Having coolly laid her plans for leaving the two to enjoy themselves, Lisbeth retired upon her laurels, with the intention of finding amusements of her own. She had entertained herself before, easily enough, why not again? Naturally, as they had fallen in love with each other, they would not want her; even Georgie would not want her. And it was quite natural that they should have fallen in love. They were the sort of people to do it. And Georgie would make a charming wife, and, if her husband proved a tyrant, would still go down upon her knees and adore him, and thank Heaven for her prince’s affection, and his perfections, to the end of her innocent days. As for herself, it was no business of hers, when she had done her duty toward her friend. The best thing she could do, would be to leave them alone, and she left them alone, and gave them every opportunity to be lover-like, if they had chosen.
But one day, Miss Clarissa, looking up from 142 her sewing, started, quite nervously, at the sudden impression made upon her of something new in her dear Lisbeth’s appearance.
“My dear Lisbeth!” she exclaimed, “how pale and ill you look!”
“I am always pale,” said Lisbeth.
“But, my love,” protested Miss Clarissa, “you are pale, to-day, in a different way. You must be suffering. Dear! dear! How careless in us not to have remarked it before! I almost believe—nay, indeed, I am sure—that you look thin, actually thin!”
“I am always thin,” said Lisbeth.
But Miss Clarissa was not to be consoled by any such coolness of manner. When she looked again more closely, she was quite sure that she was right, that her dear Lisbeth showed unmistakable signs of being in a dreadful state of health. She fell into a positive condition of tremor and remorse. She had been neglected; they had been heartlessly careless, not to see before that she was not strong. It must be attended to at once. And really, if Lisbeth had not been very decided, it is not at all unlikely that she would have been put to bed, and dosed, and wept over by all three spinsters at once.
“I hope it is not that Pen’yllan does not 143 agree with you,” faltered Miss Hetty. “We always thought the air very fresh and bracing, but you certainly do not look like yourself, Lisbeth.”
And the truth was that she did not look like herself. Much as she might protest against the assertion, she was thinner and paler than usual.
“I am not ill,” she said, “whether I look ill or not. I never was better in my life. I have not slept very well of late; that is all. And I must beg you to let me have my own way about it, Aunt Clarissa. It is all nonsense. Don’t fuss over me, I implore you. You will spoil Georgie’s love story for her, and make Mr. Anstruthers uncomfortable. Men hate fuss of any kind. Leave me alone, when they are in the house, and I will take all the medicine you choose to give me in private, though it is all nonsense, I assure you.”
But was it nonsense? Alas! I must confess, though it is with extreme reluctance, that the time came when the invincible was beaten, and felt that she was. It was not nonsense.
One afternoon, after sitting at her bedroom window for an hour, persuading herself that she was reading, while Georgie and Anstruthers enjoyed a tête-à-tête in the garden below, she 144 suddenly closed her book, and, rising from her chair, began to dress to go out.
She was down stairs, and out upon the beach, in five minutes; and, once away from the house, she began to walk furiously. She looked neither to right nor left, as she went. She was not in the humor to have her attention distracted from her thoughts by any beauty of sea, or sky, or shore. She saw the yellow sand before her, and that was all. She reached the old trysting-place, among the rocks, before she stopped. Once there, she gave herself time to breathe, and, standing still, looked back at the ground over which she had come. There was a worn-out expression in her face, such as the Misses Tregarthyn had never yet seen, even when they thought her at her worst. And yet, in a minute more, she smiled with actual grimness.
“I am being punished now,” she said, aloud. “I am being punished now for everything I have ever done in my life. Now I begin to understand.”
There was humiliation enough in her soul then to have made her grovel in the sand at her feet, if she had been prone to heroics or drama. Yes, she was beginning to understand. It was her turn now. Oh, to have come to this! To have learned this! 145
It was characteristic of her nature—an unfortunate nature at this time, passing through a new experience, and battling fiercely against it—that when, immediately afterward, the tears began to fill her eyes, and roll down her cheeks, they were the bitter, bitter tears of passionate mortification and anger. She could almost have killed herself, for very self-contempt and shame.
“What reason is there in it?” she said. “None. What has brought me to it? Nothing. Is he as worthy now as he was then? No! Isn’t it sheer madness? Yes, it is.”
She spoke truly, too. There was no reason in it. It was madness. He had done nothing to touch her heart, had made no effort to reach it. And yet he had reached and touched it. It would not have been like her to love a man because he was good, because he had made love to her; indeed, because of anything. Her actions were generally without any cause but her own peremptory fancies; and here, some strange, sudden caprice of emotion had been too much for her. How she had suffered since she discovered her weakness, no one but herself would ever know. She had writhed under it, burned under it, loathed it, and yet been conquered by it. Almost every blade of 146 Pen’yllan grass reminded her of some wrong she had done to the kindly, impetuous young fellow, who had loved her in the past. Almost every grain of Pen’yllan sand taunted her with some wanton selfishness, or cruelty, which must be remembered by the man who could have nothing but dislike for her in the present.
“I should be grateful now,” she cried, bitterly. “Yes! Grateful for a tithe of what I once had under foot. This is eating dirt with a vengeance.”
She might well frighten Miss Clarissa with her pallor and wretched looks. The intensity of her misery and humiliation was wearing her out, and robbing her of sleep and appetite. She wanted to leave Pen’yllan, but how could she suggest it? Georgie was so happy, she told herself, with a vindictive pleasure in her pain, that it would be a pity to disturb her.
She walked up and down the beach for half an hour before she returned home; and when she went her way, she was so tired as to be fairly exhausted. At the side door, by which she entered the house, she met Georgie, who held an open letter in her hand.
“Whom from?” asked Lisbeth, for lack of something to say.
“Mamma,” was the girl’s answer. “She 147 wonders when we are going home; but I am enjoying Pen’yllan so much——”
She paused, and blushed. Just lately it had occurred to her that it might be possible that Lisbeth misunderstood her relation to Hector, and something in Lisbeth’s face made her stop and blush in this opportune manner.
“The weather is so lovely,” she ended, “that I don’t think I want to go yet.”
Lisbeth smiled, but her smile was an abstracted sort of affair.
“No,” she said. “We won’t go yet. Pen’yllan is doing both of us good; and it is doing Mr. Anstruthers good, too. We won’t go yet. Tell Mrs. Esmond so, Georgie.”
And then she carried her absent smile up stairs.
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