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- The Long Vacation - 40/58 -


"May I talk to your mother?"

"Oh yes, if you can catch her. She will be ever so much more good to you than I; and I only hope she will warn you what a Tartar I am."

Wherewith Gillian threw off her hat, swung open the gate, and dashed like a hunted hare up to her mother's stall, where in truth she had been wanted, since only two helpers had remained to assist in the cheapening and final disposal of the remnants. Lady Merrifield read something in those wild eyes and cheeks burning, but the exigencies of the moment obliged her to hold her peace, and apply herself to estimating the half-price of the cushions and table-cloths she rejoiced to see departing, as well as to preserve wits enough not to let Gillian sell the Indian screen for two shillings and sixpence, under the impression that this was the half of five pounds. Mysie was the only one who kept her senses fairly undisturbed, and could balance between her duty to the schools and her desire to gratify a child, happy in that she never saw more than one thing at a time. Valetta and Primrose were yachting, so that the distraction was less, and Captain Armytage lingered round, taking messages, and looking in wistful earnestness for some one to be disengaged. Yet there was something in his eyes that spoke of the calmness of an attained object, and Miss Mohun, who had sold off all her remaining frocks and pinafores at a valuation to Marilda for some institution, and was free to help her sister, saw in a moment that his mind was settled.

Yet speech was scarcely possible till the clearance was finally effected by a Dutch auction, when Captain Armytage distinguished himself unexpectedly as auctioneer, and made an end even of the last sachet, though it smelt so strongly of lip-salve that he declared that a bearer must be paid to take it away. But the purchaser was a big sailor, who evidently thought it an elegant gift for his sweetheart.

By the time it was gone the yachters had come home. Captain Armytage seized on Sir Jasper, who already know his purpose, and wished him success, though withheld from saying a word to urge the suit by Lady Merrifield's assurances, that to hurry Gillian's decision would be fatal to success, and that a reproof for petulance would be worse. She did not know whether to wish for the engagement or not; Gillian was her very dear and sufficient companion, more completely so than Mysie, who was far less clever; and she had sometimes doubted whether common domestic life beginning early was for the girl's happiness and full development; but she knew that her husband would scout these doubts as nonsense, and both really liked Ernley Armytage, and had heard nothing but what was to his advantage in every way, when they had been in his own county, and had seen his neighbours and his family. However, she could only keep quiet, and let her heart rise in a continual aspiration at every silent moment for her child's guidance.

Before she had had her moment of speech with either, she heard her husband calling Gillian, and she knew that he was the one person with whom his daughter never hid her true self in petulance or sarcasm. So Gillian met him in the General's sitting-room, gasping as she turned the handle of the door. He set a chair for her, and spoke gravely.

"My dear," he said, "I find you have gained the heart of a good man."

"I am sure I never meant it," half whispered Gillian.

"What is that-—you never meant it? I never supposed you capable of such an unladylike design. You mean that you were taken by surprise?"

"No; I did see what he was at," and she hung her head.

"You guessed his intentions?"

"Yes, papa; but I didn't want-—"

"Try to explain yourself," said Sir Jasper as she broke off.

"I--I did wish to go on improving myself and being useful. Surely it was not wrong, papa. Don't you see, I did not want to let myself be worried into letting myself go out, and spoiling all my happiness and improvement and work, and getting to care for somebody else?"

"But you have consented."

"Well, when I was frightened for him I found I did care, and he got hold of me, and made me allow that I did; and now I suppose nobody will give me any peace."

"Stay, Gillian-—keep yourself from this impatient mood. I think I understand your unwillingness to overthrow old associations and admit a new overmastering feeling."

"That's just it, papa," said Gillian, looking up. "I can't bear that overmastering feeling, nor the being told every one must come to it. It seems such folly."

"Folly that Eve was given to be a helpmeet, and as the bride, the Church to her Bridegroom? Look high enough, Gillian, and the popular chatter will not confuse your mind. You own that you really love him."

