The story so far: Hubert Lane (better known as the novelist "Lanerton Lee") has come to the South Devon village of Conington to value the book collection of the impoverished Captain Lister. Lister has hidden his insolvency, as well as his plans for the whole family to quit Britain, from his possibly unstable niece Ella, fearing her reaction. Ella was initially hostile to Lane, suspecting him to be a crooked book dealer, and is shocked to find she has misjudged him, when his identity as the famous Lanerton Lee is accidentally outed by a visitor.
Text out of copyright. Credits to Google Books for scan used for transcript.
A Monthly Magazine of light and amusing literature for the hours of relaxation.
London, F. V. White and Co.,31 Southampton Street, Strand, W.C.
Volume 52, 1887
At a Month’s End
pages 307, 452, 564
AT A MONTH’S END
Leaves from the diary of a man of the time.
A story in three parts.
By Bertha Thomas,
Author of “The Violin Player,” “Proud Maisie,” etc., etc.
THE CAPTAIN SPEAKS
CONINGTON COURT, September 12.—Often enough during the past month I have found my thoughts running on the Listers and Conington Court. The short break has not impaired the interest of this acquaintance, chance and slight though it is, and dissociated from every other tie. Curiosity must be a powerful incentive to companionship. Had the Listers been my oldest friends I should scarcely have felt more, and might have felt less, willing to revisit their hermitage than when this afternoon I alighted at a small station some three miles off. Jack met me on the platform, and outside stood the Conington pony-chaise with Ella holding the reins. She signified to me to take the seat beside her. Jack and my portmanteau got in behind, and we drove off.
The enfant terrible strikes me as agreeably changed; I observe in her an added animation, as though a more brilliant and becoming light had been turned on her beauty; and her manner, though original to say the least, is rather less brusque and more prepossessing. Coquetry is too foreign to her nature ever to be implanted there, any more than music in the constitutionally unmusical. But what is perceptible and new is a frank desire to please, arising from a natural longing to atone to "Lanerton Lee" for past rudeness to Hubert Lane, that compels you to meet it half way. So much concession was unexpected, and Ella on her good behaviour a fresh study. We were approaching Conington before—whilst merrily discussing such mighty matters as the pony's paces and the shower that threatened to break—I made the silent reflection that that cloudless young face, radiant eye, laughing mouth (Ella has a delightful mouth and laugh, but no smile), bespoke a free and heedless mind that had experienced no sort of grave shock or trouble since last I saw them. I lost all patience with Captain Lister. It is criminal, simply, to keep the girl so long in the dark, and perfectly well he knows it. He could not look me in the face as he met me in the hall.
Ella, only, of the young people dined this evening. She came down looking uncommonly handsome in black with jasmine flowers in her hair—a young queen of night—Astrifiammante. Her mood was brilliant and talkative, and when the fit is on her her society is charming. Although imperfectly educated and perfectly ignorant of the world—perhaps because of these deficiencies—her remarks have that directness and originality which incessant friction with miscellaneous minds so commonly destroys. In her elation she never noticed how far were her uncle and aunt from sharing her high spirits. The evening was wet and we played round games by a cheerful fire. Ella's holiday humour spread to her cousins—to us all—but the contrast between appearances and realities at Conington struck me uncomfortably, and when the ladies and children had retired Lister invited me to smoke with him in the dining-room. I taxed him with his inexcusable continued shilly-shally and dissimulation.
"You have not yet broken the bad news to your niece," I said.
"But all the others know," he urged in shuffling apology. "They have taken it very well indeed."
"But Miss Ella Lister knows nothing?"
"Not yet. The fact is we dare not tell her. Every day her aunt resolves and half promises, then shrinks from breaking the ice. We hoped the truth would ooze out through the children, but they keep the secret as close as wax—of their own accord. They feel as we do about her. We all dread the effect on one of her temperament."
Provoked, I asked him sarcastically:
"Pray, do you intend to wait till you begin packing up to let her know of your intention of leaving Europe?"
