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CHAPTER XLI.

KNOLLSEA.—MELCHESTER.

The year was now moving on apace, but Ethelberta and Picotee chose to remain at Knollsea, in the brilliant variegated brick and stone villa to which they had removed in order to be in keeping with their ascending fortunes. Autumn had begun to make itself felt and seen in bolder and less subtle ways than at first. In the morning now, on coming downstairs, in place of a yellowish-green leaf or two lying in a corner of the lowest step, which had been the only previous symptoms around the house, she saw dozens of them playing at corkscrews in the wind, directly the door was opened. Beyond, towards the sea, the slopes and scarps that bad been muffled with a thick robe of cliff herbage, were showing their chill grey substance through the withered verdure, like the background of velvet whence the pile has been fretted away. Unexpected breezes broomed and rasped the smooth bay in evanescent patches of stippled shade, and, besides the small boats, the ponderous lighters used in shipping stone were hauled up the beach in anticipation of the equinoctial attack.

A few days after Ethelberta’s reception at Lychworth, an improved stanhope, driven by Lord Mountelere himself, climbed up the hill until it was opposite her door. A few notes from a piano softly played reached his ear as he descended from his place; on being shown in to his betrothed, he could perceive that she had just left the instrument. Moreover, a tear was visible in her eye when she came near him.

They discoursed for several minutes in the manner natural between & defenceless young widow and an old widower in Lord Mountclere's position to whom she was engaged-a great deal of formal considerateness making itself visible on her part, and of extreme tenderness on his. While thus occupied, he turned to the piano, and casually glanced at a piece of music lying open upon it. Some words of writing at the top expressed that it was the composer's original copy, presented by him, Christopber Julian, to the author of the song. Seeing that he noticed the sheet somewhat lengthily, Ethelberta remarked that it had been an offering made to her a long time ago—a melody written to one of her own poems.

“In the writing of the composer," observed Lord Mountclere, with interest. “An offering from the musician himself-very gratifying and touching. Mr. Christopher Julian is the name I see upon 'it, I believe ? I knew his father, Dr. Julian—a Sandbourne man, if I recollect.”

** Yes," said Ethelberta, placidly. But it was really with an effort. The song was the identical one which Christopher sent up to her from Sandbourne when the fire of her hope burnt high for less material ends; and the discovery of the sheet among her music that day had started eddies of emotion for some time checked.

and a song.

“I am sorry you have been grieved," said Lord Mountclere, with gloomy restlessness.

“Grieved?” said Ethelberta.
“Did I not see a tear there? or did my eyes deceive me?"
“You might have seen one.”
“ Ah! a tear,

I naturally think“ You naturally think that a woman wbo cries over a man's gift must be in love with the giver?" Ethelberta looked him serenely in the face.

Lord Mountclere's jealous suspicions were considerably shaken.

“Not at all,” he said hastily, as if ashamed. “One who cries over a song is much affected by its sentiment.”

“Do you expect authors to cry over their own words ? " she inquired, merging defence in attack. “I am afraid they don't often do that.”

“ You would make me uneasy !"

“On the contrary, I would reassure you. Are you not still doubting?" she asked with a pleasant smile. “I cannot doubt

you

!” “Swear, like a faithful knight." “I swear, my fairy, my flower !”

After this the old man appeared to be pondering; indeed, his thoughts could hardly be said to be present when he uttered the words. For though the tabernacle was getting shaky by reason of years and merry living, so that what was going on inside might often be guessed without by the movement of the hangings, as in a puppet-show with worn canvas, he could be quiet enough when scheming any plot of particular neatness, which had less emotion than impishness in it. Such an innocent amuse ment he was pondering now.

Before leaving her, he asked if she would accompany him to a morning instrumental concert at Melchester, which was to take place in the course of that week for the benefit of some local institution.

“Melchester,” she repeated faintly, and observed him as searchingly as it was possible to do without exposing herself to a raking fire in return. Could he know that Christopher was living there, and was this said in prolongation of his recent suspicion? But Lord Mountclere's face gave no sign.

“You forget one fatal objection," said she; "the secrecy in which it is imperative that the engagement between us should be kept.”

“I am not known in Melchester without my carriage ; nor are you." We

may be known by somebody on the road." " Then let it be arranged in this way. I will not call here to take you up, but will meet you at the station at Anglebury; and we can go on together by train without notice. Surely there can be no objection to that? It would be mere prudishness to object, since we are to become one so shortly." He spoke a little impatiently. It was plain that he particularly wanted her to go to Melchester.

6 But

“I merely meant that there was a chance of discovery in our going out together. And discovery means no marriage." She was pale now, and sick at heart, for it seemed that the viscount must be aware that Christopher dwelt at that place, and was about to test her concerning him.

“Why does it mean no marriage !” said he.

• My father might, and almost certainly would, object to it. Although he cannot control me he might en "reat me."

“ Why would he object?" said Lord Mountclere, uneasily, and somewhat haughtily. “ I don't know."

you will be my wife-say again that you will." “I will."

He breathed. “He will not object-hee-hee!” he said. “Oh, no-I think you will be mine now.”

“I have said so. But look to me all the same."

“You malign yourself, dear one. But you will meet me at Anglebury, as I wish, and go on to Melchester with me?"

“ I shall be pleased to—if my sister may accompany me.”
Ah-your

sister. Yes, of course.” They settled the time of the journey, and when the visit had been stretched out as long as it reasonably could be with propriety, Lord Mountclere took his leave.

