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- Mrs. Skaggs's Husbands - 5/23 -
stories you tell of your adventures. Won't you tell some now? Do! How you must tire of us and this artificial life here, so frightfully artificial, you know" (in a confidential whisper); "and then to think of the days when you roamed the great West with the Indians, and the bisons, and the grizzly bears! Of course, you have seen grizzly bears and bisons?"
"Of course he has, dear," said Blanche, a little pettishly, throwing a cloak over her shoulders, and seizing her chaperon by the arm; "his earliest infancy was soothed by bisons, and he proudly points to the grizzly bear as the playmate of his youth. Come with me, and I'll tell you all about it. How good it is of you," she added, sotto voce, to Islington, as he stood by the carriage,--"how perfectly good it is of you to be like those animals you tell us of, and not know your full power. Think, with your experiences and our credulity, what stories you MIGHT tell! And you are going to walk? Good night, then." A slim, gloved hand was frankly extended from the window, and the next moment the carriage rolled away.
"Isn't Islington throwing away a chance there?" said Captain Merwin, on the veranda.
"Perhaps he couldn't stand my lovely aunt's superadded presence. But then, he's the guest of Blanche's father, and I dare say they see enough of each other as it is."
"But isn't it a rather dangerous situation?"
"For him, perhaps; although he's awfully old, and very queer. For her, with an experience that takes in all the available men in both hemispheres, ending with Nugat over there, I should say a man more or less wouldn't affect her much, anyway. Of course," he laughed, "these are the accents of bitterness. But that was last year."
Perhaps Islington did not overhear the speaker; perhaps, if he did, the criticism was not new. He turned carelessly away, and sauntered out on the road to the sea. Thence he strolled along the sands toward the cliffs, where, meeting an impediment in the shape of a garden wall, he leaped it with a certain agile, boyish ease and experience, and struck across an open lawn toward the rocks again. The best society of Greyport were not early risers, and the spectacle of a trespasser in an evening dress excited only the criticism of grooms hanging about the stables, or cleanly housemaids on the broad verandas that in Greyport architecture dutifully gave upon the sea. Only once, as he entered the boundaries of Cliffwood Lodge, the famous seat of Renwyck Masterman, was he aware of suspicious scrutiny; but a slouching figure that vanished quickly in the lodge offered no opposition to his progress. Avoiding the pathway to the lodge, Islington kept along the rocks until, reaching a little promontory and rustic pavilion, he sat down and gazed upon the sea.
And presently an infinite peace stole upon him. Except where the waves lapped lazily the crags below, the vast expanse beyond seemed unbroken by ripple, heaving only in broad ponderable sheets, and rhythmically, as if still in sleep. The air was filled with a luminous haze that caught and held the direct sunbeams. In the deep calm that lay upon the sea, it seemed to Islington that all the tenderness of culture, magic of wealth, and spell of refinement that for years had wrought upon that favored shore had extended its gracious influence even here. What a pampered and caressed old ocean it was; cajoled, flattered, and feted where it lay! An odd recollection of the turbid Stanislaus hurrying by the ascetic pines, of the grim outlines of Deadwood Hill, swam before his eyes, and made the yellow green of the velvet lawn and graceful foliage seem almost tropical by contrast. And, looking up, a few yards distant he beheld a tall slip of a girl gazing upon the sea,-- Blanche Masterman.
She had plucked somewhere a large fan-shaped leaf, which she held parasol-wise, shading the blond masses of her hair, and hiding her gray eyes. She had changed her festal dress, with its amplitude of flounce and train, for a closely fitting half-antique habit whose scant outlines would have been trying to limbs less shapely, but which prettily accented the graceful curves and sweeping lines of this Greyport goddess. As Islington rose, she came toward him with a frankly outstretched hand and unconstrained manner. Had she observed him first? I don't know.
They sat down together on a rustic seat, Miss Blanche facing the sea, and shading her eyes with the leaf.
"I don't really know how long I have been sitting here," said Islington, "or whether I have not been actually asleep and dreaming. It seemed too lovely a morning to go to bed. But you?"
