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The Money Moon(Chapter17)

2006-08-28 23:17

  Chapter XVII. How Bellew began the game

  Now in this life of ours, there be games of many, and divers, sorts, and all are calculated to try the nerve, courage, or skill of the player, as the case may be. Bellew had played many kinds of games in his day, and, among others, had once been famous as a Eight Tackle on the Harvard Eleven. Upon him he yet bore certain scars received upon a memorable day when Yale, flushed with success, saw their hitherto invincible line rent and burst asunder, saw a figure torn, bruised, and bleeding, flash out and away down the field to turn defeat into victory, and then to be borne off honourably to hospital, and bed.

  If Bellew thought of this, by any chance, as he sat there, staring up at the moon, it is very sure that, had the choice been given him, he would joyfully have chosen the game of torn flesh, and broken bones, or any other game, no matter how desperate, rather than this particular game that Adam had invented, and thrust upon him.

  Presently Bellew knocked the ashes from his pipe, and rising, walked on slowly toward the house. As he approached, he heard someone playing the piano, and the music accorded well with his mood, or his mood with the music, for it was haunting, and very sweet, and with a recurring melody in a minor key, that seemed to voice all the sorrow of Humanity, past, present, and to come.

  Drawn by the music, he crossed the Rose Garden, and reaching the terrace, paused there; for the long French windows were open, and, from where he stood, he could see Anthea seated at the piano. She was dressed in a white gown of some soft, clinging material, and among the heavy braids of her hair was a single great, red rose. And, as he watched, he thought she had never looked more beautiful than now, with the soft glow of the candles upon her; for her face reflected the tender sadness of the music, it was in the mournful droop of her scarlet lips, and the sombre depths of her eyes. Close beside her sat little Miss Priscilla busy with her needle as usual, but now she paused, and lifting her head in her quick, bird-like way, looked up at Anthea, long, and fixedly.

  "Anthea my dear," said she suddenly, "I'm fond of music, and I love to hear you play, as you know,——but I never heard you play quite so——dolefully? dear me, no,——that's not the right word,——nor dismal,——but I mean something between the two."

  "I thought you were fond of Grieg, Aunt Priscilla."

  "So I am, but then, even in his gayest moments, poor Mr. Grieg was always breaking his heart over something, or other. And—— Gracious!——there's Mr. Bellew at the window. Pray come in, Mr. Bellew, and tell us how you liked Peterday, and the muffins?"

  "Thank you!" said Bellew, stepping in through the long French window, "but I should like to hear Miss Anthea play again, first, if she will?"

  But Anthea, who had already risen from the piano, shook her head:

  "I only play when I feel like it,——to please myself,——and Aunt Priscilla," said she, crossing to the broad, low window-seat, and leaning out into the fragrant night.

  "Why then," said Bellew, sinking into the easy-chair that Miss Priscilla indicated with a little stab of her needle, "why then the muffins were delicious, Aunt Priscilla, and Peterday was just exactly what a one-legged mariner ought to be."

  "And the shrimps, Mr. Bellew?" enquired Miss Priscilla, busy at her sewing again.

  "Out-shrimped all other shrimps so ever!" he answered, glancing to where Anthea sat with her chin propped in her hand, gazing up at the waning moon, seemingly quite oblivious of him.

  "And did——He——pour out the tea?" enquired Miss Priscilla, "from the china pot with the blue flowers and the Chinese Mandarin fanning himself,——and very awkward, of course, with his one hand,——I don't mean the Mandarin, Mr. Bellew,——and very full of apologies?"

  "He did."

  "Just as usual; yes he always does,——and every year he gives me three lumps of sugar,——and I only take one, you know. It's a pity," sighed Miss Priscilla, "that it was his right arm,——a great pity!" And here she sighed again, and, catching herself, glanced up quickly at Bellew, and smiled to see how completely absorbed he was in contemplation of the silent figure in the window-seat. "But, after all, better a right arm——than a leg," she pursued,——"at least, I think so!"

  "Certainly!" murmured Bellew.

  "A man with only one leg, you see, would be almost as helpless as an——old woman with a crippled foot,——"

  "Who grows younger, and brighter, every year!" added Bellew, turning to her with his pleasant smile, "yes, and I think,——prettier!"

  "Oh, Mr. Bellew!" exclaimed Miss Priscilla shaking her head at him reprovingly, yet looking pleased, none the less,——"how can you be so ridiculous,——Good gracious me!"

  "Why, it was the Sergeant who put it into my head,——"

  "The Sergeant?"

  "Yes,——it was after I had given him your message about peaches, Aunt Priscilla and——"

  "Oh dear heart!" exclaimed Miss Priscilla, at this juncture, "Prudence is out, to-night, and I promised to bake the bread for her, and here I sit chatting, and gossipping while that bread goes rising, and rising all over the kitchen!" And Miss Priscilla laid aside her sewing, and catching up her stick, hurried to the door.

  "And I was almost forgetting to wish you 'many happy returns of the day, Aunt Priscilla!'" said Bellew, rising.

  At this familiar appellation, Anthea turned sharply, in time to see him stoop, and kiss Miss Priscilla's small, white hand; whereupon Anthea must needs curl her lip at his broad back. Then he opened the door, and Miss Priscilla tapped away, even more quickly than usual.

