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- The Trespasser, Volume 2. - 4/12 -

She reached out an anxious hand, and touched his shoulder. His eyes were playing with the pattern of the carpet; but he slowly raised them to hers, and looked for a moment without speaking. Suddenly, in spite of himself, he laughed--laughed outright, but not loudly.

Marriage? Yes, here was the touchstone. Marry a girl whose family had been notable for hundreds of years? For the moment he did not remember his own family. This was one of the times when he was only conscious that he had savage blood, together with a strain of New World French, and that his life had mostly been a range of adventure and common toil. This new position was his right, but there were times when it seemed to him that he was an impostor; others, when he felt himself master of it all, when he even had a sense of superiority--why he could not tell; but life in this old land of tradition and history had not its due picturesqueness. With his grandmother's proposal there shot up in him the thought that for him this was absurd. He to pace the world beside this fine queenly creature--Delia Gasgoyne--carrying on the traditions of the Belwards! Was it, was it possible?

"Pardon me," he said at last gently, as he saw Lady Belward shrink and then look curiously at him, "something struck me, and I couldn't help it."

"Was what I said at all ludicrous?"

"Of course not; you said what was natural for you to say, and I thought what was natural for me to think, at first blush."

"There is something wrong," she urged fearfully. "Is there any reason why you cannot marry? Gaston,"--she trembled towards him,--"you have not deceived us--you are not married?"

"My wife is dead, as I told you," he answered gravely, musingly.

"Tell me: there is no woman who has a claim on you?"

"None that I know of--not one. My follies have not run that way."

"Thank God! Then there is no reason why you should not marry. Oh, when I look at you I am proud, I am glad that I live! You bring my youth, my son back; and I long for a time when I may clasp your child in my arms, and know that Robert's heritage will go on and on, and that there will be made up to him, somehow, all that he lost. Listen: I am an old, crippled, suffering woman; I shall soon have done with all this coming and going, and I speak to you out of the wisdom of sorrow. Had Robert married, all would have gone well. He did not: he got into trouble, then came Ian's hand in it all; and you know the end. I fear for you, I do indeed. You will have sore temptations. Marry--marry soon, and make us happy."

He was quiet enough now. He had seen the grotesque image, now he was facing the thing behind it. "Would it please you so very much?" he said, resting a hand gently on hers.

"I wish to see a child of yours in my arms, dear."

"And the woman you have chosen is Delia Gasgoyne?"

"The choice is for you; but you seem to like each other, and we care for her."

He sat thinking for a time, then he got up, and said slowly:

"It shall be so, if Miss Gasgoyne will have me. And I hope it may turn out as you wish."

Then he stooped and kissed her on the cheek. The proud woman, who had unbent little in her lifetime, whose eyes had looked out so coldly on the world, who felt for her son Ian an almost impossible aversion, drew down his head and kissed it.

"Indian and all?" he asked, with a quaint bitterness.

"Everything, my dear," she answered. "God bless you! Good-night."

A few moments after, Gaston went to the library. He heard the voices of Sir William and his uncle. He knocked and entered. Ian, with exaggerated courtesy, rose. Gaston, with easy coolness, begged him to sit, lit a cigar, and himself sat.

"My father has been feeding me with raw truths, Cadet," said his uncle; "and I've been eating them unseasoned. We have not been, nor are likely to be, a happy family, unless in your saturnian reign we learn to say, pax vobiscum--do you know Latin? For I'm told the money-bags and the stately pile are for you. You are to beget children before the Lord, and sit in the seat of Justice: 'tis for me to confer honour on you all by my genius!"

Gaston sat very still, and, when the speech was ended, said tentatively:

"Why rob yourself?"

"In honouring you all?"

"No, sir; in not yourself having 'a saturnian reign'."

"You are generous."

"No: I came here to ask for a home, for what was mine through my father. I ask, and want, nothing more--not even to beget children before the Lord!"

