« НазадПродовжити »
than I ought to do, these old families and their old homes, and shall be inclined to tread most reverently the halls and corridors of the descendant of a Welsh prince. Take this,' he said, handing the gamekeeper half a sovereign, 'for a slight acknowledgment of the pleasure your talk has given. I wish honestly my man cared half as much about me and mine, or could speak as eloquently about them. But I don't know what ails you Welshmen. You seem all to me born gentlemen, whatever your station in life; and as to your language, I cannot, for the life of me, understand the why or wherefore, but I notice if a Welshman speak English at all, ho speaks it to perfection, and puts to shame the speech of the humbler among my own countrymen.'
This might be banter, and certainly was not spoken in entire sincerity. It may also be a question whether such truth as there was would have been so demonstratively expressed under any other circumstances. Anyhow, he spoke of real facts he had noticed ; and consequently there mingled with the unreality of his tone something deeper and more genuine. The effect was irresistible. The gamekeeper coloured with pleasure, his eye laughed, and his voice rang out as he apologized to the stranger for his previons expressions.
And now,' said Rymer, 'can't you get me a peep inside ? It's Sunday, I know, but your curate, I have heard, once showed on a Sunday the old abbey where he lives to a friend who could not wait for Monday. That's just my case. I am going back to England immediately, and feel a strong desire to see what I call a typical Welsh gentleman's house. I dare say you think I could find no more favourable example ?
That's very certain, sir, and thank you for your liberality; but if it's given with a view—' and he held the coin out, as if to return it.
'It's not given for anything in the world but to enable me to please myself in pleasing you, if you are not too proud to accept it.'
"Well, sir,' said the Welshman, as he pocketed the halfsovereign with considerable satisfaction, it seems a trifle to refuse you, and perhaps it might be managed; but great offence was once given to Mr. Rhys by a party of visitors, who were, as a special favour, allowed to see the principal ruins while the family were in residence-'
But he is not here, is he?'
No, and to be sure that makes a difference! For his lady wonldn't say a word against our admitting a stranger-if he were really a gentleman-except for the sake of disobedience to orders. Well, sir, I think I'll venture, if I may be sure you will keep close to me, so that there may be no risk of annoyance.
Don't doubt that.' "Well, sir, I think, knowing the place and its ways so well as I do, I may manage to show you what is best worth seeing, without coming across my mistress.'
Rymer heard, but said nothing, and followed the gamekeeper silently.
As the stranger became more reserved and silent, the gamekeeper became only the more chatty; and told the history of a certain family, the chief member of which had committed suicide through finding himself unable to pay a debt of honour -a touching piece of domestic tragedy, which Rymer would have listened to with interest at any time but the present.
He was now feeling the full significance of his positionwas realising the nature of the perilous path along which he strode as if no giddy precipice were on either hand, no termi. nation to the vista beyond that even the boldest spirits might be unwilling to face.
Thus they reached Dola' Hudol; when a new trouble affected Rymer that he had not, in the intense preoccupation of a determined purpose, previously thought of. Was he now being seen by Mrs. Rhys, as they approached ? Would she again fly from him ? Or would she not feel so deep a resentment as to arm herself against all further consideration for him, and denounce him, and expose him before her husband's servants ?
To his great edification !' said Rymer, grimly to himself. Not a bad stroke of policy on her part, if
He did not finish his sentence, for they had now reached the house, and without--so far as Rymer's keen eyes could discern, as they ranged incessantly from window to windowattracting the least attention from any one within.
It was a great infliction to him to have to deal with the intelligence and zeal of his companion. He would have given the diamond ring from his finger-her gift-so he felt, to have exchanged the gamekeeper for the ordinary showwoman, with her monotonous cut and dry sentences, and utter careless
ness as to what he thought, how he looked or moved, so long as he did not linger too long, nor touch forbidden things.
Through half an hour of almost intolerable torture did he vainly strive to listen to talk that he knew he ought to attend to, if only to keep off suspicion ; while, in fact, every sound was full of pain and alarm, for it confused what he was striv. ing to make clear with all the faculties of his soul—those other sounds all so soft and remote, which whispered to him of the rustle of a dress, or the fall of a light foot, a distant word of direction, or a question put to a servant-sounds so delicate, that he feared to lose them in the thicker stream of the gamekeeper's voice.
Suddenly he was startled into consciousness by the remark
“You are tired, sir, I see: and can't take much interest in the place.'
'No, no, you are deceived; I never was more interested in my life. Talk on, and don't mind me.'
