Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The head master's sister
THE HEAD MASTER’S SISTER.
“Hooray! Frank! it is all right, you are an honourable member of the first eleven now. Jones and Staveley wanted to stick in that ass, Middleton, because he is in the sixth, and one of their set, and pretended they must have him for a long-stop; but Fox and I stuck up for you, and we have pulled it off. I expect you will be second bowler in our match with Harrow.”
“Well, you are a brick, Herbert—a genuine Bath, and no mistake,” replied Frank Ainslie to his friend’s communication; and in the excitement of the moment he delivered the Lexicon which he had been using, after the fashion of a round-hand ball, at a plaster cast of Homer,—a recent purchase of Herbert’s,—on which it took fatal effect, reducing it to smithereens.
“You are an ungrateful card, and no mistake,” said Herbert, holding up one smithereen, consisting of the left eye, and a fragment of the nose and chin of the great bard.
“’Pon my soul, I am very sorry, but I did not think my hand was in. But about the match: I hear Harrow has a strong team this year.”
“They have two or three pretty bats, and their bowling is decidedly good; but they don’t work well together in the field. Altogether, I think the odds are in our favour.”
“Mr. Ainslie to Mr. Hardlines,” said a servant, knocking at the door at this moment.
“What’s up now, I wonder?” said Herbert.
“Haven’t an idea,” replied his friend, taking his departure. “No row, that I know of.”
Mr. Hardlines’ countenance, always solemn in its expression, was more gloomy than usual, as Ainslie entered his study.
“Ainslie,” he said gently, “you must prepare yourself to hear some bad news. Your father is dangerously ill. You are to go home directly. If, as we must hope, your father should soon recover, I hope you will return to us as soon as you can leave him, for you have been doing very well lately, especially in mathematics: Mr. Angles spoke of you to me the other day, as being one of his best pupils. But again, before I say goodbye, I must caution you to prepare yourself for the worst; it is even possible that you may not find your father alive. Do not stay to pack up anything, as the post-chaise will be here immediately. I must go into school now. Goodbye.”
There are few positions which are actually more wretched than that of a traveller upon a journey, which has been occasioned by the sudden illness of a friend. The reflection of how powerless man is to contend with the twin giants, Time and Space, is forced upon him in a thousand forms.
The express-train may bear him on its wings, but still he ejaculates, as he watches the long line of trees rushing past him, “No further yet!” He cannot turn his attention to anything. Each train into which his thoughts fall, leads to the same terminus. “How is he now? When shall I be there?”
When Frank Ainslie arrived at home, his father was dead.
I am now about to confide a secret to my readers. Their knowledge of it, I feel certain, will not cause Frank to fall in their estimation; for I know they would not suffer the disgrace of the father to extend to the children: but as Frank now occupies a respectable position in society, I must make it a point of honour, that they should communicate it to no one more prejudiced and less enlightened than themselves.
“Not to put too fine a point upon it,” Mr. Ainslie, senior, was a bank director.
Need I add, that he died insolvent.
When the faithful biographer has the opportunity of selecting from many thousands the individual upon whom he shall confer immortality, he can scarcely be blamed if he chooses some one whom it is pleasant to write about, rather than not. Acting upon this principle, I will mention at once that Frank Ainslie was as clever, agreeable, and good-looking a young fellow as you could find on the fifth form at Eton; and, I can assure my readers, that is saying a great deal. In fact, he was a young man whom you would have felt great pleasure in taking to Mrs. Cramvilles, if that lady hinted to you that she was likely to be short of beaux on her next Wednesday. If Jones introduced him, I know he would consider himself entitled to the reversion of a dinner for his trouble,—but then, a modest estimate of his own performance is not Jones’s forte.
With the qualifications at which I have delicately hinted, and plenty of money,—for his father was liberal as well as charitable (two qualities which are not necessarily concomitants either in the hearts of bank directors or anybody else),—Frank found his way into the best set at Eton, and was looking forward to a pleasant future,—Cambridge in two years, with some of his old set, and the new friends the university always brings; and then chambers in the Temple, and the bar.
