Page images
PDF
EPUB

fall of black lace that lessened the ugliness. Still

, she looked strange enough; and the boys of the other school could not make her out at all, especially as we mystified them to the utmost. But, on this happy day, Queen Stork's grace and kindness, not to mention her beauty-for, whatever was the matter with her eyes, we knew well enough by this time that all the rest was beautiful-won everybody's heart.

And poor Harry! I forgot him ; so, indeed, did many of us, for he disappeared early in the day. Once he threw himself into the path of his inexorable mistress

, and she turned proudly away. Deeply wounded, the poor boy hurried from the scene of festivity, plunged into the thickest part of the woodland, and, after rambling about alone for some time, threw himself on the ground at the foot of an old oak. Here he lay, as he afterwards told us, listening to the just-distinguishable shouts of the merry-makers. It was now about four o'clock, the feast must be over, and they are no doubt drinking healths—Styles's, the princess's, even Queen Mob's. He lay there alone, as much forgotten as though he had never breathed. One only gleam of comfort visited his soul. Seeing how she hated him, she would rejoice in his absence (if, indeed, she noticed it), and might, he thought, give him credit for purposely removing an unwelcome object from her sight. But it was a mingled feeling; and, as it passed through his mind, caused his heart to swell, and certain unmanly drops to make the boughs he gazed on grow suddenly indistinct. I asked you not to laugh at him. However he came by it

, it was his first great grief, his first great love ; and I dare say he was, for the time, as unhappy as any of that disconsolate lot—the rejected lovers.

It's a very uncomfortable feeling that, of thinking everything in nature jollier than oneself. It doesn't seem fair, you see, that the very ants—(Harry might have crushed a score or so of them with a turn of his foot)-should be so happy and busy, nor did it seem altogether the thing, that a little flower close beside him should be turning a confident blue eye upward, as though it had never known an uncomfortable moment, while immortal man lay tossing, writhing, weeping, in helpless sorrow! (These observations, you must understand, are Harry's ownwhen he afterwards told us all about it.)

Harry thought he never could be happy again, and that he would rather die at once.

But he was only fifteen, and even that effectual remedy seemed rather a shame. Then came into his mind, with a new pang, two lines of Homer, which occurred in his last imposition, where discontented Thetis is pitching into the Thunderer about her son :

So short a space the light of heav'n to view

So short a space-and filled with sorrow too. He almost felt it prophetic.

Exactly at this moment a sound, scarcely louder than a dropping leaf, caused him to look round. He leaped to his feet.

The princess!

"What are you doing here, away from your companions ?" she asked him, coldly.

“Nothing, as you see, Miss Percival,” said Harry, with a dismal effort at a smile.

They have nearly finished their repast. Why did you not join them?" “I was not hungry.” “Give me the true reason.”

[ocr errors]

“I will,” said Harry, colouring. “I left, Miss Percival, that--that there might be nothing to offend your sight, on a day which owes so much of its happiness to you."

“On the contrary, you seem resolved to displease me, to the last. How should the absence of one of my—of Mr. Styles's—best scholars, gratify me?”

“ Your manner assured me of it,” said Harry.
“ You might have had patience.”
“ Patience! Oh!" sighed poor Harry, and stopped.

The princess smiled involuntarily. Harry's heart revived and expanded like a frozen butterfly.

“Oh, Miss Percival,” he began.
“ What is the matter?”
“You have forgiven me ?”.

“I have, long since; but I had reasons for concealing it. To-day I meant to have told you; and to have thanked you, publicly, for the advantage derived from your good example. It is now your turn to pardon, if I have used too great severity. Do so, and forget both it and me. I leave this house to-morrow, and in this world we shall never meet again."

“Oh, do not say so!” cried Harry, in an agony. “Do you forgive me, Miss Percival, and make me happy with your generous praise, only to condemn me to a worse punishment than ever ?" “Singular boy! What do you mean?”

I scarcely know, myself,” said Harry, rather wildly. “Perhaps I am mad. Am I? Oh, then, pardon my disordered words, and believe that I would rather die than offend you. Miss Percival, you think that these five weeks have been a time of penance to me. They have been the most blessed of my life! I did, indeed, my utmost to avert your displeasure; but, when I could not, then the penalties with which you visited my unwilling offences were pleasant to me, since they were assigned by you; and now you leave us, suddenly—oh, how suddenly! And there is no longer peace, or hope, or happiness in the world! Oh, that I were that flower you are crushing with

your
foot.

