Lang?’ was spoken in Mr. Scott's voice close by her.

She started, and on looking up at him her worn face was immediately covered with a deep, burning flush, for a little behind him was Mr. Herbert.

‘Can't we help you to solve the mystery? I like dispelling darkness and doubt. What were you thinking of, surely not on that mongrel growth before you, the barley, maize, and vetch, on the other side of the fence? Isn't it funny? It will be a nice little bite for the horses, though; eh, Herbert?’

Mr. Scott made many remarks on his crops and on different modes of feeding cattle; sometimes turning to watch his children as they raced about and sent their voices far and clear.

‘Little merry rogues. What, Julia too!—and where's baby? Doesn't


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it seem odd? Can you fancy that you were ever just as active—just as eager in catching a ball? Though it is not so very long ago in your case,’ he added, smiling at Isabel.

‘No! But it seems—so long! All so far off and dreamy—not real—but like stories I liked and made my own by poring over them.’

‘Ah, it is the happiest time!—No time like childhood, Miss Lang! But are you suffering? Just now you had a colour, and I hoped you were better. Now you are—excuse me—you are very pale. Are you right to be standing here so long?’

‘Perhaps I had better go in,’ she said, wearily, and feeling thoroughly sick at heart—unequal to the fresh air and sunshine—and dreading the solitude of her room as much as the effort it was to be with others.

She was surprised as in passing by Mr. Herbert, who stood in the narrow path made through the paddock, he said, in a low, smothered tone—

‘Don't go in. I mean,’ he added, correcting himself, ‘don't let us disturb you. I heard Mrs. Scott say that it was thought good for you to be out as much as possible.’

‘No, Miss Lang—I beg—pray don't interpret my speech into a hint for you to go in,’ Mr. Scott here hastened to say. ‘Come, let us go and see my poor sick filly, if you are not tired?’

‘Not at all,’ she said; and she followed him at once.

Just as they reached the shed in which was the filly, a man came up, beseeching a word or two with his master in private. Saying he would return directly, Mr. Scott turned to go, but stopped to beg Mr. Herbert to look at the creature's knee.

How thankful Isabel was to see the children running and bounding towards them, having guessed what brought them here. In a moment they were intent on their remarks and their expressions of pity for the filly; then ran off to fetch handfuls of green barley, telling ‘Snowdrop’ to take it from them, while Mr. Herbert proceeded gravely, and with the eye of a connoisseur, to examine the bad limb, and to stroke and encourage the poor thing, so as to allow him to touch the tender place. For one moment Isabel resolved to escape. They would not miss her. To be here in this way, all but alone with him, was intolerable; just now, too, when she felt so weak and so foolish, and so sure she could not exercise any control over herself if at all hurried.

‘There is papa! See, he is gone to the mill,’ said the eldest girl. ‘How tiresome!’

‘Then he will not return—Jones always has such long stories—he will keep him an hour at least. Hadn't we better go home, my dears?’


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Isabel said; and without waiting for their answer she began walking back by the pathway. But presently, hearing no one follow her, she turned to look for them. Mr. Herbert was giving them jumps, letting each by turn stand on the top rail and then giving them a hand, as down they came in a flying leap. They screamed with laughter at the fun of it, and shouted, ‘Again! Only once more! It is my turn!’

‘The first time I have known him notice them,’ Isabel thought. ‘Anything rather than be with me. Children are convenient sometimes. Well! I need not remain. If he is so well amused, I'll leave them to his care;’ and on she went more rapidly, feeling half angry, though at what she did not know, and very sore and hurt, which vexed her, as a proof of utter weakness. ‘I shall break down and expose myself, or really grow mad or silly, if this is to go on much longer. Mrs. Scott must listen—must believe me. I will go home! or I'll—yes, better give up the situation. As long as he is in the colony, he will probably be coming here—I shall be better out of it; though I didn't know I was so despicably weak—well, well!’