It was some trial for the nerves of a young fellow of seventeen with these prospects, when a respected uncle with a large family informed him that he had not a halfpenny in the world, and the sooner he did something to get one, the better! But Frank had the pluck which enables a man to stand up against that swift and nasty bowler, Misfortune, without much padding.
So he answered his relative with a simple, but appropriate interrogative, “All right. What shall I do?”
“I think I might be able to get you into Mr. Grierson’s office.”
“Stockbroker, isn’t he?”
“Yes; a first-rate man upon ’Change.”
“Thank you, I am very much obliged. If you will allow me, I will take a walk for an hour or two, think it over, and give you my decision when I return.”
“Very good; so be it then; but I do not think there is anything better for you.”
And Frank set off, and walked very fast, and thought a great deal; both which operations I have found, from personal experience, have a tendency to produce thirst. Frank was by no means exempt from the weaknesses incident to humanity; so when he had just completed four miles and a quarter, an eligible inn meeting his eye, it occurred to him that some malt would be restorative, and he proceeded to have some accordingly. Perceiving a cheerful-looking sanded parlor, he thought some bread and cheese would meet his taste, and while the waitress brought him food for the body, he took up the advertisement sheet of the “Times” for his own mental recreation. Under his peculiar circumstances, he received that document with greater favour than it usually obtains from travellers, and he immediately began to peruse it with diligence.
He had gone through eleven columns and a half, when his attention was attracted by the following:
TO GENTLEMEN READING FOR THE UNIVER- sities.—Board, residence, and tuition are offered to a gentleman who would be inclined to assist an M.A. with his junior pupils. Address, M.A. Slopcombe, Devon.
“The pink ticket!” ejaculated Frank. “I must go there, read hard for two years, go up to Cambridge, get a scholarship, and try if I cannot live upon it. It has been done before, and, by Jove, it shall be again!” And in the excitement of the moment he folded up the paper, and was putting it in his pocket, when the landlady modestly suggested that it might be wanted again. Frank, however, easily obtained permission to cut out the particular advertisement in which he was interested.
His uncle did not coincide with his views, and told him frankly he could give him no assistance, except in the manner he had proposed: but Frank was determined, answered the advertisement, forwarded a testimonial from Eton, which proved perfectly satisfactory, and concluded the engagement.
Then, by disposing of his watch, his studs, rings, pins, two guns, and a few other articles with which he determined to dispense, he managed to realise about eighty pounds; and with that capital he commenced the world, and started for Slopcombe.
The Rev. H. Martin was the head-master of the Slopcombe Grammar Schoo1,—a school which had been once endowed, but whose revenues had gradually disappeared under the administration of a series of dignified trustees. It still possessed a large house, which head-masters found a convenient receptacle for as many private pupils as they could get. A few boys attended from the town occasionally, in virtue of their rights as citizens of Slopcombe; but a system of judicious snubbing on the part of the master, and of bullying on the part of the private pupils or boarders, who always outnumbered them, and between whom and the town-boys a traditional feud was carefully preserved, usually brought their education to an untimely close. As these young gentlemen paid nothing, and occasionally wore corduroys, we must fear that their defection was not duly regretted either by the master or the private pupils.
“Martin,” wrote Frank, in a letter to Herbert, “is a very nice fellow, good scholar, good temper, supports my authority,—is, in fact, generally jolly. The only wonder is, however he could have married Mrs. M.”
Ah, Frank! as you grow older, that constantly recurring problem of social life, “What could have induced Brown to marry that woman?” and its still more frequent phase, “What could Mrs. Smith have been thinking of when she accepted that brute?” will often defy your utmost efforts to supply a solution. We doubt if even Mr. Justice Cresswell could invent a formula general enough to take in a tithe of its cases.
In this particular case, our own private opinion is, that Martin drifted into it, as England did into war under the ministry of Lord Aberdeen.
