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visions of our plunge into Wales on the morrow, while ever and anon she hummed snatches of the Lieutenant's Burgundy song.
"Please may I make a confession?" she asked, at length in a low voice.
I hoped, however, she was not going to follow the example of the Lieutenant, and confide to me that ahe meditated making a proposal. Although men dislike this duty, they have a prejudice against seeing it undertaken by women.
•• All our journey has wanted but one thing," said Bell. •' We have had everything that could he wished — bright weather, a comfortable way of travelling, much amusement, plenty of fights — indeed, there was nothing wanting but one thing, and that was the sea. Now did you never try to look for it? Were you never anxious to see only a long thread of grey near the sky. and be quite sure that out there the woods stopped on the edge of a line of sand 1 I dared not tell Tita — for she would have thought me very ungrateful, but I may tell you, for you don't seem to care about anybody's opinions — but I used to get a little vexed with the constant meadows, rivers, farms, hills, woods, and all that over and over again, and the sea not coming any nearer. Of course one had no right to complain, as I suppose it's put down in the map, and can't be altered: but we seem to have been a long time coming across the country to reach the sea."
"Why, you wild sea-gull, do you think that was our only object? A long time reaching the sea I — Don't imagine your anxiety was concealed. I saw you perpetually scanning the horizon, as if one level line were better than any other level line at such a distance. You began it on Richmond Hill, and would have us believe the waves of the Irish Channel were breaking somewhere about Windsor."
"No — no!" pleaded Bell; "don't think me ungrateful. I think we we have been most fortunate in coming as we did; and Count Von Rosen must have seen every sort of English landscape — first the river-pictures about Richmond, then the wooded hills about Oxfordshire, then the plains of Berkshire, then the mere-country about Ellesmere — and now he is going into the mountains of Wales. But all the same we shall reach the sea to-morrow."
"What are you two fighting about?" aays Queen Titania, interposing.
"We are not fighting," says Bell, in the
meekest possible way; "we are not husband and wife."
"I wish you were," says the other, coolly.
"Madame," I observe at this point, "that is rather a dangerous jest to play with. It is now the second time you have made use of it this morning."
"And if I do repeat old jokes," says Tita, with a certain calm audacity, "it must be through the force of a continual example."
"And such jests sometimes fix
themselves in the mind until they develop and grow into a serious purpose."
"Does that mean that you would like to marry Bell? If it can be done legally and properly, I should not be sorry, I know. Can it be done, Count von Rosen V Shall we four go back to London with different partners? An exchange of husbands"
Merciful Powers! what was the woman saying? She suddenly stopped, and an awful consternation fell on the whole four of us. That poor little mite of a creature had been taking no thought of her words, in her pursuit of this harmless jest; and somehow it had wandered into her brain that Bell and the Lieutenant were on the same footing as herself and I. A more embarrassing slip of the tongue could tiot be conceived; and for several dreadful seconds no one had the courage to speak, until Bell wildly and incoherently — with tier face and forehead glowing like a rose — asked whether there was a theatre in Chester.
"No," cries my Lady, eagerly; "don't isk us to go to the theatre to-night, Bell; let us go for a walk rather."
She positively did not know what she was saying. It was a wonder she did not propose we should go to the gardens of Dremorue. or up in a balloon. Her heart was filllcd with anguish and dismay over the horrible blunder she had made; and she began talking about Chester, in a series of disconnected sentences, in which the heartrending effort to appear calm and unconstrained was painfully obvious. Vluch as I have had to bear at the hands of that gentle little woman, I felt sorry 'or her then. I wondered what she and Bell would say to each other when they went off for a private confabulation at night.
By the time that we drew near Chester, however, this unfortunate incident was sretty well forgotten; and we were suficiently tranquil to regard with interest /he old city, which was now marked out in the twilight, by the yellow twinkling of the gas-lamps. People had come out for their evening stroll round the great wall which encircles the town. Down in the level meadows by the side of the Dee, lads were still playing cricket. The twilight, indeed was singularly clear; and when we had driven into the town, and put up the phaeton at an enormous Gothic hotel which seemed to overawe the small oldfashioned houses in its neighbourhood, we too set out for a leisurely walk round the ancient ramparts.
But here again the Lieutenant was disappointed. How could he talk privately to Bell on this public promenade? Lovers there were there, but all in solitary pairs. If Tita had only known that she and I were interfering with the happiness of our young folks, she would have thrown herself headlong into the moat rather than continue this unwilling persecution. As it was, she went peacefully along, watching the purple light of the evening fall over the great landscape around the city. The ruddy glow in the windows became more and more pronounced. There were voices of boys still heard down in the racecourse, but there was no more cricketing possible. In the still evening, a hush seemed to fall over the town; and when we got round to the weir on the river, the vague white masses of water that we could scarcely see, sent the sound of them roaring and tumbling, as it were, into a hollow chamber. Then we plunged once more into the streets. The shops were lit. The quaint galleries along the first floor of the houses, which are the special architectural glory of Chester, were duskily visible in the light of the lamps. And then we escaped into the yellow glare of the great dining-room of the Gothic hotel, and sat ourselves down for a comfortable evening.
