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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 12. A Globe Of Gold-Fish
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 12. A Globe Of Gold-Fish Post by :James Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1006

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 12. A Globe Of Gold-Fish


What, then, was the secret charm and fascination exercised over him by this extremely independent, not to say unapproachable, fisher-maiden; why should he be so anxious to win her approval; why should he desire to be continually with her--even when all her attention was given to her salmon-line, and she apparently taking no notice of him whatever? She was handsome, no doubt, and fine-featured and pleasant to look upon; she was good-humored, and friendly in her own way; and she had the education and manners and tact and gentleness of one of her birth and breeding; but there were lots of other women similarly graced and gifted who were only too eager to welcome him and pet him and make much of him, and towards whom he found himself absolutely indifferent. Was he falling in love? Had he been asked the question, he would honestly have answered that he was about the last person in the world to form a romantic attachment. There was no kind of sentimental wistfulness in his nature; his imagination had no poetical trick of investing the face and form of any passably good-looking girl with a halo of rainbow-hues; even as a lad his dreams had concerned themselves more with the possibility of his becoming a great musician than with his sharing his fame and glory with a radiant bride. But, above all, the rhodomontade of simulated passion that he heard in the theatre, and the extravagance of action necessary for stage effect, would of themselves have tended to render him sceptical and callous. He saw too much of how it was done. Did ever any man in his senses swear by the eternal stars in talking to a woman; and did ever any man in his senses kneel at a woman's feet? In former times they may have done so, when fustian and attitudinizing were not fustian and attitudinizing, but common habit and practice; but in our own day did the love-making of the stage, with all its frantic gestures and wild appeals, represent anything belonging to actual life? Of course, if the question had been pushed home, he would have had to admit that love as a violent passion does veritably exist, or otherwise there would not be so many young men blowing out their brains, and young women drowning themselves, out of disappointment; but probably he would have pointed out that in these cases the coroner's jury invariably and charitably certify that the victim is insane.

No; romance had never been much in his way, except the sham romance which he had assumed along with a painted face and a stage costume, and of which he knew the just and accurate value. He had never had time to fall seriously in love, he used to say to Maurice Mangan. And now, in this long spell of idleness in the North, amid these gracious surroundings, if he had had to confess that he found a singular fascination in the society of Honnor Cunyngham, why, he would have discovered a dozen reasons and excuses rather than admit that poetical sentiment had anything to do with it. For one thing, she was different from any woman he had ever met before; and that of itself piqued his curiosity. You had to speak the downright truth to her--when she looked at you with those clear hazel eyes; little make-believes of flattery were of no use at all. Her very tranquillity and isolation were a sort of challenge; her almost masculine independence was like to drive a man to say, "I am as peremptory as she proud-minded." Nevertheless, she was no curst Katherine; her temper was of the serenest; she was almost too bland and placid, Lionel thought--it showed she cared too little about you to be either exacting and petulant, or, on the other hand, solicitous to please.

There came into these silent and reverie-haunted solitudes a letter from the distant and turbulent world without; and of a sudden Lionel felt himself transported back into the theatre again, in the midst of all its struggles and hopes and anxieties, its jealousies and triumphs, its ceaseless clamor and unrest. The letter was from Nina.

