Page images
PDF
EPUB

door told him that his pupil had arrived. Then he rose and looked in her direction, but avoided her eyes.

There was no schoolgirl slovenliness about Emmeline Nash. Her grey dress was fresh and neat, a tiny bunch of spring flowers was fastened in it, a ribbon of delicate blue was round her neck. As she came forward with a slight flush on her cheek, her head carried defiantly, and the sunlight shining on her pale hair, Miss Crawford said to herself that really she was a stylish girl, ladylike and pretty. Her schoolfellows declared that Emmeline always went about with her mouth hanging open. But that day the parted lips had an innocent expression of wonder and expectation.

The lesson was begun in as business like a fashion as the others. Perhaps Emmeline regaled the young master with a few more false notes than usual, but she was curiously intent on the page before her. Presently she stole a glance over her shoulder at Miss Crawford. She was asleep. Emmeline played a few bars mechanically, and then she turned to Bertie. The

eyes which met her own had an anxious, tender, almost reverential expression. This slim fair girl had suddenly become a very wonderful being to Lisle, and he touched her hand with delicate respect, and looked strangely at her pretty vacant face.

Had there been the usual laughter lurking in his glance, Emmeline would have giggled. Her nerves were tensely strung, and giggling was her sole expression for a wide range of emotion. But his gravity astonished her so much that she looked at the page before her again, and went on playing with her mouth open.

Towards the close of the lesson, master and pupil exchanged a few whispered words. “You may rely on me," said Bertie finally; "what did I promise this morning?" He spoke cautiously, watching Miss Crawford. She moved in her light slumber and uttered an inarticulate sound. The young people started asunder, and blushed a guilty red. Emmeline, with an unfounded assumption of presence of mind, began to play a variation, containing such loud and agitated discords, that further slumber must have been miraculous. But Lisle interposed, “Gently," he said. “Let me show you how that should be played.” And he lulled the sleeper with the tenderest harmony.

In due time the lesson came to an end. Miss Crawford presided over the farewell, and regretted that it was really Miss Nash's last lesson, as (though Mr. Lisle perhaps was not aware of it) she was not coming back to Standon Square. Mr. Lisle in his turn expressed much regret, and said that he should miss his pupil. “You must on no account forget to practise every day," said the old lady, turning to Emmeline. "Must she, Mr. Lisle ?”

Mr. Lisle hoped that Miss Nash would devote at least three hours every day to her music. The falsehood was so audacious that he shuddered as he uttered it. He made a ceremonious low, and fled.

Going back to Bellevue Street he locked himself into his room, and turned out all his worldly goods. A little portmanteau was carefully packed with a selection from them, and hidden away in a cupboard, and the rest were laid by as nearly as possible in their accustomed order. Then he took out his purse, and examined its contents with dissatisfied eyes.

“Can't get on without the sinews of war," Bertie soliloquised. “I might manage with double as much perhaps, but how shall I get it! Spoiling the Egyptians would be the Scriptural course of conduct, I suppose, and I'm ready—but where are the Egyptians? I wonder if Judith keeps a hoard anywhere. Or Lydia-shall I go and ask her to lend me jewels of silver and jewels of gold? Poor Lydia, I fear I could hardly find a plausible excuse for borrowing the blue earrings. And I doubt they wouldn't help me much. No, I must find some better plan than that.”

He was intensely excited, his flushed cheek and glittering eyes betrayed it. But the feelings of the morning had worn off in the practical work of packing and preparing for his flight. Perhaps it was as well they had, for they could hardly have survived an interview with Lydia in the afternoon. She was suspicious, and required coaxing to begin with.

“Why, what's the matter, Lydia ?” said Lisle at last in his gentlest voice. “You might do this for me."

“ You're always wanting something done for you."
“Oh Lydia ! and I've been such a good boy lately!"
« Too good by half," said Lydia.

“ And a month ago I was always too bad. How am I to hit your precise taste in wickedness ?"

