OH, WILT THOU BE MY BRIDE, KATHLEEN?

“Say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’
Before we part.
Come joy or woe,
Say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’
I love thee so!
Hope fills my heart.
Say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’
Before we part.”

There was no doubt that Angus Macjean was very much in love with Miss
Sheldon, which to wiseacres would appear rather foolish, seeing that
he had only known her three weeks. But as, according to Kit Marlowe,
“He never loved who loved not at first sight,” Otterburn had fulfilled
such practical advice to the letter, and however rapidly love had
sprung up in his heart in that short space of three weeks, it had
become sufficiently powerful to dominate all his other faculties.

As to the wisdom of this sudden passion, he was somewhat doubtful, for
two reasons, one being that he did not know whether Victoria would
accept him, and the other that even if she did, his father might
refuse to sanction the match, a very probable contingency, seeing that
the old Lord had already settled the matrimonial future of his heir.

Under these circumstances Otterburn, much as he was in love, felt
rather embarrassed as to the manner in which he should proceed. He
adored this bright-eyed, piquant beauty with all his soul, so,
according to the neck-or-nothing traditions of Love, should have
thrown all other considerations to the winds, but having inherited
from his father a vein of Scotch caution he deemed it wise to proceed
with due circumspection.

Gartney might have advised this half-hearted lover, but Otterburn knew
that neither his lady-love nor his friend liked one another, so
thought it useless to ask for an opinion which would be diametrically
opposed to his own desires. Seeing, therefore, that there was nothing
satisfactory to be obtained from Eustace, Otterburn made up his mind
to find out indirectly what Johnnie Armstrong thought of the matter.

It may appear strange that he should condescend to speak of such a
subject even indirectly to his servant, but then Johnnie was much more
to him than a servant, being an old and faithful friend of the family,
who had seen him grow up from childhood, and regarded himself in the
light of a humble adviser to the young heir in the absence of Mactab,
to whom Johnnie deferred as spiritual adviser.

According to this view of the matter, which would have been quite
incomprehensible to Eustace, who regarded his valet as a useful
machine, Johnnie was no ordinary servant, and although Angus did not
intend to ask him right out how he thought such a union would be
received at Dunkeld Castle, yet he knew that once Johnnie’s tongue was
set going he would soon find out all he wanted to know.

Johnnie, in himself, represented the home authorities, and feeling
very doubtful in his own mind as to the views that might be taken of
the affair, after much cogitation Angus determined to ascertain the
sage Johnnie’s opinion on the subject, and one morning, while he was
dressing, broached the idea in a most artful way.

He was standing before the mirror brushing his hair, and Johnnie was
hunting for some special necktie he had been told to find, when the
following dialogue took place.

“Johnnie,” asked Angus, without turning his head, “were you ever in
love?”

Johnnie paused for a moment and rubbed his bald brow with one lean red
hand.

“Weel, Maister,” he said, with habitual Scotch caution, “I’ll nae gang
sae far as tae say I michtna hae been. There wis reed-heeded Mysie, ye
ken a canty lass wi’ a braw tocher. Ye’ll mind her, sir, doon the burn
near Kirsty Lachlan’s but an’ ben.”

“Can’t say I recollect her,” replied Angus carelessly. “All the girls
are red-headed about Dunkeld. Well, did you love Mysie?”

“Maybe I did,” said Johnnie coolly, “an’ maybe she would hae made me a
decent gudewife if it hadna been for that blithering Sawney
Macpherson–the gowk wi’ the daft mither–whae yattered her saul oot
wi’ his skirlin’ about her braw looks, an’ sae she married him. It
wasna a happy foregathering,” concluded Mr. Armstrong spitefully, “for
Sawney’s ower fond o’ whusky, an’ the meenister had him warned fower
times i’ the Kirk o’ Tabbylugs.”

“How do you like the Italian girls?” asked the Master, who had been
listening with some impatience to Johnnie’s long-winded story.

“A puir lot, Maister, a puir lot. Feckless things whae warship the
Scarlet Wuman wi’ gew-gaws an’ tinkling ornaments in high places.
They’re aye yelpin’ fra morn till nicht wi’ idolatrous processions an’
graven images.”

