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A Tragedy in Black and White and Other Stories

Chapter II

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Chapter II

It was the fifteenth of June, six years later, and Dick's twenty-fourth birthday. He had just returned from the port, whither he had gone to get stores and to fetch the English mail.

Amongst his letters was the usual one from young Fenton, enclosing a note from Sylvia. She wrote rather seriously, saying that her father and mother wished her to accept a very good offer she had received. She had refused very decidely but could give no sufficient reason for so doing, as she was obliged to admit that she liked the man; and she begged Dick to allow her to tell of their engagement, if he still wished for it. She finished her letter by saying:

“If you have changed your mind and want to marry any one else, write and tell me so, because of course it is a long time since you saw me, and, judging from your account, the Spanish girls must be very lovely. I shall look out for the next mail. Till then I remain,

Your loving


“P.S.—Remember me to Dolores. Is she as pretty as ever?”

Dick laughed when he read this letter.

“What a jealous little thing it is! However, she is quite right about announcing our engagement; besides, there is no reason for keeping silence any longer, I am getting on so well. I will speak to Uncle Dick about it to-night.” Mr. Egerton was no blood relation, but Dick had gradually got into the way of calling him uncle.

Accordingly, that evening after dinner, when the two men were smoking in the verandah, with Dolores softly palying the piano in the dimly lighted drawing-room, Dick was screwing up his courage to broach the subject, when Mr. Egerton suddenly said:

“By the way, Dick, how old are you?”

“Twenty-four to-day, Uncle Dick.”

“Twenty-four, are you Dear me, how time flies! It seems only the other day that you came here, and it must be six years ago. It's about time you took a run home to see your people.”

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“How odd that you should say that. I was thinking, only to-day, of speaking to you on that very subject.”

“Well, the fact is, MacPherson was talking to me this morning. He says he has saved some money, and wants (as he expresses it) ‘to go home and die among Christians.’ Not that he looks much like dying at present. He tells me that you are quite capable of taking his place. What do you think, yourself? I have always intended that you should succeed me, but you are a young man and possibly may not like the idea of settling here for life.”

“Uncle Dick, you are too good to me. I can wish for nothing better. I don't know how to thank you.”

“Then don't try, my boy. Yes, I have always meant this property for you, as I told your father. I spoke to Dolores about it, and she quite agrees with me. She will have about £50,000 of her own when I die, and that is quite enough for a girl.”

Dick began to stammer some protestations of gratitude, but Mr. Egerton quickly stopped him. “So that is settled. Now, I propose that you should go home to England, see your people, and have a fling for about six months or a year, and then come back and take MacPherson's place. Who knows, you may bring back a wife with you.”

Mr. Egerton spoke jestingly, and he was considerably surprised when his godson promptly replied:

“Well, if you don't mind, Uncle Dick, I think I will. You see, I have been engaged these six years, and—”

“The deuce you have!” exclaimed Mr. Egerton, fairly taken aback. “And to whom, may I ask?”

“To Sylvia Fenton. I don't suppose you remember her.”

“And do her parents and yours know of this?”

“No, they don't. You see, we were rather young when I left England.”

“I should think so,” interjected Mr. Egerton.

“And we thought perhaps they would not allow it, but now I am sure they will.”

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“You certainly deserve a reward for your constancy. So this, then, is the reason you have worked so hard. MacPherson said he never saw a young fellow work as you have done unless he had some object. Well, now you can go home with flying colours and claim your bride. What is her name? Sylvia, a very pretty name too. I've half a mind to go with you and take Dolores. She would enjoy the trip. What do you say, childie?” he added, for just then Dolores stepped through the open French window on to the verandah.

“Say about what, padre dear?” she asked, putting her pretty hands on her father's shoulders.

