Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice

... her election

Hath sealed thee for herself.

Adieu, adieu, adieu! Remember me.

Yea, from the table of my memory

I'll wipe away all trivial fond records...

That youth and observation copied there,

And thy commandment all alone shall live

Unmixed with baser matter; yes, by heaven!—Hamlet.

COLONEL Gerald was well aware of Mrs. Crawford's strategical skill, and he had watched its development and exercise during the afternoon of that pleasant little luncheon party on the hill. He remembered what she had said to him so gravely at the garden-party at Government House regarding the responsibility inseparable from the guardianship of Daireen at the Cape, and he knew that Mrs. Crawford had in her mind, when she organised the party to the hill, such precepts as she had previously enunciated. He had watched and admired her cleverness in arranging the collecting expeditions, and he felt that her detaining of Mr. Glaston as she had under some pretext until all the others but Daireen had gone up the ravine was a master stroke. But at this point Colonel Gerald's observation ended. His imagination had been much less vivid than either Mrs. Crawford's or Standish's. He did not attribute any subtle influence to the setting sun, nor did he conjure up any vision of Mr. Glaston sitting at the feet of Daireen and uttering words that the magic of the sunset glories alone could inspire.

The fact was that he knew much better than either Mrs. Crawford or Standish how his daughter felt towards Mr. Glaston, and he was not in the least concerned in the result of her observation of the glowing west by the side of the Art prophet. When Mrs. Crawford looked narrowly into the girl's face on her descent Colonel Gerald had only laughed; he did not feel any distressing weight of responsibility on the subject of the guardianship of his daughter, for he had not given a single thought to the accident of his daughter's straying up the ravine with Algernon Glaston, nor was he impressed by his daughter's behaviour on the day following. They had driven out together to pay some visits, and she had been even more affectionate to him than usual, and he justified Mrs. Crawford's accusation of his ignorance and the ignorance of men generally, by feeling, from this fact, more assured that Daireen had passed unscathed through the ordeal of sunset and the drawing on of twilight on the mount.

On the next day to that on which they had paid their visits, however, Daireen seemed somewhat abstracted in her manner, and when her father asked her if she would ride with him and Standish to The Flats she, for the first time, brought forward a plea—the plea of weariness—to be allowed to remain at home.

Her father looked at her, not narrowly nor with the least glance of suspicion, only tenderly, as he said:

“Certainly, stay at home if you wish, Dolly. You must not overtax yourself, or we shall have to get a nurse for you.”

He sat by her side on the chair on the stoep of the Dutch cottage and put his arm about her. In an instant she had clasped him round the neck and had hidden her face upon his shoulder in something like hysterical passion. He laughed and patted her on the back in mock protest at her treatment. It was some time before she unwound her arms and he got upon his feet, declaring that he would not submit to such rough handling. But all the same he saw that her eyes were full of tears; and as he rode with Standish over the sandy plain made bright with heath, he thought more than once that there was something strange in her action and still stranger in her tears.

Standish, however, felt equal to explaining everything that seemed unaccountable. He felt there could be no doubt that Daireen was wearying of these rides with him: he was nothing more than a brother—a dull, wearisome, commonplace brother to her, while such fellows as Glaston, who had made fame for themselves, having been granted the opportunity denied to others, were naturally attractive to her. Feeling this, Standish once more resolved to enter upon that enterprise of work which he felt to be ennobling. He would no longer linger here in silken-folded idleness, he would work—work—work—steadfastly, nobly, to win her who was worth all the labour of a man's life. Yes, he would no longer remain inactive as he had been, he would—well, he lit another cigar and trotted up to the side of Colonel Gerald.

But Daireen, after the departure of her father and Standish, continued sitting upon the chair under the lovely creeping plants that twined themselves around the lattice of the projecting roof. It was very cool in the gracious shade while all the world outside was red with heat. The broad leaves of the plants in the garden were hanging languidly, and the great black bees plunged about the mighty roses that were bursting into bloom with the first breath of the southern summer. From the brink of the little river at the bottom of the avenue of Australian oaks the chatter of the Hottentot washerwomen came, and across the intervening space of short tawny grass a Malay fruitman passed, carrying his baskets slung on each end of a bamboo pole across his shoulders.

