THE EVENTS OF EIGHTEEN MONTHS

“Time flies onward with tireless wings.
Divers gifts to us all he brings,
Joy and sorrow
On every morrow,
A thousand pleasures, a thousand stings.

“Love he hath brought to a maiden fair,
Hate hath sundered a loving pair,
Gauds that glitter,
And memories bitter,
Each of us born hath his fated share.

“Life is evil, the wise man saith.
Joy comes but at the last-drawn breath,
Earth’s false pleasures
Yield no treasures,
There is no gift like the gift of death.”

Perhaps it is due to the way we live now, or possibly to the inherent
restlessness of the present generation, but Time certainly seems to
pass more rapidly with us than it did with our grandfathers.

They lived in a delightfully leisurely fashion, not without its charm,
and either stayed complacently at home, or, if they did travel, went
in a sober-sides mode by stage coach and sailing vessel. If they did
make a journey through Europe, it was called a Grand Tour, and seemed
to have been somewhat after the style of a royal progress, Judging
from the stately manner in which it was conducted. Ah, there is, no
doubt, our steady-going ancestors knew the value of being idle, an art
which we have quite lost, and took life in a wonderfully sedate way,
sauntering, as it were, in an idle fashion, from the cradle to the
grave.

We, alas, have changed this somnolent existence, and made the latter
end of this nineteenth century somewhat trying to a man whose health
is not of the best, or to him who desires to shine among his fellow
creatures. The struggle for existence is keener, the survival of the
fittest more certain than ever, and the art of enjoyment has resolved
itself into a series of hurried glances at a multiplicity of things.

If we want to travel, steam whirls us from one end of the world to the
other, giving us no time to examine things; if we wish to read,
hundreds of books, fresh from the press, call for attention; if we
desire to enjoy ourselves, theatres, balls, picture galleries, all
offer their attractions in such profusion, that it is difficult to
know where to begin. We have gained many aids to enjoyment, yet it is
questionable if those very aids have not lost us the faculty itself;
for a breathless scamper after pleasure, with a hurried glance here,
and a momentary pause there, can hardly be called true enjoyment. The
world, and we who live therein, are so busy getting things in order
for the beginning of the next century, that all hands are pressed into
the service, and no one has a moment to be idle, or to admire the
profusion of good things spread before him.

Therefore, amid all this hurry and bustle, Time flies much more
quickly than formerly; our ancestors yawned through twelve hours of
leisurely work, we scarcely find twenty-four long enough for all we
want to do. We eat, drink, marry, and give in marriage, welcome the
newly born, and forget the newly dead, with the utmost despatch and
rapidity, and no sooner is one year, with all its troubles and
breathless enjoyment, at an end, than we have mapped out the cares of
the next twelve months before they are fairly started.

Eighteen months had, therefore, passed very rapidly since the
Erringtons took possession of the Hall, and a good many important
events, both to nations and individuals, had happened in the meantime.
It was now the middle of the London season, and those who had parted
months before at Como, were now about to meet again under widely
different circumstances.

Victoria Sheldon had duly returned home with Mrs. Trubbles, and taken
up her abode once more with Aunt Jelly, who was privately very glad to
see her, although she took good care that the girl should not know of
such weakness on her part. She asked Victoria a good many questions
concerning the people she had met abroad, and particularly about
Otterburn, of whom Miss Sheldon gave an account quite at variance with
the real state of affairs, carefully suppressing the fact that the
young man had proposed and been refused. In fact, she passed over her
acquaintance with him so very lightly, that she succeeded in deceiving
lynx-eyed Miss Corbin as to her feelings towards him, and never, by
word or deed, hinted that he had any interest for her in any way.

But although she might deceive the world, she could not deceive
herself, and in reality she thought a good deal about the man she had
rejected, regretting, with the curious caprice of a woman, that she
had done so. The manner in which he had received her refusal had
greatly impressed her, for it differed greatly from the behaviour of
her other suitors, and if Angus had only asked her again a few months
after her arrival in England, he would doubtless have gained her
consent to the marriage.

