Dec. 26, 1863.
ONCE A WEEK.
Stop. Don't interrupt me, I haven't done yet. I was also less frank than you had a right to expect of me, and I saw I left an unfavourable impression on you. Now, if you were Stillbrook, I should not say what I am going to, because he would never see any thing that was not shown to him; and if you were Scarsdale, I shouldn't, because he doesn't care a straw for any mortal but himself. You have eyes in your head; and, moreover, I really believe you have—though not in a virulent form—the peculiar combination of emotions which go to make up what they call conscientiousness. I did see a great deal of Mrs. Newton, who was then Annie Lyddon, some four years back. She wasn't in the same line of life as I was at all. The Thornleys were fond of having her at their house, until they thought I paid her too much attention, and then they left off asking her. I am not easily stopped, though, when I take a fancy to anything, and one way and another I contrived to meet Annie constantly for many months. I was very fond of her then, and small blame to me, and it would be mock modesty in me to say that I did not succeed in making her very thoroughly in love with me. Of course I could not marry her: she had neither the money nor the social position, one or other of which would be indispensable to a man like myself,—in the world, and of the world to the very core of the heart. Neither could I do her any harm; I had not the heart, even if I had the power, which I doubt. But we went dreaming on until I had to leave, and then I admit I felt guilty when I saw——but, however," he went on, checking himself, and refilling his pipe, "that's neither here nor there. We corresponded for awhile, but it soon fell through. We gave it up—it was stopped by her people. I forget exactly: n'importe. I knew that our modern Calypsos se consolent without much difficulty. I did not forget mine; I never do forget my loves; but she subsided into a souvenir. You know what that means. Well, yesterday I saw her again for the first time after four years: I confess I was a little staggered at first, and I could see she had not the most pleasant recollection of me:—probably had long regarded me as a heartless trifler, and that sort of thing. But she can afford to forgive, as she has got a better and a richer man for a husband, and seems perfectly happy; and this I think now she sees. Her friendship is very pleasant to me, I admit; and, for my own part, I can't see the least chance of her getting any harm from occasionally meeting me whilst I stay here. I like this place. I like Sir Ralph and your cousin immensely; and I like the Newtons. Only look here, Charlie, I can't have you troubled in spirit on my account. If you think my presence dangerous and objectionable, say so now, frankly. I shan't think the worse of you, for I shall quite understand your motives. You and I can concoct some story for your uncle, and I will be off to-morrow. I can't say fairer."
I felt I could make only one answer to this. John Norman had been a good friend to me often and often. Ho had cleared me from an "entanglement" that threatened to become very embarrassing. He had pulled me honourably through an ugly quarrel with some Frenchmen at Aix-la-Chapelle. He had sacrificed pleasant engagements to sit with me when I was ill. And now he was offering to do still more for me,—to give up his own pleasure. Was I to tell this man that I would rather he left my uncle's house on account of apprehensions that as likely as not were enormously exaggerated? Besides, I felt it would not be so easy to account for Noman's departure. If my suspicions had been shared by any one else, this was the very course to confirm them. It might get round to Newton himself—the deuce knew what might come of it. I should be distrusting my friend, and behaving like a churl, and perhaps, after all, bring about the very result I dreaded. All this passed through my mind as Norman was speaking. When he had done, I rose, went over to him, and laid my hand on his shoulder.
"My dear, good fellow," said I, "forgive me for having made a fool of myself. I am very much obliged for the confidence you have bestowed on me. As for your going away, it is not to be thought of for fifty Mrs. Newtons. Henceforth rely on it I shall make myself quite easy: I dare say I absurdly overrated the danger; but even if I did not, you have a strong head, and can be trusted not to fall over the precipice, unless you choose. And so there's an end of that."
"All right, Evesham," said he; "so be it. And now let us turn in."
And Time's life current, so free and bold,
Congeals in his veins as the year grows old.
Keen and clear the Aurora gleams
On skeleton forests and coffined streams:
Night dews freezing as they fall
On the stiff stark earth in her wide white pall;
Ghostly cloud-wreaths hurrying past,
Shivering down the icy blast;
A silver world set in an iron sky,
And a steel-bright moon for company.