Wednesday, 13 January 2010

To Whom She Said Yes - Chapter Eight


Shivering a little at the change from the warm hall to the northerly wind, Eden drew her scarf closer to her throat, and comforted herself with the thought that she should soon reach the shelter of the plantations.

But ere she had gone more than half way across the open ground she thought she heard a footstep behind her, and looked back, expecting to see Flip.

Her heart bonded joyfully at this proof that she was already missed and sought. it was so pleasant to think that everyone did not despise her because she was poor; but still she resolutely determined not to be induced by any arguments to return and expose herself a second time to Mrs. Merstham's ill nature.

However, it was neither of the Stretbys whom she saw approaching, but Captain Lyssendon, whose long strides were bringing him towards her so rapidly that she saw the impossibility of avoiding him, and, therefore, waited in grave silence until he came up.

"Miss Aubrey, you left us so suddenly that your friends had not time to provide you with an escort," he said, courteously. "Will you permit me to see you home?"

"Thanks; but Flip knows that I am never afraid to go alone. And," thought Eden, with a little touch of pique, "even were I willing to have a companion, you are the last person whose society I should care to accept, until I have learned to guard my tongue a little better."

She wished him good evening, and walked on, as if her civil refusal had settled the question; but still he kept beside her, saying that he could not think of allowing a lady to cross the lonely copses by herself.

"But if I prefer it, sir?" she asked, beginning to feel annoyed at his pertinacity.

"If that means that you expect some one to meet you, and I should be in the way," he retorted, significantly, "why, of course, I will leave you. If not, I may surely be permitted to see you in safety to the entrance of the village."

To this speech Eden made no other reply than a resentful flash of her brown eyes. What business had he - a stranger - to take such a significant tone, and utter insinuations that offended her modesty? He might - may, it seemed that he would - walk beside her if he pleased, and she knew not how to prevent it' but she would be so mute, that he should have no further opportunity of affronting her, nor carry away with him the flattering idea that his society had proved acceptable.

But Frank Lyssendon had seen that resentful glance, and availed himself of it to enter on his defence.

"You are very angry with me, Miss Aubrey, for forcing myself upon you in this way, and so I'll own at once that I followed you from the rink because I owe you an apology. Nay, pray hear me out. I was unpardonably insolent to you the other day. I don't know what evil spirit could have taken possession of me when I made myself so disagreeable. I daresay you have called me a bear and a brute in your thoughts ever since."

"I certainly have thought that you were very cross with me, and I knew I had not done anything - purposely, I mean - to deserve it."

"Of course you had not: the fault was wholly mine; and the only excuse that I can offer is, that something had occurred as my friends and I were on our way to The Beeches that very much vexed me; and when you avowed an intimacy with my cousin Verna -"

Eden's exclamation of astonishment caused him to stop suddenly.

"I did not know that you and Mrs Merstham were related. But I beg your pardon," she added. "Of course that is nothing to me. What I wanted to say is this: you forget that there can be no intimacy between a person in her position and one in mine."

"Yes, Mrs Merstham is my cousin," Captain Lyssendon repeated, speaking with much deliberation; "and some some years since we had a dispute about - money, which ended in a total estrangement. As is frequently the case when people quarrel, she thought herself in the right, while I considered myself so much aggrieved, that I did not wish to see her again; and when you hinted that she had been showing you a silly picture, which she ought to have burned..."

"How you jump at conclusions!" cried Eden saucily. "I could and would have told you, if you had not been too angry to listen, that she did not show me that picture, and that she never made any allusion to the gentleman who figures in it. On the contrary, when I remarked on the careful painting of the Romeo, she gave me to understand by her chilling silence that she considered me impertinent for noticing anything but the likeness of her own beautiful self."

"Every word you say makes me feel more and more ashamed of my diabolical fit of temper!" exclaimed Frank. "I must have been out of my senses - really I must! What! don't you believe me?"

For Eden was looking very much inclined to laugh at him.

"Believe that you think you were foolish to take any notice of my incautious remark? Oh yes! Because if you had only smiled at it, or just said, 'Oh! Indeed! there would have been no necessity for this long apology."

"But you do believe that I am more sorry than I can express for my rudeness to you? No, I don't think you do, for you are laughing again."

"I was thinking of Major Halliss. he told me that you are under his tuition, and I find that he has taught you some of his own - accomplishments, shall I call them?"

"Which of them?" asked Frank, now laughing too. "But no, don't tell me, for I really am neither exaggerating nor fibbing when I say that I have been looking quite anxiously for an opportunity of expressing my deep - my very deep regret -"

"Oh! don't go to the lowest depths of contrition for so slight an offence!" cried the amused Eden. "It has been a silly affair altogether. I ought not to have told my thoughts so hastily, and you - well, we will say no more about your little fit of temper. I have one myself sometimes."

"And so you are going to be merciful and forgive me?"

"If there is anything to forgive. You were cross, it is true; but then I have revenged myself by saying all sorts of spiteful things of you - only mentally of course. I do not mean to speak my thoughts aloud any more."

"Then, it's my turn to be magnanimous; and so, Miss Aubrey, I forgive you; but don't transgress again. When you think of me in future - and may it be often! - Let it be kindly, not spitefully."

"It shall - that is, if I ever do think of you," said Eden, demurely. "One sees so many strange faces at Mr Stretby's now, that it's impossible to remember them all."

"I'll contrive to keep myself in your remembrance somehow or other," was the reply. "Do you carry a note-book? If so, pray lend it to me. I only want to pencil down a few memorandums to assist your very treacherous memory."

"I have a book in my pocket," said Eden; but it contains notes of lessons for my little pupils. If you can give me a few facts concerning minerals and metals, or the British constitution, it is at your service; but not for any more ignoble purpose."

"I'll read up on those subjects, and let you have the results some other time," said Frank. "In the meanwhile, please write from my dictation: 'Mem. Not to forget that at the next skating party E. A. is to rink with F. L. Also, that E. A. is not to be induced to throw him over by any artifices Major Halliss may employ. Also, that she is to greet him at all times with sweetest smiles.'"

"Halte-la!" cried Eden. "It would be a waste of time and paper to write down resolutions that cannot be kept."

"Cannot, Miss Aubrey?"
"No; for I have already made two or three which render them null and void. Firstly, to rink no more."

he looked incredulous.

"I hope this is only a young lady's resolution, made that I may have the pleasure of persuading you to break it."

"If that is your idea of my sex's strength of purpose, I hope to have the pleasure of disappointing you," retorted Eden, with a pout.

"But why should you adhere to a resolve that sounds so - so unkind?" the young officer queried. "Pray tell me."

But Eden shook her head.

"As you despise young lady resolutions, I'm afraid young lady motives would have the same fate at your hands; therefore excuse me."

"Very well, Miss Aubrey," he said, assuming a resolute air. "As you refuse to confide in me, I'll resort to other means of bringing you to reason. I'll consult flip - she and I were sworn allies in bygone days, and we'll renew the alliance. I shall not be able to believe that you have taken me into favour again till we have had another hour together on the skates. It was such a delightful task, teaching you, that I felt quite envious when I saw it taken out of my hands this afternoon by Halliss. he is an officious puppy, and I hope you snubbed him well."

Eden laughed gaily.

"Oh ! he is a most amusing companion. The veracious style with which he tells the most absurd tales renders him an incomparable storyteller."

"Figuratively and literally," added Captain Lyssendon. "I should certainly like to hear you call me a pleasant companion; but I hope it will not be for the same reason. don't be obstinate, Miss Aubrey, but give me a chance of proving that I can be somewhat different from the surly fellow you found me the other day."

Eden put up her finger.

"I thought we had agreed to bury the past? And, while you talk, are you aware that you are getting far beyond the boundaries of Mr Stretby's estate? I'm afraid you will find yourself benighted before you can return to the house."

"And you?"

"I have only to run across this field, and I am at home; so I will bid you good-evening. Many thanks for your protection, although it was, as you perceive, quite unnecessary."

"Pray, don't thank me." he cried, gallantly, "for giving myself a delightful walk with a charming ---"

"Good night, sir," said Eden, so coldly that he hastened to retract what he had just said. she had laughed and chatted with him merrily enough, but he saw that he must not presume on her frankness. She was not so weak as to feel flattered by a compliment, but more disposed to regard it as an impertinence.

"Good-night, Miss Aubrey," he said, in very respectful tones; "but I must be allowed to repeat that I have had one of the most delightful walks I have yet enjoyed in this charming neighbourhood. It must be very pretty in summer."

"Very," said Eden dryly, for the ingenious turn he had given his speech had not deceived her. "I suppose I am not such an enthusiast as yourself, for I think the copses detestable when the paths are so muddy, and the air so raw. As you, however, consider it delightful, I'll not pity you for having to retrace your way. Although it is too dark to avoid the marshy places, you'll find it charming."

"Miss Aubrey, I don't like you when you are sarcastic."

"Captain Lyssendon," was the prompt retort, "I do not like you when you are ungentlemanly."

"Good heavens! what have I said to deserve such a charge as that?" he exclaimed, reddening, and gnawing his lip. "I hope you are not in earnest!"

Eden did not reply, but bestowed on him one quick, steadfast glance, which made him redden still more, hardy soldier and experienced man of the world though he was.

"I'll never plead guilty to having intentionally affronted you," he said softly; "so don't be too hard upon me for a foolish slip of the tongue!"

"You must bear in mind that you will have to turn to the left when you reach the clump of thorn trees," said Eden, coolly ignoring his last speech. "Unless you are careful to take the right path you will find yourself at Mrs Merstham's instead of The Beeches."

"I will remember every word you say to me," he answered, with unusual humility; "but may I not help you across this stile before I turn back?"

"Just as you please," said Eden, with a superb air of indifference.

Dud she know that all those subtle changes of mood, from reproachful to gay, from arch to haughty, made her positively fascinating to the young officer? Verna Merstham was a finished coquette, who enhanced her charms by every aid that dress of the mysteries of the toilet could bestow. Her attitudes were studied, her voice carefully subdued to the tone most likely to thrill her hearers, and her smiles, aided by the sudden raising or lowering of the lids that veiled her glorious eyes, enthralled the gazer. Yet Frank Lyssendon, who knew that those smiles would have rewarded him for holding out the olive branch, preferred to loiter here, and saw more to admire in the fresh, girlish beauty and bewitching frankness of Eden Aubrey.

He retained the hand she would have withdrawn as soon as she had crossed the stile, but it was in too respectful a manner to alarm or offend her.

"Is it peace, Miss Aubrey?"

It was not many who could have resisted the smile and pleading tone of the handsome militaire; but Eden steeled herself against them, and carelessly responded:

"Peace, did you say? I thought that word was hateful to the ears of a soldier. It shall be war if you prefer it."

"But I can assure you that I do not. a civil war is always repugnant to the feelings. And so we part friends, do we not?"

"Immutable ones, of course; for have we not known each other nearly three hours?" she archly queried.

"Is friendship measured by time?" he demanded.

"I suppose so' one couldn't reel it off by the foot or yard; or if we did, how much of mine should I have to award you? not the sixteenth of an inch; so small a particle, that you would lose it in the first puddle you have to wade through as you go back."

"But jesting apart' have you quite forgiven all my misdemeanours? No; I object to be put off with a smile that may mean fifty things. Let me have my acquittal by word of mouth."

"But jesting apart, as you say; perhaps Major Halliss's very promising pupil, like my sister Lottie, only pleads penitence to feel at liberty to transgress again."

"Not in this case, I assure you; so shake hands, and send me away happy."

but instead of complying, Eden retreated from him, and put her hands behind her.

"That last sentence spoiled the effect of your speech. do you have private theatricals at Aldenby? and was that a reminiscence of one of your attempts at the tragic?"

"I was quite serious I assure you."

