« ZurückWeiter »
the button of the coat caught in the fringe of a cloth which was spread upon it, and in a minute the cloth and all the glasses and plates which had been left there came to the ground with a wild crash, which would have made Belle laugh, if she had not been too nervous even to smile.
Guy merely told the servants to pick it all up, and put down the things he was carrying and walked straight across the room to the two frightened people at the far end of the table. Poor fellow ! After shaking hands with old Barly and giving Belle an abrupt little nod, all he could find to say was,—
"I hope you came of your own free will, Miss Barly?" and as he spoke he gave a shy scowl and eyed her all over.
"Yes," Belle answered, blinking her soft eyes to see him more clearly. "Then I'm very much obliged to you," said Guy.
This was such an astonishingly civil answer that Belinda's courage
Poor Belinda's heart failed her again when Griffiths, still in an agony of shyness, then turned to her father, and in his roughest voice said,— "You leave early in the morning, but I hope we shall keep your daughter for a very long time."
Poor fellow he meant no harm and only intended this by way of conversation. Belle in her secret heart said to herself that he was a cruel brute; and poor Guy, having made this impression, broken a dozen wineglasses, and gone through untold struggles of shyness, now wished them both good-night.
"Good-night, Mr. Barly; good-night, Miss Belle," said he. Something in his voice caused Belle to relent a little.
Good-night, Mr. Griffiths," said the girl, standing up, a slight graceful figure, simple and nymph-like, amidst all this pomp of circumstance. As Griffiths shuffled out of the room he saw her still; all night he saw her in his dreams. That bright winsome young creature dressed in white soft folds, with all the gorgeous gildings and draperies, and the lights burning, and the pictures and gold cups glimmering round about her. They were his, and as many more of them as he chose the inanimate, costly, sickening pomps and possessions; but a pure spirit like that, to be a bright living companion for him? Ah, no! that was not to be -not for him, not for such as him. Guy, for the first time in his life, as he went downstairs next morning, stopped and looked at himself attentively in the great glass on the staircase. He saw a great loutish, roundbacked fellow, with a shaggy head and brown glittering eyes, and little strong white teeth like a dog's; he gave an uncouth sudden caper of rage and regret at his own appearance. "To think that happiness and life itself and love eternal depend upon tailors and hair-oil," groaned poor Guy, as he went down to his room to write letters.
Mrs. Griffiths had not seen Belle the night before; she was always nervously averse to seeing strangers, but she had sent for me that evening, and as I was leaving she asked me to go down and speak to Miss Barly
before I went. Belinda was already in her room, but I ventured to knock at the door. She came to meet me with a bright puzzled face and all her pretty hair falling loose about her face. She had not a notion who I was, but begged me to come in. When I had explained things a little, she pulled out a chair for me to sit down.
"This house seems to me so mysterious and unlike anything else I have ever known," said she," that I'm very grateful to any one who will tell me what I'm to do here-please sit down a little while."
They are excellent world, and I have
I told her that she would have to write notes, to add up bills, to read to Mrs. Griffiths, and to come to me whenever she wanted any help or comfort. "You were quite right to come," said I. people. Guy is the kindest, best fellow in the whole long heard of you, Miss Barly, and I'm sure such a good daughter as you have been will be rewarded some day."
Belle looked puzzled, grateful, a little proud, and very charming. She told me afterwards that it had been a great comfort to her father to hear of my little visit to her, and that she had succeeded in getting him away without any very painful scene.
Poor Belle! I wonder how many tears she shed that day after her father was gone? While she was waiting to be let in to Mrs. Griffiths she amused herself by wandering about the house, dropping a little tear here and there as she went along, and trying to think that it amused her to see so many yards of damask and stair-carpeting, all exactly alike, so many acres of chintz of the same pattern.
"Mr. Griffiths desired me to say that this tower room was to be made ready for you to sit in, ma'am," said the respectful butler, meeting her and opening a door. "It has not been used before." And he gave her the key, to which a label was affixed, with "Miss BARLY'S ROOM" written upon it, in the housekeeper's scrawling handwriting.