Mrs. Martin was a woman with a shrewish tongue, an exaggerated opinion of her own dignity, and a most painful habit of fancying things which had no existence except in her own imagination. Anything which she could not understand,—and her intellectual capacity was not extensive,—she construed as a personal insult. Ainslie did not at all answer to her idea of what an usher ought to be, for in that light she persisted in looking at him, although her husband explained the peculiarity of his position, and wished that he should be treated as a gentleman: because Frank looked and acted like one, she was pleased to consider that he gave himself airs, and must be kept well down.
Her views on this subject were illustrated by a hundred petty annoyances, which for a long time rather amused Frank, than otherwise; but at last, as they lost their novelty, they became rather a bore, and Frank began to think about changing his quarters, when
A change came o’er the spirit of his dream.
How strange it is, that in a house in which there are already more than twenty people, the arrival of a little fair-haired girl of seventeen should make such a wonderful difference. Yet, after Mr. Martin’s youngest sister, Clara, had been there a week, all Frank’s ideas of departure were gone so entirely, that he could scarcely conceive he had ever entertained them.
Slopcombe is situated in rather a pretty part of Devon, and there were two or three places in the neighbourhood which it was absolutely necessary that Clara should see.
As Mr. Martin was discussing with his sister what day they should go to Eveleigh, which was to be their first excursion, she immediately suggested that he should give the boys a holiday and take them too.
“But you would not really like it,” he replied; “I am afraid they would bore you awfully.”
“Indeed I should, better than anything; it will be such fun.”
Mr. Martin was pleased, and readily gave his assent. Who can refuse anything to a pretty little sister? I fear, however, that Clara was not very sorry when Mrs. Martin decided that the distance would be too great for her to accompany them, especially as there were several visits which it was absolutely necessary for her to pay.
Eveleigh was about five miles from Slopcombe, so Mr. Martin drove his sister over in the pony-chaise, and Frank Ainslie and the boys joined them there. Frank was a great favourite. When he first arrived, his youthful charges tried the series of experiments which the advent of a new master usually provokes, but almost all were failures. Fresh from Eton there were very few dodges to which he was not up, and superior knowledge even of mischief is always respected. But the incident which perhaps tended to establish his position most was the following. A hopeless little sneak (some are always to be found even in the best regulated establishments), told Frank one day of some paltry offence which another boy had committed. “When I had found this out, as I certainly should have done,” said Frank, “I should have given the offender twenty lines. You will now learn a hundred for telling tales of your school-fellow.” Cricket received such an impetus from his arrival, that the Grammar School challenged the town club—an invitation which that association declined with scorn, saying that they did not play with boys; a judicious evasion on their part, as they would certainly have been beaten if they had.
They had a delightful walk to Eveleigh, the elder boys roaming in twos and threes, and the younger ones crowding round Frank, with reference to a wonderful story which he related for their especial edification.
The pony-chaise passed them just as they came in sight of their destination, and they greeted its occupants with three cheers; whether the remembrance that the cold meat and apple-pie were contained in the same vehicle may have given additional vigour to their shouts, is a point we will not attempt to investigate.
The little church tower of Eveleigh rises from a low cliff some twenty feet above the level of the sea, and with a spring tide and a westerly wind its windows are often darkened by the showers of spray. Far on the deep it is a landmark to the hardy fishermen of that stormy coast; and many must have thought of their forefathers sleeping peacefully beneath its yew-trees’ shade before they found their own last resting-place in the treasure-house of the deep.
By its south side the clear waters of the Eve flow gently till they mingle with the sea some hundred yards lower down, for it wants three hours to high water.
Flow down, cold rivulet, to the sea,
Thy tribute wave deliver,
No more by thee my steps shall be
For ever and for ever,
quoted Frank from our greatest lyric poet, whatever the hydra-headed race of Scotch reviewers may say to the contrary.
