The Woman's Way
The Woman's Way
by Frances Hodgson
THERE was foreign blood in her veins; anybody could see that, not only by her dark little foreign face, and big, fringed, uncanny black eyes, but by her scornful ways, and queer, high-handed fashions, that were so different from other people. I have seen a great many English, and Irish, and Scotch girls in my time, and I never saw an English, Irish or Scotch girl who could flare up and fly into a passion and out of one in a breath as Fulvia Desmond could, and be so daring in a highhanded, scornful way. She never seemed to care for what people said, or to be afraid of anything in the wide world, and many a time since I first began to understand her, have I been thankful that I did not do the poor forlorn young creature any greater injustice than to think at times that her neglected childhood had made her something uncaring for the feelings of those about her. Yes, there was foreign blood in her veins, and I said so to myself the very first instant I set eyes upon her; and I found out, very soon afterward, that I had not been mistaken.
I am an old woman now, but I have not forgotten, and don't think I ever shall forget the night she came to Ballomuith, which was the name of Mr. Alexander Muith's estate in the north of Ireland, and where I had been living for many a year as nurse and housekeeper to Mr. Muith's nephew and niece, who were his adopted children. It's as fresh in my mind this minute as ever it was—the way that strange, young thing marched into the old dining-hall, where I was sitting with the children before the big peat fire in the huge old fire-place. It was mid-winter, and a bad enough night at that, and we had had no warning whatever of her coming until we heard the stage slough through the mud in the road and then stop before the door for someone to get out. We were just wondering who it could be, when the door opened, and she marched in, looking as unconcerned as if she did not care whether we expected her or not. And she didn't care, either, for she told us so afterward, and certainly she did not look as if she cared much when she walked up to Alexander and spoke to him, looking straight into his face with her big, scornful black eyes.
"I am Fulvia Desmond," she says to him, "and Mr. Alexander Muith sent me here to be taken care of."
Whereupon my Alexander began to laugh in his light-hearted way. (I always call the children by their Christian names, and I am not likely to do otherwise, considering that they have been like my own flesh and blood all their lives, and though Alex was twenty-four at the time, and Cathie nearly twenty, they were always "the children" with me).
"And I am sure we are glad to see you, Miss Fulvia Desmond," he said, laughing as hard as he could, "and we are much obliged to Uncle Alexander for doing us so much honor. Welcome to Ballomuith. Cathie, this is Miss Fulvia Desmond—Miss Fulvia Desmond, this is nurse Ferguson, who has taken care of us since Mr. Muith declined the pleasurable task about twenty years ago."
She did not say a word—just looked at him, and then turned round to Cathie, who had risen to greet her.
Cathie was like Alex in her warm-hearted Irish way, and she went to the queer little creature and would have kissed her, but Fulvia Desmond made no attempt to meet her, and there was not a shadow of any feeling but deliberate curiosity in her black eyes; so Cathie stopped half-way, blundering out a few good-natured words and then broke down.
It was a bad enough beginning, and the rest of the evening seemed to promise a worse ending. Miss Fulvia Desmond would not talk, but sat silent, on one of the broad, old-fashioned foot-stools, and stared into the fire. Mr. Alexander Muith had sent no letter of explanation, and all that we learned was that, when her mother, who was a Frenchwoman, had died a month before in Boulogne, he had come for her and sent her to Ballomuith.
Cathie was full of pity when she told us this, and she spoke out and told her so in that straightforward way I have always taught the children to have; for, as I have said to them often, it is better to risk not being understood than risk losing the chance of saying a kind word to those who need it.
But when Cathie sympathized with her over her mother's death, and said she was sorry, the girl looked up from the fire a minute and stared at her with a queer look in her eyes that was like a flash of the flames.
"I wasn't sorry," she said quite coolly. "I was glad. She was a bad woman."
I had my doubts from that moment about that mother of hers. It was not natural for a young thing, little more than a child, to have the hard, defiant look Fulvia Desmond had; and it was quit e natural that the neglect of a bad mother should have made a neglected child reckless and bitter-natured; so, if I did not like Fulvia Desmond after hearing her make that speech, I did not blame her much. And when Mr. Alexander Muith took it into his crotchety head to write to us from Dublin, I found out I had not been wrong in suspecting what I did. Her mother had been the worst of bad women. She had run away from her husband with a French officer, when Fulvia was a baby, and the child had been dragged through all her shameful wanderings, more because she could not easily get rid of her than because she had any feeling for the poor,little forsaken thing. It was not a wonder that the child was proud, and obstinate and suspicious.
