The Wrong Box

Page 58

'I am afraid you are really quite ill,' she said, drawing a little nearer. 'Please don't let me put you out, and do not stay under that table, Mr Jimson. Indeed it cannot be good for you.'

Mr Jimson only answered by a distressing cough; and the next moment the girl was on her knees, and their faces had almost knocked. together under the table.

'O, my gracious goodness!' exclaimed Miss Hazeltine, and sprang to her feet. 'Mr Forsyth gone mad!'

'I am not mad,' said the gentleman ruefully, extricating himself from his position. 'Dearest. Miss Hazeltine, I vow to you upon my knees I am not mad!'

'You are not!' she cried, panting.

'I know,' he said, 'that to a superficial eye my conduct may appear unconventional.'

'If you are not mad, it was no conduct at all,' cried the girl, with a flash of colour, 'and showed you did not care one penny for my feelings!'

'This is the very devil and all. I know--I admit that,' cried Gideon, with a great effort of manly candour.

'It was abominable conduct!' said Julia, with energy.

'I know it must have shaken your esteem,' said the barrister. 'But, dearest Miss Hazeltine, I beg of you to hear me out; my behaviour, strange as it may seem, is not unsusceptible of explanation; and I positively cannot and will not consent to continue to try to exist without--without the esteem of one whom I admire--the moment is ill chosen, I am well aware of that; but I repeat the expression--one whom I admire.'

A touch of amusement appeared on Miss Hazeltine's face. 'Very well, I said she, 'come out of this dreadfully cold place, and let us sit down on deck.' The barrister dolefully followed her. 'Now,' said she, making herself comfortable against the end of the house, 'go on. I will hear you out.' And then, seeing him stand before her with so much obvious disrelish to the task, she was suddenly overcome with laughter. Julia's laugh was a thing to ravish lovers; she rolled her mirthful descant with the freedom and the melody of a blackbird's song upon the river, and repeated by the echoes of the farther bank. It seemed a thing in its own place and a sound native to the open air. There was only one creature who heard it without joy, and that was her unfortunate admirer.

'Miss Hazeltine,' he said, in a voice that tottered with annoyance, 'I speak as your sincere well-wisher, but this can only be called levity.'

Julia made great eyes at him.

'I can't withdraw the word,' he said: 'already the freedom with which I heard you hobnobbing with a boatman gave me exquisite pain. Then there was a want of reserve about Jimson--'

'But Jimson appears to be yourself,' objected Julia.

'I am far from denying that,' cried the barrister, 'but you did not know it at the time. What could Jimson be to you? Who was Jimson? Miss Hazeltine, it cut me to the heart.'

'Really this seems to me to be very silly,' returned Julia, with severe decision. 'You have behaved in the most extraordinary manner; you pretend you are able to explain your conduct, and instead of doing so you begin to attack me.'

'I am well aware of that,' replied Gideon. 'I--I will make a clean breast of it. When you know all the circumstances you will be able to excuse me.

And sitting down beside her on the deck, he poured forth his miserable history.

'O, Mr Forsyth,' she cried, when he had done, 'I am--so--sorry! wish I hadn't laughed at you--only you know you really were so exceedingly funny. But I wish I hadn't, and I wouldn't either if I had only known.' And she gave him her hand.

Gideon kept it in his own. 'You do not think the worse of me for this?' he asked tenderly.

'Because you have been so silly and got into such dreadful trouble? you poor boy, no!' cried Julia; and, in the warmth of the moment, reached him her other hand; 'you may count on me,' she added.

'Really?' said Gideon.

'Really and really!' replied the girl.

'I do then, and I will,' cried the young man. 'I admit the moment is not well chosen; but I have no friends--to speak of.'

'No more have I,' said Julia.

The Wrong Box Page 59

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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