He had thought of her very often of late, and indeed had been quite eager to make his visit to Pen’yllan, for no other reason, he told himself, than because he should see her there, and hear her sweet young voice again. And now he had come, and she had welcomed him, and they were walking over the sands, side by side. And yet—and yet—Was it possible that he felt restless and dissatisfied with his own emotions? Was it possible that the rapture he had tried to imagine, in London, was not so rapturous here, in Pen’yllan? Could it be that, after all, he was still only admiring her affectionately, in a brotherly way, as he had always done—admiring and reverencing her, gently, as the dearest, prettiest, truest girl he had ever known? Long ago, when, at the time of that old folly, he remembered a certain tremulous bliss he had experienced when he had been permitted to spend an hour with the beloved object, he remembered the absolute pangs of joy with which one glance from certain great, 124 cruel, dark eyes had filled him; he remembered how the sound of a girlish voice had possessed the power to set every drop of blood in his veins beating. He was as calm as ever he had been in his life, as he strolled on with Georgie Esmond; he could meet her bright eyes without even the poor mockery of a tremor. He had felt nothing but calm pleasure even when he grasped her soft hand in greeting. Would it always be thus? Was it best that it should be so? Perhaps! And yet, in the depths of his heart lay a strange yearning for just one touch of the old delirium—just one pang of the old, bitter-sweet pain.
“There!” exclaimed Georgie, ending his reverie for him. “There she is, standing on the rocks. Don’t you see that dark-blue ribbon, fluttering?”
It was curious enough that his heart should give such a startled bound, when his eyes fell upon the place to which Georgie directed his attention. But, then again, perhaps, it was no wonder, considering how familiar the scene before him was. Years ago he had been wont to come to this very spot, and find a slight figure standing in that very nook of rocks; a slight girl’s figure, clad in a close-fitting suit of sailor-blue, a cloud of blown-about hair falling to the 125 waist, and dark-blue ribbons fluttering from a rough-and-ready little sailor-hat of straw. And there was the very figure, and the very accompaniments; the dress, the abundant tossed-about hair, the fluttering ribbon, the sea, the sky, the shore. He was so silent, for a moment, that Georgie spoke to him again, after a quick glance at his changed expression.
“Don’t you see that it is Lisbeth?” she said, laughing. “She is very quiet, but she is alive, nevertheless. We shall reach her in a minute. She is watching the gulls, I think. I thought we should find her here. This is our favorite resting-place.”
Lisbeth was evidently either watching something, or in a very thoughtful mood. She did not move, or even appear to be conscious of any approaching presence, until Georgie called to her, “Lisbeth! Lisbeth!” and then she looked round with a start.
“What!” she said. “Is it you two? How you startled me! You came like ghosts! And Mr. Anstruthers,” glancing at Hector, “looks like one. He is so pale!”
“I have seen a ghost,” was his reply.
“I am glad to hear it,” said Lisbeth, coolly. “Ghosts make a place interesting.”
She is so like herself, so self-possessed, and 126 wholly Lisbeth-like, that she wakens him completely from the sort of stupor into which he had for a moment fallen. She holds out her hand for him to shake, and favors him with an unmoved, not too enthusiastic smile. She is polite and reasonably hospitable in her greeting, but she does not seem to be overwhelmed with the power of her emotions.
“Sit down,” she says, “and let us rest a while. We have plenty of time to reach home before dinner; and if we hadn’t, it would not matter much. My aunts are used to being kept waiting. They are too amiable to be iron-hearted about rules.”
So they sit down, and then, despite the reality of her manner, Anstruthers finds himself in a dream again. As Lisbeth talks, her voice carries him back to the past. Unconsciously she has fallen into an attitude which is as familiar as all the rest, her hands folded on her knees, her face turned seaward. The scent of the sea is in the air; the sound of its murmurs in his ears. The color on the usually clear, pale cheek is the color he used to admire with such lover-like extravagance—a pure pink tint, bright and rare. She seems to have gone back to her seventeen years, and he has gone back with her. 127
When at last they rise to return, he is wandering in this dream still, and he is very silent as they walk home. As they enter the garden gate, they see Miss Clarissa standing at the window, watching for them, just as she had used to do, to Lisbeth’s frequent irritation, in the olden days. And Lisbeth, pausing at the gate, gathered a large red rose.
“The roses are in bloom,” she says, “just as they were when I went away with Mrs. Despard. I could almost persuade myself that I had never been away at all.”
