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The Strathsays - The Atlantic

Mrs. Strathsay sat in her broad bower-window, looking down the harbor. A brave great window it was, and I mind me how many a dark summer's night, we two leaned over its edge and watched the soft flow of the River of the Cross, where its shadowy tide came up and lapped the stone foundations of that old house by the water-side,—I and Angus. Under us the rowers slipped the wherries and the yawls; in the channel the rafts floated down a slow freight from the sweet and savage pine-forests, and the fire they carried on their breasts, and the flames of their pitch-knots, threw out strange shadows of the steering raftsmen, and a wild bandrol of smoke flaring and streaming on the night behind them;—and yet away far up on the yonder side, beneath the hanging alders and the cedar-trees, the gundalows dropped down, great laden barges; and perhaps a lantern, hung high in the stern of some huge East-Indiaman at the wharves of the other town quite across the stream, showed us all its tracery and spires, dim webs of shadow stretched and woven against the solemn ground of the starlit sky, and taught us the limit of the shores. Ah, all things were sweet to us then! we were little but children,—Angus and I. And it's not children we are now, small's the pity! The joys of childhood are good, I trow; but who would exchange for them the proud, glad pulse of full womanhood?—not I. I mind me, too, that in those days the great world of which I used to hear them speak always seemed to me lying across the river, and over the fields and the hills, and away down and out by the skirts of the mystical sea; and on the morning when I set sail for Edinboro', I felt to be forever drawing nigher its skurry and bustle, its sins and pleasures and commotions.

We had no father,—Margray, or Effie, or Mary Strathsay, or I. He had brought his wife out from their home in Scotland to St. Anne's in the Provinces, and had died or ever I was born,—and I was the last of the weans. A high, keen spirit was his wife; she did not bend or break; a stroke that would have beggared another took no crumb from her cloth; she let the right in warehouses and wharves lie by, and lie by, and each year it paid her sterling income. None ever saw tear in those proud eyes of hers, when they brought in her husband dead, or when they carried him out; but every day at noon she went up into her own room, and whether she slept or whether she waked the two hours in that darkened place, there was not so much as a fly that sang in the pane to tell.

She was a fair, stately woman, taller than any of her girls, and with half the mind to hate them all because they were none of them a son. More or less the three were like her, lofty brows and shining hair and skin like morning light, the lave of them,—but as for me, I was my father's child. There's a portrait of him now, hangs on the chimney-pier: a slight man, and not tall,—the dark hair waves away on either side the low, clear brow,—the eyes deep-set, and large and dark and starry,—a carmine just flushing beneath the olive of the cheek,—the fine firm mouth just breaking into smiles; and I remember that that morning when I set sail for Edinboro', as I turned away from gazing on that face, and saw myself glinting like a painted ghost in the long dim mirror beside me, I said it indeed, and proudly, that I was my father's own child.

So she kissed us, Effie and me. Perhaps mine lingered the longer, for the color in my cheek was deeper tinct than Scotch, it was the wild bit of Southern blood that had run in her love's veins; when she looked at me, I gave her back hot phases of her passionate youth again,—so perhaps mine was the kiss that left the deeper dint.

Margray, and Mary Strathsay, had been back three years from school, and the one was just married,—and if she left her heart out of the bargain, what was that to me?—and the other was to reign at home awhile ere the fated Prince should come, and Effie and myself were to go over seas and take their old desks in the famous school at Edinboro'. The mother knew that she must marry her girls well, and we two younglings were sadly in Queen Mary Strathsay's way. Yes, Mrs. Strathsay lived for nought but the making of great matches for her girls; the grandees of the Provinces to-day sat down at her board and to-morrow were to pay her tribute, scot and lot; four great weddings she meant should one by one light up her hearth and leave it lonely with the ashes there. But of them all she counted on the last, the best, the noblest for Alice,—that was I.

Old Johnny Graeme was the partner in what had been my father's house, and for fifteen years it had gone prospering as never house did yet, and making Mrs. Strathsay bitterer; and Johnny Graeme, a little wizened warlock, had never once stopped work long enough to play at play and reckon his untold gold.

Just for that summer, too, some ships of the royal fleet anchored there off Campobello, and the Honorable Charles Seavern, third son of an Earl, and professional at his cups, swung them at his will, and made holiday meanwhile among the gay and willing folk of all the little towns around.

There was another yet, a youth growing up to fine estates away off beyond Halifax. His father sat in the Queen's own Parliament for the Colonies, had bent to the knightly accolade, and a change of ministry or of residence might any day create Sir Brenton peer; his mother had been Mrs. Strathsay's dearest friend:—this child who off and on for half his life had made her house his home and Alice his companion, while in the hearts of both children Mrs. Strathsay had cautiously planted and nursed the seed,—a winning boy, a noble lad, a lordly man.

If Margray had not married old Johnny Graeme, it would have broken Mrs. Strathsay's will; the will was strong; she did, she married him. If Mary, with her white moonsheen of beauty, did not bewitch the senses of Captain Seavern, it would break Mrs. Strathsay's pride; and few things were stronger than Mrs. Strathsay's pride,—unless 't were Mary's own. If Effie——but that's nothing to the purpose. If Alice did not become the bride of Angus Ingestre, it would break Mrs. Strathsay's heart. God forgive me! but I bethought me once that her heart was the weakest member in all her body.

So she kissed us, as I say, and we slid down the ten miles of river, and went sailing past the busy islands and over the broad deeps and out of the day and into the night, and then two little orphans cried themselves to sleep with their arms about each other's necks. After all, it was not much like my picture of the great world, this lonely sea, this plunging up from billow on to billow, this burrowing down in the heart of green-gloomed hollows, this rocking and creaking and straining, this buoyant bounding over the crests,—yet the freedom, the monotony, the wild career of the winds fired me; it set my blood a-tingle; I liked it. And then I thought of Angus, rocked to sleep each night, as he was now, in his ocean-cradle. But once at school, and the world was round me; it hummed up from the streets, it boomed down from the spires. I became a part of it, and so forgot it. To Effie there were ever stealing rumors of yet a world beyond, of courts and coronets, of satin shimmer and glitter of gems, but they glanced off from me,—and other than thus I have never yet found that great world that used to lie over the river.

We had been at school a happy while, and but for constant letters, and for the brief visit of Mrs. Strathsay, who had journeyed over the Atlantic for one last look at sweet home-things, and to see how all went with us, and then had flitted back again,—but for that, home would have seemed the veriest dream that ever buzzed in an idle brain: would so have seemed to other maidens, not to us, for the fibres of the Strathsay heart were threads that never wore thin or parted. Two twelvemonths more, and we should cross the sea ourselves at last; and wearying now of school a bit, all our visions centred in St. Anne's, and the merry doings, the goings and comings, that we heard of there; and it seemed to me as if home were to be the beginning of life, as erst it had seemed that in school we should find the world.

It was the vacation of the long summer term; there was packing and padlocking to go each on her way, and the long dormitories rang with shrill clamor. They all had a nest to seek. Effie was already gone away with her chief crony, whose lady-mother, a distant kinswoman of our own, fancied the girl's fair countenance. I was to join them in a week or two,—not yet, because I had wished to send home the screens painted on white velvet, and they wanted yet a sennight's work, and I knew Mrs. Strathsay would be proud of them before the crackle of the autumn fires. The maids ran hither and yon, and the bells pealed, and the knocker clashed, and the coaches rolled away over the stone pave of the court-yard, and there was embracing and jesting and crying, when suddenly all the pleasant hubbub stood still, for Miss Dunreddin was in the hall, and her page behind her, and she beckoned me from my post aloft on a foot-board, summoning the deserters before me and awarding them future expiations, amidst all manner of jeering and jinking and laughter.

