What though our love was never told, Or breathed in sighs alone; By sighs that would not be controlled Its growing strength was shown. The touch that thrilled us with delight, The glance, by heart untamed, In one short moon, as brief as bright, That tender truth proclaimed. ALARIC WATTS.

Next morning I resolved that, if possible, it should not pass without
some attempt being made to discover the state of Lady Louisa’s heart—how
she was affected towards me, and whether I had any chance, however
remote, of reviving or securing the interest I trusted she had in me
when last we met in England. But over night the snow had fallen
heavily; it was six inches deep on the lawn, as Willie Pitblado told me.
The Lomonds were clothed in ghastly white to their summits, and as we
seemed fated to be caged up in doors all day, my chances of seeing
Louisa alone would be remote indeed.

In the library and drawing-rooms I found all the guests of last night
assembled, save the minister, doctor, and lawyer, who had ridden home,
and save her I sought.

The snow caused universal regret, for various excursions had been in
progress—some for visiting the ruined castle at Piteadie; some for
riding as far as Lochleven; and others, farther still, to see the
fragments that remain of the old abbey of Balmerino.

The Countess and her daughter, arrayed in a charming morning toilette,
appeared just as the roar of the gong summoned us to a Scottish
breakfast; and of the splendours of such a repast, what gourmand hath
not heard?

There were venison, mutton, cold grouse, and ptarmigan, rizzard haddocks
from the Firth of Forth, salmon from the Tay, and honey from the Lomond
hills; a _liqueur_-stand, containing whisky and brandy, stood at Sir
Nigel’s right hand. At one end of the table was tea, presided over by
Cora; at the other, where Miss Wilford officiated, was coffee.

Over the snowy landscape a glorious flood of sunshine was pouring
through the stone mullions of the oriel windows, casting shadows of the
old and leafless trees far across the waste of dazzling white.

I had the pleasure of being seated by the side of Lady Loftus, and we
chatted away pleasantly of people whom we had met, and places where we
had been. The links of the old chain were being rapidly taken up, and
every time I looked into the quiet depths of her dark eyes I felt a
strong emotion pass over mine.

Berkeley sat on her other side, but I could perceive that she was
politely reserved with him; so the art of impudence, an art which he had
studied carefully, had availed him but little after the use to which he
had put it last night.

“And you go to the East with pleasure?” she asked, casually, after a
pause.

“With pleasure, and yet with one great regret,” said I, as I lightly
touched her hand.

“And this regret, is it a secret?”

“It cannot be spoken of here; and yet a little explanation—one word, it
may be—shall send me away the happiest fellow in the Crimean
expedition.”

“Take courage,” she said, in a low voice, that made my heart leap with
hope and anticipation.

“Newton, what are you and Lady Loftus talking about so impressively?
But, perhaps, I should not inquire,” said my uncle, as he carved the
cold grouse, and a faint shade of annoyance flitted over the pale face
of my companion.

“Well, Sir Nigel,” I replied, “I was simply about to say that ere we see
such a breakfast as this again, we shall have had a rough turn with the
Russians, and talked polyglot-wise with fellows of all nations in the
allied camp; have drunk sherbet, perhaps, with the Sultan, ogled his
ladies at the gilded lattices, and smoked a _chibouque_ with Giafar,
Mesrour, and other friends of the Commander of the Faithful.”

The flow of my spirits contrasted somewhat with the ebb of Berkeley’s.
He sat silent, and pulled from time to time his long moustaches and
whiskers, which were mingled together—the envy of our apple-cheeked
cornets.

But now Mr. Binns came in with the household letter-bag—a leather case,
which bore Sir Nigel’s name and arms on a brass plate, and its contents
(always so welcome at a country breakfast-table) were distributed
amongst us.

There were newspapers and letters for all present but me, luckily. I
say luckily, for I was hourly in fear of having my short leave
cancelled, and receiving a summons from the colonel to head-quarters.