"She used to beat me," she told us once, in her deliberate fashion. "She beat me once with a horse-whip that belonged to one of the men who used to come to see us, and she beat me till the blood was running down my back; and when I fought and tried to strike her again, the man laughed—he laughed at me." And she stamped her vicious little foot, with her eyes all in a blaze.
Such speeches as these were the keynotes to her whole nature. The shame and misery of her childhood had left traces in every feeling she had. Baby as she had been, she had felt the full sting of her wretched, outcast life, perhaps because the degradation around her had made her otherwise.
Since I first came to Ballomuith myself, when Cathie was a baby, and Alexander not more than four years old, Mr. Alexander Muith had not been to see us more than a dozen times, and after Fulvia came, we heard nothing from him beyond the explanatory letter, which was as short and businesslike as possible. The girl had money from her father, he said, and she was to be taken good care of. Alexander was old enough to act as the head of our little family, and there the matter seemed to end, as far as the old gentleman was concerned; but he was an eccentric old fellow and we had learned to understand him; so we did not trouble him with any further enquiries, and went on as usual, living in our quiet way. I often used to wonder how it would have been if I had not cared for the children as I did, or if some other woman had been chosen to take my place. Ballomuith was a great, barren, uncultivated estate, and the House, as the people called it, was a huge, and rambling, and barren a place as could be; so we had lived in a queer, lonely, independent sort of fashion. But Fulvia Desmond's coming made a little change. In course of time, when we began to understand her queer ways, she was a great deal of company for us. She had seen so much of the world in her wandering, vagabond life, that nothing was new to her, and, indeed, she sometimes startled me with the odd stories she told; but she always told them innocently, I know, and I was not afraid that anything she would say could harm Cathie. Many a time after she came to Ballomuith did we sit by the peat-fire and listen to her telling about the satins, and velvets, and diamonds, and fine things the people wore who crowded about the little tables in her mother's house to play cards and dice (she had queer French names for the games) for piles of gold pieces. She used to creep to the door and watch them, she said, and sometimes, as the men came out, they would toss her money, but her mother always took it from her.
But she never told such stories before Alex, I noticed. I used to think sometimes that she did not like him, for though she made friends with Cathie in time, she never made friends with Alex, and never even altered her scornful way toward him. But that Alex liked her it was very easy to see. In his stay-at-home, careless life, he had seen very few women except the red-cloaked colleens who rode to market in their jaunting cars with butter and eggs to sell; and Fulvia Desmond's high-handed way was the very thing to take the fancy of my light-hearted, easy-natured Alex. She was so passionate and imperious, and cared so little for him that, of course, man-like, he was ready to let her trample on him if she chose, and never lose a touch of his gay good temper. And then there was an odd sort of fascination about the girl. Her mother's French blood showed itself in a hundred different ways, but most of all in her looks and her fondness for dress. She had never been stinted in dress, it was easy to see, for when her trunks came they were loaded with French finery of all kinds—queer little high-heeled slippers, all rosettes and big buckles, such as we had only seen in old-fashioned pictures, though they were new-fashioned enough, it seemed; queer, oddly-made dresses, trimmed and trained and puffed out in a way that made us open our ignorant eyes; and such boxes full of ribbons, and velvets, and laces as Cathie could never have worn in a dozen years. But Fulvia wore them every day, though very few people ever saw her beside we three and the servants. And she was generous enough with them, too. She would give them to Cathie, and took as much pride in dressing the girl up to her fanciful notions as Cathie took in being dressed; but though she was always sweet and pretty enough, no dressing ever made Cathie look like Fulvia. She had not her odd, fiery way and quick motions to begin with, and though Fulvia always looked better for her high -heeled French shoes, with their buckles and rosettes, and the grand French dresses, with their trimmings and furbelows, I always thought Cathie seemed more at home in the plain frocks I had always seen her wear.