A gentleman from the Provinces to see me in the little parlor: he had brought us letters from home, and after Miss Dunreddin had broken the seals she judged we might have them, and I was at liberty for an hour, and meantime Angus Ingestre awaited me. Angus! I sprang down the stairs, my cheeks aglow, my heart on my lips, and only paused, finger on lock, wondering and hesitating and fearing, till the door was flung open, and I drawn in with two hands shut fast on my own, and two eyes—great blue Ingestre eyes—looking down on me from the face so far above: for he towered like a Philistine.

"And is it Angus?" I cried. For how was I to know the boy I had left in a midshipman's jacket, in this mainmast of a man, undress-uniform and all?

"I've no need to ask, Is it Alice?" he answered. "The same little peach of a chin!"

"Nay, but, Angus,—'t will never do,—and I all but grown up!"

"Not my little maid any longer, then?"

But so trembling and glad was I to see him, that I dared no more words, for I saw the tears glistening in my eyelashes and blinding me with their dazzling flashes.

So he took me to a seat, and sat beside me, and waited a minute; and after that waiting it was harder to speak than it had been before, and every thought went clean out of my head, and every word, and I stared at my hands till I seemed to see clear through them the pattern of my dress, and at the last I looked up, and there he had been bending forward and scanning me all the while; and then Angus laughed, and caught up my hand and pretended to search it narrowly.

"Ah, yes, indeed," said he, "she is reading the future in her palm, reading it backward, and finding out what this Angus Ingestre has to do with her fate!"

"Nay, but,"——said I, and then held fast again.

"Here's a young woman that's keen to hear of her home, of her sisters, of Queen Mary Strathsay, and of Margray's little Graeme!"

"What do I care for Johnny Graeme? the little old man!"

"What, indeed? And you'll not be home a day and night before you'll be tossing and hushing him, and the moon'll not be too good for him to have, should he cry for it!"

"Johnny Graeme?"

"No. Angus Graeme!"

"Oh!—Margray has a son? Why didn't you tell me before?"

"When you were so eager to know!"

"It's all in my letters, I suppose. But Margray has a son, and she's named it for you, and her husband let her?"

"'Deed, he wasn't asked."

"Why not?"

"Come, child, read your letters."

"Nay, I've but a half-hour more with you; that was the second quarter struck; I'll read them when you're gone.—Why not?"

"Johnny Graeme is dead."

That sobered me a thought.

"And Margray?" I asked.

"Poor Margray,—she feels very badly."

"You don't mean to say"——

"That she cared for him? But I do."

"Now, Angus Ingestre, I heard Margray tell her mother she'd liefer work on the roads with a chain and ball than marry him! It's all you men know of women. Love Johnny Graeme! Oh, poor man, rest his soul! I'm sore sorry for him. He's gone where there's no gold to make, unless they smelt it there; and I'm not sure but they do,—sinsyne one can see all the evil it's the root of, and all the woe it works,—and he bought Margray, you know he did, Angus!"

"It's little Alice talking so of her dead brother!"

"He's no brother of mine; I never took him, if Margray did. Brother indeed! there's none such,—unless it's you, Angus!" And there all the blood flew into my cheeks, and they burned like two fires, and I was fain to clap my palms upon them.

"No," said Angus. "I'm not your brother, Ailie darling, and never wish to be,—but"——

"And Margray?" I questioned, quickly,—the good Lord alone knew why. "Poor Margray! tell me of her. Perhaps she misses him; he was not, after all, so curst as Willy Scott. Belike he spoke her kindly."

"Always," said Angus, gnawing in his lip a moment ere the word. "And the child changed him, Mary Strathsay says. But perhaps you're right; Margray makes little moan."

"She was aye a quiet lass. Poor Johnny!—I'm getting curst myself. Well, it's all in my letters. But you, Angus dear, how came you here?"

"I? My father came to London; and being off on leave from my three years' cruise, I please myself in passing my holiday, and spend the last month of it in Edinboro', before rejoining the ship."

All my moors and heather passed like a glamour. The green-wood shaws would be there another year,—Angus was here to-day. I cast about me, and knew that Miss Dunreddin would speed away to take her pleasure, and there'd be none left but the governess and the painting-mistress, with a boarder or two like myself,—and as for the twain, I could wind them round my thumb.

"Oh, Angus," I said, breathlessly, "there's Arthur's Seat, and the palaces, and the galleries and gardens,—it'll be quite as good as the moors; there'll be no Miss Dunreddin, and you can stay here all the leelang simmer's day!"

He smiled, as he answered,—

"And I suppose those scarlet signals at the fore signify"——


"Fast colors, I see."

"It's my father's own color, and I'm proud of it,—barring the telltale trouble."

"You're proud," said he, absently, standing up to go, "that you are the only one of them all that heirs him?"

"Not quite. It's the olive in my father's cheek that darkened his wife's yellow curls into Mary Strathsay's chestnut ones. And she's like me in more than that, gin she doesn't sell hersel' for siller and gowd."

"I'll tell you what. Mrs. Strathsay is over-particular in speech. She'll have none of the broad Highland tongue about her. It's a daily struggle that she has, not to strike Nurse Nannie dumb, since she has infected you all with her dialect. A word in time. Now I must go. To-morrow night I'll come and take you to the play, Miss Dunreddin or no Miss Dunreddin. But sing to me first. It's a weary while since I used to hear that voice crooning itself to sleep across the hall with little songs."

So I sang the song he chose, "My love, she's but a lassie yet"; and he took the bunch of bluebells from my braids, and was gone.

The next night Angus was as good as his word. Miss Dunreddin was already off on her pleasuring, he took the gray little governess for duenna, and a blither three never sat out a tragedy, or laughed over wine and oysters in the midst of a garden with its flowers and fountains afterwards. 'T was a long day since the poor little woman had known such merrymaking; and as for me, this playhouse, this mimicry of life, was a new sphere. We went again and again,—sometimes the painting-mistress, too; then she and the governess fell behind, and Angus and I walked at our will. Other times we wandered through the gay streets, or we went up on the hill and sat out the sunsets, and we strolled through the two towns, high and low. The days sped, the long shine of the summer days, and, oh, my soul was growing in them like a weed in the sun!

It never entered my happy little thoughts all this time that what was my delight might yet be Angus's dole; for, surely, a school-girl is so interesting to no one else as herself, while she continually comes upon all the fresh problems in her nature. So, when a day passed that I heard no step in the hall, no cheery voice rousing the sleepy echoes with my name, I was restless enough. Monday, Tuesday,—no Angus. I ought to have thought whether or no he had found some of his fine friends, and if they had no right to a fragment of his time; yet I was but a child. The third day dawned and passed, and at length, sitting there among the evening shadows in the long class-room, a little glumly, the doors clanged as of old, a loud, laughing sentence was tossed up to the little gray governess at the stair-head, then, three steps at a time, he had mounted, and was within,—and what with my heart in my throat and its bewildered beating, I could not utter a word. I but sprang to the window and made as if I had been amusing myself there: I would have no Angus Ingestre be thinking that he was all the world to me, and I nought to him.

"A little ruffled," said he, at the saucy shake of my head. "Well, I sha'n't tell you where I've been. I've the right to go into the country for a day, have I not? What is it to Alice Strathsay how often I go to Loch Rea? There's something Effie begged me to get you!" And he set down a big box on the table.

So, then, he had been to see Effie. It was fair enough, and yet I couldn't help the jealous pang. I wouldn't turn my head, though I did wonder what was in the big box, but, holding out my hand backward, I said,—

"Well, it's no odds where you've been, so long's you're here now. Come and lean out of the window by me,—it's old times,—and see the grand ladies roll by in their coaches, some to the opera, some to the balls."

"Why should I watch the grand ladies roll by, when there's one so very much grander beside me," he said, laughing, but coming. And so we stood together there and gazed down on the pretty sight, the beautiful women borne along below in the light of the lamps, with their velvets, their plumes, and their jewels, and we made little histories for them all, as they passed.