Otterburn, however, had been deeply wounded at what he deemed her
unjustifiable coquetry, and being intensely proud, resolved not to
submit himself to a second slight, therefore kept out of her way. If
some kind fairy had only brought these two foolish young people
together, everything would doubtless have been arranged in a
satisfactory manner between them, but as such aid was not forthcoming,
seeing we live in times when Oberon has resigned his sceptre, they
remained apart, each in ignorance of the other’s feelings, and
mutually blamed one another for the position of affairs.

Absence, in this case, made Victoria’s heart grow fonder, and she felt
that she was really and truly in love with Angus, but as she neither
saw nor heard of him, she had to lock up her secret in her own breast,
which did not add to the pleasures of life.

At the invitation of Lady Errington, she went down to the Hall at
Christmas, and had a very pleasant time, despite her heart-ache, as
her hostess made a great deal of her, and the young Nimrods of the
county quite lost their heads over “Such a jolly girl who rode so
straight to hounds, taking the fences like a bird, by Jove.” She could
have been married three or four times had she so chosen, but neither
her suitors nor their possession of houses and lands tempted her, so
she returned to town and Aunt Jelly still heart-whole, except as
regarding the little affair of Angus Macjean.

During the season she kept a keen look-out for him at all the places
she went to under the wing of Mrs. Trubbles, but Otterburn did not
make his appearance, and it was only by chance that she heard he had
gone to America for some big game shooting in the Rockies. Evidently
there was no chance of his proposing a second time, and Victoria
should have put all thought of his doing so out of her heart, but she
felt that she loved him too much to do so, and hugged her secret with
all its pain closer to her breast, until she grew pale and thin, so
that Aunt Jelly became alarmed about her lungs, thinking she was going
into consumption. With this idea the old lady, who hated change, took
a villa at San Remo and stayed there for some months with Victoria and
Minnie Pelch. The change did both girls good, and when the trio
returned to Town, Aunt Jelly took Victoria a round of visits to
several country houses, which proved so successful that Miss Sheldon
quite recovered her lost spirits and came back to London eager for the
pleasures of her third season in the great city.

While Victoria was thus paying the penalty of her prompt rejection of
Otterburn’s suit, that young gentleman was having by no means a
pleasant time of it himself. The shooting expedition to the
Carpathians had been a great success, and the excitement of sport had
for the time quite put Victoria out of his head, notwithstanding the
genuine love he had for the brilliant Australian beauty. Returned to
England, however, he found his thoughts constantly running on her, and
with her piquant face constantly in his mind he felt inclined to seek
her and try his luck a second time, but his pride forbade him to do
so, which was certainly a very foolish view to take of the subject.

Angus, however, was remarkably obstinate in some things, and, as he
was determined not to run the chance of a second refusal, put himself
out of the way of temptation by going up to Scotland on a visit to his
father, thinking that at Dunkeld Castle, at least, he would have peace
of mind. He was mistaken in this supposition, for his father, being
delighted to find him so improved, immediately urged on him the
necessity of a speedy marriage with Miss Cranstoun.

The Master, however, to his father’s dismay, proved very obstinate on
this point and flatly refused to marry the lady, which refusal brought
down on him the wrath of both Lord Dunkeld and Mr. Mactab, who tried
to bully the young reprobate into acquiescence. Plain-looking Miss
Cranstoun, however, proved too much for Otterburn, seeing that the
charming face of Victoria Sheldon was constantly haunting his fancy,
and notwithstanding all the arts which were brought to bear on him, he
held out against the match in the most stubborn manner.

Lord Dunkeld raved, and Mactab quoted Scripture, all to no purpose,
and at length, becoming weary of dour looks and continual lectures,
Otterburn abruptly left his ancestral home in company with Johnnie,
and, together with the chum whom he had met in Venice, started for
America in order to have some sport in the Rocky Mountains. The wrath
of the home authorities at this unexpected revolt of the hitherto
obedient Angus can be better imagined than described, but as there
seemed to be absolutely no way of bringing the young man to reason,
they were forced to let him do as he pleased. For very shame Lord
Dunkeld could not cut off the allowance of his only son, so he had to
acquiesce in impotent anger in Otterburn’s disobedience, hoping that a
lengthened tour in America would bring the young prodigal to reason
and induce him to return to Dunkeld Castle and matrimony.

