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“I thought three generations a long time for one life,” laughed Patricia.
She had come downstairs while they were talking, and was standing now by the door. She had bathed her eyes and put up her hair afresh, and had even gone to the coquettish length of a bright bit of ribbon about her throat and a bow of the same colour-dark sailorblue-among the glossy brown of her luxuriant hair; and as she stood there she made a picture more beautiful, Gordon thought, than ever poet imagined or painter drew.
“We must mind our tackle now the pilot's aboard-eh, Gordon ?" said the old Captain, looking at her proudly.
And Gordon said “ Yes,” with full meaning.
“I am glad you know the Fletchers," then said the Captain. “One likes one's friends to be in good hands. There is a Catherine Fletcher too,” he added, looking with an odd kind of expression at Patricia. “She was a beauty in her young days. All Milltown was mad after her. She and her brother Henry live still at Milltown, I believe. He was a doctor, but he left the profession when the old man died; and a fine fellow he used to be, I remember."
“So is Mr. Fletcher in London,” said Gordon ; "and so sharp and clever! When he used to come in with his mathematical way of putting things that I thought were all different, as I said, it was like fortune-telling somehow. I know he used to make me feel the most of a fool I have ever felt.”
“Eh? Then he must have known his alphabet," said the Captain waggishly; and Gordon laughed and blushed.
He was a fine young fellow, brave and strong, but not beyond blushing like a girl on occasions.
“True all the same," he continued. “What I thought was as plain as that two and two make four, he showed me had this bearing and that meaning I had never seen, and that my two and two made five or six or nothing at all! I used to feel in a foreign land in that old office of his, where I knew neither the language nor the country and had to walk as if blindfold, under guidance."
“ Long may it remain a foreign country to you and us all !” said the Captain fervently.
“I think there must be a born antipathy between sailors and lawyers,” put in Patricia.
“ Land-sharks and sea-sharks,” said her her uncle quite gravely; “and, of the two, the land-sharks are the worst.”
“But this special shark of Gordon's, this Mr. Fletcher, he seems to be harmless enough ?" she said.
“Fletcher ?-yes, he's about the best you'll find,” her uncle answered. “If he was not one of the devil's advocates I should say he was about as good a man as ever walked on the face of the
earth. He has a strain of honesty, that man, which has stood in his way more than once ; he'll never make his fortune out of the ruin of other people's."
“He'll do better-he'll deal justly by other people's," said Gordon; and then the conversation dropped.
But it left on Patricia a cheery impression. She was glad that Gordon had an honest man for his legal adviser when he had business on hand, a man he could trust as the caretaker of his fortunes while he was away at sea doing his duty to his country, which would not be half grateful enough, she used to think, if he came to grief in her service like her uncle, or mourn him as he deserved to be mourned if he went down altogether in the fight.
She and Gordon were great friends. When she spoke of him, and was conscious that she had to account for the familiar terms on which they were together, as happened sometimes, if rarely, she invariably said, “We have been brought up together, like brother and sister.” And this was true. He had been educated at Mr. Ramsey's, the clergyman who lived at St. John's and served Barsands as well; while his mother and sisters did battle with small means and large pretensións in Germany. And as the journey was expensive and the Frere finances. limited, he had seldom gone over to them; a big, healthy, English boy, destined for the sea and as wild as a colt, not being the kind of thing specially desired by a nervous woman in a small foreign apartment, with a couple of showy-looking daughters to dress and marry. By which it had come about that the Captain had taken possession of him in his holidays, and Patricia had learnt to regard him as a brother, or something very like one.
When he first went away to the Britannia training ship she felt as if she had lost part of her very self. She was but a little lassie at the time, but she always remembered how she had cried when he turned the corner, and she saw him for the last time out on the Penrose Road, waving his cap; and how for days and days after there seemed to be no sun left in the sky. Now she was glad he had chosen the profession. Naturally, to her mind it was the finest a man could choose. Had not her dear uncle, and her grandfather before him, been its shining lights ? For though when he had got fairly afloat it took him away so much, yet when he did come home-St. John's Vicarage and Holdfast Cottage were always “home” to the poor boy who had never known any other-it sent him back with such an atmosphere of youthful heroism about him, such a sense of dangers braved and difficulties overcome and a noble life's work nobly begun, that she could not grudge the separation which had borne such glorious fruits already, and which was to bear others even more glorious in the days to come. She would not, if she could, have kept Gordon 'moidering” away his youth at Barsands. Pleasant as it was to have him as her companion when she tore about the country on her shaggy, ill-groomed pony, or beat up against the wind in the Mermaid,
she knew that a life of idleness, though ever so delightful, was not the right thing for a man. And it gave her a little joy to feel that for his good she could conquer her own desires, and even rejoice at the cause if she grieved over the fact of their separation. But let him be gone as long as he would, she was ever entirely loyal to him in his absence, never forgot him in her prayers, never took any one else to be her brother in his stead, but always kept him first in his generation in her heart, as beseemed a steadfast and affectionate sister.
She loved him as young things of the right kind do love each other, without fear or introspection. She scarcely could remember the time when Gordon Frere was not part of her life, and when she did not love him as much as she loved her uncle, if differently. It was not a thing to think about at all. It was a fact; just as much as sisterhood or daughterhood is a fact. Gordon was Gordon to her; and when she bad said that she had said all.