But the sharp tongue and black eyes and fantastic dresses bewitched Alex until his head was almost turned. He had been used to spending nearly all his time out of doors, shooting and fishing; but after Fulvia came he began to remain at home, and, if he went out, never stayed long, and never came home without bringing his game to her. But she never treated him very well, and she often treated him very ill. And yet she was by no means ill-natured toward the rest of us. She would quarrel with Cathie sometimes, and quarrel with me, but she was always passionately affectionate and always ready to make sacrifices; and I never knew her to break her word in my life. She had strange, independent notions, too, though we never found them out unless by the merest accident, as it seemed, for she was very apt to keep what she thought to herself when it was not anybody's business.
"How old is he?" she asked Cathie abruptly one day, making a little, half-contemptuous gesture towards Alex as he was leaving the room.
"He is twenty-four," Cathie answered surprisedly. "Why, Fulvia?"
"I was wondering why he stays here," was the short answer.
"Stays here!" says Cathie innocently. "Where should he stay but here? We have lived at Ballomuith ever since Mr. Alexander Muith first began to take care of us."
"Take care of you!" repeated Fulvia with her most scornful face. "I should think he could take care of himself—he's old enough. Bah!"
Cathie opened her eyes in a sort of trouble. She was a little afraid of these scornful words of Fulvia's.
"You—you are not angry, Fulvia, are you?" she stammered. "Not angry with Alex, I mean. I don't quite understand you."
Fulvia turned her shoulder upon her snappishly, and held her bit of a slipper over the fire to warm.
"No," she said. "What should I be angry with him for? I don't care anything about him. He has nothing to do with me."
But, being a little out of patience with her, I fired up a trifle myself and spoke out.
"Then, if you are not vexed with Alex, what do you snap at him for?" I said. "Snap at those who fret you, and not at those who don't. You are too ready with your tongue, it seems to me, Fulvia Desmond."
She turned upon me like fire, with her big black eyes all in a blaze.
"Mind your own business!" she says, as vicious as you please. "I don't want you to meddle with me."
But I did not care for that, for I knew it was nothing but temper, and she bore me no ill-will; and, for the matter of that, before ten minutes were out it was all blown over. But for two or three days after she scarcely condescended to notice Alex, and was so ill-natured with him that he got quite discouraged, and came to me for comfort, as he always did.
It was the day after she had spoken to Cathie that he came to me as I was sewing in my small sitting-room, and he threw himself on the floor at my feet and laid his head on my lap, as he had a fashion of doing.
"Faith, but she's a vixen!" he said, in his light-hearted fashion, but I knew he was vexed in the face of it. "She's a vixen, isn't she, Norah?"
"Who?" I asked, pretending to be as careless as he was.
"Who?" says he. "Who but Miss Fulvia, to be sure. What other vixen have we here but Miss Fulvia, and isn't she vixen enough entirely for one establishment?" with a nonsensical bit of a brogue.
"Oh!" I answered. "If it's her you're talking about, I wouldn't mind anything she says. She doesn't mean any great harm, though she's sour enough sometimes."
"Aye!" says he, sharply; "and sweet enough, too."
I looked down at him in a minute, and he raised his eyes to mine and half laughed in spite of the fret that was on his handsome face.
"Aye!" I said, sharply, too, for my heart was in my mouth, through a new thought that came to me all of a sudden. "You don't mean to say you've been simple enough to take a fancy to her, Alex Muith?"
He laughed again, with the fret still on his white forehead, under the yellow curls.
"Just that simple, Norah, avoureen," was his answer. "Just simple enough to love the little vixen desperately, but not so simple as to think she cares enough for me even to be civil."
Well, this was a sort of blow to me, to tell the truth, though I ought to have had sense enough to see how things were going on; but somehow this was the first time I had thought of my boy's being more than a boy, and old enough to care for pretty faces, after man-fashion.
But though this was the first time we talked about Fulvia Desmond in such a manner, it was not the last. As time went on, Alex seemed to care for her more, and she, for her part, seemed only to care for him less. She slighted him a dozen times in a day, and sometimes treated him so badly that I could not understand it, for she was, heart and soul, fond of Cathie. Living as we did, alone in the big, old, half-empty barracks of a house, and with so few people about us, of course we were nearly dependent on each other for amusement; and when she was in the humor, Fulvia Desmond could have cheered up a wilderness with her fantastic, whimsical nonsense; but she never tried to amuse Alex. She could dress, and dance, and tell stories, and chatter like a jay for Cathie and me when we were alone together, but she was always scornful and indifferent to Alex.
