ON REVIENT TOUJOURS À SES PREMIÈRES AMOURS

“You have returned,
I thought you would,
Tho’ you I spurned,
You have returned;
The lesson learned
Will do you good.
You have returned,
I thought you would.”

When Otterburn disappeared so suddenly from the sight of his friend,
he had gone straight across the room to where a slender girl dressed
in a dark-green walking costume was standing near the door.

“Can you remember an old friend, Miss Sheldon?” he said in a low
voice.

She turned round with a cry of surprise, flushing violently
as she recognised him, and held out her hand with the greatest
self-possession.

“Of course Mr. Macjean! My memory is not quite so short as you think.”

They were both overcome by this unexpected meeting, but as the eyes of
the world were on them they were perforce obliged to hide their
emotions under a polite mask of indifference. No one, looking at this
charming girl and this handsome young man, would have thought there
was anything between them but the merest feelings of acquaintanceship.
And yet they were both profoundly moved, and each, in some instinctive
way, guessed the feelings of the other, although their greeting was so
cold and studied.

“I did not expect to meet you here,” said Victoria in a friendly tone.

“I suppose not,” replied Otterburn politely, “as I only returned to
Town about three weeks ago.’

“You have been away?”

“All over the world. Africa is the only place left for me to explore.”

“And I daresay you are thinking of going there next?” Otterburn
laughed.

“Perhaps! It all depends.”

“Upon what?”

“Truth to tell, I hardly know,” answered Macjean coolly. “Whims,
fancies and desires of sport, I think.”

“He doesn’t care a bit about me or he would not talk so coldly about
going away,” thought Victoria, with a sad feeling at her heart, but,
being too proud to show her real feelings, merely laughed as she
answered his remark.

“There’s nothing like enthusiasm! Well, Mr. Macjean, I’m glad to see
you again.”

“Do you really mean that?” he said anxiously, “or is it only the
conventional society phrase?”

“Why should you think so?” replied Miss Sheldon in a displeased tone.
“You know I always spoke my mind regardless of social observances.”

“I have not forgotten that,” observed Otterburn quietly. “Candour is
such a wonderful thing to meet with now-a-days, that anyone with such
a virtue is sure to be remembered.”

“For nine days, I suppose? she said jestingly.

“Yes! or eighteen months,” he responded meaningly.

Otterburn was evidently as audacious as ever in trespassing upon
dangerous ground, so Victoria, although her heart beat rapidly at his
last remark, deftly turned the conversation as she used to do in the
old days.

“You have an excellent memory, Mr. Macjean,” she said gaily, “but you
have forgotten that I have been standing for the last ten minutes,
that you have not asked me to have a cup of tea, and that I’m both
tired and thirsty.”

“A thousand pardons,” said Otterburn, penitently offering his arm. “I
plead guilty! As you are strong, be merciful.”

“To your failings, certainly! I’ve got too many of my own to refuse
absolution. Oh, there’s Miss Lossins going to sing. I can’t bear these
drawing-room songs, so let us go at once.”

She took his arm, and as they moved downstairs he felt a thrill run
through his body at the light pressure of her hand. He felt inclined
to speak boldly then and there, but a vague fear of the result
withheld him, and in the presence of the woman he loved, Angus
Macjean, man of the world as he was, felt like an awkward schoolboy.

On her part, Victoria felt that she still had an influence on his
life, and derived from this instinctive feeling a wonderful amount of
pleasure, which could only have been engendered in her breast by a
sentiment of reciprocity.

Owing to some ridiculous feeling of pride, neither of them referred to
Como during the whole of their conversation, as their parting at that
place had been so painful, and although they were both thinking about
it yet they talked of everything in the world except what was
uppermost in their minds. They had thought of, dreamt of, loved, and
desired one another all through these weary eighteen months, and now
when they were together and a word would have removed all
misunderstandings, neither the man nor the woman had the courage to
utter it.

At present, however, they were downstairs indulging in the slight
dissipation of afternoon tea, and Victoria, knowing that Otterburn was
still her admirer, was quite at her ease, talking gaily about
everything and everyone.

“This is awfully nice tea,” she said, nodding her head to the Master.
“Why don’t you try some?”

“I will, on your recommendation,” he replied, taking a cup the maid
was holding out, “but won’t you have some cake?”