When he was again seated on the driving-phaeton which he had brought that day, Lord Mountclere looked gleeful, and shrewd enough in his own opinion to outwit Mephistopheles. As soon as they were ascending a hill, and he could find time to free his hand, he pulled off his glove, and drawing from his pocket a programme of the Melchester concert referred to, contemplated therein the name of one of the intended performers. The name was that of Mr. C. Julian. Replacing it again, he looked ahead, and some time after murmured with wily mirth, “An excellent test-a lucky thought !'

Nothing of importance transpired during the intervening days. At two o'clock on the appointed afternoon Ethelberta stepped from the train at Melchester with the viscount, who had met her as proposed; she was followed behind by Picotee. The concert was to be held at the Townhall half-an-hour later. They entered a fly in waiting, and secure from recognition, were driven leisurely in that direction, Picotee silent and absorbed with her own thoughts.

“ There's the cathedral,” said Lord Mountclere humorously, as they caught a view of one of its towers through a street leading into the Close.

“ Yes."
“It boasts of a very fine organ."
“ Ah.”
And the organist is a clever young man."

“Oh."

18--5

Then one

Lord Mountclere paused a comma or two. “By the way, you may remember that he is the Mr. Julian who set your song to music !”

“I recollect it quite well.” Her heart was horrified, and she thought Lord Mountclere must be sinking into dotage, which perhaps he was. But none of this reached her fice.

They turned in the direction of the Hall, were set down, and entered.

The large assembly-room set apart for the concert was upstairs, and it was possible to enter it in two ways: by the large doorway in front of the landing, or by turning down a side passage leading to council-rooms and subsidiary apartments of small size, which were allotted to performers in any exhibition; thus they could enter from one of these directly upon the platform, without passing through the audience.

“Will you seat yourself here?” said Lord Mountclere, who, instead of entering by the direct door, had brought the young women round into this green-room, as it may be called. “You see we have come in privately enough ; when the musicians arrive we can pass through behind them, and step down to our seats from the front.”

The players could soon be heard tuning in the next room. came through the passage-room where the three waited, and went in, then another, then another. Last of all came Julian.

Ethelberta sat facing the door, but Christopher, never in the least expecting her there, did not recognise her till he was quite inside. When he had really perceived her to be the one who had troubled his soul so many times and long, the blood in his face—never very much-passed off and left it, like the shade of a cloud. Between them stood a table covered with green baize, which, reflecting upwards a band of sunlight shining across the chamber, flung upon his already white features the virescent hues of death. The poor muscian, whose person, much to his own inconvenience, constituted a complete breviary of the gentle emotions, looked as if he were going to fall down in a faint.

Ethelberta Alung at Lord Mountclere a look which clipped him like pincers : he never forgot it as long as he lived.

“This is your pretty jealous scheme-I see it !" she hissed to him, and without being able to control herself went across to Julian.

But a slight gasp came from behind the door where Picotee had been sitting. Ethelberta and Lord Mountelere looked that way; and behold, Picotee had nearly swooned.

Ethelberta's show of passion went as quickly as it had come, for she felt that a splendid triumph had been put into her hands. see the truth?” she whispered to Lord Mountclere without a drachm of feeling ; pointing to Christopher and then to Picotee--as like as two snowdrops now.

“I do, I do,” murmured the viscount hastily.

They both went forward to help Christopher in restoring the fragile Picotee : he had set himself to that task as suddenly as he possibly could to cover his own near approach to the same condition. Not much help

“ Now do you was required, the little girl's indisposition being quite momentary, and she sat up in the chair again.

"Are you better ?” said Ethelberta to Christopher.

“Quite well-quite," he said, smiling faintly. “I am glad to see you. I must, I think, go into the next room now." He bowed and walked out awkwardly,

“Are you better, too ?" she next said to Picotee. “Quite well," said Picotee.

“You are quite sure you know between whom the love lies noweh ?” Ethelberta asked in a sarcastic whisper of Lord Mountclere.

“I am—beyond a doubt," murmured the anxious nobleman; he feared that look of hers, which was not less dominant than irresistible.

Some additional moments given to thought on the circumstances rendered Ethelberta still more indignant and intractable. She went out at the door by which they had entered, along the passage, and down the stairs. A shuffling footstep followed, but she did not turn her head. When they reached the bottom of the stairs the carriage had gone, their exit not being expected till two hours later. Ethelberta, nothing daunted, swept along the pavement and down the street in a turbulent prance, Lord Mountclere trotting behind with a jowl reduced to a mere nothing by his concern at the discourtesy into which he had been lured by jealous whisperings.

“My dearest—forgive me; I confess I doubted you—but I was beside myself,” came to her ears from over her shoulder. But Ethelberta walked on as before.

Lord Mountclere sighed like a poet over a ledger. “An old manwho is not very old-naturally torments himself with fears of losingno, no—it was an innocent jest of mine-you will forgive a joke-heehee?” he said again on getting no reply.

“You had no right to mistrust me!"

“I do not-you did not blench. You should have told me before that it was your sister and not yourself who was entangled with him.”

“You brought me to Melchester on purpose to confront him.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Are you not ashamed ?”

“I am satisfied. It is better to know the truth by any means than to die of suspense; better for us both—surely you see that?”

They had by this time got to the end of a long street, and into a deserted side road by which the station could be indirectly reached. Picotee appeared in the distance as a mere distracted speck of girlhood, following them because not knowing what else to do in her sickness of body and mind. Once out of sight here, Ethelberta began to cry.

“Ethelberta," said Lord Mountclere, in an agony of trouble, “don't be vexed. It was an inconsiderate trick-I own it. Do what you will, but do not desert me now! I could not bear it-you would kill me if you were to leave me. Anything, but be mine."

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