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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 10. Aivron And Geinig
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 10. Aivron And Geinig Post by :Barefootn Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :974

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 10. Aivron And Geinig


Honnor Cunyngham was quite as proud as Lionel himself that he had killed a stag; for in a measure he was her pupil; at all events it was at her instigation that he was devoting himself to these athletic sports and pastimes, and so far withdrawing himself from the trivialities and affectations of the serious little band of amateurs. Not that Miss Cunyngham ever exhibited any disdain for those pursuits of her gifted sisters-in-law; no; she listened to Lady Sybil's music, and regarded Lady Rosamund's canvases, and even read the last MS. chapter of Lady Adela's new novel (for that great work was now in progress) with a grave good-humor and even with a kind of benevolence; and it was only when one or the other of them, with unconscious simplicity, named herself in conjunction with some master of the art she was professing--wondering how _he could do such and such a thing in such and such a fashion when _she found another method infinitely preferable--it was only at such moments that occasionally Honnor Cunyngham's clear hazel eyes would meet Lionel's, and the question they obviously asked was "Is not that extraordinary?" They did not ask "Is not that absurd?" or "How can any one be so innocently and inordinately vain?" they only expressed a friendly surprise, with perhaps the smallest trace of demure amusement.

On the other hand, if Miss Cunyngham rather intimated to this young guest and stranger that, being at a shooting-lodge in the Highlands, he ought to devote himself to the healthful and vigorous recreations of the place, instead of dawdling away his time in drawing-room frivolities, it was not that she herself should take possession of him as her comrade on her salmon-fishing excursions. He soon discovered that he was not to have any great encouragement in this direction. She was always very kind to him, no doubt; and she had certainly proposed that, if he cared to go with her, he could take the wading portions of the pools; but beyond that she extended to him very little companionship, except what he made bold to claim. And the fact is, he was rather piqued by the curious isolation in which this young lady appeared to hold herself. She seemed so entirely content with herself, so wholly indifferent to the little attentions and flatteries of ordinary life, always good-natured when in the society of any one, she was just as satisfied to be left alone. Now, Lionel Moore had not been used to this kind of treatment. Women had been only too ready to smile when he approached; perhaps, indeed, familiar success had rendered him callous; at all events, he had managed to get along so far without encountering any violent experience of heart-aching desire and disappointment and despair. But this young lady, with the clear, fine, intellectual face, the proud lips, the calm, observant eyes, puzzled him--almost vexed him. Nina, for example, was a far more sympathetic companion; either she was enthusiastically happy, talkative, vivacious, gay as a lark, or she was wilfully sullen and offended, to be coaxed round again and petted, like a spoiled child, until the natural sunshine of her humor came through those wayward clouds. But Miss Cunyngham, while always friendly and pleasant, remained (as he thought) strangely remote, imperturbable, calm. She did not seem to care about his society at all. Perhaps she would rather have him go up the hill?--though the birds were getting very wild now for a novice. In any case, she could not refuse to let him accompany her on the morning after his deer-stalking expedition; for all the story had to be told her.

"I suppose you are very stiff," she said, cheerfully, as they left the lodge--he walking heavily in waders and brogues--old Robert coming up behind with rod and gaff. "But I should imagine you do not ask for much sympathy. Shall I tell you what you are thinking of at this moment? You have a vague fear that the foxes may have got at that precious animal during the night; and you are anxious to see it safely down here at the lodge; and you want to have the head sent at once to Mr. Macleay's in Inverness, so that it mayn't get mixed up with the lot of others which will be coming in when the driving in the big forests begins. Isn't that about it?"

"You are a witch," said he, "or else you have been deer-stalking yourself. But, you know, Miss Honnor, it's all very well to go on an expedition like that of yesterday once in a way--as a piece of bravado, almost; and no doubt you are very proud when you see the dead stag lying on the heather before you; but I am not sure I should ever care for it as a continuous occupation, even if I were likely to have the chance. The excitement is too furious, too violent. But look at a day by the side of a salmon river!" continued this adroit young man. "There is absolute rest and peace--except when you are engaged in fighting a salmon; and, for my own part, that is not necessary to my enjoyment at all. No; I would rather see you fish; then I know that everything is going right--that every pool is being properly cast over--that Robert is satisfied. And in the meantime I can sit and drink in all the beauty of the scenery--the quietude--the loneliness; that is a real change for me, after the busy life of London. I have got to be great friends with this river; I seem to have known it all my life; when we were coming home last evening, after being away in those awful solitudes, the sound of the Geinig was the most welcome thing I ever heard, I think."