"MY DEAR FRIEND LEO,--I have waited now some time that I send you the critiques of my new part, but the great morning newspapers have taken no notice of poor Nina, it is only some of the weekly papers that have observed the change in the part, and you will see that they are very kind to me. Ah, but one--I do not send it--I could not send it to you, Leo--it has made me cry much and much that any one should have such malignity, such meanness, such lying. I forget all the other ones? that one stabs my heart? but Mr. Carey he laughs and says to me You are foolish? you do not know why that is said of you? He is a great ally of Miss Burgoyne, he does not like to see you take her place and be well received by the public. Perhaps it is true; but, Leo, you do not like to be told that you make the part stupid, that there is no life in it, that you are a _machine_, that you sing out of tune. I have asked Mr. Lehmann, I have asked Mr. Carey, and said to them If it is true, let me go? I will not make ridicule of your theatre. But they are so kind to me; and Mrs. Grey also; she says that I have not as much _cheek as Miss Burgoyne, but that Grace Mainwaring should remember that she is a gentlewoman, and it is not necessary to make her a laughing waitress, although she is in comedy-opera. I cannot please every one, Leo; but if you were here I should not care so much for the _briccone who _lies_, who _lies_, who hides in the dark, like a thief. You know whether I sing out of tune, Leo. You know whether I am so stupid, so very stupid. Yes, I may not have _cheek_; I wish not to have _cheek_; even to commend myself to a critic. Ah, well, it is no use to be angry; every night I have a reception that you would like to hear, Leo, for _you have no jealousy; and my heart says _those people are not under bad influence; they are honest in saying they are pleased; to _them I sing not out of tune, and am not so very stupid. If I lie awake at night, and cry much, it is then I say to myself that I am stupid; and the next morning I laugh, when Mrs. Grey says some kind thing to me.

"Will you be surprised, most excellent Signor, if you have a visit from Miss Burgoyne? Yes, it is possible. The doctor says she has strained her voice by too long work--but it was a little _reedy of its own nature, do you not think, Leo?--and says she must have entire rest, and that she must go to the Isle of White; but she said every one was going to Scotland, and why not she, and her two friends, her travelling companions. Then she comes to me and ask your address. I answer--Why to me? There is Mr. Lehmann; and at the stage-door they will know his address, for letters to go. So, you see, you will not be alone in the high-lands, when you have such a _charming visitor with you, and she will talk to you, not from behind a fan, as on the stage, but all the day, and you will have great comfort and satisfaction. Yes, I see her arrive at the castle. She rings at the gate; your noble friends come out, and ask who she is; they discover, and drive away such a person as a poor cantatrice. But you hear, you come flying out, you rescue her from scorn--ah, it is pitiable, they all weep, they say to you that you are honorable and just, that they did wrong to despise your charming friend. Perhaps they ask her to dine; and she sings to them after; and Leo says to himself, Poor thing; no; her voice is not so reedy. The _denouement_?--but I am not come to it yet; I have not arranged what will arrive then.

"What is the time of your return, Leo? And you know what will be then? You will find on the stage another Grace Mainwaring, who will sing always out of tune, and be so stupid that you will have fury and will complain to the Manager. Ah, there is now no one to speak with you from behind a fan--only a dull heavy stupid. Misera me! What shall I do? All the poetry departed from Harry Thornhill's singing--there is no more fascination for him--he looks up to the window--he sings 'The starry night brings me no rest'--and he says 'Bother to that stupid Italian girl!--why am I to sing to her?' Poor Leo, he will be disconsolate; but not for long. No; Miss Burgoyne will be coming back; and then he will have some one for to talk with from behind the fan.

"Now, Leo, if you can read any more, I must attend to what you call _beesness_. When Miss Burgoyne returns, I do not go back to be under-study to Miss Girond--no--Mr. Lehmann has said he is pleased with me, and I am to take the part of Miss Considine, who goes into the provincial company. You know it is almost the same consequence as Grace Mainwaring towards the public, and I am, oh, very proud of such an advancement; and I have written to Pandiani, and to Carmela and Andrea, and Mrs. Grey is kinder than ever, and I take lessons always and always, when she has a half-hour from the house-governing. I am _letter perfect_--is it what they say?--in this part as in the other; my bad English does not appear on the stage; I practise and practise always. I am to share in Miss Girond's room, and that will be good, for she is friendly to me, though sometimes a little saucy in her amusement. Already I hear that the theatre-attendant people are coming back--and you--when is your return? You had benevolence to the poor chorus-singer, Signor Leo; and now she is prima-donna do you think she will forget you? No, no! To-day I was going up Regent Street, and in a window behold! a portrait of Mr. Lionel Moore and a portrait of Miss Antonia Ross side by side! I laughed--I said, Leo did not look to this a short time ago. It is the same fotografer; I have had several requests; but only to that one I went, for it is the best one of you he has taken that is seen anywhere. Of course I have to dress as like Miss Burgoyne as possible, which is a pity to me, for it is not too graceful, as I think I could do; but I complain nothing, since Mr. Lehmann gave me the great advancement; and if you will look at the critiques you will see they say I have not a bad appearance in the part. As for the _briccone_--pah!--when I talk like this to you, Leo, I despise him--he is nothing to me--I would not pay twopence that he should praise me.