“If there’s some very curranty cake, I will,” said Miss Sheldon
gluttonously. “I’ll have the brown outside piece.”

“Why should that be more desirable than any other piece?” said Macjean
as she took it.

“More currants in it! I’m fond of currants.”

“So it seems.”

“Now don’t be severe. Let’s talk about something else. Mr. Gartney,
for instance.”

“Oh, he’s here to-day.”

“Is he really? I thought it would be too frivolous for him. The
Arabian desert is more in his style.”

“Well, judging from his book, the Arabian Desert is not entirely
devoid of feminine interest.”

“Don’t be horrid! It’s a very charming book.”

“Nobody said it wasn’t. But I’m astonished to hear you defend Gartney
like this. You used to hate him.”

“No, no! I didn’t exactly hate him, but I must say I didn’t like him.”

“Isn’t that splitting straws?”

“Not at all,” retorted Miss Sheldon gaily, “the two things are widely
different. But to return to Mr. Gartney. He’s really very nice.”

“I’m so glad you think so,” said Otterburn gravely. “I’ll tell him
so.”

“No, don’t,” exclaimed Victoria, with genuine alarm. “I wouldn’t have
him know it for the world.”

“Why hide the Sheldon light under the Gartney bushel?”

“You’re talking nonsense, but you always did talk nonsense. But, good
gracious, look at the time–six o’clock.”

“Oh, that clock’s wrong.”

“So am I–in listening to you. Mr. Macjean, I must go. My chaperon
will be waiting for me.”

“Who is your chaperon?” asked Otterburn, as they ascended the stairs.
“Mrs. Trubbles?”

“No! she’s in the country. Now I am under the care of Mrs. Dills. Do
you know her?”

“Only as the wife of Mr. Dills.”

“She’s a most amiable woman, but not pretty.”

“Curious thing, amiable women never are.”

“How cruel–to me.”

“Pardon! you are the exception—-”

“To prove your extremely severe rule! Thank you!”

Talking in this light and airy manner, which was really assumed to
hide their real feelings, Miss Sheldon and her lover arrived at the
drawing-room, found Mrs. Dills, small, spiteful and vivacious, to whom
Victoria introduced the Master, and then went off to say goodbye to
Mrs. Veilsturm.

When she returned, and Otterburn was escorting her downstairs in the
train of Mrs. Dills he noticed a puzzled look on her face, and
promptly asked the reason of it. She did not answer at first, but as
they stood on the step, waiting for the carriage, suddenly asked him a
question.

“Who introduced Sir Guy Errington to Mrs. Veilsturm?”

“Gartney did–to-day.”

“To-day,” she repeated, in astonishment. “Why from their manner to one
another I thought they were old friends.”

“Mrs. Veilsturm has such a sympathetic manner you see.”

“Yes, very sympathetic,” replied Victoria, sarcastically. “But here is
the carriage Goodbye, Mr. Macjean. Come and call on Aunt Jelly.”

“Certainly! I am anxious to make the acquaintance of Aunt Jelly.”

“So anxious that you delayed the pleasure by three months,” replied
Miss Sheldon laughing, as the carriage drove away, leaving Otterburn
on the steps in a very jubilant frame of mind.

When he had somewhat recovered his presence of mind, he went off to
find Eustace, being so overburdened with his secret happiness that he
felt it a necessity to speak to some one on the subject. Eustace knew
all about his passion, Eustace had been a good friend in finding out
Victoria’s sentiments towards him, so Eustace was undoubtedly the
proper person to speak to in this emergency.

After a hunt of some moments’ duration, he found Mr. Gartney in
company with Errington, talking to Mrs. Veilsturm, and while the
latter seemed flushed and excited, the face of the former wore an
enigmatic smile. Mrs. Veilsturm herself had been aroused from her
habitual languor, and was chatting gaily, while Major Griff,
ostensibly talking to Dolly Thambits, was in reality looking at
Errington with a frown. It was quite a little comedy, and Eustace
alone possessed the requisite understanding to enjoy it, although from
the studied expression of his face it was impossible to tell his real
feelings.

Otterburn touched Eustace on the shoulder, and drew him away from the
group.

“I say, I believe it’s all right,” he said, in a eager whisper.

