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Lauderdale and Colin exchanged looks forgave him at the last. Oh, tell me, almost without being aware of it. “But please, what do you think I should you would like—somebody to be sent do?” for-or something done ?” said Lauder- “If you would like to go home, I'll dale. He was a great deal more con take you home,” said Lauderdale. “He fused in having to suggest this than did not mean ony harm, poor callant, but Alice was, who kept looking at him, he's left an awfu' burden on you.”: her eyes dilated with weariness and “Go home!” said Alice, with a slight tears, yet soft and clear as the eyes of a shudder. “Do you think I ought-do child. He could not say to her, in so you think I must? I do not care for many words, “It is impossible for you myself, but Mrs. Meredith, you know—" to remain with us." All he could do she added with a momentary blush; was to falter and hesitate, and grow and then the friends began to perceive confused, under the limpid, sorrowful another unforeseen lion in the way. look which she bent upon him from the “Out of my own head," said Lauderdistant heaven of her resignation and in- dale, who took the whole charge of this nocence. “You would like your friends business on himself, and would not -somebody to be written to,” said Lau- permit Colin to interfere, “I wrote your derdale; and then, afraid to have given father a kind of a letter. If you are her pain by the suggestion, went on able to hear the—the event—which has hurriedly : “ I'm old enough to be your left us a' mourning-named in common father, and no a thought in my mind words, I'll read you what I have written. but to do you service," he said. “Tell Poor bairn, you're awfu' young and awfu’ me what you would like best. Colin, tender to have such affairs in hand ! thank God! is strong, and has little Are you sure you are able to bear it, and need of me. I'll take you home, or do can listen to what I have said ?". whatever you please; for I'm old enough “Ah, I have borne it,” said poor to be your father, my poor bairn !” said Alice. “I cannot deceive myself, nor the tender-hearted philosopher, and think Arthur is still here. What does drew near to her, and put out his hand it matter then about saying it? Oh, yes, with an impulse of pitiful and protect- I can bear anything—it is only me to ing kindness which touched the heart of bear now, and it doesn't matter. It was Alice, and yet filled her with momen- very kind of you to write. I should like tary surprise. She, on her own side, to know what you have said.” was roused a little, not to think of her- Colin, who could do nothing else for self, but to remember what appeared to her, put forward the armchair with the her a duty unfulfilled.
cushions towards the table, and Sora “Oh, Mr. Lauderdale! Arthur said I Antonia put down the “Garden of the might tell you,” said Alice. “Papa ! Soul" and drew a little nearer with her you heard what he said about papa?" I heavy, firm foot, which shook the house. ought to write and tell him what has She comprehended that something was happened. Perhaps I ought to tell you going on which would tax the Signorina's from the beginning," she continued, strength, and brought her solid, steady after composing herself a little. “We succour to be in readiness. The pale left home without his consent-indeed, little girl turned and smiled upon them he did not know. For dear Arthur," both, as she took the chair Colin had said the poor girl, turning her appealing brought her. She was herself quite eyes from one to the other, “could not steady in her weakness and grief and approve of his ways. He did something loneliness. Sora Antonia was not wanted that Arthur thought was wrong. I can there ; and Colin drew her aside to the not tell you about it,” said Alice through window, where she told him all about her tears ;” it did not make so much the fireworks that were to be in the difference to me. I think I ought to evening, and her hopes that after a while write and tell him, and that Arthur the Signorina would be able to “ distract
due to a young creature of her tender years ; so that you may satisfy yourself she is safe until such time as you can communicate with me, which I will look for as soon as a reply is practicable, and in the meantime remain,
“Your son's faithful friend and mourner,
