I loved—yes. Ah, let me tell The fatal charms by which I fell! Her form the tam’risk’s waving shoot, Her breast the cocoa’s youngling fruit. Her eyes were jetty, jet her hair, O’ershadowing face like lotus fair; Her lips were rubies, guarding flowers Of jasmine, dimned with vernal showers. STONE TALK.

The next day was to see a crisis in my fate which I could not have
anticipated, combined with the narrow escape from mutilation or death of
more than one of our pleasant party assembled at the Glen.

With all the intensity of my soul, I wished to learn my chances of
success with the brilliant Lady Louisa, yet trembled to make the essay.

Why, or how was this?

Timid and irresolute, fearing to know the best or the worst from the
lips of a mere girl, I asked myself was it I—I, who, at the bombardment
of Rangoon, at the storm of the Dagon Pagoda, and in the night attack on
Frome, had feared neither the bullets nor poisoned arrows of the
two-sworded barbarians whom it was our ill-luck to encounter in those
tropical regions; I, who, without fear or flinching, was now ready to
meet the Russians in Turkey, or anywhere else; was it I that could not
muster hardihood to reveal the emotions, the honourable love, of an
honest heart? It was; and, at times, I felt inclined to utter a malison
on that which General Napier so truly and happily termed, “the cold
shade of aristocracy;” for that it was which chilled and baffled me.

In the drawing-room the first who met me was my Cousin Cora, looking
pale, but bright-eyed, with her pure complexion, and in all her morning
prettiness.

“Lady Loftus, I presume, has not appeared yet?” said I.

“It is always Lady Loftus with you, Cousin Newton,” said she, pettishly,
“though you came here to see papa and me. What have you done with that
celebrated lock of hair? Put it in the fire, eh?”

“In the fire, Cora! It is here, in my pocket-book.”

“Doubtless you are very proud of it?”

“I cannot but be, Cora,” said I, taking her hands in mine, and drawing
her into the recess of an oriel window; “and she is herself so proud and
reserved. I am sure that she knows what you have seen, Cora; at least,
what my uncle says you have detected,—that—that——”

“What, Newton? How rambling and mysterious you are!”

“That I love her.”

“You are sure she knows this?” asked Cora.

“Yes, my dear cousin; it is impossible that the regard with which she
has inspired me could fail to be known, seen, or felt by her—I mean that
it must have been apparent to her, by a thousand mute indications, since
we first met in England. It is so to you, is it not?”

“Ye—yes,” replied Cora, with her face averted, for no doubt she was
smiling at my earnest simplicity.

“Do you think she would tolerate attentions that were valueless, or
would trifle with me?”

“I cannot say.”

“But you are her particular friend. Oh, Cora, be mine too!”

“What on earth do you mean?” asked Cora, showing me still only her
pretty profile; “you cannot wish _me_ to propose to her for you?”

“No; but you hide your sweet face, Cora. You are laughing at me!”

“Oh, no, I am not laughing,” replied Cora, in a rich, low tremulous
voice. “Heaven knows, Newton, how far my thoughts are removed from
laughter.”

“And—what is this, Cora dear? Your eyes are full of tears!”

“Are they?” she exclaimed angrily, as she withdrew her hands from mine.

“Yes—ah, I see it all,” said I, bitterly; “you know Lady Louisa’s heart
better than I do, and deem my love for her a hopeless one.”

“It is not so,” replied Cora, while her cheek flushed, and, though her
long lashes drooped, an air of hauteur stole over her usually gentle and
lovable bearing. “I know nothing of the matter. Search her heart for
yourself; assist you I cannot; and what is more, Newton Norcliff,” she
added haughtily, “I will not!”

“Cora!” I exclaimed, with surprise; “but be it so. Myself then must be
my own advocate, and if my love for Lady Louisa——”

What I was about to add, or how I meant to finish the sentence, I know
not, for at that moment she approached, with her calm, somewhat
conventional, but beautiful smile, to kiss Cora, and present her hand to
me. The rest of our party rapidly assembled.

Had she heard the _last_ words of my interrupted speech? I almost
feared, or rather hoped, that she had.

“This, I find, is to be the day of another expedition, Mr. Norcliff,”
she observed.

“So it appears. We are to see the Fifeshire hounds throw off at Largo
House; and afterwards we are to drive home by a circuit, through half
the country, to let Lady Chillingham see the scenery.”

“In a January day!” drawled Berkeley. “Do we—aw—start before tiffin?”

