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My Lady Caprice(Chapter7)

2006-08-28 23:22

  VII. The Blasted Oak

  I had quarrelled with Lisbeth; had quarrelled beyond all hope of redemption and forgiveness, desperately, irrevocably, and it had all come about through a handkerchief - Mr. Selwyn's handkerchief.

  At a casual glance this may appear all very absurd, not to say petty; but then I have frequently noticed that insignificant things very often serve for the foundation of great; and incidentally quite a surprising number of lives have been ruined by a handkerchief.

  The circumstances were briefly these: In the first place, I had received the following letter from the Duchess, which had perturbed me not a little:

  MY DEAR DICK: I hear that that Agatha Warburton creature has written threatening to cut off our dear Lisbeth with the proverbial shilling unless she complies with her wish and marries Mr. Selwyn within the year. Did you ever know of anything so disgusting?

  If I were Lisbeth, and possessed such a 'creature" for an aunt, I'd see her in Timbuctoo first - I would! But then I forget the poor child has nothing in the world, and you little more, and "love in a cottage" is all very well, Dick, up to a certain time. Of course, it is all right in novels but you are neither of you in a novel, and that is the worst of it. If Providence had seen fit to make me Lisbeth's aunt, now, things might have been very different; hut alas! it was not to be. Under the circumstances, the best thing you can do, for her sake and your own, is to turn your back upon Arcadia and try to forget it all as soon as possible in the swirl of London and everyday life. Yours,CHARLOTTE C.

  P.S. Of course, "Romance is dead ages and ages ago; still, it really would be nice if you could manage to run off with her some fine night!

  Thus the fiat had gone forth, the time of waiting was accomplished; to-day Lisbeth must choose between Selwyn and myself.

  This thought was in my mind as I strode along the river path, filling me with that strange exhilaration which comes, I suppose, to most of us when we face some climax in our lives. But now the great question, How would she decide? leaped up and began to haunt me. Because a woman smiles upon a man, he is surely a most prodigious fool to flatter himself that she loves him, therefore. How would she decide? Nay, indeed; what choice had she between affluence and penury? Selwyn was wealthy and favoured by her aunt, Lady Warburton, while as for me, my case was altogether the reverse. And now I called to mind how Lisbeth had always avoided coming to any understanding with me, putting me off on one pretence or another, but always with infinite tact. So Fear came to me, and Doubt began to rear its head; my step grew slower and slower, till, reaching the Shrubbery gate, I leaned there in doubt whether to proceed or not. Summoning up my resolution, however, I went on, turning in the direction of the orchard, where I knew she often sat of a morning to read or make a pretence of sewing.

  I had gone but a little way when I caught sight of two distant figures walking slowly across the lawn, and recognised Lisbeth and Mr. Selwyn. The sight of him here and at such a time was decidedly unpleasant, and I hurried on, wondering what could have brought him so early.

  Beneath Lisbeth's favourite tree, an ancient apple-tree so gnarled and rugged that it seemed to have spent all its days tying itself into all manner of impossible knots - in the shade of this tree, I say, there was a rustic seat and table, upon which was a work-basket, a book, and a handkerchief. It was a large, decidedly masculine handkerchief, and as my eyes encountered it, by some unfortunate chance I noticed a monogram embroidered in one corner - an extremely neat, precise monogram, with the letters F. S. I recognised it at once as the property of Mr. Selwyn.

  Ordinarily I should have thought nothing of it, but to-day it was different; for there are times in one's life when the most foolish things become pregnant of infinite possibilities; when the veriest trifles assume overwhelming proportions, filling and blotting out the universe.

  So it was now, and as I stared down at the handkerchief, the Doubt within me grow suddenly into Certainty. I was pacing restlessly up and down when I saw Lisbeth approaching; her cheeks seemed more flushed than usual, and her hand trembled as she gave it to me.

  "Why, whatever is the matter with you?" she said; "you look so - so strange, Dick."

  "I received a letter from the Duchess this morning."

  "Did you?"

  "Yes; in which she tells me your aunt has threatened to - "

  "Cut me off with a shilling," nodded Lisbeth, crossing over to the table.

  "Yes," I said again.

  "Well?"

  "Well?"

