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CHAPTER XLVII. ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
Audouin's recovery was slow, of course; but, he did recover; and as soon as he was safely out of all danger, Gwen and Hiram, now fairly on the road to fortune, proposed that they should forthwith marry. The colonel had almost given up active opposition by this time; he knew that that girl's temper was absolutely ungovernable; and besides, they said the shock-headed Yankee fellow was beginning to make quite a decent livelihood out of his painting business. So the colonel merely answered when Gwen mentioned to him the date she had fixed upon, 'You'll go your own way, I suppose, Miss, whatever I choose to say to you about it,' and threw no further obstacles in the way of the ceremony.

'And, Gwen,' Hiram said to her, as they walked together down the path by the Casca-telli at Tivoli a few days before the wedding, 'we'll take the Tyrol, if you'd like it, for our wedding tour, darling.'

'Yes,' Gwen answered, 'we will, and we'll never come back again to Rome, to live I mean, Hiram, but go to Switzerland, or Wales, or Scotland, or America. You must go, you know, where you can find what you most want to paint—your own beautiful delicate landscapes. I always knew that that was what you could do best; and I always told you that there at least you had real genius.' Hiram's answer was of a sort that cannot readily be put down in definite language; and yet Gwen understood it perfectly, and only murmured in a low soft tone, 'Not here, Hiram, not here, there's a dear good fellow.'

The bushes around were fairly thick and screening, to be sure, but still, in the open air, you know, and in a place overrun with tourists, like Tivoli—well, it was certainly very imprudent.

When Colin Churchill heard that Hiram and Gwen had definitely fixed the day for their own wedding, he put on his hat and went round to the English quarter to call for Minna. They walked together up from the Piazza del Popolo, by the Pincian and Esquiline, towards the straggling vineyards on the Colian Hill. There the young vines were coming into the first fresh leaf, and the air was thick with perfume from the jonquils and lilacs in the neighbouring flower gardens.

'Minna darling,' Colin began quietly, and Minna flushed crimson and thrilled through to her inmost marrow at the sound of the words, for Colin had never before called her 'darling.' She looked at him full of tender surmise, and her bursting heart stood still for a moment within her bosom, waiting to know whether it was to bound again with joy, or flutter feebly in disappointment. After all, then, Colin Churchill really loved her!

Colin noticed the evident tokens of suspense upon her dark cheek, with the hot blood struggling red through the rich gipsy complexion, and wondered to himself that she should feel so deeply moved by the simple question he was going to ask her. Had they not always loved one another, all their lives long, and was it not a mere question of time and convenience, now, the particular day they fixed upon for their marriage? He could hardly understand the profoundness of her emotion, though he was too practised an observer of the human face not to read it readily in her flushed features: for, after all, it was nothing more than settling the final arrangements for a foregone conclusion.

'Minna darling,' he said once more, watching her narrowly all the time, 'Win-throp and Miss Howard-Russell are going to be married on Thursday fortnight. I was thinking, dearest, that if you could arrange it with your people so soon, it'd be a good plan for us to have our wedding at the same time, for I suppose you don't think a fortnight too short notice after such a long engagement?'

Minna trembled violently from head to foot as she answered, with a little tremor in her voice, 'Then Colin, Colin, oh Colin, you really love me!'

Colin caught her small round hand tenderly in his and said, with a tone of genuine surprise, 'Why, you know perfectly well, my own darling little Minna, I've always loved you dearly. All my life long, darling, I've always loved you.'

It was well that Colin held the round brown hand tight in his, that moment, for as Minna heard those words—those words that her heart had longed so long to hear, and whose truth she had doubted to herself so often—she uttered a little loud sharp cry, and fell forward, not fainting, but overcome with too sudden joy, so that her head reeled, and she might have dropped unconscious, but that Colin caught her, and pressed her in his arms, and kissed lier, and cried to her in surprise and self-reproach, 'Why, Minna, Minna, darling Minna, my own heart's darling, you knew I loved you; you must have known I always loved you.'

Minna's heart fluttered up and down within her bosom, and heaved and swelled as though it would burst asunder that tight little plain black bodice. (Why do not dressmakers allow something for the natural expansiveness of emotion, I wonder.) It was so sweet to hear Colin say so; and yet even now she could hardly believe her life-long daydream had wrought out at last its own fulfillment. 'Oh, Colin, Colin,' she murmured through her tears—for she had found that relief—'you never told me so; you never, never told me you loved me.'

