Slike strani

certainly to walk across the fell, but her own will to accompany him; and one can hardly rate a man for the sudden uprising of a mountain mist. Nevertheless, if she was silent she was more angry than sorrowful; and thought the reproaches which she did not say.

As the hours passed her fatigue and fear increased, and her reticence and self-control slackened in proportion. She had held on bravely enough for about two hours ; but now her courage gave way; and sitting down on a stone she declared that she could go no farther, that they were lost for ever, and that she should die here where they were; and why had Edgar been so foolish and so wicked as to walk across the fell when he knew neither the country nor the distance, and when he might have seen the mist coming up ? Women in distress are never reasonable, and Adelaide was no better than her sex.

Edgar's methods of comfort went for very little. His wife was not enough in love with him personally to be content in that love or consoled by his caresses. And truly the situation was painful! There have been more deaths than one of those lost on the mountains and the moors, and why not they as well as others ? Shoutings were in vain; there was nothing to be seen through this dense cloud enveloping everything, and no chance of being found by wandering hind or passing traveller. It was terrible! Wet to the skin, chilled to the marrow, lost in a thick white fog on a pathless fell-side moor, no wonder that poor Adelaide sat down and cried when her powers were exhausted, and with them her endurance !

The day wore on and the desolate bride more than once wished aloud that Edgar had never left his precious Leam Dundas to come to her. The glories of her state, as mistress of the Hill, were fading fast out of her mind; and to die on a wretched Cumberland moor as Edgar Harrowby's wife was not the kind of apotheosis which she coveted. She had wanted to be bis wife for the solid goods that her wifehood would bring her, not for the silly transports of a lovesick girl mated to the man of her choice, and content with a desert if shared with him. That was all very well in story-books and poetry, but when you come to the concrete miseries of wet feet, thin boots, garments soaked through and through, rain,, desolation, danger, distress, and hunger, poetry flies into space and only the concrete miseries remain. Adelaide's appreciation of romance was limited ; and just now she would have preferred the Yellow Dwarf in a luxurious castle to Edgar Harrowby and this cold, blcak, misty fell-side wilderness of bog and shingle.

Bitter thoughts like these, crudely spoken, coldly heard, did not help to make their miserable situation more tolerable; but they stripped off the disguise which had been carved out by fitness and showed her own soul nakedly to herself—and to Edgar as well. It was like tearing away a beautiful veil from a hideous object to hear her bitter reproaches, her still more bitter regrets. It made Edgar feel as if all life had suddenly become a lie-as if he had lived until now in a dream, and had just awakened out of it; yet he recognised in himself a strange kind of indifference to the discovery, as if he had known all through his dream that he had not married Adelaide Birkett for love, nor yet believing in her love for him. He had dreamt that he had; but even in his dream he had not been persuaded.

Conventional fitness is a fine basis for a marriage, in its own way; but then the marriage must remain in the conventional groove. When you come to love and the elemental facts of human nature, to possible death on a bleak fell-side, and to circumstances which do not admit of posturising, then the conventional fitness is nowhere, and the gap where love ought to be, and is not, is the chief thing visible.

This miserable state of things lasted for hours that seemed an eternity, and then, as the evening came on, the mist lightened and gradually dispersed, so that Edgar could see where they were, and something of the surrounding country. They were on the top, or rather on the slope, of a fell. About two miles and a half below them lay a small cluster of houses ; about half a mile off one solitary square stone house, pitched straight before them on the descent. There was not another human habitation to be seen, save one, a little shieling on the ascent opposite to where they stood. Here too was a road -as Edgar conjectured, the road which led from this little hamlet below to Caldbeck and the world beyond. “ Can

you exert yourself so much as to get to this house below us ? Edgar asked, speaking to his wife with a certain distant, chilling courtesy that made her wince more than his anger would have done.

Now that she was saved and was not going to die on the fell-side, how sorry she was that she had let her true mind be seen! But men are foolish creatures in the hands of a clever woman ; and she would, maybe, recover by tact all that she had lost by impatience.

She put her hand over her eyes, as if to clear them.

