Inez K Hyland.

In sunshine and in shadow online

. (page 11 of 15)
Online LibraryInez K HylandIn sunshine and in shadow → online text (page 11 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


west wind coming across a plain which glows as a
Persian tile, from a sea so brilliant one seems almost
unable to realize its full strength of colour. How can I
make palpable the ^olian tones of the breeze-swept
vines, which show the grey surface of under-leaf alter-
nating with the emerald of the upper ? How give even
a faint idea of your long range of rounded hills, which
are golden under slanted sun-rays, their cup-moulded
depressions fit chalices for the purple and amber of
shade and light 1 How can I picture the loveliness of
this dear old garden, the home of bird and bee ; the
graceful wreaths of the purple passion flowers, the late
blossoms of the golden-hearted roses, the cream and
carmine of the honeysuckle, the vermilion of the



TO SOUTH AUSTRALIA. 281

geraniums, which seem like clarions proclaiming the
advent of the year 1

A plumbago at the window is waving to and fro ;
it reminds me of a pretty girl friend in a blue dress.
Daisies, like wide open-eyed children in frilled white
bonnets, are standing in the shade of the lemon tree.
But as I look from our cottage porch I feel the portrait
of to-day has evaded me. It is lovely, and as difficult
to paint as the opalescent hues of the wings of
the dragon fly. I see and adore, but cannot paint
its beauty. Someone has said we look on nature and
invent. Not wilfully, dear reader, have I invented ;
but rather, as a moulder of images, in place of warm life
have given you cold clay. Often and often have I
repeated myself ; but for this I ask no pardon. When
we love we do not invent new words ; we only say over
and over, " You are beautiful ! I love you ! I love
you!"



282




WHAT THE WICKED MANDARIN SAID.

eleven years old, and I can write beauti-
a sa j s so ; ^ ut I will not show
what I am going to write to anyone, although
it would serve that wicked mandarin right
if all the world knew what a bad old story-
teller he is. He is so ugly. I do hope he will never
see this ; I must lock it away in the inlaid desk Sylvia
gave me on my last birthday.

It was one very bright moonlight night when he told
me what I am going to write about. He had told me
ever so many stories before of ghosts, and murders,
and awful dragons like those on the little teapot beside
him, and what dreadful things happened to little girls
who lay awake at night and looked at the stars instead
of going to sleep. But this was all about Sylvia. It
was such a terrible story, and not one word of it true,
I feel quite sure. I wish the mandarin lived anywhere
else than in that little cabinet opposite my bed ; but
that is the only corner the cabinet fits. Sylvia is very
fond of it, and the mandarin and teapot : they belonged
to mamma. The moonlight was so bright that night,
and the sea looked like silver, and the revolving light
on the opposite coast looked like the ghost of a
wandering star. The moon knew how sorry I was to



WHAT THE WICKED MANDARIN SAID. 283

be in bed while she shone so brightly, and sent long
bands of lovely silver light through the window. The
passion vine on the verandah seemed cut in black
velvet against the bright full moon ; an empty wren's
nest hung amongst the leaves ; the wrens had built
when the Bourcault roses were thrusting their pink
faces in among the passion flowers blushing country
maidens peering at princesses in purple. The day we
found two tiny blue eggs in the nest a gentleman came
to see Sylvia, and we had tea on the verandah. I think
Sylvia must have known he was coming, for she had
baked such nice cakes in the morning cakes as good
as she makes for my birthday parties. The best tea
service had been got out. Our old servant Dorothy
was very cross, and said she could not bake any scones ;
she was certain they'd be heavy. Sylvia said, " Never
mind, we'll do without them if you are tired, Dorothy ; "
but just as we were sitting down to tea Dorothy brought
in a plateful hot as toast, and light as a feather. The
yellow flowers of the jasmine fell about the verandah
in little scented showers ; some fluttered down on
Sylvia's hair, and showed like gold stars. She has such
pretty hair ; it ripples all over her head, and on her
neck are little curls. It is such fun to kiss her neck
and feel the curls tickle one's face. Her eyes are
brown they look black till she opens them wide ; it is
the shadow of the long lashes which darkens them.
Sylvia showed the gentleman the wren's nest ; he
whispered to her ; she flushed pink as a Bourcault ; but
Sylvia is no country maiden she has the manners of
a princess. The gentleman whispered very often ; I