As these religious views of the godly Johnnie did not interest
Otterburn, he proceeded:

“What do you think of Miss Sheldon, Johnnie?”

“She’s nae sae bad.”

“Oh, nonsense. She’s an angel.”

“Weel, I’ve seen waur.”

Johnnie was evidently determined not to commit himself in any way, so
Angus spoke straight out.

“What would you say if I married her, Johnnie?”

“Losh me,” ejaculated Armstrong in dismay, “ye’ll be clean daft to dae
sic a thing. The auld Lord would never forgie ye, Maister. An’
Mistress Cranstoun—-”

“Oh, hang it. I’m not going to marry her,” retorted Angus, snatching a
necktie from Johnnie’s paralysed grasp.

“I misdoubt me what the godly Mactab wull spier—-”

“D– Mactab.”

“Hech! just listen tae him,” cried Johnnie, with uplifted hands. “The
meenister whae brocht him up in the psalms o’ David an’ led him by
mony waters through the paraphrases.”

“Hold your tongue!” said the Master, stamping his foot. “I didn’t ask
you to make any remarks.”

“What’s your wull then?” demanded Johnnie sourly.

“Do you think there’ll be a row if I married her?”

“Aye I–that I do.”

“She’s very pretty.”

“Ye mauna gang like th’ Israelites after strange wumen.”

“She’s got plenty of money.”

This artful remark appealed to Johnnie’s strongest passion, and he
considered the question.

“Weel, I’ll nae say but what that micht dae ye some gude,” he said
cautiously, “but, oh, Maister, it’s nae the auld Lord I fear, it’s the
meenister o’ Tabbylugs, as ye weel ken. If ye but get the richt side
o’ his lug, maybe ye can tac’ this dochter o’ Belial tae Kirk–if no,
I fear me, Maister, there’ll be the deil tae pay.”

Angus made no reply to this speech, as he knew what Johnnie said was
perfectly true, so having thus ascertained exactly how his marriage to
Victoria would be taken, he rapidly finished his dressing and ran
downstairs, leaving his faithful henchman shaking his grizzled head in
dour Scotch fashion over the probable anger of Mactab.

“The daft bit laddie,” commented Johnnie, folding up his master’s
clothes, “tae fly i’ the face o’ Providence aboot a lass. An’ that
auld Jeezebel whae dodders after her would like it fine, I’m thinking,
tae see the lass Leddy Otterburn. I’ll no tac’ the responsibility on
me. The laddie ma gang tae the auld Laird an’ the meenister, an’
they’ll nay say aye, I misdoot me the Maister ‘ull gang his ain gait
for aw their skirling.”

Meanwhile Angus was standing at the front door of the hotel, thinking
over the conversation he had just had, and having a considerable
amount of common sense saw that Johnnie Armstrong was correct in his
remarks about Mactab. Being a man of great shrewdness and genuine
piety he had attained a strong influence over the somewhat stern
nature of Lord Dunkeld, who knew that Mactab’s advice if not always
palatable was essentially sound.

Lord Dunkeld had set his heart on the marriage of his only son with
Miss Cranstoun, as that ill-favoured damsel was heiress to the estate
adjoining that to which Angus was heir, and such a match would
considerably increase the territorial possessions and influence of the
Macjean family in the Border land.

Nevertheless Angus, though not a fortune hunter, knew that Victoria
Sheldon was very wealthy, and in this democratic age an excellent
match in every way, so provided his father was satisfied regarding the
birth of the young lady (and the fact that her mother was a Macjean
was greatly in her favour), there was a chance of success, especially
if Mactab approved, of which, however, Angus was doubtful, for the
minister greatly admired Miss Cranstoun owing to her assiduous
attendance at the Kirk.

