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The courting of lady jane

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Title:TheCourtingOfLadyJane
Author:JosephineDaskam
ReleaseDate:November6,2007[EBook#23368]
LastUpdated:March8,2018
Language:English

***STARTOFTHISPROJECTGUTENBERGEBOOKTHECOURTINGOFLADYJANE***

ProducedbyDavidWidger


THECOURTINGOFLADYJANE


ByJosephineDaskam

Copyright,1903,byCharlesScribner'sSons

The colonel entered his sister's room abruptly, sat down on her bed, and
scatteredadrawerfuloffluffythingslaidoutforpacking.
“You don't seem to think about my side of the matter,” he said gloomily.
“WhatamItodohereallalone,forHeaven'ssake?”
“Thatissolikeaman,”shemurmured,onearminatrunk.“Letmesee:partyboots, the children's arctics, Dick's sweater—did you think I could live here
forever,Cal?”
“Thenyoushouldn'thavecomeatall.JustasIgetthoroughlysettleddownto
flowers in the drawing-room, and rabbits in a chafing-dish, and people for
dinner,youskipoff.Whydon'tyoubringthechildrenhere?Whatdidyoumarry
intothenavyfor,anyway?Nagasaki!Iwouldn'tliveinaplacecalledNagasaki
forallthatmoneycouldbuy!”
“You'recross,”saidMrs.Dickplacidly.“Pleasegetoffthatbath-wrapper.If
you don't like to live alone—Six bath-towels, Dick's shoe-bag, my old muff (I
hopeandprayI'llrememberthat!)Helen'sreefer—Whydon'tyoumarry?”
“Marry?Marry!Areyououtofyourmind,Dosia?Imarry!”
Thecoloneltwistedhisgrayishmustacheintopoints;alookofhorrorspread
overhiscountenance.
“Menhavedoneit,”sherepliedseriously,“andlived.LookatDick.”
“Lookathim?But how?Whoeverseeshim?I'veceasedtobelievein him,
personally.Ican'tlookacrossthePacific.Considermyage,Dosia;considermy
pepper-and-salthair;considermybronchitis;consider—”
“Consideryourstupidity!Astoyourhair,Ishouldhatetoeatasaladdressed
withthatproportionofpepper.Astoyourage,rememberyou'reonlytenyears
aheadofme,andIexpecttoremainthirty-eightforsometime.”
“Butforty-eightiscentenariantoagirloftwenty-two,Dosia.”


The colonel was plaiting and un-plaiting the ball-fringe of the bed-slip; his
eyes followed the motion of his fingers—he did not see his sister's triumphant
smileasshedivedagainintothetrunk.
“That depends entirely on the girl. Take Louise Morris, for instance; she
regards you as partly entombed, probably”—the colonel winced involuntarily
—“but,ontheotherhand,agirllikeJaneLeroywouldhavenosuchnonsensein
herhead,andshecan'tbemuchmorethantwenty.”
“Sheistwenty-two,”criedtheunsuspectingcoloneleagerly.
“Ah?Ishouldnothavesaidsomuch.Nowsuchagirlasthat,Cal,handsome,
dignified,college-bred,isjustthewifeforanolderman.Onecan'tseemtosee
hermarryingsomeyoungsnipofherownage.She'dbewastedonhim.Ihappen


toknowthatsherefusedWilburVailentirelyonthatground.Sheadmittedthat
hewasacharmingfellow,butshetoldhermotherhewasfartooyoungforher.
Andhewastwenty-eight.”
“Did she?” The colonel left the fringe. “But—but perhaps there were other
reasons;perhapsshedidn't—”
“Oh,probablyshedidn't.Butstill,shesaidhewastooyoung.That'stheway
with these serious girls. Now I thought Dick was middle-aged when I married
him,andhewasthirty.Janedoesn'ttakeafterhermother;shewasonlynineteen
whenshewasborn—Imean,ofcourse,whenJanewasborn.Willyouhandme
thatcrochetedshawl,please?”
“My dear girl, you're not going to try to get that into that trunk, too?
Somethingwillbreak.”
“Notatall,mydearClarence.Thankyou.WillyousendNorahuptomeas
yougodown?”
Ithadnotoccurredtothecolonelthathewasgoingdown,buthedecidedthat
he must have been, and departed, forgetting Norah utterly before he had
accomplishedhalfofthestaircase.
He wandered out through the broad hall, reaching down a hat absently, and
across the piazza. Then, half unconscious of direction, he crossed the neat
suburbanroadandstrolledupthegravelpathofthecottageopposite.Mrs.Leroy
was sitting in the bay-window, attaching indefinite yards of white lace to
indefiniteyardsofwhiteruffles.Jane,incoolvioletlawn,wasreadingaloudto
her.Bothlookedupathislightknockatthesidedoor.
“ButIamafraidIinterrupt,”hesuggestedpolitely,ashedroppedintoalow
chairwithamannerthatbetokenedtheassuranceofawarmwelcome.