"Oh, papa, not half so much as mamma, or Mysie, or Jasper, but-—but I think I might."

"Is that all, Gillian? No one would coerce you. Shall I send him away, and tell him not to think of it? Remember, it is a serious thing—-nay, an unworthy thing to trifle with a right-minded man."

Gillian sat clasping the elbow of her chair, her dark eyes fixed. At last she said—-

"Papa, I do feel a sort of trust in him, a sort of feeling as if my life and all goodness and all that would be safe with him; and I couldn't bear him to go quite away and hear no more of him, only I do wish it wouldn't happen now; and if there is a fuss about it, I shall get cross and savage, and be as nasty as possible, I know I shall."

"You can't exercise enough self-command to remember what is due-—I would say kind and considerate-—to a man who has loved you through all your petulance and discouragement, and now is going to a life not without peril for three years? Suppose a mishap, Gillian-—how would you feel as to your treatment of him on this last evening?"

"Oh, papa! if you talk in that way I must, I must," and she burst into tears.

Sir Jasper bent over her and gave her a kiss-—a kiss that from him was something to remember. It was late, and summonses to a hurried meal were ringing through Beechcroft Cottage, where the Clipstone party waited to see the illuminations.

Talk was eager between the sellers and the sailors as Valetta described the two parties, the fate of the Indian screen, and the misconduct of Cockneys in their launches were discussed by many a voice, but Gillian was unwontedly silent. Her mother had no time for more than a kiss before the shouts of Wilfred, Fergus, and Primrose warned them that the illuminations were beginning. She could only catch Mysie, and beg her to keep the younger ones away from Gillian and the Captain. Mysie opened her brown eyes wide and said—-

"Oh!" Then, "Is it really?"

"Really, my dear, and remember that it is his last evening!"

"Oh!" said Mysie again. "I never thought it of Gill! May I tell Valetta?"

"Better not, my dear, if it can be helped."

A screaming for Gill was heard, and Mysie hastened to answer it. Lady Merrifield was too much tired to do anything but sit in the garden with Miss Mohun and look out at the ships, glittering with festoons of coloured lamps, reflected in the sea, but the young people went further afield, out on the cliff path to Rotherwood Park. The populace were mainly collected on the quay, and this formed a more select promenade, though by no means absolute solitude. Sir Jasper really did keep guard over the path along which Gillian allowed her Captain to conduct her, not exactly knowing which way they were going, and quite away from the bay and all its attractions.

She heard him out without any of the sharp, impatient answers in which her maiden coyness was wont to disguise itself, as he told her of his hopes and plans for the time when his three years of the Mediterranean should be over.

"And you see you can go on studying all the time, if you must be so clever."

"I think one ought to make the most of oneself, just as you want to rise in your profession! No, indeed, I could not bear you if you wanted me to sit down and idle, or to dawdle yourself."

"Don't grow too clever for me."

"Mother always says that a real man has stuff in him that is quite different from cleverness, and yet I could not bear to give that up. I am so glad you don't mind."

"Mind! I mind nothing but to know you are caring for me. And you will write to me?"

"I shan't know what to say. You will tell of volcanoes, and Athens, and Constantinople, and Egypt, and the Holy Land, and I shall have nothing to say but who lectures in college."

"Little you know what that will be to me."

It was a curious sensation all the time to Gillian, with a dawning sense that was hardly yet love—-she was afraid of that-—but of something good and brave and worthy that had become hers. She had felt something analogous when the big deer-hound at Stokesley came and put his head upon her lap. But the hound showed himself grateful for caresses, and so did her present giant when the road grew rough, and she let him draw her arm into his and talk to her.

It was the parting, for he had to go to London and to his own family the next day early. Gillian spoke not a word all through the dark drive to Clipstone, but when the party emerged into the light her eyes were full of tears. Lady Merrifield followed her to her room, and her words half choked were—-

"Mamma, I never knew what a great, solemn, holy thing _it_ is. Will you look me out a prayer to help me to get worthy?"


The Long Vacation - 40/58

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