"It is to the Geinig we are going now," said his companion, who appeared quite to ignore the insidious appeal conveyed in these touching sentiments. "I promised to leave all the Aivron pools to Mr. Lestrange. But we may take the Junction Pool, for he won't have time to come beyond the Bad Step; and, by the way, Mr. Moore, if you feel stiff after yesterday, going up and down the Bad Step won't do you any harm."

Well, the ascent of this Bad Step (whether so named from the French or the Gaelic nobody seemed to know) was not so difficult, after all, for it was gradual; and a brief breathing-space on the summit showed them the far-stretching landscape terminating in the wild mountains of Assynt; but the sheer descent into the gloomy chasm on the other side was rather an awkward thing for any one encased in waders. However, Lionel managed somehow or another to slide and scramble down this zig-zag track on the face of the loose debris; they reached the bottom in safety and crossed the burn; they followed a more secure pathway cut along the precipitous slope overlooking the Aivron; then they got down once more to the river-side, and found themselves walking over velvet-soft turf, in a wood of thinly scattered birch and hazel.

But when they emerged from this wood, passed along by some meadows, and reached the Junction Pool (so called from the Geinig and Aivron meeting here), they found that the sun was much too bright; so they contentedly seated themselves on the bank to wait for a cloud, while old Robert proceeded to consult his fly-book. Neither of them seemed in a very talkative mood; indeed, when you are in front of a Highland river, with its swift-glancing lights, its changing glooms and gleams, its continual murmur and prattle, what need is there of any talk? Talk only distracts the attention. And this part of the stream was especially beautiful. They could hardly quarrel with the sunlight when, underneath the clear water, it sent interlacing lines of gold chasing one another across the brown sand and shingle of the shallows; and if the cloudless sky overhead compelled this unwilling idleness, it also touched each of those dancing ripples with a gleam of most brilliant blue. Farther out those scattered blue gleams became concentrated until they formed glassy sweeps of intensest azure where the deep pools were; and these again gave way to the broken water under the opposite bank, where the swift-running current reflected the golden-green of the overhanging bushes and weeds. Where was the call for any speech between these two? When, at length, Robert admonished the young man to get ready, because a cloud was coming over, and this part of the Aivron had to be waded, Lionel got up with no great good-will; that silent companionship, in the gracious stillness and soothing murmur of the stream, seemed to him to be more profitable to the soul than the lashing of a wide pool with a seventeen-foot rod.

But he buckled to his task like a man; and as he could wade a good distance in, there was no need for him to attempt a long line. Surreptitiously, on many occasions, he had been getting lessons from old Robert; and now, if his casting was not professional in its length, it was at least clean. Moreover, by this time he had learned that the expectant moment in salmon-fishing is not when the fly lights away over at the other side and begins to sweep round in a semicircle, but when it drags in the current before it is withdrawn; and he was in no haste in recovering.

"Why, Mr. Moore, you are casting beautifully," Miss Honnor Cunyngham called to him; and the words were sweet music to his ears, for it may be frankly admitted that this somewhat sensitive novice was playing to the gallery. His diligent and careful thrashing, however, was of no avail. He could not stir anything; and as in time the deepening water drove him ashore, he willingly surrendered his rod to his fair companion, who could now fish from the bank.

Then he sat down to watch--and to dream. He could see that she was getting out more and more line, and throwing beautifully; but he had persuaded himself (or thought he had persuaded himself) into the belief that the singular and constant charm of this river had no association with her, or with the quiet hours these two had passed there together. It was the stream talking to him that had fascinated him as he sat idly and listened. He had grown familiar with every cadence of that mysterious voice--now a whispering and laughing as the water chased over the sunny shallows--then a harsher note where the current, fretting and chafing, as it were, was broken by multitudes of stones--again a low murmur as the black river swept, dark and sullen, through a contracted channel--finally a fiercer tumult as this once-placid Aivron, increasing in pace and volume every moment, flung itself, lion-like, over the masses of rocks--its tawny mane upheaved to the daylight--and then fell, crashing and plunging, into a mighty chasm, the birchwoods around reverberating with its angry roar. Far away is the lonely sea. This friendly river may laugh or brawl as it will, but there is peace for it at last; its varying voices must eventually disappear in the dull, slow tumult of the distant world. And yet it seemed to him to complain as it went by--to appeal to him; and yet why to him, if he, too, was summoned away from this still solitude and sucked into a murmuring ocean still more awful than the sea?