"How mellow the tongue! Well, Cadet, I am not going to quarrel. Here we are with my father. See, I am willing to be friends. But you mustn't expect that I will not chasten your proud spirit now and then. That you need it, this morning bears witness."

Sir William glanced from one to the other curiously. He was cold and calm, and looked worn. He had had a trying half-hour with his son, and it had told on him.

Gaston at once said to his grandfather: "Of this morning, sir, I will tell you. I--"

Ian interrupted him.

"No, no; that is between us. Let us not worry my father."

Sir William smiled ironically.

"Your solicitude is refreshing, Ian."

"Late fruit is the sweetest, sir."

Presently Sir William asked Gaston the result of the talk with Lady Belward. Gaston frankly said that he was ready to do as they wished. Sir William then said they had chosen this time because Ian was there, and it was better to have all open and understood.

Ian laughed.

"Taming the barbarian! How seriously you all take it. I am the jester for the King. In the days of the flood I'll bring the olive leaf. You are all in the wash of sentiment: you'll come to the wicked uncle one day for common-sense. But, never mind, Cadet; we are to be friends. Yes, really. I do not fear for my heritage, and you'll need a helping hand one of these days. Besides, you are an interesting fellow. So, if you will put up with my acid tongue, there's no reason why we shouldn't hit it off."

To Sir William's great astonishment, Ian held out his hand with a genial smile, which was tolerably honest, for his indulgent nature was as capable of great geniality as incapable of high moral conceptions. Then, he had before his eye, "Monmouth" and "The King of Ys."

Gaston took his hand, and said: "I have no wish to be an enemy."

Sir William rose, looking at them both. He could not understand Ian's attitude, and he distrusted. Yet peace was better than war. Ian's truce was also based on a belief that Gaston would make skittles of things. A little while afterwards Gaston sat in his room, turning over events in his mind. Time and again his thoughts returned to the one thing-- marriage. That marriage with his Esquimaux wife had been in one sense none at all, for the end was sure from the beginning. It was in keeping with his youth, the circumstances, the life, it had no responsibilities. But this? To become an integral part of the life--the English country gentleman; to be reduced, diluted, to the needs of the convention, and no more? Let him think of the details:--a justice of the peace: to sit on a board of directors; to be, perhaps, Master of the Hounds; to unite with the Bishop in restoring the cathedral; to make an address at the annual flower show. His wife to open bazaars, give tennis-parties, and be patron to the clergy; himself at last, no doubt, to go into Parliament; to feel the petty, or serious, responsibilities of a husband and a landlord. Monotony, extreme decorum, civility to the world; endless politeness to his wife; with boys at Eton and girls somewhere else; and the kind of man he must be to do his duty in all and to all!

It seemed impossible. He rose and paced the floor. Never till this moment had the full picture of his new life come close. He felt stifled. He put on a cap, and, descending the stairs, went out into the court-yard and walked about, the cool air refreshing him. Gradually there settled upon him a stoic acceptance of the conditions. But would it last?

He stood still and looked at the pile of buildings before him; then he turned towards the little church close by, whose spire and roof could be seen above the wall. He waved his hand, as when within it on the day of his coming, and said with irony:

"Now for the marriage-linen, Sir Gaston!"

He heard a low knocking at the gate. He listened. Yes, there was no mistake. He went to it, and asked quietly:

"Who is there?"

There was no reply. Still the knocking went on. He quietly opened the gate, and threw it back. A figure in white stepped through and slowly passed him. It was Alice Wingfield. He spoke to her. She did not answer. He went close to her and saw that she was asleep!

She was making for the entrance door. He took her hand gently, and led her into a side door, and on into the ballroom. She moved towards a window through which the moonlight streamed, and sat on a cushioned bench beneath it. It was the spot where he had seen her at the dance. She leaned forward, looking into space, as she did at him then. He moved and got in her line of vision.

The picture was weird. She wore a soft white chamber-gown, her hair hung loose on her shoulders, her pale face cowled it in. The look was

The Trespasser, Volume 2. - 4/12

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