“Nottheleastintheworld,”Mrs.Leroysmiledwhimsically.
“Lady is reading Pater to me for the good of my soul, and I am listening
politelyfor thegoodofhermanners,”sheanswered. “Butitisalittlewearing
forusboth,forsheknowsIdon'tunderstandit,andIknowshethinksmealittle
dishonestforpretendingto.”
“Mother!”
The girl's gray eyes opened wide above her cool, creamy cheeks; the deep
dimples that made her mother's face so girlish actually added a regularity and
seriousnesstothedaughter'ssoftchin.Herchestnuthairwasthickandstraight,
the little half-curls of the same rich tint that fell over her mother's forehead
brushedwavelesslybackoneachsideofadeepwidow'speak.
Thetwoolderoneslaughed.
“Alwaysuncompromising,LadyJane!”thecolonelcried.
“Iassureyou,colonel,whenLadybeginstomarkiniquities,fewofusstand!”
Jane smiled gravely, as on two children. “You know very well that is
nonsense,”shesaid.
BlackHannahappearedinthedoor,beamingandcurtsyingtothecolonel.
“You-allreadyfohyohtea,MissLady?”sheinquired.
A sudden recollection threw Mrs. Leroy into one of her irresistible fits of
gentlelaughter.
“Oh, Lady,” she murmured, “do you remember that impossible creature that
lectured me about Hannah's asking you for orders? Did I tell you about it,
colonel?”
Janeshookherheadreprovingly.
“Now,motherdearest,youalwaysmakehimoutworse—”
“Worse, my darling? Worse is a word that couldn't be applied to that man.
Worse is comparative. Positive he certainly was, superlative is mild, but
comparative—never!”
“Tellaboutit,do,”beggedtheguest.
“Well, he came to see how Lady was growing up—he's a sort of species of
relative—andhesatinyourchair,colonel,andtalkedthemostamazingFourth
Readerplatitudesinadeepbassvoice.AndwhenHannahaskedLadywhather
orders were for the grocer, he gave me a terrible look and rumbled out: 'I am
grievedtosee,CousinAlice,thatJenniehasburstherbounds!'
“It sounded horribly indecorous—I expected to see her in fragments on the


floor—andIfairlygasped.”
“Gasped,mother?Youlaughedinhisface!”
“Did I, dearest? It is possible.” Mrs. Leroy admitted. “And when I looked
vague he explained, 'I mean that you seem to have relinquished the reins very
early,CousinAlice!'
“'Relinquished? Relinquished?' said I. 'Why, dear me, Mr. Wadham, I never
held'em!'”
“Heonlymeant,motherdear,that—”
“Blessyou,mychild,Iknowwhatheonlymeant!Heexplainedittomevery
fully.Hemeantthatwhenawidowisleftwithaten-year-oldchild,sheshould
applytodistantcousinstomanageherandherfunds.”
“Disgustingbeast!”thecolonelexclaimedwithfeeling,possessinghimselfof
one of Hannah's beaten biscuits, and smiling as Lady Jane's white fingers
droppedjusttherightnumberoflumpsinhistea.
Howcharmingshewas,howdignified,howtendertohermerrylittlemother,
this grave, handsome girl! He saw her, in fancy, opposite him at his table,
moving so stately about his big empty house, filling it with pretty, useless
woman'sthings,lightingeverycornerwiththatlasttouchofgracethatthemost
faithful housekeeper could never hope to add to his lonely life. For Theodosia
hadtaughthimthathewaslonely.HeenviedDickthissisterofhis.
He wondered that marriage had never occurred to him before: simply it had
not.EversincethatrainydayinApril,twentyyearsago,whentheyhadburied
the slender, soft-eyed little creature with his twisted silver ring on her cold
finger,hehadshutthatdooroflife;andthoughithadbeenmanyyearssincethe
littleringhadreallyboundhimtoapersonalitylongfadedfromhismind,hehad
neverthoughttoopenthedoor—hehadforgottenitwasthere.
He was not a talkative man, and, like many such, he dearly loved to be
amusedandentertainedbyotherswhowereinanydegreeattractivetohim.The
pictureofthesetwodearwomenaddingtheirwitandcharmanddaintywayof
living to his days grew suddenly very vivid to him; he realized that it was an
unconscious counting on their continued interest and hospitality that had made
thefuturesocomfortableforsolong.
Withcharacteristicdirectnesshebegan:
“Will your Ladyship allow me a half-hour of business with the queenmother?”
She rose easily and stepped out through the long window to the little side