"Well, it may prove to have come to that," he confessed with incredible cool jauntiness and calm; " but for this, at least, I am not to blame. Only yesterday I had a communication asking if I could make it possible to push forward our movements, as the deputy who is temporarily discharging the duties of the appointment has fallen seriously ill. In that case we may have to sail three months earlier than I told you—in October, in short. Personally I shall be delighted. Hanging on here when everything gets known will be very unpleasant. If only the affair with Ella were over!"
I tried not to look the contempt I felt for the shifty, weak Blind that having caused the calamity now shirked the merited reprobation. I felt glad Ella was no Griseldis—one to take wrong for right when coming from her male relations.
"I shall have to tell her myself," he said with mournful heroism, "but I would rather take hold of a red-hot iron."
"Don't let imagination make a coward of yon," I said. "What on earth do you apprehend?"
"She might do something desperate," he muttered with vague uneasiness.
"Jump out of the window or take laudanum? Who ever heard of a young lady breaking her heart because her home was broken up? Girls are born to have their homes broken up. All must when they marry. If you are afraid of a scene "—this was the literal truth—"well, women's words and women's tears soon exhaust themselves. Come, look upon it as a light price to pay for past imprudence."
He shook his head. "You don't consider my sympathy with what she may suffer."
"She must learn to suffer, if she is to live. As for this blow, however deeply she may feel it, be sure she will get over it."
I purposely made light of the matter to entice the man, as be would not be driven, into doing his duty.
"You are quite right,'' he said at last. "I will speak to her to-morrow," and he added, " she is under no necessity to share our exile. There is another home always open to her with an invalid aunt at Brighton, who to my certain knowledge would be ready to receive Ella if she preferred to leave us. We should miss her terribly! Still, she must choose for herself."
"There," said I, " the situation is not so alarming if you face it."
"Not so alarming!" he repeated, laughing nervously. "Tomorrow morning I shall tell her. It was weak to procrastinate. It is entirely my fault."
Of course it was. But there was something conscience-relieving in so magnanimous an acknowledgment, and with it on his lips Lister walked off quite happily to bed.
The coward has waited for my coming, I am convinced, to go through the ordeal, trusting to my presence in the house, as an honoured guest, to restrain the exhibition of feeling in her that he dreads, or to give him the courage of shame!
Conington, September 13.—Whether from these causes or a timely fall of the temperature—there had been almost a waterspout in the night—or the dismally wet day that followed, making even Conington look like a spot you might quit without keen regret, something braced the captain's nerves and screwed up his courage to the needful point. When after a quiet mornings work in the library I joined the luncheon party, I understood from the cast-down countenances of all that the interview had come off. Ella did not appear. Dead silence, broken by fits and starts of conversation, when the still melancholy became too oppressive, prevailed during the meal. There was no call for reserve on my account; and once pale Mrs. Lister raised her mild eyes to her husband's and asked faintly:
"How did she take it?"
"Don't talk of it," was the hasty rejoinder. "It was far worse than even I had expected."
I was not sorry to escape from the family gloom to the shelter of the library, where, selfishly absorbed in trying to decipher the faded marginal notes in a curious volume, I forget the troubles of the household.
Towards four I was roused by the opening and shutting of the door. Turning, I saw Ella standing there, looking pale and unstrung, like some one under the effect of a nervous shock, such as being flung from a carriage or seeing a passer-by run over. Constrainedly she spoke—a sentence evidently framed beforehand.
"Mr. Lane, my uncle has been saying things to me I do not understand. He declares he has squandered his whole fortune and is obliged to leave the country "—her version (the correct one), but hardly Captain Lister's, I imagine. "I must know," she continued, " if this is true. If he has really done all this how can I trust his word, his account of things? I ought not to believe him."
"Your uncle has been unfortunate," I said moderately. "So long as any hope remained of retrieving his disasters he concealed the facts from you, from kind though mistaken motives. His fear of distressing you has kept him silent till further silence was impossible."
"Then it is all true ?" she repeated emphatically, regarding me fixedly. The fact for her was all, and so overwhelmingly much, that his withholding of it sank into insignificance as the merest particular.