Six years before. Mr. Dakin had declared that Dolores would be the loveliest girl on the island. His prophecy had come true. Better in health than she had ever been before, though still rather delicate, she might have been taken as a perfect type of refined brunette beauty. Her eyes were her most striking feature. Dick had raved about their loveliness years ago, to Sylvia, and they had become, if possible, softer and more lustrous. It was only when she dropped her eyelids that the fascinated spectator, especially if of the nobler sex, observed the perfection of the beautifully cut features and clear olive skin, the dark hair plaited in a coronet round the shapely head, and the slender, graceful figure. She was dressed that evening in some soft, white material, with a deep red flower in her bosom.

As she stood by her father, he looked up at her with fond pride, and only when she repeated her question, answered.

“Why about going to England, dear.”

“To England!” echoed Dolores in astonishment. “Why should v. e go there?”

She stooped as she spoke, to pick up the flower which had fallen from her dress.

“Well, Dick here, is going by the next ship. He is anxious to get married. Fancy the rascal having been engaged all these years, and never telling us.”

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Mr. Egerton was lighting a cigarette, and Dick was gazing straight before him thinking of his good luck, so they neither of them saw how the girl's face flushed and then became paler than before; nor did either notice that her hands shook so, that she could scarcely fasten the flower in her dress. However, she did it at last, and then said:

“He has certainly kept his secret very closely all this time. I think though, that you might have trusted us Dick.”

“I nearly told you several times,” replied young Darrell apologetically, for Dolores' voice was rather reproachful—“only somehow, I don't know why, I never did.”

“But you have not asked the lady's name,” broke in Mr. Egerton, cheerily. “Come, I will give you three guesses.”

“I suppose it is Sylvia Fenton,” answered Dolores, sitting down and looking out over the sea.

“Well guessed!” said her father. “Is she pretty, Dick?”

“I think so. Here is her photograph.” Said Dick, unfastening a locket from his watch-chain, and handing it proudly round for inspection.

“Very pretty,” commented Mr. Egerton, “is she not, dear?” passing the locket to Dolores, who looked at the photograph steadily for some moments, and then returned it to the owner, merely remarking:

“She is very fair, isn't she?”

“Very!” returned Dick, enthusiastically. “She is so pretty, with the most lovely golden hair, (I'll show you a bit if you like), and blue eyes,—but surely you must remember.”

“Yes, I remember,” said Dolores, indifferently, then, as Dick looked hurt at her lukewarmness, she added:

“We will have a long talk to-morrow, but I am so tired now after my ride this afternoon, that I hardly know what I am saying. Besides it was such a sudden announcement page 19 it quite took one's breath away. Good-night, padre dear; good-night, Dick,” and she slowly moved away into the house. There was not much conversation between the two men after she had gone. Mr. Egerton seemed thoughtful, and Dick was lost in day dreams, a most unusual proceeding on his part.

The last six years had altered him very slightly, beyond changing him from an unformed youth to a man. Though he had grown in mind and body, he still remained curiously boyish in many ways. One of his peculiarities was a habit of always saying exactly what he thought, having a great contempt for some of the polite fictions of society; wherefore his enemies, who were few, stigmatized him as an “unmannerly cub;” and his friends, who were many, said he “was a little brusque perhaps, but refreshingly frank and ingenuous.” He loved Sylvia dearly, but in a protecting manner, not by any means worshipping her as a goddess; nor was he troubled with any doubts as to whether he were worthy of her. He was sure that he loved her and that she returned his affection; what more could be wanted? As to her parents' reception of his proposal, he had few misgivings on that subject. Being heir to his godfather's property, he was a good match in a money point of view; and in other ways, he considered that if he were not superior to the average young man, at least he was by no means inferior. Hence it will be seen, that as previously stated, Dick was decidedly practical and had plenty of self-con-fidence. Occasionally, however, he lapsed into a sentimental mood, and this night, he sat smoking and dreaming till Mr. Egerton announced that it was time to go to bed.

When Dolores left the verandah, she went straight to her room where Mamie was waiting, as usual, for her. She was in a silent mood, and as Mamie was of a taciturn disposition, there was very little talking. Only as she was brushing her mistress' long, silky black hair, Mamie remarked:

“It's Master Dick's birthday to-day.”

