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Title: Vixen, Volume II.
Author: Braddon, M. E. (Mary Elizabeth), 1835-1915
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Vixen, Volume II." ***

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COLLECTION

OF

BRITISH AUTHORS


TAUCHNITZ EDITION.


VOL. 1810.



VIXEN BY M. E. BRADDON

IN THREE VOLUMES.

VOL. II.



VIXEN


A NOVEL


BY

M.  E. BRADDON,

AUTHOR OF "LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET," ETC. ETC.


_COPYRIGHT EDITION_.


IN THREE VOLUMES.

VOL. II.


LEIPZIG

BERNHARD TAUCHNITZ

1879.


_The Right of Translation is reserved_.


CONTENTS

OF VOLUME II.


CHAPTER I. "Shall I tell you the Secret?"

CHAPTER II. Wedding Garments

CHAPTER III. "I shall look like the wicked Fairy"

CHAPTER IV. The Vow is vowed

CHAPTER V. War to the Knife

CHAPTER VI. At the Kennels

CHAPTER VII. A bad Beginning

CHAPTER VIII. On Half Rations

CHAPTER IX. The Owner of Bullfinch

CHAPTER X. Something like a Ride

CHAPTER XI. Rorie objects to Duets

CHAPTER XII. "Fading in Music"

CHAPTER XIII. Crying for the Moon

CHAPTER XIV. "Kurz ist der Schmerz und ewig ist die Freude"

CHAPTER XV. A Midsummer Night's Dream

CHAPTER XVI. "That must end at once"



VIXEN.



CHAPTER I.

"Shall I tell you the Secret?"

For the rest of the way Violet walked with Mrs. Scobel, and at the
garden-gate of the Vicarage Roderick Vawdrey wished them both
good-night, and tramped off, with his basket on his back and his rod on
his shoulder, for the long walk to Briarwood.

Here the children separated, and ran off to their scattered homes,
dropping grateful bob-curtsies to the last--"louting," as they called
it in their Forest dialect.

"You must come in and have some tea, Violet," said Mrs. Scobel. "You
must be very tired."

"I am rather tired; but I think it's too late for tea. I had better get
home at once."

"Ignatius shall see you home, my dear," cried Mrs. Scobel. At which the
indefatigable Vicar, who had shouted himself hoarse in leading his
choir, protested himself delighted to escort Miss Tempest.

The church clock struck ten as they went along the narrow forest-path
between Beechdale and the Abbey House.

"Oh," cried Vixen, "I do hope mamma's people will have gone home."

A carriage rolled past them as they came out into the road.

"That's Mrs. Carteret's landau," said Vixen. "I breathe more freely.
And there goes Mrs. Horwood's brougham; so I suppose everything is
over. How nice it is when one's friends are so unanimous in their
leave-taking."

"I shall try to remember that the next time I dine at the Abbey House,"
said Mr. Scobel laughing.

"Oh, please don't!" cried Violet. "You and Mrs. Scobel are different. I
don't mind you; but those dreadful stiff old ladies mamma cultivates,
who think of nothing but their dress and their own importance--a little
of them goes a very long way."

"But, my dear Miss Tempest, the Carterets and the Horwoods are some of
the best people in the neighbourhood."

"Of course they are," answered Vixen. "If they were not they would
hardly venture to be so stupid. They take the full license of their
acres and their quarterings. People with a coat-of-arms found
yesterday, and no land to speak of, are obliged to make themselves
agreeable."

"Like Captain Winstanley," suggested Mr. Scobel. "I don't suppose he
has land enough to sod a lark. But he is excellent company."

"Very," assented Vixen, "for the people who like him."

They were at the gate by this time.

"You shan't come any further unless you are coming in to see mamma,"
protested Vixen.

"Thanks, no; it's too late to think of that."

"Then go home immediately, and have some supper," said Vixen
imperatively. "You've had nothing but a cup of weak tea since two
o'clock this afternoon. You must be worn out."

"On such an occasion as to-day a man must not think of himself," said
the Vicar.

"I wonder when you ever do think of yourself," said Vixen.

And indeed Mr. Scobel, like many another Anglican pastor of modern
times, led a life which, save for its liberty to go where he listed,
and to talk as much as he liked, was but little less severe in its
exactions upon the flesh and the spirit than that of the monks of La
Trappe.

The Abby House looked very quiet when Vixen went into the hall, whose
doors stood open to the soft spring night. The servants were all at
supper, treating themselves to some extra comforts on the strength of a
dinner-party, and talking over the evening's entertainment and its
bearings on their mistress's life. There was a feeling in the servants'
hall that these little dinners, however seeming harmless, had a certain
bent and tendency inimical to the household, and household peace.

"He was more particular in his manner to-night than hever," said the
butler, as he dismembered a duck which had been "hotted up" after
removal from the dining-room. "He feels hisself master of the whole lot
of us already. I could see it in his hi. 'Is that the cabinet 'ock,
Forbes?' he says to me, when I was a-filling round after the bait.
'No,' says I, 'it is not. We ain't got so much of our cabinet 'ocks
that we can afford to trifle with 'em.' Of course I said it in a
hundertone, confidential like; but I wanted him to know who was master
of the cellar."

"There'll be nobody master but him when once he gets his foot inside
these doors," said Mrs. Trimmer, the housekeeper, mournful shake of her
head. "No, Porline, I'll have a noo pertater. Them canister peas ain't
got no flaviour with them."

While they were enjoying themselves, with a certain chastening touch of
prophetic melancholy, in the servants' hall, Violet was going slowly
upstairs and along the corridor which led past her mother's rooms.

"I must go in and wish mamma good-night," she thought; "though I am
pretty sure of a lecture for my pains."

Just at this moment a door opened, and a soft voice called "Violet,"
pleadingly.

"Dear mamma, I was just coming in to say good-night."

"Were you, darling? I heard your footstep, and I was afraid you were
going by. And I want very particularly to see you to-night, Violet."