  Anthea was half-sitting, half-kneeling among the cushions in the corner of the deep window, apparently still lost in contemplation of the moon. So much so, that she did not stir, or even lower her up-ward gaze, when Bellew came, and stood beside her.

  Therefore, taking advantage of the fixity of her regard, he, once more, became absorbed in her loveliness. Surely a most unwise proceeding——in Arcadia, by the light of a midsummer moon! And he mentally contrasted the dark, proud beauty of her face, with that of all the women he had ever known,——to their utter, and complete disparagement.

  "Well?" enquired Anthea, at last, perfectly conscious of his look, and finding the silence growing irksome, yet still with her eyes averted,——"Well, Mr. Bellew?"

  "On the contrary," he answered, "the moon is on the wane!"

  "The moon!" she repeated, "Suppose it is,——what then?"

  "True happiness can only come riding astride the full moon you know,——you remember old Nannie told us so."

  "And you——believed it?" she enquired scornfully.

  "Why, of course!" he answered in his quiet way.

  Anthea didn't speak but, once again, the curl of her lip was eloquent.

  "And so," he went on, quite unabashed, "when I behold Happiness riding astride the full moon, I shall just reach up, in the most natural manner in the world, and——take it down, that it may abide with me, world without end."

  "Do you think you will be tall enough?"

  "We shall see,——when the time comes."

  "I think it's all very ridiculous!" said Anthea.

  "Why then——suppose you play for me, that same, plaintive piece you were playing as I came in,——something of Grieg's I think it was,——will you, Miss Anthea?"

  She was on the point of refusing, then, as if moved by some capricious whim, she crossed to the piano, and dashed into the riotous music of a Polish Dance. As the wild notes leapt beneath her quick, brown fingers, Bellew, seated near-by, kept his eyes upon the great, red rose in her hair, that nodded slyly at him with her every movement. And surely, in all the world, there had never bloomed a more tantalizing, more wantonly provoking rose than this! Wherefore Bellew, very wisely, turned his eyes from its glowing temptation. Doubtless observing which, the rose, in evident desperation, nodded, and swayed, until, it had fairly nodded itself from its sweet resting-place, and, falling to the floor, lay within Bellew's reach. Whereupon, he promptly stooped, and picked it up, and,——even as, with a last, crashing chord, Anthea ceased playing, and turned, in that same moment he dropped it deftly into his coat pocket.

  "Oh! by the way, Mr. Bellew," she said, speaking as if the idea had but just entered her mind, "what do you intend to do about——all your furniture?"

  "Do about it?" he repeated, settling the rose carefully in a corner of his pocket where it would not be crushed by his pipe.

  "I mean——where would you like it——stored until you can send, and have it——taken away?"

  "Well,——I——er——rather thought of keeping it——where it was if you didn't mind."

  "I'm afraid that will be——impossible, Mr. Bellew."

  "Why then the barn will be an excellent place for it, I don't suppose the rats and mice will do it any real harm, and as for the damp, and the dust——"

  "Oh! you know what I mean!" exclaimed Anthea, beginning to tap the floor impatiently with her foot. "Of course we can't go on using the things now that they are your property, it——wouldn't be——right."

  "Very well," he nodded, his fingers questing anxiously after the rose again, "I'll get Adam to help me to shift it all into the barn, to-morrow morning."

  "Will you please be serious, Mr. Bellew!"

  "As an owl!" he nodded.

  "Why then——of course you will be leaving Dapplemere soon, and I should like to know exactly when, so that I can——make the necessary arrangements."

  "But you see, I am not leaving Dapplemere soon or even thinking of it."

  "Not?" she repeated, glancing up at him in swift surprise.

  "Not until——you bid me."

  "I?"

  "You!"

  "But I——I understood that you——intend to——settle down?"

  "Certainly!" nodded Bellew, transferring his pipe to another pocket altogether, lest it should damage the rose's tender petals. "To settle down has lately become the——er——ambition of my life."

  "Then pray," said Anthea, taking up a sheet of music, and beginning to study it with attentive eyes, "be so good as to tell me——what you mean."

  "That necessarily brings us back to the moon again," answered Bellew.

  "The moon?"

  "The moon!"

  "But what in the world has the moon to do with your furniture?" she demanded, her foot beginning to tap again.

  "Everything!——I bought that furniture with——er——with one eye on the moon, as it were,——consequently the furniture, the moon, and I, are bound indissolubly together."

  "You are pleased to talk in riddles, to-night, and really, Mr. Bellew, I have no time to waste over them, so, if you will excuse me——"

  "Thank you for playing to me," he said, as he held the door open for her.

  "I played because I——I felt like it, Mr. Bellew."

  "Nevertheless, I thank you."

  "When you make up your mind about——the furniture,——please let me know."

  "When the moon is at the full, yes."

  "Can it be possible that you are still harping on the wild words of poor old Nannie?" she exclaimed, and once more, she curled her lip at him.

  "Nannie is very old, I'll admit," he nodded, "but surely you remember that we proved her right in one particular,——I mean about the Tiger Mark, you know."

  Now, when he said this, for no apparent reason, the eyes that had hitherto been looking into his, proud and scornful,——wavered, and were hidden under their long, thick lashes; the colour flamed in her cheeks, and, without another word, she was gone.

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