Aloud he quoted them, for it is not enough that the eye should see and the mind grasp, the ear must hear them as well, or the beauty of their rhythm is lost. He believed himself alone, or rather he was too much occupied with his own thoughts to reflect whether he was alone or not. The elder boys were wandering along the shore, the younger ones constructing castles of sea-sand, in which they might bid momentary defiance to the rising tide. So he leant over the low churchyard wall, and dropping a few wild flowers dreamily into the stream beneath, he partly said and partly sung the beautiful words, lingering fondly over each cadence as it left his lips.
“You are not applying those words to yourself, I hope,” said a sweet voice behind him.
“And why do you hope so, Miss Clara?” said Frank, looking with his dark eyes steadily into her blue ones, and thereby causing the lids to be dropped over the same.
“Oh! it is so beautiful. I am sure you would like to see it again. I was just looking for a spot from which I could sketch the church.”
“Then, if you will allow me, I think I can show you the exact position from which it will make the best possible picture—that is, if you will not mind crossing the river. There is a boat a little higher up; then you can have a little bit of the stream in the foreground, and as much sea and sky as you like in the distance.”
“Thank you, I shall be very much obliged; for what has become of my brother I have not the remotest idea.”
“Oh, he has gone with Abbott to hunt for sea anemones.”
And they were ferried across the little stream; and when Clara saw the promised picture, she owned it could not be praised too highly.
“I am sure you draw,” she said.
“I have had very good masters, and I am very fond of it,” replied Frank; “but I have had no time since I have been in Devonshire.”
For he had kept the resolution he made when he first saw the advertisement, and had been working hard at mathematics during the few hours his school duties left him.
As Frank had conducted Miss Martin to a spot at some distance from the rest of the party, of course it became absolutely necessary that he should remain there to take care of her; so he fetched her some water in a shell, arranged her colours, and even mixed her an invaluable grey for the middle distance, with which she was unacquainted, and devoted himself to fulfilling all the petits soins a lady artist can require from an accomplished cavalier.
Miss Clara Martin found she had made a great mistake. When she had seen Frank before, she had been led, by the silence which he always maintained in Mrs. Martin’s presence, into the belief that he was very shy. Accordingly, with feminine good nature, she had determined this afternoon to draw him out, which she found very easy; also to patronise him, which she discovered to be extremely difficult. The first two or three sentences which Frank spoke shook her resolution a little; but she was a young lady who was tolerably decided in her views, and after a short interval she resumed her rôle:
“I wish you would give me your opinion upon how I am getting on. I am sure you must be a good judge.”
These words were spoken in a tone which at once conveyed the impression that she thought she was paying him a compliment by making the inquiry.
If these events had happened five years later, Frank would probably have said to himself, “That’s your little game, ma’am, is it?” As civilisation was not sufficiently advanced to enable him to put his thoughts thus into language, he concealed them, and replied:
“Do you wish for a candid criticism?”
“Of course I do,” replied the young lady, rather indignantly.
“Well, then, the trees appear to me to have rather a blue shade, whilst the green seems to have communicated itself unfairly to the water.”
Clara was of an impetuous disposition, and as she heard this, and her eye convinced her there was the faintest possible ground for the criticism, her brush (filled with brown madder at the moment) went from the left-hand corner of the drawing to the top in a graceful curve.
“I am sorry you did that,” said Frank, “for I was only in fun; but now you have spoilt it. I will tell you what was really a fault: the church tower would have looked too new, and the moss is made too apparent for a view taken from this distance, and is green instead of grey.”
“I will tell you what, Mr. Ainslie, I am quite determined upon, and that is, that you shall do me another drawing for the one you have made me spoil—directly, too—so sit down.”
“You won’t like it as well as your own, if I do.”
“I am not sure of that,” said she, laughing, for she began to feel there was some justice in the way she had been treated. “Now begin.”
And Frank took the brush and commenced a sketch, not of the elaborate character Clara had attempted, but rough in the extreme. At first she smiled, for there appeared a probability that the paper would soon be covered with a series of smudges; but by degrees a wild beauty sprang out from the chaos, and she saw the scene, not steeped in sunshine, as she looked upon it now, but wrapped in storm, the calm sea lashed to fury, the gentle river a rushing torrent, the old church alone unaltered.
