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- The Trespasser, Volume 2. - 3/12 -


said:

"Pardon my asking, but will you tell me why you wore a red ribbon in your button-hole the first night you came?"

He smiled, and then looked at her a little curiously. "My luggage had not come, and I wore an old suit of my father's."

Lady Dargan sighed deeply.

"The last night he was in England he wore that coat at dinner," she murmured.

"Pardon me, Lady Dargan--you put that ribbon there?"

"Yes."

Her eyes were on him with a candid interest and regard.

"I suppose," he went on, "that his going was abrupt to you?"

"Very--very!" she answered.

She longed to ask if his father ever mentioned her name, but she dared not. Besides, as she said to herself, to what good now? But she asked him to tell her something about his father. He did so quietly, picking out main incidents, and setting them forth, as he had the ability, with quiet dramatic strength. He had just finished when Delia Gasgoyne came up with Lord Dargan.

Presently Lord Dargan asked Gaston if he would bring Lady Dargan to the other end of the room, where Miss Gasgoyne was to join her mother. As they went, Lady Dargan said a little breathlessly:

"Will you do something for me?"

"I would do much for you," was his reply, for he understood!

"If ever you need a friend, if ever you are in trouble, will you let me know? I wish to take an interest in you. Promise me."

"I cannot promise, Lady Dargan," he answered, "for such trouble as I have had before I have had to bear alone, and the habit is fixed, I fear. Still, I am grateful to you just the same, and I shall never forget it. But will you tell me why people regard me from so tragical a stand- point?"

"Do they?"

"Well, there's yourself, and there's Mrs. Gasgoyne, and there's my uncle Ian."

"Perhaps we think you may have trouble because of your uncle Ian."

Gaston shook his head enigmatically, and then said ironically:

"As they would put it in the North, Lady Dargan, he'll cut no figure in that matter. I remember for two."

"That is right--that is right. Always think that Ian Belward is bad--bad at heart. He is as fascinating as--"

"As the Snake?"

"--as the Snake, and as cruel! It is the cruelty of wicked selfishness. Somehow, I forget that I am talking to his nephew. But we all know Ian Belward--at least, all women do."

"And at least one man does," he answered gravely. The next minute Gaston walked down the room with Delia Gasgoyne on his arm. The girl delicately showed her preference, and he was aware of it. It pleased him--pleased his unconscious egoism. The early part of his life had been spent among Indian women, half-breeds, and a few dull French or English folk, whose chief charm was their interest in that wild, free life, now so distant. He had met Delia many times since his coming; and there was that in her manner--a fine high-bred quality, a sweet speaking reserve--which interested him. He saw her as the best product of this convention.

She was no mere sentimental girl, for she had known at least six seasons, and had refused at least six lovers. She had a proud mind, not wide, suited to her position. Most men had flattered her, had yielded to her; this man, either with art or instinctively, mastered her, secured her interest by his personality. Every woman worth the having, down in her heart, loves to be mastered: it gives her a sense of security, and she likes to lean; for, strong as she may be at times, she is often singularly weak. She knew that her mother deprecated "that Belward enigma," but this only sent her on the dangerous way.

To-night she questioned him about his life, and how he should spend the summer. Idling in France, he said. And she? She was not sure; but she thought that she also would be idling about France in her father's yacht. So they might happen to meet. Meanwhile? Well, meanwhile, there were people coming to stay at Peppingham, their home. August would see that over. Then freedom.

Was it freedom, to get away from all this--from England and rule and measure? No, she did not mean quite that. She loved the life with all its rules; she could not live without it. She had been brought up to expect and to do certain things. She liked her comforts, her luxuries, many pretty things about her, and days without friction. To travel? Yes, with all modern comforts, no long stages, a really good maid, and some fresh interesting books.

What kind of books? Well, Walter Pater's essays; "The Light of Asia"; a novel of that wicked man Thomas Hardy; and something light--"The Innocents Abroad"--with, possibly, a struggle through De Musset, to keep up her French.