“I know it is,” said Dolores, “he is going to England next month to get married.”

“Married!” repeated Mamie, blankly.

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“Yes. To such a pretty girl. They have been engaged ever since he left England. I used to know her long ago. She has beautiful golden hair, not dark stuff like this,” drawing out a lock of her own silky tresses. Then Dolores fell into a reverie, undisturbed by Mamie, who made no comment on the news and scarcely spoke again, only she was more tender than usual to her pet. But when she had said good-night and left the room, her face, always ugly, grew absolutely repulsive as she walked away shaking her head and muttering to herself.

The idea of Mr. Egerton and his daughter making a trip to England, died a natural death. Mr. Egerton did broach the subject again to Dolores, but she objected very decidedly, and gave so many ingenious reasons, that her father abandoned the plan, though feeling convinced that none of the reasons adduced was the true one.

Therefore he told Dick, who was making plans for all, that he found he should not be able to leave home so soon. Dick was much disappointed, and frankly told Dolores that he had been counting on her presence at his wedding perhaps even, she might have been a bridesmaid.

“You would have enjoyed it so,” he said. “At least I know my sisters think a wedding the best fun going. Couldn't you come with me now, and Uncle Dick can come later and fetch you.”

But Dolores with a little smile, gave him to understand that even the prospect of being bridesmaid was not sufficient to tempt her away.

“Besides,” said she—“you know the padre cannot get away and I couldn't leave him. What would he do without me?”

“Well, as to that, I suppose you will have to leave him some day when you get married.”

“I don't think I shall ever marry.”

“Oh! that is nonsense,” said Dick, with an air of much experience. “All girls say that, but they change their minds afterwards. Wait till you are in love with some fellow, and see what a difference that will make in your ideas. You will marry him fast enough then.”

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“But perhaps he won't want to marry me,” objected Dolores.

“My dear girl,” said Dick solemnly, “You are the nicest and prettiest girl I ever saw, except of course Sylvia. I'm not sure though,” looking at her critically, “I am not at all sure that most people would not think you were the best looking; and I'm certain any man would be only too glad to have you for his wife. You need not fret yourself. Perhaps you will be engaged by the time I bring Sylvia here. Why you know,” he continned, grinning, “that the ‘White Elephant’ is dying of love for you. But you mustn't marry him, Dolores. It makes me quite unhappy to think that you may yield to his fascinations while I'm away. I should certainly forbid the banns.”

Dolores laughed outright as she answered;

“I think I can promise you that I won't marry him, Dick.”

The ‘White Elephant’ be it remarked, was a ponderous youth who lived on the next plantation, and whose unwieldy form and pasty complexion had gained for him the above nickname. For the last year he had been heaving heavy sighs at Dolores' feet. He had proposed to her once and been gently, yet firmly, dismissed, but he still cherished a despairing passion, partly because he fancied that it cast a halo of romance round him, and partly because he had always read in novels that a hopeless attachment had a wasting effect upon the figure.

After this conversation, Dick often favoured Dolores with a monologue on the subject of Sylvia; that is, whenever he could spare the time from packing and other preparations for his absence. He was to sail by the next ship, and consequently was very busy.

When the last day came, and he said good-bye to Dolores, she entrusted him with a small packet to be given to Sylvia with her love. She was in high spirits that day, and bade Dick to be sure not to lose his heart on the way home, as she had heard that there were some very pretty girls going in the same ship.

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At first Dick took her laughing caution seriously, and replied with much indignation: “What a ridiculous notion. Why, if you didn't make me forget Sylvia, certainly no other girl would. You must have a very bad opinion of me, if you think I fall in love with every girl I meet. Ah! I see you are laughing at me. Now, I must really go, Uncle Dick is shouting for me. I say, won't you give me a kiss, Dolores, for luck?”