"They are only the ugly sisters," said Angus, at length. "But here is the true Cinderella waiting for her godmother. Throw your cape over your hair, Ailie dear; the dew falls, and you'll be taking cold. There, it's the godmother herself, and you'll confess it, on seeing what miracles can be worked with this little magic-lantern of yours. Come!" and he proceeded to open the box.

But I waited a minute still; it was seldom the sumptuous coaches rolled through this by-way which they had taken to-night in their gay procession, since the pavers had left the broad street beyond blocked up for the nonce, and I liked to glimpse this little opening into a life just beyond my sphere.

"You are shivering in your thin frock at the window, Miss Strathsay," said the little gray governess.

"Come here, Ailie, and hold the candle," said Angus. "Effie has great schemes of terror with this in the dormitories, o' nights. There!" and he whirled the lighted match out of the window.

Just then I turned, the little flame fell on my muslin sleeve,—a cloud of smoke, a flash, a flare, the cape round my face soared in blaze, it seemed that I was wrapt in fire!

Angus caught me on the instant, crushed the burning things with his fingers, had his coat round me, had all drenched in the water that the governess had raced after, and then I knew no more.

So the women put me to bed, while Angus brought the surgeon; then they forbade him the room, and attended to my wants; but all night long he paced the halls and heard my moans, and by daybreak I was stupefied. He waited a week, but they would not suffer him to see me, and then his leave of absence had expired.

One night I woke; I felt that the room was darkly rich with the star-lighted gloom, but I could see nothing, for all the soft, cool linen folds; and lying there half-conscious for a time, I seemed to feel some presence in the door-way there.

"Angus, is that you?" I asked.

"Oh, Ailie darling!" he cried, and came forward and fell on his knees by my side, and covered my hands with his tears.

"Poor Angus!" I said, in my muffled way, and I tried half to rise, and I was drawing away a hand that I might dash the tears off his face.

Then of a sudden it came over me in one great torrid flush, and I fell back without a word.

But at the moment, the little gray governess came in again from her errand, and he went. 'T was no use his waiting, though he lingered still a day or two in hopes to see me; but my head was still on my pillow. His time was more than up, he must to the ship, so he left me store of messages and flowers and glass-bred grapes, and was off.

Time wore away, I got about again, and all was as before, long ere the girls came back, or Miss Dunreddin. I went near no moors, I looked no more out of my window, I only sat on the stool by my bedside and kept my face hid in the valances; and the little gray governess would sit beside me and cheer me, and tell me it was not so bad when all was said, and beauty was but little worth, and years would efface much, that my hair was still as dark and soft, my eyes as shining, my——But all to what use? Where had flown the old Strathsay red from my cheek, where that smooth polish of brow, where——I, who had aye been the flower of the race, the pride of the name, could not now bide to brook my own glance in the glass.

But the worst of it all would be, I thought,—not recking the worse to come,—when the girls flocked back. How I dreaded it, how I sought to escape their mock and go home, poor fool! but the little gray governess saw them all first, I must believe, for there was not a quip or a look askance, and they treated me as bairns treat a lamb that has tint its mother. And so seeing I had lost my fair skin, I put myself to gain other things in its place, and worked hard at my stents, at my music, my books. I grew accustomed to things, and would forget there had been a change, and, being young, failed to miss the being bonny; and if I did not miss it, who should? and they all were so kind, that the last year of school was the happiest of the whole. Thus the time drew near my eighteenth summer, and Miss Dunreddin had heard of a ship bound our way from Glasgow, and we were to leave the town with all its rare old histories, and speed through nights and days of seafaring to St. Anne's by the water-side, to the old stone house with its windows overhanging the River of the Cross.

So the old brig slid lazily up the river, beneath the high and beauteous banks, and as between the puffs of wind we lay there in the mid-channel, the mate,—a dark, hawk-eyed man, at whom Effie liked well to toss a merry mock, and with whom, sometimes stealing up, she would pace the deck in hours of fair weather,—a man whose face was like a rock that once was smitten with sunshine, never since,—a sad man, with a wrathful lip even when he spoke us fair,—the mate handed me his glass and bade me look, while he went to the side and bent over there with Effie, gazing down into the sun-brown, idle current. And I pointed it,—and surely that was the old stone gable in its woodbines,—and surely, as we crept nearer, the broad bower-window opened before me,—and surely a lady sat there, a haughty woman with the clustered curls on her temple, her needle poised above the lace-work in the frame, and she gazing dreamily out, out at the water, the woods, the one ship wafting slowly up,—shrouds that had been filled with the airs of half a hemisphere, hull that had ere now been soaked in spicy suns and summers,—and all the glad tears gushed over my eyes and darkened me from seeing. So, as I said, Mrs. Strathsay sat in her broad bower-window looking down the harbor, and a ship was coming up, and Effie and I stood on its deck, our hearts full of yearning. Mine was, at least, I know. And I could but snatch the glass up, every breathing, as we went, and look, and drop it, for it seemed as if I must fly to what it brought so near, must fly to fling my arms about the fair neck bending there, to feel the caressing finger, to have that kiss imprint my cheek once more,—so seldom her lips touched us!

They lowered us down in boats at last, the captain going ashore with us, the porters following with our luggage. The great hall-door below stood open, and the familiar servants were there to give us greeting, and we stayed but for a hand's-shake, except that my old nurse, where she caught it, wet my shawl with her sudden weeping, so that Effie had run up the stairs before me, and was in the drawing-room and was folded in the tender grasp, and had first received the welcome. A moment after, and I was among them. Mrs. Strathsay stood there under the chandelier in the sunshine, with all its showering rainbow-drops,—so straight and stately she, so superb and splendid,—her arms held out,—and I ran forward, and paused, for my veil had blown over my face, to throw it back and away,—and, with the breath, her shining blue eyes opened and filled with fire, her proud lips twisted themselves in pain, she struck her two hands together, crying out, "My God! how horrible!" and fainted.

Mrs. Strathsay was my mother. I might have fallen, too,—I might have died, it seems to me, with the sudden snap my heart gave,—but all in a word I felt Mary Strathsay's soft curls brushing about my face, and she drew it upon her white bosom, and covered the poor thing with, her kisses. Margray was bending over my mother, with the hartshorn in her hands, and I think—the Lord forgive her!—she allowed her the whole benefit of its battery, for in a minute or two Mrs. Strathsay rose, a little feeble, wavered an instant, then warned us all away and walked slowly and heavily from the place, up the stairs, and the door of her own room banged behind her and hasped like the bolt of a dungeon.

I drank the glass of wine Mary brought me, and tried hard not to sadden them, and to be a woman.

"Poor thing!" said Margray, when she'd taken off my bonnet and looked at the fashion of my frock, "but you're sorely altered. Never fret,—it's worth no tear; she counted much on your likely looks, though,—you never told us the accident took them."

"I thought you'd know, Margray."

"Oh, for sure, there's many escapes.—And this is grenadine? I'd rather have the old mohair.—Well, well, give a man luck and throw him into the sea; happen you'll do better than us all. If my mother cannot marry you as she'd choose, you'll come to less grief, I doubt." And Margray heaved a little sigh, and ran to tumble up her two-year-old from his rose-lined basket.