herself” a little and recover her spirits ; to which Colin assented dutifully, watching from where he stood the pale looks of the friendless young woman-friendless beyond disguise or possible selfdeception, with a stepmother whom she blushed to mention reigning in her father's house. Colin's thoughts were many and tumultuous as he stood behind in the window, watching Alice and listening to Sora Antonia's description of the fireworks. Was it possible that perhaps his duty to his neighbour required from him the most costly of all offerings, the rashest of all possible actions? He stood behind, growing more and more excited in the utter quiet. The thought that had dawned upon him under the ilex trees came nearer and grew more familiar, and as he contemplated it he seemed to recognise all that visible machinery of Providence bringing about the great event which youth decides upon so easily. While this vision grew before his mind, Alice was wiping off the tears which obliterated Lauderdale's letter even to her patient eyes; for, docile and dutiful as she was, it was yet terrible to read in calm distinct words, which put the matter beyond all doubt, the announcement of “what had happened.” This is what Lauderdale said :
Alice lingered over this letter, reading it, and crying, and whispering to Lauderdale a long time, as Colin thought. She found it easier, somehow, to tell her story fully to the elder man. She told him that Mrs. Meredith had “come home suddenly," which was her gentle version of a sad domestic history, -that nobody had known of her father's second marriage until the stepmother arrived, without any warning, with a train of children. Alice's mild words did not give Lauderdale any very lively picture of the dismay of the household at this unlooked-for apparition, but he understood enough to condemn Arthur less severely than he had been disposed to do. This sudden catastrophe had happened just after the other misery of the bank failure, which had ruined so many; and poor Meredith had no alternative between leaving his sister to the tender mercies of an underbred and possibly disreputable stepmother, or bringing her with him when he retired to die; and Alice, though she still cried for “ poor papa,” recoiled a little from the conclusion of Lauderdale's letter. “I have enough to live upon,” she said, softly, with an appealing glance at her companion. “If you were to say that I was quite safe, would not that be enough ?” and it was very hard for Lauderdale to convince her that her father's judgment must be appealed to in such a matter. When she saw he was not to be moved on this point, she sighed and submitted; but it was clearly apparent that as yet, occupied as she was by her grief, the idea that her situation here was embarrassing to her companions or unsuitable for herself had not occurred to Alice. When she retired, under the escort of Sora Antonia,
“SIR,—It is a great grief to me to inform you of an event for which I have no way of knowing whether you are prepared or not. Your son, Arthur Meredith, has been living here for the last three months in declining health, and on Thursday last died in great comfort and constancy of mind. It is not for me, a stranger, to offer vain words of consolation, but his end was such as any man might be well content to have, and he entered upon his new life joyfully, without any shadow on his mind. As far as love and friendship could soothe the sufferings that were inevitable, he had both ; for his sister never left his bedside, and myself and my friend Colin Campbell were with him constantly, to his satisfaction. His sister remains under our care. I who write am no longer a young man, and know what is
the two friends had a consultation over answer to Lauderdale's letter. During this perplexing matter; and Lauderdale's that time they returned to all their old sketch-filled in, perhaps, a little from habits, with the strange and melancholy his imagination of the home she had difference, that Arthur, once the centre left, plunged Colin into deeper and of all, was no longer there. Every day deeper thought. “No doubt he'll send of this time increased the development some answer,” the philosopher said. of Colin's new thoughts, until the un
He may not be worthy to have the known father of Alice had grown, in his charge of her, but he's aye her father. eyes, into a cruel and profligate tyrant, It's hard to ken whether it's better or ready to drag his daughter home and worse that she should be unconscious plunge her into depraved society, withlike this of onything embarrassing in her out any regard for either her happiness position, which is a' the more wonderful, or her honour. Colin had, indeed, in his as she's a real honest woman, and no own mind, in strictest privacy and secluway intellectual nor exalted. You and sion of thought, indited an imaginary me, Colin,” said Lauderdale, looking up letter, eloquent with youthful indignain his young companion's face, “must tion, to inform this unworthy parent that take good care that she does not find it his deserted daughter had found a better out from us."
protector; but he was very silent about “Of course," said Colin, with involun- these, cogitations of his, and did not tary testiness; “but I do not see what share them even with Lauderdale. And her father has to do with it," continued there were moments when Colin felt the the young man. “She cannot possibly seriousness of the position, and found it return to such a home.”