“If by that you mean luncheon, I say after it, decidedly,” said Lady
Chillingham, in her cool, determined manner, which few—the earl, her
husband, especially—could gainsay. “I have to write to my Lord Slubber
and others.”

“Pardon me, my dear Lady Chillingham, but this arrangement is
impossible,” said my uncle; “we must leave this in time to see the
hounds throw off.”

“And the hour, Sir Nigel?”

“Sharp twelve. Binns will take luncheon for us in the boot of the drag.
Berkeley, you, I believe, are to don the pink, and ride with me. I
shall cross the country to-night, but not in my official capacity, as I
have not yet assumed all the duties appertaining to the honourable
office of the master of the Fifeshire hounds. And now to breakfast.
Lady Chillingham, permit me—your hand, and we shall lead the way.”

“When I do take the hunting of the country into my own care,” resumed my
uncle, “I shall show you as noble a pack as ever drew cover; ay, dogs as
smart as ever had their tails running after them, even before
cub-hunting begins next season; and so compactly shall they go, that a
tablecloth might cover them all when in full cry.”

“By that time, uncle, I shall be testing the mettle of the Russian
cavalry; but my heart will be with you all here in Calderwood Glen.”

Lady Louisa’s eyes were upon me as I said this; their expression was
unfathomable, so I was fain to construe it into something sympathetic or
of interest in my fate.

The day was clear and beautiful; the air serene, though cold, and the
swelling outlines of the green and verdant hills were sharply defined
against the blue of the sky, where a few fleecy clouds were floating on
the west wind.

Our party lost no time in preparing for the expedition of the day, and,
ere long, the vehicles, the horses, and even the ladies, were all in
marching order. I had too much tact to attempt to engross Lady Loftus
at the beginning of the day; but resolved, as she was to be with “mamma”
in the drag, to become one of its occupants when returning home, if I
could achieve nothing better.

My man Pitblado, and other grooms, brought forth the saddled horses, and
my uncle appeared in a red hunting-coat, boots and tops, with whip and
cap complete, his cheek glowing with health and pleasure, and his eyes
sparkling as if he were again sixteen.

“By the way, Newton,” said he, slapping his boot-tops, “that lancer
fellow of yours——”

“Willie Pitblado, my servant?”

“Yes, well, he has tumbled Lady Chillingham’s French soubrette about, as
if he had known her from infancy; and what suits the meridian of
Maidstone barracks won’t do at Calderwood Glen, so tell him. And now,
Mr. Berkeley, here are Dunearn, Saline, and Splinter-bar. You can have
your choice of cavalry; but shorten your stirrups. I always take the
leathers up two holes for hunting.”

“Aw—haw, thanks,” drawled this Dundreary (whose fashionable hunting
suit, in cut and brilliancy of colour, quite eclipsed the well-worn
costume of the jolly old baronet), as he proceeded leisurely to examine
the bridle and girths, observing the while to me—

“Louisa looks well this morning.”

“Louisa!” I repeated, with astonishment: “is it the mare—her name is
Saline, so called from some hills in Fife—or whom on earth do you mean?”

“Why, Lady Loftus, to be sure.”

“And you speak of her thus freely or familiarly?”

“Ya—haw—yes.”

“By Jove, you surprise me!”

“By what, eh?”

“Your perfect assurance, to be plain with you, my friend.”

“Don’t deem it such, my dear fellaw, though it is doocid dangerous when
one comes to speak of so charming a girl by her Christian name; it shows
how a fellaw thinks or _feels_, and all that sort of thing; do you
understand?”

“Not very clearly; but consider, Berkeley, what you are about, and don’t
make a deucid fool of yourself,” said I, with undisguised anger.

“No danger of that; but—haw—surely you are not spooney in that quarter
yourself? Eh—haw—if I thought so, curse me if I wouldn’t draw stakes,
and hedge. You know that I like you, Newton; and your old uncle, Sir
Nigel, is a doocid good kind of fellaw—a trump, in fact,” he added,
while lightly vaulting into his saddle, and gathering up his reins, but
eying me like a lynx, through his glass, as if to read my most secret
thoughts.

Disdaining to reply, I drew haughtily back.

“So-oh,” said my uncle, who was now mounted. “I know that grey mare,
Saline, well; so, Mr. Berkeley, by gently feeling her mouth, and
grinding her up to the requisite pitch of speed, she’ll soon leave the
whole field behind her.”

