THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A LOYE STORY. ( Continued. ) “I say, old fellow,” said Frederick Burnet one afternoon as they were pulling about the bay in a four-oar, “I believe the gorgeous Clara is actually smitten •with you. I never saw her take such evident interest in a fellow before. She absolutely mopes when you are not present, and lights up when you appear, like—like ” “Fusees, Fred: you are generally staggered at metaphors. Or say lucifers, if you prefer it. ” “Talking of Lucifer,” said Burnet, “ you never saw Clara thoroughly in a rage, Golding. Somehow I think she has softened down, and got more lamb-like within the last week or two. I wonder if she would take to you ? You ought to go in at once, and try.” Golding made no reply; and they came upon the coast-guardsman. This coast-guardsman was quite an institution at Clevedown, as solid and as invariable in his way as Cleve Cliff. Stationed in front of an arrangement of flagstaffs which resembled the mast and tackling of a ship, or else marching up and down a line of planks, which was to him as the quarter-deck, from which he from time to time threw a distrustful glance at the ccem, he presented a figure with which the visitors at Clevedown were familiar. They would often stop and speak with him, and take a look-out through the telescope from which he was never dissociated; though they never hy chance succeeded in discovering anything by that dubious medium. In fact, the impossibility of making any object out by means of that telescope afforded to ignorant landsmen a clue to the habitual moodiness of the coast-guardsman. It was generally believed by the Clevedown visitors that no mortal soul had penetrated the haziness of that telescope, not even himself, but that he was pledged to maintain its character before the world, and the necessity of guarding so solemn a secret affected him with chronic depression. Anyway, he was a taciturn, irreconcilable man; one not to be won over to confidences ; one who would never acquiesce in any statement, however self-evi-dent, without opposing it first with a flat contradiction. “ Keeping a sharp look-out. Jack, eh ?” said Burnet in passing. “ No, sir,” returned the obstinate coastguardsman, “ I can’t say I am. I’m doing my duty. That’s what I’m doing. ” He shut up his telescope with an air which plainly said, “Tortures shall not wring from me the confession that this instrument is an awful imposition.” “ And that duty is to look after the other duty—the national duty—the revenue. And very proper too, Jack; you’re a patriot. Have a pull 1” The coast-guardsman relaxed in griraness at the sight of the proffered pocketpistol. He even accepted it without qualification. “ Anything stirring?” asked Arthur. “ No, sir,” said th . coast-guardsman. “ There’s been a suspicious-looking craft cruising about, and Slippy Jem is not to be found. But we’ve got our eye on him, for all he’s so ’cute. ”
Slippy Jem, a gentleman suspected of being engaged in the smuggling way, was, like the celebrated telescope, a source of profound uneasiness to the coast-guards-man. He had hitherto been cautious enough to keep clear of direct implicatisn with any smuggling transaction, though not of suspicion. This extreme wariness on Slippy Jem’s part was ai other reputed cause of the officer’s depression. “ Desperate villains, smugglers, arn’t they, Jack ! ” observed Burnet. “ Oh, they’re not desperate,” answered Jack contemptuously. “ Lord bless you, they’re not game enough to be desperate —at least not on this coast. Dp Kent way they show a little fight now and then, but here they haven’t the spirit of a tom cat. Why only about ten weeks ago, my mate came on a party of about twenty of ’em, running brandy. They had landed on the rocks out yonder, at night (it was precious dark), and they were hauling the casks with ropes up the cliff. When they caught sight of my mate, down they let the casks and was off in a jiffy. He’s less than me and I ain’t a big man, but he was enough for twenty of that sort. And Slippy Jem, he’s a nice fellow to call a smuggler, I don’t think. If he’d only come out and show himself, I’d know where to have him, But will he come out ? ” continued the coast-guardsman, in a tone of profound disgust. “Ko he won’t.”
This obstinate spirit on the part of Slippy Jem so affected the coast-guards-man, that there was evidently nothing more to be had out of him. The two young men walked up the down towards the house.
