Tales of College Life/A Long-Vacation Vigil/Chapter 2
WHICH INTRODUCES THE HEROINE.
One afternoon, when Nelly and I were returning to the hotel to dinner, from a long ramble over the cliffs, a travelling carriage and four dashed by us. Who could it be? Westcliffe was a very quiet little place, and a carriage and four was not an every-day arrival. "And how strange," said my sister, "there is neither maid nor footman in the rumble;" and, as it went by us, I looked for the coat of arms (Nelly is great in heraldry), and they had evidently been painted out. "Whom can the carriage belong to?"
"Most probably to that grey-haired old gentleman, who is just getting out of it," I replied; for the carriage had drawn up at the door of the hotel. By the time that the gentleman had assisted a middle-aged lady to descend, we had approached them (for our private door was next to the public entrance), and I had a full view of the third occupant of the carriage She was a young lady of not more than twenty years of age, with a pale face of rare beauty, to which an air of deep melancholy gave a peculiar charm. As she stepped from the carriage a book dropped from her hand and fell under the wheel. I picked it up and returned it to her. With the old gentleman I interchanged a salutation of hats, with the young lady I interchanged a mere glance. But what will not a glance effect when one is yet a child in the eyes of the law, and when the thermometer is at 90 in the shade? From that moment, I was that young lady's slave.
With another glance, and we had passed side by side into our respective doorways, and I had only the lovely vision of her features to console me. Eating dinner under such circumstances was a mockery and a jest; I went through the ceremony merely as a solemn duty which I owed to custom and to my family. I was glad when I was able to get away on to the beach, and meditate by moonlight on the fair unknown. How her features were impressed on my mind, though I had seen her but for a few seconds! But there are some faces to be met with once or twice in a life-time, which can never be forgotten, but which will rise in all their freshness and beauty before the charmed spell of memory, without any effort or will of our own to call up the several features. And so it was with the lady of my tale. I can see her before me now—"in my mind's eye, Horatio"—as distinctly as I could in my lover's fancy when I walked that night on the sea-beach at Westcliffe, and, according to my wont under great excitement, talked to my Skye-terrier Trap, on the subject that engrossed my thoughts. Trap was my college dog and constant companion—the recipient of all my secrets. If all depositors of secrets made a similarly wise selection in their confidantes, the Mrs. Candours of the world would find a greater part of their occupation gone!
The beach lay shining before me; the sea came dash ing and rolling in with its grand, everlasting music; and I—like Demosthenes shouting his orations to the waves—paced up and down the beach, and, amid the roar of the waters, told all my fancies to Trap. "Wasn't it a face to haunt you in blissful dreams—eh, Trap? Did you ever see such an expression, Trap?—not one of those senseless wax-doll faces, but a calm, pensive look, with a winning gentleness and soft melancholy that reaches your heart at once—does n't it, Trap? It is the sort of melancholy air which leads you to suspect 'that she has never told her love, but let concealment ——' you know the rest, Trap. But, when I picked up the book, did you see the sweet smile that played around her mouth, and lighted up her face with a sunbeam of beauty—did you see that, Trap? And then her eyes! did you ever see such eyes, Trap? such deeply, darkly, beautifully, blue eyes, Trap? Swimming in their own liquid fascinations, Trap!"
My enthusiasm was carrying me rather out of my depth; but Trap wagged his tail, as though he perfectly understood and appreciated my remarks. I therefore continued my poetical metaphor.
"Did you ever see eyes of such a liquid blue? a blue, blue sea, from which the Queen of Love comes forth to dower you with all her charms, Trap? What sea-nymph ever had such cerulean eyes, Trap? What Nereid, what dweller in the coral caves beneath this wide-resounding sea"——
My soliloquy is disturbed by a gentleman, who suddenly, and to my vast surprise, emerges from the very midst of the waves, and announces himself to be—not Neptune, or even a Nereid—but a shrimper! In the most unromantic and offensive way, he suggests that shrimps and prawns form an excellent appendage to a well-regulated breakfast-table; and further hints that he—he, the disturber of my solitude, and soliloquy—by name, Tom Barr, but familiarly known as Old Barnacles, will feel it a honour to wait upon a party as smokes such good tobaccer. Of course, I give him a cigar, and an order for the family breakfast; by which time, as my weed is nearly out, and my chain of ideas has been rudely snapt, I return, in a ghostlike, dreamy way, back to the hotel.
"To-morrow," I thought, "I shall see her!" and, comforted by this pleasing thought, I turned off to bed.