  "Oh, for goodness' sake, Dick, stop tramping up and down like a - a caged bear, and sit down - do!"

  I obeyed; yet as I did so I saw her with the tail of my eye whip up the handkerchief and tuck it beneath the laces at her bosom.

  "Lisbeth," said I, without turning my head, "why hide it - there?"

  Her face flushed painfully, her lips quivered, and for a moment she could find no answer; then she tried to laugh it off.

  "Because I - I wanted to, I suppose !"

  "Obviously!" I retorted; and rising, bowed and turned to go.

  "Stay a moment, Dick. I have something to tell you."

  "Thank you, but I think I can guess."

  "Can you?"

  "Oh, yes."

  "Aren't you just a little bit theatrical, Dick?" Now, as she spoke she drew out Selwyn's handkerchief and began to tie and untie knots in it. "Dick," she went on - and now she was tracing out Selwyn's monogram with her finger - "you tell me you know that Aunt Agatha has threatened to disinherit me; can you realise what that would mean to me, I wonder?"

  "Only in some small part," I answered bitterly; "but it would be awful for you, of course - good-bye to society and all the rest of it - no more ball gowns or hats and things from Paris, and - "

  "And bearing all this in mind," she put in, "and knowing me as you do, perhaps you can make another guess and tell me what I am likely to do under these circumstances?"

  Now, had I been anything but a preposterous ass, my answer would have been different; but then I was not myself, and I could not help noticing how tenderly her finger traced out those two letters F. S., so I laughed rather brutally and answered:

  "Follow the instinct of your sex and stick to the Paris hats and things."

  I heard her breath catch, and turning away, she began to flutter the pages of the book upon the table.

  "And you were always so clever at guessing, weren't you?" she said after a moment, keeping her face averted.

  "At least it has saved your explaining the situation, and you should be thankful for that."

  The book slipped suddenly to the ground and lay, all unheeded, and she began to laugh in a strange, high key. Wondering, I took a step toward her; but as I did so she fled from me, running toward the house, never stopping or slackening speed, until I had lost sight of her altogether.

  Thus the whole miserable business had befallen, dazing me by its very suddenness like a "bolt from the blue." I had returned to the 'Three Jolly Anglers,' determined to follow the advice of the Duchess and return to London by the next train. Yet, after passing a sleepless night, here I was sitting in my old place beneath the alders pretending to fish.

  The river was laughing among the reeds just as merrily as ever, bees hummed and butterflies wheeled and hovered - life and the world were very fair. Yet for once I was blind to it all; moreover, my pipe refused to "draw" - pieces of grass, twigs, and my penknife were alike unavailing.

  So I sat there, brooding upon the fickleness of womankind, as many another has done before me, and many will doubtless do after, alack!

  And the sum of my thoughts was this: Lisbeth had deceived me; the hour of trial had found her weak; my idol was only common clay, after all. And yet she had but preferred wealth to comparative poverty, which surely, according to all the rules of common sense, had shown her possessed of a wisdom beyond her years. And who was I to sit and grieve over it? Under the same circumstances ninety-nine women out of a hundred would have chosen precisely the same course; but then to me Lisbeth had always seemed the one exempt - the hundredth woman; moreover, there be times when love, unreasoning and illogical, is infinitely more beautiful than this much-vaunted common sense.

  This and much more was in my mind as I sat fumbling with my useless pipe and staring with unseeing eyes at the flow of the river. My thoughts, however, were presently interrupted by something soft rubbing against me, and looking down, I beheld Dorothy's fluffy kitten Louise. Upon my attempting to pick her up, she bounded from me in that remarkable sideways fashion peculiar to her kind, and stood regarding me from a distance, her tail straight up in the air and her mouth opening and shutting without a sound. At length having given vent to a very feeble attempt at a mew, she zig-zagged to me, and climbing upon my knee, immediately fell into a purring slumber.

  "Hallo, Unc1e Dick! - I mean, what ho, Little John!" cried a voice, and looking over my shoulder, carefully so as nor to disturb the balance of "Louise," I beheld the Imp. It needed but a glance at the bow in his hand, the three arrows in his belt, and the feather in his cap to tell me who he was for the time being.

  "How now, Robin?" I inquired.