“Yes, with your arm,” she answered with a deep sigh, suggestive of Alinging off a weight and coming to herself. “I think I have been a little delirious !” she then said plaintively, and again cleared her eyes and again sighed deeply.

“It has been a trying time," said Edgar coldly, offering his hand ; “ but come, you had better not sit longer. Let us take advantage of this break, and make the best of our way to the house below.”

He spoke quietly, but with the air of a man who does what he should out of self-respect, not love, and whose tenderness is not personal so much as official.

“How good you are !” said Adelaide prettily, as she laid both her hands in his, and with pain and difficulty rose to her feet.

He made no answer, but drew her hand on his arm and, always carefully tending her, always helping and protecting her, went in unbroken silence down the half-mile intervening between them and Windy Brow. And as Adelaide was really stiff and tired and uncomfortable, she left

off trying to coax him, and nursed her misery and displeasure in a silence as unbroken as his own.

It was dusk when they opened the broken gate hanging on one hinge more like a gap than a guard between the dilapidated fences, and passed up the weed grown path lying by the side of the potato patch and the cabbages, in full view of the windows of the sitting-room. As they came up Edgar's quick eyes saw a figure dressed in grey, with a dead-white face, pass swiftly by the window; and as he knocked at the door he heard an inner door hastily locked. Stories of murderers and maniacs flashed across Adelaide's mind, who also had seen the flitting figure and heard the hasty locking of the inner door. She clung to Edgar tremulously.

“Shall we venture in ?" she whispered.
“Do you desire not?” he asked. “Shall we go farther ? I am at

your service.”

She looked at him angrily. The cold politeness of his tone seemed to divorce them more than the rudest anger would have done, and she resented his resentment as an offence which might well annoy her.

“No," she said haughtily. “We will go in. You can take care of me if there is any danger."

“And if I have to take care of myself ?” he asked, with a certain mocking accent that was, to say the least of it, unpleasant.

“ Your first duty is to me," replied Adelaide with intense insolence and command.

Besides, though a coward, she was dead tired at the moment; and of the two fatigue was stronger than fear.

Red-armed, red-haired, touzled Jenny opened the door on the two battered dripping strangers standing in the dusk without. She glowered at them as if they had been spirits fashioned by the mist, ghosts of the dead newly risen; or as if they had been brigands and burglars with designs on her own poor savings and her mistress's fabulous hoards.

“We have lost our way on the mountains ; can you give us shelter ?” asked Edgar in that rich voice which was one of his personal charms, and with that indescribable accent of an English gentleman accustomed to command.

"I'll ast t' mistress," was Jenny's reply, the door held cautiously ajar.

“Jenny!” cried Miss Gryce from some unknown depths, “what's astir? What's to do at the street door? Who are you chattering with ? Come away, I say! It's no kind of night to be havering at the street door with a pack of idle vagabones. Come in, I say, and shut up.”

“We have lost our way on the moor,” said Edgar in a louder voice. “Cannot you give us shelter?”

And Adelaide's smaller treble added, “You must not shut the door. You must let us in !"

At the sound of a woman's voice, Miss Gryce, who had a heart though

it had to be somewhat skilfully dug for, came out from the kitchen where she had been spending the last hour in economising the fraction of a farthing, and went to the door to see and judge of these new comers for herself. And Leam upstairs in her own room, standing rigid, struck to stone by her bedside, heard Edgar Harrowby and Adelaide Birkett brought into the house, and preparations set afloat for their fit shelter and reception.

