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thought insultingly high spirits, could not help that night building an extra castle or two upon the magnificent trifles of that wonderful ball. The other girls chatted of their partners: she looked down at the frivolity which treated as a mere amusement so solemn a function.
Of course she awoke to a morning of misery. Her first ball had crowded into a few short hours all the excitement of sights and sounds that had been fermenting in her ever since she had been brought from the other side of the world. And now it was all overand her one night's life had more than ever unfitted her for life at The Laurels.
She had a headache, for the first time since her loss of Ponto : everybody seemed to be out of temper to her, and she seemed to be out of temper to everybody. Mrs. Westwood had ample cause for ill-humour, but surely there was no reason why Gerald, usually so good-humoured, should play the part of an ill-used man. He had intended that she should enjoy the ball, and she had enjoyed itwhat did how she enjoyed it matter to him? Really everybody seemed very disagreeable. Nature, there was no doubt about it, had intended her for a great painter perhaps--certainly for a queen: Destiny had doomed her to be the niece of Aunt Caroline and Uncle John. She did not remain long in the house after the very late breakfast, but stole out alone to wander about her castles undisturbed.
They were very phantom castles : and Beckfield was not among them. She did not fancy herself in love with the Earl : but she recalled his rather full-flavoured compliments, and relished them highly. Then she thought of Gerald. Not even twenty years of The Laurels could prevent. a grown girl from being able to read jealousy in the eyes of a boy. She had read it legibly enough, and was more pleased with this gift than with that of the silk gown. It was extorted homage: it enabled her for once to exert power and give pain.
As she walked on, her fit of ill-temper passed away with her headache and she began to think about other things. There was the picture--why, she herself, she thought, could have done as much, by the light of Nature, as to make a girl's face and encircle it with a garland of berries and green leaves. She had been practising it ever since she had “written a señora” on the slate for the benefit of Aunt Car'line : and she somehow thought her own stock face the more beautiful of the two. Would the Earl really remember his promise to ask them all over to Beckfield ?
Her castles were growing higher and higher, vaguer and vaguer, when she suddenly caught sight of Gerald, strolling towards her, and
doing terrible execution among the nettles and fox-gloves as he came along She instinctively put on an unconscious and indifferent air, and watched him with the cruel delight of feeling that she, whom everybody was always putting out of temper, had at last succeeded in putting somebody out of temper about her. That her victim was he whom she loved best made her achievement the more completely satisfactory
He soon caught sight of her, left off attacking the fox-gloves and nettles, and, in his turn, tried to look completely at ease. But she saw him colour as they came nearer, and smiled both to herself and to him.
“Gerald !-How you startled me! What are you doing here by yourself, all alone?”
“What are you? I'm doing nothing—and they're all so corfoundedly slow at home.”
“What-Aunt Car'line and Carry and Julia and Molly slow? Well—perhaps they are just a little.”
“Why didn't you tell me you were coming out, Olympia ? You always used to, in old times. We could have had one of our old walks, and
“No, thank you. I'm not going to risk drowning you again. And then I'm not sure I didn't find you rather slow, too. You were the crossest of them all.”
“Not a bit of it. And if I had been you shouldn't have been surprised."
“You were, though—and I was surprised. I should have thought you'ld have enjoyed the ball you thought so much of before it came : and when you were there you never danced, and when it was over you were as grave and solemn as if you'd been to your own funeral. I thought sailors were always jolly and happy wherever they are, but I suppose I'm wrong."
“ As if every sailor was bound to be always grinning through a horse-collar! I suppose you think because I'm an officer of the Lapwing I've nothing to do but dance hornpipes and chew tobacco ?”
“Of course I do—and to have a wife in every port and to be always shivering your timbers—whatever that may be. How many wives have you, Gerald ?”
“Nonsense—can't you talk seriously for once in a way? I've been 'home ever so long now, and you haven't really talked to me, or been like you used to be, except when”He stopped short: for it was not possible to put into words the episode of the parlour door.
Her heart already began to repent of teasing him: but the spirit of mischief was not so easily exorcised.
“I didn't know you were so fond of serious conversation, Gerald," she said demurely. "I shall really begin to think something has happened to you since you've been away, and that you've left your heart across the sea. Never mind—I'll talk seriously enough. I have a crow to pick with you, and a big one."
“ With me?"
“Yes, with you. Once on a time you used to tell me everythingall your scrapes and troubles. But that's all over now. We've become young lady and young gentleman now, so I must behave myself accordingly."
“Why, what on earth do you mean? Are you really angry with me?” he asked, a sudden gleam of returning good temper rising in his eyes. If she meant to tease him she had drawn the wrong arrow this time—if she was really angry he was more than satisfied. One need not be a woman or more than eighteen to know that heat is incompatible with cold. Nevertheless she had not quite failed : she might have sent the wrong arrow, but she had put the right cap on his head more accurately than she pretended to believe.
