“ My own fancy for gypsydom is faint and feeble compared to what I have found in many others. It is in them like the love for opium, for music, for love itself. ”
CHARLES S. LELAND.
“ CAN’T you do anything with him, Mr. Dexter ? ”
Lady Mary laid an emphasis on the personal pronoun, as she made this appeal.
I felt slightly embarrassed.
“ I confess I don’t see exactly how, Lady Mary,” I answered.
Lady Mary sighed, and fanned herself for a moment.
“ The Powers always have been odd,” she went on. “ My husband was, — especially during his youth; but not to the degree that Alfred is.” She shuddered slightly. “ Mr. Dexter, he is the most contrary creature that ever lived. There’s no pleasing him.”
“ He pleases himself very easily,” I suggested. But my suggestion was not received with favor. The corners of Lady Mary’s mouth drooped a little more than usual.
“ In what a way ! ” she exclaimed. “ Like a tramp ! ” She spoke with more energy. “ Mr. Dexter, you have been four years at Oxford with my son. You fancy you know him. Perhaps you do, but you don’t know the family as I do.”
Naturally I assented.
“ They have enthusiasms, but they die out. Alfred fancies he could live contentedly as a Colorado miner, an Australian bush-boy, a gypsy.” She paused scornfully. “ You know how he talks. You have heard him a thousand times. It is not true ; he would tire of it. He says the over-civilization of our time wearies him; he wishes to get closer to nature. But sooner or later he would long for his clubs, his library, and a social life among his own people. Feeling this, I live in terror of his doing something extraordinary.”
Lady Mary was a clever woman. The Powers were poor. She had only one son, and from her point of view I could not but feel sorry for her.
She leaned back in her easy-chair, and slowly fanned herself again with her large fan of pale pink feathers. The scent of the flowers in the long boxes at the base of the open French windows filled the drawing-room. The lamplight was mellowed to the most soothing tone by silk and Eastern embroidered shades. The low, easy furniture, covered with chintz of a largely decorative pattern of roses, gave the room the summery tone possessed by certain London drawingrooms.
Portland Place is a quiet enough neighborhood just after dinner on a May evening. Only the sound of a street-band playing an air from Trovatore, a square or so distant, broke the silence. I looked at Lady Mary, hardly knowing what I was expected to say. She was a handsome woman, of the fair, large English type, that shows age but little. Her hair was doubtless as yellow as it had been when she was a girl, and the pink in her cheeks was of as faultless a shade as that of the feathers of her fan. Her upper teeth projected slightly; her nose and eyebrows had a high-shouldered look, if the simile is permissible ; around her mouth were fine lines, drawn by long habits of conventionality in all things ; out of her calm blue eyes looked firm, unchanging British prejudice. I began to wonder why Colonel Power had married Lady Mary Guise, and to sympathize with Alfred, who was “ exactly like the Powers.”
“If you were not going back to America,” continued Lady Mary, “ I should beg you to use your influence with Alfred.
But when you are with him, you will try to make him see how disastrous his course will be to his future, won’t you, Mr. Dexter ? ”
Lady Mary leaned forward, and laid the pink feather fan on my arm. It was hardly a human touch, and it had no compelling force ; but there was an actual gleam of tears in her eyes that moved me.
“ Yes, Lady Mary,” I said imprudently.
She allowed the fan to slip from her hand, and took mine in it.
“ Oh, thank you, Mr. Dexter,” she cried. “ I trust you, and I shall feel so happy whenever you and Alfred are together.”
It was a relief when the footman came in with the coffee.
Alfred Power was a striking example of the general truth that if an Englishman is eccentric, he is apt to be more eccentric than a man of any other nationality. If his blood is pure, his peculiarities will be more marked. They will run in deeper grooves, and be more fixed by heredity and less trammeled by the fear of public opinion. Alfred had a thousand whims and fancies, bounded and controlled by several strong tastes, — music, a sort of gentlemanly vagabondism, and a talent for languages. He played the violin uncommonly well; had penetrated, often on foot, to the most untraveled corners of Europe; and spoke a dozen languages and curious patois, among them the language of the gypsies. He had not learned these dialects from books, but picked them up from the peasants and gypsies themselves. These people trusted him with a sort of instinct.
Every Oxford long vacation he went on what he called a tramp, and there was hardly a gypsy family in England or Wales that did not know him. When he started on one of these expeditions, I confess I used to share Lady Mary’s doubts as to his reappearance in Oxford at the commencement of the autumn term.
Later during the evening of my conversation with Lady Mary, I spent an hour in Alfred’s “ den,” at the top of the house. He had taken off his dresscoat, and put on a gayly striped smoking-coat, a reminiscence of Oxford days. He smoked his accustomed little brown pipe, and, as the windows were open, he wore a Turkish fez, which sat admirably on his rough curly hair. Two bullterriers and a setter, his constant companions, came snuffing and fawning up to me. Alfred was bending over a table, mounting some photographs which he had taken himself during the last vacation. The bare little room was littered with a curious mixture of sheetmusic, books, and firearms; his violin case lay on a table, and an odor of chemicals pervaded the atmosphere. The contrast between this place and the well-ordered drawing-room which I had left struck me with sudden amusement. I laughed almost unconsciously. Alfred looked at me with a sympathetic smile.
