"That? Oh, charming fellow 'friend of mine' as Oscar Wilde said about the Prince of Wales.'"
"But who is it really?"
It was a photograph of a handsome head. The short curly hair was pushed back from a low forehead, the eyes were almost defiant in their steady gaze, and a large mouth and strong chin gave a look of character and determination. The massive throat was encircled by the usual high collar.
"He's Harry Aldwyn: such a tennis player!"
"He's very handsome."
"Oh good! I'll tell Harry that. I always said that photo would take somebody in."
"But he must be handsome. Photographs never flatter."
"All right, don't excite yourself, I'll tell him that 'he's' made an impression; 'he'll' be delighted."
"I don't see why you need to laugh like that, Frank."
"My sweet child, you have much to learn."
As she had but just left school, and been in India exactly ten days, this was true.
"Frank, how old is he?"
"Bless you, how should I know? Three or four and twenty, I fancy."
Mabel, being seventeen with much to learn, thought this rather a serious age.
"Is he in your regiment?"
Her brother went off into a vulgar and unaccountable burst of laughter, while she looked at him reprovingly. But then she never when he was in earnest, or when he was what he called 'drawing her,' he being a subaltern of some years' standing.
"No, 'he's, not in our regiment, though I know 'he' often wishes 'he' was."
"What is he then?"
"An A-1 dancer, and one of the best riders out here."
"Does he play polo?"
Another one of those unnecessary fits of chuckling before the answer came—"well, no; he must draw the line somewhere; though I believe Harry would try and play if the chance came."
"Where does he live?"
"Over at Maidanpore, ever so far from here. I daresay you'll meet him at Simla; look out for him when you go there."
Mabel could not understand what her brother found so amusing, but his jokes were frequently recondite, and this one was beyond her. He went out of the room leaving the photograph on the table and she looked at it again. What a splendid face! How nice of him not to wear a disfiguring moustache, as most young men did! Was he tall? Oh, yes, he must be, she was sure of that; but she could only guess the colour of those fine eyes. It was no good asking Frank, he was so foolish—always laughing at something or other which was not a joke.
Perhaps his name was on the photo, she should like to see his writing. Yes, there it was. "Harry Aldwyn" in strong bold letters. She believed in telling characters by handwriting and fancied a beautiful and impetuous nature in these few up and down strokes. A nature that showed in the expression of those defiant eyes, and that firm mouth.
She was teased for the next few days by joking allusions to Harry Aldwyn; but when her irreverent brother returned to his regiment at Maidanpore, he carelessly left the photo behind and Mabel took possession of it.
She was very young, and not very wise; romantic in a prosaic way, with singularly little common-sense in her pretty head. Therefore Harry Aldwyn, or rather Harry Aldwyn's photograph, became to her the very embodiment of her ideal—a flimsy impossible person, compounded of many novels, with a strong substratum of Miss Yonge; for Mabel was simple in her tastes.
Frank wrote to her, at long intervals, and occasionally there was some precious mention of her hero.
How well she had judged his character! All she heard of him fitted in so perfectly.
"Went for a ride yesterday with your friend Harry Aldwyn, 'he' ("why" wondered Mabel, de he always put he in quotation marks when writing of Mr. Aldwyn) on an awfully kicking beast, that would have done for most people, but Harry doesn't know what fear means."
Noble soul! Of course he didn't! She could imagine him like a knight of old, as he curbed a restive horse. She had quite made up her mind, about his hair and eyes—fair curls, almost golden, and clear keen blue eyes. He could not be dark; photos always looked dark. One could never judge by them.
The time for going ot the hills drew near, and Mabel looked forward to it eagerly; perhaps he would be at Simla. An opportune letter from Frank set her doubts at rest. "The Aldwyns left for Simla yesterday; mind you look out for Harry."
Only that, but it was enough to give the goose pleasnant thoughts all the long journey.
The day after their arrival, Mabel and her mother walked down the Mall, Mabel looking attentively at every one they met. A girl rode past and she started, and almost exclaimed. It was the face of the photograph.
"That is Miss Aldwyn," said her mother.
Then he had a sister, and Frank had never mentioned her: how strange!
Mabel went to a tennis party the following week, and watched Miss Aldwyn playing for some time. She was wonderfully like her brother, though her hair was dark brown; perhaps he would come later.
"Who is that girl?" she asked a lady next her, only for the sake of hearing the name she knew so well.
"Harry Aldwyn. Doesn't she play splendidly?"
"Has she a brother?"
"No, she is an only child."
"Horrid girl! She looks just like a man!" said Mabel indignantly.