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A SON OF THE SOIL.
and uncertainty which had never yet
entered into his thoughts in respect to “HOLMBY is not my house," said Mr. Colin. For all this time he had been Meredith as they drove up the avenue; trying to think it was Alice's father, or “I took it to please Alice. She has a even Alice herself, who was to blame; fancy for the north now, as she used to and now only he began to see clearly have for the south.” As he said this the reluctance of his friend to its fullest he gave a wistful side-glance at Colin, extent-his reluctance and, at the same who had scarcely spoken during all the time, that almost fantastic honour and drive; and even to this speech the delicacy which kept the young man young man made little response. The from avowing even to his closest comhouse was a pale grey house, of rough panion the real state of his feelings. So limestone, like the humbler houses, sure that now, at the first moment for a long rounded with wood, and bearing any time in which the fulfilment of Colin's thing but a cheerful aspect. The avenue engagement began to appear possible, was long and straight, and the cold Lauderdale, who had preached to him commonplace outline of this secluded of constancy, who had longed after dwelling-place filled up the vista be- Alice, who had taken every opportunity tween the two dark lines of trees, grow- of directing to her the truant thoughts ing gradually more distinct as they of his friend, for the first time faltered. approached. Everything had a certain He began to see the other side of the visionary aspect to Colin at this moment, question just at the time when it would and the look of the house irritated him, have been agreeable to ignore it. He as if it had been a type of the common- saw not only that Colin's happiness was place existence which he was hence at stake, but that it would be better for forward to lead. He could not keep Alice even to break her heart, if that the cloud that was on his mind from was inevitable, than to be married, not appearing also on his countenance, for love, but for honour; and unhappily though, at the same time, he could not he recognised this just at the moment help observing that Mr. Meredith looked when Sir Bayard, Sir Quixote, whatever at him often with a regard that was absurd title you may please to give almost pathetic. To be sure, there was him—the Mistress's son, who was in. nothing very elevated in the aspect of capable of leaving a woman in the this man, whose history was not one lurch, or casting upon her the shame of which Colin liked to think of; but rejection-was going on to meet his still it was evident that his heart was fate. From this it will be seen that it trembling for his child, and that he was was a very subdued and silent party conveying to her the lover whom he which was at this moment driving along had once rejected and insulted, as he the long avenue under the trees, and might have carried a costly medicine, making Alice's heart beat, in-doors on hard to procure and of doubtful efficacy, her sofa, with every turn of those but still the only thing that there was wheels on the gravel. “Is papa alone ?” any hope in. Colin recognised this she asked of her little sister, who was wistful look by the freemasonry of a at the window; and her heart was mind equally excited, though in a dif- jumping up into her throat when she ferent way; and, as for Lauderdale, he uttered that simple question, as if it looked on at both with a painful doubt would take away her breath. When
she received for answer a lengthened whether for her happiness it was just or and interrupted description of the two reasonable that so many should suffer; gentlemen who accompanied Mr. Mere- she only accepted it as providential, dith, Alice put her head back on her just as Colin four years before had per. pillows and closed her eyes in the suaded himself that all the circumstances sudden faintness of her great joy. For which had thrown them together were she in her simplicity had no doubt providential. And now the climax, about Colin. If he had not loved her which the poor girl permitted herself he would not have turned back; he to think God had been bringing about would never have come to her. It was by all the family convulsions of these the tender guardian of her loneliness, four years, came close, and the heart of the betrothed in whom she had reposed Alice grew faint with thankfulness and the entire faith of her nature, whom joy. When she heard them coming upher father was bringing back to her; stairs she sat upright, recovering with and, so far as Alice was concerned at her old force of self-restraint her comthis moment, the four intervening years posure and calmness. Mr. Meredith had no existence. She had seen nobody came in with a little bustle to spare his and done nothing during that dreary daughter the agitation of the meeting. interval. Ill-health, and seclusion, and “You were quite right, Alice, my love," mourning had made it appear to her he said, bringing them hurriedly up to that her life had temporarily stopped at her. “Here is Mr. Campbell and your the time when Mr. Meredith carried friend, Mr. Lauderdale. They recogher off from Frascati. And now, with nised you at the same minute as you Colin, life and strength and individuality recognised them; and, if I had not been were coming back. This was how the so foolish as to tell John to drive on, we matter appeared on her side of affairs, might have picked them up and saved and it seemed to Alice the natural them their walk. I thought she was solution of the difficulty; for, after all, ill,” the anxious father continued, but for her father's cruel persistence turning his back upon Alice and occuagainst her, which Providence by many pying bimself with Lauderdale. “She blows had broken and made to yield, had a fainting fit yesterday, and I was she would have been Colin's wife for all frightened it was that, or I should have those years. And now, the one obstacle stopped and picked you up. We are a being removed, it seemed only natural little dark here with all these trees. I to her straightforward and simple in- would have them cut down if Holmby telligence that the long-deferred conclu was mine ; but at this window, if you sion should arrive at last.
