No.' And, to arrive at her tale, I leaped to the only conclusion which could reconcile the two facts of her having had a lover named Everest, and being now Mrs MacArthur. 'Was it his ghost you saw?'
'No, my dear, no; thank goodness, he is alive still. He calls here sometimes; he has been a good friend to our family. Ah!' with a slow shake of the head, half pleased, half pensive, 'you would hardly believe, my dear, what a very pretty fellow he was.'
One could scarcely smile at the odd phrase, pertaining to last-century novels and to the loves of our great-grandmothers. I listened patiently to the wandering reminiscences which still further delayed the ghost-story.
'But, Mrs MacArthur, was it in Bath that you saw or heard what I think you were going to tell me? The ghost, you know?'
'Don't call it that; it sounds as if you were laughing at it. And you must not, for it is really true; as true as that I sit here, an old lady of seventy-five; and that then I was a young gentlewoman of eighteen. Nay, my dear, I will tell you all about it.'
'We had been staying in London, my father and mother, Mr Everest, and I. He had persuaded them to take me; he wanted to show me a little of the world, though it was but a narrow world, my dear -- for he was a law student, living poorly and working hard. He took lodgings for us near the Temple; in C---- street, the last house there, looking on to the river. He was very fond of the river; and often of evenings, when his work was too heavy to let him take us to Ranelagh or to the play, he used to walk with my father and mother and me, up and down the Temple Gardens. Were you ever in the Temple Gardens? It is a pretty place now -- a quiet, grey nook in the midst of noise and bustle; the stars look wonderful through those great trees; but still it is not like what it was then, when I was a girl.'
Ah! no; impossible.
'It was in the Temple Gardens, my dear, that I remember we took our last walk -- my mother, Mr Everest, and I -- before she went home to Bath. She was very anxious and restless to go, being too delicate for London gaieties. Besides, she had a large family at home, of which I was the eldest; and we were anxiously expecting the youngest in a month or two. Nevertheless, my dear mother had gone about with me, taken me to all the shows and sights that I, a hearty and happy girl, longed to see, and entered into them with almost as great enjoyment as my own.
'But tonight she was pale, rather grave, and steadfastly bent on returning home.
'We did all we could to persuade her to the contrary, for on the next night but one was to have been the crowning treat of all our London pleasures: we were to see Hamlet at Drury Lane, with John Kemble and Sarah Siddons! Think of that, my dear. Ah! you have no such sights now. Even my grave father longed to go, and urged in his mild way that we should put off our departure. But my mother was determined.
'At last Mr Everest said -- (I could show you the very spot where he stood, with the river -- it was high water -- lapping against the wall, and the evening sun shining on the Southwark houses opposite.) He said -- it was very wrong, of course, my dear; but then he was in love, and might be excused, --
''Madam,' said he, 'it is the first time I ever knew you think of yourself alone.'
''Pardon me, but would it not be possible for you to return home, leaving behind, for two days only, Mr Thwaite and Mistress Dorothy?'
''Leave them behind -- leave them behind!' She mused over the words. 'What say you, Dorothy?'
'I was silent. In very truth, I had never been parted from her in all my life. It had never crossed my mind to wish to part from her, or to enjoy any pleasure without her, till -- till within the last three months. 'Mother, don't suppose I
'But here I caught sight of Mr Everest, and stopped.
''Pray continue. Mistress Dorothy.'
'No, I could not. He looked so vexed, so hurt; and we had been so happy together. Also, we might not meet again for years, for the journey between London and Bath was then a serious one, even to lovers; and he worked very hard -- had few pleasures in his life. It did indeed seem almost selfish of my mother.
'Though my lips said nothing, perhaps my sad eyes said only too much, and my mother felt it.
'She walked with us a few yards, slowly and thoughtfully. I could see her now, with her pale, tired face, under the cherry-coloured ribbons of her hood. She had been very handsome as a young woman, and was most sweet-looking still -- my dear, good mother!
''Dorothy, we will no more discuss this. I am very sorry, but I must go home. However, I will persuade your father to remain with you till the week's end. Are you satisfied?'
''No,' was the first filial impulse of my heart; but Mr Everest pressed my arm with such an entreating look, that almost against my will I answered 'Yes.'
'Mr Everest overwhelmed my mother with his delight and gratitude. She walked up and down for some time longer, leaning on his arm -- she was very fond of him; then stood looking on the river, upwards and downwards.