porch,thentothelawn.Theywatchedherasshepacedslowlyawayfromthem,
atallvioletfigurevividagainstallthegreen.
“Sheisadeargirl,isn'tshe?”saidhermothersoftly.
Asuddenfloodofdelightedpridesurgedthroughthecolonel'sheart.Ifonly
he might keep them happy and contented and—and his! He never thought of
them apart: no rose and bud on one stem were more essentially together than
they.
“She is too dear for one to be satisfied forever with even our charming
neighborliness,”heansweredgravely.“Howlonghavewelived'acrossthestreet
fromeachother,'astheysayhere,Mrs.Leroy?”
Shedidnotraisehereyesfromherwhiteruffles.
“Itisjustayearthismonth,”shesaid.
“Wearesuchgoodfriends,”hecontinuedinhisgentle,reservedvoice,“thatI
hesitatetobreakintosuchpleasantrelations,evenwiththechanceofmakingus
allhappier,perhaps.ButIcannotresistthetemptation.Couldwenotmakeone
family,wethree?”
Aquick,warmcolorfloodedhercheeksandforehead.Shecaughtherbreath;
her startled eyes met his with a lightning-swift flash of something that moved
himstrangely.
“Whatdoyoumean,ColonelDriscoll?”sheasked,lowandquickly.
“Imean,couldyougivemeyourdaughter—ifshe—atanytime—couldthink
itpossible?”
Shedrewadeepbreath;thecolorseemedblownfromhertransparentskinlike
a flame from a lamp. For a moment her head seemed to droop; then she sat
straightandmoistenedherlips,hereyesfixedlevelahead.
“Lady?”shewhispered,andhewassurethatshethoughtthewordwasspoken
inherordinarytone.“Lady?”
“Iknow—Irealizeperfectlythatitisapresumptioninme—atmyage—when
I think of what she deserves. Oh, we won't speak of it again if you feel that it
wouldbewrong!”
“No,no,itisnotthat,”shemurmured.“I—IhavealwaysknownthatImust
loseher;butshe—oneissoselfish—sheisallIhave,youknow!”
“But you would not lose her!” he cried eagerly. “You would only share her
withme,dearMrs.Leroy!Doyouthink—couldshe—itispossible?”
“Ladyisanunusualgirl,”shesaidevenly,butwithsomethinggoneoutofher


warm, gay voice. “She has never cared for young people. I know that she
admiresyougreatly.WhileIcannotdenythatIshouldpreferlessdifferencethan
lies between your ages, it would be folly in me to fail to recognize the
desirability of the connection in every other way. Whatever her decision—and
the matter rests entirely with her—my daughter and I are honored by your
proposal,ColonelDriscoll.”
She might have been reading a carefully prepared address: her eyes never
waveredfromthewallinfront—itwasasifshesawherwordsthere.
“Then—thenwillyouaskher?”
Shestaredathimnow.
“Youmeanthatyouwishmetoaskhertomarryyou?”
“Yes,” he said simply. “She will feel freer in that way. You will know as I
should not, directly, if there is any chance. I can talk about it with you more
easily—somehow.”
She shrugged her shoulders with a strange air of exhaustion; it was the
yieldingofonetootiredtoargue.
“Very well,” she breathed, “go now, and I will ask her. Come this evening.
Youwillexcuse—”
Shemadeavaguemotion.Thecolonelpitiedhertremendouslyinablindway.
Wasitallthistoloseadaughter?Howshelovedher!
“Perhaps to-morrow morning,” he suggested, but she shook her head
vehemently.
“No,to-night,to-night!”shecried.“Ladywillknowdirectly.Cometonight!”
He went out a little depressed. Already a tiny cloud hung between them.
Suppose their pleasant waters had been troubled for worse than nothing?
Suddenly his case appeared hopeless to him. What folly—a man of his years,
andthatfreshyoungcreaturewithallherlifebeforeher!Hewonderedthathe
could have dreamed of it; he wished the evening over and the foolish mistake
forgiven.
Hissisterwasfullofplansanddates,andhertalkcoveredhisalmostabsolute
silence. After dinner she retired again into packing, and he strode through the
dusktothecottage;hishadnotbeenatrainingthatseekstodelaytheinevitable.
The two women sat, as usual at this hour, on the porch. Their white gowns
shimmeredagainstthedarkhoneysuckle-vine.Hehaltedatthestepsandtookoff
theoldfatigue-caphesometimeswore,standingstraightandtallbeforethem.
Mrs.Leroyleanedbackinherchair;thefaintestpossiblegestureindicatedher