"Do you, mamma? I hope not to scold me for going with the
school-children. They had such a happy afternoon; and ate! it was like
a miracle. Not so little serving for so many, but so few devouring so
much."

Pamela Tempest put her arm round her daughter, and kissed her, with
more warmth of affection than she had shown since the sad days after
the Squire's death. Violet looked at her mother wonderingly. She could
hardly see the widow's fair delicate face in the dimly-lighted room. It
was one of the prettiest rooms in the house--half boudoir half
dressing-room, crowded with elegant luxuries and modern inventions,
gipsy tables, book-stands, toy-cabinets of egg-shell china, a toilet
table _à la_ Pompadour, a writing-desk _à la_ Sevigné. Such small
things had made the small joys of Mrs. Tempest's life. When she mourned
her kind husband, she lamented him as the someone who had bought her
everything she wanted.

She had taken off her dinner-dress, and looked particularly fair and
youthful in her soft muslin dressing-gown, trimmed with Mechlin lace
which had cost as much as a small holding on the outskirts of the
Forest. Even in that subdued light Violet could see that her mother's
cheeks were pinker than usual, that her eyes were clouded with tears,
and her manner anxiously agitated.

"Mamma," cried the girl, "there is something wrong, I know. Something
has happened."

"There is nothing wrong, love. Bat something has happened. Something
which I hope will not make you unhappy--for it has made me very happy."

"You are talking in enigmas, mamma, and I am too tired to be good at
guessing riddles, just now," said Violet, becoming suddenly cold as ice.

A few moments ago she had been all gentleness and love, responding to
the unwonted affection of her mother's caresses. Now she drew herself
away and stood aloof, with her heart beating fast and furiously. She
divined what was coming. She had guessed the riddle already.

"Come and sit by the fire, Violet, and I will tell you--everything,"
said Mrs. Tempest coaxingly, seating herself in the low semi-circular
chair which was her especial delight.

"I can hear what you have to tell just as well where I am," answered
Violet curtly, walking to the latticed window, which was open to the
night. The moon was shining over the rise and fall of the woods; the
scent of the flowers came stealing up from the garden. Without, all was
calm and sweetness, within, fever and smothered wrath. "I can't think
how you can endure a fire on such a night. The room is positively
stifling."

"Ah Violet, you have not my sad susceptibility to cold."

"No, mamma. I don't keep myself shut up like an unset diamond in a
jeweller's strong-box."

"I don't think I can tell you--the little secret I have to tell,
Violet, unless you come over to me and sit by my side, and give me your
hand, and let me feel as if you were really fond of me," pleaded Mrs.
Tempest, with a little gush of piteousness. "You seem like an enemy,
standing over there with your back to me, looking out at the sky."

"Perhaps there is no need for you to tell me anything, mamma," answered
Violet, in a tone which, to that tremulous listener in the low seat by
the fire, sounded as severe as the voice of a judge pronouncing
sentence. "Shall I tell you the secret?"

There was no answer.

"Shall I, mamma?"

"I don't think you can, my love."

"Yes, I am afraid I can. The secret--which is no secret to me or to
anyone else in the world, any more than the place where the ostrich has
put his head is a secret when his body is sticking up out of the
sand--the secret is that, after being for seventeen happy honourable
years the wife of the best and tiniest of men--the kindest, most
devoted, and most generous of husbands--you are going to take another
husband, who comes to you with no better credentials than a smooth
tongue and a carefully-drilled figure, and who will punish your want of
faith and constancy to my dead father by making the rest of your life
miserable--as you will deserve that it shall be. Yes, mother, I, your
only child, say so. You will deserve to be wretched if you marry
Captain Winstanley."

The widow gave a faint scream, half indignation, half terror. For the
moment she felt as if some prophetic curse had been hurled upon her.
The tall straight figure in the white gown, standing in the full flood
of moonlight, looked awful as Cassandra, prophesying death and doom in
the wicked house at Argos.

"It is too bad," sobbed Mrs. Tempest; "it is cruel, undutiful,
disrespectful, positively wicked for a daughter to talk to a mother as
you have talked to me to-night. How can Miss McCroke have brought you
up, I wonder, that you are capable of using such language? Have you
forgotten the Fifth Commandment?"

"No. It tells me to honour my father and my mother. I honour my dead
father, I honour you, when I try to save you from the perdition of a
second marriage."

"Perdition!" echoed Mrs. Tempest faintly, "what language!"

"I knew when that adventurer came here, that he intended to make
himself master of this house--to steal my dead father's place," cried
Vixen passionately.

"You have no right to call him an adventurer. He is an officer and a
gentleman. You offer him a cruel, an unprovoked insult. You insult me
still more deeply by your abuse of him. Am I so old, or so ugly, or so
altogether horrid, that a man cannot love me for my own sake?"

"Not such a man as Captain Winstanley. He does not know what love
means. He would have made me marry him if he could, because I am to
have the estate by-and-bye. Failing that, he has made you accept him
for your husband. Yes, he has conquered you, as a cat conquers a bird,
fascinating the poor wretch with its hateful green eyes. You are quite
young enough and pretty enough to win a good man's regard, if you were
a penniless unprotected widow, needing a husband to shelter you and
provide for you. But you are the natural victim of such a man as
Captain Winstanley."

"You are altogether unjust and unreasonable," exclaimed Mrs. Tempest,
weeping copiously. "Your poor dear father spoiled you. No one but a
spoiled child would talk as you are talking. Who made you a judge of
Captain Winstanley? It is not true that he ever wanted to marry you. I
don't believe it for an instant."

"Very well, mother. If you are wilfully blind----"

"I am not blind. I have lived twice as long as you have. I am a better
judge of human nature than you can be."

"Not of your admirer's, your flatterer's nature," cried Vixen. "He has
slavered you with pretty speeches and soft words, as the cobra slavers
his victim, and he will devour you, as the cobra does. He will swallow
up your peace of mind, your self-respect, your independence, your
money--all good things you possess. He will make you contemptible in
the eyes of all who know you. He will make you base in your own eyes."

