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think that I might have discovered it sooner, but, there is nothing, it appears to me, to which people are commonly so blind as the realities of their own lives. But I am boring you?" He broke off inquiringly.
"Not at all," she said gently. This was the Professor in a new light.
"Well, er-," he hesitated. "I found out the mistake I had been makingthat, after all, there was truth in the stuff in novels. And I found out my mistake when I met you at your aunt's in Edinburgh, no longer the little girl I remembered, but a young woman. And-although I am not quite such an old man as I had fancied, I am not very young, and I am afraid I am not very good-looking; but do you think," he said, gravely anxious, "do you think that you could come to care for me a little?" The girl had risen to her feet, and from kindly interest she had passed to blank astonishment. rose quickly, and took her hand. "Will you by my wife?" he said, briefly and quietly. "Bess?"
"Mr. Heron-my father-oh, let me go away!" she cried, striving to free her hands.
"Bess," he said, anxiously, "I have startled you; but I don't want your answer right at once. I asked your father's permission to speak to you of this, and he wished me success; but you were to decide for yourself, and-and you will consider what I have said, and let me have an answer soon?" he pleaded; "I have been dreaming of this ever since I saw you in Edinburgh; I— it is only a little while that I have been in a position to speak to you, and now
But I will go away this evening, and you will write, won't you?" He still held her hand, but she no longer resisted, and he was patting it in a
fatherly, protecting sort of way, as he spoke. He had ceased his jog-trot narrative tones, and now spoke nervously and rapidly. Hitherto, he had kept his eyes rigorously turned away from her face, but now he looked down at her. "Now, now!" he said, in gentle reproof, as though to a child. "For heaven's sake, don't cry, Bess! I-I'll go away! I'll-" But, being a healthilyconstituted young lady, she did nothing of the kind. Only, her lip trembled somewhat, as she said, rather unsteadily, "You will-go away?" And she smiled delightfully, an April-wise smile, with a tear glistening on her lashes.
Professor Heron had settled down in his new rôle of accepted suitor, although it was decided that, for the present, the engagement should not be made public. It suited the quiet humor of both Heron and Bess, and indeed of the remaining members of the household, Mr. Forster, and Kate, the elder sister of Bess, that they should be spared the increased attention and general gossip inevitable on an announce-ment of their new relationship. Mr. Forster beamed delightedly on the lovers and bright-eyed, somewhat sharpspoken Kate smiled a good deal, and sighed a little privately, as she hustled about more energetically than ever. For Heron himself, it was a blissful time. All his vacation schemes had been abandoned, and his ideas travelled no further than the morrow. For the most part he was content to stroll through the fields in hour-long conversations with Bess; he stood towards all created things in quite a new relationship, and there seemed to be all the world to be talked about as something strange and new. After his solitary, bookish existence in Thistle Court, there was some. thing unreal in his present happiness,
and he used sometimes to wonder whether this girl flitting about him was really Elizabeth Forster, and that it was true she had promised to marry him? Or had he only imagined a vain thing, and was really sitting before his study-fire in Edinburgh, dreaming away the dull hours of a Sunday afternoon in winter? At times he remembered Geoffrey Thorne and his taunt "Make the most of your advantages they won't count for much an elderly wooer . . 'Auld Robin Gray.'" The recollection troubled him, and he strove to forget it; but it would not be forgotten. Sometimes he felt that he ought to write to Thorne, but always he hesitated; in a resentful mood, he steeled himself to indifference; in a friendlier spirit, he shrank from the possibility of a final and definite rupture. But still, from time to time he felt anxious. Was the girl really happy? Or did she already regret her decision? Had she merely been dazzled with the glamour and importance of an engagement? Or was she only anxious to do what she knew full well would be pleasing to her father. These things troubled the Professor, and yet he dared confide in nobody. He would watch her gravely, intent on finding, in her expression, proof or refutation of his suspicions. An impatient look would awaken all his anxieties, a kind one would drive them away. But always there remained an uncertainty, and although he manfully strove to dismiss his fears as foolish and unworthy, there yet remained a shadow, slight at first, over even his brightest moments, and the shadow was growing.
Some weeks after Heron's arrival at the Forsters', a charity concert was to take place in Alnwick, and everyone in the district, more or less, had taken tickets, the Forsters among the rest. A great singer, spending her holidays in the neighborhood, had promised to as
sist, and all were anxious to hear her. When the eventful evening arrived Heron discovered that some university correspondence would detain him somewhat later in his departure than the rest of the family; so, after seeing them set out in the dog-cart, Mr. Forster and the stable-boy in front, and the two girls, their heads enveloped in white wraps, on the back seat, he returned to his letters, and a little later was striding blithely along the road to the town, pleasurably intent on seeing Bess again in all the bravery of her best party frock, and anxious, also, to miss as little as possible of the simple pleasures of the evening.