"Well done, Miss Honnor!" old Robert called out.

Suddenly startled from his idle reverie, Lionel beheld the line being swiftly taken across to the other side of the river, sending up a little spurt of spray as it cleft the current.

"A good one this time, Robert, isn't it?" she cried.

"Ay, I'm thinking that's a good fish," old Robert made answer, as he rose from the bank and came down to her side.

"And there's a fair field and no favor," she continued. "Plenty of room for him--and he doesn't seem inclined to tug."

No, this was not a "jiggering" fish; but he was a pretty lively customer, for all that, as they were soon to find out. For, after having rested for a minute or so, he made a wild rush up-stream, still on the other side, that took a dangerous length of line out and kept her running after him, and winding up when possible as well as she was able. Farther and farther he went, until she had arrived at the junction of the Geinig and the Aivron, she being on the Geinig shore, and the fish making up the other stream. Here was a pleasant predicament!

"Mr. Moore," she called out, "take the rod and wade in!--I daren't give him more line--quick, quick, please!"

Her entreaty was quite pathetic in its earnestness; but old Robert was less excited.

"If Mr. Moore was not here you would be in the watter yourself, Miss Honnor," the old man said, with a smile.

However, before the rod could be given into Lionel's hands the salmon had changed his tactics. He came dashing across to the nearer side of the Aivron, so that the nose of land separating the two rivers threatened to come between the fish and his captor; there he lay still.

"Robert," she cried, in despair, "if he goes another yard up-stream he will have the line on that bush! What is to be done?"

Almost at the same moment the fish began to move again--slowly this time--and with agonized anxiety they saw the line, despite all her efforts to keep it off, being quietly drawn into the small hazel-bush. But Robert knew that bush and its ways.

"Take the rod in, sir, as far as you can go," he said to Lionel; and then he himself ran round to a shallow ford of the Geinig, crossed over, went along the bank, and proceeded to get the line cautiously off the twigs and leaves. As soon as he had accomplished that he stealthily withdrew, stooped down, and crept along the Aivron bank until he was a little ahead of the fish, which, indeed, was almost underneath his feet; then he suddenly raised himself to his full height and threw up both arms. That was enough for the salmon. Away to the other side he rushed, leading down-stream; and Lionel had now his work cut out for him, for he was standing in deep water, on a shelving bank of loose shingle, and he had to follow somehow, reeling in as best he might. But ever, as he struggled after that obdurate, unseen creature, he made for shallower water; and at length he reached dry land, and was glad to give the rod into Miss Honnor's hands again--the fish, which had never once shown himself, being now almost opposite her and in mid-channel.

Well, they had a good deal of trouble with this salmon, for he did not exhaust himself with any further rushes, nor did he disport himself in the air; he simply lay low in the water, in a pretty strong current, and awaited events. But here in the open Miss Honnor had regained her confidence and usual composure; and in the end the continuous pressure of the green-heart top was too much for him; he began to yield--fiercely fighting now and again to get away, to be sure; but the climax was a sudden flash of Robert's steel clip, and a heavy-shouldered fifteen-pounder was out on the stones. Old Robert, smiling grimly at the success of his young mistress, but saying nothing, had to "wet" the fish all by himself; for Miss Honnor's drink was water; and as for Lionel, his throat was too valuable and sensitive a possession to be treated to raw spirits at that time of the morning. Then, that ceremony being over, they deposited the salmon in a hole in the bank, to be picked up on their homeward journey, and forthwith set out again, up the valley of the Geinig.