daughter,whohadrisenandstoodbesideher.
“ColonelDriscoll,”shesaidinalow,unevenvoice,“mydaughterwishesme
tosaytoyouthatsheappreciatesdeeplythehonoryoudoher,andthatifyou
wishitshewillbeyourwife.She—sheissureshewillbehappy.”
The colonel felt his heart leap up and hit heavily against his chest. Was it
possible? A great gratitude and pride glowed softly through him. He walked
nearlyupthestepsandstoodjustbelowher,liftingherhandtohislips.
“Mydear,dearchild,”hesaidslowly,“yougivemetoomuch,butyoumust
notmeasuremythankfulnessforthegiftbymydeserts.Whateveramancando
tomakeyouandyourmotherhappyshallbedonesolongasIlive.”
Shesmiledgravelyintohiseyesandbowedherheadslightly;likeallherlittle
motions,ithadtheeffectofagracefulceremony.Then,slippinglooseherhand,
she seatedherselfon alowstoolbesidehermother'schair,leaningagainsther
knee.Hersweetsilencecharmedhim.
He took his accustomed seat, and they sat quietly, while the breeze puffed
littlegustsofhoneysuckleacrosstheirfaces.Occasionalneighborsgreetedthem,
strollingpast;thenewlywateredlawnsallalongthestreetsentupafreshturfy
odor; now and then a bird chirped drowsily. He felt deliriously intimate,
peacefullyathome.Afine,subtlesenseofbien-êtrepenetratedhiswholesoul.
Whenherosetogotheyhadhardlyexchangedadozenwords.Asheheld,her
handclosely,halfdoubtinghisright,sheraisedherfacetohimsimply,andhe
kissedherwhiteforehead.Whenhebentoverhermother'shanditwasascoldas
stone.
Throughthelongpleasantweeksofthesummertheytalkedandlaughedand
droveandsailedtogether,ahappytrio.Mrs.Leroy'slistlessquietofthefirstfew
daysgavewaytoabrilliant,fitfulgayetythatenchantedthemoresilenttwo,and
the few hours when she was not with them seemed incomplete. On his
mentioningthistoheroneafternoonsheshothimastrangeglance.
“Butthisisallwrong,”shesaidabruptly.“WhatwillyoudowhenIamgone
inthewinter?”
“Whatdoyoumean?”heasked.“Gonewhere,when,how?”
“My dear colonel,” she said lightly, but with an obvious effort, “do you
imaginethatIcannotleaveyouahoneymoon,inspiteofmydotingparenthood?
IplantospendthelatterpartofthewinterinNewYorkwithfriends.Perhapsby
spring—”
“My dear Mrs. Leroy, how absurd! How cruel of you! What will Lady do?


