Emulating the example of the Misses Tregarthyn, Pen’yllan had put on its best dress to grace the occasion of the arrival of the visitors. As they drove from the little railway station, Lisbeth was of the opinion that she had never seen the sea so blue, and cool, and sparkling, the sands so silver white, or the village so picturesque. The truth was, the sight of it quite subdued her, and invested her with one of her softest and most charitable moods.
“I did not know it was so pretty,” she said. “I believe we shall enjoy ourselves, Georgie.”
Georgie was enraptured. Everything pleased her. The sea, the beach, the sky, the quaint, white cottages, the bare-legged children, the old Welsh women in their steeple hats and woollen petticoats. The up-hill streets of the village were delightful; the little bandbox of a railway station was incomparable. She had been rather pale and tired during the journey, but as soon as she set her feet upon the platform at Pen’yllan, her pallor and fatigue disappeared. The 97 fresh breeze from the sea tinged her cheeks, and made her eyes sparkle, and she was in the best of good spirits.
“I never saw such a dear little place in my life,” she said, delightedly. “Enjoy ourselves, Lisbeth? Why, as you know, I feel just as I used to when we were all children, and went to the sea-side with mamma and the nurses, and dug caves in the sand with wooden spades, and built forts, and looked for shells. I am going to make friends with those little urchins on the beach to-morrow, and ask them to play with me.”
Behold the Tregarthyn household, arrayed in all its modest splendor, when the carriage drove up to the garden gate. Behold the neatest of young handmaidens, brisk and blue-eyed, and the smallest of pages standing ready to assist with the boxes, and admire the young ladies with an exceeding admiration. Behold, also, the three Misses Tregarthyn, in the trimmest of “company” dresses, and in such a state of affectionate tremor and excitement, that they kissed their dear Lisbeth on the tip of the nose by one consent, instead of bestowing their delighted caresses upon her lips.
“So very happy to see you, my love,” said Miss Clarissa, squeezing Georgie’s hand, as she 98 led the way into the parlor. “Our dear Lisbeth’s friend, I hope you are not tired, and that you left your mamma and papa quite well. Our dear Lisbeth is so tenderly attached to your mamma and papa, that if such a thing were possible, we should be quite jealous.”
“They are quite as much attached to her, I can assure you,” answered Georgie, in her pretty, earnest way. “Indeed, we all are, Miss Clarissa. Everybody is fond of Lisbeth.” And thereby rendered her position as a favorite secure at once.
Indeed, she found her way to the heart of the spinster household in an incredibly short space of time. Miss Millicent, and Miss Hetty, and Miss Clarissa were charmed with her. Her pretty face and figure, her girlish gayety, her readiness to admire and enjoy everything, were attractions enough to enchant any spinster trio, even if she had not possessed that still greater charm of being Lisbeth’s dearest friend.
The two girls shared Lisbeth’s old room together; a cool nest of a place, with white draperies, and quaint ornaments, and all the child Lisbeth’s treasures, of land and sea, still kept in their original places.
“It looks exactly as it did when I went away with Mrs. Despard,” said Lisbeth, glancing 99 round, with a sigh, which meant she scarce knew what. “I gathered that sea-weed when I was fourteen, and I was always engaged in difficulties with the cooks, because I would bring in more shells than I wanted, and leave piles of them in the kitchen. Aunt Clarissa sent one woman away because we had a row, and she said I was ‘a imperent young minx, allus litterin’ the place with my rubbidge.’ How the dear old souls did spoil me. If I had brought a whale into the drawing-room, they would have regretted, but never resented it. I had my own way often enough when I ought to have had my ears boxed.”
“You must have been very happy in their loving you so,” said Georgie, who had drawn a low wicker chair to the open window, and was enjoying the moonlight and the sea.
“You would have been,” returned Lisbeth, drawing up chair number two. “And you would have behaved yourself better than I did. I was an ill-conditioned young person, even in those days.”
They were both silent for a while after this. There was a lovely view from the window, and all was so still that neither cared to stir for a few moments. Then the thoughtfulness on Georgie’s face attracted Lisbeth’s attention. 100
“I should like to know,” she said, “what you are thinking about?”
