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CHAPTER XXXIV.-TONY ASKS COUNSEL.
It was just as Bella said; Alice had sent off that poor boy" twice as much in love as ever." Poor fellow! what a strange conflict was that that raged within him!—all that can make life glorious, give ecstasy to the present and hope to the future, mingled with everything that can throw a gloom over existence, and make it a burden and a task. Must it be ever thus ?must the most exquisite moments of our life, when we have youth and hope and health and energy, be dashed with fears that make us forget all the blessings of our lot, and deem ourselves the most wretched of created beings?
In this feverish alternation he travelled along homeward now thinking of the great things he could do and dare to win her love, now forth-shadowing the time when all hope should be extinguished, and he should walk the world alone and forsaken. He went over in memory-who has not done so at one time or other?-all she had said to him at their last meeting, asking what ground there might be for hope in this, what reason for belief in that. With what intense avidity do we seek for the sands of gold in this crushed and crumbled rock! how eagerly do we peer to catch one glittering grain that shall whisper to us of wealth hereafter!
Surely, thought he, Alice is too good and too true-hearted to give me even this much of hope if she meant me to despair. Why should she offer to write to me if she intended that I was to forget her? "I wonder," muttered he, in his dark spirit of doubt-" I wonder if this be simply the woman's way of treating a love she deems beneath her?" He had read in some book or other that it is no uncommon
thing for those women whose grace and beauty win homage and devotion thus to sport with the affections of their worshippers, and that in this exercise of a cruel power they find an exquisite delight. But Alice was too proud and too highhearted for such an ignoble pastime. But then he had read too that women sometimes fancy that, by encouraging a devotion they never mean to reward, they tend to elevate men's thoughts, ennobling their ambitions, and inspiring them with purer, holier hopes. What if she should mean this, and no more than this? Would not her very hatred be more bearable than such pity? For a while this cruel thought unmanned him, and he sat there like one stunned and powerless.
For some time the road had led between the low furze-clad hills of the country, but now they had gained the summit of a ridge, and there lay beneath them that wild coast-line, broken with crag and promontory towards the sea, and inland swelling and falling in every fanciful undulation, yellow with the furze and the wild broom, but grander for its wide expanse than many a scene of stronger features. How dear to his heart it was! How inexpressibly dear the spot that was interwoven with every incident of his life and every spring of his hope! There the green lanes he used to saunter with Alice-there the breezy downs over which they cantered-yonder the little creek where they had once sheltered from a storm; he could see the rock on which he lit a fire in boyish imitation of a shipwrecked crew! was of Alice that every crag and cliff, every bay and inlet, spoke.
"And is all that happiness gone
for ever?" criel he, as he stood gazing at the scene. "I wonder," thought he, "could Skeffy read her thoughts and tell me how she feels towards me? I wonder will he ever talk to her of me, and what will they say?" His cheek grew hot and red, and he muttered to himself, "Who knows but it may be in pity?" and with the bitterness of the thought the tears started to his eyes and coursed down his cheeks.
That same book-how it rankled, like a barbed arrow, in his side! that same book said that men are always wrong in their readings of woman-that they cannot understand the finer, nicer, more subtle springs of her action; and in their coarser appreciation they constantly destroy the interest they would give worlds to create. It was as this thought flashed across his memory the car-driver exclaimed aloud, "Ah, Master Tony, did ever you see as good a pony as yon? he's carried the minister these eighteen years, and look at him, how he jogs along to-day!"
He pointed to a little path in the valley where old Doctor Stewart ambled along on his aged palfrey, the long mane and flowing tail of the beast marking him out though nigh half a mile away.
'Why didn't I think of that before?" thought Tony. "Dolly Stewart is the very one to help me. She has not been bred and brought up like Alice, but she has plenty of keen woman's wit, and she has all a sister's love for me besides. I'll just go and tell her how we parted, and I'll ask her frankly what she says to it."
Cheered by this bright idea, he pursued his way in better spirits, and soon reached the little path which wound off from the highroad through the fields to the burnside. Not a spot there unnassociated with memories, but they were the memories of early boyhood. The clump of white thorns they used to call the Forest, and where they went to hunt wild beasts; the little stream they fancied a great
and rapid river, swarming with alligators; the grassy slope, where they had their house, and the tiny garden whose flowers, stuck down at daybreak, were withered before noon!-too faithful emblems of the joys they illustrated!