What shall I do? She has never been separated from you in her life. Does she
knowofthis?”
“No;Ishalltellhersoon.Asforwhatshewilldo—shewillhaveherhusband.
Ifthatisnotenoughforher,sheshouldnotmarrythemanwhocannot—”
Shestoppedsuddenlyandcontrolledwithgreateffortarisingemotionalmost
too strong for her. Again a deep, inexplicable sympathy welled up in him. He
longedtocomforther,togivehereverythingshewanted.Heblamedhimselfand
Janeforallthetroubletheywerecausingher.
That afternoon she kept in her room, and he and his fiancée drank their tea
togetheralone.Hewasworriedbythenewsofthemorning,dissatisfiedoutof
allproportion,vexedthatsosensibleandnaturalapropositionshouldleavehim
so uneasy and disappointed. He had meant the smooth, quiet life to go on
withoutabreak,andnowthenewrelationmustchangeeverything.
HeglancedatJane,alittleirritatedthatsheshouldnotperceivehismoodand
exorciseit.Butshehadnothermother'smarvelloussusceptibility.Shedrankher
tea in serene silence. He made a few haphazard remarks, hoping to lose in
conversation the cloud that threatened his evening; but she only assented
tranquillyandwatchedthechangingcolorsoftheearlysunset.
“HaveyoumadeavowtoagreewitheverythingIsay?”heaskedfinally,half
laughing,halfinearnest.
“Notatall,”sherepliedplacidly,“butyousurelydonotwantanargument?”
“Oh,no,”heansweredher,vexedathimself.
“What do you think of Mrs. ———'s novel?” he suggested, as the pages,
flutteringintherisingbreeze,caughthisattention.
“Mother is reading it, not I,” she returned indifferently. “I don't care very
muchforthenewnovels.”
Involuntarilyheturnedasiftocatchhermother'scriticismofthebook:light,
perhaps,butwitty,andwithalittletangofharmlesssatirethatalwaystookhis
fancy. But she was not there. He sighed impatiently; was it possible he was a
littlebored?
Aquickstepsoundedonthegravelwalk,aswishofskirts.
“ItisLouiseMorris,”shesaid,“I'llmeetheratthegate.”
Afterashortconferenceshereturned.
“Willyouexcuseme,please?”shesaid,quiteeagerlyforher.“Motherwillbe
downsoon,anyway,Iamsure.Louise'sbrotherisback;hehasbeenawayinthe
Westforsixyears.Motherwillbedelighted—shewasalwayssofondofJack.


Louiseismakingalittlesurpriseforhim.Hemustbequitegrownupnow.I'llgo
andtellmother.”
Amomentlaterandshewasgone.Mrs.Leroytookherplaceinthewindow,
andimperceptiblyunderhergentleinfluencethecloudfadedfromhishorizon;
heforgotthedoubtofanhourago.Athersuggestionhedinedthere,andfound
himself,asalwayswhenwithhishostess,athisbest.Hefeltthattherewasno
hypocrisyinherinterestinhisideas,andtheeasewithwhichheexpressedthem
astonished him even while he delighted in it. Why could he not talk so with
Jane?ItoccurredtohimsuddenlythatitwasbecauseJaneherselftalkedrarely.
She was, like him, a listener, for the most part. His mind, unusually alert and
sensitive to-night, looked ahead to the happy winter evenings he had grown to
count on so, and when, with an effort, he detached this third figure from the
grouptobesocloselyalliedafterChristmas-tide—thedatefixedforthewedding
—he perceived that there was a great gap in the picture, that the warmth and
sparkle had suddenly gone. All the tenderness in the world could not disguise
thatflashofforesight.
He grew quiet, lost in revery. She, following his mood, spoke less and less;
and when Jane returned, late at night, escorted by a tall, bronzed young
ranchman,shefoundthemsittinginsilenceinahalf-light,staringintothelate
Septemberfireonthehearth.
Inthemonththatfollowedanimperceptiblechangecreptoverthethree.The
older woman was much alone—variable as an April day, now merry and
caressing, now sombre and withdrawn. The girl clung to her mother more
closely, sat for long minutes holding her hand, threw strange glances at her
betrothed that would have startled him, so different were they from her old,
steady regard, had not his now troubled sense of some impalpable mist that
wrappedthemallgrownstrongereveryday.Heavoidedsittingalonewithher,
wondering sometimes at the ease with which such tête-à-têtes were dispensed
with. Then, struck with apprehension at his seeming neglect, he spent his
ingenuityindelicateattentionstowardher,courtlythoughtfulnessofhertastes,
beautifulgiftsthatprovokedfromher,inturn,allthelittleintimaciesandtender
friendlinessoftheirearlierintercourse.
Atoneofthesetinycrisesofmutualrestoration,she,sittingalonewithhimin
thedrawing-room,suddenlyraisedhereyesandlookedsteadilyathim.
“You care for me, then, very much?” she said earnestly. “You—you would
miss—if things were different? You really count on—on—our marriage? Are
youhappy?”