“ I wonder what light would come into those eyes if I made love to her,” thought Arthur, with his mind on Clara ; “ whether they would soften now. Gad ! I shouldn’t go into raptures if they did— I don’t care for her • enough, in spite of her beauty. Still, I should like to try, as an experiment in natural history.” He sought her out that evening, and altered his manner towards her. Hitherto sarcastic and indifferent almost to rudeness, he now adopted a gentler—even a tender tone. The change in him threw her into an almost childish delight. Her old enemy was at last striking his colours. Delicately, and with insiduous approaches, he narrowed his entrenchments, nearing the citadel day by day, until he knew that a sudden assault would carry it. As yet he had never told Clara Wraxall that he loved her, but he allowed her to infer it in a hundred nameless ways ; and in as many more he knew that she loved him. The inference left her very happy, and somewhat in a softer mood—certainly softer towards him. And he ? Weil, he was not in love with her as yet, though the unspoken love-making gratified him with the pride which conquest brings. They now spent most of their time together. The househould at the Burnets said they were engaged. Arthur and Clara said nothing. Three or four weeks went in this pleasant manner, when an arrival aroused Arthur Golding to a sense of “his goings on. ” One day Burnet said—- “ Golding, I’m soiry I shall have to leave you to-morrow ; but don’t let that hurry your departure. I’ve promised to look after some business for my father in Scotland, and must start at once. By-the-bye, some cousins of ours are coming to-morrow, so you'll be consoled for the loss of one in the family circle. I commend Kate Burnet to your special attention, she is a nice little girl. But I forgot; you’re taken up already with the magnificent Clara. ” Next day the cousins arrived : the said Kate, her brother Edward, a lad of nineteen, and a mamma, a lady so aged and stiff-limbed that she seemed to have been excavated from some geological formation. A very short space of intercourse with the new-comers taught Arthur Golding two important facts. The first was that the youth Edward was as hopelessly and insanely in love with Clara Wraxall as a young man of his age generally is with somebody older than himself; the second was that Kate Burnet was a pretty, gentle girl, whom it would be quite possible to like very much at first sight, and love very much ever after. And then he fell suddenly and strangely in love with her. he could not tell how it happened, he could not reason on the matter at all ; he simply tumbled down a kind of amatory abyss, and came to consciousness when he was at the bottom.
Ho had not interchanged many words with her, and he had been flirting desperately w.th Clara ; yet here he was at the end of it—all but engaged to Clara, and in love with Kate. He took himself to task severely, mentally shook himself, and metaphorically boxed his own ears for a senseless noodle. It was all to no purpose. He did not like Clara a bit, and he ..oved Miss Burnet to adoration.
He watched that silly young Edward flutter round his goddess, and internally wished he could consign her, a human cargo, to Edward’s care, freight and imposts paid. He was afraid of Clara now, afraid lest she should discover the true state of his heart. Not for himself he feared, but for Kate. He could not say what that passionate natvlre might dare against a successful rival. He would pat an end to her hopes at all events by withdrawing himself. He had never declared his love ; it was only a mild flirtation, nothing more. Of what, then, could she complain ? It was a well-meant but a wrong-headed resolution, viewing the woman with whom he had to deal ; and again he blundered in trusting io his own nature. True, he could withdraw himself from Clara’s society, but it was not so easy to keep out of Kate’s way. The “ metal more attractive ” exerted a fatal influence over him. School himself how he would, he found himself irresitibly impelled to Kate’s side. He might have put an end to this conflict for ever by leaving Clevedown. He was a free agent, of course. But then what man in love is a free agent ? Thus he lingered on, and the days sped by, and Clara Wraxall, he could see, was brooding over his altered manner. She had tried various little arts to win him back ; she had even endeavored to excite his jealousy by flirting with the infatuated Edward, transporting that youth to the seventh heaven, from which she soon precipitated him by comparing him disadvantageously with Mr. Golding. From that moment the young lover hated Arthur with a devouring, jealous hatred. Not altogether in idle purpose had she struck this chord in her young lover’s breast. For the slight which she felt Arthur had offered her had grown with brooding over it into an insult, and Clara was one of those women whom it is not safe to insult. She had already conceived the wish to do him a sudden and deadly injury, for she knew she was supplanted. Once or twice the temptation had occured to her to wreak some evil on Kate, but she rejected that thought as impracticable. “It would only turn his liking for her into love,” thought Clara, “ if he thought she had suffered for his sake. Besides, my quarrel is not with that poor doll, it is with him. I would rather he suffered if any one. ” And then, with a somewhat vague purpose, though it pointed to one end—namely, the design of dealing him a blow, though how or when she could not determine—she bethought herself of the plan to secure an instrument for herself and an enemy to Arthur in her young lover Edward. One morning the family were discussing over the breakfast table the particulars of a tragedy recorded in the newspapers. A woman of the lower order, stung by jealousy, had stabbed to the heart the mistress of her husband and had been put on her trial for murder. Mr. Burnet was laying down his opinion that the accused would escape with penal servitude, having received such strong provocation. “ She was a fool ” burst out Clara, her eyes lighting ; “ she should have killed her husband ; that would have been the fuller revenge. Did she think to hurt him by destroying his paramour ? Why, even though she had done it with impunity, what would have been the result? That he would have forgotten his loss in a month and taken another. It is the nature of men to sin, and to wrong, and to forget. The coward—the mean dastard ! she should have stabbed him.”
“Hallo, Clara,” exclaimed Mr. Burnet, opening his eyes, “we shall have you coming out in the tragic line next—a Medea of the nineteenth century.”
She rose from the table, leaving Arthur decidedly uncomfortable, and walked dowT to the beach, her passionate spirit on fire. Walking fiercely onward, she came on the coast-guardsman. (to be continued.)
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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 99, 13 May 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 99, 13 May 1880
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