Text - "Gwen Wynn" Mayne Reid
He is not on duty now, nor anywhere near the scene of it. His regiment is at Aldershot, himself rusticating in Herefordshire-whither he has come to spend a few weeks' leave of absence. Nor is he, at the time of our meeting him, in the saddle, which he sits so gracefully; but in a row-boat on the river Wye-the same just sighted by Gwen Wynn through the double lens of her lorgnette. No more is he wearing the braided uniform and "busby"; but, instead, attired in a suit of light Cheviots, piscator-cut, with a helmet-shaped cap of quilted cotton on his head, its rounded rim of spotless white in striking, but becoming, contrast with his bronzed complexion and dark military moustache. For Captain Ryecroft is no mere stripling nor beardless youth, but a man turned thirty, browned by exposure to Indian suns, experienced in Indian campaigns, from those of Scinde and the Punjaub to that most memorable of all-the Mutiny. Still is he personally as attractive as he ever was-to women, possibly more; among these causing a flutter, with rapprochement towards him almost instinctive, when and wherever they may meet him. In the present many a bright English lady sighs for him, as in the past many a dark damsel of Hindostan; and without his heaving sigh, or even giving them a thought in return. Not that he is of cold nature, or in any sense austere; instead, warm-hearted, of cheerful disposition, and rather partial to female society. But he is not, and never has been, either man-flirt or frivolous trifler; else he would not be fly-fishing on the Wye-for that is what he is doing there-instead of in London, taking part in the festivities of the "season," by day dawdling in Rotten Row, by night exhibiting himself in opera-box or ball-room. In short, Vivian Ryecroft is one of those rare individuals, to a high degree endowed, physically as mentally, without being aware of it, or appearing so; while to all others it is very perceptible. He has been about a fortnight in the neighbourhood, stopping at the chief hotel of a riverine town much affected by fly-fishermen and tourists. Still he has made no acquaintance with the resident gentry. He might, if wishing it; which he does not, his purpose upon the Wye not being to seek society, but salmon, or rather the sport of taking it. An ardent disciple of the ancient Izaak, he cares for nought else-at least, in the district where he is for the present sojourning. Such is his mental condition up to a certain morning; when a change comes over it, sudden as the spring of a salmon at the gaudiest or most tempting of his flies-this brought about by a face, of which he has caught sight by merest accident, and while following his favourite occupation. Thus it has chanced: Below the town where he is staying, some four or five miles by the course of the stream, he has discovered one of those places called "catches," where the king of river fish delights to leap at flies, whether natural or artificial-a sport it has oft reason to rue. Several times so at the end of Captain Ryecroft's line and rod; he having there twice hooked a twenty-pounder, and once a still larger specimen, which turned the scale at thirty. In consequence that portion of the stream has become his choicest angling ground, and at least three days in the week he repairs to it. The row is not much going down, but a good deal returning; five miles up stream, most of it strong adverse current. That, however, is less his affair than his oarsman's-a young waterman by name Wingate, whose boat and services the Hussar officer has chartered by the week-indeed, engaged them for so long as he may remain upon the Wye. On the morning in question, dropping down the river to his accustomed whipping-place, but at a somewhat later hour than usual, he meets another boat coming up-a pleasure craft, as shown by its style of outside ornament and inside furniture. Of neither does the salmon fisher take much note; his eyes all occupied with those upon the thwarts. There are three of them, two being ladies seated in the stern sheets, the third an oarsman on a thwart well forward, to make better balance. And to the latter the Hussar officer gives but a glance-just to observe that he is a serving-man, wearing some of its insignia in the shape of a cockaded hat, and striped sable-waistcoat. And not much more than a glance at one of the former; but a gaze, concentrated and long as good manners will permit, at the other, who is steering; when she passes beyond sight, her face remaining in his memory, vivid as if still before his eyes. All this at a first encounter; repeated in a second, which occurs on the day succeeding, under similar circumstances, and almost in the self-same spot; then the face, if possible, seeming fairer, and the impression made by it on Vivian Ryecroft's mind sinking deeper-indeed, promising to be permanent. It is a radiant face, set in a luxuriance of bright amber hair-for it is that of Gwendoline Wynn. On the second occasion he has a better view of her, the boats passing nearer to one another; still, not so near as he could wish, good manners again interfering. For all, he feels well satisfied-especially with the thought, that his own gaze earnestly given, though under such restraint, has been with earnestness returned. Would that his secret admiration of its owner were in like manner reciprocated! Such is his reflective wish as the boats widen the distance between; one labouring slowly up, the other gliding swiftly down. His boatman cannot tell who the lady is, nor where she lives. On the second day he is not asked-the question having been put to him on that preceding. All the added knowledge now obtained is the name of the craft that carries her; which, after passing, the waterman, with face turned towards its stern, makes out to be the Gwendoline-just as on his own boat-the Mary,-though not in such grand golden letters. It may assist Captain Ryecroft in his inquiries, already contemplated, and he makes note of it. Another night passes; another sun shines over the Wye; and he again drops down stream to his usual place of sport-this day only to draw blank, neither catching salmon, nor seeing hair of amber hue; his reflecting on which is, perchance, a cause of the fish not taking to his flies, cast carelessly.
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