“Oh, I ain't particular to a shade," said Lydia," as you might know by my helping you to deceive Ma and your sister. But as to your good ness, I don't believe in it—so there! Don't tell me--people don't give up all at once, and

go to bed at ten o'clock every night, and turn as good as all that. It's my belief you mean to bolt. What have you been doing?"

“ Look here, Lydia, I've told you once and I tell you again- I want a holiday, and I'm off for two or three days by myself--can't be tied to my sister's apron-string all my life. But I'd rather not have any fuss about it, so I shall just go quietly and send her a line when I've started. I want you to get that portmanteau off, so that I may pick it up at the station to-morrow morning. I did think I might count on you," said Bertie with heart-rending pathos—delicately-shaded acting would have been wasted on Miss Bryant. “ You've always been as true as steel. But it seems I was mistaken. Well, no matter. If my sister makes a scene about my going away, it can't be helped. Perhaps I was wrong to keep my little secrets from her and trust them to any one else.”

"I don't say that,” Lydia replied. “P'raps others may do as well or better by you."

“ Thank

you all the same for your former kindness," Bertie continued in a tone of gentle resignation, ignoring her remark. "Since you won't, there's nothing more to be said.”

“What do you want to fly off in that fashion for?” said Lydia. “I'll see about your portmanteau, if this is all true

Bertie assumed an insulted-gentleman air. It was extremely lofty. "Oh, if you doubt me, Miss Bryant-

“Gracious me! You are touchy !” exclaimed poor Lydia in perplexity and distress. "Only one word-you haven't been doing anything bad ? "

"On my honour-no," said Bertie haughtily.
" And there's nothing wrong about the portmanteau ?”

“Oh, this is too much !” Lisle exclaimed. “I can't be cross-questioned in this fashion—even by you"—the careless parenthesis was not without effect. “Wrong about it-no! But we'll leave the subject altogether, if you please. I won't trouble you any further.”

It was evident to Lydia that he was offended. There was an angry. light in his eyes and his cheeks were flushed. “You are unkind," she said. “I'll see about it for you—and you knew I would.” She saw Bertie's handsome face dimly, through a mist of gathering tears.

“Crying?” said Lisle. “Not for me, Lydia ? I'm not worth it."
“That I'll be bound you are not,” said the girl.
“Then why do you do it?"

“Perhaps you think we always measure our tears, and mind we don't give over-weight," said Lydia scornfully. “Shouldn't cry much at that rate, I expect! I do it because I'm a fool, if you particularly want to know."

Lisle was wondering what style of answer would be suitable and harmless, when Mr. Fordham came up the stairs. Lydia saw him, exclaimed, “Oh my good gracious!” and vanished, while Bertie strolled into his room, invoking blessings on the old man's head.

That evening there was a choir practice at St. Sylvester’s. Mr. Clifton was peculiarly tiresome, and the young organist replied with an air of easy scorn, the more irritating that it was so good-humoured. Had the worthy incumbent been a shade less musical, there would have been a quarrel then and there. But how could he part with a man who played 80 splendidly? Bertie received his instructions as to their next meeting with an unmoved face. “It is so important now that Easter is so near," said the clergyman. “Thursday evening, and you won't be late ?"

"Au revoir then," said Lisle airily, “since we are to meet so soon." And with a pleasant smile he went his way.

When he got back he found Judith at home looking worn and white. He was tenderly reproachful. “I'm sure you want your tea,” he said. " You should not have thought about me.” He waited on her, he busied himself about her in a dozen little ways. He was bright, gay, affectionate. A faint colour flushed her face, and a smile dawned on her lips. How

could she fail to be pleased and touched? How could she do otherwise than smile at this

paragon

of
young

brothers ? He talked of holiday schemes, in a happy, though rather random, fashion. He

sang

snatches of songs, softly, in his pleasant tenor voice.

“Bertie, our mother used to sing that,” said Judith, after one of them.

“ Did she ?” He paused. “I don't remember.”
“No, you can't,” she answered sorrowfully. “I wish you could."