“Ah, you may well look ashamed of yourself,” she went on. “ How could you have had the heart to let poor Uncle John puzzle himself over what nobody but you could tell him—how you got here by a coach that you couldn't have come by? I didn't mind your not telling Aunt Car’line, you know young men don't tell their mothers everything, I suppose, though she thinks so—but oh, Gerald,
I you ought to have told me! Are you afraid of me since you've got a big boy-a man, I mean? And why did you go to London ? And how did you get your face hurt? For I don't believe what you said, not a word.”
He blushed up to his hair. But he was not displeased to find that she had suspected him of some scrape becoming a man—that is to say, of one which it is improper to confide to girls and that requires a lie to conceal from one's mother. However, it was not of the lie that he was proud, and he would have told Olympia all about it long ago had it not been for the admixture of a pair of blue eyes with his adventure. But that was all of the past now : he was looking into a pair of brown eyes worth all the blue eyes that ever were made. He had all the constancy of his eighteen years—loyalty to the queen of the hour.
“Why, Olympia !” he exclaimed at last, "you're a witch ! How did you know? And it's that that vexed you?"
“That's how I know," she said, taking from her pocket a crumpled piece of thin white paper stained with large black capitals.
“The bill of the Phoenix ! How in the world did you get hold of that thing?"
“Do you think I put on your clothes without looking to see what was inside? Ah, you little know what secrets I mayn't have found !'
“ I'm awfully glad you did, and that you've asked me about it too -I didn't tell you before because you didn't seem to care where I'd been or what I'd done. Yes, I did go up to London with Tom Harris you've heard me speak of.”
“How splendid! Fancy having been really in London and not bursting out with it as soon as you came home-London, that one reads and hears of—it's more than having been round the world. That's like the use of the globes—but London! You must tell me about it, every word. Where did you go-what
Where did you go—what did you see? Did you see the Tower ? That's where I'ld go first of all, and fancy myself Lady Jane Grey: not that I care much about her-or the Queen of Scots : only she wasn't there. You didn't see the King, did you? Or the army? Or".
“No-I only went to the play. That's the bill.”
“Ah, if that's all you did, no wonder you didn't tell Aunt Car'line ! What was it like? What did they act? Was it ‘Hamlet'?”
Gerald was not quick at description. “Well, no, it wasn't ‘Hamlet.' It wasn't Shakespeare, or any of those fellows. It was what they call a ballet, where people dance, and all that sort of thing."
“I know! Oh, just think if Aunt Car’line knew-I must tell her just for fun-I'll leave the play-bill in her way. So that's a real playbill, is it? Why does it smell like orange-peel? Gerald, it's the dream of my life to see a play. Was it very beautiful ?”
She was once more the Olympia of old times, and the last remnant of a cloud was passing from Gerald's brow.
“ Pretty well-pretty fair," he said, as though he was an experienced play-goer. “There was a wonderful bear, that I wish you'd
“ seen, and a girl."
“A bear? Then it wasn't any of the plays I know. And what did you do after the play? People that one reads of always do something after the play.”
His face fell again. “Well—to make a clean breast of it, Olympia I got into as bad a mess as I was ever in, and I've been in a few."
“I should think so !” she said, proud of her old pupil in mischief. "But what was it—anything very bad ?-anything I can help you in ? Do you mean the black patch ?”
Oh, that was nothing-I'll tell you all that afterwards. I went home with an actor I met there, and somehow I got cleaned out at écarté"
“ Ecarté ?”
“Cards, you know; and I had to borrow a fiver from Tom Harris to pay my bill and get down.”
“Gerald—you've been in bad company, I'm afraid !"
“Not a bit of it-only luck was so confoundedly against me; and if you'd only seen the girl ”
“ The girl ?-Do you mean the girl with the bear ?"
“ Didn't I say that she was there too? Well, if you'd only seen her, you'ld have seen at once she was as good as gold."
“If you'd read as much as I have, you wouldn't think every girl perfection because she looked as good as gold. Was she dark or fair?"
“Fair,” said Gerald, wishing for some unknown reason that he had said nothing of the girl.
“Did she play cards, as well as the actor? I never trust those fair, washed-out looking girls. How can you be so foolish, Gerald, to go with people like that and let them do what they like with you? I dare
say she was only painted, if the truth were known.” “Indeed she wasn't, Olympia."
“Just as if a man could tell ! I used to wish I was fair, but I don't now. I can fancy how she laughed at you behind your back when you were gone.”
Gerald blushed again—he had an uncomfortable suspicion that it was quite possible, though he had never allowed himself to dwell for a moment upon such a shame to his manhood ; and he still believed the poor Firefly to be as good as gold. It was to be hoped with better cause than he had for his belief that he had been beaten by luck instead of Monsieur Joseph Drouzil.
“ And who else was there?" she asked.
Then, glad to escape from the unlucky subject of Firefly, he told her at full length all about his singular meeting with their old acquaintance the old campaigner.
“I wonder who he is,” she said. “I remember all about him well -I was ever so much older than you, you know. And I remember how Uncle John looked as if he'd been shot when he saw him—and how he wanted to kiss me, and how he smelled of drink and tobacco. And you won't remember, but I do, how Aunt Car'line asked all about him in the village, as if there was something going on--it comes back like yesterday. 'Tis queer indeed you met him again.