In the meantime, however, she made herself very agreeable and attractive to her hostesses, and enjoyed Pen’yllan very much, in a girlish way. She explored the tiny village, and the rude shore. She made friends with fishermen, and their wives, and sturdy children. She won admiration on every side by her pretty interest in everything appertaining to the Pen’yllanites. She took long walks on the sands, and brought home shells, and sea-weed, and pebbles, with such honest delight in any trifling rarity, as made Lisbeth look on and feel restless, and the Misses Tregarthyn grow young again, unitedly.
“I wish, my dear,” said Miss Clarissa to Lisbeth, “that you enjoyed yourself as much; but—but I am afraid you do not. I am afraid you find Pen’yllan rather dull.”
“I never found Pen’yllan so pleasant in my life before, but you know I am not like Georgie,” said Lisbeth. “Pen’yllan is all right, Aunt Clarissa, and I enjoy myself here more than I should anywhere else.” 115
“I am glad to hear you say that, my love,” Miss Clarissa faltered. “Sometimes, do you know, I have really fancied that you were not quite—quite happy?”
Lisbeth got up from her chair, and came to the window, her incomprehensible eyes reaching far out to sea.
“Happy!” she echoed, absently. “Is anybody happy? What a conundrum to answer? As for me, I give it up.”
She gave up a good many things during these weeks at Pen’yllan. She was wont to be fond of a certain cool class of metaphysics, but somehow things of that order seemed to slip from her grasp. She was not so sure of her self as she had been—not so obstinately complacent. Indeed, she had never been so ill-satisfied and out of patience with Lisbeth Crespigny in her life.
In the course of a week or so, Hector Anstruthers came, as he had promised. One quiet afternoon, Miss Millicent, who was sitting at the window, looked out into the garden, with a sudden expression of surprise.
“Sister Clarissa!” she exclaimed, “Miss Esmond, there is a gentleman coming up the walk; a young gentleman, and really a very handsome one. Do either of you know him? 116 Dear me, his face seems very familiar. It can’t be——”
Georgie ran to the window, and the next minute was waving her kind little hand to the individual in question, and smiling, and nodding her head.
“You ought to know him, Miss Tregarthyn,” she said. “It is Mr. Hector Anstruthers.”
“Oh!” broke forth Miss Clarissa, in some distress.
“And Lisbeth is here! I do hope, sister Millicent——”
“He saw Lisbeth very often when she was at home,” explained Georgie, feeling very guilty, and extremely fearful of committing herself. “I know Lisbeth did not like him very well at first, but he was one of Mrs. Despard’s favorites, and—he is a sort of cousin of mine.”
It was a great relief to the Misses Tregarthyn, this piece of news. They remembered various unpleasant little episodes of the past too well, to have confronted serenely the re-responsibility of bringing their dear Lisbeth face to face with this young man again. Indeed, Miss Millicent had turned pale, and Miss Clarissa had lost her breath at the mere thought of it. They had hardly recovered themselves, when the visitor was handed into the room. 117 But, of course, what Miss Esmond said must be correct, and, under such circumstances, how delightful it would be to welcome this genius and hero to Pen’yllan once more.
They had heard wondrous reports of his career from chance visitors, even though the beloved Lisbeth had been so reticent. They had heard of his good fortune, his good looks, his talent, his popularity, and, remembering the fair-haired, blue-eyed young fellow, whom Lisbeth had snubbed so persistently, they had wondered among themselves if all they heard could possibly be true. But here was the admirable Crichton to speak for himself, and so changed was his appearance, so imposing his air, so amiable his condescension, that each gentle spinster owned in secret that really, after all, it seemed probable that rumor, for once, had not exaggerated. And it is not to be denied that Mr. Hector Anstruthers was shown to an advantage upon this occasion. On his way from the small bandbox of a station, he had been reminded of many a little incident in that far-distant past, which had somehow or other warmed his heart toward these good, simple souls. They had been true and kind, at least. They had never failed him from first to last; they had pitied and tried to 118 comfort him when his fool’s paradise had been so rudely broken into. He remembered how Miss Clarissa had stolen down into the garden, that last, bitter night, and finding him lying full length, face downward, upon the dewy grass, among the roses, had bent over him, and put her timid hand upon his shoulder, and cried silently, as she tried to find words with which she could console him, and still be loyal to her faithful affection for that wretched girl. He remembered, too, how fiercely he had answered her, like a passionate young cub as he was; telling her to leave him alone, and let him fight it out with himself and the devil, for he had had enough of women. She had not been offended, good little Miss Clarissa, though she had been dreadfully shocked and troubled. She had cried more than ever, and patted his sleeve, and begged him to think of his dear mother, and forgive—forgive; ending by sobbing into her dainty handkerchief.