I went home with Margray that night; I couldn't bear to sleep in the little white bed that was mine when a happy child, and with every star that rose I felt a year the older; and on the morrow, when I came home, my mother was still in the same taking, so I went back again and whiled the day off as I could; and it was not so hard, for Mary Strathsay came over, and Effie, and there was so much to tell, and so much to ask, and Effie had all along been so full of some grand company she had met that last year in Edinboro', that the dinner-bells rang ere we thought of lunch; but still a weight lay on me like a crime on conscience. But by the next dawning I judged 't was best that I should gather courage and settle things as they were to be. Margray's grounds joined our own, and I snatched up the babe, a great white Scotch bairn, and went along with him in my arms under the dripping orchard-boughs, where still the soft glooms lingered in the early morn. And just ere I reached the wicket, a heavy step on the garden-walk beyond made my heart plunge, and I came face to face with my mother. My tongue clove to the roof of my mouth, I did not dare glance up, yet I felt her eyes upon me as if she searched some spot fit for her fine lips, and presently her hand was on my head, and the kiss had fallen on my hair, and then she gathered me into her arms, and her tears rained down and anointed my face like chrism. And I just let the wondering wean slip to the grass, and I threw my arms about her and cried, "Oh, mother, mother, forgive me, and love me just a little!" It was but a breathing; then I remembered the child at my feet, and raised him, and smiled back on Mrs. Strathsay, and went on with a lighter heart to set my chests and drawers straight.

The days slipped into weeks, and they were busy, one and all, ordering Effie's wardrobe; for, however much I took the lead, she was the elder and was to be brought out. My mother never meant to bring me out, I think,—she could not endure the making of parade, and the hearing the Thomsons and Lindsays laugh at it all, when 't was but for such a flecked face,—she meant I should slip into life as I could. We had had the seamstresses, and when they were gone sometimes Mrs. Strathsay came and sat among us with her work;—she never pricked finger with fell or hem, but the heaviest task she took was the weaving of the white leaf-wreaths in and out the lace-web before her there,—and as we stitched, we talked, and she lent a word how best an old breadth could be turned, another gown refitted,—for we had to consider such things, with all our outside show of establishment.

Margray came running through the garden that afternoon, and up where we sat, and over her arm was fluttering no end of gay skirts and ribbons.

"I saved this pink muslin—it's real Indian, lascar lawn, fine as cobweb—for you, Alice," she said. "It's not right to leave it to the moths,—but you'll never need it now. It shall be Effie's, and she'll look like a rose-bud in it,—with her yellow locks floating."

"Yes," said I.

"You'll not be wanting such bright things now, child; you'll best wear grays, and white, and black."

"Indeed, then, I sha'n't," I said. "If I'm no longer lovely myself, I'll be decked out in braw clothes, that I may please the eye one way or another."

"No use, child," sighed my mother 'twixt her teeth, and not meaning for me to hear.

"So would I, Ailie," said Mary Strathsay, quickly. "There's much in fine fibres and soft shades that gives one the womanly idea. You're the best shape among us all, my light lissomeness, and your gowns shall fit it rarely. Nay, Margray, let Alice have the pink."

"Be still, Mary Strathsay!" said my mother. "Alice will wear white this summer; 'tis most suitable. She has white slips and to spare."

"But in the winter?" urged the other. "'Twill be sad for the child, and we all so bright. There's my pearl silk,—I'm fairly tired of it,—and with a cherry waist-piece"——

"You lose breath," said my mother, coldly and half vexed.

So Mary Strathsay bit her lip and kept the peace.

"Whisht now, child, your turn will come," said Margray, unfolding a little bodice of purple velvet, with its droop of snowy Mechlin. "One must cut the coat according to the cloth. That's for Effie,—gayly my heart's beat under you," laying it down and patting it on one side, lovingly. "There, if white's the order of the day, white let it be,—and let Mrs. Strathsay say her most, she cannot make other color of this, and she shall not say me nay. That's for Alice." And she flung all the silvery silk and blonde lace about me.

"Child, you'll sparkle!" whispered Mary Strathsay in my ear, hastening to get the glittering apparel aside, lest my mother should gainsay us.

But Mrs. Strathsay did not throw us a glance.

"You're ill-pleased, Effie," said Margray; for our little beauty, finding herself so suddenly the pet, had learned to toss her head in pretty saucy ways.

"Not a speck!" Effie answered up. "'Twas high time,—I was thinking."

Margray laughed, and took her chin 'twixt thumb and finger, and tried to look under the wilful lids that drooped above the blue light in her eyes.

"You're aye a faithful pet, and I like you clannish. Stand by them that stands by you, my poor man used to say. You shall put on as fine a gown, and finer, of my providing, the day you're wedded."

  "I'll gie ye veil o' siller lace,
    And troth ye wi' a ring;
  Sae bid the blushes to your face,
    My ain wee thing!"

sang Mary.

"I want none of your silver lace," said Effie, laughing lightly, and we little dreamed of the girl's thought. "I'll have that web my mother has wrought with myrtle-leaf and blossom."

"And 'twas begun for me," said Mary, arching her brows, and before she thought.

"You,—graceless girl!" said my mother. "It's no bridal veil will ever cross your curls!"

"Surely, mother, we've said too much,—you'll overlook old scores."

"'T is hard forgetting, when a perverse child puts the hand to her own hurt."

"No hurt to me. You would not have had me take a man at his word when he recked not what he said."

"Tsh! Tsh! Charles Seavern would have married you. And with the two brothers gone, he's an earl now,—and you flung him off. Tsh!"

"I never saw the time, mother, solemnly as I've told you, when his right hand knew what his left hand did,—what with his champagne-suppers, your Burgundy, and Johnny Graeme's Jamaica. He'd have been sorely shocked to wake up sober in his earldom some fine morning and find a countess beside him ready-made to his hand."

"You spared him!" said my mother. And in a minute she added, softwise,
"Ay, were that all!"

"Ah," said Mary, "but I'll take the next one that asks me, if it's only to save myself the taunts at home! You thought you were winning to a soft nest, children, where there were nought but larks and thrushes and maybe nightingales,—and we're all cuckoos.

  "'Cuckoo! cuckoo! sweet voice of Spring,
    Without you sad the year had been,
  The vocal heavens your welcome ring,
    The hedge-rows ope and take you in,
      Cuckoo! cuckoo!

  "'Cuckoo! cuckoo! O viewless sprite,
    Your song enchants the sighing South,
  It wooes the wild-flower to the light,
    And curls the smile round my love's mouth,
      Cuckoo! cuckoo!'"

"Have done your claver, Mary!" cried Margray. "One cannot hear herself think, for the din of your twittering!—I'll cut the sleeve over crosswise, I think,"—and, heedless, she herself commenced humming, in an undertone, '"Cuckoo! cuckoo!'—There! you've driven mother out!"

Mary laughed.

"When I'm married, Ailie," she whispered, "I'll sing from morn till night, and you shall sit and hear me, without Margray's glowering at us, or my mother so much as saying, 'Why do you so?'"

For all the time the song had been purling from her smiling lips, Mrs. Strathsay's eyes were laid, a weight like lead, on me, and then she had risen as if it hurt her, and walked to the door.

"Or when you've a house of your own," added Mary, "we will sing together there."

"Oh, Mary!" said I, like the child I was, forgetting the rest, "when I'm married, you will come and live with me?"

"You!" said my mother, stepping through the door and throwing the words over her shoulder as she went, not exactly for my ears, but as if the bubbling in her heart must have some vent. "And who is it would take such a fright?"

"My mother's fair daft," said Margray, looking after her with a perplexed gaze, and dropping her scissors. "Surely, Mary, you shouldn't tease her as you do. She's worn more in these four weeks than in as many years. You're a fickle changeling!"

But Mary rose and sped after my mother, with her tripping foot; and in a minute she came back laughing and breathless.

"You put my heart in my mouth, Mistress Graeme," she said. "And all for nothing. My mother's just ordering the cream to be whipped. Well, little one, what now?"

"It's just this dress of Margray's,—mother's right,—'t will never do for me; I'll wear shadows. But 't will not need the altering of a hair for you, Mary, and you shall take it."

"I think I see myself," said Mary Strathsay, "wearing the dress Margray married Graeme in!" For Margray had gone out to my mother in her turn.

"Then it's yours, Effie. I'll none of it!"

"I'm finely fitted out, then, with the robe here and the veil there! bridal or burial, toss up a copper and which shall it be?" said Effie, looking upward, and playing with her spools like a juggler's oranges. And here Margray came back.