“Deuce take the whole lot of them,” grumbled Otterburn, as he thought
over all this. “I wish they’d let a fellow fix up his own life. One
would think I had no feelings the way they order me about. That
Cranstoun girl is as ugly as sin, and I don’t see why I should marry
her just because she’s got the next estate to ours. Why doesn’t my
father marry her himself if he’s so jolly anxious to get the property?
As for Mactab, he ought to mind his own business instead of meddling
with mine. Hang it, I won’t stand it. I’m not engaged to that
Cranstoun thing, so I can do as I like. Victoria goes away to-morrow,
and Lord only knows when I’ll see her again, so I’ll take the bull by
the horns and ask her to marry me. If she won’t, there’s no harm done,
and if she will, the whole lot at Dunkeld can howl themselves hoarse
for all I care.”

Having, therefore, made up his mind in this impulsive manner,
Otterburn, in order to give himself no time to change it, walked off
in search of Victoria, to offer her the heart which his father fondly
trusted was in the keeping of Miss Cranstoun of that ilk.

Miss Sheldon was seated in the Chinese room writing letters, and so
absorbed was she in her occupation, that she did not hear Otterburn
enter.

It was a lofty, fantastical apartment, with an oval roof tinted a dull
grey, on which were traced red lines of a symmetrical pattern to
resemble bamboo framing, and the walls were hung with Chinese paper,
forming a kind of tapestry on which the artist, ignorant of
perspective, had traced strange trees, brilliant birds, impossible
towers, bizarre bridges, and odd-looking figures. In the four corners
of the room, on slender pedestals, sat almond-eyed, burly mandarins,
cross-legged, with their long hands folded placidly on their
protuberant stomachs, and pagoda-shaped hats, with jingling bells on
their pig-tailed heads. Chinese matting on the floor, lounging chairs
of bamboo work, oblong tables, on which stood barbaric vases of
porcelain, all gave this room a strange Eastern look, suggesting
thoughts of crowded Pekin, the odour of new-gathered tea, and a vision
of queer towers rising from the rice plains, under burning skies.

Otterburn was not thinking of the Flowery Land, however, as his mind
was too full of Victoria, and he stood silently watching her graceful
head bent over her writing, until, by that strange instinct which
warns everyone that someone is near, she raised her eyes and saw him
standing close to the door. “Oh, good morning,” she cried gaily, as he
advanced. “Sit down for a few moments, and don’t interrupt me. I’m
engaged in a most unpleasant task. Writing to Aunt Jelly.”

“Why! is it so disagreeable?” said the young man, sitting down in one
of the light chairs, which creaked complainingly under his weight.

“Very,” replied Miss Sheldon, nodding her head and pursing up her
lips. “Very, very disagreeable. Being my guardian, she always seems to
think I’m in mischief, and I have to report myself once a week to her
like a ticket-of-leave man, or rather woman.”

“Do you tell her everything?” asked Otterburn, rather aghast.

“With certain reservations. Yes!”

“I hope I’m included in the reservations?”

“Well, yes. At least, I’ve not yet sent Aunt Jelly a portrait of you.”

“And shall I ever gain that enviable distinction?”

Miss Sheldon shrugged her shoulders with a laugh.

“Do you think it enviable to be dissected for the benefit of a carping
old woman? I’m sure I don’t. Besides, as you are a friend of Mr.
Gartney’s, you will meet his dreadful aunt on your return to England,
and she can criticise you herself, instead of gaining an impression
second-hand from me.”

“If I do meet her, I hope the criticism will be favourable.”

“Why so?”

“Because you are her ward.”

“I don’t see the connection,” replied Victoria, with feminine
duplicity, but her heightened colour showed that she understood his
meaning, and Otterburn, being by no means deficient in understanding
regarding the sex, immediately took advantage of the secret sympathy
thus suddenly engendered between them.

“I’m a very plain sort of fellow, Miss Sheldon,” he said, with a
certain boyish dignity, “and I can’t talk so glibly about things as
most men, but I think you can guess what I want to say to you.”

He paused for a moment, but as Victoria made no observation, he drew a
long breath, and continued:

“I love you, and I want you to marry me–if you’ll have me.”