She looked out at the scene—so strange to her even after the weeks she had been at this place; all was strange to her—as the thoughts that were in her mind. It seemed to her that she had been but one day at this place, and yet since she had heard the voice of Oswin Markham how great a space had passed! All the days she had been here were swallowed up in the interval that had elapsed since she had seen this man—since she had seen him? Why, there he was before her very eyes, standing by the side of his horse with the bridle over his arm. There he was watching her while she had been thinking her thoughts.

She stood amongst the blossoms of the trellis, white and lovely as a lily in a land of red sun. He felt her beauty to be unutterably gracious to look upon. He threw his bridle over a branch and walked up to her.

“I have come to say good-bye,” he said as he took her hand.

These were the same words that she had heard from Harwood a few days before and that had caused her to smile. But now the hand Markham was not holding was pressed against her heart. Now she knew all. There was no mystery between them. She knew why her heart became still after beating tumultuously for a few seconds; and he, though he had not designed the words with the same object that Harwood had, and though he spoke them without the same careful observance of their effect, in another instant had seen what was in the girl's heart.

“To say good-bye?” she repeated mechanically.

“For a time, yes; for a long time it will seem to me—for a month.”

He saw the faint smile that came to her face, and how her lips parted as a little sigh of relief passed through them.

“For a month?” she said, and now she was speaking in her own voice, and sitting down. “A month is not a long time to say good-bye for, Mr. Markham. But I am so sorry that papa is gone out for his ride on The Flats.”

“I am fortunate in finding even you here, then,” he said.

“Fortunate! Yes,” she said. “But where do you mean to spend this month?” she continued, feeling that he was now nothing more than a visitor.

“It is very ridiculous—very foolish,” he replied. “I promised, you know, to act in some entertainment Miss Vincent has been getting up, and only yesterday her father received orders to proceed to Natal; but as all the fellows who had promised her to act are in the company of the Bayonetteers that has also been ordered off, no difference will be made in her arrangements, only that the performance will take place at Pietermaritzburg instead of at Cape Town. But she is so unreasonable as to refuse to release me from my promise, and I am bound to go with them.”

“It is a compliment to value your services so highly, is it not?”

“I would be glad to sacrifice all the gratification I find from thinking so for the sake of being released. She is both absurd and unreasonable.”

“So it would certainly strike any one hearing only of this,” said Daireen. “But it will only be for a month, and you will see the place.”

“I would rather remain seeing this place,” he said. “Seeing that hill above us.” She flushed as though he had told her in those words that he was aware of how often she had been looking up to that slope since they had been there together——

There was a long pause, through which the voices and laughter of the women at the river-bank were heard.

“Daireen,” said the man, who stood up bareheaded before her. “Daireen, that hour we sat up there upon that slope has changed all my thoughts of life. I tell you the life which you restored to me a month ago I had ceased to regard as a gift. I had come to hope that it would end speedily. You cannot know how wretched I was.”

“And now?” she said, looking up to him. “And now?”

“Now,” he answered. “Now—what can I tell you? If I were to be cut off from life and happiness now, I should stand before God and say that I have had all the happiness that can be joined to one life on earth. I have had that one hour with you, and no God or man can take it from me: I have lived that hour, and none can make me unlive it. I told you I would say no word of love to you then, but I have come to say the word now. Child, I dared not love you as I was—I had no thought worthy to be devoted to loving you. God knows how I struggled with all my soul to keep myself from doing you the injustice of thinking of you; but that hour at your feet has given me something of your divine nature, and with that which I have caught from you, I can love you. Daireen, will you take the love I offer you? It it yours—all yours.”

He was not speaking passionately, but when she looked up and saw his face haggard with earnestness she was almost frightened—she would have been frightened if she had not loved him as she now knew she did. “Speak,” he said, “speak to me—one word.”

“One word?” she repeated. “What one word can I say?”

“Tell me all that is in your heart, Daireen.”