"It is true that he has lost money, and that, in consequence, he has consented to accept an excellent colonial appointment—under the circumstances perhaps the best thing he—"
She cut me short, saying "Thank you," as if I had imparted some geographical or historical fact, and left the room immediately, with well but clearly feigned composure.
I had to abandon the attempt to resume my cataloguing; my thoughts wandered, their current broken. Poor girl!
I am furious with the captain. He has forfeited his niece's regard, as he deserves. Folly, to treat her as a child who is a child no longer. I was feeling painfully impressed by the whole thing—unaccountably so, for, after all, these family affairs are no concern of mine.
Ella did not show herself again. She had locked herself into her room, said her cousins, after dinner. No one ventured to molest her there. One knows what will—must happen. The violence of her agitation will exhaust itself very quickly. A spell of dull depression will ensue, after that, the force of habit, natural routine—much stronger in the end than passion—will reassert itself and she by degrees become herself again.
But till then a dead weight—a black shadow—rests on the family circle. The void is intolerable. Neither prospective poverty nor expatriation have affected them individually so much as the shock Ella's feelings have received from the news.
"She refuses to go abroad with us," her uncle told me to-night when we separated. "I asked if she really preferred to goto her aunt at Brighton. She said 'Certainly.' I could not pressher to alter her mind. But we shall miss her sadly."
How can family tyrants ever cease to exist, whilst whole households voluntarily embrace slavery to one member? Here are the Lister family, without exception, deploring their coming emancipation from the thraldom of Ella's will!
September 15.—That girl will give trouble. She is bent on making her presence felt—on straining her home influence to disturb and torment up to the end. She is full of surprises. The last bit of freakish behaviour I shall not immediately forget.
Yesterday morning passed, bringing no sign of Ella. She had not gone to bed at all, Miss Lister told us at breakfast, and had been seen to go out quite early. Long solitary walks were no new pastime of hers, and nobody showed surprise at her erratic conduct. Only when luncheon time passed and she did not come in her aunt and uncle began to look uneasy. It was raining hard. She would catch her death, remarked the captain. Privately, I thought that a long trudge through the lanes in the soaking rain might prove an excellent antidote to over-excitement. "She will come in at sundown," I thought, " very wet, very muddy, very tired, very hungry, and very cross; sleep very soundly, wake tomorrow to her sober, practical self—and lead her uncle a life for the next three weeks. He will have his deserts."
Dusk came on early. At tea-time Lister, who had been reconnoitring from an upper window, announced that there was a high gale blowing out at sea. He was getting seriously anxious about Ella.
“She has probably taken shelter in some cottage," I said.
“There are none hereabouts beyond the village."
I thought their uneasiness exaggerated, their fears imaginary.
“I’ll engage she is hiding somewhere in the ruins," I said. “She wants to frighten you. Come," I suggested to the boys, let us go and find her out and persuade her to come in to tea. You know her haunts.”
In the ruins she was not. We next proceeded a little way down the lane beyond the village in the direction of the sea. To us males in mackintoshes the drizzle and heavy roads mattered little, but it struck me that the truant, if, as I suspected, her object were to give her relatives a scare, would find the game hardly worth the candle.
About a mile onward we met a coastguard and questioned him. He had seen Miss Ella, about half-an-hour ago, he told us, trying to cross the sands from Mariners' Cove. He had just crossed them himself, but the sea was running high, the tide sweeping in; and he had shouted from the top of the cliff to warn her to turn back and not make the attempt. She had turned back and begun climbing one of the hill-side paths leading up the cliff. If we walked on we should meet her for sure.
We neared the coast cliffs without meeting any one. Halfway down the steep grassy slopes a footpath led on for a mile or more, running irregularly—now high, now low—till at Mariners' Cove it wound down to the shore of the bay.
"She'll have stopped to rest down in the cove," opined Jack; "there are plenty of shelter places under the rocks."