"It is not true. You are blinded by prejudice."

"I want to save you from yourself, if I can."

"You are too late to save me, as you call it. Captain Winstanley has
touched my heart by his patient devotion, I have not been so easily won
as you seem to imagine. I have refused him three times. He knows that I
had made up my mind never to marry again. Nothing was farther from my
thoughts than a second marriage. I liked him as a companion and friend.
That he knew. But I never intended that he should be more to me than a
friend. He knew that. His patience has conquered me. Such devotion as
he has given me has not often been offered to a woman. I do not think
any woman living could resist it. He is all that is good and noble, and
I am assured, Violet, that as a second father----"

Vixen interrupted her with a cry of horror.

"For God's sake, mamma, do not utter the word 'father' in conjunction
with his name. He may become your husband--I have no power to prevent
that evil--but he shall never call himself my father."

"What happiness can there be for any of us, Violet, when you start with
such prejudices?" whimpered Mrs. Tempest.

"I do not expect there will be much," said Vixen. "Good-night, mamma."

"You are very unkind. You won't even stop to hear how it came
about--how Conrad persuaded me to forego my determination."

"No, mamma. I don't want to hear the details. The fact is enough for
me. If it would be any use for me to go down upon my knees and entreat
you to give up this man, I would gladly do it; but I fear it would be
no use."

"It would not. Violet," answered the widow, with modest resoluteness.
"I have given Conrad my word. I cannot withdraw it."

"Then I have nothing more to say," replied Vixen, with her hand upon
the door, "except good-night."

"You will not even kiss me?"

"Excuse me, mamma; I am not in a kissing humour."

And so Vixen left her.

Mrs. Tempest sat by the fading fire, and cried herself into a gentle
slumber. It was very hard. She had longed to pour the story of this
second courtship--its thrilling, unexpected joys, its wondrous
surprises--into a sympathetic ear. And Violet, the natural recipient of
these gentle confidences, had treated her so cruelly.

 She felt herself sorely ill-used; and then came soothing
thoughts about her _trousseau_, her wedding-dress, the dress in which
she should start for her wedding-tour. All things would of course be
chastened and subdued. No woman can be a bride twice in her life; but
Mrs. Tempest meant that the _trousseau_ should, in its way, be perfect.
There should be no rush or excitement in the preparation; nothing
should be scamped or hurried. Calmness, deliberation, and a faultless
taste should pervade all things.

"I will have no trimming but Valenciennes for my under-linen," she
decided; "it is the only lace that never offends. And I will have old
English monograms in satin-stitch upon everything. My _peignoirs_ will
require a good deal of study; they admit of so much variety. I will
have only a few dresses, but those shall be from Paris. Theodore must
go over and get them from Worth. She knows what suits me better than I
do myself. I am not going to be extravagant, but Conrad so appreciates
elegance and taste; and of course he will wish me to be well dressed."

And so, comforted by these reflections, Mrs. Tempest sank into a gentle
slumber, from which she was awakened by Pauline, who had discussed her
mistress's foolishness over a hearty supper, and now came to perform
the duties of the evening toilet.

"Oh Pauline," cried the widow, with a shiver, "I'm glad you awoke me.
I've just had such an awful dream."

"Lor', ma'am! What about?"

"Oh, an awful dream. I thought Madame Theodore sent me home a
_trousseau_ and that there was not a single thing that would fit. I
looked an object in every one of the dresses."



CHAPTER II.

Wedding Garments.

After that night Vixen held her peace. There were no more bitter words
between Mrs. Tempest and her daughter, but the mother knew that there
was a wellspring of bitterness--a Marah whose waters were
inexhaustible--in her daughter's heart; and that domestic happiness,
under one roof, was henceforth impossible for these two.

There were very few words of any kind between Violet and Mrs. Tempest
at this time. The girl kept herself as much a possible apart from her
mother. The widow lived her languid drawing-room life, dawdling away
long slow days that left no more impression behind them than the drift
of rose-leaves across the velvet lawn before her windows. A little
point-lace, deftly worked by slim white fingers flashing with gems; a
little Tennyson; a little Owen Meredith; a little Browning--only half
understood at best; a little scandal; a great deal of orange pekoe,
sipped out of old Worcester teacups of royal blue or flowered Swansea;
an hour's letter-writing on the last fashionable note-paper;
elegantly-worded inanity, delicately penned in a flowing Italian hand,
with long loops to the Y's and G's, and a serpentine curve at the end
of every word.

No life could well have been more useless or vapid. Even Mrs. Tempest's
charities--those doles of wine and soup, bread and clothing, which are
looked for naturally from the mistress of a fine old mansion--were
vicarious. Trimmer, the housekeeper, did everything. Indeed, in the
eyes of the surrounding poor, Mrs. Trimmer was mistress of the Abbey
House. It was to her they looked for relief; it was her reproof they
feared; and to her they louted lowest. The faded beauty, reclining in
her barouche, wrapped in white raiment of softest China crape, and
whirling past them in a cloud of dust, was as remote as a goddess. They
could hardly have realised that she was fashioned out of the same clay
that made themselves.

Upon so smooth and eventless an existence Captain Winstanley's presence
came like a gust of north wind across the sultry languor of an August
noontide. His energy, his prompt, resolute manner of thinking and
acting upon all occasions, impressed Mrs. Tempest with an extraordinary
sense of his strength of mind and manliness. It seemed to her that she
must always be safe where he was. No danger, no difficulty could assail
her while his strong arm was there to ward it off. She felt very much
as Mary Stuart may have done about Bothwell; when, moved to scornful
aversion by the silken boy-profligate Darnley, her heart acknowledged
its master in the dark freebooter who had slain him. There had been no
Darnley in Pamela Tempest's life; but this resolute, clear-brained
soldier was her Bothwell. She had the Mary Stuart temperament, the love
of compliments and fine dresses, dainty needlework and luxurious
living, without the Stuart craft. In Conrad Winstanley she had found
her master, and she was content to be so mastered; willing to lay down
her little sum of power at his feet, and live henceforward like a tame
falcon at the end of a string. Her position, as a widow, was an
excellent one. The Squire's will had been dictated in fullest
confidence in his wife's goodness and discretion; and doubtless also
with the soothing idea common to most hale and healthy men, that it
must be a long time before their testamentary arrangements can come
into effect. It was a holograph will, and the Squire's own composition
throughout. "He would have no lawyer's finger in that pie," he had
said. The disposal of his estate had cost him many hours of painful
thought before he rang the bell for his bailiff and his butler, and
executed it in their presence.