Their surroundings were now becoming more wild and lonely--this, in fact, being the route by which Lionel had travelled the day before when he was after the deer. Down in the glen, it is true, everything was pretty enough--the silver-gray rocks, the rushing brown water, the banks hanging with birches; but far away on those upland heights there was nothing but the monotonous deep purple of the heather, broken here and there, perhaps, by a dark-green pine; and beyond those heights again rose the rounded tops and shoulders of the distant cloud-stained hills. It was after Miss Honnor had industriously but unsuccessfully fished the Horseshoe and the Cormorant Pool that she chanced to be regarding that mountainous line along the sky; and she then perceived that one of those far shoulders was gradually changing from a sombre blue into a soft and pearly gray.

"Do you see the veil that has come over the high peak yonder?" she asked of her companion. "There is rain falling there; and most likely we shall have a shower or two here by and by; and, as you have no waterproof, we may as well push on to a place of shelter where we can have our lunch. I know a pretty little dell up there, just above the Geinig Pool; and it will be quite a new sensation for me to have any one with me, for ordinarily I have my lunch there, in solitary state, and I sit and stare, and sit and stare, until I believe I know every stone in the burn and every spear of grass on the opposite bank."

Even as she spoke there was a slight pattering here in the sunlight, and diamonds began to glitter on the brackan. Then came a cold stirring of wind; there was a sensation of darkness overhead--of impending gloom--of hushed expectancy; finally, just as they reached the little glade, descended into it, crossed the burn, and took refuge beneath some overhanging birch trees, the heavy rattle of the deluge was heard all around them, and they wore glad enough to be under this canopy of trembling leaves. It was only a sharp shower, after all. That universal whir grew fainter; the air became warmer; a kind of watery glow began to show itself in the sky; presently, as they ventured to look up through the dripping, pendulous branches, there was a glimpse of heavenly blue above them; behold, the rain was over and gone!

Then carefully did the handsome old gillie spread out her waterproof on the sloping bank for Miss Honnor to sit on; he brought forth the little parcels neatly tied up in white paper, likewise a bottle of milk and two silver drinking-cups; when he had seen that she was all properly cared for, he handed to Lionel the game-bag which had held the luncheon, so that that might serve as the other seat, if he chose; and then the old man withdrew a few yards down the little hollow, to be within call if he were wanted.

And what had Lionel to say for himself, now that he had been admitted into this secret haunt of the river-maiden? Well, if the truth must be told, he was considerably embarrassed. For one thing, he was mortally afraid that she might suddenly bethink herself of Paul and Virginia, and be annoyed by a situation which was certainly none of his contriving. What was still worse, she might be amused! He could not get it out of his head that there was something dangerously, almost ludicrously, conventional in the whole position; it seemed to suggest some foolish, old-fashioned, sentimental picture. The solitary dell, and the two figures; why, he felt as if blue ribbons were beginning to sprout at his knees; and he feared to turn to his companion lest he should find her with a crook and a kirtle. He did not ask himself why wretched reminiscences of theatrical tradition should thrust themselves upon him here in the lonely wilds of Ross-shire; what he dreaded was that some such idea might occur to her and provoke her resentment--what was still more ghastly, it might make her laugh!

Honnor Cunyngham, for her part, was quietly and contentedly munching her sandwiches of salmon and vinegared lettuce-leaf; and no such idle town-fancies were troubling her. Probably she was thinking that the hot sunlight after the shower made everything intensely vivid--the silver-stemmed birches in this picturesque little dell rising gracefully into the keen blue of the sky; the diamond-starred bracken and grass shining after the wet; the clear, tea-brown water at her feet glancing in the sun; the green and bronze stones and pebbles showing clear at the bottom of the pellucid brook as it chased and danced on its way down to the Geinig. And whatever else she may have been thinking of, she was almost certainly conscious that vinegared lettuce-leaf in a sandwich was a vast improvement.

"Do you come here often?" he said, at length.

"It is my favorite nook," she made answer.

"I confess that I feel horribly like an interloper," he remarked, hesitatingly. "I feel as if I--as if I had no right to be here--as if I were invading a sacred retreat--" and there he stopped; for he would have liked to add, "the sacred retreat of a sylvan goddess or a nymph of the stream," but that he somehow felt that fantastic imagery of that kind would hardly be appropriate.

"You had more need of the shelter than I," said this extremely matter-of-fact young person, "for you had no waterproof, and I had. Come, if you have finished, shall we go up to the Top Pool?--I want you to have a cast over that, for it is an experience; and, though the sun is out, it won't much matter; there is always such a boiling and surging in that caldron."

