The New Arcadia/Chapter 15

CHAPTER XV.

"IT'S LOVE THAT MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND."

In peace, love tunes the shepherd's reed;
In war, he mounts the warrior's steed;
In halls, in gay attire is seen;
In hamlets, dances on the green.
Love lilies the court, the camp, the grove,
And men below, and saints above;
For love is heaven, and heaven is love."—Scott.

"It's perfectly disgraceful," remarked Hilda, vigorously thrusting a dahlia into the épergne of flowers she was arranging. "Travers ought to be ashamed of himself to be carrying on as he is doing with that village hussy."

"What has the poor boy been doing now?" asked Maud, who stood at the other end of the dining-room table, "cutting out" some children's garments preparatory to the sewing-meeting at the Grotto.

"Doing!" replied her sister, flinging aside disdainfully a huge "flag" bloom that had found its way amongst the flowers. "I might as well set this coarse thing into my specimen vase, as he seek to bring this brazen creature into our family."

"Hilda, you should not speak so strongly," interposed her sister. "It is unworthy of you. Miss Elms is a quiet, unassuming girl—as modest as she is beautiful."

"Then why," asked her sister, "does she encourage him so shamefully?"

"I have noted nothing very marked," replied her sister.

"You were not on the lake yesterday afternoon. I was, sailing with Larry——"

"And you object to Travers riding out with his friends?"

"But Larry is a gentleman. He will bring no disgrace on our name. Now that we are engaged, I suppose I may sometimes venture with him; even amongst all these prying eyes that I am getting to hate."

"For my part," replied Maud, "I rejoice in the life and movement that presents itself everywhere here."

"But you're a saint, Maud. You like common people. I confess I do not. But to return to the wretched rencontre. As we were gliding amongst the dingeys and skiffs, in which these spoilt people were disporting themselves as though all the lake belonged to them"

"So it does."

"Maud, dear, do not interrupt me. Just as I was thinking how beautiful the scene was—here a boat-load of crowing children and smiling parents—there some lads learning to row—here a party of girls and young men bobbing under a jibboom——"

"I am sure they were all behaving themselves."

"Simply because they had to do so. They knew that if there was any shrieking or rudeness they would be ordered to shore by the ubiquitous Master of Ceremonies who was cruising round. It's no credit for them to behave themselves here; they have to do so."

"They like to," said Maud. "Public opinion is opposed to coarseness and vulgarity. I am sure the lake looked lovely."

"It did. Apart from the animated life on its surface— the miles of golden harvest stretching up the valley amongst the creeper-covered cottages, with patches of cultivation about them; the mills in the distance; the terraced vines putting forth their first rich growth on the hill-sides—the scene was fair enough."

"Then why could you not enjoy it?"

"Just as we hove-to, to watch the scratch eight, who should dash round the steam-launch, on which father and mother and the Dowlings with some Gumford people were standing, but a boat with that girl with a wide-brimmed hat—I'll confess rather becoming—at the tiller-ropes, and Travers pulling! He passed close beside us, shipped oars, and began to wipe his brow and smile and nod at us in his provoking manner, as though nothing ever could disconcert or shame him."

"Why should it?" interjected Maud.

"It spoiled the afternoon for me—the gold-and-green terraces became black—the sounds of merriment grated on my ears. I wished I was anywhere, and that Travers would take himself and his gardener's daughter out of my sight for ever." Hilda's eyes filled with tears as she spoke. Sitting down she began worrying to death a hyacinth.

"Sister dear," reasoned Maud, "he is a good old boy. Mr. Dowling says that the perfection to which he has brought the mechanical appliances on every hand has never been equalled."

"And a pretty pass he's bringing the social life to. You do not know who's who, here. Jack's as good as his master; and his daughter better than her mistress."

"But there is no master-and-servant relationship here. We have left all that behind us."

"Yes, and the good old times, when people knew their place, and good breeding went for something."

"Surely native worth and culture are the main considerations."

"Then family standing and social distinctions are immaterial?"

"Not in the least. Those in whose blood virtue and refinement are so established that the highest qualities have become hereditary, will always be honoured and respected by the wise and good."

"But what have you in common with these people for whom you are always pottering about?"

"A thousand things," replied Maud, with spirit. "Their domestic concerns, their maternal solicitude, their loving and hating—all touch a chord that vibrates in my heart. Mother, daughter, and child, all present points of contact, especially for those of their own sex and age—that does make 'the whole world kin.'"

"But they are dull and uneducated."

"By no means. This girl is as well instructed as you. Far more clever—than I, at least."

"Clever in a way."

"The men, Mr. Dowling, who has observed them closely, says, are, many of them, really intellectual, only needing their hearts to be softened, and the better, unselfish side of their natures to be touched, to make splendid citizens. Mr. Brown thinks the same."

"Of course Mr. Brown agrees with you," said the elder, significantly. "You are all tarred with the same brush, it seems to me. At least he's a gentleman, so I shall not forbid those banns, my dear."

