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“It wasn't to be a written answer," persisted the Softy; "it was to be yes or no, that's all; but I was to be sure and wait for it.”
The half-witted creature saw some feeling of hate and fury in her face beyond her contemptuous hatred of himself, and took a savage pleasure in tormenting her. She struck her foot impatiently upon the grass, and plucking the letter from her breast, tore open the envelope, and read the few lines it contained. Few as they were, she stood for nearly five minutes with the open letter in her hand, separated from the Softy by the iron fence and lost in thought. The silence was only broken during this pause by an occasional growl from the mastiff, who lifted his heavy lip, and showed his feeble teeth for the edification of his old enemy.
She tore the letter into a hundred morsels, and flung it from her before she spoke. “Yes," she said at last ; " tell your master that.”
Steeve Hargraves touched his cap and went back through the grassy trail he had left, to carry this message to the trainer.
“She hates me bad enough,” he muttered, as he stopped once to look back at the quiet white figure on the lawn,“ but she hates him worse.'
OUT IN THE RAIN. The second dinner-bell rang five minutes after the Softy had left Aurora, and Mr. John Mellish came out upon the lawn to look for his wife. He came whistling across the grass, and whisking the roses with his pockethandkerchief in very gaiety of heart. He had quite forgotten the anguish of that miserable morning after the receipt of Mr. Pastern's letter. He had forgotten all but that his Aurora was the loveliest and dearest of women, and that he trusted her with the boundless faith of his big, honest heart. “Why should I doubt such a noble, impetuous creature ?” he thought; “ doesn't every feeling and every sentiment write itself upon her lovely, expressive face in characters the veriest fool could read? If I please her, what bright smiles light up in her black eyes! If I vex her,-as I do, poor awkward idiot that I am, a hundred times a day,—how the two black arches contract over her pretty impertinent nose, while the red lips pout defiance and disdain! Shall I doubt her because she keeps one secret from me, and freely tells me I must for ever remain ignorant of it; when an artful woman would try to set my mind at rest with some shallow fiction invented to deceive me? Heaven bless her! no doubt of her shall ever darken my life again, come what may."
It was easy for Mr. Mellish to make this mental vow, believing fully that the storm was past, and that lasting fair weather had set in.
“Lolly, darling,” he said, winding his great arm round his wife's waist, “I thought I had lost you."
She looked up at him with a sad smile.
“Would it grieve you much, John,” she said in a low voice, “if you were really to lose me ?"
He started as if he had been struck, and looked anxiously at her pale face.
“Would it grieve me, Lolly !” he repeated; “not for long; for the people who came to your funeral would come to mine. But, my darling, my darling, what can have made you ask this question ? Are you ill, dearest? You have been looking pale and tired for the last few days, and I have thought nothing of it. What a careless wretch I am !"
“No, no, John,” she said; “I don't mean that. I know you would grieve, dear, if I were to die. But suppose something were to happen which would separate us for ever,--something which would compel me to leave this place never to return to it,—what then ?”
“What then, Lolly ?" answered her husband gravely. “I would rather see your coffin laid in the empty niche beside my mother's in the vault yonder,”—he pointed in the direction of the parish-church, which was close to the gates of the park,—“than I would part with you thus. I would rather know you to be dead and happy than I would endure any doubt about your fate. Oh, my darling, why do you speak of these things? I couldn't part with you— I couldn't. I would rather take you in my arms and plunge with you into the pond in the wood; I would rather send a bullet into your heart, and see you lying murdered at my feet.”
“John, John, my dearest and truest,” she said, her face lighting up with a new brightness, like the sudden breaking of the sun through a leaden cloud, “not another word, dear; we will never part. Why should we? There is very little upon this wide earth that money cannot buy; and it shall help to buy our happiness. We will never part, darling; never.”
She broke into a joyous laugh as she watched his anxious, half-wondering face. Why, you foolish John, how frightened you look !" she said
. “Haven't you discovered yet that I like to torment you now and then with such questions as these, just to see your big blue eyes open to their widest extent ? Come, dear; Mrs. Powell will look white thunder at us when we go in, and make some meek conventional reply to our apologies for this delay, to the effect that she doesn't care in the least how long waits for dinner, and that on the whole she would rather never have any dinner at all. Isn't it strange, John, how that woman hates me?"