That velvet-leaved red rose was placed carelessly in her hair, when she came down stairs, after dressing for dinner, and its heavy fragrance floated about her. She wore one of her prettiest dresses, looked her best, and was in a good humor; and accordingly the Misses Tregarthyn were restored to perfect peace of mind, and rendered happy. It was plain, they thought, that Miss Esmond had been right, and there was no need for fear. How the spinster trio enjoyed themselves that evening, to be sure!
“You used to sing some very pretty songs for us, my love,” said Miss Clarissa. “I wonder if you remember the one Hector was so fond of? Something very sweet, about drinking 128 to somebody with your eyes, and he would not ask for wine. I really forget the rest.”
Lisbeth, who was turning over a pile of her old music, looked up at Anstruthers with a civil, wicked smile.
“Did I sing, ‘Drink to me only’?” she said. “And was it a favorite of yours? I wonder if it is here? How nice that Aunt Clarissa should remind us of it!”
She drew out the yellow old sheet from under the rest of the music in a minute more, her smile not without a touch of venomous amusement. How she had loathed it a few years ago!
“I wonder if I could sing it,” she said; and, prompted by some daring demon, she sat down at the piano, and sang it from beginning to end. But, by the time she had struck the last chord, her mood changed. She got up, with a little frown, and she did not look at Anstruthers at all.
“Bah!” she said. “What nonsense it is!” And she pushed the poor, old, faded sheet impatiently aside.
Anstruthers moved a step forward, and laid his hand upon it.
“Will you give it to me?” he asked, with a suppressed force in his manner, quite new. 129
“Why?” she demanded, indifferently.
“For a whim’s sake,” he answered. “There is no accounting for tastes. Perhaps I may fancy that I should like to learn it.”
She raised her eyebrows, and gave her shoulders a puzzled little shrug.
“You are welcome to it,” she commented. “It is not an article of value.”
“Thanks,” rather sardonically; and he folded the sheet, and slipped it into his pocket.
Their life at Pen’yllan was scarcely exciting; but notwithstanding this, they found it by no means unenjoyable, even now, when the first week or so had accustomed them to it. They took long stretches of walks; they sunned themselves on the sands; they sailed, and rowed, and read, and studied each other in secret. Georgie, who studied Lisbeth and Anstruthers by turns, found that she made more progress with the latter than the former. Lisbeth, never easy to read, was even more incomprehensible than usual. She shared all their amusements, and was prolific in plans to add to them, but her manner toward her ex-adorer was merely reasonably civil and hospitable, and certainly did not encourage comment. To her friend it was a manner simply inscrutable.
“Can she care at all?” wondered Georgie. 130 “She does not look as if she had ever been sorry in her life; and yet she cried that day.”
With Anstruthers it was different. He could not pursue the even tenor of his way without feeling sometimes a sting. At first he controlled himself pretty well, and held his own against circumstances, even almost calmly. Then the stings came only at rare intervals, but afterward he experienced them more frequently. He was not so callous, after all, and he found it more difficult to conceal his restlessness when some old memory rushed upon him with sudden force. Such memories began to bring bitter, rebellious moods with them, and once or twice such moods revealed themselves in bitter speeches. Sometimes he was silent, and half gloomy, sometimes recklessly gay. But at all times he held to Georgie as his safeguard. Whatever his mood might be, he drew comfort from her presence. She gave him a sense of security. That kind little hand of hers held him back from many an indiscretion. Surely, the day was drawing near when he could open his heart to her, and ask her to let the kind young hand be his safeguard forever. He was sorely tempted many a day, but somehow it always ended in “Not yet! Not quite yet!” But his tender admiration 131 for her showed itself so undisguisedly, in every action, that the Misses Tregarthyn looked on delighted.
“I am sure that there is an understanding between them,” observed Miss Millicent.
Miss Hetty shook her head in a comfortable, approving fashion.
“Ah, yes, indeed!” she said. “One can easily see that. What do you think, my dear?” This was to Lisbeth, who was sitting reading.
Lisbeth shut her book suddenly, and getting up, came to the window.
“What is it you are saying?” she demanded, in the manner of one who had just awakened from a sleep, or a drowsy reverie. “I don’t think I heard you.”
“We were speaking,” said Miss Millicent, “of our young friends in the garden. Sister Hetty thinks, with me, that Hector is very fond of Miss Esmond.”