And yet this time she had been conscious of the slightest possible little change in their relations. It was not coolness—by no means coolness; but just a dash of shyness and reserve, as if there was something of which they were a little afraid to speak, and as if they both felt they must be more careful somehow than they used to be. But it was so slight a change that Patricia was resolute not to accept it; and as Gordon, on his side, seemed to struggle against the shadowy influence in the best way he could, the old joyous harmony that had been for so many years unbroken between them still went on, and this visit of the bright young sailor to his friends at home was as happy as all the others had been.
“Any news when you join ?" asked Captain Kemball.
“Oh, Gordon ! that is a month too soon !” cried Patricia in frank sorrow. “I thought you said you were to stay till the third week in November ?"
“So I did; but the Lords have ordered us away the third week in October, you see,” he answered.
“What a pity! We do miss you so when you go. It seems to get worse every time !" said Patricia.
The young man's eyes glistened. Well, I am glad you are so sorry, Patricia !” he said frankly.
“You are? Wbat a horrid speech—and how Irish !" she laughed.
“ Isn't it better than to go and think not a living soul on shore regrets you ?” asked Gordon looking at her earnestly.
“Yes, Pat,” said the Captain taking up the strain ; "you don't know what it is to keep watch on a dark night, and be thinking of the dear ones at home, and knowing that they are thinking of you, and feeling their blessed hearts so pitiful to hear the wind blow.”
“It's hard lines for the poor fellows who have no one to care a button for them," put in Gordon ; "and I, for one, don't envy them. So you'll please keep on being sorry, Patricia, do you hear ?"
Well, Gordon, I suppose we shall,” said Patricia, with her hand on her uncle's shoulder. “We miss you horribly when you go away, don't we, uncle? Life isn't the same thing without you, and you will take away the last of the summer this time. However" and she sighed. The sigh meant resignation and “what must be, must be."
“Don't make a Molly of him, Pat," said the old Captain, going into the house.
“It's good news you tell me; I wouldn't have it altered; I like you to miss me when I go," continued Gordon gravely.
Without knowing why, Patricia suddenly felt herself grow pale, and an odd kind of tremor passed over her.
“I hear Sarah with the tea-things; come and have some tea," she said abruptly.
“ All right. And you will sing me 'Dermot asthore' after ?” asked Gordon in a rather lower voice than usual; for he too generally spoke as if a northwester was blowing in his teeth.
“Yes, if you wish it,” was the reply. “I do wish it, very much, Patricia. I want to hear Dermot' and What would you do, Love ?' and when I am tossing about at sea I shall remember them and you—and this evening.”
“Why this evening specially ?” asked Patricia.
But though she tried to speak in her usual frank way, somethingit was almost like wool-seemed to have got into her throat that changed the quality of her voice, even to her own ears. Neither could she look at Gordon as she was accustomed to look at him. She felt bashful, and as if her eyes refused to go his way. Altogether it was uncomfortable, and she felt inclined to run away and hide herself where he could not find her. Nor was he quite the same to her. A trouble, dim, formless, but real, seemed to have fallen between them ; and yet it was not the trouble of unkindness.
Why? I will not tell you now, Patricia ; but some day I will,” said Gordon, looking at the gold band of his cap as if it was something he had never seen before, and sinking his voice, which trembled.
“Mysteries ? oh, I hate mysteries !" she cried, making a sudden effort to conquer her strange sensations, and laughing in a way scarcely natural to her, as, with an odd feeling of escape she ran into the dining-room-where she mismanaged the tea, or, as the Captain called it," spoilt the brew.”
As she did not know very well what she was about she scalded herself, which effectually awakened her from the confusion of her state; and she did not get entangled again that evening, not even when she had finished What would you do, Love ?' and Gordon had asked her, with his honest blue eyes raised full into hers, “Is that what you'd do, Patricia, to any poor fellow who loved you and had bad chances?" and she had answered heartily, “Yes, I would, Gordon.”
“You'd not believe an ill word, and not be frightened by a cold fortune ?” he asked.
“I? No! not all the world could turn me from one I loved !" she said warmly.
“I believe you, Patricia !” said Gordon; and his face beamed with something more tender than a smile, deeper than mere pleasure. “ You are the truest-hearted girl that ever stepped. Man or woman would be safe with you !"
“Gordon, how can you talk such nonsense!” said Patricia.
But her cheeks flushed with pleasure, and she felt very happy that he thought her so true-hearted.
NATURALLY the chief amusement at Barsands was boating, for those who owned anything that would float, between a tub and a cockleshell; though, for the matter of that, there was only the Captain to keep a pleasure-boat at all—the rest being fishing and seine-boats only, of larger or smaller dimensions. And, naturally again, Captain Kemball, and Gordon Frere when he was on shore, were never happier than when they were cruising about the rocks and islands which made this special reach of coast so dangerous.
Patricia was generally with them, in accordance with the Captain's idea that the right kind of feminine education was to make women as brave as men, heroically indifferent to danger and clever in getting out of it; courage and presence of mind being the qualities he most admired after truth and loyalty. And Patricia was really a very good seawoman. She could handle the tiller ropes as well as if she had been a pilot on her own account, and she knew every shoal and rock and current as accurately as if she had been the hydrographer of the station. Her uncle used to call her“ the mermaid” sometimes; and when he hit on the idea he re-christened his boat, which until then had been the Young Hold fast, the Mermaid too, in honour of her. He was fond of innocent little jokes, decent man! and one of them was to declare gravely to such strangers as he might have seen gaping at her pranks in the water-for she could swim like a fish—that he had seen