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  ― 182 ―

21. CHAPTER XXI.

MR. LANG'S GUEST.

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While Isabel was still deep in thought, the dinner-bell roused her, and her dress was still unready. She half regretted giving up her walk with Mr. Herbert for the sake of finishing it, and decided that if he made another attempt towards opening his heart to her, she would be a good and patient listener. For she should not like to lose him altogether; and if she showed no sympathy now, perhaps it might come to that. So she trained herself into a grand plan of sedate and proper behaviour, and really entered the drawing-room with a face so grave as to make Mr. Herbert look several times at her in surprise, while Mr. Lang grew fidgety and missed something, he did not know exactly what.

Presently he left the room. ‘I do hope that Mr. Farrant will not hear of this,’ remarked Mrs. Lang, who by her increased perpetual restlessness had been betraying her uneasiness.

‘Do you mean about inviting the priest, mamma?’ said Isabel.

‘Yes, my dear, I cannot but think it is very ill-judged. I can't imagine what Mr. Lang is thinking of!’

‘He is turning Liberal after all,’ suggested Mr. Herbert, evidently amused.

‘Now,’ said Isabel, firing up, ‘no inuendo if you please, Mr. Herbert! I don't like that smile at all—I know your ways. That smile is . . . .’

‘No harm, I hope?’ he said.




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‘If my papa meets a man tired and hungry, and kindly, out of genuine hospitality and good nature, bids the weary man turn in and eat and drink and refresh himself, is that a reason for all the unutterable things which are stirring in your heart, mamma! Mrs. Lang! Do you grudge a meal to a good and devoted man, who has been doing his duty, under a burning sun and among your own people?’

‘Hear her! She will turn poet yet,’ cried out Jem, laughing.

‘O, what a fuss, Isabel!’ sighed Kate.

‘You seem warm in his cause,’ Miss Terry said.

‘She doesn't mean it!’ put in Mrs. Lang, in high perplexity. ‘But Issy is too fond of fun; indeed, my dear, you are. I always say practical jokes are very reprehensible. Isabel is only joking, Mr. Herbert.’

‘Indeed, no! Mamma, I assure you I am in sober earnest when I repeat that I commend papa for this attention to an excellent man. Besides, it is so pleasant to see a new face, and not by any means a common one either. Father Mornay is worth seeing.’

She had raised her voice partly in fun, and partly from a little natural love of opposition, when behold! the door, partly open before, was pushed quite back, and Patrick announced, ‘His Reverence, Father Mornay,’ and amid the very evident confusion and embarrassment of Mrs. Lang and her daughters, the person in question stood before them, bowing as coolly and as gravely as if he had not heard Isabel's speech. She was fain to hide herself, thoroughly ashamed, bending under the friendly shelter of a large folio, to allow her cheeks to cool. But in the midst of the rush in her ears, and the tingle in her nerves, she very soon was led out of herself, and charmed into forgetfulness of her flippancy, as the polished gentlemanly tones of the two gentlemen's voices reached her. Mr. Herbert, unlike his conduct on some occasions, had gallantly come to the rescue. He covered the flutter and confusion, too visible among the ladies, by his own ease, and very soon they were in full flow of eager talk, which completely interested Isabel. Presently she ventured even to raise her eyes, and then turned them towards the speakers, in her own mind comparing them as their opposite characteristics struck her. Each was a good specimen of a man. Perhaps Mr. Herbert had never showed himself to better advantage in her eyes. They were speaking of the Holy Land, where both had travelled. Mr. Herbert was animated and eager on his favourite topic, and unconsciously he suddenly turned his eyes to Isabel. There was much in the look, hasty as it was; she felt it to be full of sympathy and interest, even tender. Perhaps it was for her sake, to spare her pain, that he had thus come forward