Mrs. Tempest was mistress of the Abbey House for her life; and at her
death it was to become Violet's property. Violet was not to come of age
until she was twenty-five, and in the meantime her mother was to be her
sole guardian, and absolute mistress of everything. There was no
question of an allowance for the maintenance of the heiress, no
question as to the accumulation of income. Everything was to belong to
Mrs. Tempest till Violet came of age. She had only to educate and
maintain her daughter in whatever manner she might think fit. At
Violet's majority the estate was to pass into her possession, charged
with an income of fifteen hundred a year, to be paid to the widow for
her lifetime. Until her twenty-fifth birthday, therefore, Violet was in
the position of a child, entirely dependent on her mother's liberality,
and bound to obey her mother as her natural and only guardian. There
was no court of appeal nearer than the Court of Chancery. There was no
one to whom the two women could make their complaints or refer their
differences.

Naturally, Captain Winstanley had long before this made himself
acquainted with the particulars of the Squire's will. For six years he
saw himself sole master of a very fine estate, and at the end of six
years reduced to an income which seemed, comparatively, a pittance, and
altogether inadequate for the maintenance of such a place as the Abbey
House. Still, fifteen hundred a year and the Abbey House were a long
way on the right side of nothing: and Captain Winstanley felt that he
had fallen on his feet.

That was a dreary June for Vixen. She hugged her sorrow, and lived in a
mental solitude which was almost awful in so young a soul. She made a
confidante of no one, not even of kind-hearted Mrs. Scobel, who was
quite ready to pity her and condole with her, and who was secretly
indignant at the widow's folly.

The fact of Mrs. Tempest's intended marriage had become known to all
her friends and neighbours, with the usual effect of such intelligence.
Society said sweet things to her; and praised Captain Winstanley; and
hoped the wedding would be soon; and opined that it would be quite a
nice thing for Miss Tempest to have such an agreeable stepfather, with
whom she could ride to hounds as she had done with the dear Squire. And
the same society, driving away from the Abbey House in its landaus and
pony-carriages, after half-an-hour's pleasant gossip and a cup of
delicately flavoured tea, called Mrs. Tempest a fool, and her intended
husband an adventurer.

Vixen kept aloof from all the gossip and tea-drinking. She did not even
go near her old friends the Scobels, in these days of smothered wrath
and slow consuming indignation. She deserted the schools, her old
pensioners, even the little village children, to whom she had loved to
carry baskets of good things, and pocketfuls of halfpence, and whose
queer country dialect had seemed as sweet to her as the carolling of
finches and blackbirds in the woods. Everything in the way of charity
was left to Mrs. Trimmer now. Vixen took her long solitary rides in the
Forest, roaming wherever there was a footway for her horse under the
darkening beeches, dangerously near the swampy ground where the wet
grass shone in the sunlight, the green reedy patches that meant peril;
into the calm unfathomable depths of Mark Ash, or Queen's Bower; up to
the wild heathy crest of Boldrewood; wherever there was loneliness and
beauty.

Roderick had gone to London for the season, and was riding with Lady
Mabel in the Row, or dancing attendance at garden-parties, exhibitions,
and flower-shows.

"I wonder how he likes the dusty days, and the crowded rooms, the
classical music, and high-art exhibitions?" thought Vixen savagely. "I
wonder how he likes being led about like a Pomeranian terrier? I don't
think I could endure it if I were a man. But I suppose when one is in
love----"

And then Vixen thought of their last talk together, and how little of
the lover's enthusiasm there was in Roderick's mention of his cousin.

"In the bottom of my heart I know that he is going to marry her for the
sake of her estate, or because his mother wished it and urged it, and
he was too weak-minded to go on saying No. I would not say it for the
world, or let anyone else say it in my hearing, but, in my heart of
hearts, I know he does not love her."

And then, after a thoughtful silence, she cried to the mute
unresponsive woods:

"Oh, it is wicked, abominable, mad, to marry without love!"

The woods spoke to her of Roderick Vawdrey. How often she had ridden by
his side beneath these spreading beech-boughs, dipping her childish
head, just as she dipped it to-day, under the low branches, steering
her pony carefully between the prickly holly-bushes, plunging deep into
the hollows where the dry leaves crackled under his hoofs.

"I fancied Rorie and I were to spend our lives together--somehow," she
said to herself. "It seems very strange for us to be quite parted."

She saw Mr. Vawdrey's name in the fashionable newspapers, in the lists
of guests at dinners and drums. London life suited him very well, no
doubt. She heard that he was a member of the Four-in-hand Club, and
turned out in splendid style at Hyde Park Corner. There was no talk yet
of his going into Parliament. That was an affair of the future.

Since that evening on which Mrs. Tempest announced her intention of
taking a second husband, Violet and Captain Winstanley had only met in
the presence of other people. The Captain had tried to infuse a certain
fatherly familiarity into his manner; but Vixen had met every attempt
at friendliness with a sullen disdain, which kept even Captain
Winstanley at arm's length.

"We shall understand each other better by-and-by," he said to himself,
galled by this coldness. "It would be a pity to disturb these halcyon
days by anything in the way of a scene. I shall know how to manage Miss
Tempest--afterwards."

He spoke of her, and to her, always as Miss Tempest. He had never
called her Violet since that night in the Pavilion garden.