She sat in silence a minute or two, turning her work this way and that, and then burst forth,—

"I'd not stand in your shoes for much, Alice Strathsay!" she cried, "that's certain. My mother's in a rare passion, and here's Sir Angus home!"

"Sir Who?" said Effie puzzled; "it was just Mr. Ingestre two years ago."

"Well, it's been Sir Angus a twelvemonth now and more,—ever since old
Sir Brenton went, and he went with a stroke."

"Yes," said Mary, "it was when Angus arrived in London from Edinboro', the day before joining his ship."

"And why didn't we ever hear of it?"

"I don't just remember, Effie dear," replied Margray, meditatively, "unless 't were—it must have been—that those were the letters lost when the Atlantis went down."

"Poor gentleman!" said Mary. "It was one night when there was a division in the House, and it divided his soul from his body,—for they found him sitting mute as marble, and looking at their follies and strifes with eyes whose vision reached over and saw God."

"For shame, Mary Strathsay, to speak lightly of what gave Angus such grief!"

"Is that lightly?" she said, smoothing my hair with her pretty pink palms till it caught in the ring she wore. "Never mind what I say, girlie; it's as like to be one word as the other. But I grieved for him. He's deep and quiet; a sorrow sinks and underlies all that's over, in the lad."

"Hear her!" said Margray; "one would fancy the six feet of the Ingestre stature were but a pocket-piece! The lad! Well, he'll put no pieces in our pockets, I doubt," (Margray had ever an eye to the main chance,) "and it's that angers my mother."

"Hush, Margray!" I heard Mary say, for I had risen and stolen forth. "Thou'lt make the child hate us all. Were we savages, we had said less. You know, girl, that our mother loved our father's face in her, and counted the days ere seeing it once more; and having lost it, she is like one bewildered. 'T will all come right. Let the poor body alone,—and do not hurt the child's heart so. We're right careless."

I had hung on tiptoe, accounting it no meanness, and I saw Margray stare.

"Well," she murmured, "something may be done yet. 'T will go hard, if by hook or crook Mrs. Strathsay do not have that title stick among us"; and then, to make an end of words, she began chattering anent biases and gores, the lace on Mary Campbell's frill, the feather on Mary Dalhousie's bonnet,—and I left them.

I ran over to Margray's, and finding the boy awake, I dismissed his nurses the place, and stayed and played with him and took the charge till long past the dinner-hour, and Margray came home at length, and then, when I had sung the child asleep again, for the night, and Margray had shown me all the contents of her presses, the bells were ringing nine from across the river, and I ran back as I came, and up and into my little bed, and my heart was fit to break, and I cried till the sound of the sobs checked me into silence. Suddenly I felt a hand fumbling down the coverlid, and 't was Nannie, my old nurse, and her arm was laid heavily across me.

"Dinna greet," she whispered, "dinna greet and dull your een that are brighter noo than a' the jauds can show,—the bonny blink o' them! They sha' na flout and fleer, the feckless queans, the hissies wha'll threep to stan' i' your auld shoon ae day! Dinna greet, lass, dinna!"

But I rose on my arm, and stared about me in all the white moonlight of the vacant place, and hearkened to the voices and laughter rippling up the great staircase,—for there were gallants in belike,—and made as if I had been crying out in my sleep.

"Oh, Nurse Nannie, is it you?" I said.

"Ay, me, Miss Ailie darling!"

"Sure I dream so deeply. I'm all as oppressed with nightmare."

But with that she brushed my hair, and tenderly bathed my face in the bay-water, and fastened on my cap, and, sighing, tucked the coverlid round my shoulder, and away down without a word.

The next day was my mother's dinner-party. She was in a quandary about me, I saw, and to save words I offered to go over again and stay with the little Graeme. So it came to pass, one time being precedent of another, that in all the merrymakings I had small share, and spent the greater part of those bright days in Margray's nursery with, the boy, or out-doors in the lone hay-fields or among the shrubberies; for he waxed large and glad, and clung to me as my own. And to all kind Mary Strathsay's pleas and words I but begged off as favors done to me, and I was liker to grow sullen than smiling with all the stour.

"Why, I wonder, do the servants of a house know so much better than the house itself the nearest concerns of shadowy futures? One night the nurse paused above my bed and guarded the light with her hand.

"Let your heart lap," she said. "Sir Angus rides this way the morrow."

Ah, what was that to me? I just doubled the pillow over eyes and ears to shut out sight and hearing. And so on the morrow I kept well out of the way, till all at once Mrs. Strathsay stumbled over me and bade me, as there would be dancing in the evening, to don my ruffled frock and be ready to play the measures. I mind me how, when I stood before the glass and secured the knot in my sash, and saw by the faint light my loosened hair falling in a shadow round me and the quillings of the jaconet, that I thought to myself how it was like a white moss-rose, till of a sudden Nannie held the candle higher and let my face on me,—and I bade her bind up my hair again in the close plaits best befitting me. And I crept down and sat in the shade of the window-curtains, whiles looking out at the soft moony night, whiles in at the flowery lighted room. I'd heard Angus's coming, early in the afternoon, and had heard him, too, or e'er half the cordial compliments were said, demand little Alice; and they told him I was over and away at Margray's, and in a thought the hall-doors clashed behind him and his heels were ringing up the street, and directly he hastened home again, through the gardens this time, and saw no sign of me;—but now my heart beat so thickly, when I thought of him passing me in the dance, that, could I sit there still, I feared 'twould of itself betray me, and that warned me to question if the hour were not ready for the dances, and I rose and stole to the piano and sat awaiting my mother's word. But scarcely was I there when one came quietly behind me, and a head bent and almost swept my shoulder; then he stood with folded arms.

"And how long shall I wait for your greeting? Have you no welcome for me, Ailie?"

"Yes, indeed, Sir Angus," I replied; but I did not turn my head, for as yet he saw only the back of me, fair and graceful perchance, as when he liked it.

He checked himself in some word.

"Well, then," he said, "give it me, tell it me, look it me!"

I rose from my seat and shifted the piece of music before me,—turned and gazed into his eyes one long breathing-space, then I let the lids fall,—waited a minute so,—and turned back ere my lip should be all in a quiver,—but not till his head bent once more, and a kiss had fallen on those lids and lain there cool and soft as a pearl,—a pearl that seemed to sink and penetrate and melt inwardly and dissolve and fill my brain with a white blinding light of joy. 'Twas but a brief bit of the great eternities;—and then I found my fingers playing I knew not how, and heard the dancers' feet falling to the tune of I knew not what.

While I played there, Margray sat beside me, for the merriment was without now, on the polished oak-floor of the hall, and they being few but familiars who had the freedom of the house, (and among whom I had had no need but to slip with a nod and smile ere gaining my seat,) she took out her needle and set a stitch or two, more, perhaps, to cover her being there at all than for any need of industry; for Margray loved company, and her year of widowhood being not yet doubled, and my mother unwilling that she should entertain or go out, she made the most of that at our house; for Mrs. Strathsay had due regard of decency,—forbye she deemed it but a bad lookout for her girls, if the one of them danced on her good-man's grave.

"I doubt will Sir Angus bide here," said Margray at length; for though all his boyhood she had called him by every diminutive his name could bear, the title was a sweet morsel in her unaccustomed mouth, and she kept rolling it now under her tongue. "Mrs. Strathsay besought him, but his traps and his man were at the inn. Sir Angus is not the lad he was,—a young man wants his freedom, my mother should remember."

And as her murmur continued, my thoughts came about me. They were like birds in the hall; and all their voices and laughter rising above the jingle of the keys, I doubted was he so sorry for me, after all. Then the dancing broke, I found, though I still played on, and it was some frolicsome game of forfeits, and Angus was chasing Effie, and with her light step and her flying laugh it was like the wind following a rose-flake. Anon he ceased, and stood silent and statelier than Mrs. Strathsay's self, looking on.