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and broken through his habitual reserve; she could not help watching to see if such another glance was haply bestowed elsewhere. If so, she could not detect any. Miss Terry was evidently listening too, and had suffered her favourite knitting to lie idle. She looked the picture of serene content, but Isabel wanted something more. She thought there ought to be more stir, more play in the countenance, for surely she must be feeling very proud and gratified! With a slight sensation of disappointment, and being provoked, she again turned her eyes on the gentlemen. This time it was the priest she looked at. Immediately his eyes moved and met hers. His next sentence was doubly animated; he went on to describe a sunset he had seen when on the banks of the Jordan. There was both humour and taste in the graphic account of their encampment. His choice of words was singularly good, his voice musical and measured. She was wondering how he preached, and what manner of man he really was; for the word ‘Priest’ conveyed no meaning but the popular and generally received notion characteristic of his profession. The individual character hidden beneath his garb, was what she wanted to know. Again she raised her eyes to his face, pursuing her own train of thought, and for the moment oblivious of sun setting, or Jordan's beauties; but this time her own quickly drooped, and she was vexed with herself for a blush which would rise, on finding him looking at her—looking into her, she felt; and with an expression she could not understand. From that moment an odd fancy beset her, which set reason at defiance, and made her very uncomfortable. There was something strange in Dr. Mornay's look, something she had seen before somewhere, and was associated with some memory or thought she could not realise. She dared not boldly scrutinise his features, for each time she ventured to look at him, she found his eye was always on her. It might be nothing—he might have a trick of absently fixing his eye, or he might be trying to understand her; struck by that speech he had so inopportunely overheard. Yet it was disagreeable, and she lost her self-composure and all pleasure in listening.

‘I think you must have observed it,’ Dr. Mornay was saying presently to Isabel herself. She looked up quickly and inquiringly.

‘Did you not see the very peculiar light and appearance in the sky yesterday evening?’ he went on. ‘I fancied I saw you looking at it. I was at the time near your men's huts; I saw you come in from a gate.’

‘Yes, to be sure! Certainly she had observed the sky, but she had quite forgotten it,’ she said, with hesitation, and not able to hide her


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surprise, for she had not seen him at that time.

‘You did not see me?’ he went on, lowering his voice, and as if answering her expressive countenance. ‘No, I did not think you did—therefore—I—will you forgive me if I presume?—but something in you brought back my life long ago—so long ago—so divided from the present that it is like a dream, and I question if I really am the same creature that I then knew as myself. This has not displeased you, I hope—I trust?’ he went on with a grave, still earnestness, more forcible than vehemence or the flush of ardour, perhaps. It seemed so uncalled for that it half frightened her.

She was about to return one of her own merry, half-saucy answers, and lifted her face to his for the purpose, but her words were checked. Again that look—What was it? What did it mean? It was gone, almost as it came. Nothing remained but a look of suffering—a contraction of the brow which almost spoke of some physical pain. Perhaps it was that, and only that. This idea relieved her and gave a turn to her answer.

‘Why should it displease me? it did me no harm,’ she said.

‘Harm!’ he repeated, but in so faint a whisper she was not sure he had said it at all, and at that moment Mr. Lang hurried in, full of hospitable welcome and excuse for some unforeseen delay; hoped his guest had introduced himself—made himself quite at home. ‘That was Langville fashion! Every one do as he liked.’ And in the plenitude of his good humour, soothed by practical assurance that his wine for once in a way had been well cooled, he appealed to Mr. Herbert if the fullest liberty was not granted in this house for every one to follow his own taste and inclinations?

‘My door, sir, is always open, always stands wide open, to signify welcome to all friends! I hate your knockers and ring-bells, your forms and your ceremonies! Want a dinner? Want a bed? Come in, and in God's name be welcome to the best I have. Can't have a spread every day, you see! 'Tisn't every day I can produce certain custards, which, by the way,—my dear Mrs. Lang, this gentleman will honour us to-morrow, and let me beg there may be some of that incomparable—O, I beg pardon! To be sure! It is that lady to whom I must make my request. Dr. Mornay, sir, I know not if you have been duly presented, but allow me to name to you one—one of my most particular friends. Miss Terry!—Dr. Mornay! Ah, sir! you must positively taste Miss Terry's custards! Eh, Issy!’

This rambling speech, which at all events was exquisitely entertaining to himself, was ended even while Patrick announced that dinner


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was served.

With a quick gesture and pleasant smile Mr. Lang turned again to Miss Terry and offered his arm, hurrying her away, while he laughingly declared she was one of the ‘wee folk’ of whom his old nurse used to speak; good beings, invisible except to their friends, always at hand when wanted, &c.

‘Hallo! I say, where are they all?’ Mr. Lang exclaimed, as on reaching the dining-room he found he had in his rapid way outstripped the others. ‘What is all this? Mrs. Lang! Mamma! Missis! Girls—what's wrong?’

‘You were in such a hurry, Mr. Lang!’ his wife murmured reproachfully, as with a flushed face she sailed in, holding up her ‘o'er long’ satin drapery with one hand, while the other, duly clothed in (forbid it fashion!) a mitten—lay ill at ease on Dr. Mornay's arm.