284 WHAT THE WICKED MANDARIN SAID.

thought it very rude. Sylvia did not seein to think so
the one who is whispered to never does ; it is the people
who do not hear. He said something about a happy
omen. I thought at first an omen must be what people
say at the end of their prayers, and that he had called
it wrong ; but I looked it out in the dictionary, and it
means a sign a sign of what, I wonder ? He was
a very tall gentleman, very sunburnt, and had very
white teeth ; when he laughed he showed them very
much, and I always would think of the wolf in " Little
Red Cap." Trails of passion vine hung from the rafters
of the verandah pale-green sprays decked with lilac
stars. A breeze came and swung them. As they
swayed they frightened the mother wren ; she twitteied
loudly, her husband hopped about and scolded. The
gentleman said the bird was like a sapphire set in jet.
I noticed his eyes were the colour of its head, and I
thought of a saying of Dorothy's " So very blue, not
very true." I wonder if the gentleman told fibs when
he was a little boy 1 Of course he does not tell them
now, for he is so big and strong, and Sylvia says it is
only weak, cowardly people who deceive. Dorothy
says grown-up people always tell the truth. Sylvia
looped up the swaying passion-flowers, so that they
could not frighten the birds. Presently the wren's
husband came to peck up cake crumbs. It was such
a lovely day. From where I sat I could see great vine-
yards spread over the hills, and long rows of red earth
between the gold green of the vines ; and further off
blue forests, where there are pixies, nymphs, and
gnomes. The plains were veiling themselves in mauve



WHAT THE WICKED MANDARIN SAID. 285

mist, and Adelaide seemed the city of a fairy tale.
Tall spires and towers showed purple through the mist,
with here and there a flash of gold, and the large
buildings of white stone seemed melting in the golden
haze. Across the further plains the backwaters were
like silver threads, and beyond a bar of cream-white
sandhills the sea flashed. The gentleman and Sylvia
walked in the garden. I gave Arabella and Rosalie
their tea ; they are my only children or, rather,
were. But oh ! I can hardly write of it. I will
tell how beautiful the day was till my hand does
not shake, and this big lump has gone out of my
throat. The roses were all blossom cream, crimson,
and gold. The air was very sweet with scent of orange
bloom and hay ; a great bush of Persian lilac was in
flower. Sylvia looked so lovely in her white gown,
standing against the blossoms, round which primrose-
coloured butterflies were hovering ; I am sure the
gentleman thought so, for he did not look at lilac or
butterflies only at Sylvia. The sun was sinking. On
the white walls of the cottage were blue shadows ;
they were so pretty to look at. I could see every leaf
of the passion vine outlined on the wall in blue shadow,
and the wren's nest, with her little head peeping over,
and a spider's web with a fat spider sitting in it.
When the breeze blew the nest seemed to swing
to the shadow web, and a blue shadow shower of
jasmine flowers fell. On an open space of wall came
the shadows of the gentleman and Sylvia. The breeze
blew with quite a gust, and made them move, for
the tall shadow seemed to put its arms round Sylvia,



286 WHAT THE WICKED MAN DA KIN SAID.

and turn her face to his and hold it there. It looked
so strange. I started, and knocked over a chair. It
could only have been the breeze, for when I looked
round the gentleman and Sylvia were standing quite
far apart, Sylvia very flushed, driving away a dragon-
fly with a branch of honeysuckle she had gathered.
But when I turned again, what a dreadful sight ! I
saw oh! dear! dear! Arabella, my sweet darling,
was dead. Her lovely face was smashed to atoms.
The chair I had upset was the one she was sitting on.
I cried out. Sylvia ran to me, and took me in her
arms, and was very kind. I could do nothing but cry.
The gentleman looked very cross ; by-and-by he went
away. In the evening, when the moon came over the
hill, we buried dear Arabella by the grave of the canary,
under the tall white lilies.

But all this happened in the early summer, and what
I want to write down is what the wicked mandarin
said that very bright moonlight night in March. He
sat on the cabinet, leering horribly. I hid my face, but
had to look ; he always makes me. So I got up and set
his head nodding. He likes that ; and then he does not
make such ugly faces. When I was again in bed he
began to talk, "It's no good pretending to be asleep,"
he said. " I know quite well you are watching
those disreputable 'possums scrambling down the ver-
andah posts, to go out gallivanting all night and
come rolling home just before daybreak, as I'm
getting my second sleep. That wren's nest is empty
now, the shade of my illustrious uncle be thanked !
What the cat was about, to let all that screeching