In spite of the brusqueness of this declaration, crude in the extreme,
adorned with no fine flowers of speech or passionate protestations of
eternal love, Victoria felt that he spoke from his heart, and that
this manly declaration was more to be believed than any sickly,
sentimental speech of honey and spice. Still, she made no sign to show
how deeply his honest straightforwardness had touched her, but
scribbled idly on the blotting-paper with her pen, whereupon
Otterburn, emboldened by her silence, gently took the hand which was
lying on her lap, and went on with increasing hopefulness of tone.

“I trust you do not think me presumptuous in speaking so soon, but
although I have only known you a few weeks, yet in that time I have
learned to love you very dearly, and if you’ll only become my wife,
I’ll do everything in my power to make you happy.”

She withdrew her hand from his grasp, and throwing down the pen on the
table, turned her clear eyes gravely on his face, then, without any
maidenly confusion or any mock modesty, she answered him calmly,
although the tremulous quivering of her nether lip showed how deeply
she was moved.

“You are doing me a great honour, Mr. Macjean, and I assure you I
appreciate the manner in which you have spoken, but–it cannot be.”

“Oh, surely—-”

“No,” she replied, lifting her hand to stay his further speech. “I am
only a girl, I know, but then I have been brought up in the Colonies,
and in these matters I think Australian girls are more self-reliant
than those in England.”

She might have been a schoolmistress delivering a lecture on manners,
so coldly did she speak.

“I like you! I respect you, but I do not love you, and I could marry
no man without loving him. We have only known each other three weeks,
so are in total ignorance of each other’s character. No, Mr. Macjean,
much as I thank you for the honour you have done me–the greatest
honour a man can offer a woman–yet I must say no.”

“Can you give me no hope?”

“I don’t think it would be wise to do so. We part to-morrow, and may
meet others we like better, so it would be foolish for either you or
myself to bind ourselves in any way.”

Otterburn, seeing from her cool, composed speech that her mind was
made up, arose to his feet with a look of despair on his bright, young
face, upon which she also arose from her chair, and laid her hand
gently on his shoulder.

“Believe me, you will think as I do later on,” she said in a friendly
tone; “forget that this conversation has ever taken place, and let us
be on the same footing as before. We part to-morrow, as I said before,
but it is more than probable that we will meet in London–if so, let
us meet as friends.”

The composure with which she spoke irritated Otterburn fearfully, the
more so as it was so unexpected. This brilliant, piquant creature, who
should have been all fire and passion, talked to him as if he were a
schoolboy, and argued about love as if she was an elderly dry as-dust
professor of science. Perhaps Victoria knew this, and, as she did not
wish to marry Otterburn, thought that such a cold-blooded way of
discussing his passion, from a worldly point of view, would have the
effect of making him care less about her refusal to marry him.

They stood looking at one another for a moment, the man angry at what
he considered her unjustifiable treatment, the woman composed, but
withal a trifle frightened at the tempest she had provoked.

“Well, we part friends?” she said, holding out her hand with a quiet
smile.

Angus looked at her with a glance of anger in his eyes.

“Coquette!” he growled out between his clenched teeth, and, taking no
notice of her extended hand, left the room quickly.

Left to herself, Victoria sat down and thought over the scene. The
declaration of Angus had touched her by its manly honesty, but, as she
had not thought of marrying him, her mode of refusal had certainly
been the best possible in order to cool his passion. His anger,
however, and the fast word he had uttered, opened her eyes to the
situation, and she saw that her determination to spite Eustace, by
taking his friend away, had been more serious than she imagined.

This reflection made her angry with herself, and of course she vented
her rage on Angus, simply because she had treated him badly.

“Stupid boy,” she said to herself, angrily, “he might have seen I was
not in earnest. I never gave him to understand that I would marry him.
These men are so conceited, they think they have only got to throw the
handkerchief like the Sultan. The lesson will do him good. Yet he is a
nice, honest boy, and I’m sorry we did not part friends. Never mind, I
expect he’ll come back shortly. I’m sure he ought to, and beg my
pardon–if he’s got any sense of decency–foolish boy.”

