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merely as a hunting-man does for six months of the year. But riding, after all, is a poor substitute for the society of one's friends, and as the months rolled by he found himself less resigned than he had hoped. Habit had accustomed him to his new life, but he did not enjoy it as Peter did, much less revel in it like Alison. Something more was wanting : and then it was impossible to help regretting the past. He had been a keen soldier, and a favourite in society, and who at twenty-nine cares to forego all thoughts of love, glory, and comradeship? His brotherly fondness for Peter was by no means all-sufficing, but rather of the kind one feels for a purely outdoor human being, or perhaps a very intelligent dog—a creature, in fact, from whom one expects no sympathy whatever in intellectual matters. A fine sunset was simply a weather-sign to Peter Heriot, while he termed all novels indiscriminately “pretty average rot,” classics, mathematics, and a good many of the sciences being lumped together as “infernal bosh." —the stronger adjective being wrung from him by the recollection of what a bad time they had given him during the brief educational period which preceded his banishment to the Estancia de los Alamos. The non-matrimonial question troubled him not at all. Women—all but Alison—were a nuisance; indeed, there was no situation in which he could imagine them useful, much less indispensable. Their humanising influence had never been felt in his own home after Mrs. Heriot's death, for they were curiously bereft of relations, both parents having been only children. Alison, to please Stephen, used to read a little every day of something “improving,” for he was determined that she should not grow up a mere illiterate amazon, and it was when the two talked over what she had been reading that they were brought into closer intimacy than had yet subsisted between Stephen and his little sister. At first she was shy of telling him her ideas, which, indeed, were queer, crude little growths enough ; but after a while she got bolder, and Stephen was honestly interested in the child's efforts to understand her Greene or her Helps. He carefully avoided all allusions to matrimony, and was relieved as well as amused when, one day, Alison proceeded to lay down the law on the subject in a spirit highly antagonistic to the holy estate. “People who value their freedom have no business to get married,” she said. “I would far sooner work for my living than promise all those things in the Prayer-book. It's all so plain. If you vow to love, honour, and obey a person, you’ve got to do it. A vow is a vow, and a girl of honour is bound to keep it, only most girls don't seem to know what honour is. The great thing is not to make the vow ;
where the temptation to do that comes in I cannot understand. Can you?”
Stephen answered vaguely that some people found the married state attractive. It depended a good deal on circumstances ; which reply Alison disapproved of as weakly tolerant,
BEFORE they had been a year in South America Stephen satisfied himself that, so far as the guardianship of Alison's affections was concerned, Peter was quite competent to look after her at the estancia, where from month's end to month's end they saw no European strangers. Her reading could go on without him, and her health was, as it had ever been, admirable. Things being so, why should he not go up to Buenos Ayres for a while, and at least see some fellowcreatures, go to the theatre, and enjoy the sensation of being dressed like a gentleman for a week or so? He broached the matter to Peter, who was disagreeable enough to tax him with his unfitness for life in the wilderness, and to warn him of the temptations to forget his vow of celibacy which civilisation would offer. “My dear boy,” returned Stephen loftily, “I don't pretend to have chosen this barbarous existence ; I am simply here as Alison's guardian; and if you will kindly relieve me of the responsibility for a time I can go wherever I please and look after myself, I fancy, quite as well as most men of thirty.”
"All right, old chap," answered Peter; "didn't mean any harm; go and enjoy yourself.”
Nor was Alison very much surprised to hear that Stephen was off to Buenos Ayres. But when a week later the news reached them that his agents had handed him a telegram requesting his presence in London on legal business-business which he alone could transact-she was decidedly disconcerted. Still, she and Peter agreed that poor Stephen—"poor” because he did not love their wild life as they did--would be all the better for a run home, and they soon became used to their solitude d deux. Alison bravely struggled to keep up those little decencies and amenities which her elder brother had never abandoned or allowed her to shirk, though Peter would never have noticed their absence. The conversation, however, in spite of her efforts, became more and more horsey. To ask Peter to turn his attention to other topics would be to silence him completely, so she let him discourse, and but for a little unacknowledged ambition somewhere deep down in her mind to remain womanly in
spite of her surroundings, she might have degenerated then and there into a "pretty horsebreaker" pure and simple. Her books helped her not a little, and also the fact of their being limited, for she read them over and over again, and thought of them till new lights appeared, and she really longed for Stephen to discuss them with. His return was postponed more than once, and six months had grown into nine before it was at length definitely fixed. Meanwhile a strange thing had happened. An Englishman—a boy, rather, of twenty-one—had appeared at the estancia. He had come to grief in his first venture in farming and offered his services to the Heriots for the usual pay of a peon till he should have saved enough money to get home and start afresh. He would not write home for help, for though it would doubtless have been forthcoming it would have been coupled with sarcastic words, perhaps even hampered by conditions that Dermot O'Hara, as stiff-necked and impetuous as any Irish king of the long list from A.D. 4 to A.D. 1172, and descended from quite half of them, would not have accepted in what is called a proper spirit. He was shabby and unkempt indeed when he arrived, and if Peter thought for one moment, before accepting his offer, of how his presence might affect Alison, it was to fear that she would be disgusted by the boy's ragged and unshorn appearance. There was no doubt about his being a gentleman. He had no more of a Limerick brogue than is quite compatible with an education at an English public school—that is to say, as little as may be; and when he had shaved and tidied up a bit he was not a bad-looking fellow at all, with a thin sunburnt face, Irish blue eyes with a great twinkle in them, short nose and well-cut mouth—though, perhaps, the upper lip was a trifle long-hair crisp and almost black, long legs and arms, and a fine big frame of his own with as little as possible on it.