Submission such as this, however, was very far from Otterburn’s
thoughts, as he had made up his mind not to marry Miss Cranstoun, and
moreover considered he was perfectly entitled to choose his own wife,
seeing it was he who would have to live with her, so he went off to
the States with a light heart. His adventures and that of his friends
would take a long time to describe, as they had a splendid time of it
in the Rockies after big game, and becoming quite enamoured of the
uncivilized life drifted down Montana way, where they met with
cow-boys and plenty of young Englishmen who were cattle ranching in
the wilds.

During this wild existence, which had such an ineffable charm for
them, Otterburn told his chum, a merry young fellow called Laxton, of
his admiration for Victoria, whereupon Laxton, being versed in affairs
of the heart, lectured his friend and advised him to once more try his
luck.

“And I’ll lay two dollars,” said this sagacious young man, who had
Americanised his speech, “that she won’t say ‘no’ a second time.”

With this idea in his head, Otterburn became anxious to return home,
and Laxton, being somewhat tired of primeval simplicity, consented to
leave the wide rolling prairies for the delights of Pall Mall. Laxton
wanted to return in a leisurely fashion by making for San Francisco
and going home again by New Zealand and Australia, but then he was
heart-whole and had not the vision of a charming face constantly in
his mind’s eye. This fact being urged by Otterburn as an argument in
favour of taking the shortest route possible to London, Laxton, being
really a good-natured young fellow, consented, and leaving their
delightfully savage life behind they went to New York. After a few
days’ stay in that city they went across to Liverpool by one of the
big Cunarders, and duly arrived after a pleasant passage.

Laxton went off to see his people in Yorkshire, but Otterburn did not
venture to trust himself within the grim walls of Dunkeld Castle, well
knowing the stormy reception he would meet with, so journeyed straight
to the Metropolis, where he engaged a comfortable set of chambers in
the neighbourhood of Piccadilly, and started on his matrimonial
campaign with a dogged determination to succeed in winning Victoria
Sheldon for his wife, or, in case of failure, to depart for an
uninhabited island and live a Robinson Crusoe misogamistic existence
till he died.

Many events had happened in the Errington household since the young
couple had arrived at the Hall, the most important being the birth of
a little boy, which had greatly rejoiced Guy’s heart, as he now had an
heir to succeed to the estates. Aunt Jelly also signified her approval
in her own grim way, and actually stood godmother to the child, whom
she insisted on christening Henry, after her old love, Sheldon,
although no one knew or guessed her reason for doing so.

Eustace Gartney had been right in his estimate of Alizon’s character,
for the birth of the child transformed her from a cold statue into a
loving, breathing woman, rendered perfect by her motherhood. No one
who saw her, with her delicate face flushed with joy bending over the
cradle of the child, would have thought it was the same woman who had
been so chill and impassive in her appearance and demeanour. The cold,
white snow-drop had changed into the warm, red rose, and the
passionate idolatry she had for the child seemed to fill out and
complete her life, hitherto so void and empty for the want of
something to love.

Guy adored his little son, to whom, for some inexplicable reason, he
gave the name of “Sammy,” and laughingly averred that Alizon bestowed
so much love on the son that she had none left for the father, which
assertion his wife smilingly denied, though it was true in the main.
Lady Errington gave up going out a great deal, devoting herself
entirely to the child, so Guy was left to a great extent to himself,
which he by no means relished; yet he made no complaint, as it would
have seemed ridiculous to blame a mother for being over fond of her
first born. Still, Guy felt a little sore on this point, and much as
he had desired an heir and loved his son, he almost wished the child
had never been born, so much did it seem to come between them. Had
Alizon been a wise woman, she would have seen the folly of loving her
child to the exclusion of her husband, but blinded by maternal love
she neither saw nor felt anything that did not pertain to the tiny
babe she clasped so ardently to her breast.

Mrs. Veilsturm made no further attempt to force her friendship on Lady
Errington, but shortly after the rebuff she had received–the
knowledge of which she kept to herself–departed for a trip on the
Continent, which, for her, meant Monte Carlo, where she was afterwards
joined in the most casual way by Major Griff. The partners were too
clever to travel together, as it might have attracted attention, but
when one was at any special place the other was sure to turn up a few
weeks later on business connected with the West Indian estates. So on
her return to England for the season, Mrs. Veilsturm told her dear
friends that she had sold one estate, although, as a matter of fact,
the money she averred she had received therefor was due to luck at the
green tables.