“I saw it like that once,” said Frank, “and I shall never forget it.”
“Nor shall I,” replied Clara; “thank you very much for the picture, and my lesson.”
“Oh, my drawing lesson, of course,” replied Clara, with an emphasis which belied her words.
And now it occurred to them that it was full time they returned to the other side of the stream.
They found the party assembled, and enjoying a game of prisoner’s base, with the exception of the anemone seekers, who were still absent, as they strolled a little away along the shore to meet them, still speaking of Millais and Tennyson as they went.
Oh Poetry and Art, how much is owed to you even by the humble worshippers at your outer gate! How often does it fall to your lot to strike the key note which shall vibrate through two hearts, to be joined hereafter in harmony for ever.
Mr. Martin and his two companions returned at last; Ringwood had slipped from a rock and sprained his ancle, it was this which had detained them so long, for he had become very lame. Clara immediately offered him her seat in the pony chaise, saying that she could walk very well. As she declined undertaking to drive the pony, which was rather spirited, her brother agreed to the arrangement.
And a beautiful walk home they had: even the ordinary houses of Slopcombe looked pretty, when they reached the top of the hill, and saw them bathed in the light of the setting sun. Here Clara just became sufficiently tired, to be glad to avail herself of the support of Frank’s arm.
Before they reached the old school-house their friendship was cemented, and placed on a firm footing. Be assured, my youthful readers, that a long day in the country will do more in this way, than seven evening parties, at the most moderate computation.
Clara gave a little laugh to herself, while she was taking off her bonnet, as she thought of the shy second master. Curiously enough she quite forgot to show the sketch she had admired so much to Mrs. Martin, or even to her brother, though she locked it up carefully in her little rosewood desk, and looked at it very often herself.
During the next week Clara and Frank saw a great deal of each other. Mrs. Martin seldom came down to breakfast, and Clara took her place. Mr. Martin took his in his study; and the senior pupils came down at any time they liked, between the hours of eight and ten; during which period Miss Clara sat ready to pour out tea and coffee with exemplary patience. Frank’s work did not begin till ten, so he did all he could to prevent the time from passing heavily, and we are bound in justice to own, that he was generally successful. The end of the September quarter was drawing near, after which there was a week’s holiday.
On the 28th there was a town-ball, to which the boarders at the grammar-school were always admitted, and Mr. Martin told Frank that as he was not going himself, he wished him to go with them. To this Frank had no objection, especially as Clara was going, so he immediately engaged her for the first two dances. When the long-looked-for night came, Mrs. Martin decided that she would honour the Slopcombe ball with her presence, in order to chaperone her sister-in-law.
When the two ladies had taken their seats at the upper end of the room, Clara immediately began to write on her engagement card.
“What! Are you engaged for any dances already?” inquired Mrs. Martin, for they were very early.
“The first two.”
“May I ask, to whom?”
“To Mr. Ainslie.”
“Goodness gracious, my dear Clara, surely you could not think of such a thing!”
“What, dance with the usher! I am sure your brother would be very angry with me, if I allowed such a thing for a moment. I am very sorry, but I cannot hear of it.”
At the word usher, poor Clara’s memory reverted to the assistant in a village school, from whom she had received instruction in writing, at the age of eight, and who, to the best of her recollection, had previously failed in business as a cobbler.
“But,” she said, at last, “if I do not dance with Mr. Ainslie, I must sit down for the rest of the evening.”
“Oh, no; you must not think of that, it would do your brother so much harm in the town; there are so many people to whom we must be civil. Stay, here he comes, never mind, I will manage it for you,” and she rose as Frank came, and said in her sweetest voice, “Would you be so kind as to take a little note for me to Mr. Martin? something is forgotten of great importance.” And she scribbled two or three words with her pencil.
“Will you excuse me, Miss Clara,” said he, “for I think the dancing is going to commence?”
Clara bowed assent, for she was really unable to speak.
Frank made his way with some difficulty through the crowd of amateurs at the door, who were occupied in criticising the ball-dresses as they issued from the carriages, and with rapid step he hastened to the school-house, and then to Mr. Martin’s study.