It did not seem exciting to Gaston, but it did sound honest, and it was in the picture. He much preferred Meredith, and Swinburne, and Dumas, and Hugo; but with her he did also like the whimsical Mark Twain.

He thought of suggestions that Lady Belward had often thrown out; of those many talks with Sir William, excellent friends as they were, in which the baronet hinted at the security he would feel if there was a second family of Belwards. What if he--? He smiled strangely, and shrank.

Marriage? There was the touchstone.

After the dance, when he was taking her to her mother, he saw a pale intense face looking out to him from a row of others. He smiled, and the smile that came in return was unlike any he had ever seen Alice Wingfield wear. He was puzzled. It flashed to him strange pathos, affection, and entreaty. He took Delia Gasgoyne to her mother, talked to Lady Belward a little, and then went quietly back to where he had seen Alice. She was gone. Just then some people from town came to speak to him, and he was detained. When he was free he searched, but she was nowhere to be found. He went to Lady Belward. Yes, Miss Wingfield had gone. Lady Belward looked at Gaston anxiously, and asked him why he was curious. "Because she's a lonely-looking little maid," he said, "and I wanted to be kind to her. She didn't seem happy a while ago."

Lady Belward was reassured.

"Yes, she is a sweet creature, Gaston," she said, and added: "You are a good boy to-night, a very good host indeed. It is worth the doing," she went on, looking out on the guests proudly. "I did not think I should ever come to it again with any heart, but I do it for you gladly. Now, away to your duty," she added, tapping his breast affectionately with her fan, "and when everything is done, come and take me to my room."

Ian Belward passed Gaston as he went. He had seen the affectionate passages.

"'For a good boy!' 'God bless our Home!"' he said, ironically.

Gaston saw the mark of his hand on his uncle's chin, and he forbore ironical reply.

"The home is worth the blessing," he rejoined quietly, and passed on.

Three hours later the guests had all gone, and Lady Belward, leaning on her grandson's arm, went to her boudoir, while Ian and his father sought the library. Ian was going next morning. The conference was not likely to be cheerful.

Inside her boudoir, Lady Belward sank into a large chair, and let her head fall back and her eyes close. She motioned Gaston to a seat. Taking one near, he waited. After a time she opened her eyes and drew herself up.

"My dear," she said, "I wish to talk with you."

"I shall be very glad; but isn't it late? and aren't you tired, grandmother?"

"I shall sleep better after," she responded, gently. She then began to review the past; her own long unhappiness, Robert's silence, her uncertainty as to his fate, and the after hopelessness, made greater by Ian's conduct. In low, kind words she spoke of his coming and the renewal of her hopes, coupled with fear also that he might not fit in with his new life, and--she could say it now--do something unbearable. Well, he had done nothing unworthy of their name; had acted, on the whole, sensibly; and she had not been greatly surprised at certain little oddnesses, such as the tent in the grounds, an impossible deer-hunt, and some unusual village charities and innovations on the estate. Nor did she object to Brillon, though he had sometimes thrown servants'-hall into disorder, and had caused the stablemen and the footmen to fight. His ear-rings and hair were startling, but they were not important. Gaston had been admired by the hunting-field--of which they were glad, for it was a test of popularity. She saw that most people liked him. Lord Dunfolly and Admiral Highburn were enthusiastic. For her own part, she was proud and grateful. She could enjoy every grain of comfort he gave them; and she was thankful to make up to Robert's son what Robert himself had lost--poor boy--poor boy!

Her feelings were deep, strong, and sincere. Her grandson had come, strong, individual, considerate, and had moved the tender courses of her nature. At this moment Gaston had his first deep feeling of responsibility.

"My dear," she said at last, "people in our position have important duties. Here is a large estate. Am I not clear? You will never be quite part of this life till you bring a wife here. That will give you a sense of responsibility. You will wake up to many things then. Will you not marry? There is Delia Gasgoyne. Your grandfather and I would be so glad. She is worthy in every way, and she likes you. She is a good girl. She has never frittered her heart away; and she would make you proud of her."


The Trespasser, Volume 2. - 3/12

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