So, when he entered the pretty parlor, and saw this kind friend standing near Georgie, a trifle tremulous and agitated at the sudden sight of him, everything but his memory of what a true, generous little soul she was, slipped out of his mind, and he actually blushed with pleasure.
“My dear Miss Clarissa!” he said; and, with 119 a sudden frank boyishness, such as Georgie had never seen him give way to before, he put one strong young arm about her, and kissed her withered cheek twice.
“My dear boy!” said Miss Clarissa. A moment before she had been on the verge of making him her best bow, and calling him “Mr. Anstruthers.” “How pleasant it is to see you! How pleasant it is!”
The brightest of sweet smiles dimpled Miss Georgie’s mouth. How good, and honest, and unaffected he was, after all! How kind at heart! How she wished that Lisbeth could have seen him just then! Indeed, she found it necessary to hold herself very bravely in check for a moment or so, for fear she should be tempted to give way to any weak impulse of feeling; he seemed so worthy to be admired and loved.
But Lisbeth was not in the house. No one knew where she was, exactly. Lately she had indulged in the habit of taking even longer walks than Georgie’s, and often lonely ones. Sometimes, in the morning, or afternoon, they would miss her for an hour or so, and she would come back rather fagged, and well blown about, and at such times it always appeared that she had been for a walk. 120
“For the good of my health,” she once said to Georgie. “I find it benefits me, physically and morally. Pen’yllan is a queer place, and is productive of queer effects upon people.”
Among other things, Georgie discovered that she, too, sometimes talked to the children who played upon the sands, and that she had her favorites, to whom she had once or twice even condescended to tell certain tales of fairies and mermaids. When Georgie mentioned this discovery, she laughed and colored, as if half ashamed of herself, and explained the matter in her usual style.
“The fact is,” she said, “I do it as a sort of penance. When I was a girl, and lived here, the children were afraid of me, and it was no wonder. I used to concoct horrible eerie tales about the devil-fish, to frighten them, and I rather enjoyed my reputation as a sort of hobgoblin creature, who had an uncanny knowledge of the terrors of the sea. Some of them used to delight me by screaming, and running away, when they caught sight of me; and now I have arrived at years of discretion, I feel as if I ought to do something to retrieve myself with this second generation. Poor little imps! Their lives are not too easy.” 121
She was away, indulging in one of these walks, this afternoon.
“We could find her somewhere on the shore, I know,” said Georgie, in answer to Miss Tregarthyn’s inquiry. “She is fond of the shore, and always goes there for her strolls. If Hector is equal to a sea-breeze, and a mile or so of sand, after his journey, he might even go in search of her.”
And it having been proved satisfactorily that Hector was not only equal to such exertion, but anxious to enjoy it; after an hour’s chat with Miss Millicent, and Miss Clarissa, and Miss Hetty, Georgie ran up stairs for her hat, and returning to the parlor, took charge of the expedition.
It really seemed one of the peculiarities of Pen’yllan to be on its good behavior at opportune times.
“It is bluer than ever, to-day,” said Georgie, nodding at her friend, the sea, as they strolled toward it. “And the crests of the little waves are whiter, and the sea-gulls are in a better temper than they usually are, and more satisfied with their lot.”
She had never looked brighter or more attractive herself, and this was her companion’s mental comment. The many resplendent 122 young swains who admired Miss Georgie Esmond, as she appeared in London ball-rooms, would surely have become more hopelessly enamored than ever, had they seen her with the Pen’yllan roses on her cheeks, and the sparkle of the sun-lit sea in her eyes.
“Where is there another creature like her?” said Hector Anstruthers to himself. “Where is there another creature as fresh, as good, as natural and unspotted?”