A great remorse rose in him. Poor child—poor, young, unknowing creature,
that,afterall,wasonlytwenty-two!Shefeltit,then,thestrangemistthatseemed
to muffle his words and actions, to hold him back. And she had given him so
much!
Hetookherhandsanddrewhertohim.
“Mydear,dearchild,”hesaidgently,“forgiveaselfishmiddle-agedbachelor
ifhecannotcomeuptothepreciousidealsofthesweetestgirlhoodintheworld!
Iamnomoreworthyofyou,Ladydear,thanIhaveeverbeen,butIhavenever
felt more tender toward you, more sensible of all you are giving me. I cannot
pretendtothewildloveofthepoetsyoureadsomuch;thattime,ifiteverwas,
ispastforme.Iamaplain,unromanticperson,whotakesandleavesagreatdeal
forgranted—Ithoughtyouknewthat.Butyoumustneverdoubt—”Hepauseda
moment,andforthefirsttimesheinterruptedhimnervously.
“Ineverwill—Clarence,”shesaidalmostsolemnly;anditstruckhimforthe
firsttimethatshehadnevercalledhimbyhisnamebefore.Heleanedoverher,
andasinoneofherrareconcessionssheliftedherfaceuptohim,hebentlower
thanherforehead;whatcompelledhimtokisshersoftcheekratherthanherlips
hedidnotknow.
UnexpectedbusinesssummonedhimtoNewYorkforafortnightthenextday,
andthegreatcitydrewhimirresistiblyintoitsnoisymaelstrom.Thecurrentof
his thoughts changed absolutely. Old friends and new took up his leisure. His
affairs,astheygrewmorepressing,wokeinhimakeendelightinthestruggle
withhisopponents;asheshookhandstriumphantlywithhislawyerafterawellearnedvictoryhefeltyearsyounger.Hedecidedthathehadmopedtoolongin
thecountry:“Wemustmoveintotownthisseason,”hesaidtohimself.
He fairly ran up the cottage steps in the gathering dusk. He longed to see
them, full of plans for the winter. Hannah met him at the door: the ladies had
gone to a dance at the Morrises'; there had been an invitation for him, so he
wouldnotintrudeifhefollowed.
Hastilychanginghisclothes,hewalkedupthestreet.Lightsandmusicpoured
out of the open windows of the large house; the full moon made the grounds
aboutitalmostasbrightastherooms.Hesteppeduponthepiazzaandlookedin
attheswayingcouples.LadyJane,beautifulinpalebluemull,driftedbyinher
younghost'sarms.Shewasflushedwithdancing;herhairhadescapedfromits
usualcalm.Hehardlyrecognizedher.Ashelookedouttowardtheoldgarden,
hecaughtaglimpseofaflowingwhitegown, alacescarfthrownover ahead
whosefinepoisehecouldnotmistake.


Ayoungmanpassedhimwithafilmycrêpeshawlheknewwell.Thecolonel
steppedalongwithhim.
“YouaretakingthistoMrs.Leroy?”
“Yes,colonel,shefeelstheairalittle.”
“Letmerelieveyouofit,”andhewalkedaloneintothegardenwiththesoftly
scentedcobweboverhisarm.
Shewasstandinginanoldneglectedsummer-house,herbacktothedoor.As
hestoppedbehindherandlaidthesoftwrapoverherfirmwhiteshoulders,she
turned her head with a startled prescience of his personality, and met his eyes
full.Helookedstraightintothosesoftgraydepths,andashelooked,searching
forsomethingthere,heknewnotwhat,troubledstrangelybyhernearnessand
thehelplesssurrenderofherfastenedgaze,agreatlightburstuponhim.
“Itisyou!itisyou!”hesaidhoarsely,andcrushingherinhisarms,hekissed
herheavilyonheryieldingmouth.
For a moment she rested against him. The music, piercingly sweet, drove
awaythought.Thenshedrewherselfback,pushinghimblindlyfromher.
“No,no,no!”shegasped,“itisLady!Youaremad—”
“Mad?” he said quickly. “I was never sane till now. When I think of what I
had to offer that dear child, when I realize to what a farce of love I was
sacrificingher—oh,Alicedearest,youareawoman;youmusthaveknown!”
Sheraisedherhead;anunquenchabletriumphsmiledathim.
“I did know!” she cried exultantly. Suddenly her whole expression changed,
herheadsankagain.
“Oh, Lady, my child, my baby!” she moaned, all mother now, and
brokenhearted.
“Youmustnevertellher,never!”shepanted.“Youwillforget;you—Iwillgo
away—”
“It is you who are mad, Alice,” he said sternly. “Listen to me. For all these
weeks it has been your voice I have remembered, your face I have seen in
imaginationinmyhouse.ItisyouIhavemissedfromusthree—neverLady.It
isyouIhavetriedtopleaseandhopedtosatisfy—notLady.Eversinceyoutold
me you would not spend the winter with us I have been discontented. Why,
Alice,Ihaveneverkissedherinmylife—asIhavekissedyou.”
Shegrewredtothetipsofherlittleears,andthrewhimaquickglancethat
tingledtohisfingers'ends.