Old Robert, whose head was just visible above the bracken, was thereupon called to pack up the remains of the simple feast, and then they set forth again--skirting, but not troubling the Geinig Pool, for the sun was too strong. A beautiful pool was this Geinig Pool--the water coming tumbling down over the boulders in masses of chestnut hue and white, then sailing away in a rapid sweep of purplish blue, and then breaking over shallows (whose every ripple was a flashing diamond point) as it went whirling into the rocky channel beyond. The sun lay hot on the steep banks, where not a leaf of the birch-trees stirred now, and on the lichened rocks, and on the long strand of lilac-gray pebbles; altogether a beautiful pool this was, set deep in its cup among the hills, but for their present purposes useless.

The Top Pool, which they presently reached, was altogether a different sort of place; for here the waters plunged into a roaring caldron with a din that stunned the ears; and now it was that Lionel discovered Miss Honnor's intention--he was to have the amusement of throwing a fly over this maelstrom from the side of the sheer bank, while the only foothold afforded him was the stump of an out-projecting pine. Well, he was not going to refuse--and ask a young lady to take his place. He dug his feet into the soft herbage about the roots of the tree; old Robert handed him the rod; he got out some line; and then began to try how he could get a fly down into that raging vortex, while keeping clear of the branches over his head. His first impression was that he might as well attempt to throw a fly to the moon, but presently things began to look more hopeful, and he found at length that, when the fly did get just beyond the downward rush of the fall, it was swept by the current into certain glassy deeps, where he could work it pretty well. Hard as he labored, however, that jerking little gray shrimp (for that was what the fly looked like in the water) could not stir anything. He worked away until even the indefatigable Robert said he had done enough; then he reeled up; and perhaps he was not sorry to regain the top of this sheer precipice, where there was but that single fir-stump and a few loose branches of birch between him and the seething and surging whirlpool below.

He was more fortunate in the Geinig Pool, which Miss Cunyngham also compelled him to take, good-naturedly remarking that she had her fish already, and that he must have its fellow to carry home in the evening. There were some welcome clouds about now, and the rock from which he had to cast over the Geinig Pool afforded him a much better foothold than the fir-roots. At first things did not seem favorable, for he went over all the deep, smooth water without moving a fin; in fact, he had fished almost right to the end of the pool, when, in the very act of recovering his line, he got hold of something. And very soon he found that he had got hold of a very lively something; for the cantrips which this small salmon played were most extraordinary. For a second or two he seemed inclined to go right down the stony channel (which would have instantly settled the matter, as there was no possible means of following him), but the next moment he had dashed right up through the middle of the pool, tearing the water as he went, and frightening the luckless fisherman half out of his wits with this dangerously slackening line. That, however, was soon righted; and now the salmon lay in an eddy just below the fall. Would he attempt to breast that bulk of water in a mad effort to be free of this hateful thing that had got hold of him?--then good-bye to him forever! But no--that was not his fancy; he suddenly sprang into the air--and again sprang--and then savagely beat the surface with body and tail; after which fearsome performance he swerved round and came right in under the rock on which Lionel was standing, where they could see him lying perfectly still in the deep, clear water. He neither tugged nor bored; that olive-green thing (for so he appeared in these depths) lay perfectly motionless--no doubt planning further devilment and only waiting to recover his strength. Meanwhile Lionel had scrambled a bit higher up the rock, so as to get the rod at a safer angle.

"He's a lively fellow, that one!" old Robert said, with a grin. "Ay, sir, and ye hooked him ferry well, too."

"I should say I did!" Lionel exclaimed. "I had no idea there was a fish there--I never saw him coming--I was drawing the line out of the water, and all at once thought I had struck on a log. He's well hooked, I should think; but I didn't hook him--he hooked himself."

"He's not a ferry big one, but he's a salmon whatever," old Robert said; and then he suddenly called out, "Mind, sir!--let him go!--let him go!"

For away went that little wretch again, tearing over to the other side, where he lashed and better lashed the surface; and then, getting tired of that exercise, he somewhat sullenly came sailing into mid-stream, where there was a smooth, dark current, bounded on the side next the fisherman by some brown shelves of rock only a few inches under water. And what must this demon of a fish do but begin boring into the stream, so that every moment the line was being drawn nearer and nearer to the knife-like edge.

