"Sir, Miss Trelawny is very sweet and beautiful! She is young; and hermind is like crystal! Her sympathy is a joy! I am not an old man, andmy affections were not engaged. They never had been till then. I hopeI may say as much, even to a father!" My eyes involuntarily dropped.When I raised them again Mr. Trelawny was still gazing at me keenly.All the kindliness of his nature seemed to wreath itself in a smile ashe held out his hand and said:
"Malcolm Ross, I have always heard of you as a fearless and honourablegentleman. I am glad my girl has such a friend! Go on!"
My heart leaped. The first step to the winning of Margaret's fatherwas gained. I dare say I was somewhat more effusive in my words and mymanner as I went on. I certainly felt that way.
"One thing we gain as we grow older: to use our age judiciously! Ihave had much experience. I have fought for it and worked for it allmy life; and I felt that I was justified in using it. I ventured toask Miss Trelawny to count on me as a friend; to let me serve hershould occasion arise. She promised me that she would. I had littleidea that my chance of serving her should come so soon or in such away; but that very night you were stricken down. In her desolation andanxiety she sent for me!" I paused. He continued to look at me as Iwent on:
"When your letter of instructions was found, I offered my services.They were accepted, as you know."
"And these days, how did they pass for you?" The question startled me.There was in it something of Margaret's own voice and manner; somethingso greatly resembling her lighter moments that it brought out all themasculinity in me. I felt more sure of my ground now as I said:
"These days, sir, despite all their harrowing anxiety, despite all thepain they held for the girl whom I grew to love more and more with eachpassing hour, have been the happiest of my life!" He kept silence fora long time; so long that, as I waited for him to speak, with my heartbeating, I began to wonder if my frankness had been too effusive. Atlast he said:
"I suppose it is hard to say so much vicariously. Her poor mothershould have heard you; it would have made her heart glad!" Then ashadow swept across his face; and he went on more hurriedly.
"But are you quite sure of all this?"
"I know my own heart, sir; or, at least, I think I do!"
"No! no!" he answered, "I don't mean you. That is all right! But youspoke of my girl's affection for me ... and yet...! And yet she hasbeen living here, in my house, a whole year... Still, she spoke to youof her loneliness--her desolation. I never--it grieves me to say it,but it is true--I never saw sign of such affection towards myself inall the year!..." His voice trembled away into sad, reminiscentintrospection.
"Then, sir," I said, "I have been privileged to see more in a few daysthan you in her whole lifetime!" My words seemed to call him up fromhimself; and I thought that it was with pleasure as well as surprisethat he said:
"I had no idea of it. I thought that she was indifferent to me. Thatwhat seemed like the neglect of her youth was revenging itself on me.That she was cold of heart.... It is a joy unspeakable to me that hermother's daughter loves me too!" Unconsciously he sank back upon hispillow, lost in memories of the past.
How he must have loved her mother! It was the love of her mother'schild, rather than the love of his own daughter, that appealed to him.My heart went out to him in a great wave of sympathy and kindliness. Ibegan to understand. To understand the passion of these two great,silent, reserved natures, that successfully concealed the burninghunger for the other's love! It did not surprise me when presently hemurmured to himself:
"Margaret, my child! Tender, and thoughtful, and strong, and true, andbrave! Like her dear mother! like her dear mother!"
And then to the very depths of my heart I rejoiced that I had spoken sofrankly.
Presently Mr. Trelawny said:
"Four days! The sixteenth! Then this is the twentieth of July?" Inodded affirmation; he went on:
"So I have been lying in a trance for four days. It is not the firsttime. I was in a trance once under strange conditions for three days;and never even suspected it till I was told of the lapse of time. Ishall tell you all about it some day, if you care to hear."
That made me thrill with pleasure. That he, Margaret's father, wouldso take me into his confidence made it possible.... The business-like,every-day alertness of his voice as he spoke next quite recalled me:
"I had better get up now. When Margaret comes in, tell her yourselfthat I am all right. It will avoid any shock! And will you tellCorbeck that I would like to see him as soon as I can. I want to seethose lamps, and hear all about them!"
His attitude towards me filled me with delight. There was a possiblefather-in-law aspect that would have raised me from a death-bed. I washurrying away to carry out his wishes; when, however, my hand was onthe key of the door, his voice recalled me:
I did not like to hear him say "Mr." After he knew of my friendshipwith his daughter he had called me Malcolm Ross; and this obviousreturn to formality not only pained, but filled me with apprehension.It must be something about Margaret. I thought of her as "Margaret"and not as "Miss Trelawny", now that there was danger of losing her. Iknow now what I felt then: that I was determined to fight for herrather than lose her. I came back, unconsciously holding myself erect.Mr. Trelawny, the keen observer of men, seemed to read my thought; hisface, which was set in a new anxiety, relaxed as he said:
"Sit down a minute; it is better that we speak now than later. We areboth men, and men of the world. All this about my daughter is very newto me, and very sudden; and I want to know exactly how and where Istand. Mind, I am making no objection; but as a father I have dutieswhic
h are grave, and may prove to be painful. I--I"--he seemedslightly at a loss how to begin, and this gave me hope--"I suppose I amto take it, from what you have said to me of your feelings towards mygirl, that it is in your mind to be a suitor for her hand, later on?"I answered at once:
"Absolutely! Firm and fixed; it was my intention the evening after Ihad been with her on the river, to seek you, of course after a properand respectful interval, and to ask you if I might approach her on thesubject. Events forced me into closer relationship more quickly than Ihad to hope would be possible; but that first purpose has remainedfresh in my heart, and has grown in intensity, and multiplied itselfwith every hour which has passed since then." His face seemed tosoften as he looked at me; the memory of his own youth was coming backto him instinctively. After a pause he said:
"I suppose I may take it, too, Malcolm Ross"--the return to thefamiliarity of address swept through me with a glorious thrill--"thatas yet you have not made any protestation to my daughter?"
"Not in words, sir." The arriere pensee of my phrase struck me, not byits own humour, but through the grave, kindly smile on the father'sface. There was a pleasant sarcasm in his comment:
"Not in words! That is dangerous! She might have doubted words, oreven disbelieved them."