"Well," I say to the Lieutenant, as we go into the smoking-room, when the women have retired for the night, have you asked Bell yet?"
•• No," he answers, morosely.
"Then you have escaped another day?"
"It was not my intention. I will ask her — whenever I get the chance — that I am resolved upon; and if she says ' No,' why, it is my misfortune, that is all."
"I have told you she is certain to say 'No.'"
"But I have a proposal to make."
"So have I," says the Lieutenant, with a gloomy smile.
"To-morrow you are goinsr down to see a bit of Wales. Why spoil the day pre
maturely? Put it off until the evening, and then take your refusal like a man. Don't do Wales an injustice."
"Why," says the Lieutenant, peevishly, "you think nothing is important but looking at a fine country and enjoying yourself out of doors. I do not care what happens to a lot of mountains and rivers when this tiling is for me far more important. When I can speak to Mademoiselle, I will do so; and I do not care if all Wales is put under water to-morrow"
"After your refusal, the deluge. Well, it is a good thing to be prepared. But you need not talk in an injured tone, which reminds one oddly of Arthur."
You should have seen the stare on Von Rosen's face.
"It is true. All you boys are alike when you fall in love — all unreasonable, discontented, perverse, and generally objectionable. It was all very well for you to call attention to that unhappy young man's conduct when you were in your proper senses; but now, if you go on as you are going, it will be the old story over again."
"Then you think I will persecute Mademoiselle, and be insolent to her and her friends?"
"All in good time. Bell refuses you tomorrow. You are gloomy for a day. You ask yourself why she has done so. Then you come to us and beg for our interference. Wo tell you it is none of our business. You say we are prejudiced against you, and accuse us of forwarding Arthur's suit. Then you begin to look on him as your successful rival. You grow so furiously jealous"
Here the Uhlan broke into a tremendous laugh.
"My good friend, I have discovered a great secret," he cried. "Do you know who is jealous? You. You will oppose anyone who tries to take Mademoiselle away from you. And I — I will try — and I will do it."
From the greatest despondency he had leaped to a sort of wild and cra/.y hope of success. He smiled to himself, walked about the room, and talked in the most buoyant and friendly manner about the prospects of the morrow. He blew clouds of cigar-smoke about as if he were Neptune getting to the surface of the sea, and blowing back the sea-foam from about his face. And then, all at once, he sat down — we were the only occupants of the room —and said, in a hesitating way, —
"Look here — do you think Madame could speak a word to her — if she does say • No 'V"
"I thought it would come to that."
"You are — what do you call it ? —very unsympathetic."
"Unsympathetic! No; I have a great interest in both of you. But the whole story U so old, one has got familiar with its manifestations."
"It is a very old and common thing to be born, but it is a very important thing, and it only happens to you once."
"And falling in love only happens to you once, I suppose?"
"Oh no, many times. I have very often been in love with this girl or the other girl, but never until this time serious. I never before asked anyone to marry me; and surely this is serious — that I offer for her sake to give up my country, and my friend.-, and my profession — everything. Surely that is serious enough."
And to it was. And I knew that if ever he got Bell to listen favourably to him, he would have little difficulty in convincing her that he had never cared for anyone before, while she would easily assure him that she had always regarded Arthur only as a friend. For there are no lies so massive, audacious, and unblushing as those told by two young folks when they recount to each other the history of their previous love affairs.
"0 Queen, tli.m knowest I pray not for this:
Oh set us down together in some place Where not a voice can break our heaven of
bliss, Where naught but rocks and I can see her
Softening beneath the marvel of thy grace, Where not a foot our vanished steps can track, The golden age, the golden age come back!"
Little did our Bonny Bell reck of the plot that had been laid against her peace of mind. She was as joyous as a wild seabird when we drew near the sea. All the morning she had hurried us on; and we were at the station some twenty minutes before the train started. Then she must needs sit on the northern side of the carriage, close in by the window; and all at once, when there flashed before us a long and level stretch of grey-groen, she uttered a quick, low cry of gladness, as though the last wish of her life had been realized.