These days before her wedding were indeed a halcyon season for Mrs.
Tempest. She existed in an atmosphere of millinery and pretty speeches.
Her attention was called away from a ribbon by the sweet distraction of
a compliment, and oscillated between tender whispers and honiton lace.
Conrad Winstanley was a delightful lover. His enemies would have said
that he had done the same kind of thing so often, that it would have
been strange if he had not done it well. His was assuredly no 'prentice
hand in the art. Poor Mrs. Tempest lived in a state of mild
intoxication, as dreamily delicious as the effects of opium. She was
enchanted with her lover, and still better pleased with herself. At
nine-and-thirty it was very sweet to find herself exercising so potent
an influence over the Captain's strong nature. She could not help
comparing herself to Cleopatra, and her lover to Antony. If he had not
thrown away a world for her sake, he was at least ready to abandon the
busy career which a man loves, and to devote his future existence to
rural domesticity. He confessed that he had been hardened by much
contact with the world, that he did not love now for the first time;
but he told his betrothed that her influence had awakened feelings
which had never before been called into life, that this love which he
felt for her was to all intents and purposes a first love, the first
pure and perfect affection that had subjugated and elevated his soul.

After that night in Mrs. Tempest's boudoir, it was only by tacit
avoidance of her mother that Vixen showed the intensity of her
disapproval. If she could have done any good by reproof or entreaty, by
pleading or exhortation, she would assuredly have spoken; but she saw
the Captain and her mother together every day, and she knew that,
opposed to his influence, her words were like the idle wind which
bloweth where it listeth. So she held her peace, and looked on with an
aching angry heart, and hated the intruder who had come to steal her
dead father's place. To take her father's place; that in Violet's mind
was the unpardonable wrong. That any man should enter that house as
master, and sit in the Squire's seat, and rule the Squire's servants,
and ride the Squire's horses, was an outrage beyond endurance. She
might have looked more leniently on her mother's folly, had the widow
chosen a second husband with a house and home of his own, who would
have carried off his wife to reign over his own belongings, and left
the Abbey House desolate--a temple dedicated to the dead.

Mrs. Tempest's manner towards her daughter during this period was at
once conciliatory and reproachful. She felt it a hard thing that Violet
should have taken up such an obnoxious position. This complaint she
repeated piteously, with many variations, when she discussed Violet's
unkindness with her lover. She had no secrets from the Captain, and she
told him all the bitter things Violet had said about him.

He heard her with firmly-set lips and an angry sparkle in his dark
eyes, but his tone was full of paternal indulgence presently, when Mrs.
Tempest had poured out all her woes.

"Is it not hard upon me, Conrad?" she asked in conclusion.

"My dear Pamela, I hope you are too strong-minded to distress yourself
seriously about a wilful girl's foolishness. Your daughter has a noble
nature, but she has been spoiled by too much indulgence. Even a
race-horse--the noblest thing in creation--has to be broken in; not
always without severe punishment. Miss Tempest and I will come to
understand each other perfectly by-and-by."

"I know you will be a second father to her," said Mrs. Tempest
tearfully.

"I will do my duty to her, dearest, be assured."

Still Mrs. Tempest went on harping upon the cruelty of her daughter's
conduct. The consciousness of Violet's displeasure weighed heavily upon
her.

"I dare not even show her my _trousseau_," she complained, "all
confidence is at an end between us. I should like to have had her
opinion about my dresses--though she is sadly deficient in taste, poor
child! and has never even learnt to put on her gloves perfectly."

"And your own taste is faultless, love," replied the Captain
soothingly. "What can you want with advice from an inexperienced girl,
whose mind is in the stable?"

"It is not her advice I want, Conrad; but her sympathy. Fanny Scobel is
coming this afternoon. I can show her my things. I really feel quite
nervous about talking to Violet of her own dress. She must have a new
dress for the wedding, you know; though she cannot be a bridesmaid. I
think that is really unfair. Don't you, Conrad?"

"What is unfair, dearest?" asked the Captain, whose mind had scarcely
followed the harmless meanderings of his lady's speech.

"That a widow is not allowed to have bridesmaids or orange-blossoms. It
seems like taking the poetry out of a wedding, does it not?"

"Not to my mind, Pamela. The poetry of wedlock does not lie in these
details--a sugared cake, and satin favours; a string of carriages, and
a Brussels veil. The true poetry of marriage is in the devotion and
fidelity of the two hearts it binds together."

Mrs Tempest sighed gently, and was almost resigned to be married
without bridesmaids or orange-blossoms.

It was now within a month of the wedding, which was to be solemnised on
the last day of August--a convenient season for a honeymoon tour in
Scotland. Mrs. Tempest liked to travel when other people travelled.
Mountain and flood would have had scarcely any charm for her "out of
the season." The time had come when Violet's dress must be talked
about, as Mrs. Tempest told the Vicar's wife solemnly. She had confided
the secret of her daughter's unkindness to Mrs. Scobel, in the friendly
hour of afternoon tea.

"It is very hard upon me," she repeated--"very hard that the only
drawback to my happiness should come from my own child."

"Violet was so fond of her father," said Mrs. Scobel excusingly.

"But is that any reason she should treat me unkindly? Who could have
been fonder of dear Edward than I was? I studied his happiness in
everything. There never was an unkind word between us. I do not think
anyone could expect me to go down to my grave a widow, in order to
prove my affection for my dearest Edward. That was proved by every act
of my married life. I have nothing to regret, nothing to atone for. I
feel myself free to reward Captain Winstanley's devotion. He has
followed me from place to place for the last two years; and has
remained constant, in spite of every rebuff. He proposed to me three
times before I accepted him."

Mrs. Scobel had been favoured with the history of these three separate
offers more than once.

"I know, dear Mrs. Tempest," she said somewhat hurriedly, lest her
friend should recapitulate the details. "He certainly seems very
devoted. But, of course, from a worldly point of view, you are an
excellent match for him."

"Do you think I would marry him if I thought that consideration had any
weight with him?" demanded Mrs. Tempest indignantly. And Mrs. Scobel
could say no more.