"I'm out of heart to-day, Norah, acushla," he would say to me every now and then, for though I was getting to be an elderly woman, the children still held to their old pet names for me. "I'm out of heart to-day, Norah, acushla. Her ladyship is sharper than ever." And then he would laugh, but his fair face was never quite free from the fret even when he laughed the most.
But, though he bore it patiently for a long time, one day he took her to task about it.
"You don't like me, Cousin Fulvia," he said to her, half in jest, as usual. "You don't like me even well enough to be civil—asking pardon for saying so. I should like to know what I have done, if it pleases you to tell me?"
She opened her big scornful eyes wide, and stared at him as if it would be a condescension to answer him; but she did answer him, notwithstanding.
"You don't know what you are talking about," she said, not as politely as she might have done. "You have done nothing. Nothing you could do would have anything to do with me. I don't care anything at all about you."
"Thank you," he said, looking a trifle pale and knitting his forehead, for she had raised his temper at last. "I suppose that means I'm not worth the troubling after."
"It means whatever you choose to think it means," she said viciously, "or it means nothing at all. I tell you I don't care anything at all about it."
"Very well," said Alex. "If that's it, I won't trouble you again. I will keep out of your way, Miss Fulvia Desmond."
I was sitting on the other side of the fire, and looked up at this, and was surprised to see that she was pale, too; and I had an idea that she had turned pale all of a sudden, but she looked angry enough, and gave her little foot a bit of a stamp on the hearth-flag.
"You don't trouble me, I tell you," she said. "You couldn't trouble me if you tried."
Now I knew there was something at the bottom of this. If she had been a different girl, I should have thought that maybe she had some little spite against him; but there never was any spite in Fulvia, if she did have a temper, and so I was sure there must be a reason for her dislike for Alex, and so I watched her, but for several days I found out nothing. Alex kept out of her way, as he said he would. He, began to fish and shoot again, as he used to do, staying out whole days, and never even coming home to his meals; and when he did come home he scarcely took any notice of her at all, but would go whistling by her through the house as if she had never been about.
But one night, going accidentally into her room, as I opened the door I heard the sound of low, passionate sobbing, and advancing toward the fire, found Fulvia crouched down in one corner of a big chair, crying, with her head resting on her arms.
She started up when she saw me, and finding that she could not hide the truth, spoke to me angrily.
"What do you want?" she said. "I wish you would let me alone."
I was determined to sift the matter to the bottom, so I walked to the door and shut it, and then came back again deliberately and sat down.
"I want to know what you are crying for, Fulvia Desmond," I said.
"I am not crying," she answered boldly.
"That's not true," I answered her back. "You are crying, or you were when I came in; and as I was put here to take care of you, I mean to know the reason why."
"You'll have to find out for yourself, then," she said sullenly; and then all at once she broke down and dashed her face on to her folded arms, and began to cry again. "I wish I was dead!" she cried out. "I wish I had never been born! I wish I could die this minute!"
"You'd better not wish that," I said dryly. "You might be sorry if your wish was granted. You are not exactly in a fit condition to die this minute."
"It doesn't matter," she said passionately. "Who cares? Who would care if I died to-night? Cathie might for a day or so, but nobody else would."
I did not take any notice of this speech, because I thought best to let it pass; so I turned quietly to the subject I wanted to clear up.
"What made you quarrel with Alex the other day?" I said. "He is always good-natured enough with you."
"I didn't quarrel with him," she said. "Why can't he let me alone?"
"He never troubles you," I said.
She stopped crying all in a minute, and lifted her face up and looked at me.
"You don't know what you are talking about," now she said. "I am not Catharine Muith; I am Fulvia Desmond."
"I don't see where there need be a difference," I said.
"Difference!" she echoed, with her face on fire. "I don't see how the two could be alike."
"Why not?" I asked her, feeling puzzled, though I knew I was coming to the secret.
