“Don’t, please. It was not worth telling; only I could remember nothing else.”
At this entreaty Harwin stared at her, and his lip curled disdainfully under the hand that partially covered his face. “Have you so much wealth of fascination, young lady,” his thoughts ran, “that you can afford to scatter your coins in this way? I rather think not.” His eyes rested upon her for a moment as she sat looking at Katie Archdale, and the scorn of his mouth deepened. “Admiration of one woman for another,” he commented. “Pshaw! the girl lavishes everything; she will soon be bankrupt. She is drinking in the intoxication of Katie’s beauty just as—no, not like me, of course. If ever there could be excuse for such a thing it would be here, for Katie is bewitching, she is perfect; affectionate, too, but with no nonsense about her. She reserves her admiration for—for whom does she reserve it? For the proud young nabob beside her, or for the good-humored little coxcomb over here? It shall be for neither; it shall be for me. I, too, can be fascinating when I take the trouble. Fair lady, I have plans for you.”
“Master Harwin,” cried the girl’s clear voice, interrupting his thoughts, “why don’t you begin? We’re waiting for you.”
“Pardon me,” he answered, “I was not aware of it. Well, since you are inexorable, I’ll try. I will not attempt anything in this New World, which you all know so much more about than I do, for then there’d be every chance of my being heavily fined. But if you want a story of Old England, perhaps on that ground I can barely escape my forfeit.”
“We shall be delighted,” said Miss Royal, courteously, for Katie, to whom she saw that he was speaking, was at the moment claimed by Archdale; he was saying something to her in a low voice, and she gave him willing attention.
Only a flash in the narrator’s eyes as he began showed that he noticed this.
“Once upon a time, then,” he said, “in Scotland, no matter in what part, there dwelt two disconsolate people. They ought to have been very happy, for they were lovers, but, as you may have noticed, lovers are happy only under the condition that love runs smooth, and here it was extremely rough. The suitor was of ancient family and poor, the lady was charming, and wilful—and an heiress? You are all waiting to hear me say that—no, she was poor, too. And so you see that a doubling of impecuniosity was quite impossible, for poverty rolls up fast in a geometrical progression. But the lovers had no such scruples. It’s a romantic story enough if I could tell it to you in detail.”
“And why not?” cried Katie, whose interest was making him wish that were possible.
“I should have to go back for generations, and tell you of family feuds as old as the families themselves, a Montague and Capulet state of affairs, although each family had so much respect for the golden amenities of life that its possession by the other would have softened the asperity of feeling. But each was poor,—poor, I mean, for people in that station.