are fond of fine scenery, I can show you Both she and the little sister at the a beautiful view.” window were in mourning. Mrs. Mere And it was thus that the two, who dith was dead—the stepmother, who parted at Frascati as lovers within a few had been Alice's greatest enemy; and, weeks of their marriage, met in the of all the children who had once made shaded drawing-room at Holmby. The their father indifferent to his elder son most exciting events of Colin's life were and daughter, the only one left was the framed within the interval ; but nothing little girl, who was giving her sister an had happened individually to Alice. He elaborate description of the gentlemen seemed to find her exactly where he had who were with papa. This was why left her, though with the sense of having Mr. Meredith had yielded. Alice himself travelled to an unutterable disjudged, according to her simple reckon- tance in the meantime. She did not say ings, with a little awe of the terrible much in the tumult and confusion of her means employed, that it was Providence joy; she only held out her hand to him, who had thus overturned her father's and lifted her soft eyes to his face with resolution, and made him yielding and a look of supreme content and satisfaction, tender. It did not occur to her to ask which had the strangest effect upon Colin. He felt his doom fixed for ever held in his own, and kissed it once more and ever as he looked into the gentle with that tender affection which was blue eyes which conveyed to him all that anything in the world but love. “Yes," was in Alice's heart. And she had not he said, , but it was more to himself the slightest suspicion of the heaviness than to her, “I think it was Providence.” that was in his as he drew a chair near Alice had not an ear that could hear the her sofa. “At last!" she said softly, despair that was in the words -for under her breath. The little sister stood indeed it was a despair so mingled with by, looking on with round eyes opened softer emotions, with sympathy and to their widest; but, as for Alice, she had anxiety, and a kind of fondness, that no consciousness of any presence but one. nobody could have found it out who did And Colin sat down by her without any not know Colin to the bottom of his answer, in his heart not knowing what to heart. This was how the meeting was say. Her black dress, her languid air, accomplished after all those years; for by the paleness one moment, and the flush this time Lauderdale had looked at the of delicate colour the next, all moved view without seeing it, and was returning him strangely. Even had he not been to see how his friend had gone through Bayard he could not have done anything this encounter, and to claim Alice's recogto wound the fair, feeble creature who nition for himself. The two spectators looked at him with her heart in her who approached from the window, where eyes. And naturally the consequence they had been pretending to look at was, that Colin answered in a way far the view, were, to tell the truth, as more decisive than any words—by clasp much agitated as the young people theming the soft clinging hand, and bending selves. Perhaps even, on the whole, a down to kiss it as in the old Italian days. stranger, not knowing anything about Alice had never had any doubt of her the matter, would have concluded that betrothed, but at that moment she felt it was Lauderdale and Mr. Meredith who herself receiving the pledge of a new and were moved the most; for perhaps there more certain troth-and in the revulsion is nothing which can happen to one's self from despondency and weakness her which moves one so profoundly as to mouth was opened for the first time in watcha crisis of fate passing over another her life-opened with a fulness, the human creature whom one loves, yet thought of which would have covered whom one cannot die for or suffer for, poor Alice with misery and confusion if and whose burden has to be borne, not she could but have known what was by us, but by himself. Alice's father, passing in her companion's heart.