“ What’s up ? ” he asked amicably.
“ Nothing,” I said. “ I’ve been talking to your mother.”
“ Humph,” said Alfred. He went on carefully pressing the photograph on the piece of cardboard that lay on the table. Then he looked at me humorously. “ At present,” he said, holding his pipe between his teeth, “ the mater’s desperately afraid I’m going to make an unfortunate mésalliance.” He caught his mother’s accent and tone to perfection. “ Do set her mind at rest on that score, Dexter. I don’t get on well with women. All I want is to be allowed to breathe.” He shook his head a little, straightened himself, and clasped his hands behind him, as if to stretch his cramped muscles, — a strong, unconventional figure. His unconventionality lay deeper, however, than any outside eccentricity of dress. It was in his character, and was evidenced by the turn of his head, the unconscious freedom of his glance and gestures, and his manifested indifference to the opinion of the world where his own sense of honor approved his action. He continued to mount his photographs, and I looked at those which lay on the table.
They were chiefly landscapes; many were transcripts of familiar scenes, and some of such curiously wild spots that I wondered how a camera had been transported to their neighborhood. As I turned them over, I came upon several photographs of gypsies, cleverly grouped, with a background of tents or trees.
“ How did you get them to sit for you ? ” I asked.
“ Talking Romany, and a shilling or two goes a long way with gypsies,” said Alfred. “ They trust me, and know that I’m not going to show them up to the sheriff or the illustrated papers.” He came and looked over my shoulder at the dark, wild faces. “ Ah ! they were a hard crew, those.” He laughed in amused recollection. “ As thorough-going scamps and pure-blooded Romanys as ever lived. Lees, of Berkshire, — clever dogs ! I was with them for two weeks, three years ago. What days those were ! You don’t know what England is in June, old man, till you tramp it; above all with gypsies.”
The next four or five photographs were of a child, or rather young girl of fourteen or fifteen. Alfred had taken her in every position: running ; standing, with her hand shading her eyes; on tip-toe, reaching up to a pendant branch of pear-blossoms ; kneeling, with her hair partly falling over her face, warming her hands over the embers of a camp-fire. The lines of the child’s figure fascinated me. They were full of exquisite, untamed grace. Her deep, shadowy eyes had the true gypsy gleam.
“ Who is it ? ” I asked.
“ Regina Lee, a little gypsy girl. The wildest creature and the purest specimen of the true Romany that I have ever seen.”
“ Did she sit for you ? ”
Alfred laughed. “ No, indeed. I took her on the wing. She never knew it, or I could not have persuaded her to get within the focus of my lens.” He picked up one of the photographs. “ Look at those lines,” he said, almost fondly. “See the arch of her head, the straightness of her throat, the way her head is set on her shoulders. Find me the child of a duchess that is half as queenly.”
He was quite on fire with artistic enthusiasm as he spoke.
“ And yet, like the rest of her race, a little thief and liar, I suppose.”
Alfred shrugged his shoulders. “ Perhaps,” he answered; “ she was the cleverest and deepest of them all! But the inner morality of such a child might be high, even though she might help her father steal a chicken, and deny any knowledge of. the affair, if she were questioned afterward. That sort of thing is part of their code. They are taught it from their babyhood. But they have their own ideas of honor, and uncompromising ones, too. You know there’s no honor like that ‘ among thieves.’ Regina was like a young hawk. It positively made me breathe freer to look at her; and she was too young to be conscious of her beauty.”
Alfred’s rhapsody was stopped by the appearance of the footman at the door.
“ If you please, Mr. Power, Lady Mary would like to see the gentlemen in the drawing-room for awhile.”
We went down to the drawing-room and to Lady Mary.
I left for America soon after my visit to the Powers, and it was two years before I saw England again.
I had been practicing law in New York, and in spite of summer trips to Mount Desert or Newport I felt a passionate longing for the Old World. The struggle without permanent achievement, the crudity without simplicity, of American life wore on my nerves and patience. They said I was ill. “Change of air,” suggested one of my friends. “ Go to the Yellowstone,” said another. “ No, to California.” But to all my heart said “ England.” I felt that the sight of a quiet English meadow, a hedgerow and oaks, a gray church, and the smoke from a thatched, ivy-covered cottage curling up into the pale blue sky would rest my body and free my spirit as nothing else would. I panted to stand again within a cathedral, where time and stocks were of no account.
On the steamer life seemed to have stopped with me. I ate, slept, and ceased to think or feel. When I landed, I did not analyze the impulse which made me go south to Winchester, without stopping. I had a charmed recollection of a certain George Inn, built around a square court, — an inn where they brought one tea in old-fashioned silver pots, marked “George Inn.” The venerable street, with its carved stone gateways and the last remains of the walls of the ancient city, also lingered in my mind. The very touch of the air in the cathedral, heavy with the past, and the fresh green of the avenue of trees that led to its portals were still with me.