WHA T THE WICKED MANDARIN SAID. 287

go on right over her head, I can't think. Cats
are not what they used to be." " Are there any cats
in China, Mr. Mandarin?" I asked. "Yes; we make
pies of them, and of naughty girls, too ! " He goggled his
eyes and snapped his mouth, then said " Have you
noticed how thin and pale Sylvia is ]" "Sylvia 1 ?" I
cried. " Yes, Sylvia," he mocked. " She's losing all
her good looks." " She's not," I said, sharply ; " she's
always lovely. She has had the headache very much
lately ; that is what makes her look so pale." " Oh,
yes!" he jeered. "The headache of course it's the
headache !" He chuckled for a long time, then went on:
" Do you remember the man who came here the day you
murdered Arabella 1" I could net answer it was such
a dreadful thing to say. " That was Sylvia's lover. Of
course, you noticed nothing greedy, selfish little pig,
stuffing yourself with cakes and sugar. But I looked
out to the lilac bush and know he was Sylvia's lover.
You rememUer, before then, Sylvia had been away for a
month staying with a school friend. You were with
other friends at the seaside. You cried every night, you
baby. Ugh ! I wish I'd been there to frighten you !
Sylvia did not cry ; she was too happy, going long rides
and drives with that man who came here. At night,
when you were crying and puling, Sylvia was strolling
with him under the dark-leaved whispering gums, where
the scent of flowering wattles came, and seemed not half
so sweet as the words she listened to. She did not
think of you. What do you say 1 that ' she wrote very
often, and such sweet, kind letters !' Oh, to be sure !
and that man lounged about the room while she wrote,



288 WHAT THE WICKED MANDARIN SAID.

and said he wished he were you. You ! a little, ugly,
freckled thing ! Sylvia laughed ; she laughed very often
then. She does not laugh now ; of course, it is those
' headaches !' One evening they wandered in the garden
of the homestead and stayed their steps by a fern-fringed
pool called ' The Wishing Well.' A blossoming cherry
tree overhung the water. The lover dropped a stone ;
it sank with a bell-like chime. ' 'Tis a wedding peal !'
he said. 'Twas the knell of Sylvia's happy hours. The
crescent moon peered through the bloomy boughs and
smiled. She has seen a good deal of that sort of thing
in her time, though she forgets to mention it. The nest
is deserted now ; so is Sylvia. Did you see that great
boat that came into the bay yesterday ? You did 1 The
man who kissed Sylvia by the lilacs, the man who told
Sylvia he loved her and would always love her, was in
that boat. He had written a letter to Sylvia, after a
long, long silence. He said that his father was dead,
and now he was going to have a great deal of money,
and would go over the sea and become somebody very
grand indeed. He said it was only possible for him to
marry someone who was also very grand. Sylvia ! what
would she have been amongst great ladies 1 A pink
Bourcault among imperial passion flowers. ' No ! no !
no ! ' you say. What do you know of the ways of the
great ? Have you ever seen ' The Emperor's Mother-in-
Law ; or, The Man Behind the Door 1 ' Are you a man-
darin of the gold button ? " I did not answer. I sup-
pose he really was a very great personage in his own
country, and that is what makes him so disagreeable
here. " Do you know where Sylvia was last night?" he



WHAT THE WICKED MANDARIN SAID. 289

said. " She went through the avenue of poplars, where
the leaves are all golden brown, past the great bignonias
shedding their coral clarions, past vineyards from which
the night cuckoo was calling, and on through the almond
orchard to the hill above, where the dry grass shone
silver-white under the moon. From the distant gullies
came the mournful wail of curlews. Sylvia sat in the
shadow of a tree, and looked out over the land necked
with light and shade she always kept her gaze on the
west ; at dawn a wind drew the mists from the sea,
where the boat showed like a long black line. Then
Sylvia fell upon her face and cried "Oh, God! I cannot,
cannot bear it." When the sun peered over the hill
Sylvia rose and came under the falling almond leaves
through the shadow. All the light seemed out on the
silver sea with the boat. " Do you know where Sylvia
is to-night ? She stands by her window, and looks
out to the moonlit bay, where there is now no boat.
The boat is gone. The lover is gone gone to be the
lover of someone else. Sylvia looks at the bay as one
looks at anything one is fond of, and not likely to see

again. In her hand she has " But I would not stop

to listen to any more of his wicked story. I felt as if
my heart would break. The mandarin gibbered, but I
leaped from my bed and ran down the hall to Sylvia's
room. I suppose that evil thing must have seen through
a chink in the wall, for Sylvia was standing by her
window, and she was looking at the bay. She started,
and gave a sharp cry when she saw me " Darling ! "
she cried, and held out her arms. As she did so some-
thing blue dropped from her hands and fell to the floor,

20



290 WHAT THE WICKED MANDARIN SAID.

leaving a dark stain where it fell. The air seemed
heavy with the odour of poppies. " Dearest, you are
cold and trembling," Sylvia said, " what is the matter?"
She placed me in her bed, and lay beside me. I put
my arms tight round her, and buried my face in her
bosom. I felt very, very frightened, but I did not tell
her what the wicked Mandarin said, " because Sylvia is
J'ond of him," and when one loves anything it hurts so
to find it is not worthy of being loved.