"Will you write to me, Leo, and say when you return? Have you so much _beesness that you have only sent me one letter? Adieu!

"Your true friend, NINA."

Well, this prattling letter from Nina caused him some reflection and some uneasy qualms. He did not so much mind the prospect of having, on his return, to transform his old friend and comrade into his stage-sweetheart, and to make passionate love to her every evening before an audience. That might be a little embarrassing at first; but the feeling would soon wear off; such circumstances were common and well understood in the theatre, where stage-lovers cease their cooing the moment they withdraw into the wings. But this other possibility of finding Miss Burgoyne and her friends in the immediate neighborhood of Strathaivron Lodge? Of course there was no reason why she shouldn't travel through Ross-shire just as well as any one else. She knew his address. If she came anywhere round this way--say to Kilfearn--he must needs go to call on her. Then both Lady Adela Cunyngham and Lord Rockminster had been introduced to Miss Burgoyne in the New Theatre; if he told them, as he ought, on whom he was going to call, might they not want to accompany him and renew the acquaintance? Lady Adela and her sisters considered themselves the naturally appointed patrons of all professional folk whose names figured in the papers; was it not highly probable that Miss Burgoyne and her friends, whosoever these might be, would receive an invitation to Strathaivron Lodge? And then?--why, then might there not be rather too close a resemblance to a band of poor players being entertained by the great people at what Nina imagined to be a castle? A solitary guest was all very well; had Miss Burgoyne preceded or succeeded him, he could not have objected; but a group of strolling players, as it were?--might it not look as if they had been summoned to amuse the noble company? And fancy Miss Burgoyne coming in as a spy upon his mute, and at present quite indefinite, relations with Miss Honnor Cunyngham!--Miss Burgoyne, who was a remarkably sharp-eyed young woman, and had a clever and merry tongue withal, when she was disposed to be humorous.

Then he bethought him of what Honnor Cunyngham, with her firm independence of character, her proud self-reliance, would have said to all these timorous fancies. He knew perfectly well what she would say. She would say, "Well, but even if Miss Burgoyne were to appear at Strathaivron Lodge, how could that affect you? You are yourself; you are apart from her; her visit will be Lady Adela's doing, not yours. And if people choose to regard you as one of a band of strolling players, how can that harm you? Why should you care? The opinion that is of value to you is your own opinion; be right with yourself; and leave others to think what they please. Whoever could so entirely misjudge your position must be a fool; why should you pause for a moment to consider the opinion of a fool or any number of fools? 'To thine own self be true;' and let that suffice."

For he had come to know pretty accurately, during these frequent if intermittent talks and chats along the Aivron banks, how Miss Honnor would regard most things. The wild weather had been succeeded by a period of calm; the river had dwindled and dwindled, until it seemed merely to creep along its channel; where a rushing brown current had come down there now appeared long banks of stones, lilac and silver-gray and purple, basking in the sun; while half-way across the stream in many places the yellow sand and shingle shone through the lazily rippling shallows. Consequently there was little fishing to be done. Honnor Cunyngham went out all the same, for she loved the river-side in all weathers; and as often as he discreetly might, Lionel accompanied her; but as they had frequently to wait for half-hours together until a cloud should come over, he had ample opportunity of learning her views and opinions on a great variety of subjects. For she spoke freely and frankly and simply in this enforced idleness; and, from just a little touch here and there, Lionel began to think that she must have a good deal more of womanly tenderness and sympathy than he had given her credit for. Certainly she was always most considerate towards himself; she seemed to understand that he was a little sensitive on the score of his out-of-door performances; and while she made light of his occasional blunders, she would quietly hint to him that he in turn ought to exercise a generous judgment when those people at the Lodge ventured to enter a province in which he was a past master.

