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Over The Hills, and Far Away: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter XVIII. Clinton's First Love

page 178

Chapter XVIII. Clinton's First Love.

Mr. Cunningham came in, fortunately, in high spirits, and very cordial to both his guests. It was well he was disposed to be so sociable, for Lucy's conversational powers had entirely deserted her, and Clinton scarcely spoke a word.

Dacre, however, threw himself into the breach. He took the seat at dinner next to Lucy, and contrived to cover her silence so dexterously by his own remarks, that her father never even noticed it, and the girl was more grateful to him than ever.

She thought, while he was speaking, that she had never before noticed the really remarkable beauty page 179 of his eyes. They were not soft eyes like Clinton's, but generally bright, keen, and rather sad. Still they could deepen into softness, which was the more attractive, perhaps, from its rarity. They were, however, eyes gifted with the ability of expressing themselves; what they meant they could say, and say distinctly and forcibly. Therefore they possessed that higher order of beauty which is not form or colour, and which outlasts, outrivals both.

When Dacre rose to go—for he could not be persuaded to stay the night—his host pressed him eagerly to come soon again.

“Come as often as you can, Dacre,” Mr. Cunningham said. “You will be always welcome, won't he, Lucy?”

“Yes,” returned Lucy, with one of her brightest smiles. And Dacre knew from her face that she was aware of how he had taken her part that evening, and he felt more than rewarded.

Then she turned to Clinton, offering him her hand, and lowering her voice a little as she spoke.

“Good-night,” she said, “and good-bye! I am page 180 sorry I spoke crossly. I shall tell papa and Louis it was all my fault; so you need not mind about that, Mr. Meredith.”

She had called him “Clinton” for the last time, and he knew it.

He answered her in the same tone: “That is good of you, and I thank you for it, Lucy. I shan't call you that again, so never mind. I suppose it must be Jeanie; but it never would have been either of you if I hadn't seen the marriage of the only girl I ever really loved in the Times, the day we spoke the ‘Flying Foam.”’

The words were so bitter that she did not at first believe they were true. She thought that Clinton was revenging himself on her thus.

But he went out, saying to himself, “Oh, Mary Lindsay! Mary Lindsay! Why did you let me think you loved me, and then marry in three weeks after I had sailed? If I have been fickle and dishonest since, it is all your fault, and with you lies the blame.”

Clinton's boyish love, Mary Lindsay, will never page 181 enter this story. But what he had said to Lucy was almost the truth. He had loved his pretty coquettish little cousin who lived at 190 , but whom he had seen a great deal of during a visit of hers to England, as much as it was in his nature to love any earthly thing.

He had never thought of Lucy Cunningham except as a lively, agreeable girl, whose society, 191 le temps, was invaluable on board ship, until the day he saw Mary's marriage in the Times. Then pride and wounded vanity were sore within him, and half from pique, half from genuine admiration for Lucy, he soon found himself 192 to her in earnest—in earnest, at least, as far as Clinton understood the words.

But though he had not been engaged to Lucy for a month before he had recognized her superiority to his boyish idol, he did not love her as he had done Mary. Lucy did not struggle for admiration, did not talk and act for effect, like Mary had done; but still in Clinton's heart her image stood alone, distinct from all the other women whom he might admire, page 182 and whose favour he might still be eager to win, on his way through life.

Lucy did not know all this. How should she? If she had, she would not have tried to help on Clinton's engagement to Jeanie as she did.

But she estimated herself at too low a value; and she did not believe that Clinton could be at heart indifferent to Jeanie. “And if he loves her, she will be happy with him,” Lucy thought. “It was because I had not the power of gaining his love that he proved unfaithful to me.”

Her reasoning, though false, was not devoid of the grace of humility after all.

So she used her influence with Mr. and Mrs. Lennox in Clinton's behalf, and pacified her father and Louis, who never heard a correct version of what had passed. They knew, in fact, much less of it than Dacre did.

But Mr. Cunningham had never liked Clinton, or been much in favour of bestowing his daughter upon him, and he was not sorry that, as he fancied, some childish dispute had arisen between them, page 183 which had terminated in the dissolution of their engagement.

Clinton, for his part, was in no great hurry to bind himself afresh. He gave himself a month to think it over, and try how he liked his freedom. In all that time he never once went near poor Jeanie. But at last, one fine day, he dressed himself carefully, and with the pleasing consciousness that he was looking his best, set off for Deepdene.

He found every one out but the maid, who opened the door to him, and who was as fully persuaded as her mistress of the purport of his former frequent visits. She therefore volunteered the information that “Miss Jeanie was somewhere about. Perhaps she had gone up the gully, or perhaps she was in the orchard.”

Clinton set off at once up the gully, hoping to find her there. But there was no sign of her at all to be discovered. He went on, however, until at last he reached the great stone, the scene of former meetings and flirtations, sweet, because stolen.

The sight stung him with an odd feeling of lost time. He had been with Jeanie there, and many page 184 times afterwards, when he might have been with Lucy.

Now he could see Jeanie whenever he chose, but he could never have Lucy for a companion again. He felt as if he had better have made the most of her while it lay in his power.

He set off again, with this thought still in his mind, and did not lose it until he had closed the little gate which opened on to the gully behind him. Then he considered what he had better do next. Maggie had said something about the orchard, and there at all events he determined to look for Miss Lennox next.

He did so, and was rewarded by a glimpse of the black skirt of Jeanie's dress between the boughs of a large apple-tree.

He walked round, and there she was, holding up with one hand her little holland apron full of fruit, with a great basket, nearly filled with apples, on the ground beside her.

190 An island situated in the North Atlantic Ocean discovered by the Portugese in the 15th century.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

191 French, for 'filling in' or 'passing time away'.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

192 In Victorian vernacular referring more to an affectionate, romantic (rather than overtly physical or sexual) response.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]