Of Two Gentlemen of Wales, and How They Hunted With the Hounds, and Yet Ran With the Deer

“I know that Deformed; he has been a vile thief this seven years; he goes up and down like a gentleman: I remember his name.”—Much Ado About Nothing.

Amyas slept that night a tired and yet a troubled sleep; and his mother and Frank, as they bent over his pillow, could see that his brain was busy with many dreams.

And no wonder; for over and above all the excitement of the day, the recollection of John Oxenham had taken strange possession of his mind; and all that evening, as he sat in the bay-windowed room where he had seen him last, Amyas was recalling to himself every look and gesture of the lost adventurer, and wondering at himself for so doing, till he retired to sleep, only to renew the fancy in his dreams. At last he found himself, he knew not how, sailing westward ever, up the wake of the setting sun, in chase of a tiny sail which was John Oxenham’s. Upon him was a painful sense that, unless he came up with her in time, something fearful would come to pass; but the ship would not sail. All around floated the sargasso beds, clogging her bows with their long snaky coils of weed; and still he tried to sail, and tried to fancy that he was sailing, till the sun went down and all was utter dark. And then the moon arose, and in a moment John Oxenham’s ship was close aboard; her sails were torn and fluttering; the pitch was streaming from her sides; her bulwarks were rotting to decay. And what was that line of dark objects dangling along the mainyard?—A line of hanged men! And, horror of horrors, from the yard-arm close above him, John Oxenham’s corpse looked down with grave-light eyes, and beckoned and pointed, as if to show him his way, and strove to speak, and could not, and pointed still, not forward, but back along their course. And when Amyas looked back, behold, behind him was the snow range of the Andes glittering in the moon, and he knew that he was in the South Seas once more, and that all America was between him and home. And still the corpse kept pointing back, and back, and looking at him with yearning eyes of agony, and lips which longed to tell some awful secret; till he sprang up, and woke with a shout of terror, and found himself lying in the little coved chamber in dear old Burrough, with the gray autumn morning already stealing in.

Feverish and excited, he tried in vain to sleep again; and after an hour’s tossing, rose and dressed, and started for a bathe on his beloved old pebble ridge. As he passed his mother’s door, he could not help looking in. The dim light of morning showed him the bed; but its pillow had not been pressed that night. His mother, in her long white night-dress, was kneeling at the other end of the chamber at her prie-dieu, absorbed in devotion. Gently he slipped in without a word, and knelt down at her side. She turned, smiled, passed her arm around him, and went on silently with her prayers. Why not? They were for him, and he knew it, and prayed also; and his prayers were for her, and for poor lost John Oxenham, and all his vanished crew.

At last she rose, and standing above him, parted the yellow locks from off his brow, and looked long and lovingly into his face. There was nothing to be spoken, for there was nothing to be concealed between these two souls as clear as glass. Each knew all which the other meant; each knew that its own thoughts were known. At last the mutual gaze was over; she stooped and kissed him on the brow, and was in the act to turn away, as a tear dropped on his forehead. Her little bare feet were peeping out from under her dress. He bent down and kissed them again and again; and then looking up, as if to excuse himself,—

“You have such pretty feet, mother!”

Instantly, with a woman’s instinct, she had hidden them. She had been a beauty once, as I said; and though her hair was gray, and her roses had faded long ago, she was beautiful still, in all eyes which saw deeper than the mere outward red and white.

“Your dear father used to say so thirty years ago.”

“And I say so still: you always were beautiful; you are beautiful now.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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