“What is all right?” asked Eustace, in a puzzled voice. “Oh, you
know,” replied Otterburn, with some disgust at his friend’s density.
“I met Miss Sheldon here, and–and I spoke to her.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it?” observed Gartney, with a kindly smile. “I
suppose I must congratulate you?”

“Not yet. But I think it’s all right,” said Otterburn, repeating his
first remark. “The way she talked, you know, and I talked also,
and–and—-”

“And you’re counting your chickens before they’re hatched,” said
Gartney impatiently. “Don’t be angry, Macjean,” he added, seeing Angus
looked annoyed, “it’s only my fun! I think it will be all right–that
is if she’s forgiven you for the Como business.”

“Eh?” said Otterburn, obtusely. “I think it’s she who requires to be
forgiven.”

“I’m afraid you won’t find her take that view of the question,”
replied Gartney cruelly. “In love, the woman is always right and the
man everlastingly wrong.”

“What a dog-in-the-manger you are, Gartney,” said Otterburn angrily,
the brightness dying out of his face, “you won’t love anyone yourself,
or let anyone else do it. I tell you Miss Sheldon and myself
understand one another. She asked me to call and see Aunt Jelly.”

“How delightful–for Aunt Jelly,” remarked Eustace sarcastically. “I
hope the pair of you won’t indulge in sentiment before the old
lady–she doesn’t believe in it.”

“I’ll take my chance of that,” observed Angus cheerfully. “But I’ve
got such a lot to tell you about Victoria. Come along with me to the
Club.”

“Very well,” replied Gartney, in a resigned manner. “It seems my fate
to hear love confidences. I’ll come as soon as I can persuade Guy to
leave Mrs. Veilsturm, or rather as soon as I can persuade Mrs.
Veilsturm to let Guy go.”

“It seems to me six of one and half a dozen of the other, as far as
that goes,” said Otterburn shrewdly.

Eustace did not reply, but walked up to his cousin and the lady.

“I’m afraid we must go, Mrs. Veilsturm,” he said, smiling at
Cleopatra.

“Oh, it’s early yet,” remarked Cleopatra languidly. “Must you go, Sir
Guy?”

“I suppose so,” answered Errington, looking at his watch. “Time, tide
and dinner wait for no man. It’s past six.”

“So like a man,” laughed Cleopatra, “thinking of his dinner before
everything else.”

“No, really,” responded Errington, colouring at this rude remark, “but
I’ve got an engagement, and I always like to be punctual.”

“In that case don’t forget my ‘At Home’ next week,” said the lady,
with a bewitching glance.

“Oh, no, I won’t forget that,” replied Errington coolly, much more
coolly than Cleopatra liked, but she suppressed her anger at his
nonchalance, and turned to Eustace.

“Goodbye, Mr. Gartney, so good of you to have come to-day. Mr.
Maclean, I’ve no doubt I’ll see you to-night at Lady Kerstoke’s dance.
Sir Guy, I hope you will find your way here again. Goodbye, all of
you,” and then her attention was claimed by another batch of departing
guests, while the three gentlemen went downstairs.

“Well,” said Eustace, with a sigh of relief, as they walked down Park
Lane, “I must candidly confess I hate ‘At Homes.”

“Oh, no,” replied Otterburn, with his mind full of Victoria, “they’re
very jolly.”

“Oh, for the freshness of youth!” sighed Gartney, looking at the
bright face of his companion. “Guy, what is your opinion?”

“What about?” asked Errington, rousing himself from a fit of
abstraction. “Mrs. Veilsturm?”

“We were talking about ‘At Homes,'” said Eustace, equably, “but as
you’ve mentioned Mrs. Veilsturm, what is your opinion on that lady?”

“She’s very pleasant, but rather overpowering,” was Errington’s
verdict.

“And that’s her reward for devoting the whole afternoon to you–‘Oh,
the ingratitude of man!'”

“She’s not a woman I would fall in love with,” said Otterburn, with an
air of having settled the question.

“Nor I,” echoed Sir Guy, so very resolutely that Eustace knew at once
he was doubtful of his own strength of will.

“Self righteous Pharisees, both,” he said scoffingly, “you talk
bravely, but if Cleopatra put forth her strength she could twist you
both round her finger.”