very hard that such a necessity should “Her father is the best judge of that,” meet him in the face at the beginning said Lauderdale; “she canna remain of his career. Sometimes in the sudden with you and me."
darkening, out of the rosy clouds which And there the conversation dropped hung over the Campagna, the face of -but not the subject. Colin was not in the impossible woman, the ideal crealove with Alice ; he had, indeed, vague ture, her who could have divined the but bright in the clouds before him, an thoughts in his mind and the movealtogether different ideal woman; and ments in his heart before they came his heart was in the career which he into being, would glance suddenly out again saw opening before him—the life upon him for an instant, and then disin which he meant to serve God and his appear, waving a shadowy farewell, and country, and which at the present mo- leaving in his mind a strange blank, ment would admit of no rashly formed which the sight of Alice rather increased ties. Was it in consequence of these than removed. That ineffable mate and hindrances that this new thing loomed companion was never to be his, the so large before Colin's inexperienced young man thought. True, he had never eyes? If he had longed for it with met her, nor come upon any trace of her youthful passion, he would have put footsteps, for Matty Frankland at her force on himself and restrained his long best never could have been she. But ing; but the temptation took another yet, as long as he was unbound by other shape. It was as if a maiden knight at tie or affection, this vision was the “not the outset of his career had been tempted impossible She” to Colin as to all men; to pass by a helpless creature and leave and this he had to give up-for Alice, her wrongs unredressed. The young most gentle, patient Alice, whom it was Bayard could do anything but this. not in the heart of man to be otherwise
than tender of—she who had need of CHAPTER XXXVI.
him, and whom his very nature bound
him to protect and cherish—was not that In the meantime at least a fortnight woman. At other moments he thought must pass before they could expect an of his own life, for which still so much
training was necessary, and which he should have entered in the full freedom of his youth, and was profoundly aware of the incumbered and helpless trim in which he must go into the battle, obliged to take thought not of his work only, and the best means of doing it, but of those cares of living which lie so lightly on a young man alone. There may be some of Colin's friends who will think the less of him for this struggle in his mind; and there may be many who will think with justice that, unless he could have offered love to Alice, he had no right to offer her himself and his life-an opinion in which his his torian fully agrees. But then this gift, though less than the best, was a long way superior to anything else which, at the present moment, was likely to be offered to the friendless girl. If he could have laid at her feet the heart, which is the only true exchange under such circumstances, the chances are that Alice, in her simplicity and gentleness, would have been sadly puzzled what to do with that passionate and ungovernable thing. What he really could offer her -affection, tenderness, protection—was clearly comprehensible to her. She had no other idea of love than was included in those attributes and phases of it. These considerations justified Colin in the step which he contemplated—or rather in the step which he did not contemplate, but felt to be necessary and incumbent upon him. It sometimes occurred to him how, if he had been prudent and taken Lauderdale's advice, and eschewed at the beginning the close connexion with Meredith and his sister, which he had entered into with his eyes open, and with a consciousness even that it might affect his life, this embarrassing situation might never have come into being; and then he smiled to himself, with youthful superiority, contemplating what seemed so plainly the meaning of Providence, and asking himself how he, by a momentary exercise of his own will, could have overthrown that distinct celestial intention. On the whole, it was com. forting to think that everything had
been arranged beforehand by agencies so very clear and traceable ; and with this conclusion of the argument he left off, as near contented as possible, and not indisposed to enjoy the advantages which were palpably before him ; for, though they were not the eyes he had dreamed of, there was a sweetness very well worthy of close study in Alice Meredith's eyes.