She looked up to him again. “All?” she said with a little smile. “All? No, I could never tell you all. You know a little of it. That is the bond between us.”

He turned away and actually took a few steps from her. On his face was an expression that could not easily have been read. But in an instant he seemed to recover himself. He took her hand in his.

“My darling,” he said, “the Past has buried its dead. I shall make myself worthy to think of you—I swear it to you. You shall have a true man to love.” He was almost fierce in his earnestness, and her hand that he held was crushed for an instant. Then he looked into her face with tenderness. “How have you come to answer my love with yours?” he said almost wonderingly. “What was there in me to make you think of my existence for a single instant?”

She looked at him. “You were—you,” she said, offering him the only explanation in her power. It had seemed to her easy enough to explain as she looked at him. Who else was worth loving with this love in all the world, she thought. He alone was worthy of all her heart.

“My darling, my darling,” he said, “I am unworthy to have a single thought of you.”

“You are indeed if you continue talking so,” she said with a laugh, for she felt unutterably happy.

“Then I will not talk so. I will make myself worthy to think of you by—by—thinking of you. For a month, Daireen,—for a month we can only think of each other. It is better that I should not see you until the last tatter of my old self is shred away.”

“It cannot be better that you should go away,” she said. “Why should you go away just as we are so happy?”

“I must go, Daireen,” he said. “I must go—and now. I would to God I could stay! but believe me, I cannot, darling; I feel that I must go.”

“Because you made that stupid promise?” she said.

“That promise is nothing. What is such a promise to me now? If I had never made it I should still go.”

He was looking down at her as he spoke. “Do not ask me to say anything more. There is nothing more to be said. Will you forget me in a month, do you think?”

Was it possible that there was a touch of anxiety in the tone of his question? she thought for an instant. Then she looked into his face and laughed.

“God bless you, Daireen!” he said tenderly, and there was sadness rather than passion in his voice.

“God keep you, Daireen! May nothing but happiness ever come to you!”

He held out his hand to her, and she laid her own trustfully in his.

“Do not say good-bye,” she pleaded. “Think that it is only for a month—less than a month, it must be. You can surely be back in less than a month.”

“I can,” he replied; “I can, and I will be back within a month, and then—— God keep you, Daireen, for ever!”

He was holding her hand in his own with all gentleness. His face was bent down close to hers, but he did not kiss her face, only her hand. He crushed it to his lips, and then dropped it. She was blinded with her tears, so that she did not see him hasten away through the avenue of oaks. She did not even hear his horse's tread, nor could she know that he had not once turned round to give her a farewell look.

It was some minutes before she seemed to realise that she was alone. She sprang to her feet and stood looking out over those deathly silent broad leaves, and those immense aloes, that seemed to be the plants in a picture of a strange region. She heard the laughter of the Hottentot women at the river, and the unmusical shriek of a bird in the distance. She clasped her hands over her head, looking wistfully through the foliage of the oaks, but she did not utter a word. He was gone, she knew now, for she felt a loneliness that overwhelmed every other feeling. She seemed to be in the middle of a bare and joyless land. The splendid shrubs that branched before her eyes seemed dead, and the silence of the warm scented air was a terror to her.

He was gone, she knew, and there was nothing left for her but this loneliness. She went into her room in the cottage and seated herself upon her little sofa, hiding her face in her hands, and she felt it good to pray for him—for this man whom she had come to love, she knew not how. But she knew she loved him so that he was a part of her own life, and she felt that it would always be so. She could scarcely think what her life had been before she had seen him. How could she ever have fancied that she loved her father before this man had taught her what it was to love? Now she felt how dear beyond all thought her father was to her. It was not merely love for himself that she had learnt from Oswin Markham, it was the power of loving truly and perfectly that he had taught her.

Thus she dreamed until she heard the pleasant voice of her friend Mrs. Crawford in the hall. Then she rose and wondered if every one would not notice the change that had passed over her. Was it not written upon her face? Would not every touch of her hand—every word of her voice, betray it?

Then she lifted up her head and felt equal to facing even Mrs. Crawford, and to acknowledging all that she believed the acute observation of that lady would read from her face as plainly as from the page of a book.