One moment, then, and I should never more be conscious of your absence, nor your scorn!”

Harry had sunk upon his knees at her feet.

The princess was strangely moved. You observe, Harry had said nothing about love. But he was talking to a woman. Bless you! they know, directly, when a fellow's in earnest and when he isn't, and often save you a deal of trouble! She laid her hand on the

young

bowed head:

“My bad, poor boy,” she began—Then, with an effort, she regained her usual self-command. “ Know you what it is you think you love? You have never seen my face."

A sudden thought rose in Harry's mind.
“Oh, let me see it. All.”
“You seriously desire it ?"
“ With all my soul.”.
The princess hesitated.
“ Have you courage ?”
“For anything."

“Reflect," she said, earnestly. “ You know not what you ask. "You may repent it. You will. Be satisfied.”

- Be merciful,” said Harry, eagerly. “Show me your face.” “Prepare, then."

She put her hand to the fillet. A moment's irresolution—then she tore it off.

Harry, nerved as he was, started back as though some one had thrust a candle in his face! Well he might. They were not eyes that beamed upon him, but a pair of sister-stars (so Harry, in his poetic fervour, described them), so bright that one wonders from whence eyes, set in the accustomed manner, in flesh and blood, derive such unfathomable depth and lustre. They were fringed, moreover, with silken guards, that must, when closed in sleep, have trespassed considerably upon the delicate cheek beneath.

Poor Harry almost felt inclined to shade his own, as he looked at these long-concealed glories, and wondered how even that artfully-hideous mask could have

so effectually misrepresented them ! After a minute's pause the princess spoke : “Now for the moral of the mystery," she said, with a sad smile. And, without replacing the mask, she sat down beneath the tree, and signed to Harry to do the like.

“ About three years since, at little more than sixteen, I was engaged to be married to my cousin, Gordon Huntley."

“Gordon Huntley !” exclaimed Harry, involuntarily. “He whose extraordinary"

“Let me speak without interruption," said his companion, almost fiercely, “or you will know no more. My story shall not try your patience.

“Our parents, almost from the cradle, projected our union, and, what seems marvellous enough, our early acquaintance with this fact led to no quarrels with our fate, or with each other! It would have been next to impossible to quarrel with Gordon. His nature was, in truth, almost too gentle and placable. I tried, more than once, to ruffle his complacent mood, for no better reason than to ratify myself

with the novel employment of pouring oil upon the troubled waves. I looked on every side for a cause of dissension. Perseverance in that amiable pursuit is seldom unrewarded. My cousin had one singular fancy. His admiration of what he called my beauty, centred principally in my eyes! He would lie at my feet in perfect contentment, gazing upward at those organs, declaring that he knew their language as intimately as his mother tongue-could plead, jest, argue with them and needed no other channel whatever for the interchange of ideas.

“At first this fancy amused me, then perplexed, and ended by positively irritating me. I felt as if the spell which seemed to fascinate him began to exercise some influence upon myself! My eyes began to talk at random. At all events, I would submit them no longer to his interpretation. Here, too, was the opportunity I needed, of testing his placability.

“One morning, when I had promised to walk with him, I made my appearance wearing one of the thickest veils I could find. It was closely wrought, and covered with black stars, which effectually concealed my eyes.

“Gordon laughingly remonstrated, and begged leave to disencumber my bonnet of that disfigurement. I replied by securing it with a riband under my chin, and then quietly informed him that, until he gave me his promise to refrain from that gazing pastime which had ceased to be agreeable to me, I should not lay aside this shield. My cousin said little in reply ; but either piqued by my tone, or imagining it a mere caprice, refused to make the promise I required.

“When, however, on the succeeding day, and the next, and next, I appeared similarly veiled, poor Gordon's patience gave way. Promise he would not, but he exhausted every argument and entreaty in his endeavour to make me rescind my determination. I remained firm : it was a fair trial of temper, one I had myself provoked; and, though fifty times on the eve of tearing off the object of contention and scattering it to the winds, I kept that better impulse under stern control.