"We are all amateurs in something or another, Mr. Moore," she would say. "And the professionals should not treat us with scorn."

"I wonder in what you show yourself an amateur," said he, bethinking himself how she seemed to keep aloof from the music, art, and literature of her accomplished sisters-in-law. "Everything you do you do thoroughly well."

She laughed.

"You have never seen me try to do anything but cast a line," said she, "and if I can manage that, the credit rests with old Robert."

But the consideration that she invariably extended to her brother's guest was about to show itself in a very marked manner; and the incident arose in this wise. One morning, the weather being much too bright and clear for the shallower pools of the Aivron, they thought they would take luncheon with them, and stroll up to the Geinig, where, in the afternoon, the deeper pools might give them a chance, especially if a few clouds were to come over. Accordingly the three of them went away along the valley, passed over the Bad Step, meandered through the long birch wood, and finally arrived at the little dell above the Geinig Pool, which was Miss Honnor's favorite retreat. They had left somewhat late; the sun was shining from a cloudless sky; luncheon would pass the useless time; so Robert got the small parcels and the drinking-cups out of the bag, and arranged them on the warm turf. It was a modest little banquet, but in the happiest circumstances; for the birch branches above them afforded them a picturesque shelter; and the burn at their feet, attenuated as it was, and merely threading its way down through the stones, flashed diamonds here and there in the light. And then she was so kind as to thank him again for singing "The Bonnie Earl o' Moray"--which had considerably astounded the people assembled at the opening of the Kilfearn Public Hall, or, at least, such of them as did not know that a great singer was among the guests at Strathaivron Lodge.

"I was rather sorry for them who had to follow you," she said; "they must have felt it was hardly fair. It was like Donald Dinnie at the Highland Games: when he has thrown the hammer or tossed the caber, the spectator hardly takes notice of the next competitor. By the way, I suppose you will be going to the Northern meeting at the end of this month?"

"I am sorry I cannot stay so long, though Lady Adela was good enough to ask me," he made answer. "I must go south very soon now."

"Oh, indeed?" she said. "That is a pity. It is worth while being in Inverness then; you see all the different families and their guests; and the balls are picturesque--with the kilt and tartan. It is really the wind-up of the season; the parties break up after that. We come back here and remain until about the middle of October; then we go on to the Braes--worse luck for me. I like the rough-and-tumble of this place; the absence of ceremony; the freedom and the solitude. It will be very different at the Braes."

"Why shouldn't you stop on here, then?" he naturally asked.

(Illustration: "_Robert got the small parcels and the drinking-cups out of the bag, and arranged them on the warm turf._")

"All by myself?" she said. "Well, I shouldn't mind the loneliness--you see, old Robert is left here, and Roderick, too, and one or two of the girls to keep fires on; but I should have nothing to do but read; the fishing is useless long before that time. And so you are going away quite soon?"

"Yes," said he, and he paused for a second--for there was some wild wish in his heart that she would have just one word of regret. "I must go," he continued, seeing that she did not speak. "I am wanted. And I have had a long holiday--a long and delightful holiday; and I'm sure, when I look back over it, I can't thank you sufficiently for all your kindness to me."

"Thank me, Mr. Moore?" she said, with obvious surprise.

"Oh, yes, indeed," he said, warmly. "If it was only a word now and again, it was always encouragement. I should never have ventured out after the deer if it had not been for you; probably I should never have taken up a gun at all. Then all those delightful days by the river; haven't I to thank you for them? It seems rather hard that I should be so much indebted to you--"

"I am sure you are not at all," she said.

"--without a chance of ever being able to show my gratitude; repayment, of course, is out of the question, for we could never meet again in similar circumstances--in reversed circumstances, rather--I mean, you have had it all your own way in your--your toleration, shall I say?--or your commiseration, of a hopeless duffer. Oh, I know what I'm talking about. Most people in your position would have said, 'Well, let him go and make a fool of himself!' and most people in my position would have said, 'No, I'm not going to make a fool of myself.'"