291




MY NEIGHBOUR ACJIOSS THE WAY.

ECEMBER 10TH, 1881. My neighbour across
the way has just gone into her house. The
walk she has taken has brought no colour to
her face : her large brown eyes look as weary
as ever the slight figure seemed too frail to
bear the weight of 'her furred velvet cloak. A quaint
picture is the house across the way, with its peaked,
mossed roof and the narrow windows, against whose
panes the lilacs and laburnums sway in summer. But
it is winter now, and from the wide-tiled fireplace of
the paneled reception-room a leaping fire throws out
light which disturbs the calm surface of the mirrors as
though a flight of golden swallows skimmed across.
The light glancing hither and thither shows gorgeous
colours on the tall jars and great bowls which hold
dried rose leaves. It hurls fiery darts into the gaping
mouths of Chinese monsters. It flashes suddenly on a
little spindle-legged cabinet in a dark corner and shows
how shamelessly the Chelsea shepherdess is ogling the
Dresden gallants. It steals to the spinet and brightens
the jewels on the fingers of my neighbour as her hands
move over the yellowed keys and draw out a faint,
sobbing melody. The big dog stirs from his luxurious
sleep on the tigerskin rug and, getting up, lays his head



292 M Y NEIGHBOUR ACROSS THE WAY.

in the lap of the musician. The piping bullfinch is
restless on his perch, and his mistress covers his cage to
keep out the light. He is a musician himself, and cares
for no music save his own. " Partant pour la Syrie "
he sings every day, and often. It is the only song he
knows. His mistress does not return to the spinet ; she
lies on a couch far in the shadow. But the restless
light, glancing on her, shows that her eyes are very
bright bright as the diamonds on her fingers. The
little Frenchwoman, her servant, who looks like a fairy
godmother, coines to light the candles in the Sevres
girandoles : drawing the curtains, she ^huts from view
my neighbour across the way.

DECEMBER 20TH. To-day my neighbour did not come
to the window to feed the birds, and the two children
who visit her every week went away at once. I
remember, in the spring, soon after I came here, these
children brought a younger child with them, and they
went into the reception-room. My neighbour put her
arms about the child, but he was timid and cried. The
elder children led him out. As they trotted down the
street they chattered, " It was because Ma'm'selle looked
so sad baby had been afraid." " Yes, that was it ;
Ma'm'selle was very kind, but then she did not laugh
like mamma." In the garden of my neighbour the lilac
was regal with perfumed purple bloom. From the
apple tree, which thrust pink favours towards the
narrow windows, a breeze shook a blossom shower and
brought the sound of voices. " The children of others,"
said the little Frenchwoman : then hastily amended
" The children of these English are so stupid, unin-



MY NEIGHBOUR ACROSS THE WAY. 293

teresting little sheep." " No, Susette," answered the
sweet voice of my neighbour, " it is the shadow which
frightened the child : the shadow which is on the
house on me even upon the apple tree, for, though it
blossoms, it bears no fruit." Why has she not come to-
day to feed the birds ? Why have the children stayed
so short a time ? Is she away 1 Where ? She has so
few friends only an old priest, the children, and their
mother, a little fair-haired bundle of a woman with
blue eyes. From this window, at which I sketch for
my bread, I have many opportunities of noting the
house across the way.

DECEMBER 21 ST. No light was in the panelled room
last night. To-day my servant has told me the young
French lady across the way is ill. Very ill? No, not
very ill, but of late Ma'm'selle has not been very strong ;
she feels the winter. He " wondered Ma'm'selle stayed
in that dull house. Her father died in the winter of
last year, and it was thought Ma'm'selle would go back
to France." It is but natural my servant should
wonder why my neighbour stays in that sombre house.
He cannot guess the memories it holds. He does not
know the story I heard but yesterday from a chance
acquaintance.

