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Chapter I.

Two weeks later Dartmouth had followed Weir Penrhyn to Wales. He had written to her father at once, and Sir Iltyd had informed him in reply that although aware of his rank and private fortune, through Lady Langdon's intimation, and although possessing a high regard and esteem for his father, still it was impossible for him to give any definite answer until he had known him personally, and he therefore invited him to come as soon as it pleased him and pay Rhyd-Alwyn a visit. Weir accordingly, and much to Lady Langdon's disgust, had returned to Wales at once; Dartmouth insisted upon an early marriage, and the longer they delayed obtaining Sir Iltyd's consent the longer must the wedding be postponed.

Dartmouth arrived late in the afternoon at Rhyd-Alwyn--a great pile of gray towers of the Norman era and half in ruins. He did not meet Sir Iltyd until a few minutes before dinner was announced, but he saw Weir for a moment before he went up-stairs to dress for dinner. His room was in one of the towers, and as he entered it he had the pleasurable feeling, which Weir so often induced, of stepping back into a dead and gone century. It looked as if unnumbered generations of Penrhyns had slept there since the hand of the furnisher had touched it. The hard, polished, ascetic-looking floor was black with age; the tapestry on the walls conveyed but a suggestion of what its pattern and color had been; a huge four-posted bed heavily shrouded with curtains stood in the centre of the room, and there were a number of heavy, carved pieces of furniture whose use no modern Penrhyn would pretend to explain. The vaulted ceiling was panelled, and the windows were narrow and long and high. Sufficient light found its way through them, however, to dress by, and there was a bright log-fire in the open fire-place.

"Jones," said Dartmouth, after he had admiringly examined the details of the room and was getting into his clothes, "just throw those curtains up over the roof of that bed. I like the antique, but I don't care to be smothered. Give me my necktie, and look out for the bed before you forget it."

Jones looked doubtfully up at the canopy. "That is pretty 'igh, sir," he said. "Hif I can find a step-ladder--"

"A step-ladder in a Welsh castle! The ante-deluge Penrhyns would turn in their graves, or to be correct, in their family vaults. No true Welsh noble is guilty of departing from the creed of his ancestors to the tune of domestic comforts. It is fortunate a man does not have to marry his wife's castle as well as herself. Get up on to that cabinet--it is twice as high as yourself--and you can manage the curtains quite easily."

Jones with some difficulty succeeded in moving the tall piece of furniture designated to the bed-side; then with the help of a chair he climbed to the top of it. He caught one of the tender-looking curtains carefully between his hands, and was about to throw it over the canopy, shutting his eyes and his mouth to exclude the possible dust, when the cabinet beneath him suddenly groaned, swayed, and the next moment there was a heavy crash, and he was groaning in the midst of a dozen antique fragments. Harold sprang forward in some alarm and picked him up. "By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I am afraid you are hurt; and what a row I have made! I might have known better than to tell you to trust your weight on that old thing."

Jones shook himself slowly, extended his arms and legs, announced himself unhurt, and Dartmouth gave his attention to the cabinet. "I shall have to initiate myself in my prospective father-in-law's good graces by announcing myself a spoiler of his household goods," he exclaimed, ruefully. "And a handsome old thing like that, too; it is a shame!" He thrust his hands into his pockets and continued looking down at the ruins with a quizzical smile on his face.

"By every law of romance and of precedent," he thought, "I ought to find in that cabinet the traditional packet of old letters which would throw a flood of light upon some dark and tragic mystery. Else why did I tell Jones to stand upon that particular cabinet instead of that one over there, which looks as if iron hammers could not break it; and why did Jones blindly obey me? That it should be meaningless chance is too flat to be countenanced. I should find the long lost Mss. of that rhymer who took possession of me that night, and so save myself the discomfort of being turned into a Temple of Fame a second time. Truly there has been an element of the unusual throughout this whole affair with Weir. Once or twice I have felt as if about to sail out of the calm, prosaic waters of this every-day nineteenth-century life, and embark upon the phosphorescent sea of our sensational novelists--psychological, so-called. It is rather soon for the cabinet to break, however. It suggests an anti-climax, which would be inartistic. But such material was never intended to be thrown away by a hero of romance."

