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threads that were coming one by one into my hair. This trouble—I meani the offer of marriage- I did not quite get over for many weeks, even months.
The following year of my life there befell me a great pang. Of this—a grief never to be forgotten, a loss never to be restored –I cannot even now say more than is implied in three words—my mother died! After that Zillah and I lived together alone for twelve months or more. There are some scenes in our life— landscape scenes, I mean
-that we remember very clearly: one strikes me now. A quiet, soft May-day; the hedges just in their first green, the horse-chestnuts white with flowers: the long, silent country-lanes swept through by a travelling-carriage, in the which two women, equally silent, sat-Zillah Le Poer and I. It was the month before her coming of age, and she was going to meet her guardian, who had just returned from India. Mrs Sutherland had received a letter from Southampton, and immediately sent for us into the country to meet her son, her 'beloved Andrew.' I merely repeat the words as I remember Zillah's doing so, and laughing at the ugly name.
I never thought it ugly. When we had really started, however, Zillah ceased laughing, and became grave, probably at the recollection of that humiliating circumstance which first brought her acquainted with her guardian. But despite this ill-omened beginning, her youth had blossomed into great perfection. As she sat there before me, fair in person, well-cultured in mind, and pure and virgin in heart—for I had so kept her out of harm's way that, though nearly twenty-one, I knew she had never been in love' with any man—as she sat thus, I felt proud and glad in her, feeling sure that Mr Sutherland would say I had well fulfilled the charge he gave.
We drove to the lodge-gates. An English country-house is always fair to see: this was very beautiful— I remembered it seven years ago, only then it was autumn, and now spring. Zillahı remembered it likewise : she drew back, and I heard her whisper uneasily: “Now we shall soon see Mr Sutherland.' I did not answer her a word. We rolled up the avenue under the large chestnut-trees. I saw some one standing at the portico; then I think the motion of the carriage must have made me dizzy, for all grew indistinct, except a firm, kind hand holding me as I stepped down, and the words, 'Take care, my dear Cassia!' It was Mr Sutherland! He scarcely observed Zillah, till in the hall I introduced her to him. He seemed surprised, startled, pleased. Talking of her to me that evening he said he had not thought she would have grown up thus; and I noticed him look at her at times with a pensive kindness. Mrs Sutherland whispered me that the lady he had been engaged to was a half-caste like Zillah, which accounted for it. His mother had been right: he had come back as he went out-unmarried.
When Zillah went to bed she was full of admiration for her guardian. He was so tall, so stately. Then his thick, curling, fair hair — just like a young man's, with scarcely a shadow of gray. She would not believe that he was over forty--ten years older than myself — until by some pertinacity I had impressed this fact upon her. And then she said it did not signify, as she liked such dear old souls' as him and me much better than any young people. Her fervour of admiration made me smile; but after this night I observed that the expression of it gradually ceased. Though I was not so demonstrative as Zillah, it will not be supposed but that I was truly glad to see my old friend Mr Sutherland. He was very kind, talked to me long of past things, and as he cast a glance on my black dress, I saw his lips quiver : he took my hand and pressed it like a brother. God bless him for that! But one thing struck me-a thing I had not calculated on — the alteration seven years had made in us both. When he took me down to dinner, I accidentally caught sight of our two figures in the large pier - glass. Age tells so differently on man and woman: I remembered the time when he was a grown man and I a mere girl; now he looked a stately gentleman in the prime of life, and I & middle-aged, old-maidish woman. Perhaps something more than years had done this; yet it was quite natural, only I had never thought of it before. So, when that first-meeting was over, with the excitement, pleasurable or otherwise, that it brought as a matter of course to us all-when we had severally bade each other good-night, and Mr Sutherland had said smiling that he was glad it was only good - night, not good-by
- when the whole house was quiet and asleep, I, to use the Psalmist's solemn words: “At night on my bed I communed with my own heart in my chamber, and was still.'
'Cassia, I want to speak to you particularly,' said Mr Sutherland to me one morning as after breakfast he was about to go into his study. Zillah placed herself in the doorway with the pretty obstinacy, half-womanish, half - girlish, that she sometimes used with her guardian-much to my surprise. Žillah was on excellent terms with him, considering their brief acquaintance of three weeks. In that time she had treated him as I in my whole lifetime had never ventured to do — wilfully, jestingly, even crossly, yet he seemed to like it. They were very social and merry, for his disposition had apparently grown more cheerful as he advanced in life. Their relation was scarcely like guardian and ward, but that of perfect equality-pleasant and confidential, which somewhat surprised me, until I recollected what opportunities they had of intercourse, and what strong friendships are sometimes formed even in a single week or fortnight when people are shut up together, in a rather lonely country - house. This was the state of things among us all on the morning when Mr Sutherland called me to his study. Zillah wanted to go likewise. "Not to-day,' he answered her, very gently and smilingly. 'I have business to talk over with Miss Pryor.' (I knew he said Miss Pryor' out of respect
, yet it hurt me—I had been 'Cassia' with him so many years. Perhaps he thought I was outgrowing my baby-name now.)