“ At the end of a week the crisis came. We were walking in a little wood near my mother's house. Gordon tried one last argument-speaking with a gentle but anxious persuasiveness that went to my heart. Conscience whispered it was no longer the question of a fragment of lace, but of gentleness, docility, obedience, promising wifely love thereafter. My fingers grew restless, were actually stealing towards the detested veil when my cousin, suddenly changing his tone, added,

“But if you will not

“ In a second, pride was in a blaze. I did not wait for the conclusion of what portended a threat.

“ • Never, never,' I said, until you not only give me the promise I require, but apologise for this strange and unwarrantable persecution.'

« • Are you serious ?' he said. *Cousin'-his voice faltered for mercy's sake beware what you do. Do not jest with me.

That is pasto All is bitter earnest now. Decide, but not hastily. Take one minute

66. One minute ?' Without a pulse's pause, I turned and walked away-away from love, from peace, from hope, from pardon, for ever, ever, in this

weary

world. “I never saw him again ; nor I, nor any that knew or loved him. He never returned to his home, nor bade farewell to any, by letter or by word. His wealth—for he was rich-remained without a master, as his fate without a clue.

“I, too, formed my resolution. The eyes I had refused to his loving gaze should never be looked upon by others-should do penance until his return, or until all rational hope of it was gone. I have worn this mask three years—three years. These are the eyes, boy; gaze on them, abhor them.' Oh!" she continued, starting up with a burst of eager passion, “how long, how long must I endure this misery? Alas! my cousin, my friend, my love, my husband, whither did you turn ?-what was your fate? Living you cannot be, too generous so to visit a miserable caprice. No; dead, dead in some cavern of the dumb, dark sea-slain in foreign battle-starved in the pathless wilderness! Oh! earth, earth, where did you hide my dead ? Soul, speak thou—rebuke, condemn me; break but this fearful silence with one answering word. Where, where, oh WHERE ?

The last words echoed up the woodland with a wild, despairing sound. She threw up her head, and wrung her little hands in the bitterest anguish.

up

Harry bowed his face. In the presence of that great sorrow, his own new-born sentiment dwindled into insignificance. At that instant there was a crashing through the boughs, and Fred Prowett, bursting into the open, rushed out of breath.

I thought I heard your voices. Please ʼm, make haste, Mr. Styles wants you instantly-instantly."

“ Not ill again, I trust ?" cried the princess.

“ Jolly as possible,” said the excited youth. “ He's in an arbour we have built for him, and he's got something to show you, a great curiosity. Nobody's to see it before you. So come, please, come.'

She assented, and the lad was bounding away, when he halted suddenly:

"Hollo! I'd nearly forgotten half the message—it's Greek. I was to ask you-stop-yes-if you remember where this occurs in Euripides?

Εχεις γαρ παν, όσονπερWhat's the matter?”

The princess had gone deadly white.

She made no attempt to answer—perhaps she couldn't--but she leaned on Harry's ready arm, and signed faintly her wish to move in the direction indicated.

It was in a pretty glade, where the boys (as Freddy had said) had constructed a bower of green boughs for their master, who was standing outside awaiting the return of his messenger.

As the princess drew near, Queen Mob hobbled from a side-walk, and was making the best of her way to accost her, when Styles interposed.

“Mabel !" he shouted, “ at your peril!" (And he shook his fist half playfully at the old hag.) “That's my duty.” Then

approaching the princess, he took her hand. “ My sweet cousin and fellow-student,” he said, cheerfully, “with the greater portion of your sex I should stand on greater ceremony. I told you once you were no common woman, and as you are aware that I always test my theories by experiment, I now proceed to prove it.”

She clasped her hands tightly together, and we saw her lips move. You could hardly hear what she murmured :

“ Is Heaven so merciful ?”

“ • Abide in hope,'” said Styles, inclining his head. cousin, since I see the brave heart already in battle order, constant for good and evil, look at me. Come hither, Freddy." He leaned his form, somewhat weakened by his recent illness, on the boy's shoulder, and continued :

“ Though not an absolute Hercules, my cousin, I flatter myself I can yet execute some faint and feeble imitation of one of that hero's exploits. He, as you are aware, brought back a departed wife, what if I produce something which shall, I trust, shortly prove a living husband ?"

He pulled out a branch from the arbour. Down went the entire front like a screen. There stood a noble soldier figure, the cheek a little thin and deeply browned with many a tropic sun.

66 Gordon !"

With no shriek, but that blessed sigh that says so plainly, "Peace at last !” she fell forward into his arms.

That's all.

" And now, my

« PreviousContinue »