for his part, looked upon this meeting “I had grown so tired of waiting," somehow as his child's last chance for she said, scarcely aware that she was life, or rather, it would be better to say, speaking ; “I was wearying, wearying, as his own last chance to save her life as Mr. Lauderdale used to say ; and to and preserve her to himself ; and Lauthink you should be passing so near, and derdale saw Colin's happiness, which perhaps might have passed altogether, was almost of more importance than his and never have known I was here! Oh, life, hanging upon the doubtful expresColin, it was Providence !” said Alice, sion in the sick girl's eyes. When the with the tears in her eyes.
two turned back, it was impossible to And poor Colin, who did not know what mistake the sweet joy and serenity of to say, whose heart was bursting with the Alice's looks. Excitement was unnatural profound pity and instinctive tenderness to her in all circumstances. She had of old, and with that sense that all his been agitated profoundly for a moment; own imaginations were ended for ever, but now all that was over, and the and his future decided for him without content of old had returned to her any action of his own-Colin could find face. The same look that Lauderdale no answer to make. He bent down remembered at Frascati—the look which again on the pale, soft hand which he greeted Colin's arrival-not any tumult of delight, but a supreme 'satisfaction heart, “I am surprised that you did not and completeness, as if there remained let me know.” nothing more in the world to be looked This speech was so unexpected and for or desired! She half rose up to meet sudden, and there was in it such an her old friend as he came back to her, amount of suppressed exasperation, that himself greatly moved, and not venturing Lauderdale made a step forward without to look at Colin, and held out both her knowing it, and Alice put out her hand hands to him. “Oh Mr. Lauderdale, I vaguely to arrest the vehemence of her have not told you how glad I am, nor betrothed. As for Mr. Meredith, he was how I have been wearying," said Alice. as much relieved by the assumption of She said even that word-the word she right in Colin's words, as he was dishad once laughed at—as if with a soft turbed by his unfriendly tone. appeal to his recollection. She had said “My dear sir,” said the father, "I it so often to herself in those long years hope you will let bygones be bygones.
-half because it was Scotch, and pleased I have learned many severe lessons, and her yearning fancy; and half because Providence has dealt with me in a way there was a lingering depth of expression to make me see my errors; but I can in it, like her long watch and vigil. safely say that, since I understood the And then she smiled in his face, and true state of the case, I have always then cried a little. For, notwithstanding reproached myself for not having shown her tranquillity, all this had tried her the gratitude I felt to you." weakness, and proved a little more than Colin, for his part, did not make any she could bear.
answer. His temper was disturbed by “ You must not agitate yourself, Alice," the struggle he had been going through. said Mr. Meredith, taking, as most men He could not cry and get over it, like do, the result of her past agitation for Alice; being a man it was only in this the thing itself. “She is still a little way that he could give a little vent to weakly, but I hope now we shall soon his feelings. And then he could relieve see her strong again.” This he said with himself by putting out some of his pain again a covert glance at Colin, who was upon Mr. Meredith, without injury to still sitting close to the sofa of Alice, her who had thus thrown herself unwith his face shaded by his hand. Not- doubtingly upon his love, as she supposed. withstanding that shade the young man Perhaps Bayard himself, under the same knew by instinct the look that was being circumstances, would have done as much. directed upon him, and turned to meet. “I may say, my gratitude to both," it; and on his face there were greater said Mr. Meredith, whose anxiety that marks of agitation than on that of Alice, he might not lose this chance for Alice which had been relieved by her tears. was so great that it made him almost He was pale, and to Lauderdale's anxious smile, and who could not help recollecteyes seemed to have failen back from his ing at that inopportune moment the vigour of manhood for the moment intoletter he had written to Lauderdale; that unassured youth which he had left “I know that Mr. Lauderdale also was behind him for years. And then the very kind to my poor boy. I hope you voice of Mr. Meredith had an effect upon will both excuse the error of the moment," Colin's mind altogether different from he said, faltering a little. It was bard that produced by the soft familiar tones to own himself altogether in the wrong, of Alice. When the father spoke, Colin's and yet in his anxiety he would have heart shut fast its doors, and rose up done even that for Alice's sake. against the impending fate.