'Told you, Minna!' Colin cried with another kiss upon the trembling lips (and all this on the open Colian too); 'told you, Minna darling! Why, who on earth would ever have dreamt of deliberately telling you. But you must have known it; of course you must have known it. Haven't we been lovers together, darling, from our babyhood upward?'

'But that was just it, Colin,' Minna answered, brushing away her tears, and trying to look as if nothing extraordinary at all had happened. 'We had always known one another, of course, and been very fond of one another, like old companions, and I wasn't sure, with you, Colin, whether it was love or merely friendship.'

'And with yourself, Minna?' Cohn asked, taking her soft wee hand once more between his own two; 'tell me, darling, which was it, which was it?'

Minna's face gave her only answer, and Colin accepted it silently with another kiss.

There was a minute's pause again (the Colian is really such a very awkward place for lovemaking, with all those horrid prying old priests poking about everywhere), and then Minna began once more: 'You see, Colin, you seemed so cold and indifferent. You were always so wrapped up in your marble and your statues, and you didn't appear to care a bit for anything but art, till I almost grew to hate it. Oh, Colin, I know the things you make are the most beautiful that ever were moulded, but I almost hated them, because you seemed to think of nothing on earth but your clay and your sculpture. I was afraid you only liked me; I didn't feel sure whether you really loved me.'

'Minna,' Colin said soberly, standing up before her and looking full into those bright black eyes straight in front of him, 'I love you with all the love in my nature. I have loved you ever since we were children together, and I have never for one moment ceased from loving you. How could I, when you were Minna? If I ever seemed cold and careless, darling, it was only because I loved you so thoroughly and unquestioningly that it didn't occur to me to waste words in telling you what I thought you yourself could never question. My darling, if I've caused you doubt or pain, I can't tell you how sorry I am for it. I have worked for you, and for you only, all these years. Don't you remember, little woman, long ago at Wootton, how I always used to make images for Minna?

Well, I've been making images for Minna ever since. I never for a moment fancied you didn't know it. But now, as I love you, and as you love me, tell me, darling, will you marry me on Thursday fortnight? Don't say no, or wait to think about it, but answer me “yes” at once; now do'ee, Minna, do'ee.'

That half-unconscious, half-artful return on Colin's part to the old loved familiar dialect of their peasant childhood was more than Minna's bursting little heart could ever have resisted, even if she had wanted to—which she certainly didn't. With the tears once more trickling slowly down her cheek, she answered softly, 'Yes, Colin;' and Colin pressed her hand a second time in token of the completed contract. And then the two turned slowly back towards the great city, and Minna tried to dry her eyes and look as though nothing at all out of the way had happened against her return to the Via Clementina.

Gwen and Hiram Winthrop, in their little cottage in North Wales, are within easy reach of many wild bits that exactly suit Hiram's canvas. His natural genius has full play now, and at the Academy every year there are few pictures more studiously avoided by the crowd, and more carefully observed by the best judges, than Mr. Winthrop's, the famous American landscape painter's. Now and then he pays a short visit to America, and sketches unbroken nature, as he alone can sketch it, in the Adirondacks, and the White Mountains, and the Upper Alleghanies; but for the most part, as Gwen simply phrases it, 'Wales and Scotland are quite good enough for us.' Once a year, too, he runs across for a month or six weeks to Rome and Florence, where Colin and Minna are always glad to give him and his wife a hearty welcome. Even the colonel has relented somewhat in a grim official Anglo-Indian fashion, and as he jogs Gwen's youngest boy upon his knee to the tune of some Hindustani jingle about Warren Hastings, he reflects to himself that after all that shockheaded Yankee painter fellow isn't really such a bad sort of person by way of a son-in-law.

And Audouin? Audouin has sold Lakeside, and flits to and fro uneasily between Europe and America in a somewhat vague and purposeless fashion. Sometimes he stops with Colin Churchill at Rome (on a strict pledge that he won't go out alone without leave to stroll upon the Campagna), and sometimes he wanders by himself, knapsack on back, among the Swiss or Tyrolese mountains; but most often he gravitates towards Bryn-y-mynydd, on the slopes of Aran, where Gwen still greets him always in most daughterly fashion with a kiss of welcome. Gwen's little boys are firm as a rock upon one point, that except daddy, there isn't a man in the world at all to be compared for starting a squirrel or scaring a pine marten to Uncle Audouin. But what his precise claim to uncleship may be is a genealogical question that has never for a moment troubled their simple unsophisticated little intellects. They hold ingenuously that a rocking-horse apiece upon their birthdays, and a bright new gold half-sovereign on every visit, is quite sufficient guarantee for that na?f and expansive title of kinship.

THE END.


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