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The Hall of Flowers

“So you think this cove resembles our arch in the ice-valley?” said Henry Stewart to the Swiss boy who sat weaving a bird-snare by his side. This question was asked under the glorious brow of a cliff more than three hundred feet above the western sea, and scooped into a cave guarded by sentinels of dark granite now decked with festoons and tassels of wild flowers. A blooming little girl and a younger boy with bright hair and merry eyes were employed in loading a cork boat with garlands, gathered from the border of “St. Julian’s Well.”

“Ah, if you had seen Bengairn!” interrupted the Scotch gouvernante whose gaudy plaid resembled the various streaks of dark turf and yellow broom on this point of the Manxman’s bay: “Those Alps were but hops to it — such heaps of snow and humps of black moss, Master Wallace?”

“I wonder where it was,” he answered, “when all things were made good.”

“Neither you nor Scotland had a name, then, may be. Chayhorse is come again, as the play-man said, I think. Miss Marianne, what are you pulling your curls for in this termagant way?”

“Only taking a single hair to fasten this butterfly, ma’am. See! he is sailing in our boat of flowers down the tide! Beautiful little pilot, how his wings furl!”

And she clapped her dimpled hands while standing like an infant sea-nymph on a rock, she launched the gay emblem of her own pure spirit into the world of waters, then sparkling in the summer sunshine.

“Fair tresses Man’s imperial race ensnare,
And beauty guides him by a single hair!”

said Wallace in a tone worthy the nursery-maids “play-man.”

“I have made many a springe with such hair!” muttered Julien the Swiss, as he shook his own sunburnt crisp elf-locks over his eyebrows.

“I wonder where you found it!” was Henry Stewart’s comment as he looked at the hair which the clear calm tide reflected like a mirror.

“Plenty to be found in merry Scotland,” said his cousin, where yes and no and a blacksmith are all that we want to make chains of golden locks.”

“Of golden locks, perhaps! Your blacksmith never uses a silver key, you know. His customers must have no inferior coin.”

“And pray, Mr Henry Stewart, what at your English college do they call wit and courage? — very common coin, perhaps?”

The English boy dropped the weeds he had been rather sullenly wreathing round his dog Caesar’s head, coloured from the neck to the temples, and placing his foot firmly on the rock near the questioner, he replied, “We should call some kinds of wit false diamonds and some courage brazen —”

“Very fit for drones who can say nothing without a book — not even a promise to be true to their wives or a thanksgiving for any thing!”

“Our promises are not worse or our prayers either for not being spoken as if the witness was our club-companion or chamber-mate.”

“The Witness!” echoed Wallace affecting scornful raillery though not without some fear of his young cousin’s inference. “But you must know we in Scotland trouble him with fewer words. Your ministers say more at a wedding than ours would waste on fifty. Do let Domina Mcquerie hear it — I will be Provost and certify — Menie shall listen and nod — all a bride need do in the land of thistles.”

“Well,” said the sprightly damsel he called Domina, “I can be bride if Miss Marianne is busy with her shells; and Mr Henry will say the English say out of his book.”

“I am to be a soldier, not a priest,” retorted the young Englishman rather contemptuously, “and I am no mocker. Walter Wallace can let us see his Scotch pantomime. You and Julien can be the listeners.”

“Pho, Julien with his fish-basket and empty net! Too like a penniless Cupid. Come, Marianne, give me your hand — Marion Mcquerie, put on my hat and scowl like the Lord Provost of Dumboobies — Julien and Harry Stewart, listen if ye list — *this is my wife* — Now answer — “This is my husband” — or say nothing — silence gives consent. What think you now of our Scotch Brief? No ring, no fee, no seal wanted but this —”

And he stooped to kiss the half-surprised, half-laughing child who saved her rosy cheek by dipping her hands into the sea and sprinkling his.

“No, you are not witch enough to change me into an owl by a handful of salt water — You must try honey.”

But his next attempt was baffled by a blow from Henry Stewart, aimed, and aimed so resolutely at his head that its force might have been fatal, if her attempt to hold him back had not changed his position slightly. But her shoulder received it and she fainted either with fright or pain.

The nursery governess chose to be loud in screams and reproaches. Wallace disappeared, as it seemed, to avoid farther provocation. The English boy silently followed; and Julien, without a word or look which indicated the least concern in this first scene of an eventful history, was soon after seen with his trout-basket in his native country.