  "I'm a bitter, disappointed man, Uncle Dick!" he answered, putting up a hand to feel if his feather was in place.

  "Are you?"

  "Yes the book says that Robin Hood was 'bitter an' disappointed' an' so am I."

  "Why, how's that?"

  The Imp folded his arms and regarded me with a terrific frown. "It's all the fault of my Auntie Lisbeth'!" he said in a tragic voice.

  "Sit down, my Imp, and tell me all about it."

  "Well," he began laying aside his 'trusty sword,' and seating himself at my elbow, "she got awfull' angry with me yesterday, awfull' angry, indeed, an' she wouldn't play with me or anything; an' when I tried to be friends with her an' asked her to pretend she was a hippopotamus, 'cause I was a mighty hunter, you know, she just said, 'Reginald, go away an' don't bother me!'

  "You surprise me, Imp!"

  "But that's not the worst of it," he continued, shaking his head gloomily; "she didn't come to 'tuck me up' an' kiss me good-night like she always does. I lay awake hours an' hours waiting for her, you know; but she never came, an' so I've left her!"

  "Left her!" I repeated.

  "For ever an' ever!" he said, nodding a stern brow. "I 'specks she'll be awfull' sorry some day!"

  "But where shall you go to?"

  "I'm thinking of Persia!" he said darkly.

  "Oh!"

  "It's nice an' far, you know, an' I might meet Aladdin with the wonderful lamp."

  "Alas, Imp, I fear not," I answered, shaking my head; "and besides, it will take a long, long time to get there, and where shall you sleep at night?"

  The Imp frowned harder than ever, staring straight before him as one who wrestles with some mighty problem, then his brow cleared and he spoke in this wise:

  "Henceforth, Uncle Dick, my roof shall be the broad expanse of heaven, an - an - wait a minute!" he broke off, and lugging something from his pocket, disclosed a tattered, paper-covered volume (the Imp's books are always tattered), and hastily turning the pages, paused at a certain paragraph and read as follows:

  "'Henceforth my roof shall be the broad expanse of heaven, an' all tyrants shall learn to tremble at my name!' Doesn't that sound fine, Uncle Dick? I tried to get Ben, you know, the gardener's boy - to come an' live in the 'greenwood' with me a bit an' help to make 'tyrants' tremble, but he said he was 'fraid his mother might find him some day, an' he wouldn't, so I'm going to make them tremble all by myself, unless you will come an' be Little John, like you were once before - oh, do!"

  Before I could answer, hearing footsteps, I looked round, and my heart leaped, for there was Lisbeth coming down the path.

  Her head was drooping and she walked with a listless air. Now, as I watched I forgot everything but that she looked sad, and troubled, and more beautiful than ever, and that I loved her. Instinctively I rose, lifting my cap. She started, and for the fraction of a second her eyes looked into mine, then she passed serenely on her way. I might have been a stick or stone for all the further notice she bestowed.

  Side by side, the Imp and I watched her go, until the last gleam of her white skirt had vanished amid the green. Then he folded his arms and turned to me.

  "So be it!" he said, with an air of stern finality; "an' now, what is a 'blasted oak,' please?"

  "A blasted oak!" I repeated.

  "If you please, Uncle Dick."

  "'Well, it's an oak-tree that has been struck by lightning."

  "Like the one with the 'stickie-out' branches, where I once hid Auntie Lis - Her stockings?"

  I nodded, and sitting down, began to pack up my fishing rod and things.

  "I'm glad of that," pursued the Imp thoughtfully. "Robin Hood was always saying to somebody, 'Hie thee to the blasted oak at midnight!' an' it's nice to have one handy, you know."

  I thought that under certain circumstances, and with a piece of rope, it would be very much so, "blasted" or otherwise, but I only said, "Yes" and sighed.

  "'Whence that doleful visage,' Uncle Dick - I mean Little John? Is Auntie angry with you, too?"

  "Yes," I answered, and sighed again.

  "Oh!" said the Imp, staring, "an' do you feel like - like - wait a minute - and once more he drew out and consulted the tattered volume - "'do you feel like hanging yourself in your sword-belt to the arm of yonder tree?'" he asked eagerly, with his finger upon a certain paragraph.

  "Very like it, my Imp."

