Arthur arrived in town in a melancholy condition. His was a temperament peculiarly liable to suffer from attacks of depression, and he had, with some excuse, a sufficiently severe one on him now. Do what he would he could not for a single hour free his mind from the sick longing to see or hear from Angela, that, in addition to the mental distress it occasioned him, amounted almost to a physical pain. After two or three days of lounging about his club—for he was in no mood for going out—he began to feel that this sort of thing was intolerable, and that it was absolutely necessary for him to go somewhere or do something.
It so happened that, just after he had come to this decision, he overheard two men, who were sitting at the next table to him in the club dining-room, talking of the island of Madeira, and speaking of it as a charming place. He accepted this as an omen, and determined that to Madeira he would go. And, indeed, the place would suit him as well as any other to get through a portion of his year of probation in, and, whilst affording a complete change of scene, would not be too far from England.
And so it came to pass that on the morrow Arthur found himself in the office of Messrs. Donald Currie, for the purpose of booking his berth in the vessel that was due to sail on the 14th. There he was informed by the very affable clerk, who assisted him to choose his cabin, that the vessel was unusually empty, and that, up to the present time, berths had been taken for only five ladies, and two of them Jewesses.
“However,” the clerk added, by way of consolation, “this one,” pointing to Mrs. Carr’s name on the list, “is as good as a cargo,” and he whistled expressively.
“What do you mean?” asked Arthur, his curiosity slightly excited.
“I mean—my word, here she comes.”
At that moment the swing doors of the office were pushed open, and there came through them one of the sweetest, daintiest little women Arthur had ever seen. She was no longer quite young, she might be eight and twenty or thirty, but, on the other hand, maturity had but added to the charms of youth. She had big, brown eyes that Arthur thought could probably look languishing, if they chose, and that even in repose were full of expression, a face soft and blooming as a peach, and round as a baby’s, surmounted by a quantity of nut-brown hair, the very sweetest mouth, the lips rather full, and just showing a line of pearl, and lastly, what looked rather odd on such an infantile countenance, a firm, square, and very determined, if very diminutive chin. For the rest, it was difficult to say which was the most perfect, her figure or her dress.
All of which, of course, had little interest for Arthur, but what did rather startle him was her voice, when she spoke. From such a woman one would naturally have expected a voice of a corresponding nature, namely, one of the soft and murmuring order. But hers, on the contrary, though sweet, was decided, and clear as a bell, and with a peculiar ring in it that he would have recognized amongst a thousand others.