The way there was the Listers’ favourite stroll, a walk they had often taken me in fine weather, when the marbled pinks and greys of the rocks, contrasting with the green overgrowth, the gorse, briars, fern and ivy that covered the hill-side, the sea view, the fir-trees in the rifts of the line of rocks, offered much to admire. But the path was little better than a sheep track at the best, and had in places been washed away by the downpour of last night. The rain had ceased for the present, but the struggle to keep one's footing on the steep incline was severe, for the strong squalls of wind that blew from the sea made progress so fatiguing that by-and-by it became as much as the two boys could do to put one foot before the other. They battled on to a point high above the little bay, where we halted to reconnoitre. The tide was rising, the boisterous waves breaking round the jutting headlands on either side.
"Does the sea ever wash up to the cliffs in the hollow?" I inquired.
"Only in the roughest weather," said Jack. "She isn't down there, Mr. Lane, or we must see her."
We shouted without response ; but the din of wind and breakers was enough to drown the sound of our voices. The descent was long and stiff and the youngsters were dead-beat, I saw.
"Wait here, you boys," 1 said, "and get your breath, whilst I run down and make sure she is nowhere about."
Nothing loth they agreed, and I lost sight of them as I tramped down the windings of the rough, straggling path. At every step the havoc wrought by the bad weather called for fresh caution. The path was choked with rocks of stumbling, the clayey soil specially treacherous in overhanging places, where a fall might involve consequences more than disagreeable, and at one point where it was intersected by a creek running up into a cavern in the rocks, the shaky handrail of the rough wooden construction that bridged the deep narrow gorge had disappeared,only a couple of planks la-id across remaining. When after some ten minutes of this I got down to the sands I was half relieved, half provoked, to descry Ella sitting there, safe and sound, in the shelter of a projecting rock. She shrank away as I neared her, my impatience betraying itself somehow, I suppose, for she began hurriedly, as in instinctive self-excuse:
"I was crossing the sands when the tide caught me, and I had to come back; I was tired and sat down to rest."
"Well," said I, as good-humouredly as I could, " I have come to tell you that your cousins Jack and Bob are above; we came out to look for you. I hope you will consent to join them and let us see you home."
She made no answer. I repeated my words.
"I have no home," she answered curtly.
"Come," said I," we need not dispute about terms. Your aunt and uncle grew so uneasy that I and the boys set off to hunt for you. They have kept it up pluckily, but I think they are pretty well at the end of their tether."
"Oh, they are tired, are they?'' she said, absently watching the sea, which was sweeping towards us, sucking in the black masses of seaweed and driftwood that strewed the sands.
"Ella," I said, quite involuntarily driven to try what this unceremonious mode of address, and with it a grave, peremptory tone as of semi-paternal authority would do, "you are behaving like a child. That you should feel the sudden impending break up of your home more deeply than your cousins," I sermonized on, "I understand well, because of the greater tenacity and strength of your nature. But these in their turn should help you to show more fortitude in a misfortune which has arisen through no fault of yours."
I looked her full in the face as I spoke. Her expression, as she listened, with her glance fastened on mine, underwent a singular, though scarcely reassuring change—the hopeless, childish moodiness still settled on her lips, whilst a freakish, unchildish gleam sparkled in her eye.
"Well," she said at length, and rose, faced the hill, and began the ascent. The increasing difficulty and exertion the climb involved she tried determinedly to hide. My offered help was vehemently declined. Yet as I followed in her steps I saw she could hardly get on. Small wonder; she had not slept that night nor tasted food all day; the marvel was that she could stand, much more keep her head and foot steady in the gale on the narrow, uneven path. She was perfectly fearless as usual, and perfectly heedless —here, where a false step might mean broken limbs or worse. Just as we approached the plank bridge over the ravine she tripped in a briar, barely recovering her balance; her step faltered slightly and she put her hand to her head as if dizzy. It was a dead certainty that she would risk her life sooner than confess that her nerve had failed her. Regardless of the displeasure I should incur, and with no more apology than if she had been a little child, I lifted her in ray arms and carried her across. One instant she resisted, but, conscious it was fruitless, suddenly relaxed and lay as if dead in my grasp. Looking down, I thought she had fainted, she was so pale; then I saw her closed eyes open, a vivid light in them, the omen of some trick of revenge? Immediately across the creek came a curve in the path, here a mere thread overhanging a steep drop to the rocky shore. The wind came eddying round the point, which had to be passed before I could set her down in security. At that moment Ella made a sudden rash movement as if to spring out of my arms, which all but sent us headlong. I can hear now the startled sound of my voice, saying:
"For God's sake, Ella, be still, or we shall both be over the cliff."