It was evening when I arrived at the inn. After my supper I hung out of the window, and watched the old street below. It was a market night. The street was brightly lighted, and was crowded with country people, who had come to town to buy and sell. Winchester is a garrison town, and scarlet-coated soldiers dotted the dark crowd. The windows of the next room looked out on the dimly lighted court, where the hostlers and soldiers lounged and chatted. America became as though it existed not. I was in England again. I thought of Alfred Power, and longed for him. I had written to himof my arrival, hut no answer had reached me.
The next day I haunted the cathedral. My being was saturated, so to speak, with the cool gray light of its immeasurable aisles. The choral service began and ended ; the white choristers rustled across the choir and disappeared. Still I lingered. My spirit was lost in the lacy traceries of the white carving of the choir-screen. I stood by the tomb of Cardinal Beaufort, and half envied the magnificent old prelate. If one must die, it seemed compensation to lie in state in such a tomb; of stone so delicately and elaborately carved as to appear like wrought ivory. At last a shadowy old verger warned me that it was time to go.
The next morning was the fairest thing in the world, — an English day in early June. I left the town, and struck across the meadows to the hospital of St. Cross. I passed St. Catherine’s Hill and the old fortifications, and neared the hospital gateway. When I reached it, I saw a man standing before it, and looking up at the statue of Beaufort, which ornaments the gateway. At the first glance I took him for a tramp ; at the second, seeing a small knapsack and a violin case strapped on his back, for a wandering musician, — one of a streetband, perhaps ; at the third I knew him to be Alfred Power. Opportune things sometimes happen without causing surprise. Surprise is a sort of friction, and in our meeting there was none. We began where we had parted, and after our brief explanation we passed through the gateway together. I was struck by his splendid vitality. His sunburned face and the deep clear blue of his eyes showed his vivid health. He seemed to breathe the very atmosphere of the fields.
One of the thirteen poor brethren who still live around the old quadrangle showed us about the place. He told us that he was Brother Peter, and tapped his foot on a slat in the church floor.
“ Brother William is down there,” he said. “ I took his place. I’m eightyfour, gentlemen, and it won’t be very long before I ’m put there, too.”
Alfred shook his head. “ Get them to put you out in the fields,” he said.
“ There the sun will shine on you, and the flowers grow above you.”
Brother Peter laughed. It was a feeble, cracked sound. “ Can’t do that,” he said. " We h’eats their food and lives in their ’ouse ; we’s got to be buried in the church. Besides, what’s the odds ? I could n’t feel the sun.”
“ I could,” said Alfred.
Brother Peter took us into the porter’s lodge, where every day, until noon, all passing pilgrims are served with a horn of ale and a slice of bread. The bread was hard and the ale undrinkable. As a sentimental tourist I managed to swallow mine, but Alfred emptied his ruthlessly in the grass outside of the open door.
“ There’s a libation to old Beaufort, and much good may it do him,” he said, with a grimace. “ It’s the vilest stuff I ever tasted.”
The old men shook their heads reproachfully.
“ It’s all we have,” said Brother Peter, “ and it ain’t right to waste it.”
Alfred tossed them each a half-crown. “ The next time you go in to Winchester, get yourselves some decent beer,” he said.
We left the two old fellows smiling and nodding farewell to us under the gateway.
My meeting with Power altered my plans. It was impossible to withstand his proposal that I should join him in his walking tour through Hampshire and the adjoining counties. The woods and fields tempted me as a mirage in the desert tempts a thirsty traveler.
Our wanderings began that very day. My traps were stored at the George Inn until I should telegraph for them. I bought some clothes — fresh counterparts of Alfred’s travel-worn tweed — and a knapsack, and at five o’clock we had made five miles, and were walking through Hursley. The village clusters around the gates of Hursley Park. The slanting rays of the sun lighted up the short village street, with its velvety grass on either side, and great trees in the first freshness and glory of early summer. We passed the doctor’s house, with its high trimmed hedge and stone wall, and a glimpse of the flower-beds and smooth lawn within, Keble’s church, the park gates, and the deserted lime-pit where the priest-poet used to sit, and perhaps compose his songs that chronicle the Christian year. Then we struck across the fields. As we walked we talked, and bridged over the separation which our letters had only made us realize more fully. I found Power essentially unchanged, but with every peculiarity intensified. After the lack of independence in a certain stratum of New York life, he seemed to me almost primevally natural. His passion for out-door life and distaste for society were stronger than ever.
Our plan was to walk until we were hungry, and then to get our supper and a night’s lodging at Cranbury, or Broomhill, or some one of the little villages near which we passed.
At half past seven the sun’s rays were sending a last golden glory over the land. We were crossing a lonely meadow, hungry and tired. It was pleasant to see smoke curling up above a little patch of wood beyond. The chances were that it was a house; we could get a supper there, and push on to Broomhill. We rounded some shrubbery, and looked for our cottage. Nothing of the sort: only a cluster of round tents, the smoke from a smouldering fire rising slowly above them, and a traveling-van, hung with baskets and tins and other gypsy wares, standing close by.
I glanced at Alfred. A sudden change came over his face, — a subtle flash of pleasure. He said a single word, —
“ Gypsies ! ”
“ What then ? ” I asked.