They were standing together in the drawing-room. Mr. Egerton, who was going to drive Dick to the port, was bustling about outside, giving last orders, and causing a most unnecessary amount of fuss. Dolores hesitated a moment, then bending forward, she laid her lips lightly on Dick's, and whispered, “Good luck to you, dear.”

Dick squeezed her hand, and then rushed off in answer to another loud summons from Mr. Egerton. He stopped on the way, however, to hold out his hand to Mamie and say cheerily:

“Good-bye, Mamie. By-the-way, you have never wished me good luck.”

The old negress looked at him and then said:

“I wish good luck to you, Master Dick, and to your bride—as much as you deserve.”

“I'm afraid that won't be a great deal,” answered Dick carelessly, without thinking much about the matter; then he jumped up on to the box-seat beside Mr. Egerton, waving his hand to Dolores, who stood on the verandah, watching till the waggonette had rolled swiftly out of sight.

Some weeks later, Miss Sylvia Fenton was playing billiards with her brother Jim. It was just before dinner, the lamps were lighted, and the bright light falling on Sylvia as she moved round the table, showed her to be as pretty a girl as one would wish to see, her fair beauty set off and heightened by the black evening dress she wore.

“Come, Sylvia,” said Jim, lighting a cigarette, “you really must play up, you are a long way behind. What are you going to play for now, child?”

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“I was going to put down the red,” answered his sister, preparing to do so.

“I doubt if you'll do it; it's not an easy stroke. By-the-way, I wonder I haven't heard from Dick lately, he must have missed two mails. Ah! I thought so—” as Sylvia's ball, striking the red one on the wrong side, drove it in the opposite direction to that originally intended—“I said you couldn't do it, but you women are so obstinate.”

“I don't think there is any chalk on my cue,” said Sylvia humbly; then, as she rectified the omission, she went on rather timidly: “Has another West Indian mail come in then, Jim? I know you didn't hear by the last one.”

Jim did not reply immediately, his energies were all devoted to the accomplishment of a difficult cannon. Having succeeded, and being thereby put into the best of tempers, he answered in good-natured chaff:

What a fearful little humbug you are, Sylvia. As if you didn't know when the mails are due far better than I do. It's my opinion,” he continued, walking round the table to make a fresh stroke—“that there is something up between you and Dick I notice that the enclosure to you in my letter has increased considerably in size, and the ‘little note’ you send to him is a good deal bigger than it used to be. I shall have to write and ask him his intentions. Hallo! what are you about?” he added, as he looked at the marking board, to which Sylvia had turned in hopes of hiding a vivid blush—“You've been marking yourself instead of me, and you are as red as a turkey-cock. This”—assuming a tragic manner—“must be examined into. If Dick has been trifling with your young affections, he shall answer for it to a justly incensed—What is it?” as a trim maid-servant appeared at the door.

“Please sir, a boy have just brought a note for you, and it's very pertickler.”

“Any answer?”

“No, sir. The boy just give it in at the back door and said it was very important, and then ran away.”

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“Very mysterious,” ejaculated Jim, opening the note; “is it from some dark-eyed damsel who is smitten with my charms and appoints a midnight meeting, or is it a dun? By Jove, it's from — Here, Mary, tell Fraser to saddle the grey colt directly. Sylvia, I'm called away on business and shan't be in to dinner so you must make some excuse for me. Say I've gone to the moon, if you like.” With these injunctions, he hastily departed, and shortly afterwards, Sylvia heard the sound of the grey colt's hoofs dying away in the distance.

At the dinner table she announced Jim's sudden departure, and public curiosity was much excited thereby, but was not gratified that evening, as Jim did not re-appear till late.

Sylvia was just falling asleep, when she heard a husky whisper of “Sylvia, are you awake?” and Jim stole into her room.

“What do you want, Jim?” she asked.

His reply seemed somewhat irrelevant.

“I think.” he said, in an injured voice, “that you might have told me about it. You are the closest girl I ever met. However, I will forgive you, and present you with my consent and blessing if you care to have it.”

“What do you mean? Where have you been?”