A loud voice, loud but deep, now reached her. He was counting, ‘One, two, three!’ Then came a shout, but she would not turn to look at them. He had set them to race, she supposed, as he had often done with her little sisters, ay and with herself and Kate and the boys—often! often!

As the words hung on her very lips, so intently did they rise, a light but trembling touch fell on her shoulder. ‘Who is that?’ And she turned short round. It was Mr. Herbert, looking thoroughly moved and agitated, with some entreaty at heart which his lips refused to utter. ‘O, is it you?’ she exclaimed. Her voice and look expressing surprise and reproach.

‘Don't hurry away!—Isabel!—I can't bear it any longer! For God's sake, stay—I am not iron—nor stone!’

She could have wept then and there, so much did his appeal, his look, move her. She longed to bow her head and to hide, but instead, she raised herself, drawing up with dignity. ‘What do you mean?’ she said, coldly. ‘I don't know what you are made of. What can you mean by such words?’

‘Mean? Why—all—everything! Mean? Did I mean to come upon you in this way? Good God! to live in the same house day after day? I tell you I can't bear it. You are philosophic and calm I see. Your composure and self-possession is to be envied. It was fate which led me here—here, of all places—of all places the last I need look to stumble on you!’

‘I am very sorry,’ she answered, her voice faltering in spite of her


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efforts. ‘But it was at your option to stay or go at once, at least so I understood. But, we will see. If Mrs. Scott will allow me,—she wouldn't hear of it two days ago, when I begged it, but she may now—indeed she must!—I will go home. Then you can remain in peace. It was not my wish or intention to disturb you, I am sure. But though you have come back, I suppose the colony is wide enough for us both—we need not meet.’

‘Good heavens! don't talk in that way! Do I wish to send you away? You know I do not. Besides, if it comes to that, I can go, as you observed. It is for me to leave, not you. But still, however that may be—now—now—listen. Stay, for I must speak.’ He paused, as if for breath. ‘Do you remember our last meeting? Do you?’

After an evident struggle, she said, turning from him towards the rail, ‘Much has happened since to put it out of my head. But, however, I don't forget; I am not likely ever to forget it,’ she added, more firmly and eagerly.

‘Much has happened, as you say. To you and to me—much!’ he replied. ‘Yet it seems to me as if my life had stood still, as if everything has been a dream since then, since I left you that day, feeling that with you rested all my future, and the sweet but torturing conviction that my hour was come, that time which a man most dreads; when he must risk all, bring his manhood's strength of love and pride, uncertain if it will be received or rejected—perhaps with scorn, perhaps indifference. I knew,’ here his voice rose and rang again, vibrating, as it were, from the heart's pressure. ‘I knew then how I loved—how—how deeply! But I could not tell if—in fact, I feared that you held me too much in the light of an intimate friend, a cousin or uncle, to think of me in any other way. I expected you to be frank and kind. I longed for the time, while I dreaded it to torture. You never can know what I then felt, how that night passed with me, with what mingled hope and fear I hailed that dawn, and knew I was to seek you, to tell all—to hear all. And then—then . . . .’ He struck his forehead and, as if overpowered, took a short turn a few steps on and back. He had hit the right chord. Had he assumed her feelings with regard to him to be otherwise than doubtful, she would have shrunk and drawn in with offended pride. As it was, he did not even know what had been the nature of her feelings for him. She was touched, and though she struggled very hard for composure, she could not altogether repress a choking but half-smothered sob, which shook her whole person visibly, and she grasped the rail tightly in her efforts to keep down the rising agitation. He heard that sob. He saw the trembling, when he turned about and faced her again. With one stride he came close to her, and again laid


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his hand on her shoulder.

‘Isabel! Had I returned—had I come back to you, what would have been my reception? Tell me!’

‘What possible right have you to ask that?’ she said, as soon as she could speak, raising her head, and withdrawing from his touch. ‘It is enough that you never did come back. And it would be more seemly if you were to inquire what I thought—that is, if you care to know—of—of your professing friendship, and then—when trouble and care came—of your desertion and your unkind, cruel, proud neglect of my mother. Even as an acquaintance, a neighbour, in whose house you have been—something was due . . .’