Our party was numerous; including my uncle’s guests, some thirty ladies
and gentlemen were about to start from the Glen. We were well off in
conveyances. There was the great old family carriage, cosily stuffed,
easily hung, pannelled and escutcheoned, with rumble and hammercloth;
there was a stately drag of a dark chocolate colour, with red wheels,
and a glorious team of greys; a dashing waggonette and tandem, with two
brilliant bays, that, in the shafts, were well worth three hundred
pounds each; and there was a dainty little phaeton, in which the general
was to drive Cora and Miss Wilford, drawn by two of the sleekest,
roundest, and sauciest little ponies that ever came out of Ultima Thule.

I was to drive the drag to the meet; and, after the hunt, Berkeley was
to meet us at a certain point on the Cupar Road, and drive the vehicle
home, if I felt disposed to yield the ribbons to him, which I had quite
resolved to do.

Of the noise and excitement, the spurring, yelping, and hallooing,
sounding of horns, and cracking of whips; the greetings of rough and
boisterous country friends; the criticisms that ensued on dogs, horses,
and harness; of how the cover was drawn, and the fox broke away; how
huntsmen and hounds followed “owre bank, bush, and scaur,” as if the
devil had got loose, and life depended on his instant re-capture, and of
all the incidents of the hunt, I need give no relation here.

The afternoon was well-nigh spent before we saw the last of my uncle’s
companions; and to the luncheon provided by Mr. Binns we had done full
justice, the roof of the drag being covered by a white cloth, and
improvised as a dining-table, whereon was spread a _déjeûner_ service of
splendid Wedgwood ware, the champagne sparkling in the sun, and the long
glasses of potash and Beaujolais foaming up for the thirsty; and Largo
Law, a green and conical hill, verdant to its summit a thousand feet
above the waters of the bay, was throwing its shadow to the eastward,
when we made arrangements for our return; and, thanks to dear Cora’s
tact and management, rather than my own—for timidity and doubt
embarrassed me—I contrived to get Lady Louisa into the tandem. After
which, by giving a hint to Willie Pitblado, he managed to set the horses
kicking and plunging in such an alarming fashion that it was necessary
to give them their heads for a little way, as if to soothe their ruffled
tempers, just as he adroitly had got into the back seat.

Lady Chillingham, the M.P., the Misses Spittal, and Rammerscales were
all bundled into the drag; others were on the roof, great-coated or
well-shawled, for a cool drive home, and the whole party set out for the
Glen, _viâ_ Clatto and Collessie, a twenty-five miles’ drive.

It was past the hour of three before all was packed up and we were all
ready to leave Largo. The grave old butler, Binns, looked at his watch,
and said—

“Mr. Newton, you know the route we go by.”

“Yes; round by Dunnikier Law.”

“That is the road Sir Nigel wished us to drive; but you’ll require to
use your whip if we are to be home before dark.”

“Never fear for that, Binns,” said I, while leading the way in the
tandem with Lady Louisa beside me, and no attendant or other companion,
save Willie Pitblado, who had or had not ears and eyes just as occasion
required, Mamma Chillingham believing the while that she was with other
ladies in the close carriage.

“Keep a tight hand on the leader, sir,” whispered Pitblado; “she’s a
blood mare, rather fresh from the stall, and overcorned a bit.”

“She is hard-mouthed,” said I, “and pulls like the devil.”

“As for the wheeler, I think the splinter-bar is too low, and she kicks
and shies at it; but the breeching is as short as we could make it.
Keep a sharp look out on both, sir,” said he, warningly, and then
relapsed into apparent immobility.

For the _first_ time since our introduction had I been alone with Lady
Louisa—I say alone, for I did not count on my servant, who seemed wholly
intent on looking anywhere but at us, and chiefly behind, as if to see
how soon we could distance the four-in-hand drag and the rest of our
party.

The vehicle we occupied was a hybrid affair, which my uncle frequently
used, half gig and half dog-cart, four-wheeled, with Collinge’s patent
axles, lever drag, and silver lamps, smart, strong, light, and decidedly
“bang up.”

We went along at a spanking pace. My fair companion was chatty and
delightfully gay; her dark eyes were unusually bright, for the whole
events of the day, and the lunch _al fresco_, had all tended to
exhilaration of spirits.

She forgot what her rigid, aristocratic, and match-making mamma might
think of her being alone thus with a young subaltern of lancers; but
though her white ermine boa was not paler than her complexion usually
was, she had now a tinge, almost a flush, on her soft, rounded cheek
that made her radiantly beautiful, and I felt that now or never was the
time to address her in the language of love.

I knew that the crisis had come; but how was I to approach it?