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the two friends had a consultation over this perplexing matter; and Lauderdale's sketch—rilled in, perhaps, a little from his imagination—of the home she had left, plunged Colin into deeper and deeper thought. "No doubt he'll send some answer," the philosopher said. "He may not bo worthy to have the charge of her, but he's aye her father. It's hard to ken whether it's better or worse that she should be unconscious like this of onything embarrassing in her position, which is a' the more wonderful, as she's a real honest woman, and no way intellectual nor exalted. You and me, Colin," said Lauderdale, looking up in his young companion's face, "must take good care that she does not find it out from us."
"Of course," said Colin, with involuntary testiness; "but I do not see what her father has to do with it," continued the young man. "She cannot possibly return to such a home."
"Her father is the best judge of that," said Lauderdale; "she canna remain with you and me."
And there the conversation dropped —but not the subject. Colin was not in love with Alice; he had, indeed, vague but bright in the clouds before him, an altogether different ideal woman; and his heart was in the career which he again saw opening before him—the life in which he meant to serve God and his country, and which at the present moment would admit of no rashly formed ties. Was it in consequence of these hindrances that this new thing loomed so large before Colin'a inexperienced eyes? H he had longed for it with youthful passion, he would have put force on himself and restrained his longing; but the temptation took another shape. It was as if a maiden knight at the outset of his career had been tempted to pass by a helpless creature and leave her wrongs unredressed. The young Bayard could do anything but this.
In the meantime at least a fortnight
answer to Lauderdale's letter. During that time they returned to all their old habits, with the strange and melancholy difference, that Arthur, once the centre of all, was no longer there. Every day of this time increased the development of Colin's new thoughts, until the unknown father of Alice had grown, in his eyes, into a cruel and profligate tyrant, ready to drag his daughter home and plunge her into depraved society, without any regard for eithcr her happiness or her honour. Colin had, indeed, in his own mind, in strictest privacy and seclusion of thought, indited an imaginary letter, eloquent with youthful indignation, to inform this unworthy parent that his deserted daughter had found a better protector; but he was very silent about these cogitations of his, and did not share them even with Lauderdale. And there were moments when Colin felt the seriousness of the position, and found it very hard that such a necessity should meet him in the face at the beginning of his career. Sometimes in the sudden darkening, out of the rosy clouds which hung over the Campagna, the face of the impossible woman, the ideal creature, her who could have divined the thoughts in his mind and the movements in his heart before they came into being, would glance suddenly out upon him for an instant, and then digappear, waving a shadowy farewell, and leaving in his mind a strange blank, which the sight of Alice rather increased than removed. That ineffable mate and companion was never to be his, the young man thought. True, he had never met her, nor come upon any trace of her footsteps, for Matty Frankland at her best never could have been she. But yet, as long as he was unbound by other tie or affection, this vision was the "not impossible She" to Colin as to all men; and this he had to give up—for Alice, most gentle, patient Alice, whom it was not in the heart of man to be otherwise than tender of—she who had need of him, and whom his very nature bound him to protect and cherish—was not that woman. At other moments he thought training was necessary, and which ho should have entered in the full freedom of his youth, and was profoundly aware of the incumbered and helpless trim in which he must go into the battle, obliged to take thought not of his work only, and the best means of doing it, but of those cares of living which lie so lightly on a young man alone. There may be some of Colin's friends who will think the less of him for this struggle in his mind; and there may be many who will think with justice that, unless he could have offered love to Alice, he had no right to offer her himself and his life—an opinion in which his historian fully agrees. ISut then this gift, though less than the best, was a long way superior to anything else which, at the present moment, was likely to bo offered to the friendless girl. If he could have laid at her feet the heart, which is the only true exchange under such circumstances, the chances are that Alice, in her simplicity and gentleness, would have been sadlypuzzled what to do with that passionate and ungovernable thing. What he really could offer her —affection, tenderness, protection—was clearly comprehensible to her. She had no other idea of love than was included in those attributes and phases of it. These considerations justified Colin in the step which he contemplated—or rather in the step which he did not contemplate, but felt to be necessary and incumbent upon him. It sometimes occurred to him how, if he had been prudent and taken Lauderdale's advice, and eschewed at the beginning the close connexion with Meredith and his sister, which he had entered into with his eyes open, and with a consciousness even that it might affect his life, this embarrassing situation might never have come into being; and then he smiled to himself, with youthful superiority, contemplating what seemed so plainly the meaning of Providence, and asking himself how he, by a momentary exercise of his own will, could have overthrown that distinct celestial intention. On the whole, it was com
been arranged beforehand by agencies so very clear and traceable; and with this conclusion of the argument he left off, as near contented as possible, and not indisposed to enjoy the advantages which were palpably before him; for, though they were not the eyes he had dreamed of, there was a sweetness very well worthy of close study in Alice Meredith's eyes.