Yet there was not much in this glimpse of the sea that we got as we ran slowly along the coast-line towards Conway. It was a quiet grey day, with here and there a paten of blue overhead. The sea was
stirred only by a ripple. Here and there it darkened into a breezy green, but for the most part it reflected the cold grey sky overhead. The shores were flat. The tide was up, and not a rock to be seen. One or two small boats were visible; but' no great full-rigged ship, with all her white sails swelling before the wind, swept onwards to the low horizon. But it was the sea — that was enough for this mad girl of ours. She had the window put down, and a cold odour of sea-weed flew through the carriage. If there was not much blue outside, there was plenty in the deep and lambent colour of her eyos, where pure joy and delight fought strangely with the half-saddening influences produced by this first unexpected meeting with the sea.
Turning abruptly away from the coastline — with the grey walls of Conway Castle overlooking the long sweep of the estuary— we plunged down into the mountains. The dark masses of firs up among the rocks were deepening in gloom. There was an unearthly calm on the surface of the river, as if the reflection of the boulders, and the birch-bushes, and the occasional cottages, lay waiting, for the first stirring of the rain. Then, fur away up the cleft of the valley, a grey mist came floating over the hills; it melted whole mountains into a soft dull grey, it blotted out dark green forests and mighty masses of rock, until a pattering against the carriage windows told us that the rain had begun.
"It is always so in Wales," said my Lady, with a sigh.
But when we got out at Bettws-y-Coed, you would not have fancied our spirits were grievously oppressed. Indeed, I remarked that we never enjoyed ourselves so much, whether in the phaeton or out of it, as when there was abundant rain about, the desperation of the circumstances driving us into being recklessly merry. So we would not take the omnibus that was carrying up to the Swallow Falls some halfdozen of those horrid creatures, the tourists. The deadly dislike we bore to these unoffending people was remarkable. What right had they to be invading this wonderful valley? What right had they to leave Bayswater and occupy seats at the tables d' hole of hotels V We saw them drive away with a secret pleasure. We hoped they would get wet, and swear never to return to Wales. We called them tourists, in short, which has become a term of opprobrium among Englishmen; but we would have perished rather than admit for a moment that we too were tourists.
It did not rain very mnch. There was a strong resinous odour in the air, from the spruce, the larch, the pines, and the breckans, as we got through the wood, and ventured down the slippery paths which brought us in front of the Swallow Falls. There had been plenty of rain — and the foaming jets of water were darting among the rocks very much like the white glimmer of the marten as he cuts about the eaves of a house in the twilight. The roar of the river filled the nir, and joined in chorus the rustling of tlie trees in the wind. We could scarcely hear ourselves speak. It was not a time for confidences. We returned to Bettws.
But the Lieutenant, driven wild by the impossibility of placing all his sorrows before Bell, eagerly assented to the proposal that we should go and see the Fairy Glen — a much more retired spot — after luncheon. The dexterity he displayed in hurrying over that meal was remarkable. It was rather a scramble — for a number of visitors were in the place; and the long table was pretty well filled up. But with a fine audacity our Uhlan constituted himself waiter for our party, and simply harried the hotel. If my Lady's eyes only happened to wander towards a particular dish, it was before her in a twinkling. The Lieutenant alarmed many a young lady there by first begging her pardon and then reaching over her shoulder to carry off some huge plate; although he presently atoned for these misdemeanours by carving a couple of fowls for the use of the whole company. He also made the acquaintance of a governess who was in charge of two tender little women of twelve and fourteen. He sat down by the governess; discovered that she had been at Bettws for some weeks; got from her some appalling statistics of the rain that had fallen; then — for the maids were rather remiss — went and got her a bottle of ale, which he drew for her, and poured out and graciously handed to her. Bell was covertly laughing all the time: my Lady was amazed.
"Now," he said, turuing in quite a matter-of-fact way to us, " when do we start for tliis Fairy Glen V"
"Pray don't let us take you away from such charming companionship," observed my Lady with a smile.
"Oh, she is a very intelligent person," says the Lieutenant; "really a very intelligent person. But she makes a great mistake in preferring Schiller's plays to Lessing's for her pupils. I tried to convince her of that. She is going to the
Rhine with those young ladies, later on in the year — to Kb'nigswinter. Would it not be a very nice thing for us all, when we leave the phaeton at your home, to go for a few weeks to Kbnigswinter?"
"We cannot all flirt with a pretty governess," says Tita.
"Now that is too bad of you English ladies," retorts the Lieutenant. "You must always think, when a man talks to a girl, he wants to be in love with her. No
— it is absurd. She is intelligent — a good talker — she knows very many things
— and she is a stranger like myself in a hotel. Why should I not talk to her?"
"You are quite right, Count von Rosen," says Bell.
Of course he was quite right. He was always quite right! But wait a bit.
We set off for the Fairy Glen. The rain had ceased; but the broad and smooth roads were yellow with water; large drops still fell from the trees, and the air was humid and warm. The Lieutenant lit a cigar about as big as a wooden leg; and Bell insisted on us two falling rather behind, because that she liked the scent of a cigar in the open air.