The girl drew a positively ecstatic little sigh.
“I was thinking how sweet and quiet everything looked,” she said, innocently; “and how much happier I am.”
“Happier?” exclaimed Lisbeth. “When were you unhappy, Georgie?”
The surprise in her tone brought Georgie to a recognition of what her words had unconsciously implied. She found herself blushing, and wondering at her own simplicity. She had not meant to say so much. She could not comprehend why she should have said anything of that kind at all.
“It is strange enough to hear that you can be made happier than you always seem to be,” said Lisbeth. “You speak as if—” And then, her quick eye taking in the girl’s trepidation, she stopped short. “You never had a trouble, Georgie?” she added, in a voice very few of her friends would have known; it was so soft.
“No,” said Georgie. “Oh, no, Lisbeth! Not a trouble, exactly; not a trouble at all, indeed; only—” And suddenly she turned her bright, appealing eyes to Lisbeth’s face. “I don’t know why I said it,” she said. “It was nothing real, Lisbeth, or else I am sure 101 you would have known. But it—Well, I might have had a trouble, and I was saved from it, and I am glad, and—thankful.” And, to Miss Crespigny’s surprise, she bent forward, and kissed her softly on the cheek.
Lisbeth asked her no questions. She was not fond of asking questions, and she was a young person of delicacy and tact, when she was in an affectionate mood. She was too partial to Georgie to wish to force her into telling her little secrets. But a certain thought flashed through her mind, as she sat with her eyes resting on the sea.
“She is the sort of girl,” she said, sharply, to herself, “who would be likely to have no trouble but a love trouble. Who has been making love to her, or rather, who, among all her admirers, would be likely to touch her heart?”
But this mental problem was by no means easy to solve. There were so many men who admired Georgie Esmond, and such a large proportion of them were men whom any girl might have loved.
It was one of Lisbeth’s chief wonders, that Georgie, who was so soft of heart, and ready with affection, should have held her own so long against so agreeable a multitude of adorers. 102 Certainly, if she had lived through any little romance, she had kept her secret well. She did not look like a love-lorn young lady when she came down, the next morning, fresh and rosy, and prepared to explore Pen’yllan in all its fastnesses. It was exhilarating to see her; and the Misses Tregarthyn were delighted beyond bounds. She made a pilgrimage through half the up-and-down-hill little streets in the village, and, before dinner, had managed to drag Lisbeth a mile along the shore, against a stiff breeze, which blew their long, loose hair about, and tinted their cheeks brilliantly. Lisbeth followed her with an amused wonder at her enthusiasm, mingled with discontent at her own indifference. It was she who ought to have been in raptures, and she was not in raptures at all. Had she no natural feeling whatever? Any other woman would have felt a sentimental tenderness for the place which had been her earliest home.
They had found a comfortable nook behind a cluster of sheltering rocks, and were sitting on the sand, when Lisbeth arrived at this stage of thought. The place was an old haunt of hers, and Hector Anstruthers had often followed her there in their boy and girl days; and the sight of the familiar stretch of sea and 103 sand irritated her somehow. She picked up a shell, and sent it skimming away toward the water, with an impatient gesture.
“Georgie,” she said, “I should like to know what you see in Pen’yllan to please you so.”
“Everything,” said Georgie. “And then, somehow, I seem to know it. I think its chief attraction is, that you lived here so long.”
Lisbeth picked up another shell, and sent it skimming after the other.
“What a girl you are!” she said. “It is always your love and your heart that are touched. You are all heart. You love people, and you love everything that belongs to them: their homes, their belongings, their relations. It is not so with me; it never was. You are like what Hector Anstruthers was, when I first knew him. Bah!” with a shrug of her shoulders. “How fond the foolish fellow was of Aunt Hetty, and Aunt Millicent, and Aunt Clarissa.”
Her tongue had slipped, just as Georgie’s had done the night before. For the moment she forgot herself entirely, and only remembered that old sentimental affection of her boyish lover; that affection for her spinster relatives, which, in the past, had impressed her as being half troublesome and half absurd.