"Here, Robert, what am I to do now?" Lionel cried, in dismay. "Another couple of inches, and it's all over! How are we to get him out of that hole?"

"Mebbe he'll no go mich deeper," Robert observed, calmly, but with his gray eyes keenly watching.

"If I lose this fish," Lionel said, between his teeth, "I'll throw myself into the pool after him!"

"You'd better not," said Miss Cunyngham, placidly, "for if Robert has to gaff you, you'll find it a very painful experience."

But now the line was slackening a little; the fisherman reeled in quickly; the salmon made his appearance--undoubtedly yielding; and then, coming over the shallow rocks in obedience to the pressure of the rod, he once more sailed into the black, clear pool just below them. Cautiously old Robert crept down. When he was close to the water, he bared his right arm and grasped the gaff by the handle; then he waited and watched, for the salmon was still too deep. Lionel, meanwhile, had got back a bit on the rock, so that any sudden rush might not snap the top of his rod in two; then he also waited and watched, but somewhat increasing the pressure on the fish. Miss Honnor was probably as interested as either of them, but she only said,

(Illustration: "_Cautiously old Robert crept down. When he was close to the water, he bared his right arm and grasped the gaff by the handle._")

"I think he is well-hooked, and you'll get him, but don't bear too hardly on him for all that."

The conclusion of the fight proved to be a series of rapid and cautious skirmishes between the salmon and old Robert; for, as soon as the former discovered that danger awaited him at the foot of the rock, he made every possible effort to break away, and then, getting more and more exhausted, allowed himself to be led in again. And then at last, on his sailing in almost on his side, so dead beat was he, a firm stroke of the gaff caught him behind the shoulder, and the next moment he was in mid-air, the next again on the bare rock.

Now when you have slain a stag one day, it is not so much of a triumph to kill a salmon the next; nevertheless Lionel was as heartily glad to see that fish ashore as he would have been deeply mortified had it escaped. For was not Honnor Cunyngham looking on? Nay, she was kind enough to say to him,

"You played that fish very well, Mr. Moore."

"I have been watching you so often," said he, modestly, "that I must have learned something. And now you must take all the pools on the way home. I won't touch the rod again unless when wading is absolutely necessary. You see. I have no right to this salmon at all; I consider you have made me a present of him."

"We must try and get another somehow, between us, before getting back to the lodge," said she; and this unconscious coupling of themselves as companions sounded pleasant to his ears.

Moreover, as old Robert had now the fish to carry, Lionel, as usual, made bold to claim Miss Honnor's waterproof, which he slung over his arm; and that also was a privilege he greatly enjoyed. Indeed, his satisfaction as they now proceeded to walk along to the Horseshoe Pool was but natural in the circumstances. This charming companionship secured all to himself--the capture of the salmon--the tribute that had been paid to his skill--the magnetic waterproof hanging over his arm--the prospect of a long ramble home on this beautiful afternoon: all these things combined were surely sufficient to put any young man in an excellent humor. And there was something more in store for him.

"Do you know," he was saying, as they walked along together, "that I have grown quite used to the solitariness of this neighborhood? I don't find it strange, or melancholy, or oppressive any longer. I suppose when I get back to a crowded city, the roar of it will be absolutely bewildering; indeed, I am looking forward with a good deal of interest to seeing something of the world again at Kilfearn--which can't be a very big place either."

"Oh, are you going to the opening of the Kilfearn Town Hall?" she asked.

"Yes," said he, with a little surprise, "I thought everybody was going. Aren't you? I understood the whole world--of Ross-shire--was to be there, and that I was to make a sudden plunge into a perfect whirlpool of human life."

"It will amuse you," she said, with a quiet smile. "You will see all the county families there, staring at one another's guests; and you will hear a lot of songs, like 'My Pretty Jane' and 'Ever of Thee,' sung by bashful young ladies. At the opening of the proceedings my brother Hugh will make a speech; he is their chairman, and I know precisely what he will say. Hugh always speaks to the point. It will be something like this: 'Ladies and gentlemen, I am glad to see you here to-night. We still want L180. We mean to give two more concerts to clear the debt right off. You must all come and bring your friends. I will not longer stand in the way of the performers who have kindly volunteered their services.'"