“Lord Slubber de Gullion expresses great surprise that we are staying so
long in Scotland,” said the Countess of Chillingham, as she rapidly read
over a letter written in a large, round-text hand.

“An old bore, mamma.”

“Don’t say so, Louisa.”

The name, which is as near the original as I dare give it, sounded
oddly; but there came a time when it was to prove a sad name to me.

“You know Slubber?” said Berkeley, in a low voice, to me.

I shook my head. On which he resumed—

“He is an old peer of a good Anglo-Norman line, as the name imports;
rich as a Jew, and sails one of the best yachts that ever loosed canvas
at Cowes; a house in Piccadilly; a box at the opera; another of a
different kind in the Highlands; a moor in Ireland—bog, some people call
it; an excellent stud, and pack of hounds; a glorious cellar. Rich old
fellow, indeed; a great chum of my father’s. His dinners are said to
be—haw—perfection, from the caviare on sliced bread, _à la Russe_, to
the coffee and curaçoa, the mocha and maraschino.”

The ladies were all busy with their crossed and recrossed epistles from
friends, gossips, and correspondents. My uncle was put in excellent
humour by a missive from a meeting of the heritors and others interested
in the county hunt, assigning to him the mastership of the hounds, with
a couple of thousands per annum towards his expenses, and the defray of
damages, if he undertook to hunt the country between the Firths of Forth
and Tay.

“You have some jolly good hunters in the—haw—stables, Sir Nigel,” said
Berkeley, who was somewhat of a sporting man.

“Yes, fairish.”

“Dunearn is a clean-limbed animal,” said the general.

“Yes; but he was not improved by your gallop among the melon beds,”
replied Sir Nigel, laughing. “Cost me four hundred and fifty pounds,
that horse did. Saline, the grey, with the dark fetlocks, is a better
hunter for clearing fences, and crossing a stiff country, and yet cost
me only two hundred and ten pounds.”

After opening his third or fourth letter, Berkeley evidently received
news that was not pleasant, for I heard him mutter almost an oath, as he
said, uneasily—

“Jockeyed! Sold by the jockey, Trayner! A cheque on his bank for the
amount; about as good as one on the Banks of Newfoundland.”

“No bad news, Berkeley, I hope,” said my uncle.

“Oh—haw—nothing, Sir Nigel,” said he, and retiring into an oriel, he
drew forth a memorandum book, and proceeded to consider the weights for
a forthcoming race; and so absorbed was he that Cora laughed aloud on
hearing him mutter in this fashion, pulling his long moustaches the
while—

“Mail-train, five years, eight stone two pounds. Swish-tail, three
years, six stone four pounds. Queen Victorina, aged, rather, six stone
four pounds,” and so on.

As we rose from the breakfast-table, and broke into groups, he dropped a
letter in a female handwriting. I picked it up, and followed him. It
was open, and the signature, “_Agnes Auriol_,” caught my eye.

By that name I knew the writer, and could have crushed Berkeley’s
chances, perhaps, for ever; but as no such use could be honourably made
of it, I touched him on the shoulder, simply saying—

“Pardon me, you have dropped this.”

He changed colour painfully as he received the letter, walked to the
fire, cast it in, and carefully waited until it was consumed.

I was not without hopes of luring Lady Louisa into the library, the
conservatory, or some quiet nook, as a ride or a ramble out of doors was
not to be thought of; but my uncle destroyed my chances, by suddenly
announcing, with one of his loud and merry laughs, that the glass was
rising, the day would yet be fine, and that gentlemen must kill their
next day’s dinner or go without. He was going to beat the thickets for
a few birds, and he had guns for all the party.

The old general grumbled an unmistakable dissent, and Berkeley pocketed
his betting-book, drawling out, as he looked at the snowy landscape and
left the room—

“A horrid bore!”

“Come, general,” said my hearty old uncle, who had not heard Berkeley’s
uncivil response, “don’t think yet of substituting flannel bags for
top-boots; Ascension turtle and pink champagne for patience and water
gruel; hot fomentations for hot whisky-toddy! Come! put on your
shot-belt; the gout is a long way off yet.”