"See Sir Angus now," said Margray, bending forward at the pictures shifting through the door-way. "He'd do for the Colossus at what-you-may-call-it; and there's our Effie, she minds me of a yellow-bird, hanging on his arm and talking: I wonder if that's what my mother means,—I wonder will my mother compass it. See Mary Strathsay there! She's white and fine, I'll warrant; see her move like a swan on the waters! Ay, she's a lovesome lass,—and Helmar thought so, too."

"What are you saying of Mary Strathsay? Who don't think she's a lovesome lass?"

"Helmar don't now,—I'll dare be sworn."


"Hush, now! don't get that maggot agait again. My mother'd ban us both, should her ears side this way."

"What is it you mean, Margray dear?"

"Sure you've heard of Helmar, child?"

Yes, indeed, had I. The descendant of a bold Spanish buccaneer who came northwardly with his godless spoil, when all his raids upon West-Indian seas were done, and whose name had perhaps suffered a corruption at our Provincial lips. A man—this Helmar of to-day—about whom more strange tales were told than of the bloody buccaneer himself. That the walls of his house were ceiled with jewels, shedding their accumulated lustre of years so that never candle need shine in the place, was well known. That the spellbound souls of all those on his red-handed ancestor's roll were fain to keep watch and ward over their once treasures, by night and noon, white-sheeted and faint in the glare of the sun, wan in the moon, blacker shadows in the starless dark, found belief. And there were those who had seen his seraglio;—but few, indeed, had seen him,—a lonely man, in fact, who lived aloof and apart, shunned and shunning, tainted by the curse of his birth.

"Oh, yes," I said, "of Helmar away down the bay; but the mate of our brig was named Helmar, too."

Margray's ivory stiletto punched a red eyelet in her finger.

"Oh, belike it was the same!" she cried, so loud that I had half to drown it in the pedal. "He's taken to following the sea, they say."

"What had Helmar to do with our Mary, Margray?"

"What had he to do with her?" answered Margray in under-voice. "He fell in love with her!"

"That's not so strange."

"Then I'll tell you what's stranger, and open your eyes a wee. She fell in love with him."

"Our Mary? Then why didn't she marry him?"

"Marry Helmar?"

"Yes. If my mother wants gold, there it is for her."

"He's the child of pirates; there's blood on his gold; he poured it out before my mother, and she told him so. He's the making of a pirate himself. Oh, you've never heard, I see. Well, since I'm in for it,—but you'll never breathe it?—and it's not worth while darkening Effie with it, let alone she's so giddy my mother'd know I'd been giving it mouth,—perhaps I oughtn't,—but there!—poor Mary! He used to hang about the place, having seen her once when she came round from Windsor in a schooner, and it was a storm,—may-happen he saved her life in it. And Mary after, Mary'd meet him at church, and in the garden, and on the river; 't was by pure chance on her part, and he was forever in the way. Then my mother, innocent of it all, went to Edinboro', as you know, and I was married and out of the reach, and Mary kept the house those two months with Mrs. March of the Hill for dowager,—her husband was in the States that summer,—and Mrs. March is no more nor less than cracked,—and no wonder he should make bold to visit the house. My mother'd been home but a day and night, 's you may say, when in walks my gentleman,—who but he?—fine as a noble of the Court, and Mary presents him to Mrs. Strathsay as Mr. Helmar of the Bay. Oh, but Mrs. Strathsay was in a stound. And he began by requesting her daughter's hand. And that brake the bonds,—and she dashed out sconners of wrath. Helmar's eyes flashed only once, then he kept them on the ground, and he heard her through. 'T was the second summer Seavern's fleet was at the harbor's mouth there, and a ship of war lay anchored a mile downriver,—many's the dance we had on it's deck!—and Captain Seavern of late was in the house night and morn,—for when he found Mary offish, he fairly lay siege to her, and my mother behind him,—and there was Helmar sleeping out the nights in his dew-drenched boat at the garden's foot, or lying wakeful and rising and falling with the tide under her window, and my mother forever hearing the boat-chains clank and stir. She's had the staple wrenched out of the wall now,—'t was just below the big bower-window, you remember. And when Mary utterly refused Seavern, Seavern swore he'd wheel his ship round and raze the house to its foundations: he was—drunk—you see. And Mary laughed in his face. And my mother beset her,—I think she went on her knees to her,—she led her a dreadful life," said Margray, shivering; "and the end of it all was, that Mary promised to give up Helmar, would my mother drop the suit of Seavern. And at that, Helmar burst in: he was like one wild, and he conjured Mary,—but she sat there stone-still, looking through him with the eyes in her white, deadly face, as though she'd never seen him, and answering no word, as if she were deaf to sound of his voice henceforth; and he rose and glared down on my mother, who stood there with her white throat up, proud and defiant as a stag at bay,—and he vowed he'd darken her day, for she had taken the light out of his life. And Angus was by: he'd sided with Helmar till then; but at the threat, he took the other by the shoulder and led him to the door, with a blue blaze in those Ingestre eyes, and Helmar never resisted, but fell down on his face on the stones and shuddered with sobs, and we heard them into the night, but with morning he was gone."

"Oh! And Mary?"

"'Deed, I don't think she cares. She's never mentioned his name. D'you mind that ring of rubies she wears, like drops of blood all round the hoop? 'Twas his. She shifted it to the left hand, I saw. It was broken once,—and what do you think she did? She put a blow-pipe at the candle-flame, and, holding it up in tiny pincers, soldered the two ends together without taking it off her finger,—and it burning into the bone! Strathsay grit. It's on her white wedding-finger. The scar's there, too.—St! Where's your music? You've not played a note these five minutes. Whisht! here comes my mother!"

How was Helmar to darken my mother's day, I couldn't but think, as I began to toss off the tune again. And poor Mary,—there were more scars than I carried, in the house. But while I turned the thoughts over, Angus came for me to dance, and Margray, he said, should play, and my mother signed consent, and so I went.

But 'twas a heavy heart I carried to and fro, as I remembered what I'd heard, and perhaps it colored everything else with gloom. Why was Angus holding my hand as we glided? why was I by his side as we stood? and as he spoke, why was I so dazzled with delight at the sound that I could not gather the sense? Oh, why, but that I loved him, and that his noble compassion would make him the same to me at first as ever,—slowly, slowly, slowly lowering, while he turned to Effie or some other fair-faced lass? Ah, it seemed to me then in a rebellious heart that my lot was bitter. And fearful that my sorrow would abroad, I broke into a desperation of gayety till my mother's hand was on my arm. But all the while, Angus had been by, perplexed shadows creeping over his brow;—and in fresh terror lest my hidden woe should rise and look him in the face, all my mother's pride itself shivered through me, and I turned my shoulder on him with a haughty, pettish chill.

So after that first evening the days and nights went by, went by on leaden wings; for I wanted the thing over, it seemed I couldn't wait, I desired my destiny to be accomplished and done with. Angus was ever there when occasion granted,—for there were drives and sails and rambles to lead him off; and though he'd urge, I would not join them, not even at my mother's bidding,—she had taught me to have a strange shrinking from all careless eyes;—and then, moreover, there were dinners and balls, and them he must needs attend, seeing they were given for him,—and I fancy here that my mother half repented her decree concerning the time when I should enter society, or, rather, should not,—yet she never knew how to take step in recedure.

But what made it hardest of all was a word of Margray's one day as I sat over at her house hushing the little Graeme, who was sore vexed with the rash, and his mother was busy plaiting ribbons and muslins for Effie,—Effie, who seemed all at once to be blossoming out of her slight girlhood into the perfect rose of the woman that Mary Strathsay was already, and about her nothing lingering rathe or raw, but everywhere a sweet and ripe maturity. And Margray said,—

"Now, Alice, tell me, why are you so curt with Angus? Did he start when he saw you first?"