There are cases of physical blindness past the skill of surgery, but
there is no blindness more incurable than that of a woman on the verge
of forty who fancies herself beloved.

"But Violet's dress for the wedding," said Mrs. Scobel, anxious to get
the conversation upon safer ground. "Have you really said nothing to
her about it?"

"No. She is so headstrong and self-willed. I have been absolutely
afraid to speak. But it must be settled immediately. Theodore is always
so busy. It will be quite a favour to get the dress made at so short a
notice, I daresay."

"Why not speak to Violet this afternoon?"

"While you are here? Yes, I might do that," replied Mrs. Tempest
eagerly.

She felt she could approach the subject more comfortably in Mrs.
Scobel's presence. There would be a kind of protection in a third
person. She rang the bell.

"Has Miss Tempest come home from her ride?"

"Yes, ma'am. She has just come in."

"Send her to me at once then. Ask her not to stop to change her dress."

Mrs. Tempest and Mrs. Scobel were in the drawing-room, sitting at a
gipsy table before an open window; the widow wrapped in a China-crape
shawl, lest even the summer breeze should be too chill for her delicate
frame, the Worcester cups and saucers, and antique silver tea pot and
caddy and kettle set out before her, like a child's toys.

Violet came running in, flushed after her ride, her habit muddy.

"Bogged again!" cried Mrs. Tempest, with ineffable disgust. "That horse
will be the death of you some day."

"I think not, mamma. How do you do, Mrs. Scobel?"

"Violet," said the Vicar's wife gravely, "why do you never come to our
week-day services now?"

"I--I--don't know. I have not felt in the humour for coming to church.
It's no use to come and kneel in a holy place with rebellious thoughts
in my heart. I come on Sundays for decency's sake; but I think it is
better to keep away from the week-day services till I am in a better
temper."

"I don't think that's quite the way to recover your temper, dear."

Violet was silent, and there was a rather awkward pause.

"Will you have a cup of tea, dear?" asked Mrs. Tempest.

"No, thanks, mamma. I think, unless you have something very particular
to say to me, I had better take my muddy habit off your carpet. I feel
rather warm and dusty. I shall be glad to change my dress."

"But I have something very particular to say, Violet. I won't detain
you long. You'd better have a cup of tea."

"Just as you please, mamma."

And forgetful of her clay-bespattered habit, Violet sank into one of
the satin-covered chairs, and made a wreck of an antimacassar worked in
crewels by Mrs. Tempest's own hands.

"I am going to write to Madame Theodore by this evening's post,
Violet," said her mother, handing her a cup of tea, and making believe
not to see the destruction of that exquisite antimacassar; "and I
should like to order your dress--for--the wedding. I have been thinking
that cream-colour and pale blue would suit you to perfection. A
cream-coloured hat--the Vandyck shape--with a long blue ostrich----"

"Please don't take any trouble about it, mamma," said Vixen, whose
cheek had paled at the word "wedding," and who now sat very erect in
her chair, holding her cup and saucer firmly. "I am not going to be
present at your wedding, so I shall not want a dress."

"Violet!" cried Mrs. Tempest, beginning to tremble. "You cannot mean
what you say. You have been very unkind, very undutiful. You have made
me perfectly miserable for the last seven weeks; but I cannot believe
that you would--grossly insult me--by refusing to be present at my
wedding."

"I do not wish to insult you, mamma. I am very sorry if I have pained
you; but I cannot and will not be present at a marriage the very idea
of which is hateful to me. If my presence could give any sanction to
this madness of yours, that sanction shall not be given."

"Violet, have you thought what you are doing? Have you considered what
will be said--by the world?"

"I think the world--our world--must have made up its mind about your
second marriage already, mamma," Vixen answered quietly. "My absence
from your wedding can make very little difference."

"It will make a very great difference; and you know it!" cried Mrs.
Tempest, roused to as much passion as she was capable of feeling.
"People will say that my daughter sets her face against my marriage--my
daughter, who ought to sympathise with me, and rejoice that I have
found a true friend and protector."

"I cannot either sympathise or rejoice, mamma. It is much better that I
should stop away from your wedding. I should look miserable, and make
other people uncomfortable."

"Your absence will humiliate and lower me in the sight of my friends.
It will be a disgrace. And yet you take this course on purpose to wound
and injure me. You are a wicked undutiful daughter."

"Oh, mamma!" cried Vixen, with grave voice and reproachful eyes--eyes
before whose steady gaze the tearful widow drooped and trembled, "is
duty so one-sided? Do I owe all to you, and you nothing to me? My
father left us together, mother and daughter, to be all the world to
each other. He left us mistresses of the dear old home we had shared
with him. Do you think he meant a stranger to come and sit in his
place--to be master over all he loved? Do you think it ever entered his
mind that in three little years his place would be filled by the
first-comer--his daughter asked to call another man father?"

"The first-comer!" whimpered Mrs. Tempest. "Oh, this it too cruel!"

"Violet!" exclaimed Mrs. Scobel reprovingly, "when you are calmer you
will be sorry for having spoken so unkindly to your dear mamma."

"I shall not be sorry for having spoken the truth," said Violet. "Mamma
has heard the truth too seldom in her life. She will not hear it from
Captain Winstanley--yet awhile."

And after flinging this last poisoned dart, Vixen took up the muddy
skirt of her habit and left the room.

"It was rather a pity that Arion and I did not go to the bottom of that
bog and stay there," she reflected. "I don't think anybody wants us
above ground."

"Did you ever know anything so humiliating, so shameful, so undutiful?"
demanded Mrs. Tempest piteously, as the door closed on her rebellious
daughter. "What will people say if Violet is not at my wedding?"

"It would be awkward, certainly; unless there were some good reason for
her absence."

"People are so ill-natured. Nobody would believe in any excuse that was
made. That cruel girl will disgrace me."

"She seems strongly prejudiced against Captain Winstanley. It is a
great pity. But I daresay she will relent in time. If I were you, dear
Mrs. Tempest, I should order the dress."