"I don't quite understand," she said, simply, "why you should care so much for the opinion of other people."

"I suppose there is no chance of my ever seeing you in London, Miss Honnor," he continued, rather breathlessly. "If--if I might presume on the acquaintanceship formed up here, I should like--well, I should like to show you I had not forgotten your kindness. Do you ever come to London?--I think Miss Lestrange said you sometimes did."

"Why, I am in London a great part of every year!" she said. "And this winter I shall be next door to it; for my mother goes to Brighton in November; and she will want me to be with her."

"To Brighton!" he said, quickly and eagerly. "Then, of course, you would be in London sometimes. Would you--would you care to come behind the scenes of a theatre?--or be present at a dress rehearsal, or something of that kind? No, I'm afraid not--I'm afraid that wouldn't interest you--"

"Oh, but it would," she said, pleasantly enough. "It would interest me very much."

And perhaps he would have gone on to assure her how delighted he would be to have the opportunity of showing her, in the great capital, that he had not forgotten her kindness and help in these Northern wilds, but that Miss Honnor, seeing that their frugal meal was over, called for Robert. The handsome old fisherman appeared at once; but she instantly perceived by his face that something was wrong.

"This is ferry strange, Miss Honnor," said he, "that the fly-book is not in the bag. And I could not have dropped it out. I was not thinking of looking for it when we started, for I knew I had put it there--"

"Oh, I know, Robert," she said at once. "Mr. Lestrange asked me this morning for some small Durham Rangers; and I told him to go and take them out of the book. So he has taken the book out of the bag and stupidly forgot to put it back."

"Then I will go aweh down to the Lodge and get it," Robert suggested.

"Is it worth while?" she said. "There is a fly on the casting-line; and there won't be much fishing this afternoon."

"I am not so sure," old Robert made answer. "There might be some clouds; and it is safer to hef the book whatever."

"Very well," said she. "And in that case I will take Mr. Moore over to the other side of the Geinig Pool, and ask him to creep out on the middle rock, and perhaps he will see something. Will there be any gold-fish in the globe, Robert?"

Old Robert grinned.

"Oh, yes, Miss Honnor, the fish will be there, but there is little chance of your getting one out."

"At any rate, Mr. Moore will be pleased to see a globe of gold-fish in the middle of a Highland moor," she said; and, when Robert had picked up the luncheon things, they all set off down the Geinig valley together.

But when they reached a certain wooden foot-bridge across the stream, Robert held on his way, making for the Lodge, while Lionel, well content and asking no questions, followed the young lady. She led the way across the bridge and along the opposite bank until they reached the Geinig Pool, where they scrambled down to the side of the river just above the falls. Here she showed him how to step from one boulder to another, until he found himself on a huge gray rock right in the middle; and forthwith she directed him to crawl out to the edge of the rock, and just put his head over, and see what he could see. As for crawling, he considered himself quite an adept at that now; in an instant he was down on hands and knees, making his way out to the end of the rock. And certainly what he beheld when he cautiously peered over the edge was worth all the trouble. Here, in an almost circular pool, apparently of great depth, the surface of the water was as smooth as glass; for the bulk of the stream tumbled in and tumbled out again along the southern side, leaving this dark hole in an eddy; and the sunlight, striking down into the translucent depths, revealed to him certain slowly moving forms which he recognized at once as salmon. They were not like salmon in color, to be sure; through the dun water their purplish-blue backs showed a dull olive-green; but salmon they undoubtedly were, and of a good size, too. Of course he was immensely excited by such a novel sight. With intensest curiosity he watched them making their slow circles of the pool, exactly like gold-fish in a globe. They seemed to be about four or five feet under the surface. Was it not possible to snatch at one of them with a long gaff? Or was it not possible, on the other hand, to tempt one of them with a fly!

He slowly withdrew his head.

