Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

must not ask me to sanction a formal engagement; I can't entertain that idea at present."

Nigel, somewhat taken aback, and also, it may be, rendered more eager by a rebuff which he had not expected, snatched at the words "formal" and “at present"-as indeed he had been intended to do. The year's delay for which Lord Lannowe proceeded to stipulate was accepted by him without a murmur, and he confessed-perhaps with rather more sincerity than is usually implied in such conventional acknowledgments —that he was altogether unworthy of the good fortune for which he hoped. A short parley respecting settlements followed, and then Lord Lannowe, restored to good humour by the young man's modesty and amenability, said:

“Well, there it is, then. If you are both of the same mind a year hence, we'll see. Meanwhile, you are, of course, both of you free."

Nigel again said what was conventional with regard to Miss Ferrand's entire liberty and his own obligatory allegiance, and again, no doubt, he meant what he said. But perhaps, being human, he was just a trifle disappointed when it subsequently appeared that Monica was not only resigned to delay, but welcomed it.

“Oh, but that will be perfect!” she exclaimed delightedly. “Then I shall not have to leave home for a long time. And—and I suppose you will be allowed to come here as often as you like?”

"I don't quite see how that is to be prevented, my dear," said her father, in whose presence this little speech was made, and in whose ears it rang very pleasantly.

He walked off, laughing and rubbing his hands, pluming himself upon having acted very sensibly and quite unconscious of having placed his daughter in a thoroughly false position.

CHAPTER X

AN INVASION FROM FRANCE

AJOR DALLISON, holding up a white umbrella

to protect his swimming head from the rays of the August sun, walked somewhat unsteadily across the sands towards the spot where his wife and his daughter had taken up their position and dropped heavily into a wicker chair beside them. He had lingered over his midday meal, which had been followed by numerous petits verres, and was consequently both courageous enough and cross enough to growl out:

"I don't know why the devil you dragged me to this accursed hole! There's nothing for a man to do here, except stare across the Channel and wish to the Lord he was on the other side of it, and it seems to me that you yourselves haven't a soul to speak to in the place.”

“I am sure it isn't because I like Boulogne that I am here," returned Mrs. Dallison, in her usual querulous tone of voice ; "I would very much rather be at Homburg, where the Whartons are, if"

“If it were possible to live at Homburg upon seven francs a day per head, wine included," put in Miss Dallison serenely.

"Wine included !" groaned her father, with a touch of real eloquence and suffering in his thick utterance; " if you call that stuff wine, there's nothing you wouldn't say! It wasn't a question of expense either, as you very well know. Haven't I had to pay a deuced sight more than Homburg would have cost to rig you out for this Yorkshire visit of yours, which isn't going to bring you in a farthing that I can see?"

The young lady made no reply. She might have asserted that the sum disbursed upon her unavoidable outfit had scarcely exceeded the price of three railwayfares from Paris to Homburg, and it would have been easy to adduce figures in support of the statement; but she held her peace, being conscious that her parents had, after all, reasonable excuse for displeasure and disappointment. To refuse Sol Wharton, who, notwithstanding the unconcealed displeasure and disappointment of his surviving parent, had magnificently cast himself and his dollars at Ethel's feet-what could be said of such insensate perversity, save that it involved its own deserved punishment ? Major and Mrs. Dallison had said that and a good deal more, meeting only with tolerant smiles in rejoinder from one who was sorry for them but not in the least afraid of them. Secretly, they both hoped that Mr. Wharton was not the man to take No for an answer, and indeed their daughter was of the same opinion. Nevertheless, she had not dismissed the amorous Sol for the sake of tantalising and thus making more sure of him, nor, if he had pursued her to Boulogne, would he have been rewarded by a word of encouragement from her. She realised with exactitude what he was worth ; sure of her power over him, she held him still in reserve ; only she had set her heart upon paying that promised visit to Lannowe, and when once Ethel Dallison had set her heart upon a thing she seldom failed to secure it.

“Waste of time and money!" murmured Mrs. Dallison despondently. “It isn't even as if you were likely to enjoy yourself, Ethel. I know what people of that

sort are, if you don't. They will think you ought to feel highly honoured at having been invited to their house ; they won't trouble themselves to amuse you, they won't introduce you to their friends, and if their friends notice you at all, it will only be with the object of making you uncomfortable. Englishwomen nowadays are allowed to be anything-all sorts of things-except poor and unknown.”

“Oh, I expect I shall enjoy myself," answered Ethel, with a low, anticipatory laugh, while she surveyed the tumbling green sea, which had no terrors for her, and which she was to cross that night.

Mrs. Dallison shot an anxious, suspicious side-glance at her daughter. Ethel was so shrewd in some respects, so rash and unaccountable in others, so self-willed always! Why throw away time and money when the supply of both is obviously limited ? She was about to venture upon a query which would have been neither prudent nor productive of information when the aggrieved Major struck in:

Oh, you'll enjoy yourself fast enough; nobody doubts that! The question is what sort of enjoyment is going to be provided for me in a foul, stuffy pension where there are ten old women to every man and not a solitary gentleman except myself.”

He said “m'shelf," his hands were thrust deep into the pockets of his trousers, his shabby hat was tilted over his red nose and he certainly did not look very much like the exception that he claimed to be. Ethel turned her eyes towards him for a moment. The profound contempt which she felt for the man was sometimes tempered by a touch of pity ; but that was only when he was either sober or hopelessly drunk. When in a semi-tipsy, tentatively bullying condition, he had to be repressed ; so she proceeded to repress him.

"There are plenty of cabarets in Boulogne," she curtly remarked.

Major Dallison jumped up at once and slouched off, scowling and muttering to himself. Perhaps, amongst other odd survivals in the character of one who had once been a smart and not unpopular officer, there may have lurked some remnants of self-respect. At any rate, he could never endure an allusion to his infirmity, nor when such an allusion came from his daughter's lips had he the pluck to rebuke it. It was left for Mrs. Dallison to say plaintively:

"I wonder you are not ashamed to speak to your father like that, Ethel !”

"I am ashamed," answered the girl.
"But you do it, all the same."

Oh, yes, I do it all the same. Perhaps he is a little ashamed of degrading himself and us; but he goes on doing it, all the same. One is always feeling ashamed of conduct which one doesn't propose to abandon, don't you think so ?"

“I am sure I have always tried to do my duty," whined Mrs. Dallison hopelessly.

She did not think that Ethel ever tried to do hers, and she would have liked to say so, but was daunted by the girl's cool smile and slightly raised eyebrows. What use was there in upbraiding Ethel, who had always been, and doubtless always would be, supremely selfish? To throw away an income of many millions of dollars did not sound like selfishness; yet it must have been, otherwise Ethel would never have done it. The only hope was that a similar motive would preserve her from throwing herself away upon young Gretton, for whose sake Mrs. Dallison more than suspected that this journey to Yorkshire was being undertaken.

Ethel could have told her that both the surmise and

« AnteriorContinuar »