‘You forget, or perhaps you did not fully know, how such considerations had been cancelled,’ he answered, gravely, and she thought cruelly, coldly. ‘Yet, though such was the case, I should not have yielded; my love for you was so strong, it over-powered all, everything. I was prepared to overlook insult and wrong for you. I felt there was truth in what my sister urged, yet—you—you were the favourite child of your poor father, and I flattered myself that in our love for you—his and mine, we should drop all differences and make peace. No, that was not it! I tell you that no amount of rudeness, of prejudice, of misunderstanding, would have withheld me. Nothing—but yourself—yourself! It was your own hand, and it was a cruel blow. I asked you but now, what would my reception have been? I forgot—surely I had my answer! a most needless question—unless—’ and he fixed his eyes on her, as if reading into her heart. ‘Unless I could still find it a mistake? I want to be assured! If that torture could but be removed!’ While she watched him in the greatest surprise, curiosity, and fear; for his incoherent words, and the incomprehensibility of all he said alarmed her; he drew out a pocket-book, and with trembling fingers, and face pale with excitement, he proceeded to select from many others, a folded paper. This he opened, and held it towards her. ‘You see?’ and he again searched her countenance with keen scrutiny.

She blushed as she read to herself,

'For Mr. Herbert,

'With I.L.’s thanks and kind regards.’

‘Well!’ he said, though there was scarcely a sound, only his lips framed the word.

She looked up at him in amazement, and echoed, ‘Well! And what of it? A direction it seems, an old direction, from me to you. Where is the treason or the harm? I suppose it was a cover to some of the books you lent me. Why—I see—I know! Yes, I remember quite well when that


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parcel was sent. It went from Vine Lodge; Mrs. Vesey said a messenger was otherwise going to the township from them, and she would send this safely. Didn't it come? Were the books safe?’

‘It came. The books were there, a man or boy from Vine Lodge did bring it;’ he spoke in a sad tone, almost like despair. Then suddenly he unfolded the paper quite, and turning the other side upwards, displayed to her a cleverly drawn picture of himself, or rather a caricature, ridiculously like, yet utterly disagreeable and even offensive. ‘And you recollect it all too! It was all just as you say! So—it was your hand that drew this, drew it first, and sent it to me. Your doing and planning—after all!’ There was a touching tone of lament in his quiet low voice. Hope was fled. There need be no more agitation, since there was no longer any suspense!

‘But what is it? Let me look at it longer. Where did it come from?’ she exclaimed. ‘It is an odious thing. So vulgar!—clever too.’ She spoke rapidly. Then pausing, she looked up at him, struck by some sudden thought. ‘Do you mean—did you think I drew that?’

‘Did you?’ he said, huskily.

‘Did I?’ She let the paper drop, and turned from him with a haughty gesture of scorn. ‘Mr. Herbert, you know quite well that I did not. I wish, indeed,’ she added, quickly and lightly, even mockingly, ‘that I had half the power displayed there! I beg your pardon for dropping the precious treasure; you seem to value it so much and keep it so carefully. But here come the children, just in time, at the finale of this—this—strange story. We will go in now.’

‘She didn't do it after all—Thank God! thank God!’ he had murmured, half to himself, but half aloud. Meanwhile he took the drawing from her, and tore it into small shreds, throwing them down and treading them into the soil. She uttered a contemptuous expression and laughed, something in her old way, only it was more mocking and bitter now, than saucy and merry. She went on, leaving him still stamping on the bits of paper. A few steps onwards she was met by the heated and panting racers. Mr. Herbert had, it seemed, sent them to search for gum,note promising a great reward for the largest lot and the best lumps. Fanny now claimed the prize. He received their gatherings, in a somewhat hurried manner, filling his pockets with the gum. ‘Now, if you will all run on a-head, and keep there, so that I can explain a particular piece of business to Miss Lang, I don't know what I wont give you. Perhaps a slice of the full moon; certainly something very wonderful indeed. Do you hear?’