  "Or - or 'hurling yourself from the topmost pinnacle of yon lofty crag?'"

  "Yes, Imp; the 'loftier' the better!"

  "Then you must be in love, like Alan-a-Dale; he was going to hang himself, an' 'hurl himself oft the topmost pinnacle,' you know, only Robin Hood said, 'Whence that doleful visage,' an' stopped him - you remember?"

  "To be sure," I nodded.

  "An' so you are really in love with my Auntie Lisbeth, are you?"

  "Yes."

  "Is that why she's angry with you?"

  "Probably."

  The Imp was silent, apparently plunged once more in a profound meditation.

  "'Fraid there's something wrong with her," he said at last, shaking his head; "she's always getting angry with everybody 'bout something - you an' me an' Mr. Selwyn

  "Mr. Selwyn!" I exclaimed. "Imp, what do you mean?"

  "'Well, she got cross with me first - an' over such a little thing, too! We were in the orchard, an' I spilt some lemonade on her gown - only about half a glass, you know, an' when she went to wipe it off she hadn't a handkerchief, an' 'course I had none. So she told me to fetch one, an' I was just going when Mr. Selwyn came, so I said, 'Would he lend Auntie Lisbeth his handkerchief, 'cause she wanted one to wipe her dress?' an' he said, 'Delighted!' Then auntie frowned at me an' shook her head when he wasn't looking. But Mr. Selwyn took out his handkerchief, an' got down on his knees, an' began to wipe off the lemonade, telling her something 'bout his 'heart,' an' wishing he could 'kneel at her feet forever!' Auntie got awfull' red, an' told him to stand up, but he wouldn't; an' then she looked at me so awfull' cross that I thought I'd better leave, so while she was saying, 'Rise, Mr. Selwyn-do!' I ran away, only I could tell she was awfull' angry with Mr. Selwyn - an' that's all!"

  I rose to my knees and caught the Imp by the shoulders.

  "Imp," I cried, are you sure - quite sure that she was angry with Mr. Selwyn yesterday morning?"

  "'Course I am. I always know when Auntie Lisbeth's angry. An' now let's go an' play at 'Blasted Oaks.'

  "Anything you like, Imp, so long as we find her."

  "You're forgetting your fishing rod an' - "

  "Fishing rod be - blowed!" I exclaimed, and set oft hurriedly in the direction Lisbeth had taken.

  The Imp trotted beside me, stumbling frequently over his "trusty sword" and issuing numberless commands in a hoarse, fierce voice to an imaginary "band of outlaws." As for me, I strode on unheeding, for my mind was filled with a fast-growing suspicion that I had judged Lisbeth like a hasty fool.

  In this manner we scoured the neighbourhood very thoroughly, but with no success. However, we continued our search with unabated ardour - along the river path to the water stairs and from thence by way of the gardens to the orchard; but not a sign of Lisbeth. The shrubbery and paddock yielded a like result, and having interrogated Peter in the harness-room, he informed us that "Miss Helezabeth was hout along with Miss Dorothy." At last, after more than an hour of this sort of thing, even the Imp grew discouraged and suggested "turning pirates."

  Our wanderings had led by devious paths, and now, as luck would have it, we found ourselves beneath "the blasted oak."

  We sat down very solemnly side by side, and for a long time there was silence.

  "It's fine to make 'tyrants tremble,' isn't it Uncle Dick?" said the Imp at last.

  "Assuredly." I nodded.

  "But I should have liked to kiss Auntie Lisbeth good-bye first, an' Dorothy, an' Louise - "

  "What do you mean, my Imp?"

  "Oh, you know, Uncle Dick! "My roof henceforth shall be the broad expanse.' I'm going to fight giants an' - an' all sorts of cads, you know. An' then, if ever I get to Persia an' do find the wonderful lamp, I can wish everything all right again, an' we should all be 'happy ever after' - you an' Auntie Lisbeth an' Dorothy an' me; an' we could live in a palace with slaves. Oh, it would be fine!"

  "Yes, it's an excellent idea, Imp, but on the whole slightly risky, because it's just possible that you might never find the lamp; besides, you'll have to stop here, after all, because, you see, I'm going away myself."