“Gad! I am not so sure of that, Sir Nigel; and then there is this
cursed jungle-fever, which I got when up the country with the 3rd
Bengal, and I have a horror of toast and water, even when flavoured with
pale dry sherry.”

“Where is Mr. Berkeley loitering; what is he about?”

“Making up his mind, papa, or what he considers to be such,” said Cora.

“Fie, Cora,” said the old baronet, “you should never quiz a guest.”

Berkeley, re-entering, urged that he had letters to write, and so must
remain behind; so said Mr. Spittal, the M.P. Thus the shooting party
was reduced to Sir Nigel, the keeper, and myself.

Cora brought us each a flask of brandy, then a little packet of
sandwiches cut by her own pretty hands in the housekeeper’s pantry.
These she stuffed into our pockets, and away we went to the keeper’s
lodge, I, for cogent reasons of my own, most unwillingly, though Lady
Louisa smilingly kissed her hand twice to me from the drawing-room
window; but as Cora and all the ladies did so at the same time, and
waved their handkerchiefs, I could gather but little from that mark of
her attention.

Pitblado’s cottage was more than a mile distant. The snow was thawing
fast, in the sunshine; but we were accoutred in stout leather leggings,
and thick, warm shooting coats and caps.

My uncle’s manner was fidgety, as we walked onward. He had evidently
something on his mind, which he could not express in words, and I could
give him no aid. After a pause—

“Newton, lad,” said he, “I don’t think that you take to your gun very
willingly to-day.”

“What leads you to think so, uncle?”

“You continued to look back at the house, as long as even the vanes of
it were in view, as if the game there had more attractions than the
birds out of doors.”

“I merely looked back to bow to Lady Loftus and the others,” said I,
laughing.

“There it is! Why do you put Lady Loftus first?”

“Perhaps because her figure was tallest—I don’t know—perhaps I should
have named Cora, as the Lady of Calderwood,” said I laughing, to hide my
growing confusion.

“Newton Norcliff, you have a tenderness for Lady Chillingham’s
daughter,” said Sir Nigel, gravely.

“Have I? Don’t know that I have, sir,” I repeated, actually flushing.

“Of course you have, and you know it,” said he, emphatically.

“But who told you of this?”

“Cora.”

“Cora?”

“Yes, with tears in her eyes, this morning.”

“Tears! This is incomprehensible. I have only been a single night
under the same roof with Lady Loftus.”

“Yet Cora has discovered your secret. Girls are quick-sighted in such
matters, I can tell you.”

“But why had Cora tears?”

“Don’t for the life of me know, unless it be that she fears your love
will be but moonshine in the water. They are a cold, calculating, and
ambitious family, Lord Chillingham’s, and will fly their hawk at higher
game than mere landed gentry.”

“She is a good girl, Cora,” said I, thoughtfully

“If you have any fancy for Louisa Loftus, I will back you to any
amount,” said my blunt uncle, stoutly; “but I don’t think my lady mother
would relish such a suitor as a lieutenant of cavalry. I have already
heard her hint that Lord Slubber has made proposals, with offers of a
brilliant settlement; but the man is older than I, and could no more
hunt a country or march up a snow-covered brae, as we do now, than fly
through the air. At all events, don’t throw your heart away farther
than is necessary, and what is more, in the meantime, look sharp, I
say.”

“Sharp!” I exclaimed, bewildered by this odd jumble of advice.
“How—why?”

“Don’t you perceive what is going on?”

“What, uncle?”

“That yaw-hawing donkey, Berkeley, is doing all he can to take the wind
out of your sails.”

“Uncle, I have indeed felt a dread of this. He has, you know, a
handsome fortune.”

“I would not let a fellow like that go neck and neck with me,” said Sir
Nigel. “I’d cut in and win at a hand gallop. It is your talking,
pushing, forward men—seeming always confident of what they say, never
acknowledging an error or confessing a defeat, that are too often
allowed to take the lead in life. With average ability, and ten times
the average amount of assurance, they often reach the goal that bashful
merit never gets a sight of. So cut in, I say, and win, if you want
her.”