But Alfred did not answer. He walked rapidly toward the tents, and I followed slowly, half curious, half disgusted. I shared none of Power’s fondness for this special order of vagabond.
When I reached him, he was standing motionless, sheltered by a clump of bushes, his eyes fixed in intent observation. My eyes followed the direction of his. I saw three tents, rain and smoke stained to every shade of dull yellow and brown, the charred clearing where a fire smouldered, the mass of summer foliage, and the meadows of primroses around. Our voices, when we came upon the tents, must have been heard by their inmates, for a girl stood just within the largest tent, holding up the flap with one hand ; with the other she shaded her eyes from the direct, level rays of the sun. We stood and looked at her. In a drawing-room she would have been dazzling, even magnificent. In the doorway of a tent she seemed the embodiment of nature, — not English nature, but Eastern and tropical: tall and slender, with statuesque lips and throat and head, and brown as a nut. She was dressed in a skirt of some dark red stuff, sunburned and faded to a dull, soft richness, and a yellowishbrown waist of coarse calico. A handkerchief, of a yet more faded red, was knotted around her throat. She did not stir a hair’s breadth, but watched and listened. There was something curiously familiar in her attitude and expression.
Alfred suddenly pushed the bushes aside, and moved forward.
“ Greeting, my sister,” he said.
As she heard these words the girl started, and looked wonderingly at Power.
“ Good-day, brother,” she answered, mechanically. Then she raised the flap of the tent higher, and, turning, sent a joyous cry into its shadowy depths: “ Look, my mother! It must be our tall Romany gentleman.”
In another instant we were surrounded by half a dozen as wild-looking gypsies, men and women, as I had ever seen. They poured out of the tent in answer to the girl’s call, and crowded around Alfred. They all knew him, and gave him a hearty welcome. He explained to me in a hurried aside: “ They ’re my old Berkshire friends, the Lees, and some others whom I have known.” The gypsies cast suspicious looks at me. He introduced me in Romany with a flourish of trumpets. “ You can trust him,” I afterwards found he had said. “ He’s a good fellow, a friend of mine, and was arrested only last week for stealing a horse.”
The laugh with which my introduction was greeted, and the entire confidence and approval with which these dark-faced scamps treated me from that moment, as well as Alfred’s wicked expression as he got off this astounding lie, made me request a translation of his remark. The gypsies saw the joke, but relished the sentiment too much not to treat me as though it were true. They insisted on our sharing the supper they were eating, and we went into the dark tent, with its Rembrandt-like lights and shadows. We were served with the stew of meat and vegetables they were eating. It was a rough meal, but it had a novel charm for me. I soon unraveled the network of relationship that held these people together. There was an old woman, with a dark, witch-like face, all seams and wrinkles, and an old man, the parents of the girl we had first seen, Walker and Vashti Lee. There was a sullen, handsome youth, Anselo Buckland by name, who made the wares which they sold, and took care of the horses. A man of thirty, Sylvester Buckland, the brother of Anselo, and a boy of fifteen completed the group.
They talked freely with Alfred, usually in English, sometimes lapsing into Romany. The gloomy Anselo, however, continued to be silent, and the Eastern princess, who had greeted us, was equally so. She cast a half-shy, half-daring glance sometimes at me, sometimes at Alfred, — a puzzling look, wholly free from consciousness or boldness. She had finished her supper, and hovered in the background of the tent, her dark, wild beauty harmonizing with her surroundings. I could see that she held Alfred’s eyes and attention. In the course of the conversation he asked where little Regina was. There was a flash of eyes and teeth in the gloom.
“ Come here, Regina,” they called, “ and speak to the Rye. He does n’t remember you.”
Alfred stood up and held out his hand, coloring with surprise.
“ I did not realize that you must have changed,” he said.
Regina still hung back, smiling. “ It is nearly four years,” she said.
After supper the men and boys pulled out their pipes. I would have been glad to escape from the close atmosphere of the tent, but the weather had changed, and the rain was pouring down in a steady flood. It was a curious evening. The firelight flashed on the dark faces around me, intent in listening as Alfred told them of the Russian and Hungarian gypsies he had seen the winter before in Moscow. He told of their music, their singing of the gypsy songs, their playing of the czardas and its rapturous intensity. I watched Regina as he spoke. She sat on a heap of straw, her elbow on her knee, her head resting on her hand, her eyes turning on Alfred in a gaze of dreamy absorption. Suddenly she withdrew quietly from the group. The others were so absorbed they did not notice her movement. She took Alfred’s violin case from the corner of the tent, and, gliding behind him, laid it on his knee.
“ Play us that music as you used to, Rye.”
There was a murmur of approval from the gypsies. Anselo alone made no sign. He lay on the ground beside me, smoking silently. As Regina returned to her former seat beside him, he put out his hand and caught hers, which hung down close to him. I saw that he wrenched it violently, and flung it back to her. I expected an outcry from her, or an indignant look, but I had my surprise. She only raised her head higher, set her lips in a calm curve, and looked him full in the eyes. He glared at her sullenly. It was like the defiance of two panthers. Alfred began to play. Regina relapsed into her former absorption, and Anselo continued to smoke.
