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imagined would not hesitate to chaff her frankly on the subject. Neither of these humiliations was in store for her, for, before Peter had decided to interfere, Dermot had spoken out, and such was the glamour of his words that Alison saw nothing strange or unworthy in a declaration of love from a penniless and prospectless youth of twoand-twenty. She loved him and shyly admitted the fact, and for perhaps half a dozen hours was serenely happy ; exaltée, as the French say, with shining eyes and all her face transfigured with a beauty completely differing from the old expression of healthy and innocent light-heartedness.
“Poor little Alison ; it is rough on her!” Stephen had said, and if the task of telling her that an insuperable bar to her marriage existed in the madness of both her parents had fallen to him, it would have been more gently performed. “Alison,” began Peter brusquely, as soon as he found himself alone with his sister, “ I'm sure there's some foolery going on between you and O'Hara ; what is it?"
“You had better ask him,” Alison was on the point of saying, and then decided that that would be shabby. “Mr. O'Hara has just asked me to marry him,” she said, looking straight at her brother, though her cheeks glowed as she spoke.
“Well, and I hope you have refused him," said Peter brutally. “You're much too young, and he can't afford to keep a wife.”
“I don't see that those are sufficient reasons against our becoming engaged,” said Alison, indignant and yet shy of speaking so plainly.
“ Then I may as well tell you that there is another and very important one which puts your marrying at all out of the question— "
Alison turned pale, and caught her breath. “Oh no, Peter! don't say that ;” and then, plucking up her courage : “ besides, Stephen is my guardian,” she said, “I need not mind what you say."
“Now, Alison,” said Peter, nettled, “ you must be reasonable. None of us can marry, as both our father and our mother died out of their minds. It is too great a risk ; surely you wouldn't let any man incur it for your sake? Stephen and I are very fond of you, and will make you as happy as possible ; so put all this rubbish out of your head and settle down as you were before. Heaps of women don't marry, and are as jolly as can be.”
Not one word of Peter's attempt at consolation had Alison heard, grasping only that it was not to be—that she and her lover must live on till they grew old and died, apart. She never questioned the righteousness of the decision her brothers had made. Of course she could not let the man she loved link his life with—what? It was too
horrible to put into words. Still, she felt quite sure that Dermot would refuse to give her up.
“Will you tell him ? ” was all she said, all the light in her face quenched, her mouth set and her eyes averted ;“I don't think I can.”
“All right," said Peter on his way to the door. Then, turning towards her, he added, for he had never seen her look like this before: “I'm awfully sorry, old lady ; cheer up, there's a dear, we'll all be as jolly as sandboys again when Stephen comes back.”
Alison stood where he left her with no wish to move. There was no reason for doing anything any more. If she could by a word have ceased to exist, she would have said it then and there. She was as one stricken with paralysis, and for some minutes even the power of thought was suspended. Then, with all the anguish which belongs to returning consciousness of misery, she awoke and fled-fled to her bare unhomelike room, and threw herself, face downwards, on her bed, a tearless victim to circumstances, to wrestle through the long dark night alone.
It was late when she came downstairs next morning, and Dermot was already gone. He had left a letter accounting for his departure. Peter had simply insisted on his quitting the estancia without seeing Alison again, but had not succeeded in persuading him to leave the country, nor had Dermot promised not to correspond with the girl. As for his love, it was only deepened by the sad story of her parentage—fears for the future he had none. Moreover, he exhorted her to keep up her heart and be on the look-out for news of him. It would all come right some day, if she was brave and patient-not that he set up as an example of that virtue. Poor Alison took but little comfort from her sweetheart's letter, and dropped many bitter tears over her answer. She had known he would refuse to give her up, but then that did not alter her determination to be given up. She would always like to hear of him, and to know he was happy—this was a fine-sounding sentiment, but perfectly sincere. She even took her letter to Peter to let him see what she had said, and was not a little disappointed when he refused to look at her act of renunciation, and dismissed her with: “I knew you were a good child ; O'Hara hasn't half your common sense.” But with all her common sense she kissed her letter to Dermot again and again before she despatched it, and
cherished his as tenderly as any love-sick maiden in that continent or any other. Sometimes her anger rose against her brothers, when she thought they might have spared her all this misery by telling her what was expected of her ; and then again she was glad to have had that one short spell of happiness to look back upon. “At least,” she said to herself, “the thing can never happen again. Now I am doubly safe, for, after knowing Dermot, I can never wish to marry anyone else. If he had cared for me and I had not for him, I should have been so sorry for him, and still not safe ; for now I know I can be in love, and it might have come later on, and worse still, with some one who didn't care for me.” But all this philosophy did not suffice to cheer her, and it was an Alison sadly different from the high-spirited and easily-pleased maiden he had left nearly a year before who greeted Stephen on his return from Europe.