"Nay, I scarcely think so, Margray; he knew about it, you know. 'Sleep, baby, sleep, in slumber deep, and smite across thy dreaming'"——

"'Deed, he didn't! He told me so himself. He said he'd been ever fancying you fresh and fair as the day he left you,—and his heart cracked when you turned upon him."

"Poor Angus, then,—he never showed it. 'Hush, baby, hush'"——

"He said he'd have died first!"

"Then perhaps he never meant for you to tell me, Margray."

"Oh, what odds? He said,—I'll tell you what else he said,—you're a kind, patient heart, and there's no need for you to fret,—he said, as he'd done you such injury, were there even no other consideration, he should deem it his duty to repair it, so far as possible, both by the offer of his hand, and, should it be accepted, by tender faithfulness for life."

"Oh, Margray! did Angus say that? Oh, how chanced he to? Oh, how dared he?"

"They're not his very words, belike; but that's the way I sensed them. How came he? Why,—you see,—I'm not content with my mother's slow way of things,—that's just the truth!—it's like the season's adding grain on grain of sunshine or of rain in ripening her fruit,—it's oftenest the quick blow strikes home; and so I just went picking out what I wanted to know for myself."

"Oh, Margray,—I suppose,—what did he think?"

"Think? He didn't stop to think; he was mighty glad to meet somebody to speak to. You may just thank your stars that you have such a lover, child!"

"I've got no lover!" I wailed, breaking out in crying above the babe. "Oh, why was I born? I'm like to die! I wish I were under the sods this day!"

"Oh, goodness me!" exclaimed Margray, in a terror. "What's possessed the girl? And I thinking to please her so! Whisht now, Ailie girl,—there, dear, be still,—there, now, wipe away the tears; you're weak and nervous, I believe,—you'd best take a blue-pill to-night. There's the boy awake, and none but you can hush him off. It's odd, though, what a liking he's taken to his Aunt Ailie!"

And so she kept on, diverting me, for Margray had some vague idea that my crying would bring my mother; and she'd not have her know of her talk with Angus, for the world;—marriage after marriage would not lighten the rod of iron that Mrs. Strathsay held over her girls' lives, I ween.

And now, having no need to be gay, I indulged my fancy and was sad; and the more Angus made as if he would draw near, the more I turned him off, as scale-armor turns a glancing blade. Yet there had been times when, seeming as if he would let things go my own gate, he had come and sat beside me in the house, or joined his horse's bridle to mine in the woods, and syllables slipped into sentences, and the hours flew winged as we talked; and warmed into forgetfulness, all the sweet side of me—if such there be—came out and sunned itself. And then I would remember me and needs must wear the ice again, as some dancing, glancing, limpid brook should sheathe itself in impenetrable crystals. And all those hours—for seldom were the moments when, against my will I was compelled to gladness—I became more and more alone; for Effie being the soul of the festivities,—since Mary Strathsay oftenest stood cold and proudly by, wax-white and like a statue on the wall,—and all the world looking on at what they deemed to be no less than Angus's courtship, I saw little of her except I rose on my arm to watch her smiling sleep deep in the night. And she was heartsome as the lark's song up the blue lift, and of late was never to be found in those two hours when my mother kept her room at mid-day, and was over-fond of long afternoon strolls down the river-bank or away in the woods by herself. Once I fancied to see another walking with her there out in the hay-fields beyond, walking with her in the sunshine, bending above her, perhaps an arm about her, but the leafy shadows trembled between us and darkened them out of sight. And something possessed me to think that the dear girl cared for my Angus. Had I been ever so ready to believe my own heart's desire, how could I but stifle it at that? It seemed as if the iron spikes of trouble were thrust from solid bars of fate woven this way and that across me, till with the last and newest complication I grew to knowing no more where to turn than the toad beneath the harrow.

So the weeks went by. Angus had gone home on his affairs,—for he had long left the navy,—but was presently to return to us. It was the sweet September weather: mild the mellow sunshine,—but dour the days to me!

There was company in the house that evening, and I went down another way; for the sound of their lilting and laughing was but din in my ears. I passed Mary Strathsay, as I left my room; she had escaped a moment from below, had set the casement wide in the upper hall, and was walking feverishly to and fro, her arms folded, her dress blowing about her: she'll often do the same in her white wrapper now, at dead of dark in any stormy night: she could not find sufficient air to breathe, and something set her heart on fire, some influence oppressed her with unrest and longing, some instinct, some unconscious prescience, made her all astir. I passed her and went down, and I hid myself in the arbor, quite overgrown with wild, rank vines of late summer, and listened to a little night-bird pouring out his complaining heart.

While I sat, I heard the muffled sound of horses' feet prancing in the flagged court-yard,—for the house fronted on the street, one end overhanging the river, the back and the north side lost in the gardens that stretched up to Margray's grounds one way and down to the water's brink the other, so the stroke of their impatient hoofs reached me but faintly; yet I knew 'twas Angus and Mr. March of the Hill, whom Angus had written us he was to visit. And then the voices within shook into a chorus of happy welcome, the strain of one who sang came fuller on the breeze, the lights seemed to burn clearer, the very flowers of the garden blew a sweeter breath about me.

'Twas nought but my own perversity that hindered me from joining the glee, that severed me from all the happiness; but I chose rather to be miserable in my solitude, and I turned my back upon it, and went along and climbed the steps and sat on the broad garden-wall, and looked down into the clear, dark water ever slipping by, and took the fragrance of the night, and heard the chime of the chordant sailors as they heaved the anchor of some ship a furlong down the stream,—voices breathing out of the dusky distance, rich and deep. And looking at the little boat tethered there beneath, I mind that I bethought me then how likely 'twould be for one in too great haste to unlock the water-gate of the garden, climbing these very steps, and letting herself down by the branch of this old dipping willow here, how likely 'twould be for one, should the boat but slip from under, how likely 'twould be for one to sink in the two fathom of tide,—dress or scarf but tangling in the roots of the great tree reaching out hungrily through the dark, transparent depth below,—how likely to drown or e'er a hand could raise her! And I mind, when thinking of the cool, embracing flow, the drawing, desiring, tender current, the swift, soft, rushing death, I placed my own hand on the willow-branch, and drew back, stung as if by conscience that I trifled thus with a gift so sacred as life.

Then I went stealing up the alleys again, beginning to be half afraid, for they seemed to me full of something strange, unusual sound, rustling motion,—whether it were a waving bough, a dropping o'er-ripe pear, a footstep on adjacent walks. Nay, indeed, I saw now! I leaned against the beach-bole there, all wrapt in shade, and looked at them where they inadvertently stood in the full gleam of the lighted windows: 'twas Angus, and 'twas Effie. He spoke,—a low, earnest pleading,—I could not hear a word, or I had fled,—then he stooped, and his lips had touched her brow. Oh, had he but struck me! less had been the blow, less the smart!—the blow, though all along I had awaited it. Ah, I remembered another kiss, one that had sunk into my brain as a pearl would sink in the sea, that when my heart had been saddest I had but just to shut my eyes and feel again falling soft and warm on my lids, lingering, loving, interpenetrating my soul with its glow;—and this, oh, 't was like a blade cleaving that same brain with swift, sharp flash! I flew into the house, but Effie was almost there before me,—and on my way, falling, gliffered in the gloom, against something, I snatched me back with a dim feeling that 't was Angus, and yet Angus had followed Effie in. I slipped among the folk and sat down somewhere at length like as if stunned.

It was question of passing the time, that went round; for, though all their words fell dead on my ear at the moment, it was in charactery that afterward I could recall, reïllume, and read; and one was for games, and one for charades, and one for another thing;—and I sat silent and dazed through it all. Finally they fell to travestying scenes from history, each assuming a name and supporting it by his own wits, but it all passed before my dulled senses like the phantasmagoria of a troubled dream; and that tiring, there was a kind of dissolving views managed by artful ebb and flow of light, pictures at whose ending the Rose of May was lost in Francesca, who, waxing and waning in her turn, faded into Astarte, and went out In a shudder of darkness,—and the three were Effie. But ere the views were done, ere those three visions, when Effie ran away to dress her part, I after her and up into our room, vaguely, but as if needs must.