We crossed the well-known Waterloo Bridge — built in the same year as that which chronicled the great battle — and we heard the Lieutenant relating to Tita how several of his relatives had been in the army which came up to help us on that day.
"You know we had won before you came up,'' said my Lady, stoutly.
The Lieutenant laughed as he replied to her.
"I am not sure about that," he said; "but you did what we coull not have done
— you held the whole French army by yourselves, and crippled it so that our mere appearance on the battle-field was enough."
"I think it was very mean of both of you," said Bell, " to win a battle by mere force of numbers. If you had given Napoleon a chance"
"Mademoiselle," said von Rosen, " the object of a campaign is to win battles — anyhow. You throw away the heroic elements of the old single combatants when it is with armies that you fight; and you take all advantages you can get. But who was the braver then — your small English army, or the big French one that lost the whole day without overwhelming their enemy, and waited until we came down to drive them back? That is a very good word — a very strong word — our zurilckgetaorfen. It is a very good thing to se« that word at the end of a sentence that talks of your enemies."
At length we got to the neighbourhood of the Fairy Glen, and found ourselves in among the wet trees, with the roar of the stream reverberating through the woods. There were a great many paths in this pretty ravine. Yon can go close down to the water, and find still pools reflecting the silver-lichened rocks; or you can clamber along the high banks through the birch and hazel and elm, and look down on the white waterfalls beneath you that wet the ferns and bushes about with their spray. Four people need not stay together. Perhaps it was because of an extraordinary change in the aspect of the day that Tita and I lost sight of the young folks. Indeed, we had sat down upon a great smooth boulder and were pensively enjoying the sweet scents around, and the plashing of the stream, when this strange thing occurred, so that we never remembered that our companions had gone. Suddenly into the gloomy grey day there leaped a wild glow of yellow fire; and far up the narrowing vista of th'e glen — where the rocks grew closer together — the sunlight smote down on the gleaming ereen of the underwood, until it shone and sparkled over the smooth pools. The light came nearer. There was still a sort of mist of dampness in the atmosphere — hanging about the woods, and dulling the rich colours of the glen; but as the sunlight came straggling down the rocky ravine, a dash of blue gleamed out overhead, and a rush of wind through the dripping green branches seemed to say that the wet was being swept off the mountains and towards the sea. The Fairy Glen was now a blaze of transparent green and fine gold, with white diamonds of raindrops glittering on the ferns and moss and bushes. Il grew warm, too, down in the hollow; and the sweet odours of the forest above — woodruff, and campion, and wild mint, and the decayed leaves of the great St. John's wort — all stole out into the moist air.
"Where have they gone?" says Tita almost sharply.
•' My dear," I say to her, "you were yonng yourself once. It's a good time ago — but still"
"Bell never asked for letters this morning." remarked my Lady, showing the direction her thoughts were taking.
"No matter, Arthur will be meeting us directly. He is sure to come over to our route in his dogcart."
"We must find them, and get back to
Bettws-y-Coed," is the only- reply which is vouchsafed to me.
They were not far to seek. When we had clambered up the steep bank to the path overhead, Bell and the Lieutenant were standing in the road, silent. As soon as they saw us, they came slowly walking down. Neither spoke a word. Somehow, Bell managed to attach herself to Tita; and these two went on ahead.
"You were right," said the Lieutenant, in a low voice, very different from his ordinary light and careless fashion.
"You have asked her, then?"
"And she refused?"
"I thought she would."
"Now," he said, " I suppose I ought to go back to London?"
"It will not be pleasant for her — my being here. It will be very embarrassing to both of us:"
"Nonsense. She will look on it as a joke."
I am afraid our Uhlan looked rather savage at this moment.
"Don't you see," I observed to him seriously, " that if you go away in this manner you will give the affair a tremendous importance, and make all sorts of explanations necessary? Why not school yourself to meeting her on ordinary terms; and take it that your question was a sort of preliminary'sounding, as it were, without prejudice to either?"
"Then you think I should ask her again, at some future time?" he said eagerly.
"I don't think anything of the kind."
"Then why should I remain here?"
"I hope you did not come with us merely for the purpose of proposing to Bell."
"No; that is true enough — but our relations are now all altered. I do not iuow what to do."
"Don't do anything: meet her as if nothing of the kind had occurred. A sensible girl like her will think more lighly of you in doing that than in doing some wild and mad thing, which will only lave the effect of annoying her and yourself. Did she give you any reason?"
"I do not know," said Von Rosen, disconsolately. "I am not sure what I said. Perhaps I did not explain enough. Peri;i]>.-; she thought me blunt, rude, coarse in asking her so suddenly. It was all a sort of fire for a minute or two — and then the cold water came — and that lasts."
The two women were now far ahead — surely they were walking fast that Bell