Cleopatra and her friend were much more circumspect in their second
season in London. They did not wish to run the risk of any more
disagreeable reports, and as their winnings at Monte Carlo had been
very large the firm was enabled to dispense, to some extent, with
baccarat on Sunday evenings. Mrs. Veilsturm fully re-established her
position in London, and the Major was more devoted than ever, so the
charming widow departed for her health to Algiers with the good wishes
of everyone.

“Next year, Maraquita,” said the Major in a satisfied tone, as they
discussed their plans in a pleasant room looking out on to the blue
waters of the Mediterranean, “we will go in for making money and then
we can go off to America.”

“I don’t like giving up London,” objected Mrs. Veilsturm angrily.

“You must, sooner or later,” replied Major Griff shrewdly. “However,
we will get together as much cash next season as we can, and if no one
says anything so much the better, if they do–well, there is always
America.”

At the end of this eighteen months Eustace Gartney returned to Town,
having heralded his appearance by a book of travels entitled “Arabian
Knights,” in which he described all his wanderings in the native land
of Mahomet. Judging from the brilliant descriptions given in this book
with its bizarre title, he seemed to have made good use of his time,
and the fascinating pages of the volume opened an enchanted land to
Western readers. The mysterious deserts with their romantic
inhabitants, the lonely cities far in the interior, whose very names
were suggestive of the fantastic stories of the “Thousand and One
Nights,” the poetic descriptions of the melancholy wastes of sand,
whose sadness seemed akin to his own sombre spirit, and the wayward
fierceness of the Arab love-songs scattered like gems through the book
all made up a charming volume, and even the critics, much as they
disliked Eustace for the contempt and indifference with which he
treated them, were fain to acknowledge that this “Arabian Knights,”
whose punning title they ridiculed, was a worthy addition to English
literature.

Eustace himself, in spite of the wide interval of time which had
elapsed, was now returning to England in very much the same frame of
mind as that in which he had set out. He had gone away to forget
Alizon Errington, and he came back more in love than ever, not with
the real woman exactly but with an ideal woman whom he had created out
of her personality. He was in love with a phantom of delight, conjured
up by his vivid imagination, and fancied that she dwelt on earth in
the guise of his cousin’s wife, but, having still some feelings of
honour left, he determined to avoid the earthly representation of his
ideal, as he hardly judged himself strong enough to withstand the
temptation.

With his usual egotistical complacency–a trait which all his
travelling had failed to eradicate–he never for a moment thought of
looking at the question from Lady Errington’s point of view. He was
Sultan, and if he threw the handkerchief she would follow, so he would
be merciful both to this woman and to her husband, and put a curb on
his desire to take her to himself. He came back to England it is true,
but with the resolve only to stay a month, and then go to Egypt, as he
had an idea of exploring the land of the Pharoahs in a new direction.

He loved Alizon Errington, or rather the glorified Alizon Errington of
his imagination, and determined neither to see nor speak to her while
in England, because he did not wish to ruin Guy’s happiness. He heard
she was a mother, and wondered if the change he had prophesied at Como
had come over her. If so he would like to see it for himself; still
the flesh was weak, and he did not know but that he might be tempted
to make love to her, which would be distinctly wrong.

So Eustace Gartney, blinded by self-complacency, prosed on to himself
as he travelled homeward in one of the Orient steamers, and the
curious part of it was that he actually believed that he was talking
sense. A few sharp words from a sensible man or woman might have
dispelled his visions of being an irresistible lover and have shown
him that Lady Errington was not likely to give up everything for the
sake of a man she cared nothing about; but Eustace made a confidant of
no one, and, absorbed in his ridiculous dreamings, deemed himself
quite a hero for resisting a dishonourable impulse, which, had he
given way to it, would certainly have resulted in a manner vastly
different to that which he anticipated.

So the puppets were all on the stage, and it only remained for Fate in
the guise of a showman to move them hither and thither according to
their several destinies.