It was not till Mr. Trohm had driven away that I noticed, in the shadow of the trees on the opposite side of the road, a horse tied up, whose empty saddle bespoke a visitor within. At any other gate and on any other road this would not have struck me as worthy of notice, much less of comment. But here, and after all that I had heard during the morning, the circumstance was so unexpected I could not help showing my astonishment.
“A visitor?” I asked.
“Some one to see Lucetta.”
William had no sooner said this than I saw he was in a state of high excitement. He had probably been in this condition when we drove up, but my attention being directed elsewhere I had not noticed it. Now, however, it was perfectly plain to me, and it did not seem quite the excitement of displeasure, though hardly that of joy.
“She doesn’t expect you yet,” he pursued, as I turned sharply toward the house, “and if you interrupt her — D— n it, if I thought you would interrupt her ——”
I thought it time to teach him a lesson in manners.
“Mr. Knollys,” I interposed somewhat severely, “I am a lady. Why should I interrupt your sister or give her or you a moment of pain?”
“I don’t know,” he muttered. “You are so very quick I was afraid you might think it necessary to join her in the parlor. She is perfectly able to take care of herself, Miss Butterworth, and if she don’t do it —” The rest was lost in indistinct guttural sounds.
I made no effort to answer this tirade. I took my usual course in quite my usual way to the front steps and proceeded to mount them without so much as looking behind me to see whether or not this uncouth representative of the Knollys name had kept at my heels or not.
Entering the door, which was open, I came without any effort on my part upon Lucetta and her visitor, who proved to be a young gentleman. They were standing together in the middle of the hall and were so absorbed in what they were saying that they neither saw nor heard me. I was therefore enabled to catch the following sentences, which struck me as of some moment. The first was uttered by her, and in very pleading tones:
“A week — I only ask a week. Then perhaps I can give you an answer which will satisfy you.”
His reply, in manner if not in matter, proclaimed him the lover of whom I had so lately heard.
“I cannot, dear girl; indeed, I cannot. My whole future depends upon my immediately making the move in which I have asked you to join me. If I wait a week, my opportunity will be gone, Lucetta. You know me and you know how I love you. Then come ——”
A rude hand on my shoulder distracted my attention. William stood lowering behind me and, as I turned, whispered in my ear:
“You must come round the other way. Lucetta is so touchy, the sight of you will drive every sensible idea out of her head.”
His blundering whisper did what my presence and by no means light footsteps had failed to do. With a start Lucetta turned and, meeting my eye, drew back in visible confusion. The young man followed her hastily.
“Is it good-by, Lucetta?” he pleaded, with a fine, manly ignoring of our presence that roused my admiration.
She did not answer. Her look was enough. William, seeing it, turned furious at once, and, bounding by me, faced the young man with an oath.
“You’re a fool to take no from a silly chit like that,” he vociferated. “If I loved a girl as you say you love Lucetta, I’d have her if I had to carry her away by force. She’d stop screaming before she was well out of the lane. I know women. While you listen to them they’ll talk and talk; but once let a man take matters into his own hands and —” A snap of his fingers finished the sentence. I thought the fellow brutal, but scarcely so stupid as I had heretofore considered him.
His words, however, might just as well have been uttered into empty air. The young man he so violently addressed appeared hardly to have heard him, and as for Lucetta, she was so nearly insensible from misery that she had sufficient ado to keep herself from falling at her lover’s feet.
“Lucetta, Lucetta, is it then good-by? You will not go with me?”
“I cannot. William, here, knows that I cannot. I must wait till ——”
But here her brother seized her so violently by the wrist that she stopped from sheer pain, I fear. However that was, she turned pale as death under his clutch, and, when he tried to utter some hot, passionate words into her ear, shook her head, but did not speak, though her lover was gazing with a last, final appeal into her eyes. The delicate girl was bearing out my estimate of her.
Seeing her thus unresponsive, William flung her hand from him and turned upon me.
“It’s your fault,” he cried. “You would come in ——”
But, at this, Lucetta, recovering her poise in a moment, cried out shrilly:
“For shame, William! What has Miss Butterworth to do with this? You are not helping me with your roughness. God knows I find this hour hard enough, without this show of anxiety on your part to be rid of me.”
“There’s woman’s gratitude for you,” was his snarling reply. “I offer to take all the responsibilities on my own shoulders and make it right with — with her sister, and all that, and she calls it desire to get rid of her. Well, have your own way,” he growled, storming down the hall; “I’m done with it for one.”
The young man, whose attitude of reserve, mixed with a strange and lingering tenderness for this girl, whom he evidently loved without fully understanding her, was every minute winning more and more of my admiration, had meanwhile raised her trembling hand to his lips in what was, as we all could see, a last farewell.
In another moment he was walking by us, giving me as he passed a low bow that for all its grace did not succeed in hiding from me the deep and heartfelt disappointment with which he quitted this house. As his figure passed through the door, hiding for one moment the sunshine, I felt an oppression such as has not often visited my healthy nature, and when it passed and disappeared, something like the good spirit of the place seemed to go with it, leaving in its place doubt, gloom, and a morbid apprehension of that unknown something which in Lucetta’s eyes had rendered his dismissal necessary.
“Where’s Saracen? I declare I’m nothing but a fool without that dog,” shouted William. “If he has to be tied up another day —” But shame was not entirely eliminated from his breast, for at Lucetta’s reproachful “William!” he sheepishly dropped his head and strode out, muttering some words I was fain to accept as an apology.
I had expected to encounter a wreck in Lucetta, as, this episode in her life closed, she turned toward me. But I did not yet know this girl, whose frailty seemed to lie mostly in her physique. Though she was suffering far more than her defence of me to her brother would seem to denote, there was a spirit in her approach and a steady look in her dark eye which assured me that I could not calculate upon any loss in Lucetta’s keenness, in case we came to an issue over the mystery that was eating into the happiness as well as the honor of this household.
“I am glad to see you,” were her unexpected words. “The gentleman who has just gone out was a lover of mine; at least he once professed to care for me very much, and I should have been glad to have married him, but there were reasons which I once thought most excellent why this seemed anything but expedient, and so I sent him away. To-day he came without warning to ask me to go away with him, after the hastiest of ceremonies, to South America, where a splendid prospect has suddenly opened for him. You see, don’t you, that I could not do that; that it would be the height of selfishness in me to leave Loreen — to leave William ——”
“Who seems only too anxious to be left,” I put in, as her voice trailed off in the first evidence of embarrassment she had shown since she faced me.
“William is a difficult man to understand,” was her firm but quiet retort. “From his talk you would judge him to be morose, if not positively unkind, but in action —” She did not tell me how he was in action. Perhaps her truthfulness got the better of her, or perhaps she saw it would be hard work to prejudice me now in his favor.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09