The business he wished to speak of was about Zillah's coming of age next week, and what was to be done on the occasion. "Should he, ought he, to give a ball, a dinner, anything of that sort ? Would Zillah like it?'
This was a great concession, for in old times he always disliked society. I answered that I did not think such display necessary, but I would try to find out Zillah's mind. I did so. It was an innocent, girlish mind, keenly alive to pleasure, and new to everything. The consequences were natural - the ball must be. A little she hesitated when I hinted at her guardian's peculiarities, and offered cheerfully to renounce her delight. But he, his eyes beaming with a deeper delight still, would not consent. So the thing was settled. It was a very brilliant affair, for Mr Sutherland spared no expense. He seemed to take a restless eagerness in providing for his young favourite everything she could desire. Nay, in answer to her wayward entreaties, he even consented to open the ball with her, though saying, he was sure he should make an old idiot of himself.' That was not likely! I watched them walk down the room together, and heard many people say with a smile what a handsome pair they were, notwithstanding the considerable difference of age. It was a very quiet evening to me.
Being strange to almost every one there, I sat near old Mrs Sutherland in a corner. Mr Sutherland asked me to dance once, but I did not feel strong, and indeed for the last few years I had almost given up dancing. He laughed, and said merrily : 'It was not fair for him to be beginning life just when I ended it.'-A true word spoken in jest. But I only smiled.
The ball produced results not unlikely, when it was meant for the introduction into society of a young woman, handsome, attractive, and an heiress. A week or two after Zillah's birthday Mr Sutherland called me once more into his study. I noticed he looked rather paler and less composed than usual. He forgot even to ask me to sit down, and we stood together by the fireplace, which I remember was filled with a great vase of lilacs that Zillah had insisted on placing there. It filled the room with a strong, rich scent, which now I never perceive without its calling back to mind that room and that day. He said : 'I have had a letter to-day on which I wish to consult with you before shewing it to Miss Le Poer.' I was rather startled by the formal word, since he usually said · Zillah,' as was natural. It is a letter — scarcely surprising – in fact to be expected after what I noticed at the dinner-party yesterday; in fact — But you had better read it yourself.' He took the letter from his desk, and gave it to
It was an earnest and apparently sincere application for the hand of his ward. The suitor was of good family and moderate prospects. I had noticed he was very attentive to Zillah at the ball, and on some occasions since ; still I was a good deal surprised, more so even than Mr Sutherland, who had evidently watched her closer than I. I gave him back the letter in silence, and avoided looking at his face.
· Well, Cassia,' he said after a pause, and with an appearance of gaiety, • what is to be done? You women are the best counsellors in these matters. I smiled, but both he and I very soon became grave once more. • It is a thing to be expected,' continued he in a voice rather formal and hard. “With Zillah's personal attractions and large fortune she was sure to receive many offers. Still it is early to begin these affairs. I reminded him that she was twenty-one. "True, true. She might, under other circumstances, have been married long before this. Do you think that she'I suppose he was going to ask me whether she was likely to accept Mr French, or whether she had hitherto formed any attachment. But probably delicacy withheld him, for he suddenly stopped and omitted the question. Soon he went on in the same steady tone: 'I think Zillah ought to be made acquainted with this circumstance. Mr French states that this letter to me is the first confession of his feelings. That was honourable on his part. He is a gentleman of good standing, though far her inferior in fortune. People might say that he wanted her property to patch up the decayed estate at Weston-Brook.' This was spoken bitterly, very bitterly
for a man of such kind nature as Andrew Sutherland. He seemed conscious of it, and added : ‘I may wrong him, and if so I regret it. But do you not think, Cassia, that of all things it must be most despicable, most mean, most galling to a man of any pride or honest feeling, the thought of the world's saying that he married his wife for money, as a prop to his falling fortunes, or a shield to his crumbling honour? I would die a thousand deaths first!'