There was a picturesqueness in the scene that touched my artistic sense, yet all the while I felt its sordid elements : the stifling closeness of the tent, clouded with bad tobacco smoke; the poverty and possible dirt of its inmates ; the life of squalid hardship and petty crime which they led. Even the grand beauty of the girl opposite me could not make these things endurable. Alfred was in a state of exaltation corresponding to Regina’s. He played and sang as I had never heard him before. I saw that he was in complete accord with these people, yet all this was a merely imaginative sympathy, assisted by temperament. He was different. Birth, tradition, education, all separated him from them.
At ten o’clock I stood with Alfred before the smaller tent, where the men slept. The rain had ceased, and I asked him to walk with me for a little distance. In the people that composed the group in the tent that evening there were all the elements of a sensational tragedy. I made up my mind not to further it.
“ It has been quite amusing,” I said. “ We must get on to Broomhill to-morrow.”
Alfred puffed his pipe for a moment in silence.
“ Why go on ? ” he said, at length.
“ Why not stop with these people a while ? ” He spoke carelessly, but there was a fibre of determination in his voice.
I confess this frank change of intention annoyed me.
“ I prefer to follow out our plan,” I answered.
“ I’m awfully sorry, old fellow,” said Alfred, apologetically, “but the fact is I never do stick to a plan when I go on a tramp. It takes away half the charm. Stop a few days.”
He spoke in a tone of almost boyish pleading.
“ No, thank you,” I said stiffly. “ You have canceled our agreement by wishing to remain here. We would only feel hampered if we kept on together. We may as well separate, and take the chance of running across each other later.”
Alfred was silent a moment. “Just as you say,” he replied, at length. “ I’m extremely sorry.” My stiffness had in some way got into his voice.
“ I’m sure these people are scoundrels in reality, with a veneer of good temper. You will regret it if you trust them too far.”
Alfred only smiled confidently. “I know them better than you,”he said.
I think we both felt there was a kind of absurdity in our separating so soon and for so slight a reason, but neither would yield.
The next morning I went back to Winchester alone, with the feeling as if I left a lighted fuse, which would burn rapidly and soon reach the powder.
The images of Alfred and this puzzling gypsy beauty made me uneasy, but despite a strong impulse I gave Alfred no further warning. To tell the truth, such a thing would have seemed uncalled for. However this might have been, my feeling of responsibility was sufficient to keep me in the neighborhood of Hursley for the next fortnight. I stayed at the George Inn, and from there made excursions to Salisbury and to Stonehenge. But somehow the charm of the English summer was gone ; something was lacking.
It was while I was thus hesitating that I received a note from Alfred, which was sufficiently startling to induce me instantly to go to Hursley. In very lucid terms he informed me that he was going at once to marry Regina Lee, the only woman he could ever love, or find any happiness with; that his past life had been a struggle to fulfill the conditions of the station he had been born in. He had found his place, and the only destiny which made existence worth while. He was already worse than dead to his mother. He could never fulfill her expectations even to the smallest degree. The disappointment must come; why not now ? It would be useless to bring any arguments to bear against his determination. He had counted the cost, and was happy to assume it all. “ Let me caution you,” he ended, “ against any misunderstanding of the character of the young girl in whose hands I lay my hopes and the honor of my name. Her race is older and purer than my own; her unselfishness and innocence of a higher strain than could be imagined by the Lady Adelas and Ethelbertas, any one of whom my mother would be happy to have me marry. She marries me only at my earnest prayer, and because I have convinced her simple faith that she is thus doing the most generous act possible for the man she has honored by loving. I write all to my mother today.”
The whole letter had a tone of determination and deep conviction in the truth of what he was saying that made it impossible for me to take it lightly, mad as it was.
A few hours after I received it, I crossed the meadows, and reached the gypsy camp at about the same hour that I had first seen it. The tents seemed quite deserted ; even the van and horse were no longer there. As I stood looking about, I saw a gleam of red among the bushes, at the foot of a sloping bank, behind the tents. In this hollow was a narrow brook with grassy sides. As I neared it, I saw two figures standing beside it, — Alfred and Regina. Alfred held both her hands, and bent down and kissed them. His manner had a sort of passionate reverence, — the manner of a man to one far above him. While I hesitated, he turned abruptly away, and, springing across the brook, went up the opposite bank, and disappeared in the shrubbery. Regina watched him for an instant, and then came towards me. Her face had the same strange look of absorption and exaltation that I had seen the night of our arrival in the camp. When she saw me, she stopped short, and looked me full in the face with haughty surprise. I could not but realize her superb type of beauty against the deep green sylvan background. Her scant faded red drapery gave her youthful outlines a Diana-like, sculpturesque simplicity. In her eyes, shaded by her dusky hair, were all the fire and subtlety of hundreds of generations of Romanys. She paused only an instant, and then moved to pass me.
“ Wait a moment,” I said, with all the civility that firmness permitted. “ I would like to speak to you.”