"Would you really, Fanny?"

"Yes; I should order the dress, and trust in Providence for the result.
You may be able to bring her round somehow between now and the wedding."

"But I am not going to humiliate myself. I am not going to be trampled
on by my daughter."

"Of course not; but you must have her at your wedding."

"If I were to tell Captain Winstanley what she has said this
afternoon----"

"He would be very angry, no doubt. But I would not tell him if I were
you."

"No, I shall not say anything about it."

Yet, before night, Captain Winstanley had heard every syllable that
Vixen had said; with some trifling and unconscious exaggerations,
hardly to be avoided by a woman of Mrs. Tempest's character, in the
narration of her own wrongs.



CHAPTER III.

"I shall look like the wicked Fairy."

Nothing in Captain Winstanley's manner during the sultry summer days
which went before his marriage betrayed his knowledge of Violet
Tempest's rebellious spirit. He would not see that he was obnoxious to
her. He spoke to her and looked at her as sweetly as if there had been
the friendliest understanding between them. In all his conduct, in any
act of his which approached the assumption of authority, he went to
work with supreme gentleness. Yet he had his grip upon everything
already, and was extending his arms in every direction, like an
octopus. There were alterations being made in the garden which Violet
knew were his, although Mrs. Tempest was supposed to have originated
them. He had, in some measure, assumed dominion over the stables. His
two hunters were already quartered there. Vixen saw them when she went
her morning round with a basket of bread. They were long-bodied,
hungry-looking animals; and the grooms reported them ravenous and
insatiable in their feeding.

"When they've eat their corn they eats their 'ay, and when they've eat
their 'ay they eats their bed, and then they takes and gnaws the wooden
partitions. They'll eat up all the woodwork in the stable, before
they've done. I never see such brutes," complained Bates, the
head-groom.

Vixen fancied these animals were in some wise typical of their owner.

One morning when Vixen was leaning upon the half-door of Arion's
loose-box, giving herself up to a quarter of an hour's petting of that
much-beloved animal, Captain Winstanley came into the stable.

"Good-morning, Miss Tempest. Petting that pretty little bay of yours?
I'm afraid you'll spoil him. You ought to hunt him next October."

"I shall never hunt again."

"Pshaw! At your age there's no such word as never. He's the neatest
little hunter in the Forest. And on his by-days you might ride one of
mine."

"Thanks," said Vixen, with a supercilious glance at the most leggy of
the two hunters, "I shouldn't care to be up there. I should feel myself
out of everything."

"Oh, by-the-way," said Captain Winstanley, opening the door of another
loose-box, "what are we to do with this fellow?"

"This fellow" was a grand-looking bay, with herculean quarters, short
legs, and a head like a war-horse. He snorted indignantly as the
Captain slapped his flank, and reared his splendid crest, and seemed as
if he said "Ha, ha!"

"I don't quite know of whom you are speaking when you say 'we,'" said
Vixen, with an unsmiling countenance.

"Naturally of your mother and myself. I should like to include you in
all our family arrangements, present or future; but you seem to prefer
being left outside."

"Yes," replied Vixen, "I prefer to stand alone."

"Very well then. I repeat my question--though, as you decline to have
any voice in our arrangements, it's hardly worth while to trouble you
about it--what are we to do with this fellow?"

"Do with him? My father's horse!" exclaimed Vixen; "the horse he rode
to his dying day! Why, keep him, of course!"

"Don't you think that is rather foolish? Nobody rides or drives him. It
takes all one man's time to groom him and exercise him. You might just
as well keep a white elephant in the stables."

"He was my father's favourite horse," said Vixen, with indignant tears
clouding the bright hazel of her eyes; "I cannot imagine mamma capable
of parting with him. Yet I ought not to say that, after my experience
of the last few months," she added in an undertone.

"Well, my dear Miss Tempest, family affection is a very charming
sentiment, and I can quite understand that you and your mamma would be
anxious to secure your father's horse a good home and a kind master;
but I cannot comprehend your mamma being so foolish as to keep a horse
which is of no use to any member of her family. If the brute were of a
little lighter build, I wouldn't mind riding him myself, and selling
one of mine. But he's too much of a weight-carrier for me."

Vixen gave Arion a final hug, drying her angry tears upon his soft
neck, and left the stable without another word. She went straight to
her mother's morning-room, where the widow was sitting at a table
covered with handkerchiefs-cases and glove-boxes, deeply absorbed in
the study of their contents, assisted by the faithful Pauline,
otherwise Polly, who had been wearing smarter gowns and caps ever since
her mistress's engagement, and who was getting up a _trousseau_ on her
own account, in order to enter upon her new phase of existence with due
dignity.

"We shall keep more company, I make no doubt, with such a gay young
master as the Captain," she had observed in the confidences of Mrs.
Trimmer's comfortable parlour.

"I can never bring myself to think Swedish gloves pretty," said Mrs.
Tempest, as Vixen burst into the room, "but they are the fashion, and
one must wear them."

"Mamma," cried Vixen, "Captain Winstanley wants you to sell Bullfinch.
If you let him be sold, you will be the meanest of women."

And with this startling address Vixen left the room as suddenly as she
had entered it, banging the door behind her.


Time, which brings all things, brought the eve of Mrs. Tempest's
wedding. The small but perfect _trousseau_, subject of such anxious
thoughts, so much study, was completed. The travelling-dresses were
packed in two large oilskin-covered baskets, ready for the Scottish
tour. The new travelling-bag, with monograms in pink coral on
silver-gilt, a wedding present from Captain Winstanley, occupied the
place of honour in Mrs. Tempest's dressing-room. The wedding-dress, of
cream-coloured brocade and old point-lace, with a bonnet of lace and
water-lilies, was spread upon the sofa. Everything in Mrs. Tempest's
apartment bore witness to the impending change in the lady's life. Most
of all, the swollen eyelids and pale cheeks of the lady, who, on this
vigil of her wedding-day, had given herself up to weeping.

