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Oh, Sim,” she went on pleadingly, “ be good to me. I'm sick, I'm sick of life, and you don't show you care for me a little bit. Do you love me, Sim ?”
“Heavens!” he cried, “ you would ask the question fifty times a-day if you had the opportunity.”
“ It would need a hundred times a-day to keep up with your changing moods. Do you love me, Sim ? " She was smiling with the most pathetic appeal in her face.
* You look beautiful in that gown, Kate," said he irrelevantly, not looking at it at all but out at the window where showed the gabbarts tossing in the bay and the sides of the hill of Dunchuach all splashed with gold and crimson leafage.
“Never mind my gown, Sim,” said she, stamping her foot and pulling at the buttons of his coat. “Once-oh, Sim, do you love me? Tell me, tell me, tell me! Whether you do or not, say it, you used to be such a splendid liar."
" It was no lie,” said he curtly; then to himself, “Oh, Lord, give me patience with this! and I have brought it on myself."
“It was no lie. Oh, Sim!” . (And still she was turning wary eyes upon the door that led to her husband's retirement.) “ It was no lie; you're left neither love nor courtesy. Oh, never mind! say you love me, Sim, whether it's true or not : that's what it's come to with me.”
“Of course I do," said he. “Of course what ?”
“Of course I love you.” He smiled, but at heart he grimaced.
" I don't believe you,” said she, from custom waiting his protestation. But the Duke's Chamberlain was in no mood for protestations. He looked at her high temples made bald by the twisted papilottes, and wondered how he could have thought that bold shoulder beautiful.
“I'm in a great hurry, Kate,” said he. “I am
sorry to go, but there's my horse at the ring to prove the hurry I'm in!”
"I know, I know; you're always in a hurry now with me: it wasn't always so. Do you hear the brute?" Her husband's squeaky voice querulously shouting on a servant came to them from behind.
The servant immediately after came to the door with an intimation that Mr Petullo desired to know where the spirit-bottle was.
“He knows very well,” said Mrs Petullo. “Here is the key-no, I'll take it to him myself.”
“It's not the drink he wants, but me, the pig,” said she as the servant withdrew. “Kiss me good afternoon, Sim.".
“I wish to God it was good-bye!” thought he as he smacked her vulgarly, like a clown at a country fair.
She drew her hand across her mouth, and her eyes flashed indignation.
“There's something between us, Simon," said she in an altered tone; "it used not to be like that."
“ Indeed it did not,” he thought bitterly, and not for the first time he missed something in her-some spirit of simplicity, freshness, flower - bloom, and purity that he had sought for, seen in many women, and found elusive, as the frost finds the bloom of flowers he would begem.
Her husband shrieked again, and with mute gestures they parted.
The Chamberlain threw himself upon his horse as 'twere a mortal enemy, dug rowel-deep in the shuddering flesh, and the hoof-beats thundered on the causey - stones. The beast whinnied in its pain, reared, and backed to the breast wall of the bay. He lashed it wildly over the eyes with his whip, and they galloped up the roadway. A storm of fury possessed him; he saw nothing, heard nothing.
Count Victor came through the woods from Strongara singularly disturbed by the inexplicable sense of familiarity which rose from his meeting with the horseman. It was a dry day and genial, yet with hints of rain on the horizon and white caps to the waves, betokening perhaps a storm not far distant. Children were in the wood of Dunderave-ruddy shy children, gathering nuts and blackberries, with merriment haunting the landscape as it were in a picture by Watteau or a tale of the classics, where such figures happily move for ever and for ever in the right golden glamour. Little elves they seemed to Count Victor as he came upon them over an eminence, and saw them for the first time through the trees under tall oaks and pines, among whose pillars they moved as if in fairy cloisters, the sea behind them shining with a vivid and singing blue.
He had come upon them frowning, his mind full of doubts as to the hazards of his adventure in Argyll, convinced almost that the Baron of Doom was right, and that the needle in the haystack was no more hopeless a quest than that he had set out on, and the spectacle of their innocence in the woodland soothed him like a psalm in a cathedral as he stood to watch. Unknowing his presence there, they ran and played upon the grass, their lips stained with the berry-juice, their pillow-slips of nuts gathered beneath a bush of whin. They laughed, and chanted merry rhymes: a gaiety their humble clothing lent them touched the thickets with romance.
In circumstances other than fate had set about his life, Count Victor might have been a good mana good man not in the common sense that means paying the way, telling the truth, showing the open hand, respecting the law, going to Mass, loyalty to the woman and to a friend, but in the rare wide manner that comprehends all these, and has its growth in human affection and religious faith. He loved birds; animals ever found him soft-handed; as for children--the petites-God bless them! was he not used to stand at his window at home and glow to see them playing in the street ? And as he watched the urchins in the wood of Dunderave, far from the scenes he knew, children babbling in an uncouth language whose smallest word he could not comprehend, he felt an elevation of his spirit that he indulged by sitting on the grass above them, looking at their play and listening to their laughter as if it were an opera.
He forgot his fears, his apprehensions, his ignoble little emprise of revenge; he felt a better man, and he had his reward as one shall ever have who sits a space with childish merriment and woodland innocence. In his case it was something more direct and tangible than the immaterial efflux of the soul, though that too was not wanting: he saw the signal kerchief being placed outside the window, that otherwise, reaching home too early, he had missed.
“It is my last chance if I leave to-morrow," he thought. “I shall satisfy myself as to the nocturnal visitor, the magic flautist, and the bewildering Annapla-and probably find the mystery as simple as the egg in the conjuror's bottle when all's ended!”
That night he yawned behind his hand at supper in the midst of his host's account of his interview with Petullo the Writer, who had promised to secure lodging for Count Victor in a day or two, and the Baron showed no disinclination to conclude their somewhat dull sederunt and consent to an early retirement.
"I have something pressing to do before I go to bed myself," he said, restoring by that simple confession some of Count Victor's first suspicions. They were to be confirmed before an hour was past.
He went up to his room and weighed his duty to himself and to some unshaped rules of courtesy and conduct that he had inherited from a house more renowned for its sense of ceremonial honour, perhaps, than for commoner virtues. His instinct as a stranger in a most remarkable dwelling, creeping with mystery and with numberless evidences of things sinister and perhaps malevolent, told him it was fair to make a reconnaissance, even if no more was to be discovered than a servant's sordid amours. On the other hand, he could not deny to himself that there was what the Baronne de Chenier would have called the little Lyons shopkeeper in the suspicions he had against his host, and in the steps he proposed to take to satisfy his curiosity. He might have debated the situation with himself till midnight, or as long as Mungo's candles lasted him, had not a shuffling and cautious step upon the stair suggested that some one was climbing to the unused chambers above. Putting punctilio in his pocket, he threw open his door, and had before him a much-perplexed Baron of Doom, wrapped from neck to heel in a great plaid of sombre tartan and carrying a candle!
Doom stammered an inaudible excuse.
“Pardon!” said Count Victor, ironically in spite of himself, as he saw his host's abashed countenance. "I fear I intrude on a masquerade. Pray do not mind me. It was that I thought the upper flat uninhabited and no one awake but myself."
“You have me somewhat at a disadvantage," said
plexed"js door," punctiling to in the stang had