And her reply:
"I should not care."
Distinctly, lingeringly spoken, in a tone vibrating with — impatience, I suppose.
The next instant I landed her on safe ground. The path here widened, and we walked on side by side. Suddenly resuming, I hardly know why, for the last ebullition did not look like docility, the sermon I began on the sands:
"You are wrong," I persisted, " to take for granted that your young life must be spoilt by the change in your future. A new future may begin for you, which you may make worth what you have lost."
"Oh, I know," she murmured absently, with a smile, the first I remember to have seen on her face. Her voice and manner were softened and subdued, but she appeared to be walking in a dream and bore passively the guidance and help I imposed upon her at slippery and precipitous places. So we presently rejoined her cousins higher up. The colour had come back to her cheek, and she declared she could walk home. By sheer force of will, I believe, she accomplished her purpose, without giving in for a moment till we reached Conington, Ella, naturally, in a state of prostration that almost alarmed her relations. However, this morning she came down to breakfast, having slept off her fatigue, and quite herself again, the open disapprobation and violence of her mood yesterday being replaced by a kind of dignified reserve. Lister breathes more freely, glances stealthily at her, scarcely venturing to believe what appearances seem to denote, that the storm has blown itself out and that the worst is over. Somehow its violence is arrested, they thank God for that, and ask no questions.
To speak for myself, a thing or two might start a conjecture, but that with this girl you can be sure of nothing but that, whatever you conjecture about her, she will if she can prove you wrong. The frenzy of excitement that had possessed her all day ere I found her in Mariners' Cove would of itself more than account, of course, for her singular behaviour. Yet the impression remains, half persuaded though I am that it is false, and that a day or two will dispel it.
September 18.—Ella is an inexplicable creature, very beautiful and very singular. She keeps my attention continually on the qui vive, fascinating it as a curious study, an interesting aberration. Heaven forbid that our English homes should ever be peopled with Ellas, any more than our woods with ocelots and handsome snakes, things to be admired, from a safe distance. And their lot in the conditions of modern society is a hopeless one. Submit to be caged and have their fangs drawn, else to hunt or to be hunted to the end—bitter end for somebody. Or is fancy playing me a practical joke? Possibly. And yet
Is she really the simple, unthinking girl that as a matter of course one would presuppose, treating her accordingly? Whose fault is it, mine or hers, that I have come to ask myself the question?
This afternoon, whilst exploring the ruins with the whole tribe, I took Ella to task, aside, for the fool-hardy gymnastic feats she delights in to the torment of her unfortunate aunt and cousins, prophesying that short though the time left her now, she would infallibly contrive to break her neck before she had done with Conington Court.
"Should you mind?" she said abruptly, as in play, the savage play she enjoys, adding quickly, "If I thought so, I would"
"Hush," said I, laying my hand lightly before her mouth to check the coming threat. She was not angry. Directly she has succeeded in thoroughly provoking my impatience by her childish ways she relaxes into the mock submission of one who has gained a victory.
September 19.—She puzzles, enchants, and repels me all at once, as I think she is perfectly aware. I am frank to rudeness with her besides. It should be clear to her by this time that I neither like nor approve of her naturel. This may be unalterable, or she may be careless to please; the idea of curbing it for that purpose is the last to enter her head for a moment.
She has decided beauty. It impressed me distantly at first, like the picture of a handsome face, but its charm comes out on a nearer intimacy, instead of diminishing, as with those accustomed to make constant parade of their personal advantages. But I could declare that hers have really increased, an added bloom and life drowns what appeared childish and unfinished in her countenance, so fresh and bright that its want of gentleness is unfelt.