“I have been,” answered Jim, “enjoying the society of a friend who has just returned from foreign parts, having made his pile. I have here a note for you, that is, if it isn't lost,” he continued mischievously, searching in every pocket but the right one. “Ah! here it is. But don't you want to know who it's from?” holding it just out of her reach.

“Oh, Jim, do give it to me.”

“There, then! it shan't be teased any more. Take it, and bless you, my children. Dear, dear! to think that I should ever figure as a messenger of love, as a—, in short, as a gooseberry.” And sadly shaking his head, Jim softly retired.

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Sylvia lit a candle and read her note. It was from Dick, saying that he had only just arrived in England, that he had told Jim everything, and that that young gentleman thought it would be all right with the authorities. He ended by begging Sylvia to meet him next morning before breakfast, at the same garden gate where they had parted six years before.

Sylvia read the note, kissed it, and then putting it under her pillow, tried to go to sleep. For a long time her efforts were vain. She thought of Dick, and wondered if he had changed much, if he would find her altered; speculated as to what her parents would say, then what his relations would think; wondered again if Dolores were really so very lovely as was reported; tossed and turned, and finally, having “just decided, that it was useless trying to sleep, and that the night would never end, she dropped off into an uneasy slumber.

She fancied that she was in a prettily furnished bedroom, sitting in front of a dressing-table with a large looking-glass on it. Her hair was floating on her shoulders and she wore a loose white gown. She felt restless and nervous, afraid of something, though she knew not what. In her agitation, she knocked something off the table, and stooped to pick it up. As she did so, a feeling came over her that she was not alone in the room, and raising her head, she saw in the looking-glass a black, fearful face looking over her shoulder. A skinny arm was raised, and then in her fright she gave a scream and woke.

The dream was terribly vivid, and seemed strangely familiar. She fancied she must have dreamt the same before, but had no distinct recollection of doing so. Puzzling over the matter, she fell asleep again, and this time slept peacefully till morning.

When she woke, she remembered her appointment with her lover, so she dressed herself with particular care, and started to meet him, but as she drew near the garden gate, she hesitated.

“It is six years since Dick has seen me,” she thought. “I must have changed greatly, for I was only a child then. page 26 Suppose he is disappointed in me, and finds I am no longer the Sylvia he used to love. I think—, I think I'll go back to the house.”

Accordingly she turned, and was walking slowly away, when she heard a quick step behind her, a strong arm was thrown round her waist, and glancing up, she met Dick's eyes with a look in them which set all her doubts at rest.

Some little time afterwards, they strolled up to the house together, arriving just as the gong summoned the family to breakfast. Dick was warmly welcomed, and in the general bustle and confusion of question and answer, no one noticed Sylvia's silence and unusually rosy cheeks.

After the meal was over, Dick, evidently thinking that there was no time to be lost, asked Mr. Fenton if he might speak to him in his study,“on business.” The Squire agreed directly, though he greatly wondered what manner of business Dick could possibly wish to transact with him. Nor was his Surprise lessened when Dick, carefully shutting the door, quietly said:

“I hope you won't be very angry Squire, but the fact is Sylvia and I have been engaged since before I left England; and now that I am getting on and have good prospects, I have come back to ask your consent to our marriage.”

This perfectly cool and matter-of-fact statement of the case, together with its total unexpectedness, fairly took away Mr. Fenton's presence of mind. For a minute or two he said nothing, and Dick taking courage, went on to plead his cause with so much earnestness that the Squire felt his anger at the long deception, gradually oozing away. Besides, Sylvia was his favourite child, and he had always had a great liking for Dick, who was also, as he had said, thanks to Mr. Egerton, well able to support a wife. He could think of no valid objection to the match, but he justly considered that it was necessary to vindicate outraged paternal authority, so he sternly demanded:

“And how do you justify yourself in leading a mere child like Sylvia into a secret engagement, involving such a long course of deception?”

