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- Modern Broods - 20/47 -


"What do you think people will say?"

"That a little girl has had a dangerous adventure and a happy escape."

"I am seventeen, Lady Phyllis!"

"One is nothing like grown up at seventeen! I declare there's a big steamer coming into sight. I wonder if it belongs to the Channel Fleet!"

Nothing more sentimental could be extracted for the rest of the voyage.

CHAPTER XIV--PAIRING TIME ANTICIPATED

"I marry without more ado, My dear Dick Red Cap, what say you?" COWPER.

The telegram had been received about mid-day; and Mr. Flight rushed up with it to the Goyle, just in time to prevent poor old Mr. Delrio from starting hopelessly home. It had suffered a good deal in spelling and precision, in spite of Lady Phyllis's precautions; but "both safe" was understood, as it was known in Rock Quay that "Lord Rotherwood and family," as the papers had it, were yachting in the Kittiwake and might be expected in the bay.

Agatha and Paula threw their arms round one another and cried; Magdalen, with a choke in her voice, struggled to ask Mr. Flight to lead them in a few words of thanksgiving; and as soon as these were over, Thekla expressed her hopes that they had been cast on a desert island and would bring home Man Friday.

The Goyle ladies walked over to Clipstone with the good news, and the whole party went down afterwards to Rockstone to look out for yachts, and inquire about possibilities. The Kittiwake being a steamer, light and swift, might be expected in harbour in the course of the night, and Mr. Delrio meant to wait for her at his son's lodgings. The ladies wished they could do the same; and Paula was allowed to accept Sister Beata's humble entreaty to house her. But they did not know how long before the telegraph from St. Malo the Kittiwake from St. Cadoc had spread her wings and hoisted her feather, for, happily, her coals had held out better than her provisions. So, as they were looking their last look from the cliffs of Beechcroft Miss Mohun exclaimed, "A steamer! a yacht! Kittiwake!"

Glasses were rushed for, and unaccustomed eyes could trace the graceful course through the gentle evening waves towards the quay.

Every one was on the quay in time to receive the boat, which, rowed by four smart sailors, was seen with the party of six, two sailor hats, and one red cap being at once spied out among the female figures. Then two hats were waved and answered by cheers of welcome; and the figures were recognised, and unnecessarily numerous hands stretched out to assist the landing from the plank extended to the boat.

Vera was put first by her kind rescuers, Lord Rotherwood's hand guiding her to the rail, and, after an insecure step or so, she found herself in the arms of Paulina, sobbing for joy; and the little cluster of sisters seemed to know nothing else, except Thekla, who presently, in the confusion of the greetings, was found by Lord Rotherwood looking about vaguely, and saying, "But where's their man Friday?"

"You must accept me for him," said he. "'Tis Friday, unless we have lost our reckoning! I hope you think me something promising in the way of savages!"

Young Delrio's first proceeding, even while his father was wringing his hand in speechless welcome and thankfulness, was to turn to Captain Henderson. "Sir, your boat is safe, it will be brought in to-morrow. I am much concerned, and beg your forgiveness, but I had no idea that it was yours till Griggs found your name. Only one oar is lost, and a cushion, which I will replace."

"Say no more, pray," said Captain Henderson. "The fault was my servant's, who took it without leave, and left it out. He must repair the very slight damage."

Miss Mohun wanted the whole troop to come up to Beechcroft to drink tea, and her relations consented; but the hearts of the Prescotts were a great deal too full for them not to wish to be alone together; and after Magdalen had given her hand to Lord Rotherwood with a fervent, "You know what I would say, my lord--beyond all words," they turned homewards; but Mr. Flight ran after them to say in a low voice, "Can we meet to-morrow at eight for a service of thanksgiving?" And this was gladly accepted.

Hubert was dragged off by his father.

"Nonsense! they don't want your apologies and explanations. It would only be besetting them. Come home with me, and don't be a fool! But write a few lines to your poor mother, after the intolerable fright you have given her; meddling and presuming where you had no business. A Providence it is that you are not half across the Atlantic, if not at the bottom of it."

Of course this was the reaction of great anxiety; but however meekly Hubert submitted to the queer outpouring of affection, and however thankful they both were, and glad and content over the particulars of the youth's work and progress, still he was not to be withheld from laying hand and heart at Vera Prescott's feet, as he insisted was due to her and her family after the compromising situation in which he had placed her. His father said it was talking novels and folly; but he was a man of three and twenty, and could not well be stopped, as he was earning his own livelihood, and had always been irreproachable. So Mr. Delrio had to leave the matter, only expressing discouragement, and insisting that it must be no more than an engagement.

The thanksgiving took place as arranged, and Lord Rotherwood, his daughter, and Mysie were there. For indeed there had been danger enough during the thunderstorm to make the safety of the Kittiwake a matter of thankfulness, though the rescue of the boat had caused it to be almost forgotten in the history of the night.

Lady Flight had begged that all would come to breakfast with her, and this was accepted by the Goyle party; but the Clipstone pony-carriage was waiting for the others, and they could not accede to Lady Flight's impromptu, and rather nervous, invitation. But before they started Lord Rotherwood managed to say a few words aside to Miss Prescott of the impression he had divined from his voyage with Hubert Delrio, whom he thought a young man of great ability and promise, and of excellent principles, but with a chivalry it was quite refreshing to see in youth, perhaps ready to strain honourable scruples almost too far for his own good or that of others.

Magdalen thought she perceived what had been in the marquis's mind when, immediately after her return home, Hubert and Vera came up, hand in hand, and he informed her of their mutual attachment.

"I am afraid, Miss Prescott," he said, "that we may not have acted rightly or squarely by you; and this last adventure was a most unhappy result of my careless awkwardness and preoccupation."

"It was the merest accident. We all quite understand. It is not to be thought of."

"You are very good to say so, but--"

Both he and Magdalen wished that Vera had not been present, blushing and smiling, or rather simpering; and as Hubert hesitated over his "but," Magdalen said:

"Vera, my dear, Hubert and I can talk over this better without you. You had better go and find Paula."

"Only, sister, please do understand that I care for Hubert with all my heart," said Vera, much less childishly than Magdalen had expected.

However, she went, while Magdalen succeeded in saying what she had intended--that Hubert must not consider himself in the smallest degree bound by what had been accident, entirely unintentional and innocent.

"You are generous, Miss Prescott. You understand! But the world! It was public."

"Never mind the world. You see what sensible people think."

"But, indeed, Miss Prescott, I cannot leave you to suppose I am only actuated by the fact of that awkward situation. Of course that would never have been if I did not deeply, entirely love your sister. It has only precipitated matters. I entreat of you to give her to me, as one who is--who is devoted to her! If my station is inferior I will work--"

"That is not the point. Vera is too young for such things. What does your father say?"

"My father sees that I am right."

"I see what that means," said Magdalen, smiling. "But where is he? I should like to talk to him."

Mr. Delrio, pretty well knowing what was going on, was found endeavouring to distract his mind by sketching the Goyle. He and Magdalen walked up and down the drive together, perfectly agreeing that it would be senseless cruelty to permit an early marriage between these two young people, and that it was a pity there should be an engagement; but this could hardly be prevented, since Mr. Delrio could only give advice, and leave a self-supporting worthy son to judge for himself; but the elder sister and the trustee could stipulate for delay till Vera should be of age.

So Hubert was called, and acquiesced, cheerfully observing that he trusted that four years would make him able to render Vera's life an easy and pleasant one; and after heartily thanking both Miss Prescott and his father, he went off to rejoice the heart of the maiden, who was sitting under the pear-tree, watching with anxious eyes.


Modern Broods - 20/47

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