“Youwouldnothaveme—oh,mydear,itisnotpossible!”hecried.
Sheburstintotears.“Idon'tknow—Idon'tknow!”shesobbed.“Itwillbreak
her heart! I don't understand her any more; once I could tell what she would
think,butnotnow.”
“Hush!someoneiscoming,”hewarnedher,andtakingherarmhedrewher
outthroughagreatgapinthesideofthelittlehouse,sothattheystoodhidden
byit.
“Then I will tell him to his face what I think of him!” said a young man's
voice,angry,determined,butshakingwithdisappointment.“Toholdagirl—”
“He does not hold me—I hold myself!” It was Lady's voice, low and
trembling.“Itisallmyfault,Jack.IboundmyselfbeforeIknewwhat—whata
different thing it really was. I do love him—I love him dearly, but not—not—
No, no; I don't mean what you think—or, if I do, I must not. Jack, I have
promised, don't you see? And when I thought that perhaps he didn't care so
much, and asked him—oh, I told you how beautifully he answered me, I will
neverhurthimso,never!”
“It is disgusting, it is horrible; he is twenty-five years older than you—he
mightbeyourfather!”stormedthevoice.
“I—Inevercaredforyoungpeoplebefore!”
Could this be Lady, this shy, faltering girl? Moved by an overmastering
impulse,themanbehindthesummer-houseturnedhisheadandlookedthrough
thebrokenwall.
Lady Jane was blushing and paling in quick succession: the waves of red
flooded over her moved face and receded like the tide at turn. Her eyes were
piteous;herhairfelllowoverherforehead;shelookedincrediblyyoung.
“Ofcourse,”saidtheyoungmanbitterly,“itisagoodmatch—afinematch,
Youwillhaveabeautifulhomeandeverythingyouwant.”
Sheputoutherhandsappealingly.“Oh,Jack,howcanyouhurtmeso?You
knowIwouldlivewithyouinagarret—ontheplains—”
“Thendoit.”
“IshallneverhurtapersonsoterriblytowhomIhavefreelygivenmyword,”
shesaid,withatouchofherold-timedecision.
ColonelDriscollfelthisbloodsweepingthroughhisveinslikewine.Hewas
fartooexcitedforfinesse,tooeager—andhehadbeensowillingtowait,once!
—forthenextsweetmomentwhenthisalmosttragedyshouldberesolvedinto
itselements.Hestrodeoutintotheopenspaceinfrontofthelittlehouse.


“Mydearyoungpeople,”hesaid,astheystaredathiminabsolutesilence,“I
am,Iam—”Hehadintendedtocarrythematteroffjocularly,butthesightof
the girl's tear-stained face and the emotion of the minutes before had softened
andawedhim.Hiseyesseemedyettoholdthosegrayones;hefeltstrangelythe
pressureofthatsoftbodyagainsthis.
“Ah,mydear,”hesaidgently,“couldyounotbelievemewhenItoldyouthat
myonewishwastomakeyouhappyaslongasIlived?Happinessisnotbuilton
mistakes, and you must forgive us if we do not always allow youth to
monopolizethem.
“Shehasalwaysbeenlikeadearchildtome,Mr.Morris”—heturnedtothe
otherman—“andyouwouldneverwishmetochangemyregardforher,could
youknowit!
“Gowithhim,Ladydear,andforgivemeifIhaveeverpainedyou—believe
me,Iamveryhappyto-night.”
Heraisedhersoftlyasshekneltbeforehimweeping,andkissedherhair.
“Butthereisnothingtoforgive,”heassuredher.
Theywentawayhandinhand,happy,liketwodazedchildrenforwhomthe
sky has suddenly but not—because they are young—too miraculously opened,
andtheshrubberyswallowedthem.
Heturnedandstrodebackintotheshadow.Mrs.Leroysatcrouchingonthe
fallentimber,herheadstillbent.Stoopingbehindher,hedrewhertowardhim.
“They have forgotten us by now,” he whispered, “can I make you forget
them?”

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