"Surely," thought he, "no boy had ever such a rare playfellow as Dolly; so ready to take her share in all the rough vicissitudes of a boy's pleasures, and yet to bring to them a sort of storied interest and captivation which no mere boy could ever have contributed. What a little romance the whole was just because she knew how to impart the charm of a story to all they did and all they planned !"
It was thus thinking that he entered the cottage. So still was everything that he could hear the scratching noise of a pen as a rapid writer's hand moved over the paper. He peeped cautiously in and saw Dolly seated, writing busily at a table all strewn over with manuscript: an open book, supported by other books, lay before her, at which from time to time she glanced.
Before Tony had advanced a step she turned round and saw him. "Was it not strange, Tony?" said she, and she flushed as she spoke. "I felt that you were there before I saw you; just like long ago, when I always knew where you were hid."
"I was just thinking of that same long ago, Dolly," said he, taking a chair beside her, as I came up through the fields. There everything is the same as it used to be when we went to seek our fortune across the sandy desert, near the Black Lake."
"No," said she, correcting; "the Black Lake was at the foot of Giant's Rock, beyond the rye field.'
"So it was, Dolly; you are right."
'Ah, Master Tony, I suspect I have a better memory of those days than you have. To be sure, I have not had as many things happening in the meanwhile to trouble these memories."
There was a tone of sadness in her voice, very slight, very faint indeed, but still enough to tinge these few words with melancholy.
“And what is all this writing about?" said he, moving his hands through the papers. Are you composing a book, Dolly!"
No," said she, timidly; "I am only translating a little German story. When I was up in London, I was lucky enough to obtain the insertion of a little fairy tale in a small periodical meant for children, and the editor encouraged me to try and render one of Andersen's stories; but I am a very sorry German, and, I fear me, a still sorrier prose writer; and so, Tony, the work goes on as slowly as that bridge of ours used long ago. Do you remember, when it was made, we never had the courage to pass over it! Mayhap it will be the same with my poor story, and, when finished, remain unread."
"But why do you encounter such a piece of labour?" said he. "This must have taken a week or more!" "A month yesterday, my good Tony; and very proud I am, too, that I did it in a month."
Oh, I didn't mean that," said he, in deep shame and confusion. "I meant only, why did you engage on such a hard task."
"I know you didn't mean it, Tony; but I was so proud of my success as an author, it would out. Yes," said she, with a feigned air of importance, "I have just disposed of my copyright; and you know, Tony, Milton did not get a great deal more for 'Paradise Lost.' You see," added she seriously, "what with poor papa's age and his loneliness, and my own not over-great strength, I don't think I shall try (at least not soon) to be a governess again; and it behoves me to be as little as I can of a burden to him; and after thinking of various things, I have settled upon this as the best."
There is no such great goodness in doing what is simply one's duty," said she, gravely.
I don't know that, Dolly." "Come, come, Tony, you never fancied yourself a hero, just because you are willing to earn your bread, and ready to do so by some sacrifice of your tastes and habits."
The allusion recalled Tony to himself and his own cares, and after a few seconds of deep thought he said, "I am going to make the venture now, Dolly. I am called away to London by telegraph, and am to leave to-morrow morning."
"And are you fully prepared, Tony, for the examination?"
Luckily for me, they do not require it. Some accidental want of people has made them call in all the available fellows at a moment's warning, and in this way I may chance to slip into the service unchallenged."
"Nay, but, Tony," said she, reproachfully, "you surely could face the examination?"
"I could face it just as I could face being shot at, of course, but with the same certainty of being bowled over. Don't you know, Dolly, that I never knew my grammar long ago till you had dinned it into my head; and as you never come to my assistance now, I know well what my fate would be."
"My dear Tony," said she, get rid once for all of the habit of underrating your own abilities: as my dear father says, people very easily make self-depreciation a plea of indolence. There, don't look so dreary; I'm not going to moralise in the few last minutes we are to have together. Talk to me about yourself.
"It was for that I came, Dolly,” said he, rising and taking a turn or two up and down the room; for in
truth he was sorely puzzled how to approach the theme that engaged him. "I want your aid; I want your woman's wit to help me in a difficulty. Here's what it is, Dolly," and he sat down again at her side, and took her hand in his own. "Tell me, Dolly," said he, suddenly, "is it true, as I have read somewhere, that a woman, after having made a man in love with her, will boast that she is not in the least bound to requite his affection if she satisfies herself that she has elevated him in his ambition, given a higher spring to his hope, made him, in fact, something better and nobler than his own uninspired nature had ever taught him to be? I'm not sure that I have said what I meant to say; but you'll be able to guess what I intend."