Arrived at the hall in which the concert was taking place, he found the passage-ways blocked with listeners unable to obtain seats, and rather than jostle and be jostled, in the effort to reach the Forsters, he was content to stand on some steps leading to a gallery, and from whence he had an unimpeded view of the hall. There was a pause, and people were standing up and chatting. He could see the Forsters, Bess, the white flower in her hair, the tall man standing talking to her. To Heron, there seemed to be something familiar in the man's figure. Presently he turned, so that Heron got a view of his face. It was Geoffrey Thorne. But the great lady from London now appeared on the platform, there was a burst of applause, and those who had been standing up sat down. Thorne, Heron noted, sat down beside Bess.
The singer advanced to the edge of the platform, and stood glancing idly down the hall, as she waited for the accompanist to play the introduction to her song. It was the "Habanera" from Carmen-that strange, narcotic, passion-stirring melody; caprice with a heart-break in it. Heron stood lost in thought. The music was in tune with his mood; hall and audience had alike
faded away, and there was only Bess and Geoffrey, and the clear voice ringing in his ears. The song came to an end, and there was rapturous applause; the front seats were politely ecstatic, even the back benches were uncomprehendingly excited. The applause brought the great lady back again, smiling and bowing with careless, accustomed grace. The accompanist followed her on to the platform, and she turned and spoke with him for a moment. Heron, looking on from the stairway, scarcely noticed that she was going to sing again, the opening symphony and its attendant burst of applause passed equally unheeded. His mind was full of Geoffrey Thorne and Elizabeth Forster; his passing doubts and anxieties had suddenly grown into settled convictions. how he seemed to feel no great resentment, but rather to have the bewildered feeling of one who has wakened out of a dream; he had made a mistake. clear, bell-like voice of the singer struck upon his ear:
"Young Jamie lo'ed me weel,
And he sought me for his bride."
Aye! "Auld Robin Gray." The very words that Thorne had used, and here was Thorne himself, dropped unaccountably into their midst. In his excited state, the coincidence upset the last remnants of Heron's better judgment. Of course he recognized the coincidence merely as such; beyond this, he no longer reflected, but surrendered himself to every torture of an overanxious mind. And this wretched song, which struck home to him, could be no less potent in suggestion to them. But the song was over, and a general moving about of the audience disturbed him in his bitter fancies. Some people were coming towards the door in search of a fresher atmosphere. Bess and Thorne were among them, and Heron drew back into the shadow of a
doorway; he was in no mood for conversation with anyone.
Bess and Thorne ascended the gallery stairs, and passing through another room stepped through an open window, out on to the flat, balustraded top of the porch. Silently, Heron sprang up the stairs to a fresh vantage-point of shadow, whence he could spy upon them unobserved. They stood looking down into the moonlit street, and he could see their faces as they turned momentarily towards each other in conversation although he could only faintly catch the sound of their voices, and utterly failing to distinguish what they said. From laughing chatter they appeared to drop swiftly into serious talk. Heron could distinguish the grave expression of Thorne's face; but of Bess he could only discern her tall, gleaming figure as she stood motionless and seemingly silent, with the conflicting rays of lamplight and moonshine striking upon her short opera-cloak and white skirt. A feeling of contempt for himself seized upon Heron. He would spy upon them no longer. He felt that he could trust implicitly to Bess remaining true to her promise, at whatever cost to herself; but he would set her free. He felt sure that he saw things now in their true light, and that, after all, he was really Auld Robin Gray-Thorne's "elderly wooer;" and Heron, without another look at the couple out on the porch-roof, stole softly downstairs, donned his overcoat, and left the hall. As he reached the street he heard the muffled sound of applause from the interior of the building. He glanced up at the top of the porch; there was nobody there. He strolled aimlessly through the town and out into the country, his brain in a perfect whirl. He had done wrong, he had made a mistake; but he would repair his error; somehow he would make things right for the young people.
"A mistake; a mistake; a mistake!" he muttered over and over again, with a dull persistence; "a mistake!" "Eh? What's a mistake?"
Heron started. Unconsciously he had arrived outside the Forsters' house. The voice was that of Mr. Forster; and that gentleman himself was leaning over the white-painted gate, smoking -placidly.
"Oh, it's you, David! Couldn't stand the heat of that room any longer, eh? Came home an hour ago myself, for that very reason. Sent the boy down with the dogcart to bring the girls home; expect they'll be here presently, raging for their supper; ha, ha!" And the old gentleman chuckled. "But you were saying something was a mistake -By the way-curious thing-we met young Geoffrey Thorne just as we got to the hall this evening. He's staying with some people the other side of the town. Ah, never be the man his father was! But what about the mistake?"
The old gentleman spoke in leisurely snatches between whiffs at his pipe. He had opened the gate to admit Heron, and now he shifted his elbows sociably to allow his friend also having comfortable leaning space. But Heron merely said:
"Come into the house, Forster, I want to talk to you;" and walked slowly up the avenue.