She tried to write but felt too angry with herself, Angus and the
whole world, to do so, therefore she ran up to her own room, worried
herself ill over the whole affair and ultimately ended up in having a
good cry and a fit of self-commiseration.

Meanwhile, Otterburn’ in a towering passion, walked outside, and
seeking a secluded seat under a spreading oak, sat down in a most
doleful mood.

“The heartless coquette,” said this ill-used young man aloud, staring
dismally at the lake. “I wonder what she thinks a man is made of to be
preached at? I asked for love and she gave me a sermon. Good Lord! I
thought she would have cried and made a fuss like other girls, but she
didn’t, confound her! Fancy talking about ignorance of character and
all that stuff, when a fellow’s dying of love, and as to being
friends, that’s not my style. I’m not going to run after her like a
poodle dog, and be driven away every two minutes. I’ll see Gartney,
and we’ll go away at once. I’ll never see her again, never! never!
never!”

“That’s emphatic, at all events,” said a quiet voice at his elbow, and
on turning round, he saw Eustace standing near him complacently
smoking a cigarette.

“Oh, it’s you,” said Otterburn, in an ill-tempered tone.

“Yes! forgive me, but I couldn’t help overhearing the last few words
you spoke. I–I hope you’ve been successful in your wooing.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” retorted Angus sulkily, stretching his
long legs out, and thrusting his hands into his trouser pockets.

“I beg your pardon,” replied Eustace, ceremoniously. “I have no wish
to force your confidence.”

The Master made no reply, but glared savagely at his boots, while
Eustace, taking in the situation at a glance, stood silently beside
him, not without a secret gratification that Otterburn had been
punished for his base desertion of friendship for love. This was so
like Gartney, whose colossal egotism saw in the successes or failures
of others nothing but what tended to his own self-glorification.

“Gartney,” said Otterburn, suddenly looking up, “I’m deadly sick of
this place.”

“Everyone seems to be of your opinion,” answered Eustace,
complacently; “the Erringtons go to-day, and Mrs. Trubbles
to-morrow–of course la Belle Victoria accompanies them–aren’t you
inconsolable?”

This was cruel of Eustace, and he knew it.

“No, I’m not,” retorted Angus, doughtily, “she’s not the only girl in
the world. I wish to heaven you’d talk sense. Tell me when are we
going to start?”

“When you like.”

“For Vienna?”

“I’m rather tired of Vienna,” said Gartney, listlessly, “I’ve been
there four times and it’s always the same. If you don’t mind, I’d
rather we tried a fresh locality.”

“I don’t care,” said Otterburn, with a scowl. “I’ll go anywhere–to
the devil if you like.”

“That’s looking too far ahead,” replied Eustace ironically. “What do
you say to Cyprus? I’ve been reading Mallock’s book about it and it
seems one place not in the grip of Cook’s tourists and Baedeker’s
Guide Books. We can take the train to Venice, and go down the
Adriatic.”

“Very well,” said Macjean, rising, with a huge sigh. “If you don’t
mind, I’ll go to Milan to-day. You can follow to-morrow.”

“All right,” said Eustace quietly, judging it best to let his young
friend go away for a time and get over his disappointment in solitude.
“I will come with you to Como, and can see both you and the Erringtons
off at the same time.”

“Then I’ll go and tell Johnnie to get my traps together.”

“Certainly, but look here, old fellow, although you have not honoured
me with your confidence I can guess your trouble, but don’t worry
about it.”

“Oh, it’s all very well for you,” said Otterburn, reddening, “you’re
not in love.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” murmured Eustace in a dreary tone, whereupon
Angus laughed scornfully.

“It doesn’t sound like it–by-the-way, you can say goodbye to Mrs.
Trubbles for me.”

“And Miss Sheldon?”

“Hang Miss Sheldon and you too!” retorted Otterburn, and thereupon
bolted, so as to give Eustace no opportunity of making further
remarks.

“Love!” quoth Eustace the philosopher, “does not improve manners.
Macjean is like a young bear with a sore head, and Miss Sheldon–well,
she’s got another scalp to hang in her wigwam.”