"Men don't speak to her as they speak to me," she said, flaring up. "She has not lived as I have, dragged about among bad men and women all her life. She has not the black blood in her veins that I have. Her mother was not an outcast, with a mark of shame branded on her forehead. She is Catharine Muith, and I—well, I am Fulvia Desmond, and that is saying enough."
I had got to the bottom of the secret now, and having got to the bottom of it, scarcely knew what to say. It was bitter shame, it seemed, not a girl's whim or petty spite; it was the remembrance of her neglected childhood, the burning, shameful wrong that had been done to her, that made her passionate and bitter.
"I have seen men speak to my mother," she went on, with her face buried on her arms, and her black hair hanging over them, "and I knew what their fine speeches meant, if I was a child. They used to laugh and jeer at her, when her back was turned, and sneer at the wrinkles and paint on her face; and once I saw her sit before her mirror and cry, with the tears running down her cheeks over the powder and rouge, because she heard them. It was the only time I ever felt sorry for her, but I did feel sorry for her then, and I made up my mind that no man should jeer at me or make me listen to him. He"—she meant Alex—"knows I am not like Cathie, and I hate him for it. I hate him!"
She was shaking all over with sobs, and when I tried to comfort her I knew very well that nothing I could say would have any effect. She would have reasoned out of them in a night, so I said very little, though what I did say was to the point, and at last she sobbed and raged herself quiet, with her face still hidden.
"And then, what does he stay here for?" she broke out resentfully. "He is not a child, he is a man. What right has he to let Mr. Muith take care of him? He is old enough to take care of himself, and not live here, from year to year, hunting and fishing, and spending other people's money. I am only a woman, but I would not live here if I had money of my own. I don't blame Cathie; but I only came to Ballomuith because I wanted to hide away from everybody and be out of the way of the world. A man has no right to live as he is doing—and that makes me hate him, too."
I did not say very much in answer to that speech, either. I had determined to leave everything to Alex, and, perhaps, I was not really sorry for the last part of her outbreak. I had cared so much for the children, and so much for Alex, particularly, that I had sometimes secretly wished he was more ambitious and less easy-natured. Not that I could blame him exactly, for Mr. Alexander Muith had taken him so completely in charge all his life, and seemed to set aside so completely any idea of his working for a living, that it would scarcely have been natural for him to be other than careless and easy-going.
I did not even wait for the next day to tell Alex how matters were standing. I went to him in his room that very night, after I left Fulvia, and repeated to him word for word what she had said.
He turned pale then in real earnest, and began to walk up and down the floor, and walked so for fully five minutes before he said a word, but he turned round at last and broke the silence.
"That's it, is it?" he said. "I can't stand that, Norah. I can't stand that, upon my soul. You must help me, Norah, dear, and tell me what to do." And there were actually drops of perspiration on his forehead as he dropped into his chair again and hid his face in his hands.
It scarcely matters telling now what we said to each other during the rest of the time we stayed together. It is quite sufficient at present to say that we made some plans of our own, and that, after I left him, he sat down and wrote a long letter to Mr. Alexander Muith in Dublin.
He did not alter his manner toward Fulvia much, though, for the next two or three days, he was not quite so indifferent to her presence, and certainly she did not alter her manner toward him at all. She was as high-handed and scornful as ever, and had as little to say. She was not even as good-natured toward Cathie, and once or twice she snapped at me more viciously than I had ever known her to do before; but I set it all down to her trouble and passed it over.
She was in one of her worst moods one night when we were all sitting together in the old dining-hall, and after making two or three vicious speeches, she stopped talking altogether, and had been sitting in silence for half an hour, staring into the fire with that queer expression in her big, black, foreign-looking eyes, when Alex, who had been out all day, came in with a letter from Dublin in his hand. He was rather pale, and the old fret was on his fair face, but he tossed the letter to me and flung himself into a chair.
"It's done, Norah, creena," he said, trying to smile. "It's as you said it would be; but I am going for all that."
Cathie looked up with a start, and I fancied that Fulvia started, too, but she did not raise her black eyelashes.
"Going!" said Cathie. "And where is it you are going to, Alex, dear?"
Alex looked at Fulvia Desmond for a minute, and then answered her.
"To Australia, Cathie," he said. "What do you think of that?"
Cathie broke into a little cry and sat up, staring at him with a frightened face.