“Hates you, dear, when you're so kind to her!"
“But she hates me for being kind to her, John. If I were to give her my diamond-necklace, she'd hate me for having it to give. She bates us because we're rich and young and handsome,” said Aurora, laugliing; "and the very opposite of her namby-pamby, pale-faced self.”.
It was strange that from this moment Aurora seemed to regain her natural gaiety of spirits, and to be what she had been before the receipt of Mr. Pastern's letter. Whatever dark cloud had hovered over her head since the day upon which that simple epistle had caused such a terrible ef
fect, that threatening shadow seemed to have been suddenly removed. Mrs. Walter Powell was not slow to perceive this change. The eyes of love, clearsighted though they may be, are dull indeed beside the eyes of hate. Those are never deceived. Aurora had wandered out of the drawing-room, listless and dispirited, to stroll wearily upon the lawn;– Mrs. Powell, seated in one of the windows, had watched her every movement, and had seen her in the distance speaking to some one (she had been unable to distinguish the Softy from her post of observation);—and this same Aurora returned to the house almost another creature. There was a look of determination about the beautiful mouth (which female critics called too wide), a look not usual to the rosy lips, and a resolute brightness in the eyes, which had some significance surely, Mrs. Powell thought, if she could only have found the key to that hidden meaning. Ever since Aurora's brief illness, the poor woman had been groping for this key--groping in mazy darknesses which baffled her utmost powers of penetration. Who and what was this groom, that Aurora should write to him, as she most decidedly had written ? Why was he to express no surprise, and what cause could there be for his expressing any surprise in the simple economy of Mellish Park? The mazy darknesses were more impenetrable than the blackest night, and Mrs. Powell well nigh gave up all hope of ever finding any clue to the mystery. And now behold, a new complication had arisen in Aurora's altered spirits. John Mellish was delighted with this alteration. He talked and laughed until the glasses near him vibrated with his noisy mirth. He drank so much sparkling Moselle that his butler Jarvis (who had grown gray in the service of the old squire, and had poured out Master John's first glass of champagne) refused at last to furnish him with any more of that beverage; offering him in its stead some very expensive hock, the name of which was in fourteen unpronouncable syllables, and which John tried to like, but didn't.
“ We'll fill the house with visitors for the shooting season, Lolly, darling," said Mr. Mellish. “If they come on the 1st of September, they'll all be comfortably settled for the Leger. The dear old dad will come of course, and trot about on his white pony like the best of men and bankers in Christendom. Captain and Mrs. Bulstrode will come too; and we shall see how our little Lucy looks, and whether solemn Talbot beats her in the silence of the matrimonial chamber. Then there's Hunter, and a host of fellows; and you must write me a list of any nice people you'd like to ask down here ; and we'll have a glorious autumn; won't we, Lolly ?"
“I hope so, dear,” said Mrs. Mellish, after a little pause, and a repetition of John's eager question. She had not been listening very attentively to John's plans for the future, and she startled him rather by asking him a question very wide from the subject upon which he had been speaking
“How long do the fastest vessels take going to Australia, John ?" she asked quietly.
Mr. Mellish stopped with his glass in his hand to stare at his wife as she asked this question.
“How long do the fastest vessels take to go to Australia ?" he repeated. “Good gracious me, Lolly, how should I know? Three weeks or a month-no, I mean three months; but, in mercy's name, Aurora,
you want to know ?" “ The average length of the voyage is, I believe, about three months, but some fast-sailing packets do it in seventy, or even in sixty-eight days," interposed Mrs. Powell, looking sharply at Aurora's abstracted face from under cover of her white eyelashes.
“ But why, in goodness name, do you want to know, Lolly ?” repeated John Mellish. “You don't want to go to Australia, and you don't know any body who's going to Australia.”
Perhaps Mrs. Mellish is interested in the Female Emigration move. ment,” suggested Mrs. Powell: “it is a most delightful work.”