"That is most extraordinary," he called to his companion, who was standing a few yards farther back. "Miss Honnor, won't you put a fly over them?"

"What is the use," said she. "They will look at it, but they won't take it; and I don't think it is well they should know too much about the patterns that Mr. Watson dresses. They know quite enough already. Some of the old hands, I do believe, are familiar with every fly made in Inverness."

"Won't you try?" he pleaded.

"Well, if you would like to see them look at a fly, I'll put it over them," she said, good-naturedly, "but, you know, it is most demoralizing."

So she, also, had to creep out to the edge of the rock; and then she cautiously put out the rod and the short line she had previously prepared. She threw the fly to the opposite side of the pool, let it sink an inch or two, and then quietly jerked it across until it came in the way of the slow-circling salmon. To her it was merely an amusement, but to Lionel it was a breathless excitement, to watch one after another of those big fish, in passing, come up to look at this beautiful, gleaming, shrimp-like object and then sink down again and go on its round. They would not come within two feet of this tempting lure. She tried them in all parts of the pool, sinking the fly well into the plunging fall, and letting it be carried right to the other side before she dragged it across the clear open.

"Won't one of you take it?" she said. "It's as pretty a fly as ever was dressed, though they do call it the Dirty Yellow."

But all of a sudden the circumstances were changed in a most startling manner. A swift, half-seen creature came darting up from out of the plunging torrent, shot into the clear water, snatched at the small object that was floating there, and down went fly and rod until the top was almost touching the surface. The reel had caught in her dress, somehow. But in another second all that was altered--she had got the reel free--she was up on her feet--the line was singing out--the rod raised, with the pliant top yielding to every movement of the fish--and Lionel, quite bewildered by the rapidity of the whole occurrence, wondering what he could do to assist her. Miss Honnor, however, was quite competent to look after herself.

"Who could have expected that?" she said, as the salmon went away down into the deep pool, and deliberately sulked there. "I wasn't fishing, I was only playing; and he very nearly broke me at the first plunge. Really, it all happened so quickly that I could not see what size he was; could you, Mr. Moore?"

"Not I!" he answered. "The creature came out of the rough water like a flash of lightning--I only saw the splash his tail made as he went down again. But what are you going to do, Miss Honnor? Shall I run down the strath and tell old Robert to hurry back?"

"Not at all!--we'll manage him by ourselves," she replied, confidently. "Here, you take him, and I'll gaff him for you."

"I will do nothing of the kind," said he, distinctly. "You have given me too many of your fish. You have been far too generous all the way through. No? I will gaff him for you--but you must tell me how--for I never tried before."

"Oh, it is simple enough," she said. "You've seen old Robert gaff plenty of fish. Only mind you don't strike across the casting-line. Get behind the casting-line--about half-way down the fish--get well over him--and then a sharp, bold stroke will fetch him out."

Accordingly, armed with the gaff, Lionel made his way down to the lowest ridge of the rock, so that he found himself just over the black-brown pool. And, indeed, his services were called upon much sooner than he had expected; for the salmon, grown tired of sulking, now began to swim slowly round and round, sometimes coming up so that they could just catch a glimmer of him, and again disappearing. But the fortunate thing for them was that there were no shallows to frighten the fish; he knew nothing of his danger as he happened to come sailing round Lionel's way; and he was gradually coming nearer and nearer to the surface, until they could watch his every motion as he made his slow rounds. Once or twice Lionel tried to get the gaff over him, and had to withdraw it; but at last Miss Honnor called out,

"This next time, Mr. Moore, as he comes round to you, I will lift him a bit; be ready!"

But what was this amazing thing that happened all in one wild second? Lionel struck at the fish, pinned him securely, dragged him out of the water, and then, to his horror, found that the unexpected weight of this fighting and struggling creature was proving too much for him--he was overbalanced--he could not recover himself--down they all went together--himself, the gaff, and the salmon--into the still, deep pool! As for him, that was nothing; he could swim a little; a few strokes took him to the other side, where he clambered on to the rocks; he managed to recover his cap; and then, with the deepest mortification in his soul, he made his way back to rejoin his companion. What apology could he offer for his unheard-of bungling and stupidity? Would she not look on him as an unendurable ass? Why had he chosen so insecure a foothold and made such a furious plunge at the fish? Over-eagerness, no doubt--

And then the next moment he noticed that her rod was still curved!

