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- A SIMPLETON - 10/84 -
and gossips charmingly, and IS so nice."
Christopher Staines pined for this girl in silence: his fine frame got thinner, his pale cheek paler, as she got rosier and rosier; and how? Why, by following the very advice she had snubbed him for giving her. At last, he heard she had been the belle of a ball, and that she had been seen walking miles from home, and blooming as a Hebe. Then his deep anxiety ceased, his pride stung him furiously; he began to think of his own value, and to struggle with all his might against his deep love. Sometimes he would even inveigh against her, and call her a fickle, ungrateful girl, capable of no strong passion but vanity. Many a hard term he applied to her in his sorrowful solitude; but not a word when he had a hearer. He found it hard to rest: he kept dashing up to London and back. He plunged furiously into study. He groaned and sighed, and fought the hard and bitter fight that is too often the lot of the deep that love the shallow. Strong, but single-hearted, no other lady could comfort him. He turned from female company, and shunned all for the fault of one.
The inward contest wore him. He began to look very thin and wan; and all for a Simpleton!
Mr. Falcon prolonged his stay in the neighborhood, and drove a handsome dogcart over twice a week to visit Mr. Lusignan.
He used to call on that gentleman at four o'clock, for at that hour Mr. Lusignan was always out, and his daughter always at home.
She was at home at that hour because she took her long walks in the morning. While her new admirer was in bed, or dressing, or breakfasting, she was springing along the road with all the elasticity of youth, and health, and native vigor, braced by daily exercise.
Twenty-one of these walks did she take, with no other result than health and appetite; but the twenty-second was more fertile-- extremely fertile. Starting later than usual, she passed through Gravesend while Reginald Falcon was smoking at his front window. He saw her, and instantly doffed his dressing-gown and donned his coat to follow her. He was madly in love with her, and being a man who had learned to shoot pigeons and opportunities flying, he instantly resolved to join her in her walk, get her clear of the town, by the sea-beach, where beauty melts, and propose to her. Yes, marriage had not been hitherto his habit, but this girl was peerless: he was pledged by honor and gratitude to Phoebe Dale; but hang all that now. "No man should marry one woman when he loves another; it is dishonorable." He got into the street and followed her as fast as he could without running.
It was not so easy to catch her. Ladies are not built for running; but a fine, tall, symmetrical girl who has practised walking fast can cover the ground wonderfully in walking--if she chooses. It was a sight to see how Rosa Lusignan squared her shoulders and stepped out from the waist like a Canadian girl skating, while her elastic foot slapped the pavement as she spanked along.
She had nearly cleared the town before Falcon came up with her.
He was hardly ten yards from her when an unexpected incident occurred. She whisked round the corner of Bird Street, and ran plump against Christopher Staines; in fact, she darted into his arms, and her face almost touched the breast she had wounded so deeply.
Rosa cried "Oh!" and put up her hands to her face in lovely confusion, coloring like a peony.
"I beg your pardon," said Christopher, stiffly, but in a voice that trembled.
"No," said Rosa, "it was I ran against you. I walk so fast now. Hope I did not hurt you."
"Well, then, frighten you?"
"Oh, please don't quarrel with me in the STREET," said Rosa, cunningly implying that he was the quarrelsome one. "I am going on the beach. Good-by!" This adieu she uttered softly, and in a hesitating tone that belied it. She started off, however, but much more slowly than she was going before; and, as she went, she turned her head with infinite grace, and kept looking askant down at the pavement two yards behind her: moreover she went close to the wall, and left room at her side for another to walk.
Christopher hesitated a moment; but the mute invitation, so arch yet timid, so pretty, tender, sly, and womanly, was too much for him, as it has generally proved for males, and the philosopher's foot was soon in the very place to which the Simpleton with the mere tail of her eye directed it.
They walked along, side by side, in silence, Staines agitated, gloomy, confused, Rosa radiant and glowing, yet not knowing what to say for herself, and wanting Christopher to begin. So they walked along without a word.
Falcon followed them at some distance to see whether it was an admirer or only an acquaintance. A lover he never dreamed of; she had shown such evident pleasure in his company, and had received his visits alone so constantly.
However, when the pair had got to the beach, and were walking slower and slower, he felt a pang of rage and jealousy, turned on his heel with an audible curse, and found Phoebe Dale a few yards behind him with a white face and a peculiar look. He knew what the look meant; he had brought it to that faithful face before to-day.
"You are better, Miss Lusignan."
"Better, Dr. Staines? I am health itself thanks to--hem!"
"Our estrangement has agreed with you?" This very bitterly.
"You know very well it is not that. Oh, please don't make me cry in the streets."
This humble petition, or rather meek threat, led to another long silence. It was continued till they had nearly reached the shore. But, meantime, Rosa's furtive eyes scanned Christopher's face, and her conscience smote her at the signs of suffering. She felt a desire to beg his pardon with deep humility; but she suppressed that weakness. She hung her head with a pretty, sheepish air, and asked him if he could not think of something agreeable to say to one after deserting one so long.
"I am afraid not," said Christopher, bluntly. "I have an awkward habit of speaking the truth; and some people can't bear that, not even when it is spoken for their good."
"That depends on temper, and nerves, and things," said Rosa, deprecatingly; then softly, "I could bear anything from you now."
"Indeed!" said Christopher, grimly. "Well, then, I hear you had no sooner got rid of your old lover, for loving you too well and telling you the truth, than you took up another,--some flimsy man of fashion, who will tell you any lie you like."
"It is a story, a wicked story," cried Rosa, thoroughly alarmed. "Me, a lover! He dances like an angel; I can't help that."
"Are his visits at your house like angels'--few and far between?" And the true lover's brow lowered black upon her for the first time.
Rosa changed color, and her eyes fell a moment. "Ask papa," she said. "His father was an old friend of papa's."
"Rosa, you are prevaricating. Young men do not call on old gentlemen when there is an attractive young lady in the house."
The argument was getting too close; so Rosa operated a diversion. "So," said she, with a sudden air of lofty disdain, swiftly and adroitly assumed, "you have had me watched?"
"Not I; I only hear what people say."
"Listen to gossip and not have me watched! That shows how little you really cared for me. Well, if you had, you would have made a little discovery, that is all."
"Should I?" said Christopher, puzzled. "What?"
"I shall not tell you. Think what you please. Yes, sir, you would have found out that I take long walks every day, all alone; and what is more, that I walk through Gravesend, hoping--like a goose-- that somebody really loved me, and would meet me, and beg my pardon; and if he had, I should have told him it was only my tongue, and my nerves, and things; my heart was his, and my gratitude. And after all, what do words signify, when I am a good, obedient girl at bottom? So that is what you have lost by not condescending to look after me. Fine love!--Christopher, beg my pardon."
"May I inquire for what?"
"Why, for not understanding me; for not knowing that I should be sorry the moment you were gone. I took them off the very next day, to please you."
"Took off whom?--Oh, I understand. You did? Then you ARE a good girl."
"Didn't I tell you I was? A good, obedient girl, and anything but a flirt."
"I don't say that."
"But I do. Don't interrupt. It is to your good advice I owe my health; and to love anybody but you, when I owe you my love and my life, I must be a heartless, ungrateful, worthless-- Oh, Christopher, forgive me! No, no; I mean, beg my pardon."
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