"I've good news for you," said she, without looking, and twisting her long, bright hair. "I was with Angus but now in the garden. He can bear it no longer, and he touched my brow with his lips that I promised to urge his cause; for he loves you, he loves you, Alice! Am I not kind to think of it now? Ah, if you knew all!"

She had already donned the gown of silvery silk and blonde, and was winding round her head the long web of lace loosened from my mother's broidery-frame. She turned and took me by the two shoulders, and looked into my face with eyes of azure flame.

"I am wild with gladness!" she said. "Kiss me, girl, quick! there's no time to spare. Kiss me on the cheek,—not the lip, not the lip,—he kissed me there! Kiss me the cheek,—one, and the other! So, brow, cheeks, mouth, and your kisses all have signed me with the sign of the cross. Oh, girl, I am wild with joy!"

She spoke swift and high, held me by the two shoulders with a clasp like steel, suddenly shook me loose, and was down and away.

I followed her again, as by habit,—but more slowly: I was trying to distil her words. I stood then in the door of a little ante-room opening into the drawing-room and looking on the courtyard, and gazed thence at those three pictures, as if it were all a delirament, till out of them Effie stepped in person, and danced, trilling to herself, through the groups, flashing, sparkling, flickering, and disappeared. Oh, but Mrs. Strathsay's eyes gleamed in a proud pleasure after her!

Hoofs were clattering again below in the yard, for Angus was to ride back with Mr. March. Some one came my way,—I shrank through the door-way, shivering from top to toe,—it was Angus searching for his cap; and it was so long since I had suffered him to exchange a word with me! I know not what change was wrought in my bewildered lineaments, what light was in my glance; but, seeing me, all that sedate sadness that weighed upon his manner fell aside, he hastily strode toward me, took my hands as he was wont, and drew me in, gazing the while down my dazzled, happy eyes till they fell.

"Ay, lass," said he then, laughing gleefully as any boy, and catching both of my hands again that I had drawn away. "I've a puzzle of my own to show thee,—a charade of two syllables,—a tiny thing, and yet it holds my world! See, the first!"

He had led me to the mirror and stationed me there alone. I liked not to look, but I did.

"Why, Angus," I said, "it's I."

"Well done! and go to the head. It's you indeed. But what else, Ailie darling? Nay, I'll tell you, then. The first syllable—just to suit my fancy—shall be bride, shall it not?"

"Bride," I murmured.

"And there behold the last syllable!" taking a step aside to the window, and throwing wide the blind.

I looked down the dark, but there was nought except the servant in the light of the hanging lamp, holding the curbs of the two horses that leaped and reared with nervous limbs and fiery eyes behind him.

"Is it horses?—steeds?—oh, bridles!"

"But thou'rt a very dunce! The last syllable is groom."


"Now you shall see the embodiment of the whole word"; and with the step he was before the glass again. "Look!" he said; "look from under my arm,—you are just as high as my heart!"

"Why, that's you, Angus,"—and a gleam was dawning on me.

"Of course it is, little stupid! No less. And it's bridegroom too, and never bridegroom but with this bride!" And he had turned upon me and was taking me into his arms.

"Oh, Angus!" I cried,—"can you love me with no place on my face to kiss?"

But he found a place.

"Can I help loving you?" he said,—"Oh, Ailie, I do! I do—when all my years you have been my dream, my hope, my delight, when my life is yours, when you are my very self!"

And I clung to him for answer, hiding all my troubled joy in his breast.

Then, while he still held me so, silent and tender, close-folding,—there rose a great murmur through the rooms, and all the people surged up to one end, and Margray burst in upon us, calling him. He drew me forth among them all, his arm around my waist, and they opened a lane for us to the window giving into the garden, and every eye was bent there on a ghastly forehead, a grim white face, a terrible face, pressed against the glass, and glaring in with awful eyes!

"By Heaven, it is Helmar!" cried Angus, fire leaping up his brow;—but Mary Strathsay touched him to stone with a fling of her white finger, and went like a ghost herself and opened the casement, as the other signed for her to do. He never gave her glance or word, but stepped past her straight to my mother, and laid the white, shining, dripping bundle that he bore—the trilling hushed, the sparkle quenched, so flaccid, so limp, so awfully still—at her feet.

"I never loved the girl," he said, hoarsely. "Yet to-night she would have fled with me. It was my revenge, Mrs. Strathsay! She found her own death from a careless foot, the eager haste of an arm, the breaking branch of your willow-tree. Woman! woman!" he cried, shaking his long white hand before her face, "you took the light out of my life, and I swore to darken your days!"

Mrs. Strathsay fell forward on the body with a long, low moan. He faced about and slid through us all, ere Angus could lay hand on him,—his eye on Mary Strathsay. There was no love on her face, no expectancy, no passion, but she flung herself between the two,—between Angus following and Helmar going, for he distained to fly,—then shut and clasped the window, guarded it beneath one hand, and held Angus with her eye, white, silent, deathly, no joy, no woe, only a kind of bitter triumph in achieving that escape. And it was as if Satan had stalked among us there.

'Twas no use pursuit;—the ship that I had heard weighing anchor was reached ere then and winging down the river. And from that hour to this we have never set eyes on Helmar.

Well, at midsummer of the next year Angus married me. We were very quiet, and I wore the white slip in which he showed me myself in the glass as a a bride,—for we would not cast aside our crapes so soon, and Mary wears hers to this day. From morn till night my poor mother used only to sit and moan, and all her yellow hair was white as driving snow. I could not leave her, so Angus rented his estates and came and lived with us. 'Tis different now;—Mrs. Strathsay goes about as of old, and sees there be no speck on the buttery-shelves, that the sirup of her lucent plums be clear as the light strained through carbuncles, her honeycombs unbroken, her bread like manna, and no followers about her maids. And Mrs. Strathsay has her wish at length;—there's a son in the house, a son of her own choosing, (for she had ever small regard for the poor little Graeme,)—none knew how she had wished it, save by the warmth with which she hailed it,—and she is bringing him up in the way he should go. She's aye softer than she was, she does not lay her moulding finger on him too heavily;—if she did, I doubt but we should have to win away to our home. Dear body! all her sunshine has come out! He has my father's name, and when sleep's white finger has veiled his bonnie eyes, and she sits by him, grand and stately still, but humming low ditties that I never heard her sing before, I verily believe that she fancies him to be my father's child.

And still in the nights of clear dark we lean from the broad bower-window and watch the river flowing by, the rafts swimming down with breath of wood-scents and wild life, the small boats rocking on the tide, revivifying our childhood with the strength of our richer years, heart so locked in heart that we have no need of words,—Angus and I. And often, as we lean so, over the beautiful silence of lapping ripple and dipping oar there floats a voice rising and falling in slow throbs of tune;—it is Mary Strathsay singing some old sanctified chant, and her soul seems to soar with her voice, and both would be lost in heaven but for the tender human sympathies that draw her back to our side again. For we have grown to be a glad and peaceful family at length; 'tis only on rare seasons that the old wound rankles. We none of us speak of Effie, lest it involve the mention of Helmar; we none of us speak of Helmar, lest, with the word, a shining, desolate, woful phantom flit like the wraith of Effie before us. But I think that Mary Strathsay lives now in the dream of hereafter, in the dream that some day, perchance when all her white beauty is gone and her hair folded in silver, a dark, sad man will come off the seas, worn with the weather and with weight of sorrow and pain, and lay himself down at her feet to die. And shrived by sorrow and pain, and by prayer, he shall be lifted in her arms, shall rest on her bosom, and her soul shall forth with his into the great unknown.