“I've only the faintest and most shadowy recollection-just a dim idea of somebody," he replied. “But in my little childish troubles I always had you.

I don't think I wanted any one else.” Judith took his hand in hers and held it for a moment, fondly clasped. “ You can't think how much I like to hear you say that.”

Lisle blushed, and was thankful for the dim light. "Do you know," he said hurriedly, "I rather think I may have a chance of giving old Clifton warning before long

“Oh, Bertie! Where could you get anything else as good ?"

“Not five and twenty miles away.” Bertie named a place which they had passed on their journey to Brenthill.“ Gordon of our choir told me of it this evening. I think I shall run over to-morrow, and make inquiries."

“But why would it be so much better?"

“There's a big grammar-school, and they have a chapel. I should be organist there."

“But do they pay more?" she persisted.

"Hardly as much to the organist, perhaps. But I could give lessons in the school, Gordon tells me, and make no end of money so. Oh, it would be a first-rate thing for me!”

“ And for me?"

“Oh, I hope you won't have to go on slaving for Miss Crawford. You must come and keep house Bertie stopped abruptly. He could deceive on a grand scale, but these small fibs, which came unexpectedly, confused him, and stuck in his throat.

“Keep house for you? Is that all I am to do? Bertie, how rich do you hope to be ?"

“Rich enough to keep you, very soon,” he answered gravely.

“But does Mr. Gordon think you have a chance of this appointment?"

“Why not?” said Bertie. “I am fit for it.” There was no arrogance in his simple statement of the fact.

“I know you are. All the same I think I won't give up my situation till we see how this new plan turns out. And I don't want to be idle.”

“But I don't want you to work," said Bertie. “You are killing yourself, and you know it. Well, this is worth inquiring about, at any rate, isn't it?"

"Yes, it certainly is. It sounds very pleasant. But pray don't be rash ; don't give up what you have already, until you quite see your

way.”

"No—but I think I do see it. I'll just take the 8.35 train tomorrow, and find out how the land lies. I can be back early in the afternoon."

So the matter was settled. As they went off to bed Lisle casually remarked that he had not seen Thorne that day. “Is he out, I wonder ?

Miss Bryant was making her nightly examination of the premises. She overheard the remark as she turned down the gas

in the informed them that when Mr. Thorne came in from the office he complained of a headache, asked for a cup of tea, and went early to bed. "Poor fellow !" said Lisle. “Good-night, Miss Bryant."

Apparently Percival's headache did not keep him in bed, for a light gleamed dimly in his sitting-room late that Tuesday night.

passage, and

CHAPTER XLV.

A THUNDERBOLT IN STANDON SQUARE. It was just one o'clock on the following Thursday, and Thorne was walking from the office to Bellevue Street. He had adopted a quicker and more business-like

pace than in old days, and came down the street with long steps, his head high, and an abstracted expression on his face. Suddenly he stopped. “ Miss Lisle!” he exclaimed.

« Good God! What is the matter?”

It was Judith, but so pale, with fear and horror looking so terribly out of her eyes, that she was like a spectre of herself. She stopped short as he had done, and gazed blankly at him.

" Judith, what is it?” he repeated. “For God's sake, speak. What is the matter ? "

He saw that she made a great effort to look like her usual self, and that she partly succeeded.

"I don't know," she answered. “ Please come, Mr. Thorne, but don't say anything to me yet. Not a word, please.”

In silence he offered her his arm. She took it, and they went on together. Something in Judith Lisle always appealed with peculiar force to Percival's loyalty. He piqued himself on not even looking inquiringly at his companion as they walked, but he felt her hand quivering on his arm, and his brain was busy with conjectures. “ Bertie has been

away the last day or two," he said to himself. “ Can she have heard

any bad news of him? But why is she so mysterious about it, for she is not the girl to make a needless mystery?” When they reached Bellevue Street she quitted his arm, thanked him with a look, and went upstairs. Percival followed her.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »