The nights are wholesome;

No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,

So hallowed and so gracious is the time.

What, has this thing appeared again to-night?—Hamlet.

WHEN evening came Daireen and her father sat out upon their chairs on the stoëp in front of the house. The sun had for long been hidden by the great peak, though to the rest of the world not under its shadow he had only just sunk. The twilight was very different from the last she had seen on land, when the mighty Slieve Docas had appeared in his purple robe. Here the twilight was brief and darkly blue as it overhung the arched aloes and those large palm plants whose broad leaves waved not in the least breeze. Far in the mellow distance a large star was glittering, and the only sound in the air was the shrill whistle of one of the Cape field crickets.

Then began the struggle between moonlight and darkness. The leaves of the boughs that were clasped above the little river began to be softly silvered as the influence of the rising light made itself apparent, and then the highest ridges of the hill gave back a flash as the beams shot through the air.

These changes were felt by the girl sitting silently beside her father—the changes of the twilight and of the moonlight, before the full round shield of the orb appeared above the trees, and the white beams fell around the broad floating leaves beneath her feet.

'Are you tired, Dolly?' asked her father.

'Not in the least, papa; it seems months since I was at sea.'

'Then you will ride with me for my usual hour? I find it suits me better to take an hour's exercise in the cool of the evening.'

'Nothing could be lovelier on such an evening,' she cried. 'It will complete our day's happiness.'

She hastened to put on her habit while her father went round to the stables to give directions to the groom regarding the saddling of a certain little Arab which had been bought within the week. In a short time Standish was left to gaze in admiration at the fine seat of the old officer in his saddle, and in rapture at the delicately shaped figure of the girl, as they trotted down the avenue between those strange trees.

They disappeared among the great leaves; and when the sound of their horses' hoofs had died away, Standish, sitting there upon the raised ground in front of the house, had his own hour of thought. He felt that he had hitherto not accomplished much in his career of labour. He had had an idea that there were a good many of the elements of heroism in joining as he did the vessel in which the girl was going abroad. Visions of wrecks, of fires, of fallings overboard, nay of pirates even, had floated before his mind, with himself as the only one near to save the girl from each threatening calamity. He had heard of such things taking place daily, and he was prepared to risk himself for her sake, and to account himself happy if the chance of protecting her should occur.

But so soon as he had been a few days at sea, and had found that such a thing as danger was not even hinted at any more than it would be in a drawing-room on shore—when in fact he saw how like a drawing-room on shore was the quarter-deck of the steamer, he began to be disappointed. Daireen was surrounded by friends who would, if there might chance to be the least appearance of danger, resent his undertaking to save the girl whom he loved with every thought of his soul. He would not, in fact, be permitted to play the part of the hero that his imagination had marked out for himself.

Yes, he felt that the heroic elements in his position aboard the steamer had somehow dwindled down to a minimum; and now here he had been so weak as to allow himself to be induced to come out to live, even though only for a short time, at this house. He felt that his acceptance of the sisterly friendship of the girl was making it daily more impossible for him to kneel at her feet, as he meant one day to do, and beg of her to accept of some heroic work done on her behalf.

'She is worthy of all that a man could do with all his soul,' Standish cried as he stood there in the moonlight. But what can I do for her? What can I do for her? Oh, I am the most miserable wretch in the whole world!'

This was not a very satisfactory conclusion for him to come to; but on the whole it did not cause him much despondency. In his Irish nature there were almost unlimited resources of hope, and it would have required a large number of reverses of fortune to cast him down utterly.

While he was trying in vain to make himself feel as miserable as he knew his situation demanded him to be, Daireen and her father were riding along the road that leads from Cape Town to the districts of Wynberg and Constantia. They went along through the moonlight beneath the splendid avenue of Australian oaks at the old Dutch district of Bondebosch, and then they turned aside into a narrow lane of cactus and prickly pear which brought them to that great sandy plain densely overgrown with blossoming heath and gorse called The Mats, along which they galloped for some miles. Turning their horses into the road once more, they then walked them back towards their house at Mowbray.

Daireen felt that she had never before so enjoyed a ride. All was so strange. That hill whose peak was once again towering above them; that long dark avenue with the myriads of fire-flies sparkling amongst the branches; the moonlight that was flooding the world outside; and then her companion, her father, whose face she had been dreaming over daily and nightly. She had never before so enjoyed a ride.

They had gone some distance through the oak avenue when they turned their horses aside at the entrance to one of the large vineyards that are planted in such neat lines up the sloping ground.

'Well, Dolly, are you satisfied at last?' said Colonel Gerald, looking into the girl's face that the moonlight was glorifying, though here and there the shadow of a leaf fell upon her.

'Satisfied! Oh, it is all like a dream,' she said. 'A strange dream of a strange place. When I think that a month ago I was so different, I feel inclined to—to—ask you to kiss me again, to make sure I am not dreaming.'

'If you are under the impression that you are a sleeping beauty, dear, and that you can only be roused by that means, I have no objection.'

'Now I am sure it is all reality,' she said with a little laugh. 'Oh, papa, I am so happy. Could anything disturb our happiness?'

Suddenly upon the dark avenue behind them there came the faint sound of a horses hoof, and then of a song sung carelessly through the darkness—one she had heard before.

The singer was evidently approaching on horseback, for the last notes were uttered just opposite where the girl and her father were standing their horses behind the trees at the entrance to the vineyard. The singer too seemed to have reined in at this point, though of course he could not see either of the others, the branches were so close. Daireen was mute while that air was being sung, and in another instant she became aware of a horse being pushed between the trees a few yards from her. There was only a small space to pass, so she and her father backed their horses round and the motion made the stranger start, for he had not perceived them before.

'I beg you will not move on my account. I did not know there was anyone here, or I should not have——'

The light fell upon the girl's face, and her father saw the stranger give another little start.

'You need not make an apology to us, Mr. Markham,' said Daireen. 'We had hidden ourselves, I know. Papa, this is Mr. Oswin Markham. How odd it is that we should meet here upon the first evening of landing! The Cape is a good deal larger than the quarterdeck of the “Cardwell Castle.”'

'You were a passenger, no doubt, aboard the steamer my daughter came out in, Mr. Markham?' said Colonel Gerald.

Mr. Markham laughed.

'Upon my word I hardly know that I am entitled to call myself a passenger,' he said. 'Can you define my position, Miss Gerald? it was something very uncertain. I am a castaway—a waif that was picked up in a half-drowned condition from a broken mast in the Atlantic, and sheltered aboard the hospitable vessel.'

'It is very rarely that a steamer is so fortunate as to save a life in that way,' said Colonel Gerald. 'Sailing vessels have a much better chance.'

'To me it seems almost a miracle—a long chain of coincidences was necessary for my rescue, and yet every link was perfect to the end.'

'It is upon threads our lives are constantly hanging,' said the colonel, backing his horse upon the avenue. 'Do you remain long in the colony, Mr. Markham?' he asked when they were standing in a group at a place where the moonlight broke through the branches.

'I think I shall have to remain for some weeks,' he answered. 'Campion tells me I must not think of going to England until the violence of the winter there is past.'

'Then we shall doubtless have the pleasure of meeting you frequently. We have a cottage at Mowbray, where we would be delighted to see you. By the way, Mrs. Crawford and a few of my other old friends are coming out to dine with us to-morrow, my daughter and myself would be greatly pleased if you could join us.'

'You are exceedingly kind,' said Mr. Markham. 'I need scarcely say how happy I will be.'

'Our little circle on board the good old ship is not yet to be dispersed, you see, Mr. Markham,' said Daireen with a laugh. 'For once again, at any rate, we will be all together.'

'For once again,' he repeated as he raised his hat, the girl's horse and her father's having turned. 'For once again, till when goodbye, Miss Gerald.'

'Goodbye, Mr. Markham,' said the colonel. 'By the way, we dine early I should have told you—half past six.'

Markham watched them ride along the avenue and reappear in the moonlight space beyond. Then he dropped the bridle on his horse's neck and listlessly let the animal nibble at the leaves on the side of the road for a long time. At last he seemed to start into consciousness of everything. He gathered up the bridle and brought the horse back to the avenue.

'It is Fate or Providence or God this time,' he muttered as if for his own satisfaction. 'I have had no part in the matter; I have not so much as raised my hand for this, and yet it has come.'

He walked his horse back to Cape Town in the moonlight.

'I don't think you mentioned this Mr. Markham's name to me, Dolly,' said Colonel Gerald as they returned to Mowbray.

'I don't think I did, papa; but you see he had gone ashore when I came on deck to you this morning, and I did not suppose we should ever meet again.'

'I hope you do not object to my asking him to dinner, dear?'

'I object, papa? Oh, no, no; I never felt so glad at anything. He does not talk affectedly like Mr. Glaston, nor cleverly like Mr. Harwood, so I prefer him to either of them. And then, think of his being for a week tossing about the Atlantic upon that wreck.'

'All very good reasons for asking him to dine to-morrow,' said her father. 'Now suppose we try a trot.'

'I would rather walk if it is the same to you, papa,' she said. 'I don't feel equal to another trot now.'

'Why, surely, you have not allowed yourself to become tired, Daireen? Yes, my dear, you look it. I should have remembered that you are just off the sea. We will go gently home, and you will get a good sleep.'

They did go very gently, and silently too, and in a short time Daireen was lying on her bed, thinking not of the strange moonlight wonders of her ride, but of that five minutes spent upon the avenue of Australian oaks down which had echoed that song.

It seemed that poor Mrs. Crawford was destined to have enigmas of the most various sorts thrust upon her for her solution; at any rate she regarded the presence of Mr. Oswin Markham at Colonel Crawford's little dinner the next, evening as a question as puzzling as the mysterious appearance of the young man called Standish MacDermot. She, however, chatted with Mr. Markham as usual, and learned that he also was going to a certain garden party which was to be held at Government House in a few days.

'And you will come too, Daireen?' she said. 'You must come, for Mr. Glaston has been so good as to promise to exhibit in one of the rooms a few of his pictures he spoke to us about. How kind of him, isn't it, to try and educate the taste of the colony?' The bishop has not yet arrived at the Cape, but Mr. Glaston says he will wait for him for a fortnight.'

'For a fortnight? Such filial devotion will no doubt bring its own reward,' said Mr. Harwood.

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