"You are not in real earnest, Alex," she burst out. "You cannot mean what you say. You are joking us."
He shook his yellow curls back from his forehead, still looking at Fulvia.
"Not a bit of it, mavourneen," he said. "Not a taste of a joke. I am in earnest this time. I am going to Australia, for Fulvia's sake."
Fulvia did start then in honest truth, and she changed color, too, but she did not look at him, and he went on talking, and the queer part of it was that, though he was talking to Cathie, he was watching Fulvia all the time.
"I am going for Miss Fulvia's sake, Cathie," he said; "and it was she put it into my head to go, though she never said a word to me about it. Fulvia thinks a man has no right to live the life I have been living, and she is right. I have been an idle sort of good-for-nothing, but I am going to try to behave myself better, because, you see, I care for Fulvia, though she does not care for me, and never will. I love Fulvia, though she does not love me; and I would go to the world's end to win a good word from Fulvia, though Fulvia would rather die than look at me this minute, and would give old Lion in his kennel, out in the court-yard there, a hundred good words, where she would not give me one if I went down on my knees to ask her for it."
If I were to live a hundred years I should never forget Fulvia Desmond's face as it was that minute. It was white as death, and though her eyes were fixed steadily on the peat fire, they were like burning coals themselves. There were little lines on her forehead, too, and her mouth was set hard. I saw this for a minute, while Alex was speaking, and then there was a little rustle and a rush, and she had run out of the room and banged the door after her.
Well, here was an end of that night; but, two or three days later, Mr. Alexander Muith came down to Ballomuith, from Dublin, in a towering passion. His answer to Alex's letter had shown that he was angry, but even I had not expected that he would be as wild as he was. He stormed at Alex as if he was frantic. He had chosen to bring him up like a gentleman, he said, and he should not make a fool of himself now. Ballomuith would belong to him some day, and so would his own property, and on the interest he might amuse himself as he pleased; he might travel or stay at home, but he should not throw himself away in any Australian bush, like a beggarly adventurer, or do anything else.
"You're a fool, sir!" he said, when Alex tried to reason the matter. "You are worse—you're a madman. You ought to be locked up in a madhouse, and put into a straight-jacket. I choose to have one gentleman in the family, and I am going to have one; and if you are not willing to fill the position, you can go to Australia or to the devil, and I will find someone who will fill it, for you don't get a shilling from me—so there the matter ends."
Of course, this was rather embarrassing for Alex, for he had nowhere else to look to, but his love for Fulvia had given him new ideas about life, so he held firm to his resolve, and told Mr. Muith that he meant to hold to it as a matter of conscience. And he was in earnest, too, for he was a brave-natured fellow, my Alex, and had only needed a touch to set his feet on the right track; and once having taken to it, he was not the one to falter before a bit of trouble.
"I have been a good-for-nothing, Norah," he had said to me, "but somehow I never thought of it before; and now I feel ashamed of myself, and I can't go back, even if I lose Fulvia herself."
Through all the two or three days' trouble that followed the old gentleman's coming Fulvia had nothing to say, and kept out of the way as much as she could. But, through watching closely, I could see a queer change in her. She did not look like herself, and I noticed that she had scarcely any appetite at all, though she made pretence enough of eating. There was an odd look about her mouth, too. I always could read her moods by the way she had of setting her mouth, so that there was a little hard line about each corner, and there was this look about it from morning till night. But she took no notice of Alex, only walked about stiff and quiet and said nothing. Between Cathie and her there was a sort of coldness, though I always thought the fault lay more on Cathie's side than on Fulvia's this time. The fact was, Cathie blamed her for the way she had treated Alex, and blamed her, too, for being the cause of his going away, for Alex had been Cathie's idol, and she could not bear the idea of losing him, and fretted dreadfully.
"It is all her fault that he is going into the world without a friend, Norah," she would say. "I used to care for Fulvia, but I shall never care for her again if Alex leaves us."
Indeed, between the four of them, I had a hard time of it, for what with the old gentleman growling, Cathie fretting, and Fulvia walking about like a ghost, there was no peace to be had.