While he was running on thus, I could not but admire, at his years, the
hale, sturdy figure, and bluff, hearty bearing of Sir Nigel, in his old
shooting toggery. He was always a crack shot, and in youth and middle
life had been one of the keenest curlers and golfers between the West
and East Neuks of Fife.

It was his great boast that he could yet, if he chose, strike a golf
ball from the street over each of the tallest spires of St. Andrew’s. A
fair hand, too, with the pistol, he had, as I have stated, winged more
than one political antagonist, in squabbles about the old Reform Bill,
in the days of Brougham, Grey, and Russell. Throw your glove in the
air, and he would shoot any finger off it you named; and he would hit a
cricket ball, were it cast ever so high, with a single rifle bullet.
Thus in his hands I was sent to join the lancers somewhat of a
master-of-arms, and certainly a complete horseman.

Sir Nigel, withal, had much the air of a Scotch man-about-town; in
Edinburgh a different style of man from he of the same genus in
London—he of the glazed boots and carefully-trimmed whiskers,
exquisitely solemn and unimpressionable, as if he had seen all the
world, and found there was nothing in it.

The “dandy” who hovers about the New Club in Princes-street is usually a
six-foot man, bronzed and sunburnt (he has served somewhere—in India
generally), and heavily moustached. He carries a huge stick; he wears
rough Tweed suits, and double-soled brogues, with toe-pieces and rows of
hobnails, as if ever ready for facing the hills and the frozen heather.
He may be a snob, like his English brother Dundreary; but he has
something rough and service-like in his bearing that is suggestive of
climbing rocks, fishing, hunting, and shooting.

But now Sir Nigel’s warning, Cora’s sharp discovery of my secret, and
the knowledge that Berkeley remained behind in full possession of the
field, filled me with anxiety and annoyance. The shooting excursion
bored me, and I looked for the end before we had well begun.

What might those hours of absence from her cost me?

We reached the gamekeeper’s cottage, which was situated amid a dense
copsewood, beside a wimpling burn, and near King James’s Well. Moss of
emerald hue covered all the thatched roof, and in summer green trailers
and scarlet-runners made all the white-washed walls and little windows
gay.

Now the former were ornamented by ghastly rows of half-decayed hawks,
wild cats, fiumarts, and weasels, while the white, bare skull of a stag,
with its gallant antlers outspread, was fixed above the door. Along the
garden paling the dead hawks hung in dozens, as a regular war was waged
between them and old Pitblado, who spent half his days in baiting traps;
thus the breeze that passed his cottage was laden with odours, but not
those of “a bank of violets.”

He was a fine, hale old man, with a weather-beaten aspect, short,
grizzled hair, and keen grey eyes, that glistened and grew moist as he
warmly shook my hand, and welcomed me to the glen again.

Though respectful and kind, his bearing was not without a native
dignity, for he was proud of considering himself the last representative
of an old line of Fifeshire lairds, the Pitblados of Pitblado and that
ilk, who had lost their land and position long ago; but in his old
velveteen coat of no particular colour, his blue bonnet, network
game-bag, and long, greasy overalls, Pitblado looked just as I had seen
him last. Though “as soldiers in the march of life, we may never learn
to mark time, time never fails to mark us.”

“It was kind ond thochtfu’ o’ you, Maister Newton, to bring my laddie,
Willie, hame to see me ere ye baith gaed to the wars; and when there, I
hope you ond he will tak’ a’ the care o’ ilk ither ye can, for I could
as ill spare him as Sir Nigel could spare you; and gang where ye may,
Maister Newton, ye’ll ne’er ha’e a truer or a sibber friend than Willie
Pitblado.”

While the old man ran on thus, the dogs came bounding forth.

“Here,” said my uncle, “is your old favourite pointer, the white and
tan, alive yet.”