The days passed very quietly in this time of suspense. The society of the two strangers, who were more to her in her sorrow than all her kindred, supported the lonely girl more than she was aware of—more than any one could have believed . They were absent during the greater part of the day, and left her unmolested to the tears that would come, notwithstanding all her patience; and they returned to her in the evening with attentions and cares to which she had never been accustomed, devoting two original and powerful minds, of an order at once higher and more homely than any which she had ever encountered, to her amusement and consolation. Alice had never known before what it was to have ordinary life and daily occurrences brightened by the thickcoming fancies, the tender play of word and thought, which now surrounded her. She had heard clever talk afar off, "in society," and been awestricken by the sound of it, and she had heard Arthur and his friends uttering much fine-sounding language upon subjects not generally in her way, but she was utterly unused to that action of uncommon minds upon common things which gives so much charm to the ordinary intercourse of life. All they could think of to lighten the atmosphere of the house in which she sat in her deep mourning, absorbed for hours together in those thoughts of the dead to which her needlework afforded little relief, they did with devotion, suspending their own talk and occupations to occupy themselves with her. Colin read In A/emoriam to her till her heart melted and relieved itself in sweet abundant tears; and Lauderdale talked that common course of humanity, full of sorrows sorer than her own, which fills young minds with awe. Between them they roused Alice to a higher platform, a different atmosphere, than she had known before; and she raised herself up after them with a half-bewildered sense of elevation, not understanding how it was; and so the long days which were so hard, and which nothing in the world could save from being hard, brightened towards the end, not certainly into anything that could be called pleasure, but into a sad expansion and elevation of heart, in which faintly appeared those beginnings of profound and deep happiness which are not incompatible with grief, and yet are stronger and more inspiring than joy. While this was going on, unconsciously to any one concerned, Sora Antonia, in her white kerchief and apron, sometimes knitting, sometimes with her distaff like a buxom Fate, sat and twisted her thread and turned her spindle a little behind yet not out of reach, keeping a wary eye upon her charge. She too interposed, sometimes her own experiences, sometimes her own comments upon life and things in general, into the conversation; and, whether it was that Sora Antonia's mind was really of a superior order, or that the stately Soman speech threw a refining colour upon her narratives, it is certain that the interpellations of the Italian peasant fell without any sensible derogation into the strain of lofty yet familiar talk which was meant to wean Alice from her special grief. Sora Antonia told them of the other Forestieri who had lived like themselves in the Sawelli palace; who had come for health and yet had died, leaving the saddest mourners— helpless widows, and little children, heartbroken fathers and mothers, perhaps the least consolable of all. Life was such, she said solemnly, bowing her stately head. She herself, of a hardy race, and strong, as the Signori saw, had not she buried her children, for whom she would have gladly died 1 But the good God had not permitted her to die. Alico
kissed Sora Antonia, who, for her part, had outlived her tears, and with a natural impulse turned to Colin, who was young, and in whose heart, as in her own, there must live a natural protest against this awful necessity of separation and misery; and thus it came to be Colin's turn to interpose, and he came on the field once more with In Memoriam, and with other poems which were sweet to hear, and soothed her even when she only partly entered into their meaning. A woman has an advantage under such circumstances. By means of her sympathy and gratitude, and the still deeper feeling which grew unconsciously in her heart towards him who read, she came to believe that she too understood and appreciated what was to him so clear and so touching. A kind of spiritual magnetism worked upon Alice, and, to all visible appearance, expanded and enlarged her mind. It was not that her intellect itself grew, or that she understood all the beautiful imaginations, all the tender philosophies thus unfolded to her; but she was united in a singular union of affectionate companionship with those who did understand, and even to herself she appeared able to see, if not with her own eyes at least with theirs, the new beauties and solemnities of which she had not dreamt before. This strange process wont on day by day without any one being aware of it; and even Lauderdale had almost forgotten that their guardianship of Alice was only for the moment, and that the state of affairs altogether was provisionary and could not possibly continue, when an answer reached him to his letter. He was alone when he received it, and all that evening' said nothing on the subject until Alico had retired with her watchful attendant; then, without a word of comment, he put it into Colin's hand. It was written in a stilted hand, like that of one unaccustomed to writing, and was not quite irreproachable even in its spelling. This was what Lauderdale's correspondent said:—
"Sir,—Your letter has had such a bad effect upon the health of my dear husband, that I beg you won't trouble him with any more such communications. If it's meant to get money, that's vain—for neither him nor me knows anything about the friends Arthur may have picked up. If he had stayed at home ho would have received every attention. As for his ungrateful sister, I won't have anything to say to her. Mr. Meredith is very ill, and, for anything I know, may never rise from a bed of sickness, where he has been thrown by hearing this news so sudden; but I take upon me to let her know as he will have nothing to say to one that could behave so badly as she has done. I am always for making friends, but she knows she cannot expect much kindness from me after all that has happened. She has money enough to live on, and she can do as she pleases. Considering what her ingratitude has brought her dear father to, and that I may be left alone to manage everything before many days are past, you will please to consider that hero is an end of it, and not write any more begging letters to me.