‘They are too heated already,’ Isabel said, perversely trying to detain


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them near her. But the bait was tempting, and they did their best to deserve the promised reward, and soon outstripped their elders.

‘I don't wish to annoy you,’ he said, in a depracatory and gentle way, studying her face. ‘But consider, how anxious

‘You have borne the suspense with great philosophy hitherto! You have not hurried for an explanation or ever sought any, I believe, have you? You assumed the fact, and without proof . . . .’

‘Remember how it was,’ he interrupted. ‘I had, I felt conscious, betrayed—given you cause to guess, at least, something of my feelings for you. But a very few hours after, I receive a parcel of my own books, directed to me in your own writing, and sealed with the identical seal you had once before used to me, a guinea-fowl, with the motto, ‘Come back.’ Within this sealed parcel, nay, on the very sheet of paper itself, is this drawing. Remember, I had seen you trying to make caricatures such as Mrs. Vesey did, and that I had displeased you by expressing my dislike, my strong disapproval, of such things. I had been shown some of your drawing, at least so I was told and believed they were. One was of Mr. Jolly. My sister always warned me against this phase in your character which she had discovered, and which she knew to be peculiarly distasteful, I may say hateful to me. It was a strong case. I tried to disbelieve my own powers of sight. I carried the paper to my sister and asked her whose writing she thought it was? ‘Isabel Lang's’ she said at once. Then I showed her the picture. She nodded gravely, and said she was more sorry than surprised. What could I think? Could I go to you and inquire? No; I took it as your answer, a check to my advances, which you had seen and desired to stop at once. Add to all this, my previous misunderstanding with your father. I left home that very evening, more mad than wise; I rode hard and rashly, scarcely feeling I was moving, and hardly pulling up for rest or food, till my horse's strength failed. I went towards my station, but while resting by the way, I was overtaken by a messenger sent by my sister with English letters containing important news, and urging me to sail at once. It suited my mood. I stayed for nothing. I was only too glad to go, to leave this land, urged back by a somewhat similar feeling to that which first goaded me to emigrate. My sister met me in Sydney, bringing my clothes, and also the bad news about you. I forgot to say that I had curiously enough come to the very same inn on the same day as your father—we supped together—and—Isabel, I wish, believe me I truly wish, we had parted in peace. I don't think I could help it; but that is no matter now. He was angry, and he little knew how sore and smarting I was, or perhaps he


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would not have poured such irritation on the wound. Well, I embarked without loss of time, immediately in fact. My sister was to follow as soon as she could arrange affairs for us both. I tried hard to drown grief and to forget. I assumed my new position and duties as soon as I arrived. I entered into society and excited myself about the pending lawsuit. Pooh, how vague, hollow, and rotten it all was! I was wretched. My thoughts and ideas revolved on a pivot, one only chord vibrated, and that ever—always. I became ill and restless. Then, at last, I roused myself by the advice of a good man who was frank and honest enough to tell me plain truths, and showed me I could not be happy as I lived. I was appointed steward to a large estate and fortune, and I was bound to do good. Well, I looked about—but do I bore you? are you tired?’—for he heard her sigh.

‘Go on,’ was all she said.

‘I looked around, with a dreary feeling you can hardly understand, and my heart seemed to warm a little to this colony. I settled to leave my affairs, lawsuit and all, in a trusty friend's hands, and to return here. Perhaps I might even remain here, and devote my means to carrying out a few of my theories, and setting an example in developing the resources of the land. Sydney brought me much misery, however; I found that I was haunted by the past. The bustle and the heat—altogether I was nearly knocked up, when I came across Moreton Scott, formerly a tolerably intimate acquaintance. He pressed me to come to his home for rest and quiet. That evening, I heard your voice, only two or three words, speaking to some one on the stairs. It was a shock! But I had warning to enable me to meet you calmly. It was surely God's hand which brought me here, of all places the place I never once thought of as connected with you, much less your dwelling-place. Now, can't you excuse a little my credulity? Isabel, is forgiveness on your part impossible?’