She talks quite coolly of the coming family dispersion. Having once accepted the break up as inevitable, her impatience would hasten it on. She takes pains to impress on her uncle how disagreeable it is for him to remain at Conington now that the extent of his reverses is becoming known. There is more force in her arguments than she is aware of.
September 22.—The girl has actually carried her point. The Listers have taken berths in the mail boat that leaves Dartcombe on the 1st of October. Lister is really wanted at Dunedin, the ordeal of cross-questioning and condolences from friends and neighbours he is overjoyed to shirk; and there seem no practical hindrances in the way of this rapid flitting. The furniture here belongs to the landlord, his cousin, and will pass, as it stands, to the next tenant, the library excepted, the sale of which I am negotiating for him with a London firm. He has asked me to oblige him by seeing it through, a small return I am glad to make for his courtesy, to which as a book collector I am inestimably indebted. Thus my visit has been prolonged a few days. With the library off his hands there is nothing to detain him at Conington. But this pressing on of the move is all Ella's doing. She will stay with them till they go; and I daresay that to a proud girl, like her, the comments of the curious Conington gossips and, above all, the compassion of people she has looked down on all her life would be felt quite unendurable. She has made her own arrangements to leave on the same day, but for Brighton. They all admire her fortitude. I cannot perceive that it costs her anything. You would say she had become suddenly, absolutely, unaccountably indifferent to what only the other day was a matter of life and death. If I were her relations I should prefer storms and sulks to this miraculous insouciance. But easily transplantable themselves, they thankfully accept the miracle of her conversion with no more than a transient wonder. It has fired my curiosity more than once, I confess.
Her behaviour when, which is seldom, we are alone is increasingly whimsical. She has come to monopolize a good deal of my time—so much appears from this diary. Well, I take care to remind myself, a dozen times a day, that it would be the part of a blackguard to play with the feelings of a young girl, so isolated and so inexperienced that her romantic imagination made of
"Lanerton Lee" the object of a frank, exaggerated hero-worship, of which it appears the shortcomings and inferiority of Hubert Lane have yet left some sparks alive. So I shroud myself in reserve. Then at other times her capricious demeanour upsets all considerations of the sort, making them seem utterly superfluous. And now at the close of my visit—the day after to-morrow I leave for Dartcombe—when I retrace actually all that has passed between her and myself, the only natural interpretation to put upon it is a perfectly insignificant one. And I think I may say unequivocally that I have preserved a mask of severity, of austerity, though under much stronger temptations to let it drop, than some one has any idea of. To do otherwise would have beeu to mislead her seriously as to my sentiments, which here would be a cruel piece of dishonesty—a thing a man stops short of when he can. After all there is no harm done if she should set me down as a prig or a Puritan.
Dartcombe, Sept. 30.—The truth—did I ignore it? Hardly: say rejected it, for its monstrous improbability. Even now, when I recall the scene, I could swear it must be a trick of memory and sense.
During the last days of my visit Ella now and then. invaded the library, where I was still at work. She seldom spoke except when addressed, but moved noiselessly about, collecting bits of book-property of hers from the shelves where the modern literature was now ranged decently and in order. Her company did not conduce to industry, as she must have seen; yet I did not protest, nor was it mere politeness that deterred me, as she may have seen also. Her presence occupies you, like a riddle that haunts you till you know the key. What did Nature mean by her? No vestal, not Dian herself, more haughtily fastidious, self-reliant, inviolable in her exalted and unyielding pride— pride that refuses to make that compromise with circumstances we have mostly to make sooner or later. Something of a boy's straightforwardness and narrow line of vision, with, underneath, a woman's passionate heart and ardent imagination.
No wonder the old poets must invent dryads and mermaids— half human things, as we understand humanity, mythical counterparts of freaks of human nature such as this.
On the afternoon of the 25th—my last at Conington — as I was finishing in the library, she came in. My pen rested on the paper, but my eyes and consciousness did nothing but follow her, as she moved lightly about the room, restored a book to the shelf, took some dead roses from a vase and replaced them by some fragrant sprigs of daphne she gathered from the flowering shrub that grew close up to the open window. I had only a few notes to fill in, but I blotted and made mistakes in every line.