For a few minutes Rymer managed, with great effort, to preserve a manner more obviously suitable to the character he had assumed; but it wearied him so much that in a wanton spirit he threw all further attempt aside, and stalked on, gloomily listening to everything said, but perfectly unconscious of any one fact whatever, except this—she was near him ; and yet he was failing to find her, or even to get the slightest trace of her whereabouts.
What's that ?' he said suddenly, in a voice so low and significant, that the gamekeeper was startled, and fancied the stranger had caught some sounds that he too ought to hear and did not.
'I-I mean-the-singing!' said Rymer, with an attempt at indifference.
"Oh that! I couldn't imagine, sir, what you heard. Oh that's only Mrs. Rhys singing ; she's a fine singer, they saythough an English woman. The Welshman said this with a sly smile.
It does indeed seem exquisite. I wish I could hear it more plainly.' .
'Do you? Well, I have a message for her, so I'll go in, and leave the door open behind me-then you'll perhaps get half a minute or so.'
*Stay. What if she were to come out while I am here ? '
She will not do that. I shall tell her what I have done; she's sure, then, not to be angry.'
Very well. Give me as long as you can. The air is one I should like to hear through, if it were possible.'
· Please, sir, to be very silent, and do not move at all till I come back !!
'I will not.'
The gamekeeper went to the other end of the corridor, in which they stood, and tapped lightly.
• Come in !' said a voice that seemed even still richer in its own natural music than in aught that it had artistically learned.
Rymer stood listening; breathless, moveless, gazing at that opening door which did not reveal her when fully open, and which was then partially reclosed.
He could not hear distinctly what the gamekeeper said to her, and yet felt certain from the tone that he began by giving his own independent message, and that it was to that the pathetic voice replied, wearily,
• Very well.'
And then, while Rymer wondered if the gamekeeper's . courage had failed him about the intruding visitor, and whether she would begin again the singing, he heard the man's heavy step moving not towards, but away from him, Rymer.
What on earth does that portend ? 'he asked himself. "You will find it, James, I think, on the dining-room table; I am sorry to trouble you, Mrs. Rhys said, in a raised voice.
She had then sent the man for something.
Truly Rymer felt it to be a wonderful piece of good fortune; he might venture in, and in half a minute might do that for which alone he had come hither.
But even as he moved with fixed resolution to his purpose, he heard Mrs. Rhys's voice rise again, very falteringly, it seemed, then grow stronger, and then it sang to Welsh words the exquisitely pathetic air, Ar hyd y nos, but not to the end; there was an inexplicable sinking and diminishing of the rich full tones—then fresh effort and struggle-almost a conquestthen a low cry of intensest anguish, and—then what Rymer dared not even to picture to himself, through the ominous silence.
Unmanned for the moment by this, he changed his resolution, and wrote hurriedly in his note-book these words :
I am here, listening to you, but quite unknown and unsuspected, as a tourist visitor. Judge by that of the value of my word when I say I will see you-once-whatever may come of it. ‘But that shall be our last interview, if you choose.
Hear me then, as I must also hear you, once for all. Then I accept, absolutely, your decision, however fatal.
Come alone to the place called the Maiden's Lake, at dusk this afternoon. There is a catchpenny gold-finder there on week days, whom people go to see make experiments in washing for gold-dust. He will be absent to-day. We may meet there as strangers, without risk to you; and find no one but ourselves.
'Strike a chord upon your instrument to say yes ; I will not take no-not even if I have to seek you here again after your husband's arrival. Destroy this.'
- While this was being written, Rymer expected every instant to be stopped by the returning gamekeeper, till he remembered his own request to the man, and saw how easily the slight commission given to him by Mrs. Rhys might be, and no doubt was being consciously, used for Rymer's benefit.
Tearing the leaves out, he strode stealthily towards the still partially-open door-paused-drew himself up-seemed to hesitate as to the shock the sight of him might give Mrs. Rhys, -perhaps also as to his promise to the gamekeeper; so he hastily rolled the leaves round the only convenient weight he could find, a half-crown, and threw it against a part of the wall he could just see.
Glass crashed, and was followed by a slight scream, which was instantly interrupted, as if in sudden consciousness of the possible meaning of the incident.
It was the glass of a picture that had been broken. Strange enough, too, the drawing was a water-colour drawing of Mrs. Rhys herself.
Rymer seemed to hear each separate beat of his own heart, as he listened to hear how she would act.
He was not long left in doubt. Of course she could not choose but deal some way with an incident so compromising.