"Eh? Oh, certainly." And Mr. Forster, marvelling somewhat, followed his friend indoors. They went into Mr. Forster's study, and Mr. Forster turned up the lamp. "Well?" he said.
Heron stood with his back to the mantel-piece, his head thrust somewhat forward, and his lean face looking leaner and grimmer than usual.
"We-I-we have all made a mistake. I should never have asked you for Bess; I should never have asked Bess for herself. Geoffrey Thorne is more to her than a hundred such as I, and I
am not going to make the girl miserable for life by holding her to a promise I am convinced she now regrets.”
The words came with a rush, and then Heron was silent.
Mr. Forster stood meditatively looking at Heron for a few moments. Then he went on:
"But this is rank lunacy, David. I suppose some girls do say 'Yes' without over-much thought; but if Bess did not care for you sufficiently to marry you, you may stake your life on it she would have said so; and unless she cared very much indeed for you, you would have had to wait for your answer."
"But you don't know all," said Heron miserably. "Geoffrey told me. the very night before I left Edinburgh, that he had cared for nobody but Bess for years back, and that as soon as he got settled down in his practice he meant to ask her to be his wife. And then I told him that I also loved Bess; and then we quarrelled, and Geoffrey said some hard things; and then-I took advantage of your friendship to forestall him." He went on excitedly: "Man, this thing has been hanging over me like a cloud for days and days, and to-night when I saw them together I realized that I was no man for your Bess." His voice fell. "I'll slip away quietly in the early morning, nobody knows of our engagement yet, and I'l write to-to your daughter; it's the best that I can do."
Mr. Forster looked troubled. "This is all very strange, David," he said, quietly, “and I am almost certain that you are mistaken. We are none of us responsible for young Thorne's romantic imaginings-nor for yours. But there! it's for Bess to decide. Only, there's to be no running away in the morning."
"But I must go!" said Heron desperately.
"Very well, go," said Mr. Forster pa
tiently. "Go away in the morning, invent a message calling you away on business--but don't write to her about breaking off the match, for a week or two yet. David," he went on kindly, "you have been moping among books until they have got on your nerves. You are terribly anxious, I know, about the girl's happiness; but don't you think you may be going the very way to defeat your own intention?"
There was a sound of wheels on the gravel outside. "Hullo," said Mr. Forster, "here they are;" and he went out to the porch. Heron marched upstairs, a little shaken in his resolution, but none the less alive, so he told him. self, to what he considered to be his plain duty. Lighting a candle, he went into the little sitting-room which had been made over to him as a temporary study. He began to arrange his various belongings, but presently he paused in his work to look round the room. It was very homelike, and peaceful, and countrified. He glanced down at the papers before him; he remembered, in a confused sort of way, that they must be packed up. Then he wondered listlessly whether they were worth preserving, nothing seemed to matter much now. But this was weakness, and he bundled the sheets together, and stuffed them into a small portfolio. Some time before he had heard Elizabeth's voice downstairs (it gave him a melancholy satisfaction to think of her as Elizabeth, it seemed formal and distant); but now there was silence. Doubtless he would be called down to supper in a little, and the prospect terrified him. Presently there was a tap at his door. "Come in!" he said, with rather a tremor. Forster, possibly, come to remonstrate anew with him. But it was not Mr. Forster whom the open door revealed, but Elizabeth-Elizabeth, still in her white dress, with the white flower showing at the side of her shapely
She stood in the doorway, with the soft candle-light falling upon her, and the dark passage by way of background, like a portrait in its frame. Still dressed as at the concert, she stood silently smiling, her left hand set against her side, and the short black velvet mantle flung back over her shoulders, exposing a rosy flush of silken lining. In her right hand she still held her black feather fan, with its long black ribands showing against the front of her gown. She made a picture, a picture which was to live in Heron's memory for the rest of his life; he could say nothing. Thackeray's "Cane-Bottom'd Chair" came into his
She comes from the past and revisits my room;
She looks as she then did, all beauty and bloom;
So smiling and tender, so fresh and so fair.
At last the lovely apparition spoke. "Well," she said, "why did you not come beside us at the concert? And Daddy says that you are going away in the morning?"
Heron put out his hand deprecatingly. "Elizabeth, it-it is very hard to explain--" he began.
"I should think so!" she said dryly. "Fortunately, it is not necessary. And Elizabeth, oh dear!" She tapped on the floor with the toe of her slipper, in real or simulated annoyance. There was silence.
"Daddy has been telling me-something," she said suddenly. "Are you very, very fond of Geoffrey Thorne?" He sighed. "Yes."
"Fonder than you are of me?" "Oh, Bess, this is too much-!" "Ah, that's better!" This audacious young woman spoke in a distinctly approving tone.
"Bess," he went on slowly, "I am afraid I have been very unreasonable. I