In the passion of the moment the red colour rushed violently to his cheek, and then he became more pallid than ever. I beheld him: my eyes were opened now. I held fast by the marble chimney-piece, so that I could stand quite upright, firm, and quiet. He walked hurriedly to the window, and flung it open, saying the scent of the lilacs was too strong. When he came back, we were both ready to talk again. I believe I spoke first—to save him the pain of doing so. 'I have no idea,' said I, and I said truly, what answer Zillah will give to this letter. Hitherto I have known all her feelings, and am confident that while she stayed with me her heart was untouched.' Here I waited for him to speak, but he did not. I went on : “Mr French is very agreeable, and she seems to like him ; but a girl's heart, if of any value at all, is rarely won in three meetings. I think, however, that Žillah ought to be made acquainted with this letter. Will you tell her, or shall I ?:
•Go you and do it—a woman can best deal with a woman in these cases. And,' he added, rising slowly and looking down upon me from his majestic height with that grave and self-possessed smile which was likewise as sweet as any woman's, 'tell Zillah from me, that though I wish her to marry in her own rank and with near equality of fortune, to save her from all those dangers of mercenary offers to which an heiress is so cruelly exposed; still, both now and at all times, I leave her to the dictates of her own affections, and her happiness will ever be my chief consideration in life.' He spoke with formal serenity until the latter words, when his voice sank a little. Then he led me to the door, and I went out.—Zillah lay on a sofa reading a love-story. Her crisped black hair was tossed about the crimson cushions, and her whole figure was that of rich Eastern luxuriance. She had always rather a fantastic way of dress, and now she looked almost like a princess out of the Arabian Nights. Even though her skin was that of a half-caste, and her little hands were not white, but brown, there was no denying that she was a very beautiful woman. I felt it-saw it-knew it! After a minute's pause I went to her side; she jumped up and kissed me, as she was rather fond of doing. Her kisses were very strange to me just then. I came as quickly as possible to my errand, and gave her the letter to read. As she glanced through it her cheeks flushed, and her lips began to curl. She threw the letter on my lap, and said abruptly: "Well, and what of that ?' I began a few necessary explanations. Zillah stopped me.
*Oh, I heard something of the sort from Mr French last night. I did not believe him, nor do I now. He is only making a jest of me.'
I answered that this was impossible. In my own mind I was surprised at Zillah’s having known the matter before, and having kept it so quietly. Mr French's statement about his honourable reticence towards the lady of his devotions must have been untrue. Still this was not so remarkable as
Zillah's own secrecy on the subject. “Why did you not tell me, my dear?' said I : 'you know your happiness is of the first importance to me as well as to your guardian.' And, rather hesitating, I repeated word by word, as near as I could, Mr Sutherland's message. Žillah half-hid her face within the cushions, and then drew it out burning red.
• He thinks I am going to accept the creature then? He would have me marry a conceited, chattering, mean-looking, foolish boy!' (Now Mr French was certainly twenty-five.) One, too, that only wants me for my fortune, and nothing else. It is very wrong and cruel and unkind of him, and you may go and tell him so.'
"Tell who ?' said I, bewildered by this outburst of indignation, and great confusion of personal pronoung.
Mr Sutherland, of course! Who else would I tell? Whose opinion else do I care for? Go and say to him- No,' she added abruptly: 'no, you needn't trouble him with anything about such a foolish girl as I. Just say, I shall not marry Mr French, and will he be so kind as to give him his answer, and bid him let me alone?' Here, quite exhausted with her wrath, Zillah sank back and took to her book, turning her head from me. But I saw that she did not read one line, that her motionless eyes were fixed and full of a strange deep expression. I began to cease wondering what the future would bring. Very soon afterwards I went back to Mr Sutherland, and told him all that had passed : just the plain facts without any comments of my own. He apparently required none. I found him sitting composedly with some papers before him—he had for the last few days been immersed in business which seemed rather to trouble him : he started a little as I entered, but immediately came forward and listened with a quiet aspect to the message I had to bring. I could not tell whether it made him happy or the contrary: his countenance could be at times so totally impassive that no friend, dearest or nearest, could ever find out from it anything he did not wish to betray.
“The matter is settled then,' said he gravely: 'I will write to Mr French to-day, and perhaps it would be as well if we never alluded to what has passed. I, at least, shall not do it: tell Zillah so. But, in the future, say that I entreat she keeps no secret back from you. Remember this, my dear Cassia: watch over her as you love her--and you do love her?' continued he, grasping my hand. I answered that I did, and, God knows, even then I told no lie. She was a very dear child to me always! Mr Sutherland seemed quite satisfied and at rest. Ile bade me a cheerful good-by, which I knew meant that I should go away, so accordingly I went. Passing the drawing-room door I saw Zillah lying in her old position on the sofa ; so I would not disturb her, but went and walked for an hour under a clump of fir-trees in the garden. They made a shadow dark and grave and still; it was pleasanter than being on the lawn, among the flowers, the sunshine, and the bees. I did not come in until dinner-time. There were only ourselves, just a family party-Mr Sutherland did not join us until we reached the dining-room door. I noticed that Zillah's colour changed as he approached, and that all dinner-time she hardly spoke to him ; but he behaved to her as usual. He was rather thoughtful, for, as he told me privately, he had some trifling business-anxieties burdening him just then; otherwise he seemed the same. Nevertheless, whether it was