But it was settled at last, though it was settled miserably enough for poor Alex. He was to go away as soon as he could get ready, and was to expect nothing more from his uncle, who went back to Dublin as soon as ever he found he could not frighten him out of his resolution. And so we began to make preparations between us, Cathie and I, and Alex made preparations, too, and Fulvia looked on without a word for two or three weeks.
But one night, after she had been sitting over the fire for a long time as usual, she got up from her place all at once and came to the table where Cathie was sewing with me.
"Let me help you," she said abruptly, "I can sew well enough. Let me do something."
All the time I had lived there I had never seen Cathie fire up as she did at that minute.
"No!" she said. "You shall not help. You shall not set a stitch on, Fulvia Desmond. But for you we had no need to have the work to do. It's your doing, and it's you that's to blame if Alex never comes back again, and dies thousands of miles away without seeing any of us."
It seemed as if every drop of blood died out of Fulvia's face. She just stood up for a minute, straight by the table, and as still as death, and then she went back to her seat again without uttering a word. And she did not utter a word for three hours after. It was a fierce battle she had with herself, I know, when all was over, still as she sat, and steadfast as she looked. I thought, for my part, that she was going to sit there all night. I should not have been at all surprised if she had done so. Cathie had been gone to bed full an hour, and Alex and I had been talking together for a long time, and she was still sitting there when Alex got up to go, too, and he had bidden her good night and reached the door before she said a word. But as he laid his hand upon the handle, I saw her face flash up and turn white, and her breast began to heave, and then all in a minute it seemed she sprang up and turned on him like some wild, hunted thing at bay.
"Stay!" she said. "Come back! Norah, make him come back."
He was face to face with her in a minute, though he was even more bewildered than I was at first; but the moment he came back I saw what was the matter, and how it was all going to end.
"You shall not go away!" she cried out, panting and trembling and sobbing all at once. "You shall not go. They shall not blame me for that; they shall not dare to do it. Besides, I cannot bear it, either," catching her breath and holding her clenched hand hard against her heart. "If you are going away because you love me, stay because you love me. I would not tell you before, but now—now I must tell you, because it would kill me to hide it. I love you, too. I would die for you. I will do anything you say I must do. I will give up everything. I have been bad enough, but I give up now. Only, don't go away; or, if you must go, take me with you, if it is to the world's end. I love you—yes, I love you, and if you leave me I shall go mad or die!" And she fell upon her knees, burying her face in her arms upon the footstool, and trembling like a leaf.
I never dreamed of such a tempest being in the girl's nature, fiery as I knew she was. She had broken down utterly at last, and was more at his mercy than any other girl could possibly have been.
Alex was down on the hearth beside her in a second, and had her in his arms and was kissing her as if he had gone crazy, and calling her all the frantic love names in the world, and coaxing her like a child; while she, poor, wronged young creature, never even tried to get away from him, but clung to his shoulder, sobbing and shaking and taking his kisses and coaxing as if it was the breath of new life to her. I felt out of place a little, seeing that all was going right, so I crept out of the room and shut the door softly behind me so as not to disturb them; and then I slipped upstairs to Cathie and wakened her to tell her about it.
The girl sat up in bed and listened to me with her eyes wide open, like great violets with the dew on them, and she turned from red to white, and from white to red; and, of course, girl-like, changed her mind about Fulvia in a minute, and cried over what I said as a child might cry for joy and excitement and bewildered happiness.
"And he won't go away?" she said, over and over again. "He won't go away, will he, Norah? And they'll be married, won't they? And we will all live together, and it will be like the old times, only maybe Fulvia will be happy."
There never were three people happier than those three children were when everything was settled and straightened out, as of course it was; and there never was a girl changed as was Fulvia Desmond. It seemed as if all her old scornful ways were lost in her love for Alex; and the soft, little, timid shyness which stole into her manner made her more like a young girl, and less like a hard, bitter-natured woman. And though Mr. Alexander Muith changed his mind, and came round in time, Alex held to his plans; and though, for Cathie's sake, he did not go to Australia, he went to work on Ballomuith, and fought hard, too, with the old, easy-going, careless way of the place and people, and in enriching the estate by his labor and management, enriched himself, too; so that at this day they stand as high as the highest; and I have reason to be prouder of my children than ever, for Fulvia is the greatest lady in the country, and her handsome children are the pride of the county.