He kicked about among the fragments of the ruined cabinet, but was rewarded by no hollow ring. It was a most undutifully matter-of-fact and prosaic piece of furniture in its interior, however much it may have pleased the aesthetic sense outwardly. He gave it up after a time, and finished dressing. "Nothing in that but firewood," he announced to Jones, who had been watching his researches with some surprise. "Pile it up in a corner and leave it there until I have made my peace with Sir Iltyd."

He gave his necktie a final touch, then went down to the drawing-room, where he found the candles lit and Sir Iltyd standing on the hearth-rug beside his daughter. The old gentleman came forward at once and greeted him with stately, old-fashioned courtesy, his stern, somewhat sad features relaxing at once under Dartmouth's rare charm of manner. He was a fine-looking man, tall and slim like his daughter, but very fair. His head, well developed, but by no means massive, and scantily covered with gray hair, was carried with the pride which was the bone and fibre of his nature. Pride, in fact, albeit a gentle, chastened sort of pride, was written all over him, from the haughty curve of his eyebrow to the conscious wave of his small, delicate hand--pride, and love for his daughter, for he followed her every movement with the adoring eyes of a man for the one solace of a sad and lonely old age.

"It is so awfully good of you to let me come up here so soon," exclaimed Dartmouth. "But what do you suppose I have done to prove my gratitude?"

"Made the castle your own, I hope."

"I have. I proceeded at once to make myself at home by smashing up the furniture. One of your handsomest cabinets is now in ruins upon my bedroom floor."

Sir Iltyd looked at him with a somewhat puzzled glance. He had lived in seclusion for nearly thirty years, and was unaccustomed to the facetiousness of the modern youth. "Has anything happened?" he demanded anxiously.

Dartmouth smiled, but gave an account of the disaster in unadorned English, and received forgiveness at once. Had he confessed to having chopped his entire tower to pieces, Sir Iltyd would have listened without a tightening of the lips, and with the air of a man about to invite his guest to make a bonfire of the castle if so it pleased him. As for Weir, her late education made her appreciate the humor of the situation, and she smiled sympathetically at Harold over her father's shoulder.

They went into dinner a few moments later, and Sir Iltyd talked a good deal. Although a man of somewhat narrow limitations and one-sided views, as was but natural, taking into consideration the fact that his mental horizon had not been widened out by contact with his fellow-men for twenty-five years, he was, for a recluse, surprisingly well-informed upon the topics of the day. Dartmouth could not forbear making some allusion to the apparent paradox, and his host smiled and told him that as history had been his favorite study all his life, he could hardly be so inconsistent as to ignore the work which his more active contemporaries were making for the future chronicler. He then drew from Dartmouth a detailed account of that restless young gentleman's political experience in Russia, and afterward questioned him somewhat minutely about the American form of government. He seemed to be pleased with the felicity of expression and the well-stored mind of his would-be son-in-law, and lingered at the table longer than was his habit. There were no formalities at Rhyd-Alwyn. Weir remained with them, and when her father finally rose and went over to the hearth-rug, as if loth to leave the society of the young people, she went and stood beside him. He laid his arm across her shoulders, then turned to Dartmouth with a sigh. "You would take her from me," he said, sadly, "do you know that you will leave me to a very lonely life?"

"Oh, you will see enough of us," replied Harold, promptly. "We shall be back and forth all the time. And Crumford Hall, I can assure you, is not a bad place to come to for the shooting."

Sir Iltyd shook his head: "I could not live out of Wales," he said; "and I have not slept under another roof for a quarter of a century. But it is good of you to say you would not mind coming once in a while to this lonely old place, and it would make the separation easier to bear."

He left them shortly after, and as he took Harold's hand in good-night, he retained it a moment with an approving smile, then passed a characteristic Welsh criticism: "It is a small hand," he said, "and a very well-shaped hand; and your feet, too. I am willing to acknowledge to you that I am weak enough to have a horror of large hands and feet. Good-night. I have to thank you for a very pleasant evening."

Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

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