  "Then let's go away together, Uncle Dick, do!"

  "Impossible, my Imp; who will look after your Auntie Lisbeth and Dorothy and Louise?"

  "I forgot that," he answered ruefully.

  "And they need a deal of taking care of," I added.

  "'Fraid they do," he nodded; "but there's Peter," he suggested, brightening.

  "Peter certainly knows how to look after horses, but that is not quite the same. Lend me your trusty sword."

  He rose, and drawing it from his belt handed it to me with a flourish.

  "You remember in the old times, Imp, when knights rode out to battle, it was customary for them when they made a solemn promise to kiss the cross-hilt of their swords, just to show they meant to keep it. So now I ask you to go back to your Auntie Lisbeth, to take care of her, to shield and guard her from all things evil, and never to forget that you are her loyal and true knight; and now kiss your sword in token, will you?" and I passed back the weapon.

  "Yes," he answered, with glistening eyes, "I will, on my honour, so help me Sam!" and he kissed the sword.

  "Good!" I exclaimed; "thank you, Imp."

  "But are you really going away?" he inquired, looking at me with a troubled face.

  "Yes!"

  "Must you go?"

  "Yes."

  "Will you promise to come back some day - soon?"

  "Yes, I promise."

  "On your honour?"

  "On my honour!" I repeated, and in my turn I obediently kissed his extended sword-hilt.

  "Are you going to-night, Uncle Dick?"

  "I start very early in the morning, so you see we had better say 'good-bye' now, my Imp."

  "Oh!" he said, and stared away down the river. Now, in the button-hole of my coat there hung a fading rosebud which Lisbeth had given me two days ago, and acting on impulse, I took it out.

  "Imp," I said, "when you get back, I want you to give this to your Auntie Lisbeth and say - er - never mind, just give it to her, will you?"

  "Yes, Uncle Dick," he said, taking it from me, but keeping his face turned away.

  "And now good-bye, Imp!"

  "Good-bye!" he answered, still without looking at me.

  "Won't you shake hands?"

  He thrust out a grimy little palm, and as I clasped it I saw a big tear roll down his cheek.

  "You'll come back soon - very soon - Uncle Dick?"

  "Yes, I'll come back, my Imp."

  "So - help you - Sam?"

  "So help me Sam!"

  And thus it was we parted, the Imp and I, beneath the "blasted oak," and I know my heart was strangely heavy as I turned away and left him.

  After I had gone some distance I paused to look back. He still stood where I had left him, but his face was hidden in his arms as he leaned sobbing against the twisted trunk of the great tree.

  All the way to the 'Three Jolly Anglers' and during the rest of the evening the thought of the little desolate figure haunted me, so much so that, having sent away my dinner untasted, I took pen and ink and wrote him a letter, enclosing with it my penknife, which I had often seen him regard with "the eye of desire," despite the blade he had broken upon a certain memorable occasion. This done, I became possessed of a determination to send some message to Lisbeth also - just a few brief words which should yet reveal to her something of the thoughts I bore her ere I passed ut of her life forever.

  For over an hour I sat there, chewing the stem of my useless pipe and racking my bran, but the "few brief words" obstinately refused to come. Nine o'clock chimed mournfully from the Norman tower of the church hard by, yet still my pen was idle and the paper before me blank; also I became conscious of a tapping somewhere close at hand, now stopping, now beginning again, whose wearisome iteration so irritated my fractious nerves that I flung down my pen and rose.

  The noise seemed to come from the vicinity of the window. Crossing to it, therefore, I flung the casement suddenly open, and found myself staring into a round face, in which were set two very round eyes and a button of a nose, the whole surmounted by a shock of red hair.

  "'Allo, Mr. Uncle Dick!"

  It needed but this and a second glance at the round face to assure me that it pertained to Ben, the gardener's boy.

  "What, my noble Benjamin?" I exclaimed.

  "No, it's me!" answered the redoubtable Ben. "'E said I was to give you this an' tell you, 'Life an' death!'" As he spoke he held out a roll of paper tied about the middle with a boot lace; which done, the round head grinned, nodded, and disappeared from my ken. Unwinding the boot lace, I spread out the paper and read the following words, scrawled in pencil:

  Hi the to the Blasted Oke and all will be forgiven. Come back to your luving frends and bigones shall be bigones. Look to the hole in the trunk there of.