You mean, perhaps, will woman accept a man's love as a means of serving him without any intention of returning it?"
Perhaps he did not like the fashion in which she put his question, for he did not answer, save by a nod. "I say yes; such a thing is possible, and might happen readily enough if great difference of station separated them."
"Do you mean, if one was rich and the other poor?"
"Not exactly; because inequalities of fortune may exist between persons of equal condition."
"In which case," said he, hurriedly, you would not call their stations unequal, would you?"
"That would depend on how far wealth contributed to the habits of the wealthier. Some people are so accustomed to affluence, it is so much the accompaniment of their daily lives, that the world has for them but one aspect."
"Like our neighbours here, the Lyles, for instance?" said he.
Dolly gave a slight start, like a sudden pang of pain, and grew deadly pale. She drew away her hand at the same time, and passed it across her brow.
"Slightly it is seldom quite free of pain. You have chosen a poor guide, Tony, when there is a question of the habits of fine folk. None know so little of their ways as I do. But surely you do not need guidance. Surely you are well capable of understanding them in all their moods."
With all her attempts to appear calm and composed, her lip shook and her cheeks trembled as she spoke; and Tony, more struck by her looks than her words, passed his arm round her, and said, in a kind and affectionate voice, “I see you are not well, my own dear Dolly; and that I ought not to come here troubling you about my own selfish cares; but I can never help feeling that it's a sister I speak to."
"Yes, a sister," said she, in a faint whisper-“a sister!”
"And that your brother Tony has the right to come to you for counsel and help."
"So he has," said she, gulping down something like a sob; "but these days, when my head is weary and tired, and when as to-day, Tony-I am good for nothingTell me," said she, hastily, "how does your mother bear your going away? Will she let me come and sit with her often? I hope she will."
"That she will, and be so happy to have you, too; and only think, Dolly, Alice Lyle-Mrs Trafford, I mean has offered to come and keep her company sometimes. I hope you'll meet her there: how you'd like her, Dolly!"
Dolly turned away her head, and the tears, against which she had struggled so long, now burst forth, and slowly fell along her cheek.
"You must not fancy, Dolly, that because Alice is rich and great you will like her less. Heaven knows, if humble fortune could separate us, ours might have done so.
My head is splitting, Tony, dear. It is one of those sudden attacks of pain. Don't be angry if I say Good-bye; there's nothing for it but a dark room, and quiet.'
"My poor dear Dolly," said he, pressing her to him, and kissing her twice on the cheek.
"No, no!" cried she, hysterically, as though to something she was answering; and then, dashing away, she rushed from the room, and Tony could hear her door shut and locked as she passed in.
"How changed from what she used to be!" muttered he, as he went his way; "I scarcely can believe she is the same! And, after all, what light has she thrown on the difficulty I put before her? Or
was it that I did not place the matter as clearly as I might? Was I too guarded, or was I too vague? Well, well. I remember the time when, no matter how stupid I was, she would soon have found out my meaning! What a dreary thing that life of a governess must be, when it could reduce one so quick of apprehension and so readywitted as she was to such a state as this! Oh, is she not changed!" And this was the burden of his musings as he wended his way towards home.
CHAPTER XXXV.-SIR ARTHUR ON LIFE AND THE WORLD IN GENERAL.
"Here it is at last, mother," said Tony, holding up the "despatch" as be entered the cottage. "The order for the examination, Tony!" said she, as she turned pale.
"No, but the order to do without it, mother dear! the order for Anthony Butler to report himself for service, without any other test than his readiness to go wherever they want to send him. It seems that there's a row somewhere-or several rows-just now. Heaven bless the fellows that got them up, for it gives them no time at the Office to go into any impertinent inquiries as to one's French, or decimal fractions, or the other qualifications deemed essential to carrying a letter-bag, and so they've sent for me to go off to Japan.'
were, 'Come up and be examined'? I think I'm a good-tempered fellow; but I declare to you frankly, if one of those 'Dons' were to put a question to me that I couldn't answer-and I'm afraid it would not be easy to put any other-I'd find it very hard not to knock him down! I mean, of course, mother, if he did it offensively, with a chuckle over my ignorance, or something that seemed to say, There's a blockhead, if ever there was one!' I know I couldn't help it!"