Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/67

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Jan. 9, 1864.
59
ONCE A WEEK.

her eyes fixed perpetually on her desolate hearth, would not forgive the dead. The only tie she recognised was the child of her dead son. The little girl had been born in Italy, where her father had passed all the later years of his life. In this grandchild, whom she had never seen, all the woman's sympathies with life were bound up. The child was said to be delicate, and lest she should inherit her father's disease, consumption, the anxious grandmother had decreed, with bold self-denial, that she should remain abroad with the English lady to whose care her father had entrusted her education,—should be sunned and ripened by Italian skies, till the dawn of her womanhood, and that then, and then only, should Glenariffe be her home. And yet the old woman's yearning to see the child was piteous, and I knew that she dreaded lest death might seal her eyes before they could be satisfied.

Years passed. I was grey. Hugh was a man, and would soon be a doctor. A naval life would suit him. I felt that he would go off in a ship one day and leave me.

He had been studying too closely. I had sent for him, insisting on a holiday. We were chatting together in the garden. It was a bright May evening, the hawthorn blossoms were not yet done, the lilacs were in bloom. The sun was red on his face, and the lad was as glad as a child at his new freedom. Observing him with pride, I thought him more remarkable for an air of inherent power and a dash of frankness, than for mere handsome looks. I thought I saw his character in his bearing and countenance, pure honour ennobling the brow, fidelity to truth well-opening the eye, the hot generous temperament lighting the whole face with electric glows and sparkles; and the careless gaiety of youth dancing in lights and shadows on the tossing brown curls under his straw hat. Some one spoke to me at the gate. It was a messenger from Bracken Hollow, requesting me to visit Mrs. Avon. I left Hugh amusing himself with some little fellows on the beach, and went. Margaret had a request to make. Grace was on her way home, was in England. Friends returning from Italy had brought her as far as their home in London. Would I go and fetch her to Bracken Hollow?

I thought, Margaret Avon forgets that I am not still the boy who used to eat her marmalade at yonder table forty years since, and carry her footstool, and go on her errands whithersoever she pleased. But the next moment I felt this to be a churlish thought for one old friend to harbour towards another, and I promised to go.

Next day I went. A few words made Hugh understand the purpose of my journey. Beyond those few words nothing was said between us on the matter. Of course the lad knew all the details of his own story, but his position was a subject which he never approached, nor did I wish to hear him speak of it. I was sure of his fast affection; he was even too grateful for anything I had done for him; but I knew that the pride of the Avons smouldered in the depths of his nature. I saw it when he courteously uncovered his head to his grandmother on Sundays as she came forth from the village church to her carriage, with her eyes fixed on the ground lest she should see him. I detected it in the gnawing of the lip and contracting of the brows when we stood to admire some rich bit of wooded land with a tradition of the Avon family scrawled over the gnarled trunk of every old tree. And even more forcibly have I seen it when, by chance, he has heard himself alluded to by the kindly peasants who compassionated him as "poor Mr. Hugh." I knew he felt the sting of the fire himself, and dreaded the occasion which might stir it to a blaze. I knew that he wished all the world to recognise him as one who felt himself sufficient to carve his own fortune, and who was too high-spirited to claim any relationship which was so cruelly ignored.

I went upon my mission. I made my way to a gay house in a fashionable part of London. I arrived there in the midst of a brilliant entertainment. I was expected, and welcomed. It was all out of my way, and I should have yielded to the inclination of fatigue and retired quietly and at once, but that my curiosity to see Grace would not rest till morning. When I made my appearance among the guests, I found them engaged in witnessing the performance of charades. I took my place as a spectator, and quickly had Miss Grace Avon pointed out to me among the performers. Thus, for the first time, I saw her in whom afterwards I had so strange an interest.

Memory has odd whims in her dealings with the materials furnished to her. Some she lays by in dim scrolls, seldom to be opened and with difficulty. Others are spread, faultless charts, perpetually visible, and yet marked out in such dull ink that they are little better than blanks. While, again, some trivial chance becomes at once a picture, painted in imperishable colours, glowing with unfading life, refusing to grow pale with time, or to be darkened by shadows.

I see her now distinctly. It was a thoroughly Italian face, dark and clear, with bright lips and a rich cheek. I had never