  Sined,ROBIN, Outlaw and Knight.

  P.S. I mean where i hid her stockings - you no.

  I stood for some time with this truly mysterious document in my hand, in two minds what to do about it; if I went, the chances were that I should run against the Imp, and there would be a second leave-taking, which in my present mood I had small taste for. On the other hand, there was a possibility that something might have transpired which I should do well to know.

  And yet what more could transpire? Lisbeth had made her choice, my dream was over, to-morrow I should return to London - and there was an end of it all; still -

  In this pitiful state of vacillation I remained for some time, but in the end curiosity and a fugitive hope gained the day, and taking my cap, I sallied forth.

  It was, as Stevenson would say, "a wonderful night of stars," and the air was full of their soft, quivering light, for the moon was late and had not risen as yet. As I stepped from the inn door, somebody in the tap-room struck up "Tom Bowling" in a rough but not unmusical voice; and the plaintive melody seemed somehow to become part of the night.

  Truly, my feet trod a path of "faerie," carpeted with soft mosses, a path winding along beside a river of shadows on whose dark tide stars were floating. I walked slowly, breathing the fragrance of the night and watching the great, silver moon creeping slowly up the spangled sky. So I presently came to the "blasted oak." The hole in the trunk needed little searching for. I remembered it well enough, and thrusting in my hand, drew out a folded paper. Holding this close to my eyes, I managed with no little difficulty to decipher this message:

  Don't go unkel dick bekors Auntie lisbeth wants you and i want you to. I heard her say so to herself in the libree and she was crying to, and didn't see me there but i was. And she said 0 Dick i want you so, out loud bekors she didn't no I was there. And i no she was crying bekors i saw the tiers. And this is true on my onner so help me sam.

  Sined,Yore true frend and Knight,REGINALD AUGUSTUS.

  A revulsion of feeling swept over me as I read. Ah! if only I could believe she had said such words - my beautiful, proud Lisbeth.

  Alas! dear Imp, how was it possible to believe you? And because I knew it could not possibly be true, and because I would have given my life to know that it was true, I began to read the note all over again.

  Suddenly I started and looked round; surely that was a sob! But the moon's level rays served only to show the utter loneliness about me. It was imagination, of course, and yet it had sounded very real.

  And she said, "0 Dick, I want you so!"

  The river lapped softly against the bank, and somewhere above my head the leaves rustled dismally.

  "Dear little Imp, if it were only true!"

  Once again the sound came to me, low and restrained, but a sob unmistakably.

  On the other side of the giant tree I beheld a figure half sitting, half lying. The shadow was deep here, but as I stooped the kindly moon sent down a shaft of silver light, and I saw a lovely, startled face, with great, tear-dimmed eyes.

  "Lisbeth!" I exclaimed; then, prompted by a sudden thought, I glanced hastily around.

  "I am alone," she said, interpreting my thought aright.

  "But - here - and - and at such an hour!" I stammered foolishly. She seemed to be upon her feet in one movement, fronting me with flashing eyes.

  "I came to look for the Imp. I found this on his pillow. Perhaps you will explain?" and she handed me a crumpled paper.

  DEAR AUNTIE LISBATH: (I read)

  Unkel dick is going away bekors he is in luv with you and you are angry with the Blasted oke, where I hid yore stokkings if you want to kiss me and be kind to me again, come to me bekors I want someboddie to be nice to me now he is gone.

  yore luving sorry IMP.

  P.S. He said he would like to hang himself in his sword-belt to the arm of yonder tree and hurl himself from yon topmost pinnakel, so I no he is in luv with you.

  "Oh, blessed Imp!"

  "And now where is he?" she demanded.

  "Lisbeth, I don't know."

  "You don't know! Then why are you here?"

  For answer I held out the letter I had found, and watched while she read the words I could not believe.

  Her hat was off, and the moon made wonderful lights in the coils of her black hair. She was wearing an indoor gown of some thin material that clung, boldly revealing the gracious lines of her supple figure, and in the magic of the moon she seemed some young goddess of the woods - tall and fair and strong, yet infinitely womanly.