This communication Colin read with a beating heart It was so different from what he expected, and left him so free to carry out the dawning resolution which he had imagined himself executing in the face of tyrannical resistance, that he felt at first like a man who has been straining hard at a rope and is suddenly thrown down by the instantaneous stoppage of the pressure on the other side. When he had picked himself up, the facts of the case rushed on him distinct and unmistakable. The time had now come when the lost and friendless maiden stood in the path of the true knight. Was he to leave her there to fight her way in the hard world by herself, without defence or protection, because, sweet and fair and pure as she was, she was not the lady of his dreams? He made up his mind at
but at the same time felt himself saying for ever and ever farewell to that ideal lady who henceforward, in earth or heaven, could never be his. This passed while he was looking at the letter which already his rapid eye had read and comprehended. "So there is an end of your hopes," said Colin. "Now we are the only friends she has in the world—as I have always thought."
"Softly," said Lauderdale. "Callants like you aye rin away with the half of an idea. This is an ignorant woman's letter, that is glad to get rid of her. The father will mend, and then he'll take her out of our hands."
"He shall do nothing of the kind," said Colin, hotly. "You speak as if she was a piece of furniture; I look upon her as a sacred charge. We are responsible to Meredith for his sister's comfort and—happiness," said the young man, who during this conversation preferred not to meet his companion's eye.
"Ay !" said Lauderdale, drily, "that's an awfu' charge for the like of you and me. It's more that I ever calculated on, Colin. To see her safe home, and in the hands of her friends"
"Lauderdalo, do not be so heartless 5 cannot you see that she has no friends?" cried Colin; "not a protector in the world except"
"Callant, dinna deceive yourself," said Lauderdale; "it's no a matter for hasty judgment; we have nae right to pass sentence on a man's character. He's her father, and it's her duty to obey him. I'm no heeding about that silly woman's letter. Mr. Meredith will mend. I'm here to take care of you," said Colin's guardian. "Colin, hold your peace. You're no to do for a moment's excitement, for pity and ruth and your own tender heart, what you may regret all your life. Sit down and keep still . You are only a callant, too young to take burdens on yourself; there is but one way that the like of you can protect the like of her—and that is no to be thought of, as you consented with your own mouth."
"I am aware of that," said Colin, "There is but one way. Matters have changed since we spoke of it first."
"I would like to know how far they have changed," said Lauderdale. '' Colin, take heed to what I say; if it's love I'll no speak a word; I may disapprove a' the circumstances, and find fault with every step ye take; but if it's love"
"Hush!" said Colin, standing upright, and meeting his friend's eye; "if it should happen to be my future wife we are speaking of, my feelings towards her are not to be discussed with any man in the world."
They looked at each other thus for a moment, the one anxious and scrutinizing, the other facing him with blank brightness, and a 6mile which afforded no information. Perhaps Lauderdale understood all that was implied in that blank; at all events, his own delicate sense of honour could not refuse to admit Colin's plea. He turned away, shaking his head, and groaning privately under his breath; while Colin, struck with compunction, having shut himself up for an instant, unfolded again, that crisis being over, with all the happy grace of apology natural to his disposition. "You are not 'any man in the world,'" he said with a short laugh, which implied emotion. "Forgive mo, Lauderdale; and now you know very well what I am going to do."
"Oh ay, I ken what you are going to do; I kent three months ago, for that matter," said the philosopher. "A man acts no from circumstances, as is generally supposed, but from his ain nature." When he had given forth this oracular utterance, Lauderdale went straight off to his room without exchanging another word with Colin. He was satisfied in a way with this mate for his charge, and belonged to too lowly a level of society to give profound importance to the inexpediency of early marriages—and he was fond of Alice, and admired her sweet looks and sweet ways, and respected her self-command and patience; nevertheless, he too sighed, and recognised the departure of the ideal woman, who to him as little as to Colin resembled Alice —and thus it was understood between
All this, it maybe imagined, was little compatible with that reverential regard for womankind in general which both the friends entertained, and evidenced a security in respect to Alice's inclinations which was not altogether complimentary to her. And yet it was highly complimentary in a sense; for this security arose from their appreciation of the spotless unawakened heart with which they had to deal. If Colin entertained little doubt of being accepted when he made his proposition, it was not because he had an overweening idea of himself, or imagined Alice "in love" with him according to the vulgar expression. A certain chivalrous, primitive sense of righteous and natural necessity was in his confidence. The forlorn maiden, knowing the knight to be honest and true, would accept his protection loyally and simply, without bewildering herself with dreams of choice where no choice was, and having accepted would love and cleave as was her nature. To be sure there were types of woman less acquiescent; and we have already said that Alice did not bear the features of the ideal of which Colin had dreamed; but such was the explanation of his confidence. Alice showed little distress when she saw her stepmother's letter except for her father's illness, though even that seemed rather consolatory to her than otherwise, as a proof of his love for Arthur. As for Mrs. Meredith's refusal to interfere on her behalf, she was clearly relieved by the intimation; and things went on as before for another week or two, until Sora Antonia, who had now other tenants arriving and many occupations in hand, began to murmur a little over the watch which she would not relinquish. "Is it thus young ladies are left in England," she asked with a little indignation, "without any one to take care of them except the Signori, who, though amiable and excellent, are only men 1 or when may Madama be expected from England who is to take charge of the Signorina?" It was after this question had been put to