“But he’s a _dis_-appointer noo, Maister Newton, being blind, or bleared
a bit; yet I ha’e na the heart, or rather want o’ heart, to put the puir
beast awa’.”

“And here is Keeper, too—brave old Keeper, that I played with when a
boy,” I exclaimed, as a grand old mastiff, which knew my voice, sprang
upon me with joy, whining and barking the while—a dog that was always
gentle with children; that wagged his aristocratic tail at all ladies
and gentlemen, but howled and growled fearfully at all beggars and
poorly-clad folks.

There in that cottage old Willie now lived alone with his dogs and a
tame otter. This was a somewhat remarkable animal. He had found it as a
cub in a pond near Calderwood Glen, and gradually made it so
domesticated that it responded to his voice, followed him about, and
employed its talents in fishing for him, bringing each fish regularly to
his feet, and at a signal diving in for more; and, strange enough, the
terriers that hunted other otters never molested this one.

A pair of brisk young pointers were selected. We loaded, capped,
shouldered our guns, and set forth. This was but the beginning of the
day’s sport, and I sighed with impatience for the end.

“Shall we try the belt of pines on the Standing Stane Rig?” said I.

“It used to be a braw cover for patricks (partridges), and in my
father’s day for grouse,” said Pitblado; “but those Roosians, the
weasels, the piots, the hawks, and the shepherd’s collies, ha’e played
the de’il wi’ it. At yon belt o’ neeps, where ye see the shaws aboon
the snaw, the deer often come out o’ the pine wood to ha’e a feed, so
that we may chance to get a pot shot at one to-day.”

“Come on, then,” said Sir Nigel, impatiently. “Blaze away while you
can, Newton. In the first week of next month partridge and pheasant
shooting ends.”

“By that time, uncle, in these swift days of steam, I may be sabreing or
potting the Russians.”

“Then sabre and pot with a will, boy.”

It was from old Pitblado I had received all my early lessons in shooting
and fishing, in the art of casting bullets and making flies; and I
remember one special piece of advice he always gave me concerning
salmon.

“Aye _droon_ your salmon before ye land it, Maister Newton, for the dunt
on the heid spyles the quality o’ the fish; ond if ye hook a grilse,
keep its tail up and well in the water till it’s clean deid.”

We saw no deer that day, and I shot so wildly and queerly, and generally
bang into the centre of every covey, without selecting or covering the
outside birds, that Sir Nigel was bewildered, and old Pitblado lost all
patience with me.

I traversed the snow-covered fields with them as one might do in a
dream. I heard an occasional shot from my uncle’s gun, the birds rose
whirring in the air, and then one or two came tumbling down, to beat the
snow with their wings, and stain it with their blood, ere Pitblado
thrust them into his ample bag.

I heard his deep impressive voice saying from time to time, “Mark!” when
the coveys rose, and to watch where they alighted; then “Seek dead” to
the pointers usually followed the bang! bang! of Sir Nigel’s barrels;
but my mind was completely absorbed in reverie. I saw only the face of
Louisa Loftus, with Berkeley hovering about her.

I imagined him having achieved the tête-à-tête I had failed to procure.
I imagined him opening the trenches by apologies, in set phraseology,
for the offence he had perpetrated in the conservatory; and if he
succeeded with such a basis for his operations, where might the matter
end? Heavens! for all I knew to the contrary, in a solemn engagement,
pending mamma Chillingham’s consent, for his lordship, the earl, was
somewhat of a cypher in these matters, and in his own house generally.
How ingeniously one can torment oneself when afflicted by jealousy! and
thus much real misery was mine during that day’s weary shooting, and
right glad was I when the sun of January, declining beyond the western
Lomond, warned my indefatigable uncle that it was time for us to return
homeward, after having traversed in our peregrinations some fifteen
miles of country.

He had shot four hares, and eighteen brace of birds, four of which were
beautiful golden pheasants; while I had knocked over only two
partridges—a result at which Cora and Lady Louisa laughed excessively,
and each declared they would have the said birds specially cooked for
themselves.

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