  Now as she finished reading she turned suddenly away, yet not before I had seen the tell-tale colour glowing in her cheeks - a slow wave which surged over her from brow to chin, and chin to the round, white column of her throat.

  And she said, "0 Dick, I want you so!" I read aloud.

  "Oh," Lisbeth murmured.

  "Lisbeth, is it true?"

  She stood with her face averted, twisting the letter in her fingers.

  "Lisbeth!" I said, and took a step nearer. Still she did not speak, but her hands came out to me with a swift, passionate gesture, and her eyes looked into mine; and surely none were ever more sweet, with the new shyness in their depths and the tears glistening on their lashes.

  And in that moment Doubt and Fear were swallowed up in a great joy, and I forgot all things save that Lisbeth was before me and that I loved her. The moon, risen now, had made a broad path of silver across the shadowy river to our very feet, and I remembered how the Imp had once told me that it was there for the moon fairies to come down by when they bring us happy dreams. Surely, the air was full of moon fairies to-night.

  "0 Imp, thrice blessed Imp!"

  "But - but Selwyn?" I groaned at last.

  "Well?"

  "If you love him - "

  "But I don't!"

  "But if you are to marry him - "

  "But I'm not! I was going to tell you so in the orchard yesterday, but you gave me no chance; you preferred to guess, and, of course, guessed wrong altogether. I knew it made you wretched, and I was glad of it and meant to keep you so a long, long time; but when I looked up and saw you standing there so very, very miserable, Dick, I couldn't keep it up any longer, because I was so dreadfully wretched myself, you know."

  "Can you ever forgive me?"

  "That depends, Dick."

  "On what?"

  Lisbeth stooped, and picking up her hat, began to put it on.

  "Depends on what?" I repeated.

  Her hat was on now, but for a while she did not answer, her eyes upon the "fairy path." When at last she spoke her voice was very low and tender.

  "'Not far from the village of Down, in Kent, there is a house,'" she began, "'a very old ho use, with pointed gables and pannelled chambers, but empty to-night and desolate.' You see I remember it all," she broke off.

  "Yes, you remember it all," I repeated, wondering.

  "Dick - I - I want you to - take me there. I've thought of it all so often. Take me there, Dick."

  "Lisbeth, do you mean it?"

  "It has been the dream of my life for a long time now - to work for you there, to take care of you, Dick - you need such a deal, such a great deal of taking care of - to walk with you in the old rose garden; but I'm a beggar now, you know, though I sha'n't mind a bit if - if you want me, Dick."

  "Want you!" I cried, and with the words I drew her close and kissed her. Now, from somewhere in the tree above came a sudden crack and mighty snapping of twigs.

  "All right, Uncle Dick!" cried a voice; "it's only the branch. Don't worry."

  "Imp!" I exclaimed.

  "I'm coming, Uncle Dick," he answered, and with much exertion and heavy breathing he presently emerged into view and squirmed himself safely to earth. For a moment he stood looking from one to the other of us, then he turned to Lisbeth.

  "Won't you forgive me, too, Auntie Lisbeth, please?" he said.

  "Forgive you!" she cried, and falling on her knees, gathered him in her arms.

  "I'm glad I didn't go to Persia, after all, Uncle Dick," he said over her shoulder.

  "Persia!" repeated Lisbeth, wonderingly.

  "Oh, yes; you were so angry with Uncle Dick an' me - so frightfull' angry, you know, that I was going to try to find the 'wonderful lamp' so I could wish everything all right again an' all of us 'live happy ever after'; but the blasted oak did just as well, an' was nicer, somehow, wasn't it?"

  "Infinitely nicer," I answered.

  "An' you will never be angry with Uncle Dick or me any more, will you, auntie - that is, not frightfull' angry, you know?"

  "Never any more, dear."

  "On your honour?"

  "On my honour!"

  "So help you Sam?"

  "So help me Sam!" she repeated, smiling, but there were tears in her voice.

  Very gravely the Imp drew his "trusty sword," which she, following his instructions, obediently kissed.

  "And now," cried he, "we are all happy again, aren't we?"

  "More happy than I ever hoped or dreamed to be," answered Lisbeth, still upon her knees; "and oh, Imp - dear little Imp, come and kiss me."

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