In the high-walled garden behind the house across
the way, one year there grew most beautiful roses.
The garden was always famous for roses, but that year
they were finer than they had ever been before. Among
them was a seedling reared by Ma'm'selle herself ; she
named it the " Prince Imperial." For was not the
Prince the close friend of her lover 1 One afternoon, in



294 MY NEIGHBOUR ACROSS THE WAY.

the prime of that time of roses, Ma'm'selle had put on a.
gala gown of soft yellow silk a gown tied with a
yellow sash, and in the folds of old lace at her throat
were crimson roses. A carriage had come to the door,
and the Prince and the lover had gone with Ma'm'selle
and her father to the rose garden to see the new " Prince
Imperial." Behold, this floral Prince was so strong
he had thrown blossoming sprays over and almost
smothered " La Republique " growing beside him, and
was extending fragrant, amorous arms to a fair
" Princess," who did not disdain his embrace. They
had all laughed, and the father of Ma'm'selle had
bowed low to the Prince, and in the peace of that sunny
English garden declaimed a little speech which would
have been counted revolutionary in France. Coffee,
liqueur, and hot cakes were served in the arbour.
Flecks of light fell through the overhanging clematis
and powdered with gold the dark hair of Ma'm'selle.
The lover had teasingly questioned her, " Had she put
on her grandmother's gown 1 " She had pretended to
pout a little ; then the Prince made a pretty speech to
the effect that " Madame Recarnier had stepped from
her portrait frame." The red lips again parted over the
white teeth in the laugh that was never long absent in
those days. In the reception room Ma'm'selle's father
showed the Prince some swords of rare workmanship.
" It was with this," said he, his pale face flushing while
he handled one of the weapons, " my father fought
beside your granduncle at Rivoli." The summer twi-
light began to fall. The Prince, having taken leave of
Ma'm'selle, was escorted to the carriage by the father



MY NEIGHBOUR ACROSS THE WAY. 295

and the lover. " Partant pour la Syrie," shrilled the
piping bullfinch, alert at the sound of the departing
carriage. " A fine lad, a fine lad," said the old man,
half to himself, as he stopped to rest in the garden. The
lover went swiftly to the panelled room. In its sombre
precincts shadows were fast gathering. They hid the
little lovers on the willow pattern plaques ; they veiled
the shameless conduct of the Chelsea shepherdess, and
pressed close about the living lovers who whispered and
caressed in the rose-scented dusk. Ah, that was a time
of roses and rejoicing. Now there is little save snow
and sorrow. One day, some months after that happy
rose time, the old priest came to tell Ma'm'selle that the
brave heart that had pulsed so high with love and hope
of her was cold and still in the land of the savage. A
message had come from the Prince, the priest had said ;
but Ma'm'selle neither heard nor saw. She stood as
though stricken into stone. " Heaven will console her,"
the priest said sadly to Susette as he left the house.
But in those dark days Ma'm'selle thought not of heaven,
only of the brave, handsome lover slain by the asseg;ii
of the savage. " Partant pour la Syrie," sang the bull-
finch. " Maladroit beast," cried Susette, and, covering
him with her apron, carried him to another room.

DECEMBER 23RD. To-day Susette threw food to the
birds. She looked as though she had been crying. The
priest and the doctor have called ; each waited to speak
to Susette at the hall door. The poor woman was
evidently in great trouble. How impressionable these
Frenchwomen are ! A slight illness to her mistress
and she is in all this distress. The illness can only be



296 MY NEIGHBOUR ACROSS THE WAY.

slight ; for when, this morning, I ventured to send my
servant with some hot-house fruit and inquiries, he
brought answer, " Ma'm'selle returned many thanks, and
felt almost well." There ! that is the second sketch I
have spoiled, and they are now overdue. Her face
comes between me and my work. I have given a ballet
girl the eyes of a sorrowing angel.

DECEMBER 24TH. Adieu ! house across the way, for a
few days. To-night I go down to Lancashire, to the
home of an old school chum. " You must stay with us
to see the old year out," he writes. Yes, I suppose I
must. Suppose I must, indeed ! What a thankless
brute I am ! How much of my present prosperity do
I owe to my old schoolfellow's kindness ! Besides,
Ma'm'selle is better. Much better, my servant brought
word this morning. On New Year's Day I will be at
home again. She will be able to receive a visitor by
then. Conventionality shall be put aside. Call upon
her and wish her a happy New Year I will, even if I
have to pretend that I come from New York and am
but following the usual custom.

JANUARY IST, 1882. It was late afternoon when I
came back to-day. Susette had been early in closing
the blinds. In Ma'm'selle's room a light showed faintly
through the drawn curtains. Determined to begin the
New Year with new friendships, I called at my neigh-
bour's house before entering my own. The heavy
"griffin" knocker worked stiffly. A sullen echo
sounded in the house. " I called to bring some flowers,"


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15

Online LibraryInez K HylandIn sunshine and in shadow → online text (page 11 of 15)