Locked in her own room she was left in peace. She was not of much use at any time when practical work was about; and since this strange weakness which had taken such possession of her, she was even of less use than before. Miss Gryce therefore left her to herself, hoping that she slept. But she heard all that happened as clearly as if she had been on the spot. Her senses, sharpened to unnatural activity, told her everything that was said and done, as if no such impediments as closed doors or hindering walls stood between them. She heard all that Edgar said by way of explanation to Miss Gryce; how that they had left the carriage at a certain part of the road to join it again by a short cut over the fell; how that then the mist had come up and enveloped them; and how that they had wandered they knew not how, nor where, nor whence, till they had fallen on this place; she knew how Miss Gryce looked when sbe took snuff and their measure at the same time; and how Edgar looked--bold, commanding, manfulwith Adelaide's fair, impassive face quietly accepting homage as her due and care and protection as her right. And then she heard Adelaide's feet on the stairs, and knew when she was ushered into the room-next her own—where she was to take her rest and forget the fatigues and fears of her adventurous walk. She heard her fretful complaints and peevish bemoanings at the shortcomings of the accommodation, with Jenny's unintelligible replies, which only annoyed her more. She seemed to see as well as hear, and pictured the whole scene visibly-even to Jenny's kneel. ing on the floor and taking by main force the soaked boots from off the swollen blistered feet. Then the bewailings ceased. Adelaide, comfortel by food, slept; and Edgar downstairs waited for a while before he too should take his rest, and forget for a few hours the new chapter of the heart which this walk in the mist had opened for his instruction. It was a chapter that he might have learnt slowly, by quiet unexciting passages ; a thing to grow into like old age, or dyspepsia; or perhaps a thing to never learn, concealed as it would be by habit. But now that he had read, had learnt, he could not forget; and the lines would be on his memory for ever, the text on which his life would be reasoned and transacted from now to the end of time.

Ah! Leam Dundas had loved him! Even that flattering, smoothtongued Violet, venal Violet whom he had left so suddenly these seven years ago, mad with jealousy and rage at what be believed to be her treachery-even she had loved him better than this !--but Leam, proud, shy, loyal Leam-Leam, so full of fire, so single-hearted, and so honourable, how she had loved him! Oh that this black spot had never been on her young soul !—that he might have loved her to her life's end, as he had loved her for those few hours, and received from her for all time what she had given him then! So, thinking of Leam, beloved if accursed and abandoned, he fell into a light kind of slumber, sitting by the little window looking on to the broken gate and the rising ground beyond. By this time the moon had risen white and wan.

The thin vapour that yet hung about the frosty air was like a silver film of exquisite purity and delicate power, giving that ethereal, almost mournful beauty to everything on which it fell, such as one involuntarily associates with past sorrows and dead loves, with spiritual forms and a life beyond and higher than the coarse material life of the world. The house was as still as the grave. Everyone was in bed except Edgar and Leam; and all were sleeping but Leam.

Leam opened her mother's jewel-case. A fancy took her to touch once more the withered leaves of that spray of lemon plant, crumbled now to dust, which Edgar Harrowby had drawn playfully over her face under the cut-leaved hornbeam on the lawn. She took it in her hands ; pressed it against her face; kissed it as if it had life and feeling to respond to her

own; then softly unlocked her door and stole downstairs. She would see him once, just once, at a distance, reverently, humbly; not intruding on his notice, only worshipping at a distance at the shrine which she had been too vile to keep as her own. There was no harm in it. She did not imagine that Adelaide was his wife. She took her presence there with him naturally, as that of a favourite friend and companion ; and yet if, as she believed, only as a friend and companion, a pang seized her to think how soon he had forgotten her even so far; and yet, again, what was she that she should not be forgotten? It was right and good that he had set her aside so quickly. It was part of her punishment and she must bear it. Adelaide at the least was free from crime, and Adelaide loved him. Enlightened by her own heart, she knew now that the reason why the rector's daughter had hated her was because she had loved Edgar; her hatred had meant jealousy of his love, not hatred of herself, Leam apart from him. Yes, she loved him; but neither Adelaide nor anyone loved him as did she herself, poor outcast Leam! But she was a leper and he was a king, and the gulf between them was impassable.

Yet she must see him just this once more, herself unseen-she must offer for one little moment the voiceless worship of her secret love, and then go back into the darkness for ever- -the darkness closing very near about her now !

Noiseless as a falling shadow she stole downstairs, and came to the door of the sitting-room where Edgar was. It stood ajar. She pushed it cautiously open, and saw Edgar Harrowby sitting by the window, his head on his hand, dreaming of her. The candle had burnt itself out, only the veiled moonlight streamed over the fell and moor, and cast a pale reflection into the room. It showed his noble head resting on his hand,

« PrejšnjaNaprej »