Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/69

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Jan. 9, 1864.
61
ONCE A WEEK.

lost in the appalling gusts blown landward from the lips of implacable sea storms. And how much more in summer, when the golden sheaves stand upon the sunny slopes, leaning their hot shoulders against one another, and waiting for the harvest-home; when the cunning blackbird scarce knows his way through the labyrinths of foliage, and when there is a hidden paradise in every far nook where the young ashes bend to the water under their secret, and drip, drip their mysterious whispers all day, till the sun gets tired searching for them among the thickets, and the moon sends a silver token floating down the beck, on the crest of a riplet.

As we entered the glens in the fading sunset, the bills smiled serenely, and the sea was a stretch of pale gold. The cry of the mountaineer, as he passed from height to height skyward, searching for stray lambs, fell in dreamy echoes through the ether, and we could hear at intervals the answering bleat of a sheep from some perilous ledge aloft, whore it looked to our upturned eyes like a snowflake drifted white upon the brilliant herbage. It was to me a moment of exquisite beauty and peace; but then in my ear the horses feet were trotting to the music of "Home, sweet home!" whereas Miss Grace Avon had been nursed under Italian skies, and beheld our wild highland scenery with a stranger's eyes. So I forbore to disturb her meditation as she sat, quite still, her veil just folded above her brows, her pale lips fast shut, and her heavy dark eyes fixed blindly on the dimming horizon.

Arrived at Bracken Hollow a touching picture met our eyes. Out in the purple twilight, sown with blazing stars, growing from the heavier shadows behind, and framed by the frowning doorway, a tall bent figure stood. A shaking, withered hand grasping a stick, a rugged face softened with yearning love, a hard-lined mouth unwontedly relaxed and quivering, and frozen eyes melting with foreign moisture. So I saw Margaret Avon, and in spite of fidelity to Hugh, I was touched to compassion for the woman who, having within her rills of tenderness so warm, could have suffered pride to petrify her life, and turn her to the thing of stone I had known her for the many past years.

So she stood with her one shrivelled hand stretched forth in eager greeting. I felt Grace's fingers slip from my arm, and before I could prevent her the strange girl had sunk upon her knees at her grandmother's feet, with her face to the flags on the threshold.

"My child, my dear, my darling! what is this?" quavered forth the poor old rusty voice, while the shaking hand tried to drag upward the bent dusky head from which the bonnet and veil had fallen. "Be not frightened, my love, but welcome, a thousand times welcome, to your poor old grandmother's home,—your poor old grandmother, your poor old lonely grandmother!" she kept on repeating, while Grace, creeping to her at last with a sob, suffered herself to be gathered to the old woman's heart. I left them sitting on the hearth in the red drawing-room, Grace with her face buried in Margaret's gown, and the old hand passing fondly over the thick curls.

Two mornings afterwards I was sitting by the open window in the sun, reading the "Lancet." Hugh was standing at the bookcase, poring into a book. The parlour door was ajar, and the hall door wide open, as it is the fashion for Glen's hall doors to stand during the day. I saw a phaeton, which I knew, draw up a few perches away, and in it I saw two figures, which I also recognised. The younger sprang from the step, and came quickly toward the cottage. She passed in at the gate, in at the open door; a tap came on the panel outside, and there she stood before us—Grace Avon.

Never had anything so bright gladdened our sober little parlour. The white dress, the black gossamer shawl hanging from her arms, the slouched hat, with its rose-coloured ribbon, crowning the ripe face and cloudy curls, all made up a picture whose rich sweetness was a feast to the eye. A glamour of enchantment seemed to enter the room with her, a southern breeze stirred in the motion of her gown, a streak of Italian sunshine seemed to follow in her wake through the door. I thought "Mary's hair was just one shade darker than the laburnum blossoms, and Mary's eyes were the colour of forget-me-nots, but this is a beautiful woman." As she entered Hugh started, and looked up with a hasty glance of honest and ardent admiration, whose warmth surprise forbade him to moderate. The young lady seemed to resent this involuntary homage of poor Hugh's, she flushed, returned his bow stiffly, and having delivered her message, followed me from the room.

"Who is he?" she asked, abruptly, in the hall.

I was angry for Hugh, and felt harshly towards her at the moment. I answered brusquely:

"He is your cousin, Miss Avon, who has at least as good a claim to your grandmother's favour as you. Were he righted, you would not be the wealthy heiress you now are."

She fell back as though stunned by my words, and I passed her to speak to Margaret