But it seemed that Mrs. Crawford's eyes were heavy this afternoon, for though she looked into Daireen's face and kissed her cheek affectionately, she made no accusation.

“I am lucky in finding you all alone, my dear,” she said. “It is so different ashore from aboard ship. I have not really had one good chat with you since we landed. George is always in the way, or the major, you know—ah, you think I should rather say the colonel and Jack, but indeed I think of your father only as Lieutenant George. And you enjoyed our little lunch on the hill, I hope? I thought you looked pale when you came down. Was it not a most charming sunset?”

“It was indeed,” said Daireen, straining her eyes to catch a glimpse through the window of the slope where the red light had rested.

“I knew you would enjoy it, my dear. Mr. Glaston is such good company—ah, that is, of course, to a sympathetic mind. And I don't think I am going too far, Daireen, when I say that I am sure he was in company with a sympathetic mind the evening before last.”

Mrs. Crawford was smiling as one smiles passing a graceful compliment.

“I think he was,” said Daireen. “Miss Vincent and he always seemed pleased with each other's society.”

“Miss Vincent?—Lottie Vincent?” cried the lady in a puzzled but apprehensive way. “What do you mean, Daireen? Lottie Vincent?”

“Why, you know Mr. Glaston and Miss Vincent went away from us, among the silver leaves, and only returned as we were coming down the hill.”

Mrs. Crawford was speechless for some moments. Then she looked at the girl, saying, “We,—who were we?

“Mr. Markham and myself,” replied Daireen without faltering.

“Ah, indeed,” said the other pleasantly. Then there was a pause before she added, “That ends my association with Lottie Vincent. The artful, designing little creature! Daireen, you have no idea what good nature it required on my part to take any notice of that girl, knowing so much as I do of her; and this is how she treats me! Never mind; I have done with her.” Seeing the girl's puzzled glance, Mrs. Crawford began to recollect that it could not be expected that Daireen should understand the nature of Lottie's offence; so she added, “I mean, you know, dear, that that girl is full of spiteful, designing tricks upon every occasion. And yet she had the effrontery to come to me yesterday to beg of me to take charge of her while her father would be at Natal. But I was not quite so weak. Never mind; she leaves tomorrow, thank goodness, and that is the last I mean to see of her. But about Mr. Markham: I hope you do not think I had anything to say in the matter of letting you be with him, Daireen. I did not mean it, indeed.”

“I am sure of it,” said Daireen quietly—so quietly that Mrs. Crawford began to wonder could it be possible that the girl wished to show that she had been aware of the plans which had been designed on her behalf. Before she had made up her mind, however, the horses of Colonel Gerald and Standish were heard outside, and in a moment afterwards the colonel entered the room.

“Papa,” said Daireen almost at once, “Mr. Markham rode out to see you this afternoon.”

“Ah, indeed? I am sorry I missed him,” he said quietly. But Mrs. Crawford stared at the girl, wondering what was coming.

“He came to say good-bye, papa.”

Mrs. Crawford's heart began to beat again.

“What, is he returning to England?” asked the colonel.

“Oh, no; he is only about to follow Mr. Harwood's example and go up to Natal.”

“Then he need not have said good-bye, anymore than Harwood,” remarked the colonel; and his daughter felt it hard to restrain herself from throwing her arms about his neck.

“Ah,” said Mrs. Crawford, “Miss Lottie has triumphed! This Mr. Markham will go up in the steamer with her, and will probably act with her in this theatrical nonsense she is always getting up.”

“He is to act with her certainly,” said Daireen. “Ah! Lottie has made a success at last,” cried the elder lady. “Mr. Markham will suit her admirably. They will be engaged before they reach Algoa Bay.”

“My dear Kate, why will you always jump at conclusions?” said the colonel. “Markham is a fellow of far too much sense to be in the least degree led by such a girl as Lottie.”

Daireen had hold of her father's arm, and when he had spoken she turned round and kissed him. But it was not at all unusual for her to kiss him in this fashion on his return from a ride.

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