"Do not joke about that, Hilda," said the younger, blushing to the roots of her hair, as on the slightest provocation she was wont to do. "You know he is under a vow of perpetual celibacy. He despises the words-without-deeds of social reformers, and I, too, mean never to marry."

"And so you go about hand-in-hand."

"My dear, we never do."

"I mean, metaphorically, visiting your precious people, hob-nobbing with them, drinking mild tea, in their gossipy bowers."

"Thank you, we do not gossip. We have always something practical to do."

"Yes, and something very impracticable to perform—to be about, always together, a handsome, over-affectionate pair of enthusiasts. Loving all the world, you are never to lose your hearts to each other. Very probable!"

"Of course we shall not. I have, as you know, liked Frank since he was a boy. We are as brother and sister—that is all."

"Why, you are all in all to each other already. You think you are living for these people, you are existing for one another."

"Hilda, it is unkind of you to speak so," said Maud, with some feeling, as she began to roll up her score of varied-shaped calico. "I must go now."

"Not with a frown on your sweet face," said her sister, imprinting a kiss on the smooth brow.

Left to herself, Hilda sat down and pondered.

"It is my duty," she murmured to herself, "for his sake, for all our sakes, for Larry's. Yes, I will do it now, before I relent."

Seizing a piece of note-paper, she hurriedly penned the note she had thought upon many a day. It ran thus—

"White House, Mimosa Vale,
August 1891.

"Dear Miss Elms,

"Our brother's attentions have not escaped us. We know that he is the soul of honour, and that you are as high-spirited and disingenuous as you appear. Before it is too late, allow me to point out that we could never welcome any choice of his from local circles; and that when he marries it should be, in view of the equivocal social relationship in which we are placed here, to one of his own station in life. Assuring you that I write in kindness, and with feelings of highest respect for you as a neighbour,

"Believe me,
"Yours faithfully,
"Hilda Courtenay."

Hurriedly closing the cruel little missive, and seeking the gardener, she commissioned him to let one of the lads deliver it by hand.


The men were streaming homeward from labour in field and mill, garden and vineyard. Children hastening forth to meet them, were hiding tiny hands in hard brown palms, or helping to carry empty lunch-bags. On hundreds of joints the basting was being poured, while children were assembling around simple but well-supplied family boards.

"Good-morning, Gwyneth. Is dinner ready?" was Travers' greeting, as he stood with raised hat at the Sergeant's door.

Hearing a step on the gravel, the girl had hurried to the embowered porch to welcome her father, as she supposed.

"What brings you here?" she demanded, with surprise not unmixed with evident pleasure. "Where is my father?"

"At the canal. He telephoned that he could not return till evening. I thought I would bring word myself. How are you going to repay me."

"With thanks."

"That's not good enough. I must ask myself to your father's dinner. It is a shame it should be wasted. Besides," he added, taking the hesitating girl's arm and leading her into the parlour, where the dinner was laid, "I want to finish our conversation. Come now, you say grace, and I'll carve. The first of many a dinner we will have together, Gwyneth."

"But, Travers, I've been thinking——"

"No, you have not—no second thoughts. I stand by the vow you gave me yesterday. Allow me to help you to this juicy mutton. I've come for the token you promised. I see you are wearing the ring. What does your father say."

"He had not noticed it. I have not told him."

"But you must. Allow me to pour you out some tea."

"Travers, you are incorrigible. You come to preside at my table."

"Long may I do so!"

"You are too rude. Would you usurp my very tea-things?"

The meal, with much lovers' talk, finished, Travers insisted upon being invested with the promised token. After much parley it was brought forth—a silver pocket-case with portrait of Gwyneth and her mother painted on ivory. The case had been her mother's. After a profitable contract, her father had had the two photographs copied, and presented it to his daughter two years before.

"You look, in the portrait, almost as sweet as you are, my Gwyneth."

"Please be sensible."

"You are very much like your mother. She must have been charming."

"Poor thing! She paid dearly for it," said Gwyneth, with a sigh.

"You shall not suffer for your beauty and spirit, my darling."

"I value this," said the girl, "more than anything I possess."

"Save me," suggested the young man.

"And my father."

"Well?"

"I give it to you—though you do not deserve it—for your persistency, on the condition that you permit no one to see it. Rather than be the cause of trouble in the valley, I would do anything," said Gwyneth, with warmth.

"Even to giving me up?"

"I do not say that; but, Travers dear, you must not come to see me so often."

"I shall take the reflection of you here," said the young man, putting the silver case into his breast-pocket; "and in my heart; but I must pop in and see you sometimes."

"Once a week," she suggested.

"Once a day only," he replied, as, snatching a kiss, he leapt the hedge and disappeared.

Meanwhile the form of another man was stealing away through the embowered beds in the opposite direction, muttering to himself—

"No one shall see it! Oh no!"