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“I know it was very wrong,” answered Dick, “but I was so fond of her, and I thought if I said anything about it then, you would tell me I was too young to know my own mind. Besides, I left her free to throw me ove if she saw anyone she liked better. As to her being such a child, why I've heard you say that Mrs. Fenton was not seventeen when you got engaged to her.”

The Squire coughed. Of course it was ridiculous to suppose that his conduct formed any precedent for, or palliated the impropriety of Dick's behaviour. Still, he felt that it would be difficult to convince his daughter's suitor of the difference between the two cases. So he said more mildly:

“At all events, I did not ask Mrs. Fenton to deceive her parents, nor to wait for six years.”

“No,” returned Dick, “your path was quite amooth; I have had to make my own way in the world. Of course if it had not been for the kindness of my godfather, I should not have got on so well, but I have worked hard, and it was all for Sylvia's sake.”

Mr. Fenton, always soft-hearted, was touched.

“Well, well,” said he, “we'll see about it.” Then falling back on his last resource: “You know I must see what my wife says, it all rests with her. I suppose she knows nothing about this precious affair?”

“Sylvia was going to tell her while I was speaking to you.”

“Oh! Then you had better go and find Sylvia, and tell her to ask her mother to come here.”

Dick departed on this errand, much relieved that the interview was over, and feeling that being sent to Sylvia was a tacit consent on the part of the Squire. He had not far to go for he found Sylvia waiting in the passage, and delivered his message. She ran away to tell her mother and then returned, exclaiming eagerly:

“Was daddy very angry?”

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“He was at first, but I think it will be all right, I'm sure he will consent if your mother isn't against it. What did she say?”

“She was very displeased and hurt at my deceiving her so long, but Jim came in and made her laugh, (you know what a pet he is of her's) by saying that there was no good making any objections as he had given his consent and had looked after us all the time. She sent him away, but she wasn't angry after that. She asked what your parents thought about it, and I said that they were very pleased, so she said that she liked you very much, but she had always understood you were to marry Dolores.”

“I can't think why everyone has got that idea in their heads,” interrupted Dick, irritably. “When I told my mother last night, she said she had hoped I would marry Dolores. I told her that as far as that went, I wasn't in love with Dolores nor she with me. She doesn't care for anyone more than her father. She would not come to England, though I asked her to be your bridesmaid, because she wouldn't leave him. Besides, I always determined you should be my wife.”

Sylvia gave his arm a little squeeze and went on: “Then mother asked me if I were really very fond of you, and when I told her I was . . (don't, Dick!) . . she said she would speak to daddy, it depended on what he said.”

“Then it is as good as settled, Syl., they can't refuse now. The next question is, how soon shall we be married. It doesn't take long to get an outfit, does it?”

“Oh! my dear Dick, we can't get married yet.”

“Why not? We've been engaged six years. There is nothing to wait for now. We will be married in three weeks; that leaves plenty of time to publish the banns and for you to buy your fal-lals. Now, let's go into the garden.”

That morning the Squire rode down to the Darrells', and had an interview with the Major and his wife, which ended in a formal consent being given; and the engagement was duly announced, causing much excitement and rejoicing page 29 among the younger branches of the two families. Dick's proposal that the wedding should take place in three weeks' time was scouted with scorn, and it was only after much discussion that the date was fixed for six weeks later.

So that it was a lovely morning in late autumn when the families of Fenton and Darrell, with their friends, assembled in the little village church; and Sylvia Fenton, looking prettier than ever in her bridal dress, became Mrs. Richard Darrell.

No need to describe the wedding; there is a general similarity about such festivities, from the tears that are shed at the beginning of the ceremony to the champagne that flows at the breakfast afterwards. At last everyone's health had been drunk; the clergyman (a family friend), who tied the knot, had made a solemn speech, the bridegroom an incoherent, and the best man a facetious one; the bride had changed her dress, and taken a tearful farewell of her relations; and amid the orthodox shower of rice and shoes, the young couple had driven away, en route for the Continent, where they intended to travel for two or three months.