But she sprang by me before I had time to bar the way, and ran swiftly along the bank of the stream. My irritation was extreme, but before it had time to culminate in any action she stopped, about twenty yards away, and, leaning against the trunk of a tree, looked at me intently. Curiosity had triumphed over her wild impulse to fly, so I advanced until I was near enough to speak to her quietly. I felt that my time was valuable, and that she might escape me at any moment. I thought of Lady Mary and of Alfred’s own future, and went to the heart of my subject at once.
“My friend Alfred Power tells me that he is going to marry you. Is that true ? ”
She flashed a haughty look at me without a word, which might have signified an assent. With my own knowledge of the matter I took it as such.
“ As you have both made up your minds, there would seem very little use for me to say anything against it, but ” — I paused here, for the young girl was looking at me contemptuously.
She spoke suddenly, for the first time : “ I’d like to know what right you have to interfere.”
These unvarnished words were uttered with a melodious vigor and fire that made them impressive.
“ Because,” I said, with equal energy, “ I love my friend, and wish to prevent his ruining his future by such a marriage. It would be useless to appeal to any sense of honor or unselfishness in a gypsy girl. That is n’t your fault, poor child. He says he loves you, and I suppose you believe him, but, putting it on the lowest ground, you will both be miserable. If you think you are marrying to be a lady and to be rich, you are mistaken. Alfred is a poor man, — poor even for a gypsy ; and then, don’t you see, he is different from you, from all your people. He is a Rye, — a real one. He plays at living in a tent, but fancy his spending his life there ! — he who knows so much, and could live with kings if he wished.” I stretched the truth slightly for the sake of impressing her. “He could not take you to his home. How could you live in a house, and behave like a lady, and wear the clothes of one ? ”
Regina’s eyes were fixed on mine with a strange look ; at least she was listening.
“ I suppose you think you love him,” I went on ; “ but if you know what the meaning of love is, you would sooner die than spoil his life by marrying him. He will cease to love you, and hate the day he ever saw you; and that will be as bad for him as for you, for he is a true and faithful gentleman.”
The young girl was violently agitated. Her face flushed deeply, and then became pale under her dark skin.
“ That is a lie,” she said vehemently. Then she spoke more gently: “ Are you speaking the truth, Rye ? ”
I was more than surprised at the effect of my eloquence. I could not but believe that there was some acting in her emotion.
“It is all true,” I answered. “ Send Alfred away to-day. Some day you will be glad.”
She tossed back her shadowy locks with a sudden proud motion of her head. “ He would not leave me ! ”
“ You could find a way of doing it,” I said urgently. “ Has he not told me that even as a little girl you were the cleverest Romany of them all,— that you could make any one believe anything you pleased ? Make him believe you do not wish to marry him, and he will leave you.”
At this she laughed, such a scornful, ringing peal of laughter that my face tingled with mortification ; yet I remembered afterwards that she was much excited. I felt that I was taking the wrong method to influence a gypsy girl of modern times.
“ Come,” I said brusquely. I was willing to make my sacrifice for Alfred and his mother. “ This is all a waste of time. As I thought, it is useless to appeal to any high motive. I am a poor man as well as Alfred, but I wish to try to save him. I will give you one — two hundred pounds, if you will send my friend away from Hursley to-day, and give me your word that you will not see him again.”
Before I had spoken the words I was ashamed of them. She trembled all over for an instant; then becoming rigid and clenching her little brown hands, she hissed out a sentence of Romany which I could not understand. If she had had a knife I should have trembled for my safety. Then looking at me piercingly, she said, “ You shall see whether I love him or not.” She turned away, and climbed swiftly up the bank.
There is in Hursley, or was that summer, a modest inn, kept by an elderly widow, with two blooming maids and an hostler. Beside the “ coffee-room,” where the meals were served, was a small room at the right of the door, — a small square room, with a table and a cupboard and two old arm-chairs.
I passed what seemed a long evening in this room, after I parted from Regina in the hollow. It was too late to go back to Winchester, and I determined to spend the night in the inn. My reflections were not of the pleasantest. The thought that I had done my best, or, to speak more correctly, my worst, for Alfred was not as consoling as it might have been. I felt humiliated in my own eyes at the part which friendship had forced me to play. By nine o’clock I became so restless, in spite of a cigar and a painstaking perusal of an old Times, which had in some way found its way to the inn, that I determined to go out.
I was wondering uneasily where Alfred had gone when he left Regina; whether he was coming back to the camp, and what would happen if he did so. There was no doubt that, having in some wise assumed the role of a deus ex machina in this affair, it would be the height of cowardice to leave matters alone at this juncture, however intense my longing to do so might be. It was this feeling that made me walk rapidly through the silent village, and turn into the meadows in the direction of the gypsy camp. It was an English evening in June, which is to say that one could read a letter with only the stars for light, and recognize one’s friend at a dozen paces’ distance. By walking fast, I could reach the camp in half an hour, and at least reconnoitre, but I had not so far to go. As I crossed the second meadow, and reached a clump of trees at its farther side, I was startled by hearing my name spoken close beside me.
