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Pearl of Pearl Island.
by John Oxenham.
PART THE FIRST
NOTE.--_It would be impossible to depict the Sark of to-day without using the names native to the Island. All such names here employed, however, are used without any reference whatever to any actual persons who may happen to bear similar names in Sark. The characters are to be taken as types. The incidents are in many cases fact._
If you want murders, mysteries, or mud--pa.s.s on! This is a simple, straightforward love-story.
"Jock, my lad," said Lady Elspeth softly, nodding her head very many times, in that very knowing way of hers which made her look like a Lord Chief Justice and a Fairy G.o.dmother all in one, "I've found you out."
And when the shrewd old soul of her looked him gently through and through in that fashion, he knew very much better than to attempt any evasion.
"Ah!" he said meekly, "I was afraid someone would, sooner or later.
I've been living in constant dread of it. But it's happened before, you know, between you and me. What is it this time, dear Lady Elspeth?"
"Here have I been imputing grace to you for your kindly attentions to a poor old woman whose race is nearly run, and setting you up above the rest of them therefor, and lo, my idol----"
"Ah!" he said again, with a reproving wag of the head, for he knew now what was coming,--"idols are perverse, camstairy things at best, you know, and a bit out of date too. And, besides,"--with a touch of remonstrance--"at your age and with your bringing-up----"
"Ay, ay, ye may be as insulting as ye choose, my laddie, and fling my age and my upbringing in my face like a very man----"
"There isn't a face like it in all England, and as to----"
"I prefer ye to say Britain, as I've told ye before. Your bit England is only a portion of the kingdom, and in very many respects the poorest portion, notably in brains and manners and beauty. But ye cannot draw me off like that, my laddie, whether it's meant for a compliment or no. I was just about telling you you were a fraud----"
"You hadn't got quite that length, you know, but----"
"Will I prove it to you? Haven't you been coming here as regular as the milkman for a month past----"
"Oh, come now!--Only once a day. I've an idea milkie comes twice, and besides----"
"And what did ye come for, my lad?" with an emphatic nod and a menacing shake of the frail white hand, pricelessly jewelled above, comfortably black-silk-mittened below. "Tell me that now! What did ye come for?"
"To see the dearest old lady in England--Britain, I mean. And--"
"Yes?--And?--" and she watched him, with her head a little on one side and her eyes shining brightly, like an expectant motherly robin hopping on treasure trove.
He smiled back at her and said nothing. He knew she knew without his telling.
"And so I was only second fiddle--" she began, with an a.s.sumption of scornful irascibility which became her less than her very oldest cap.
"Oh, dear me, no! Leader of the orchestra!--Proprietor of the house!--Sole director and manager and--"
"Tuts! It was Margaret Brandt you came to see," and the twinkling brown eyes held the merry gray ones with a steady challenge.
"Partly,--and I was just about to say so when you interrupted me--"
"Ay! Were you now? Ye can out with things quick enough at times, my laddie!"
"Well, you see, there are some things one does not speak about until one feels one has an absolute right to."
"You'd have told your mother, Jock."
"Perhaps, I'm not sure,--not yet--not, at all events, until--"
"And wasn't I to take her place when she left you all alone?"
"And so you have. You're just the dearest and sweetest old--"
"Second fiddle! Come away and we'll talk of Margaret, since that's all you come for."
"And isn't she worth coming for? Did you ever in all your life see anything more wonderful than Margaret Brandt?"
And she looked at him for half a minute with a twinkle in the shrewd old eyes, which had surely seen many strange and wonderful things since the first wonders pa.s.sed and gave place to the common things of life. Beautiful eyes they were still,--of a very tender brown, and shining always with kindly feeling and deepest interest in the person she was talking to.
I do not know how it may be with you, but, personally, I detest people whose eyes and thoughts go wandering away over your left shoulder while you are talking with them. It may be, of course, that you are not much of a talker and are simply boring them, but, all the same, mental squinters are not to my liking.
But Lady Elspeth was never bored--visibly, at all events, and while you talked with her you were the one person in the world in whom she was interested.
Margaret's eyes had something of the same in them, but they were very deep blue, and there was in them just that touch of maidenly reserve which best becomes a maiden's eyes, until, to one at all events, she may lay it aside and let her heart shine through.
Lady Elspeth looked at him, then, for half a minute, with a starry twinkle, and then said, with a finality of conviction that made her dearer to him than ever--
"Never!" and he kissed her hand with fervour,--and not ungracefully, since the action, though foreign to him, was absolutely spontaneous.
"But--!" she said firmly. And he sat up.
"But me no buts," he said. "And why?"
"Well, you see, Margaret is by way of being an heiress--and you are not."
"I'm sorry. But, you see, I couldn't very well be if I tried. Still I'm not absolutely penniless, and--"
"Tuts, boy! What you have is just about enough to pay Jeremiah Pixley's servants' wages."
"D-hang Jeremiah Pixley!"
"D-hang is not a nice expression to use before a lady, let me tell you. What you have, as, I was saying, is just enough to make or mar you--"
"It's going to make me. I can live on it till things begin to come my way."
"Everyone writes nowadays," she said, with a dubious shake of the head. "Who reads all the books pa.s.ses my comprehension. I suppose you have all just to buy one another's to make a bit of a living out of it."