‘I hope not. I have, I believe, no choice, if I desire to rank as a Christian,’ she said, with an attempt at being light and indifferent, but a catch in the voice betraying the feeling she would fain hide. ‘Yet, first I must observe, that even supposing you were right, in deeming me to be so clever as to be guilty of that picture—what then? What is there so very very heinous—so dreadful in it? Can't you take a joke?’

‘Good Heavens! Don't you see—don't you feel—that no woman could so turn a man to ridicule, if she had the smallest spark of that feeling which would induce her to take him for her husband? I mean any respect or esteem. Certainly, I am sensitive; I grant it. Yet I care not, comparatively at least, for what others do. It was the idea of your doing


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it—you—you! It seemed so strange that I should be singled out for such a cut, that for the second time my love should be so blasted and mocked, but . . . .’

‘Indeed!’ she exclaimed quickly, and looking keenly at him. ‘The second time you say?’

‘Yes—yes! the second time. What is there in me to provoke it?—others live to old age and never suffer so. I will tell you; of course I meant so to do, that when I first came to this colony, it was flight from a cruel disappointment; it was a cruel insult, I may say, which drove me, then a very young man, to take a sour and bitter view of all things. Isabel, when I was first in all the glory of epaulettes and spurs, a very fine fellow, of course, in a dashing cavalry regiment, I was rather courted by the gay folks at Bath. There were then pre-eminent in fascination and charms, two girls—cousins and rival belles, acknowledged queens of the place. One of them was superb and magnificent, every feature a model, of a calm but cold style of beauty. The other less faultless, possessed, in my eyes, infinitely more attraction. She was the best specimen of high-bred fashion I ever saw. Her sparkling wit and cleverness, and a certain fearless frank way of saying everything she chose, caught my fancy. I mistook it for an ingenuous nature. I was young then. I know now it was the result of high art. Of course I was to fall in love, and so I did. I believed myself bound to her for ever. I also believed that she returned the preference, and there was no obstacle to our union, it was so much desired by our mutual friends. I was mustering courage to come to the point, and to know my fate certainly, though I believed that we had long understood one another. I happened one evening to enter, unheard, a room in which she was, with a select party, entertaining them by a little dramatic scene. She was a wonderful actress, and was in the habit of amusing us with a sort of ‘Mathews at Home’note entertainment. The lights were placed so as to fall only on the stage. I stood in the shadow and heard her voice, thrilling clear as it was, as her words excited peals of laughter. She was, I believe, so I have been told since, giving a comic description of a picnic, and taking off some well-known Bath characters. I had hardly stood there two minutes, when she hit upon me. It so happened that at this picnic she had a very narrow escape from being killed by her horse taking fright. I, seeing her danger, had left my occupation, uncorking bottles, I believe, for our luncheon, and sprang forward to turn the animal's head. Well, all this scene was now brought up, travestied and turned into the greatest ridicule. Nothing could be more disgusting and absurd than the creature she represented me to be. Yet she so cleverly caught one's likeness, that


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the audience was convulsed with laughter. Her courage increased with applause; at first she had been a little shy at this point I thought, her voice had faltered a little; but now urged on, by clapping and cries of ‘encore! capital!’ she was carried away, and said more I dare say than she intended. You may suppose I did not wait long. At best my position would have been awkward. I crept away, unseen and unheeded, at first feeling more sorry than angry. But I presently discovered the real measure and depth of my love, for it did not take long to vanish. When my eyes were opened, and I saw in what light she looked upon me, I began also to read her character better. In fact, it never could have been real love, but only its semblance, a passing, young man's fancy and nothing more, from which I am thankful I was released, though in so painful a manner.’

‘Of course! That is always said,’ Isabel remarked, with a certain emphasis which made him look earnestly at her for a moment.

When he spoke again, his voice had a tenderer and softer tone.

