The play was begun, and the stage was the centre of light. Thither Malcolm's eyes were drawn the instant he entered. He was all but unaware of the multitude of faces about him, and his attention was at once fascinated by the lovely show revealed in soft radiance. But surely he had seen the vision before. One long moment its effect upon him was as real as if he had been actually deceived as to its nature: was it not the shore between Scaurnose and Portlossie, betwixt the Boar's Tail and the sea? and was not that the marquis, his father, in his dressing-gown, pacing to and fro upon the sands? He abandoned himself to illusion, yielded himself to the wonderful, and looked only for what would come next.
A lovely lady entered: to his excited fancy it was Florimel. A moment more, and she spoke: —
If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
Then first he understood that before him rose in wondrous realization the play of Shakespeare he knew best, the first he had ever read, "The Tempest" — hitherto a lovely phantom for the mind's eye, now embodied to the enraptured sense. During the whole of the first act he never thought either of Miranda or Florimel apart. At the same time, so taken was he with the princely carriage and utterance of Ferdinand that, though with a sigh, he consented he should have his sister.
The drop-scene had fallen for a minute or two before he began to look around him. A moment more and he had commenced a systematic search for his sister amongst the ladies in the boxes. But when at length he found her, he dared not fix his eyes upon her lest his gaze should make her look at him and she should recognize him. Alas! her eyes might have rested on him twenty times without his face once rousing in her mind the thought of the fisher-lad of Portlossie. All that had passed between them in the days already old was virtually forgotten.
By degrees he gathered courage, and soon began to feel that there was small chance indeed of her eyes alighting upon him for the briefest of moments. Then he looked more closely, and felt through rather than saw with his eyes that some sort of change had already passed upon her. It was Florimel, yet not the very Florimel he had known. Already something had begun to supplant the girl-freedom that had formerly in every look and motion asserted itself. She was more beautiful, but not so lovely in his eyes: much of what had charmed him had vanished. She was more stately, but the stateliness had a little hardness mingled with it; and could it be that the first of a cloud had already gathered on her forehead? Surely she was not so happy as she had been at Lossie House. She was dressed in black, with, a white flower in her hair. Beside her sat the bold-faced countess, and behind them her nephew, Lord Meikleham that was — now Lord Liftore.
A fierce indignation seized the heart of Malcolm at the sight. Behind the form of the earl his mind's eye saw that of Lizzy out in the wind on the Boar's Tail, her old shawl wrapped about herself and the child of the man who sat there so composed and comfortable. His features were fine and clear-cut, his shoulders broad, and his head well set: he had much improved since Malcolm offered to fight him with one hand in the dining-room of Lossie House. Every now and then he leaned forward between his aunt and Florimel, and spoke to the latter. To Malcolm's eyes she seemed to listen with some haughtiness. Now and then she cast him an indifferent glance. Malcolm was pleased: Lord Liftore was anything but the Ferdinand to whom he could consent to yield his Miranda. They would make a fine couple certainly, but for any other fitness, knowing what he did, Malcolm was glad to perceive none. The more annoyed was he when once or twice he fancied he caught a look between them that indicated more than acquaintanceship — some sort of intimacy at least. But he reflected that in the relation in which they stood to Lady Bellair it could hardly be otherwise.
The play was tolerably well put upon the stage, and free of the absurdities attendant upon too ambitious an endeavor to represent to the sense things which Shakespeare and the dramatists of his period freely committed to their best and most powerful ally, the willing imagination of the spectators. The opening of the last scene, where Ferdinand and Miranda are discovered at chess, was none the less effective for its simplicity, and Malcolm was turning from a delighted gaze on its loveliness to glance at his sister and her companions when his eyes fell on a face near him in the pit which had fixed an absorbed regard in the same direction. It was that of a young man a few years older than himself, with irregular features, but a fine mouth, large chin and great forehead. Under the peculiarly prominent eyebrows shone dark eyes of wondrous brilliancy and seeming penetration. Malcolm could not but suspect that his gaze was upon his sister, but as they were a long way from the boxes he could not be certain. Once he thought he saw her look at him, but of that also he could be in no wise certain.
Malcolm knew the play so well that he rose just in time to reach the pit-door ere exit should be impeded by the outcomers, and thence with some difficulty he found his way to the foot of the stair up which those he watched had gone. He had stood but a little while when he saw in front of him, almost within reach of an outstretched hand, the man I have just described waiting also. After what seemed a long time, his sister and her two companions came slowly down the stair in the descending crowd. Her eyes seemed searching amongst the multitude that filled the lobby. Presently, an indubitable glance of still recognition passed between them, and by a slight movement the young man placed himself so that she must pass next him in the crowd. Malcolm got one place nearer in the change, and thought they grasped hands. She turned her head slightly back and seemed to put a question — with her lips only. He replied in the same manner. A light rushed into her face and vanished. But not a feature moved and not a word had been spoken. Neither of her companions had seen the young man, and he stood where he was till they had left the house. Malcolm stood also, much inclined to follow him when he went, but, his attention having been for a moment attracted in another direction, when he looked again he had disappeared. He sought him where he fancied he saw the movement of his vanishing, but was soon convinced of the uselessness of the attempt, and walked home. Before he reached his lodging he had resolved on making trial of a plan which had more than once occurred to him, but had as often been rejected as too full of the risk of repulse.