"Quite? " and Eden looked so arch and incredulous, that he bit his lip again; but this time it was to keep back a smile. "Then I ought to have been very much affected. Why wasn't I? Oh, send me away happy! How exquisitely that was declaimed! I hope you'll give us another specimen of your talents at the Eastham penny readings. We're sadly in want of some one there to evoke our sensibilities."

"Go on," said Frank, resignedly. "I am at your mercy. Laugh at me - taunt me - mock me, I'll not complain; I daresay I deserve it all. The other day I was too rude; this afternoon I am too civil; but never mind, I shall hit the juste-milieu presently, and then, perhaps, Miss Aubrey -"

"And then you would be the first to acknowledge that Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle," retorted Eden, speaking lightly enough, but conscious the while of a pang at her heart.

Was she not speaking sober truth? This young officer - this relative of the wealthy Mrs Merstham - had certainly taken the trouble to follow her, and offer an apology for his ill-humour; but when next she met him, must she forget the wide gulf that the difference of their position placed betwixt them? or would he do so?

"Sobered by these thoughts," she added, in a graver tone, "it will be my turn to offer excuses if I stay her talking nonsense any longer. So once more, Captain Lyssendon, I will wish you adieu."

"Till when - till when?" he demanded, eagerly. "Have I not earned one little concession by my heroic endurance of all the buffets you have dealt me?" If I may not say let us be rinds, I may surely ask for one kind au revoir?"

"If I am not to laugh at you again," cried Eden, hastily, "You must not provoke me to it by attempting the sentimental. Pray go; you will never find your way back, if you let the night overtake you."

"Then you are resolved to be obdurate. do you think that it will drive me away in despair? Do you forget what Shakespere says? You draw me, you hard hearted adamant."

"He also says 'Men were deceivers, ever.' So don't provoke me to give you quotation for quotation; so many apt and bitter ones are crowding into my mind, that you would go back to Aldenby ashamed of your sex."

"But not of myself, if you condone my errors. Miss Aubrey, pray stop one moment" - for she was now waving him a farewell, and hurrying along the narrow field-path. "Will you not give me your hand, and promise to rink with me once - just once more?"

"And if I did?" said Eden, pausing, and looking back.

"If you did, I should be more grateful than I can express."

"Then I will not, for such excessive gratitude would bore me. Adieu, and shall I say au revoir?"

Having winged this parting shaft, Eden ran on again too rapidly to admit of his overtaking her. But when she reached the gate of the cottage garden, she stopped, and leaned against it, not only to recover breath, but to meditate.

"I'm afraid I've been flirting desperately," she avowed; "and with one of those dreadful Aldenby officers, as miss Olivia Tibbetts calls them; I'm sure I don't know why. are they really more wicked and heartless than other men? They are certainly very much nicer."

Oh fie! Eden, if Miss Tibbetts could have heard that!

"Major Halliss, and even this Captain Lyssendon, in spite of a little tendency to be presumptuous - for which I hoped I snubbed him sharply enough - have behaved to me as if were a lady, though only a poor one, and had a claim to their courtesy and respect; but it has been quite the reverse with the two or three of the farmers' sons who have condescended to recognise my existence, for they have made me hot and angry with their boorish ways. Shall I ever forget how indignant I felt when I overheard young Brown confiding to a companion that I wasn't a bad-looking girl, and might have been worth looking after, if I'd had any money. He, or such as he, to speak as if it would be a condescension to woo me!"

Eden stamped her little foot angrily, and clenched her hands with a passionate gesture; then smiled at her own folly.

"How silly I am to dwell upon such a trifle as the mere passing admiration of any man! Have not I mamma, whose love is worth more to me than fifty suitors? I'm afraid, though, she'll be half ashamed of her Eden when she hears how recklessly she has been chattering to a person she has never but once seen before. But I shall not feel easy till I have made confession, and kissed away her reproving hlooks. So, now to make a clean breast of it."

And Eden, who thought her courage might cool if she loitered any longer, darted into the house, threw open the parlour-door, and found herself confronting - not her mother, but a stranger.

to be continued...............

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