Belle gave a little shriek of admiration. It was a square room, with four windows, overlooking the gardens, the distant park, and the broad cheerful road which ran past the house. An ivy screen had been trained over one of the windows, roses were clustering in garlands round the deep sill casements. There was an Indian carpet, and pretty silk curtains, and comfortable chintz chairs and sofas, upon which beautiful birds were flying and lilies wreathing. There was an old-fashioned-looking piano too, and a great book-case filled with books and music. 'They certainly treat me in the most magnificent way," thought Belle, sinking down upon the sofa in the window which overlooked the rose-garden, and inhaling a delicious breath of fragrant air. "They can't mean to be very unkind." Belle, who was a little curious, it must be confessed, looked at everything, made secret notes in her mind, read the titles of the books, examined the china, discovered a balcony to her turret. There was a little writing-table, too, with paper and pens and inks of various colours, which especially pleased her. A glass cup of cut roses had been placed upon it, and two dear little green books, in one of which some one had left a paper-cutter,
The first was a book of fairy tales, from which I hope the good fairy editress will forgive me for stealing a sentence or two.
The other little green book was called the Golden Treasury; and when Belle took it up, it opened where the paper-cutter had been left, at the seventh page, and some one had scored the sonnet there. Belle read it, and somehow, as she read, the tears in her eyes started afresh.
Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
it began. "To" had been scrawled underneath; and then the letter following the "To" erased. Belle blinked her eyes over it, but could make nothing out. A little further on she found another scoring
O, my love's like a red, red rose,
That's sweetly played in tune!
and this was signed with a G.
"Love! That is not for me; but I wish I had a slave," thought poor Belle, hanging her head over the book as it lay open in her lap, "and that he was clever enough to tell me what my father is doing at this minute." She could imagine it for herself, alas! without any magic interference. She could see the dreary little cottage, her poor old father wearily returning alone. She nearly broke down at the thought, but some one knocked at the door at that instant, and she forced herself to be calm as one of the servants came in with a telegram. Belinda tore open her telegram in some alarm and trembling terror of bad news from home; and then smiled a sweet loving smile of relief. The telegram came from Guy. It was dated from his office. "Your father desires me to send word that he is safe home. He sends his love. I have been to D. on business, and travelled down with him."
Belinda could not help saying to herself that Mr. Griffiths was very kind to have thought of her. His kindness gave her courage to meet his mother.
It was not very much that she had to do; but whatever it was she accomplished well and thoroughly, as was her way. Whatever the girl put her hand to she put her whole heart to at the same time. Her energy, sweetness, and good spirits cheered the sick woman and did her infinite good. Mrs. Griffiths took a great fancy to her, and liked to have her about her. Belle lunched with her the first day. She had better dine down below, Mrs. Griffiths said; and when dinner-time came the girl dressed herself, smoothed her yellow curls, and went shyly down the great staircase into the dining-room. It must be confessed that she glanced a little curiously at the table, wondering whether she was to dine alone or in company. This problem was soon solved; a side-door burst open, and Guy made his appearance, looking shy and ashamed of it as he came up and shook hands with her.
"Miss Belinda," said he, "will you allow me to dine with you ? "
"You must do as you like," said Belinda, quickly, starting back.
"Not at all," said Mr. Griffiths. "It is entirely as you shall decide. If you don't like my company, you need only say so. I shall not be offended. Well, shall we dine together?"
"Oh, certainly," laughed Belinda, confused in her turn.
So the two sat down to dine together. For the first time in his life Guy thought the great room light enough and bright and comfortable. The gold and silver plate didn't seem to crush him, nor the draperies to suffocate, nor the great columns ready to fall upon him. There was Belinda picking her grapes and playing with the sugar-plums. He could hardly believe it possible. His poor old heart gave great wistful thumps (if such a thing is possible) at the sound of her voice. She had lost much of her shyness, and they were talking of anything that came into their heads. She had been telling him about Myrtle Cottage, and the spiders there, and looking up, laughing, she was surprised to see him staring at her very sadly and kindly. He turned away abruptly, and began to help himself to all sorts of things out of the silver dishes.