Following close behind was Mr. Herbert, returning Isabel's saucy smile, as he forcibly detained her hand, and would not allow her to fall back to be last, while at the same time he gaily deprecated some remarks of Kate's, as she, somewhat unwillingly too, as it seemed, hung on the other side.

‘These young people wished to cut me in two, sir,’ he said, in answer to Mr. Lang's questioning glance.

‘Cut you altogether, rather,’ Isabel returned; ‘you men suppose we must be unhappy at having to walk from one room to another alone. Kate and I could have done quite well without you.’

‘You will forgive me, I hope,’ Mr. Herbert said to Kate, who still looked rather annoyed.

‘O, I am sure I don't wish to interfere with any of Issy's vested rights and privileges,’ she answered.

‘And do you reckon my support, my arm, as one?’ he replied, with so pleasant a smile, she could no longer keep up her offence.

‘She does, I believe! You know you have taught her to expect it, and . . . .’

‘Expect it as a right, Kate, but not as in any way necessary to my comfort,’ Isabel here put in. ‘I never so keenly regretted the melancholy fact of being ‘grown up’ before.’

‘Indeed! How so?’

‘Because I should like to exercise a privilege once mine, of punishing you. You are just too bad! What can he think of it?’ Isabel said to Mr. Herbert, lowering her voice.

‘The truth, if he likes. As if I was going to give you up to him! to, to—Isabel, I don't like the man's look.’




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‘That is your bad taste, for I think him the handsomest man I ever saw. But, hush!’

And as the clatter of removing covers, and Mr. Lang's praise of his mutton, hushed for a moment, it was, indeed, hardly safe to carry on such remarks.

‘And what do you think of him, dear?’ asked Isabel of Miss Terry, as winding her arm round her waist, she drew her out on the verandah after dinner.

‘Of Dr. Mornay? He is determined, strong-willed, I should think.’

‘Yes. Is he one to fear or to love the most?’

‘Fancy loving that man!’ exclaimed Kate.

‘Not easily, I imagine,’ Miss Terry said.

‘I can fancy it, though!’ Isabel remarked, after a short pause. ‘At least, if he chose it. I wonder, was he ever loved? I suppose he had a mother, and sisters, too, perhaps. I should like to know his history,’ she continued, musingly. ‘There is a look which puzzles me. Not a very legible book, I fancy.’

‘Probably not,’ Miss Terry returned; ‘at all events it is not a quality one is led to expect; such careful, jealous self-control, even of feature is exacted, that the real nature may easily be hidden. He looks ill, I think.’

‘Yes, and sad. Worn and saddened. I wonder if he is happy! I should like to know all about him!’

‘Issy, you will be falling in love directly,’ said Kate.

‘My dears! my dears! What are you saying?’ said Mrs. Lang. ‘Take care! He is a priest, and you shouldn't say such a thing. Pray be careful, for they say they are so sharp, and hear and know everything.’

‘But it is quite correct, isn't it, Miss Terry, to fall in love with some dark, mysterious creature,’ said Isabel, in a pompous tone.

‘This one is too old,’ interrupted Kate. ‘I think,’ she went on, ‘that he took a fancy to Issy. I really do! and this is why I think so. I saw him turn and look at her once or twice when she spoke, just as if he was trying to see if her face agreed with her words, and once he smiled at some thought of his own.’

‘No doubt he was pleased, and he kindly wished to encourage Isabel, my love,’ said Mrs. Lang. ‘Of course he was struck with your beauty in the first instance, and then, being a priest, and therefore thinking of such things, he was unwilling to make Issy jealous or uneasy; so he smiled in a fatherly, encouraging way at her!’

‘O, you will destroy me!’ Isabel exclaimed, as soon as she could


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check her laughter. ‘My dear, dear mammy's far-fetched solicitude, first for my amiability, her fear of jealousy, and dread of vanity! 'Tis too much! And, O! if only he and Mr. Herbert could know, or guess, what utter nonsense we four females have been guilty of—conceive what they would say, and how look! But let us go to the garden and gather a rose. Come, Kate!’ and as Miss Terry said she must go in to settle to-morrow's lessons, the sisters ran off, leaving Mrs. Lang to settle herself comfortably among her cushions. As she reclined her head she faintly murmured, ‘Poor Issy's spirits do run away with her at times.’

‘They will never take her far wrong,’ Miss Terry turned round to answer, before leaving the room.

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