"We'll get him yet, Mr. Moore!" she called to him, in the most good-humored fashion. "Come out on to the rock, and you'll see the strangest-looking salmon you ever saw in your life."

And, indeed, that was an odd sight--the big fish slowly sailing round and round the pool, with the gaff still attached and the handle floating parallel with its side.

"It will take some time, though," said she. "I think you'd better go away home and get dry clothes on. I'll manage him by myself."

"I dare say you would manage him better by yourself than with any help of mine," he said, in his bitter chagrin and self-contempt. "I made sure I had lost you the salmon."

"And what then?" she said, with some surprise. "I assure you it wasn't the salmon I was thinking of when I saw you in the water--but the moment you struck out I knew you were safe."

He did not speak any more; he was too humiliated and vexed. It is true that when, at length, the salmon, entirely dead beat, suffered himself to be led in to the side of the rock, Lionel managed to seize the handle of the gaff, and this time, making sure of his foothold, got the fish on land; but this final success in no way atoned for his having so desperately made a fool of himself. In silence he affixed the bit of string she gave him to the head and tail of this very pretty twelve-pounder; and in silence they set out, he carrying the salmon and she the rod over her shoulder.

"It will be a surprise for old Robert when we meet him," she said, cheerfully. "But he will wonder how you came to be so drenched."

"Yes," said he, "it will be a pretty story of tomfoolery for them all to hear. I should like to make a comic drawing of it, if I could. It would have done capitally for John Leech, among the exploits of Mr. Briggs."

She glanced at him curiously. She knew what he was thinking of--of the tale that would be told among the keepers and the gillies of his having soused himself into the Geinig Pool in trying to gaff a fish. And might not the story find its way from the kennels into the gun-room, and thence into the drawing-room?

There was no doubt he was thoroughly ashamed and crestfallen, and angry with himself; and though she talked and chatted just as usual, he was quite taciturn all the way down the side of the Geinig. They reached the Junction Pool.

"Come now, Mr. Moore," she said, with the utmost good-nature, "you make too much of that little mistake. You are far too afraid of ridicule. But I am going to put it all right for you."

What was his astonishment and consternation to see her, after she had laid her rod on the shingle, deliberately walk a yard or two into the shallow water, and then throw herself down into it for a second, while she held out her hand to him.

"Pull me out, Mr. Moore!" she said.

"Good heavens, Miss Honnor!" he exclaimed--but instantly he caught her hand, and she rose to her feet and began to shake the water from her as best she might. "What do you mean?"

"You've pulled me out of the river," said she, laughing, as she shook her dripping sleeves and kicked her skirts; and then she went on, coolly, to explain, "I know you are rather sensitive to ridicule, and you don't like to think of those people telling the story against you as to how you fell into the Geinig Pool. Very well; there needn't be any such story. If any one asks you how you came to be so wet, you can say I got into the water, and you pulled me out. It will sound quite heroic."

"So I am to have the credit of having saved your life?" he said.

"You needn't put it that way," she answered, as she took up the fishing-rod and resumed her homeward walk. "All kinds of accidents are continually happening to people who go salmon-fishing, and no one takes any notice of them. My maid is quite used to getting my things dried--whether they're soaked through with rain or with river-water doesn't much matter to her. And old Robert can take your clothes to the fire in the gun-room long before the gentlemen come back from the hill. So, you see, there will probably be no questions asked; but, if there should be, you have what is quite enough of an explanation."