From behind the leaf, it appeared that Miss Blanche, on retiring, had been pursued by a hideous winged bug which defied the efforts of herself and maid to dislodge. Odin, the Spitz dog, had insisted upon scratching at the door. And it made her eyes red to sleep in the morning. And she had an early call to make. And the sea looked lovely.
"I'm glad to find you here, whatever be the cause," said Islington, with his old directness. "To-day, as you know, is my last day in Greyport, and it is much pleasanter to say good by under this blue sky than even beneath your father's wonderful frescos yonder. I want to remember you, too, as part of this pleasant prospect which belongs to us all, rather than recall you in anybody's particular setting."
"I know," said Blanche, with equal directness, "that houses are one of the defects of our civilization; but I don't think I ever heard the idea as elegantly expressed before. Where do you go?"
"I don't know yet. I have several plans. I may go to South America and become president of one of the republics,--I am not particular which. I am rich, but in that part of America which lies outside of Greyport it is necessary for every man to have some work. My friends think I should have some great aim in life, with a capital A. But I was born a vagabond, and a vagabond I shall probably die."
"I don't know anybody in South America," said Blanche, languidly. "There were two girls here last season, but they didn't wear stays in the house, and their white frocks never were properly done up. If you go to South America, you must write to me."
"I will. Can you tell me the name of this flower which I found in your greenhouse. It looks much like a California blossom."
"Perhaps it is. Father bought it of a half-crazy old man who came here one day. Do you know him?"
Islington laughed. "I am afraid not. But let me present this in a less business-like fashion."
"Thank you. Remind me to give you one in return before you go,--or will you choose yourself?"
They had both risen as by a common instinct.
The cool flower-like hand lay in his for an instant.
"Will you oblige me by putting aside that leaf a moment before I go?"
"But my eyes are red, and I look like a perfect fright."
Yet, after a long pause, the leaf fluttered down, and a pair of very beautiful but withal very clear and critical eyes met his. Islington was constrained to look away. When he turned again, she was gone.
It was Chalker, the English groom, out of breath with running.
"Seein' you alone, sir,--beg your pardon, sir,--but there's a person--"
"A person! what the devil do you mean? Speak English--no, damn it, I mean don't," said Islington, snappishly.
"I sed a person, sir. Beg pardon--no offence--but not a gent, sir. In the lib'ry."
A little amused even through the utter dissatisfaction with himself and vague loneliness that had suddenly come upon him, Islington, as he walked toward the lodge, asked, "Why isn't he a gent?
"No gent--beggin' your pardin, sir--'ud guy a man in sarvis, sir. Takes me 'ands so, sir, as I sits in the rumble at the gate, and puts 'em downd so, sir, and sez, 'Put 'em in your pocket, young man,--or is it a road agint you expects to see, that you 'olds hup your 'ands, hand crosses 'em like to that,' sez he. ''Old 'ard,' sez he, 'on the short curves, or you'll bust your precious crust,' sez he. And hasks for you, sir. This way, sir."
They entered the lodge. Islington hurried down the long Gothic hall, and opened the library door.
In an arm-chair, in the centre of the room, a man sat apparently contemplating a large, stiff, yellow hat with an enormous brim, that was placed on the floor before him. His hands rested lightly between his knees, but one foot was drawn up at the side of his chair in a peculiar manner. In the first glance that Islington gave, the attitude in some odd, irreconcilable way suggested a brake. In another moment he dashed across the room, and, holding out both hands, cried, "Yuba Bill!"
The man rose, caught Islington by the shoulders, wheeled him round, hugged him, felt of his ribs like a good-natured ogre, shook his hands violently, laughed, and then said, somewhat ruefully, "And how ever did you know me?"
Seeing that Yuba Bill evidently regarded himself as in some elaborate disguise, Islington laughed, and suggested that it must have been instinct.
"And you?" said Bill, holding him at arm's length, and surveying him critically,--"you!--toe think--toe think--a little cuss no higher nor a trace, a boy as I've flicked outer the road with a whip time in agin, a boy ez never hed much clothes to speak of, turned into a sport!"
Islington remembered, with a thrill of ludicrous terror, that he
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