“ Dexter! ”
It was Power’s voice, and even while the shock of my surprise was upon me I detected a ring of impatient pain in his tone. I turned quickly, and saw him, — a dark figure, half lying, half sitting, at the foot of a large tree. I went quickly towards him, wondering, as I did so, that he did not move. He went on speaking: —
“ What, in the name of everything that’s marvelous, brought you here now ? ” The words ended in a half groan, as if forced from him by suffering.
“ I got your letter, and came to look for you,” I answered.
He went on brokenly, " Help me up, if you can, but first tie up this confounded wound. I don’t mind the pain ; it’s the bleeding that makes me faint.”
By this time I was on my knees by him. Something serious had happened. His coat was off, and I saw, even in the dim light, that his shirt was drenched with blood on the left side, in front. I moved the torn linen gently, and saw a deep, jagged gash, evidently made by a knife.
“ Who did this, Alfred ? ” I exclaimed, and a sort of futile fury came over me, in which myself, Alfred, and Regina were all included.
“ Don’t talk about it,” he said, with the same wearied impatience in his voice that I had heard before. “ Only get me somewhere, or I ’ll bleed to death. Or let me alone here. It does n’t make much difference.”
He was very white, and as he stopped speaking he leaned his head against the tree and shut his eyes.
I have a vivid and yet nightmare-like recollection of the hour that followed. I bandaged his wound as well as I could with his handkerchief and mine, and made him lie down more comfortably. Then I left him, and went back to the village. I managed to induce the hostler, after much bribing of a truly American prodigality, to put up their only horse and vehicle, — a rattling twowheeled gig. In this, with the help of the hostler, who went with me, we brought Alfred back to the inn. However keen my curiosity was as to the explanation of his condition, it had to wait patiently for satisfaction. He was very ill for two or three days, with a high fever and the mental stupor produced by that state, and aggravated by his evident depression. I could only follow the directions of the village doctor, and nurse him as well as I knew how. I gave the doctor the benefit of my theories as to the cause of Alfred’s wound, and my truthfulness met with the reward of his belief. He satisfied the somewhat timid distrust of the people of the inn with a modified version of the facts so far as we knew them. That a gentleman should be wounded in a quarrel with gypsies, and yet not wish to prosecute them, was curious, but a few shillings made their curiosity unobtrusive.
I should have written to Lady Mary but for two reasons : the first, that the doctor assured me Alfred was in no danger, — the wound was only a slight one, and would soon heal ; the second, that on the evening of my finding Alfred, as I helped him to bed, a sealed letter, addressed to Lady Mary Power, fell out of his pocket. I picked it up and showed it to him. He took it from me and tore it in pieces.
“ I forgot to post it,” he said. “ It need not go now.”
“ Do you want me to send for your mother ? ” I asked.
“ Indeed, no,” he answered irritably.
Then he held out his hand with his old friendly manner. He was lying on his back, very pale from loss of blood and exhaustion. “ Don’t mind me, Dexter,” he said. “You are very good to stand by me, and to spare me questions. You were correct, and I have come off the worse for trusting these people, but I shall be quite right in a day or two.”
This was the only allusion he made to his recent experience.
But for this one assurance of his pleasure in my presence he talked little, and hardly seemed to notice me. I saw that he liked to be alone, and therefore I spent hours strolling about the neighboring country. Sir William Heathcote and his family were away, but I gained an entrance to the park with the aid of the all-powerful shilling, and forgot time and space in its verdant, humid depths. I became intimate with the wrinkled grave-digger of Hursley church, and he told me many a hoary tale of the villagers and the great people of the neighborhood, until I began to feel that I, too, had been born in Hursley; that I had a birthright in the rich soil the old man turned over with his spade ; that I could ask nothing better of life than to tread upon this soil, in the soothing English atmosphere, until my days were spent, and then to rest contentedly beneath it.
On the fourth day of our stay at the inn Alfred was well enough to dress and walk about.
“ I shall leave this place to-morrow,” he said. “You ’re a trump, Dexter, to have waited here, and endured my bad temper ; above all, as you warned me what to expect. I thought I knew ” — he hesitated a moment — “ those people better than you did, but all my knowledge, all my experience, was at fault.” He sighed rather heavily. “ You may think me more of a fool, even, than before,” he went on ingenuously, “ but I have had a hard blow, and it will take me a long time to gét over it.”
At this moment I saw our landlady beckoning to me, rather mysteriously, from the hall.
“ Excuse me a moment,” I said. I obeyed her summons, and she drew me out to the porch.
“ I thought you might like to see the gypsies passin’, sir,” she said.
In fact, the van was lumbering down the road, driven by the elder Lee. I suppose his wife must have been inside, for I did not see her. Close to the van, on the side nearest to the inn, walked Regina Lee. The rear was brought up by Sylvester and Anselo Buckland, dogged and brutal; three or four hopelessly vulgar dogs snuffed at their heels. I looked at Regina with a mixture of anger and compunction. I was sure that she had stabbed Alfred, but in what degree I had prompted her action I was doubtful. The change in her appearance surprised me. She was haggard and hollow-eyed, and walked listlessly beside the van. She glanced indifferently at the inn. As she did so, I saw her expression suddenly change to one of vivid grief and emotion. Then she averted her eyes, and the little procession passed on. I thought this change was due to the sight of me, but at the same moment I was aware that Alfred stood beside me. He grasped my shoulder with one hand, and leaned heavily upon it. I did not look at him, but I heard his heavy breathing, and knew that he was deeply agitated. I do not think Anselo saw him, and Alfred appeared unconscious of any one but Regina. He left the porch as abruptly as he had come. He seemed his usual self when I rejoined him. The doctor made a last visit that day, and pronounced him in a condition that warranted his traveling, if he wished to do so. During the evening Alfred told me he was going to Scotland.