"And that is a most admirable speech," her companion exclaimed. "It says everything that is wanted and nothing more; I call it a model speech!"

"Mr. Moore," she said, suddenly looking up, "are you going to sing at the concert?"

"I believe so," he answered.

"What are you going to sing?"

"Oh, I don't know yet. Whatever I am asked for. Lady Adela is arranging the programme." And then he added, rather breathlessly, "Is there anything you would care to have me sing?"

"Well, to tell you the truth," said she, quite frankly, "I hardly intended going. But if I thought there was a chance of hearing you sing some such song as 'The Bonnie Earl o' Moray,' I would go."

"'The Bonnie Earl o' Moray?'" he said, eagerly. "The song that Miss Lestrange sang the other night?"

"The song that Miss Lestrange made a fool of the other night," she said, contemptuously. "But if _you were to sing it, you would make it very fine and impressive. I should like to hear you sing that in a large hall."

"Oh, but certainly I will sing it!" he said, quickly, for he was only too rejoiced that she should prefer this small request, as showing that she did take some little interest in him and what he could do. "I will make a stipulation that I sing it, if I sing anything. Miss Lestrange won't mind, I know."

"I almost think you should go under an assumed name," Miss Honnor said, presently, with a bit of a laugh. "I dare say the people wouldn't recognise you in ordinary dress. And then, when the amateur vocalists had been going on with their Pretty-Janes and Meet-Me-by-Moonlights, when you gave them 'The Bonnie Earl o' Moray,' as you would sing it, I should think amazement would be on most faces. But I dare say Lady Adela has had it announced in the _Inverness Courier that you are to sing, for they want to make a grand success of the concert, to help to clear off the debt; and of course all the people from the shooting-lodges will be coming, for it isn't every autumn they have a chance of hearing Mr. Lionel Moore in Ross-shire."

Really, she was becoming quite complaisant!--this proud, unapproachable fisher-maiden, who seemed to live, remote and isolated, in a world all of her own. And so she was coming to this amateur concert, merely to hear him sing? Be sure the first thing he did that evening, on entering the drawing-room after dinner, was to go up to Miss Georgie Lestrange with a humble little speech, asking her whether she would object to his borrowing that particular ballad from her repertory. The smiling and gracious young damsel instantly replied that, on the contrary, she would be delighted to play the accompaniment for him. Would he look at the music now? He did look at it; found it simple enough; imagined that the refrain verse might be made rather effective. Would he try it over now? Yes, if she would be so kind. She forthwith went to the piano, he following; and at once there was silence in the long, low-ceilinged drawing-room. Of course this was but a trial, and the room had not been constructed with a view to any acoustic requirements; nevertheless, the fine and penetrating _timbre of his trained voice told all the same; indeed, it is probable there was a lump in the throat of more than one of those young ladies when he sang the pathetic refrain, with its proud and sonorous finish--

"O lang may his lady-love
Look frae the Castle Doune,
Ere she see the Earl o' Moray
Come sounding through the toun."

Simple as the air was, it haunted the ear even of this professional vocalist all the evening; but perhaps that was because he was looking forward to a coming occasion on which he would have to sing the ballad; and well he knew that however numerous his audience might be--though he might be standing before all the Rosses and Frasers, the Gordons and Munroes, the Mackays and Mackenzies of the county--well he knew that he would be singing--that he intended to sing--to an audience of one only. And which would she like to have emphasized the more--the pathetic and hopeless outlook of the lady in the tower, or the proud state and ceremony of the earl himself as he used to "come sounding through the toun"? Well, he would practise a little, and ascertain what he could do with it--on some occasion when he found himself alone away up in the hills, with a silence around him unbroken save for the hushed whisper of the birch-leaves and the distant, low murmur of the Geinig falls.

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 11. The Phantom Stag Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 11. The Phantom Stag

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CHAPTER XI. THE PHANTOM STAGBut if he were so anxious about how he should sing (for his audience of one only) that old Scotch ballad, he was not acting very wisely, or else he had a sublime confidence in the soundness of his chest; for on his host's offering him another day's stalking, he cheerfully accepted the same; and that notwithstanding they had now fallen upon a period of extremely rough, cold, and wet weather. Was this another piece of bravado, then--undertaken to produce a favorable impression in a certain quarter--or had the hunter's hunger really got hold of him? On

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