The days passed very quietly in this time of suspense. The society of the two strangers, who were more to her in her sorrow than all her kindred, supported the lonely girl more than she was aware of—more than any one could have believed. They were absent during the greater part of the day, and left her unmolested to the tears that would come, notwithstanding all her patience ; and they returned to her in the evening with attentions and cares to which she had never been accustomed, devoting two original and powerful minds, of an order at once higher and more homely than any which she had ever encountered, to her amusement and consolation. Alice had never known before what it was to have ordinary life and daily occurrences brightened by the thickcoming fancies, the tender play of word and thought, which now surrounded her. She had heard clever talk afar off, “in society," and been awestricken by the sound of it, and she had heard Arthur and his friends uttering much fine-sounding language upon subjects not generally in her way, but she was utterly unused to that action of uncommon minds upon common things which gives so much charm to the ordinary intercourse of life. All they could think of to lighten the atmosphere of the house in which she sat in her deep mourning, absorbed for hours together in those thoughts of the dead to which her needlework afforded little relief, they did with devotion, suspending their own talk and Occilpations to occupy themselves with her. Colin read In Memoriam to her till her heart melted and relieved itself in sweet abundant tears; and Lauderdale talked and told her many a homely history of
that common course of humanity, full kissed Sora Antonia, who, for her part, of sorrows sorer than her own, which fills had outlived her tears, and with a voung minds with awe. Between them natural impulse turned to Colin, who they roused Alice to a higher platform, was young, and in whose heart, as in a different atmosphere, than she had her own, there must live a natural known before ; and she raised herself protest against this awful necessity of up after them with a half-bewildered separation and misery; and thus it sense of elevation, not understanding came to be Colin's turn to interpose, how it was; and so the long days and he came on the field once more which were so hard, and which nothing with In Memoriam, and with other in the world could save from being poems which were sweet to hear, and hard, brightened towards the end, pot soothed her even when she only partly certainly into anything that could be entered into their meaning. A woman called pleasure, but into a sad expan- has an advantage under such circumsion and elevation of heart, in which stances. By means of her sympathy faintly appeared those beginnings of and gratitude, and the still deeper profound and deep happiness which are feeling which grew unconsciously in not incompatible with grief, and yet her heart towards him who read, she are stronger and more inspiring than came to believe that she too underjoy. While this was going on, uncon- stood and appreciated what was to him sciously to any one concerned, Sora so clear and so touching. A kind of Antonia, in her white kerchief and spiritual magnetism worked upon Alice, apron, sometimes knitting, sometimes and, to all visible appearance, expanded with her distaff like a buxom Fate, sat and enlarged her mind. It was not and twisted her thread and turned her that her intellect itself grew, or that spindle a little behind yet not out of she understood all the beautiful imagireach, keeping a wary eye upon her nations, all the tender philosophies thus charge. She too interposed, sometimes unfolded to her ; but she was united in her own experiences, sometimes her own a singular union of affectionate comcomments upon life and things in general, panionship with those who did underinto the conversation; and, whether it stand, and even to herself she appeared was that Sora Antonia's mind was really able to see, if not with her own eyes at of a superior order, or that the stately least with theirs, the new beauties and Roman speech threw a refining colour solemnities of which she had not dreamt upon her narratives, it is certain that before. This strange process went on the interpellations of the Italian peasant day by day without any one being aware fell without any sensible derogation into of it; and even Lauderdale had almost the strain of lofty yet familiar talk which forgotten that their guardianship of was meant to wean Alice from her Alice was only for the moment, and special grief. Sora Antonia told them that the state of affairs altogether was of the other Forestieri who had lived provisionary and could not possibly like themselves in the Savvelli palace; continue, when an answer reached him who had come for health and yet had to his letter. He was alone when he died, leaving the saddest mourners received it, and all that evening said helpless widows, and little children, nothing on the subject until Alice had heartbroken fathers and mothers, per- retired with her watchful attendant ; haps the least consolable of all. Life then, without a word of comment, he was such, she said solemnly, bowing her put it into Colin's hand. It was written stately head. She herself, of a hardy race, in a stilted hand, like that of one unand strong, as the Signori saw, had not accustomed to writing, and was not she buried her children, for whom she quite irreproachable even in its spelling. would have gladly died ? But the good This was what Lauderdale's correspondent God had not permitted her to die. Alice said :cried silently as she heard all this ; she