“ I am sick of England,” he said. “ I am sorry to leave you, Dexter, but I would be poor company now.”
The next day we parted, but at the station where I was to take the train for London, and whither Alfred bore me company, I learned all I wished to know. He began abruptly, and told me in a few words that on the afternoon of the night on which I found him he had gone to Winchester to procure a license. “ I wanted to make it all sure,” he said, simply. When he came back to the camp Regina was not to be found. The Lees only laughed when he questioned them as to her whereabouts. He finally left the camp, and met her in the woods with Anselo. She would not speak to him, and Anselo advanced and taunted him about his folly in supposing that a Romany girl who was betrothed to him would marry a Gorgio. Alfred, without noticing Anselo, asked Regina to speak for herself. She only laughed, and said that Anselo was right; it was true, every word. She had fooled him a little, to amuse herself. “ Then,” said Alfred, “ she ran away before I could say more. I did not see her again until yesterday, when she passed the inn.”
I had listened with a miserable feeling of guilt and a burning pity for Regina. An exclamation escaped me.
“ You did not see her again ? Who stabbed you, then? ”
Alfred stared at me in surprise. “ Anselo,” he answered. “ As Regina left me he sprang on me, and crying in Romany, ‘Dog! you sha’n’t escape so easily ! ’ gave me the thrust that has laid me up until now. I struggled with him, but he had the advantage, and I was not armed. He got away before I could do anything.”
“And you let him go yesterday ! ” I exclaimed.
“ Why not ? ” asked Alfred. “ I have had no disappointment in him. I knew what he was from the first.”
I had a wild impulse to tell him of my conversation with Regina, but the train steamed up to the station before I could make my confession, and my chance was lost.
My mood for solitude and green fields was over, and I was not sorry to avail myself of all the opportunities to go out in London society gained by four years at Christ Church, Oxford.
I frequently met Lady Mary Power. Early in July, just before I left London to go to the Continent, she told me with much satisfaction that Alfred had written to her that he was coming to London, and would go out with her as much as she wished during the remainder of the season.
“ It must be your influence during the fortnight you were together, Mr. Dexter,” she said, graciously. “ How can I thank you enough ! ”
She invited me to visit her at Power Hall in September, when Alfred should be at home.
Whatever had been the means I had employed to serve Lady Mary and her son, the end might justify them. I pictured Alfred a tamed and civilized member of society, married to a London heiress, and representing his county in Parliament. Why not ? I asked myself.
A week later I sat in the smokingroom of a Swiss hotel, reading the London Times of the day before. I glanced over the marriages. One of them read as follows : —
“ POWER - LEE. — At Winchester, Hampshire, July 4th, Alfred Power, Esq., of Power Hall, Surrey, to Regina Lee.”
The same notice was repeated beneath in Romany.
“ The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.”
Poetic justice is not always a pleasure to complex mortals, and in this case my dismay was mingled with a mortification which has not ceased to sting. Explanation was impossible, and I could only sink my own feeling in the matter, and hope that Alfred’s awakening might be long deferred. He dropped out of his “ world ” completely, and the slight vacuum that he left was easily filled, — to all but Lady Mary. I could imagine her disappointment, but I was not a witness to it. I sailed for America in September, without having paid my visit to Power Hall.
I have seen Power only once since we parted at Winchester. Three years after his marriage I passed a portion of the summer in Spain. I was riding near Granada one day with a party of Americans. Our road took a sudden turn through a rocky defile. Before us we saw a man and woman approaching. Their somewhat picturesque clothes were dusty and travel-worn. The man drove two mules, heavily laden with canvas and tent-poles and a quantity of basketwork, evidently for sale.
“ They must be gypsies,” I said.
“ Spanish gypsies ! ” cried a lady of our party. “ Oh, how romantic ! It makes one think of dear George Eliot and Longfellow, you know. Dear me, what strikingly handsome creatures! The woman might easily be Fedalma herself. She is a perfect beauty.”
I hardly heard what she said. I recognized in the woman Regina, and in the man Alfred Power. I felt an overpowering agitation. All my affection, all my self-reproach and disappointment, rushed upon me. But the first feeling was the strongest. I hungered for a friendly word from him.
“ Alfred ! ” I said, and spurred my horse nearer to him. But he met my eager look with a blank stare that had no recognition in it, and passed on, with Regina close beside him.
“ It is nothing,” I stammered, when my friends asked an explanation of my eccentric behavior. “ I thought the man looked like a friend I had once.”
I have never forgotten the expression of Power’s face before he saw me. It was very passive, very calm ; but it has always been impossible for me to decide whether it was that of a man who was happy, or the reverse.