“Speak no more of that," said Lauder“If Miss Meredith was ill," he said, dale. “Our friend Arthur spoke of his with a little bitterness, taking at least father with his last breath, and we're no advantage of the rights thus pressed like to forget any of his words. It's an back upon him to repulse this man, awfu' consolation to my mind to see her whom he could not help disliking in his again, and to feel that we're a' friends. As for Colin, he's a wee out of himself, “We can be tolerant on that point. I as is natural. I would have been real will give orders directly about your vexed,” said the philosopher, with the rooms. Alice is not well enough to see smile that was half tears, and that visitors, and your coats do not matter Alice remembered so well, “ being sure to her,” he went on, with a little laugh ; of Arthur for a fast friend whenever we not that he was merry, poor man, but may meet again, to have lost all sight that, like all the rest, he was agitated, and knowledge of you.”
and did not know how to give it vent. He looked at Alice, but it was to As for Alice, she did not say anything, Arthur's father that he held out his but she turned her soft eyes upon Colin hand; and, as for Colin, it was impossible with a look that seemed to caress him for him not to follow the example, and his dusty vestments. If he had though he did it with a certain reluc- been in the roughest peasant's dress, it tance which did not escape any of the would not have made any difference to spectators. And then they all made Alice. Her soft, tranquil eyes rested believe to be composed and at their upon him with that content and satisease, and began to talk, forming a little faction which are the highest compli. circle round Alice's sofa, outside of ments that eyes of woman can make to which the little sister, with her eyes man. When he was there she had no open to their widest extent, still stood, longer any occasion to look into the drinking in everything, and wondering world, or seek further, and she could much what it could mean.
not but smile at the idea that his dusty “And, now that we have you,” said coat mattered anything. Thus it was Mr. Meredith, “we cannot let you go that everything was settled before Colin again. You can go to Windermere, and knew what was being done. The sun any other place worth seeing, from was still high in the heavens when he Holmby. You must tell me where to found himself established at Holmby, send for your things, and we will try to by Alice's side, an inmate of her father's make you comfortable here."
house ; he who had got up that morning “We have no things but those we with the idea that he was entirely carry with us,” said Colin. “We are sundered from his old ties, and that pedestrians, and not fit for ladies' society. nothing in the world was so impossible I am afraid we must go upon our dusty as such a return upon the past. Even way, and return again,” he added with now, when it had taken place, he did not an involuntary glance at Alice. It was believe it was true or possible, but sat because he thought he was failing of as in a dream, and saw the fair shadow his duty that he said these last words; of the Alice of Frascati moving and but they were unnecessary so far as speaking like a phantom. Would it Alice was concerned, who had no suspi. remain for ever, looking at him with cions, and, most likely, if she had known the soft eyes which he felt ashamed to his secret, would not have understood meet, and to which he could make so it. It did not come into her head as a little response ? A kind of despair possible idea that he would thus have came over Colin as the slow afternoon come to her again and accepted his old waned, and the reality of the vision position had he not loved her; and in began more and more to force itself her truthfulness she had the superiority upon him. Everything was so frightover Colin, notwithstanding, perhaps, fully true and natural, and in reasor. that his motives were of a higher order, He had to baffle not only the eyes of and his mode of thinking more exalted Alice, but those of Lauderdale, who, than anything that could ever have he felt sure by instinct, was watching come into her honest and simple mind. him, though he never could catch him
“Oh, we will put up with your dress," in the act, and put him down as of old said Mr. Meredith, putting on a hearti- by the broad, full, half-defiant look ness that was scarcely natural to him. which he had learned was his best