STEPHEN had changed too, though not outwardly. His time in England had not been exclusively devoted to legal matters. The long delays which occurred in the transaction of his business had to be filled somehow, and on one occasion he had spent nearly a month in the New Forest, at the house of a shipboard acquaintance of the homeward voyage. Mr. Foster was kind, agreeable, hospitable, but his two daughters were charming. Mrs. Pentland, the elder, with her husband, was spending the autumn at her father's house, over which her widowed sister, Mrs. Morrison, reigned supreme. And somehow it came about that Stephen, after three weeks of constant intercourse with Diana Morrison, had reached a point whence he could not but see that it behoved him to renounce the chance—it was only a chance—of gaining her love ; and his vow pressed heavily upon him. Alison had had the satisfaction of knowing that Dermot loved her, and her few short hours of happiness were always something to the good ; but Stephen must needs fly from temptation without putting his fate to the touch, much less tasting the joy of finding that his love was returned. His visit had very nearly come to an end, but his host had insisted from the first that he should come back to them in the spring, and to this he had agreed, feeling pretty sure that he would still be in England then. So when he went to say good-bye to Mrs. Morrison in her writingroom it was understood, on her side at least, that in a few months he would be at Hayters again. “You will be with us in time to see the forest in its spring dress," she said, with so little interrogation in her tone that he had not found it necessary to undeceive her. And when the dog-cart was announced, and they shook hands, her eyes had fallen before his as though afraid to read what might be written in them.
“Good-bye,” he said.
Of course Stephen had had to give some explanation of his change of plans as the time for his second visit to Hayters drew on, so he said that he found his presence was no longer required in England, and felt bound to return with all haste to his brother and sister in South America. This was to Mr. Foster, but he also wrote to Mrs. Morrison a letter which gave him infinite trouble, satisfied him not at all, and completely mystified its recipient. It is not very easy for a man to write and tell the woman he loves that he cannot propose to her, much as he would like to do so, without seeming to hint that she is expecting a declaration and even, perhaps, ready and willing to marry him. The paragraph that puzzled Diana, who at that time knew nothing of that hateful skeleton which was just now so harassing two of the Heriots, ran thus :
"... And the more necessary in that otherwise I may have been tempted to say that to you which I should have bitterly regretted afterwards. Indeed, my case is hard, for I dare not even ask you to give me your friendship—and yet we were friends, were we not? and for so short a time-nor even to express a wish that we may meet again."
As she did not understand it, and dared not ask for an expla. nation, Diana had to be content to answer Stephen by a brief note of unsatisfactory platitudes. And it was not till he had been some six months at the estancia, and all communication between them at an end, that she met an old friend of the Heriots, who told her of the circumstances which had cast a blight over their lives.
PETER took the first opportunity of informing his brother of the Dermot O'Hara episode, and if he had expected Stephen to com. mend the part he had played in it he was disappointed, for his elder brother did not spare him. “I should never have left the child if I had known how utterly incapable you would be of lcoking after her," he said. “You've behaved like a beastly fool from first to last.'
It was less easy to comfort Alison than to abuse Peter, but when Stephen found he was making no way with her he decided to tell her something of his own unlucky love affair. It did what he had hoped, and the poor child gave confidence for confidence, the affection between them being strengthened by the knowledge that each had of the other's trouble. Before Stephen's return Alison had been in the habit of meeting Dermot from time to time out riding. He had been taken on as major domo on the Estancia del Arrozo, about three leagues from the Heriots' camp, and on the other side of the river, so that occasional rendezvous were possible. They took place, of course, without Peter's knowledge, who had been keeping a strict and suspicious watch over Alison's comings and goings ; but she made a clean breast of the matter to Stephen, and his gentler remonstrance, backed by several excellent reasons, did what Peter's harshly expressed veto would never have effected, and constrained the girl to give up her expeditions, which, after all, led to nothing but painful scenes between her and Dermot. He either could not or would not acquiesce in Alison's determination to enter into no engagement, while she, poor child, only consented to meet him because she thought she could influence him for good, and he was only too willing to encourage her in this belief. She had not seen him for nearly a fortnight, when a report reached the camp that he was seriously ill, and after a couple of days of intolerable anxiety Alison rode off alone, when her brothers were at the other side of the estancia, in the hope of at least meeting someone who could give her news of her lover. It was midwinter, and there had been heavy rain for four or five days, so that the ford was almost impassable, and the water well over her horse's girths. But though she did wonder how she was going to get back again, she pushed steadily on, heeding neither the bitter pampero nor the driving rain, nor yet the weight of the sodden habit-skirt which was making her feet numb with cold. It was dusk when she reached the Estancia del Arrozo, and, to her annoyance, she had to ride right into the patio before she encountered a human being. Then it was Dermot himself who appeared at the doorway, gaunter than ever, and as shaky as a day-old lamb. “Why, Alison,” he said, “what is the matter? What brings you out on such a day?” “I heard you were ill again,” she answered simply, “and so I came myself to see how you were. There was no other way of finding out. Are you better?” “Oh, I'm first-rate now. I've just been moving my bed, for the