During the absence of the rest of the household in “the halls of dazzling light,” that gentleman was making himself as comfortable as existing circumstances would permit.
The room was already hazy with the fumes of Cavendish, a decanter of port was conveniently placed on a little table by his side, and he was carefully cutting the leaves of a new novel. Frank felt grieved at disturbing him by presenting the ominous missive. To his surprise, however, it only had the effect of provoking a shout of laughter, for it ran as follows: “That wretched boy Johnson has forgotten his gloves. Perhaps as you have had the trouble of bringing it, you would not mind giving it to the housekeeper.”
That lady was not to be found, so Frank had to hunt through all the drawers himself, the contents of which soon became a confused mass under his manipulation, as Mrs. Snuffles the housekeeper found to her cost the next morning. At last he found a pair, guided to them principally by a faint smell of turpentine “which hung round them still,” which he thought might be near the size. When he returned to the ball-room he found the much-maligned Johnson in bran new kids, radiant as his own, and Clara just commencing the second dance with a young man in a yeomanry uniform.
At the end of this, he asked her for the third, but she was engaged for several dances—she did not know how many. Clara was so disgusted with everything at the moment that she could not find the words she wished to soften her refusal. Frank only saw she did not mean to dance with him, and the intention of the pretended message. Frank sat down thoroughly wretched,—he felt that he was despised, and by one—now, for the first time, he owned it to his heart—whom he fondly loved.
He cared not so much for the insult of the moment; it was the insight he fancied it gave him into the inner recesses of a heart of which he had thought so differently. How long he sat, heedless of everything as the dancers whirled past him, he never knew; but, at last, as the rooms filled, a lady sat down so close to him, that he started, and became aware that he was almost the only gentleman who was sitting.
He rose and leant against the doorway, and tried to take an interest in the passers by. It was written of old “a great city is a great solitude;” but in city or country there is no loneliness like that of the ball-room which one enters as a stranger. I know nothing so likely to foster misanthropy in a young man as remaining long, under these circumstances, without a partner. The very beauty and light-heartedness of the women seem to assume the shape of a personal injury.
What right have they to be happy when you are miserable? Why does that pretty girl in pink dance with that young donkey, who does not even know how to pilot her safely through a polka? What can that angel in blue see in a little muff, who does not seem to understand a word she utters, and who evidently has nothing to say for himself: whilst you, oh, accomplished reader! who have waltzed in every capital in Europe, and have every topic of the season at the tip of your tongue, stand partnerless, because you happen to have quarrelled with one steward and don’t know the other?
Towards the close of the evening one of these functionaries, struck by Frank’s handsome face and melancholy expression, asked if he could introduce him to a partner, but it was too late, and Frank only said,
“Thank you, I would rather not dance.”
Whereon that gentleman put him down for a puppy, in which we trust he erred. The ball finished at last, and the party returned home. Clara had only sat down once. Ought she not to have been happy?
The next morning the school broke up for their short holiday. Frank had been intending to go upon a walking tour, but a letter from Herbert altered his intentions. It informed him that a competitive examination was to be held in a fortnight for twenty direct commissions in the artillery—mathematics to form the principal subject of examination. Herbert was going in—would not Frank try his fortune also? If so, his father would be happy to see him at their house in town at once. It was the commencement of the Russian war. If Clara had danced with him the night before, I think England might have lost a soldier, so that must form part of her claim to forgiveness. As it was, his decision was immediate. Fortunately his engagement with Mr. Martin had only been made for a quarter, terminable or not, according to the wishes of either party; so he informed that gentleman, that circumstances had occurred which prevented his having the pleasure of remaining at Slopcombe; and then he began to pack up. He would have liked to have said goodbye to Clara, but she had gone out to spend the day, and he did not like to wait till the next; so he returned to town.
His recent devotion to mathematics did him good service, for he was third on the list of successful candidates. Herbert also obtained an appointment, but he was not so high up. A fortnight afterwards, and exactly one month from the night of the Slopcombe ball, he sailed for Varna.