"It's very good of you," Guy said, looking away, "to come and brighten this dismal house, and to stay with a poor suffering woman and a great uncouth fellow like myself."
"But you are both so very kind," said Belinda, simply. "I shall never forget”
"Kind!” cried Guy, very roughly. "I behaved like a brute to you and your father yesterday. I am not used to ladies' society. I am stupid and shy and awkward."
"If you were very stupid," said Belle, smiling, "you would not have said that, Mr. Griffiths. Stupid people always think themselves charming."
When Guy said good-night immediately after dinner as usual, he sighed again, and looked at her with such kind and melancholy eyes that Belle felt an odd affection and compassion for him. "I never should have thought it possible to like him so much," thought the girl, as she slowly went along the passage to Mrs. Griffiths' door.
It was an odd life this young creature led in the great silent stifling house, with uncouth Guy for her playfellow, the sick woman's complaints and fancies for her duty in life. The silence of it all, its very comfort and splendidness, oppressed Belinda more at times than a simpler and more busy life, But the garden was an endless pleasure and refreshment, and she used to stroll about, skim over the terraces and walks, smell the roses, feed the birds and the gold fishes. Sometimes I have stood at my window watching the active figure flitting by in and out under the trellis, fifteen times round the pond, thirty-two times along the terrace walk. Belle was obliged to set herself tasks, or she would have got tired sometimes of wandering about by herself. All this time she never thought of Guy except as a curious sort of companion; any thought of sentiment had never once occurred to her.
ONE day that Belle had been in the garden longer than usual, she remembered a note for Mrs. Griffiths that she had forgotten to write, and springing up the steps into the hall, on the way, with some roses in her apron, she suddenly almost ran up against Guy, who had come home earlier than usual. The girl stood blushing and looking more charming than ever. The young fellow stood quite still too, looking with such expressive and admiring glances that Belinda blushed deeper still, and made haste to escape to her room. Presently the gong sounded, and there was no help for it, and she had to go down again. Guy was in the dining-room as polite and as shy as usual, and Belinda gradually forgot the passing impression. The butler put the dessert on the table and left them, and when she had finished her fruit Belinda got up to say good-by. As she was leaving the room she heard Guy's footsteps following. She stopped short. He came up to her. He looked very pale, and said suddenly in a quick, husky voice, "Belle, will you marry me?" Poor Belinda opened her grey eyes full in his face. She could hardly believe she had heard aright. She was startled, taken aback, but she followed her impulse of the moment, and answered gravely, "No, Guy."
He wasn't angry or surprised. He had known it all along, poor fellow, and expected nothing else. He only sighed, looked at her once again, and then went away out of the room.
Poor Belle, she stood there where he had left her,-the lights burnt, the great table glittered, the curtains waved. It was like a strange dream. She clasped her hands together, and then suddenly ran and fled away up to her own room,-frightened, utterly puzzled, bewildered, not knowing. what to do or to whom to speak. It was a comfort to be summoned as usual to read to Mrs. Griffiths. She longed to pour out her story to the poor lady, but she dreaded agitating her. She read as she was bid. Once she stopped short, but her mistress impatiently motioned her to go on. She obeyed, stumbling and tumbling over the words before her, until there came a knock at the door, and, contrary to his custom, Guy entered the room. He looked very pale, poor fellow, and sad and subdued. "I wanted to see you, Miss Belinda," he said aloud, "and to tell you that I hope this will make no difference, and that you will remain with us as if nothing had happened. You warned me, mamma, but I could not help myself. my own fault. Good-night. That is all I had to say."
Belle turned wistfully to Mrs. Griffiths. The thin hand was impatiently twisting the coverlet. "Of course-Who would have anything to say to him? Foolish fellow," she muttered in her indistinct way.
"Oh, but tell me first, ought I remain here?" Belle asked, imploringly. "Certainly, unless you are unhappy with us," the sick woman answered, peevishly. Mrs. Griffiths never made any other allusion to what had happened. I think the truth was that she did not care very much for