“I hardly know how to tell the miserable story,” went on the letter, “but as it must be told I suppose I had better begin from the beginning. A month ago I went with my father and my aunt to the Hunt Ball at Atherton, and there I met Sir Alfred Croston, a middle-aged gentleman, who danced with me several times. I did not care about him much, but he made himself very agreeable, and when I got home aunt–you know her nasty way–congratulated me on my conquest. Well, next day he came to call, and papa asked him to stop to dinner, and he took me in, and before he went away he told me that he was coming to stop at the George Inn to fish for trout in the lake. After that he came here every day, and whenever I went out walking he always met me, and really was kind and nice. At last one day he asked me to marry him, and I was very angry and told him that I was engaged to a gentleman in the army, who was in South Africa. He laughed, and said South Africa was a long way off, and I hated him for it. That evening papa and aunt set on me–you know they neither of them liked our engagement–and told me that our affair was perfectly silly, and that I must be mad to refuse such an offer. And so it went on, for he would not take ‘no’ for an answer; and at last, dear, I had to give in, for they gave me no peace, and papa implored me to consent for his sake. He said the marriage would be the making of him, and now I suppose I am engaged. Dear, dear George, don’t be angry with me, for it is not my fault, and I suppose after all we could not have got married, for we have so little money. I do love you, but I can’t help myself. I hope you won’t forget me, or marry anybody else–at least, not just at present–for I cannot bear to think about it. Write to me and tell me you won’t forget me, and that you are not angry with me. Do you want your letters back? If you burn mine that will do. Good-bye, dear! If you only knew what I suffer! It is all very well to talk like aunt does about settlements and diamonds, but they can’t make up to me for you. Good-bye, dear, I cannot write any more because my head aches so.–Ever yours,
When George Peritt, _alias_ Bottles, had finished reading and re-reading this letter, he folded it up neatly and put it, after his methodical fashion, into his pocket. Then he sat and stared at the red camellia blooms before him, that somehow looked as indistinct and misty as though they were fifty yards off instead of so many inches.
“It is a great blow,” he said to himself. “Poor Madeline! How she must suffer!”
Presently he rose and walked–rather unsteadily, for he felt much upset–to his quarters, and, taking a sheet of notepaper, wrote the following letter to catch the outgoing mail:–
“My dear Madeline,–I have got your letter putting an end to our engagement. I don’t want to dwell on myself when you must have so much to suffer, but I must say that it has been, and is, a great blow to me. I have loved you for so many years, ever since we were babies, I think; it does seem hard to lose you now after all. I thought that when we got home I might get the adjutancy of a militia regiment, and that we might have been married. I think we might have managed on five hundred a year, though perhaps I have no right to expect you to give up comforts and luxuries to which you are accustomed; but I am afraid that when one is in love one is apt to be selfish. However, all that is done with now, as, of course, putting everything else aside, I could not think of standing in your way in life. I love you much too well for that, dear Madeline, and you are too beautiful and delicate to be the wife of a poor subaltern with little beside his pay. I can honestly say that I hope you will be happy. I don’t ask you to think of me too often, as that might make you less so, but perhaps sometimes when you are quiet you will spare your old lover a thought or two, because I am sure nobody could care for you more than I do. You need not be afraid that I shall forget you or marry anybody else. I shall do neither the one nor the other. I must close this now to catch the mail; I don’t know that there is anything more to say. It is a hard trial–very; but it is no good being weak and giving way, and it consoles me to think that you are ‘bettering yourself’ as the servants say. Good-bye, dear Madeline. May God bless you, is now and ever my earnest prayer.
“J. G. Peritt.”
Scarcely was this letter finished and hastily dispatched when a loud voice was heard calling, “Bottles, Bottles, my boy, come rejoice with me; the orders have come–we sail in a fortnight;” followed by the owner of the voice, another subaltern, and our hero’s bosom friend. “Why, you don’t seem very elated,” said he of the voice, noting his friend’s dejected and somewhat dazed appearance.
“No–that is, not particularly. So you sail in a fortnight, do you?”
“‘You sail?’ What do you mean? Why, we _all_ sail, of course, from the colonel down to the drummer-boy.”
“I don’t think that I–I am going to sail, Jack,” was the hesitating answer.
“Look here, old fellow, are you off your head, or have you been liquoring up, or what?”
“No–that is, I don’t think so; certainly not the first–the second, I mean.”
“Then what do you mean?”
“I mean that, in short, I am sending in my papers. I like this climate –I, in short, am going to take to farming.”
“Sending in your papers! Going to take to farming! And in this God-forsaken hole, too. You _must_ be screwed.”
“No, indeed. It is only ten o’clock.”
“And how about getting married, and the girl you are engaged to, and whom you are looking forward so much to seeing. Is she going to take to farming?”
Bottles winced visibly.
“No, you see–in short, we have put an end to that. I am not engaged now.”
“Oh, indeed,” said the friend, and awkwardly departed.