‘The worst part of it was, that this, together with other things, gave me a great distaste for society—for companionship at all. I was in great danger of becoming misanthropic, or, perhaps, of plunging into reckless and dangerous pleasures, to drown my rather miserable thoughts. The upshot was, I displeased my father and uncle by exchanging into a line regiment then abroad. But it was good for me. I saw something of a soldier's life and real work; mixed in the world and got well knocked about. Then my regiment was ordered here; and I fell in love with a bush life, and retired on half pay, taking a grant of land. I intended to lead a solitary life, and forswore all society, and especially all young unmarried ladies. But Providence was kind, and sent a light across my path which saved me from pitfalls, albeit I may be far from what I ought to be. Yes, it is a notable fact, that I, who only noticed children to think them little pests, I, who since my own twin sister's early death, which event was soon followed by my mother's, never knew the influence of home affections and charities—I met a child then—who—who—. Others passed her over to prefer her sister's beauty; but to me—to me—she seemed to be everything—all—something my nature had unconsciously needed and blindly sought. Yes, Isabel; you were for me like a little sister—and more than a sister—more than any sister could be—distinct from all the world. All that you did and said pleased me. I tried to account for this singular fancy in discovering a likeness to that other one. Well, there was a something, and I do believe my sister noticed it—enough to make me shudder, when I perceived your natural love of mimicry and love of a joke. I think that you ‘took’ to me, as they say,


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from the first—others said so. I know that your beaming eyes, which gave so frank and cordial a welcome, were my attraction to the house, and often tempted me to be idle. Then I taught you to ride, and helped you to draw—I felt as if you were mine in some way. You were never shy with me. You were too young and too frank to have any conventional scuples. They trusted you to me, and I hope—yes, I have that comfort, I believe that I never, never abused the trust. I was rough and cross enough at times, and you could be sharp, too! Sometimes, as you grew older, I was jealous—intensely so! But, on the whole, our intercourse was smooth and pleasant—sincere and true. I think that we both liked being together, and trusted to each other. And then——’

Another of those choking, half-strangled sobs, burst from her. She longed to run away—to be alone and weep freely. She stopped for a moment against the paling. He looked concerned, and put out his hand towards her, as if proffering help and sympathy.

‘No,’ she said. ‘But you walk so fast—and—I'm not strong, I believe. And then—what is the good of going back—to all—to old times?’

The words were jerked out with effort, and an hysterical laugh struggled to overcome her.

‘Patience me! There is the bell! Let me go—I must go.’

And she tried to hurry on. But he held her back firmly and gravely.

‘There is no hurry. No, Isabel, you shall not hurry off from any sudden impulse. If you go, it must be deliberately—at such a moment. Let us walk on quietly.’ And he tried to draw her hand on to his arm. But she would not allow this.

They were silent for some steps, she trying to overcome her agitation. Presently he said in a very quiet voice—

‘What did you think—what did you do, finding I did not come again? Did you expect me that next day?’

‘I did. You said you would come, if you remember.’

‘Did I? And what then—what did you do?’

‘I waited.’

There was deep meaning in her voice as she said this. Many an elaborate sentence would fail to convey so much. The weariness of hope deferred. That ‘waiting’ which so many women have as their portion.

‘What a brute you must have thought me! No wonder that you condemned me, so that now, when we met again, you almost forgot we were not the mere acquaintance or strangers we seemed to be. I read your indifference, and it further confirmed the hint I thought you had intended to give me in that picture. It surprised me. I looked for resentment and pique; but such cool indifference I did not think was in


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your nature.’

‘Didn't you? Did you expect I was to go on boiling or freezing for ever, and that experience would not teach me the happy medium?’

‘What, are you only now returning!’ here exclaimed Mr. Scott, coming out of the garden gate, a few feet in front of them. ‘There have I been all this time ‘rowing’ with that rascal at the mill, who is spoiling all the machinery with his obstinate ignorance. Hasn't the first bell gone?’

‘Yes, some time ago,’ Isabel said, and she hurried away; while Mr. Herbert vented his annoyance at the interruption—long as the interview had been—by switching all the grass and wild flowers within reach of his cane.

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