"Well, Miss Honnor," said he, "I never heard of such a friendly act in all my life--such a gratuitous sacrifice; here you have risked getting your death of cold in order to save my childish vanity from being wounded. Really, I don't know how to thank you--though I wish all the same you had not put me under such a tremendous obligation. But don't imagine that I am going to claim--that I am going to steal--the credit of having saved your life--I am not quite so mean--no, if I am asked, I will tell the whole truth--"

"And make two people ridiculous, instead of one?" she said, with a smile. "No, you can't do that."

However, as it turned out, this Quixotic act of consideration was allowed to remain a dark secret between these two. With the brisk walking and the warm, sunlit air around them, their clothes were already drying; and when old Robert met them, in the dusky chasm at the foot of the Bad Step, he was far too much engaged with the fish to notice their limp and damp garments; while again, as they resumed their march, he, carrying the fish, lagged in the rear, and thus they escaped his keen eyes. Indeed, by the time they reached the Lodge, and as Miss Honnor was about to enter, Lionel said to her that he felt quite warm and comfortable, and proposed to go for a further walk down the strath before dinner; but she peremptorily forbade this and ordered him off to his own room to get a change of clothes.

It is not to be imagined that an incident of this kind could do aught but sink deep into the mind of any young man, and especially into the mind of a young man who had particular reasons for wanting to know how this young lady was affected towards him. She herself had made light of the matter; it had been merely a sudden impulse, born of her own abundant good-nature; probably she would have done as much for Percy Lestrange. But _would she have done as much for Percy Lestrange? Lionel kept asking himself. He was vain enough to think she would not. Who had been her _protege all this time? To whom had she given unobtrusive little hints when she thought these might be useful? In whose exploits and triumphs and failures had she shown an exceptional interest and sympathy? Whom had she permitted to go fishing with her on those long days when the world seemed to belong to the two of them? Whom had she admitted into the little dell above the Geinig Pool which was her chosen and solitary retreat? And he could not but reflect that while there were plenty of women who were eager to present him with silver cigarette-cases, blue and white flower-jars, and things of that kind, there was not one of them, as he believed, who would dip her little finger in a bottle of ink for his sake. More than that, which of them would herself have dared ridicule in order to save him from ridicule? And in what light should he regard this suddenly prompted action on her part, which seemed to him so bewildering at the time, but which she appeared to look on as only a sort of half-humorous freak of friendship?

These speculations only came back to the original question, or series of questions, that had already puzzled him. Why should he set such store by her opinion?--why be so anxious to please her?--why be so proud to think that he had won some small share of favorable regard? It was not his ordinary attitude towards women, who troubled him rather, and interfered with his many interests and the calls of his professional duties. Falling in love?--that could hardly be it; he felt no desire whatever to go down on his knees before her and swear by the eternal stars. Besides, she was so far away from him--living in such a different sphere--among occupations and surroundings and traditions entirely apart from his. Falling in love?--with the isolated, the unapproachable fisher-maiden, the glance of whose calm hazel eyes would be death to any kind of theatrical sentiment? It was all a confusion and a perplexity to him; but at least he was glad to know that he would sit at the same table with her that night at dinner, and, thereafter, perchance, have some opportunity of talking to her in the drawing-room, where a certain incident, known to themselves alone, would serve as a sort of secret tie. And he was cheered to remember that, although he was leaving this still and beautiful neighborhood (where so many strange dreams and fancies and new and welcome experiences had befallen him), he was not bidding good-bye to all of these friends forever. Miss Honnor Cunyngham would be in Brighton in November; and Brighton was not so far away from the great city and the dull, continuous, thunderous roar that would then be all around him.

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 13. A New Experience Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 13. A New Experience

Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 13. A New Experience
CHAPTER XIII. A NEW EXPERIENCEWas it possible in the nature of things that Prince Fortunatus should find his spirits dashed with gloom--he whose existence had hitherto been a long series of golden moments, each brighter and more welcome than the other; Even if he had to leave this still and beautiful valley where he had found so much gracious companionship and so many pleasant pursuits, look what was before him; he was returning to be greeted with the applause of enthusiastic audiences, to be sought after and courted and petted in private circles, to find himself talked about in the newspapers,

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

Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 11. The Phantom Stag
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