“You see,” he explained in smoking confidence to Peter, “ I'm my father's youngest son, and not a spoilt child at all—things mostly do go backwards in Ireland-for my eldest brother had a grand time, and was brought up as the heir. That means he was to do nothing but loaf about and get into mischief until such time as my father made room for him. Now the entail's broken and my father's broke, and so my poor brother's profession is gone entirely. My second brother scrambled into the army, and hasn't cost my people a penny since he joined his regiment in India. I'm bound to say they didn't offer him an allowance; and here am I with three years at Charterhouse and my outfit for my fortune, and I've run through it in six months (that's the outfit I mean, for I haven't had the least occasion to want my Latin and Greek !)”
“You won't want them here, thank goodness!” exclaimed Peter, who never missed an opportunity of crying “Down with booklearning,” “and, as far as clothes go, I dare say I shall be able to rig you out somehow.”
“Thanks; that's awfully good of you. I think, perhaps, trousers for knickerbockers, and long stockings would about suit the case,
I don't take what they call a “stock size’ by any means. Your sister will think me a regular savage, I'm afraid. I may have forgotten how to behave in ladies' society, for all I know.”
“Oh, she's all right,” said Peter; “you needn't be afraid of her.”
Still, when Dermot found himself seated at dinner beside a tall and graceful young lady in a black evening gown he was decidedly abashed and embarrassé de sa personne, and that for quite five minutes. But in ten he was laughing and talking as if he had known the Heriots for years. It was a blessed change from Peter's farm talk, and Alison began to wonder whether there might not be something to regret in having turned one's back on such social intercourse for ever and a day. Dermot was a clever fellow, remarkably quick rather than endowed with solid ability, and before many days had passed Alison and he had found a hundred points in common; besides, her admiration for his fearless riding, his ready wit, and his quickness in emergency, made her quite blind to the faults in his character which were hardly less salient. If life had been made up of emergencies, Dermot would have been one of the greatest men of the age. Uphill he was first-rate, downhill he rattled regardless of consequences, but the level beat him. To do the work of six men for half a day was nothing, but his own daily round was more than he could manage. Ballast was what he wanted, and if ballast ever comes to this class of Irishman it comes very late, and in the form of bad health or continued misfortune. Then presently he gives up the fight, takes to drink, and dies.
THE three young people got on famously, and the further postponement of Stephen's return was felt to be less of a disappointment now that Dermot was at the estancia. Peter's conscience had given him a momentary pang when his elder brother wrote to remind him that a young man of her own race and class was the very last person to receive into the house with Alison. But he looked out of the window towards the palenque when he had read the letter and
found comfort. Dermot, after a prolonged battle with a colt of rudimentary education, had been rolled over in the dust by his enemy, who had then seized the opportunity for flight. Alison, instead of offering help or even affecting sympathy, was sitting on a fallen post laughing till the tears rolled down her cheeks, while Dermot, not in the least resenting her heartless behaviour, proceeded to shake himself and wipe the dust from his face, apostrophising the four-legged delinquent as he did so in weird and unholy language : “ The devil sweep ye for an impudent thief! By the piper that played before Moses, 'tis you're the limb of Satan!” And so on, while Alison shook in helpless mirth upon her log.
“Not a bit of nonsense about them,” said Peter with a sigh of relief. “They're both as sensible as can be—that is to say, as likely to fall in love with one another as I am to marry old Tomasa.” And with that he put Stephen's letter in his pocket, and his fears along with it. And, indeed, Alison and Dermot were such capital playfellows, that Peter might have been excused his neglect of duty had the girl been differently placed. Love was the very last thing in the world the two talked of, but who was it that said “ Propinquity is provocative of proposals”? Moreover, Dermot was an Irishman. Gradually, very gradually, he found himself wishing that Alison would take him seriously, and a slight attack of the fever he had got into his system before he came to the Heriots helped him considerably in this direction.
He was just ill enough to touch the pure womanly half, or quarter, of Alison's character, and from seeing him ill, and then mending under her care, the girl was seized with a tenderer feeling, half-pity, half-fattered vanity ; for Dermot was very grateful, and, unlike men of sterner material, he loved being nursed and cosseted. He told her about his hopes and ambitions, confessed that he had been idle and just a little wild—which to Alison's mind conveyed the idea of playing practical jokes and not going to church every Sundayand, finally, gave her to understand that he was now going to reform, and that her support and approval were all that he needed in order to become a great and good man.
He meant what he said at the moment. She believed him unreservedly, and suffered accordingly,
Peter was not too dense to see the change in Alison when Dermot was able to get about again. Her bright even temper became uncertain ; she alternately snubbed and spoilt Dermot; she was apt to take offence with both the young men, and was constantly on her guard, poor child, lest her secret should be discovered--by Dermot, who might laugh in his sleeve over his conquest, or by Peter, who she