Aurora replied neither to the direct nor the indirect question. The cloth had been removed (for no modern customs had ever disturbed the conservative
economy of Mellish Park), and Mrs. Mellish sat, with a cluster of pale cherries in her hand, looking at the reflection of her own face in the depths of the shining mahogany.
Lolly!" exclaimed John Mellish, after watching his wife for some minutes, " you are as grave as a judge. What can you be thinking of?"
She looked up at him with a bright smile, and rose to leave the dining-room.
“ I'll tell you one of these days, John,” she said. “Are you coming with us, or are you going out upon the lawn to smoke ?"
“ If you'll come with me, dear,” he answered, returning her smile with the frank glànce of unchangeable affection which always beamed in his eyes when they rested on his wife. “I'll go out and smoke a cigar, if you'll come with me, Lolly.”
“ You foolish old Yorkshireman,” said Mrs. Mellish, laughing, “I verily believe you'd like me to smoke one of your choice Manillas, by way of keeping you company."
“No, darling, I'd never wish to see you do any thing that didn't square —that wasn't compatible,” interposed Mr. Mellish gravely, “with the manners of the noblest lady, and the duties of the truest wife in England. If I love to see you ride across country with a red feather in your hat, it is because I think that the good old sport of English gentlemen was meant to be shared by their wives, rather than by people whom I would not like to name; and because there is a fair chance that the sight of your Spanish hat and scarlet plume at the meet may go some way towards keeping Miss Wilhelmina de Lancy (who was born plain Scroggins, and christened Sarah) out of the field. I think our British wives and mothers might have the battle in their own hands, and win the victory for them. selves and their daughters, if they were a little braver in standing to their ground, if they were not quite so tenderly indulgent to the sins of eligible
young noblemen, and, in their estimate of a man's qualifications for the marriage state, were not so entirely guided by the figures in his banker's book. It's a sad world, Lolly; but John Mellish, of Mellish Park, was never meant to set it right.”
Mr. Mellish stood on the threshold of a glass-door which opened on to a flight of steps leading to the lawn, as he delivered himself of this homily, the gravity of which was quite at variance with the usual tenor of his discourse. He had a cigar in his hand, and was going to light it when Aurora stopped him.
“John, dear,” she said, “my most unbusiness-like of darlings, have you forgotten that poor Langley is so anxious to see you, that he may give you up the old accounts before the new trainer takes the stable business into his hands? He was here half an hour before dinner, and begged that you would see him to-night."
Mr. Mellish shrugged his shoulders.
“ Langley's as honest a fellow as ever breathed,” he said. " I don't want to look into his accounts. I know what the stable costs me yearly on an average, and that's enough."
“ But for his satisfaction, dear."
No, dear, I want you to ride out with me to-morrow.” “ To-morrow evening."
« «You meet the Captains at the Citadel,'” said Aurora, laughing; " that is to say, you dine at Holmbush with Colonel Pevensey. Come, darling, I insist on your being business-like for once in a way; come to your sanctum sanctorum, and we'll send för Langley, and look into the accounts."
The pretty tyrant linked her arm in his, and led him to the other end of the house, and into that very room in which she had swooned away at the hearing of Mr. Pastern's letter. She looked thoughtfully out at the dull evening sky as she closed the windows. The storm had not yet come, but the ominous clouds still brooded low over the earth, and the sultry atmosphere was heavy and airless. Mrs. Mellish made a wonderful show of her business habits, and appeared to be very much interested in the mass of cornchandlers, veterinary surgeons, saddlers, and harness-makers' accounts with which the old trainer respectfully bewildered his master. But about ten minutes after John had settled himself to his weary labour, Aurora threw down the pencil with which she had been working a calculation (by a process of so wildly original a nature, as to utterly revolutionise Cocker, and annihilate the hackneyed notion that twice two are four), and floated lightly out of the room, with some vague promise of coming back presently, leaving Mr. Mellish to arithmetic and despair.
Mrs. Walter Powell was seated in the drawing-room reading, when Aurora entered that apartment with a large black-lace shawl wrapped about her head and shoulders. Mrs. Mellish had evidently expected to find the room empty; for she started and drew back at the sight of the pale-faced widow, who was seated in a distant window, making the most of the last