More than five years have elapsed since the end of our last chapter. “Many changes have we seen” in that period, not only in the great events of which the whole world takes note; but also in the fortunes of a single family. The easy-going, scholarly, good-tempered Martin is no more; and Clara, after having refused one or two good offers, no one could conceive why, has at the age of two-and-twenty accepted the situation of governess at Lord Morningthorpe’s.
Again our curtain draws up upon a ball. It is at the earl’s house in Mayfair. The earl supports the ministry, and has come to town early. It is Lady Morningthorpe’s first reception this year. From a quiet corner, half-hidden by the curtains of a bay-window, Clara watches the élite of London fashion.
But Clara was always fond of dancing, and as she watches the waltzers whirl past her, she cannot help wishing to be among them.
The balls at which she had been, not a very great number, seem to pass in review before her. At last her thoughts revert to one at Slopcombe, and she sighs as she thinks of one whom she had seen there, sitting alone and friendless as she sat now. The face rises before her as clearly as if there was a mental daguerreotype of it within—never to be effaced. The face as she remembers it, she will never see again. But her reverie is interrupted by a tall, dark, bronzed officer in a splendid uniform, who stoops over her, and says in a clear, though deep voice:—
“Miss Clara Martin, may I have the pleasure of dancing the next two dances with you?”
She looks at him with surprise. His left arm is suspended in a sling, his black hair does not quite cover the mark of a sabre-cut as well as his black beard conceals the lower part of his face—he wears five medals on his breast—but more than these he bears that which none but the brave with the brave can share, the noblest decoration the nineteenth century has seen—one beyond the reach of ordinary knights-bachelors—the Victoria Cross.
Clara tried to speak but could not. A faint suspicion dawned upon her mind, but she was unable to give it utterance.
The officer saw her difficulty, and said, “Do you know, Miss Clara, that I consider I hold a promise of yours for two dances, which has never been performed yet?”
“No, not Mr. Ainslie,” he replied; “but”—seeing her start—“Frank Ainslie, now, as ever, very much at your service.”
“And you have been wounded,” she said, softly.
“About a score of times, more or less. My arm is well now, but the doctor says I must continue the sling a little longer.”
“And is that the Victoria Cross?”
“Admirably guessed! Is it the first you have seen?”
“Yes; you must tell me how you won it.”
“Well, I was fortunate enough to rescue a lady from some sowars at Ramlehgunge. She was in the middle of a troop of about a dozen. I rode at them, sabred two, and got this slash; put her in front of me, and got away. They gave chase. Fortunately, my mare was thorough-bred, and carried the extra weight as if it had been nothing. I dropped five of our pursuers with my revolver, one by one; the rest gave in, after they had put a ball in my left arm.”
“And as you are Mr. Ainslie no longer, what may be your present title?”
“If I must announce myself officially, then, Captain Frank Ainslie, K.-Companion of the Bath and V. C. But, you know, I am still longing for the performance of your promise. You do not know how often I have thought of it.”
And so they danced together, at last.
And immediately there was a perfect furore about the beautiful blonde that Frank was dancing with, and much wonder as to where she had sprung from; and Lady Morningthorpe received petitions from thirteen young gentlemen for an immediate introduction; so, if Frank had not taken the precaution of engaging her for two more dances, he would not have seen any more of her that evening.
But he would have seen her the next morning, if only to tell her something about the Alma and Inkermann.
And the next, if only to tell her how he was sent to India immediately after the fall of Sebastopol.
Two more would have been the least he could have allowed himself to give an account of the relief of Lucknow.
And nothing could have prevented the next being fully occupied by his inquiry whether she would share with him any future campaign that the wheel of fortune or the Emperor Napoleon might render necessary; and—receiving a satisfactory answer thereto.
P.S. Lady Morningthorpe insisted on being allowed to give the wedding-breakfast.
N.B. It is my private opinion that if such a campaign should take place, Frank will not fight any the worse for being married.