"How do you get on ?" she asked of a sudden, provokingly.
"Not particularly well," I admitted, laying down the pen.
"You are very easily distracted. Yes; I know." "How do you know?"
"I read it in the papers. When you want to begin a new novel you betake yourself to a desert island." "That is a figure of speech."
"Well, to an undiscovered chalet you call 'Seulette,' on the Normandy coast."
"Let me assure you the post comes there regularly."
She frowned impatiently at the contradiction, saying, "I suppose, then, solitude everywhere now is a pretence—a figure of speech as you said."
"Quite the contrary. From the best beaten tracks a few steps often take you into a wilderness. So with my hermitage. Certain near—not too near—seaside resorts draw to themselves all visitors to the neighbourhood. 'Seulette' might lie within a charmed circle, it could hardly be safer from intruders."
"Have you no friends there, no neighbours?"
"None but a few peasants, who class me as a savant because I bring home plants and bits of rock occasionally. I hold the chalet under another name, for greater security, and need fear no disturbing influence, native or foreign."
"Are you fond of the place?"
"Very. I hope to go there shortly."
"In five or six days' time, perhaps. About when you leave Conington. Boats go to France from Dartcombe as well as to New Zealand. There is one on the evening of the 1st, by which I am inclined to leave for Normandy."
"To write there?"
"I suppose so."
"About a Devonshire family of foolish girls and boys?" "And a proud fire-side queen," said I rallyingly, "who ruled them all."
"Dethroned !" she said, with mock earnest, adding carelessly, "Well, after all, what was the kingdom worth?"
"Neither more nor less than most human possessions," I said, perversely, since I had made light to her of the change and the loss.
"Sure of that?" she said, with sudden insinuating banter and a look of laughing, audacious defiance very hard to meet.
"You are quite unaccountable," I said. "With most persons we can foretell in some slight degree how this and that will strike them, and what they will do next. But you—you remind me of those wild young women of Russian romance, the Vilas and Russalkas— 'children of the hills, cradled in the green leaves, rocked by the winds, refreshed by the dews'—if their poets are to be trusted—and as apart from the world of men and women as the forest creatures—the squirrels and falcons themselves. Who knows from one moment to another whether you will laugh or cry, speak or be silent, coax or strike? Not I."
"You think about it sometimes?" she said, low, and with an earnestness that forced me to look up at her. She was leaning her arm on the table, her head on her hand, in a listening attitude. Her glance, eager and penetrating, made me forget what I was going to say. I looked long, much too long, before replying—long enough for her to draw from me the words she wanted.
"You know I do. Most often you make it impossible for me to think about anything else, my young Russalka!"
"Say that again," she said with a quick backward movement of her head, and turning to me fully a face suffused with extreme exultation that had yet no touch of tenderness in it.
Instead, I rose disturbedly and paced the room. She sprang up with a laugh and a scornful:
"Ah! you are afraid."
"Of you? Very likely," I answered at random.
"No; not of me—but—"
With this mysterious monosyllable on her lips she left the room.
I don't know if I was most longing or dreading to see her again. Characteristically she kept out of sight, making only fleeting appearances in the family group, taciturn and pre-occupied. When next morning I bade the Listers a cordial farewell she was nowhere to be found. They made excuses for her incivility— her forgetfulness, they supposed—and I left at the height of perplexity.
Here I have been for four days at Dartcombe, in a state of mental derangement that hitherto has kept me even from writing my journal, rigidly resisting the impulse that would draw me over to Conington, on the plausible but utterly false excuse of one or two matters still unattended to in the library, whose keepership and whose key I hold. The mail steamer lies in the harbour that is to take the Listers from England to-morrow. They will come over early to start Ella on her journey to Brighton before they go on board. I have written to Lister, wishing him good speed, and have told him that when they are well on their several ways I shall go over for a last look at the library and to give up the key.
(To be concluded.)
Text transcribed from Google scan of London Society, Volume 52, 1887.