"Oh mum, your eyes will be so red to-morrow," remonstrated Pauline,
coming into the room with another dainty little box, newly-arrived from
the nearest railway-station, and surprising her mistress in tears. "Do
have some red lavender. Or let me make you a cup of tea."

Mrs. Tempest had been sustaining nature with cups of tea all through
the agitating day. It was a kind of drama drinking, and she was as much
a slave of the teapot as the forlorn drunken drab of St. Giles's is a
slave of the gin-bottle.

"Yes, you may get me another cup of tea, Pauline. I feel awfully low
to-night."

"You seem so, mum. I'm sure if I didn't want to marry him, I wouldn't,
if I was you. It's never too late for a woman to change her mind, not
even when she's inside the church. I've known it done. I wouldn't have
him, mum, if you feel your mind turn against him at the last,"
concluded the lady's-maid energetically.

"Not marry him, Pauline, when he is so good and noble, so devoted, so
unselfish!"

Mrs. Tempest might have extended this list of virtues indefinitely, if
her old servant had not pulled her up rather sharply.

"Well, mum, if he's so good and you're so fond of him, why cry?"

"You don't understand, Pauline. At such a time there are many painful
feelings. I have been thinking, naturally, of my dear Edward, the best
and most generous of husbands. Twenty years last June since we were
married. What a child I was, Pauline, knowing nothing of the world. I
had a lovely _trousseau;_ but I daresay if we could see the dresses now
we should think them absolutely ridiculous. And one's ideas of
under-linen in those days were very limited. Those lovely satin-stitch
monograms only came in when the Princess of Wales was married. Dear
Edward! He was one of the handsomest men I ever saw. How could Violet
believe that I should sell his favourite horse?"

"Well, mum, hearing Captain Winstanley talk about it, she naturally----"

"Captain Winstanley would never wish me to do anything I did not like."

The Captain had not said a word about Bullfinch since that morning in
the stable. The noble brute still occupied his loose-box, and was fed
and petted daily by Vixen, and was taken for gallops in the dry glades
of the Forest, or among the gorse and heath of Boldrewood.

Mrs. Tempest had dined--or rather had not dined--in her own room on
this last day of her widowhood. Captain Winstanley had business in
London, and was coming back to Hampshire by the last train. There had
been no settlements. The Captain had nothing to settle, and Mrs.
Tempest confided in her lover too completely to desire to fence herself
round with legal protections and precautions. Having only a life
interest in the estate, she had nothing to leave, except the
multifarious ornaments, frivolities, and luxuries which the Squire had
presented to her in the course of their wedded life.

It had been altogether a trying day, Mrs. Tempest complained: in spite
of the diversion to painful thought which was continually being offered
by the arrival of some interesting item of the _trousseau_, elegant
trifles, ordered ever so long ago, which kept dropping in at the last
moment. Violet and her mother had not met during the day, and now night
was hurrying on. The owls were hooting in the Forest. Their monotonous
cry sounded every now and then through the evening silence like a
prophesy of evil. In less than twelve hours the wedding was to take
place; and as yet Vixen had shown no sign of relenting.

The dress had come from Madame Theodore's. Pauline had thrown it over a
chair, with an artistic carelessness which displayed the tasteful
combination of cream colour and pale azure.

Mrs. Tempest contemplated it with a pathetic countenance.

"It is simply perfect!" she exclaimed. "Theodore has a most delicate
mind. There is not an atom too much blue. And how exquisitely the
drapery falls! It looks as if it had been blown together. The Vandyke
hat too! Violet would look lovely in it. I do not think if I were a
wicked mother I should take so much pains to select an elegant costume
for her. But I have always studied her dress. Even when she was in
pinafores I took care that she should be picturesque. And she rewards
my care by refusing to be present at my wedding. It is very cruel."

The clock struck twelve. The obscure bird clamoured a little louder in
his woodland haunt. The patient Pauline, who had packed everything and
arranged everything, and borne with her mistress's dolefulness all day
long, began to yawn piteously.

"If you'd let me brush your hair now, ma'am," she suggested at last, "I
could get to bed. I should like to be fresh to-morrow morning."

"Are you tired?" exclaimed Mrs. Tempest, wonderingly.

"Well, mum, stooping over them dress-baskets is rather tiring, and it's
past twelve."

"You can go. I'll brush my hair myself."

"No, mum, I wouldn't allow that anyhow. It would make your arms ache.
You ought to get to bed as soon as ever you can, or you'll look tired
and 'aggard to-morrow."

That word haggard alarmed Mrs. Tempest. She would not have objected to
look pale and interesting on her wedding-day, like one who had spent
the previous night in tears; but haggardness suggested age; and she
wanted to look her youngest when uniting herself to a husband who was
her junior by some years.

So Pauline was allowed to hurry on the evening toilet. The soft pretty
hair, not so abundant as it used to be, was carefully brushed; the
night-lamp was lighted; and Pauline left her mistress sitting by her
dressing-table in her flowing white raiment, pale, graceful, subdued in
colouring, like a classic figure in a faded fresco.

She sat with fixed eyes, deep in thought, for some time after Pauline
had left her, then looked uneasily at the little gem of a watch
dangling on its ormolu and jasper stand. A quarter to one. Violet must
have gone to bed hours ago; unless, indeed, Violet were like her
mother, too unhappy to be able to sleep. Mrs. Tempest was seized with a
sudden desire to see her daughter.

"How unkind of her never to come near me to say good-night, on this
night of all others!" she thought, "What has she been doing all day, I
wonder? Riding about the Forest, I suppose, like a wild girl, making
friends of dogs and horses, and gipsies, and fox-cubs, and
charcoal-burners, and all kinds of savage creatures."

And then, after a pause, she asked herself, fretfully:

"What will people say if my own daughter is not at my wedding?"

The idea of possible slander stung her sharply. She got up and walked
up and down the room, inwardly complaining against Providence for using
her so badly. To have such a rebellious daughter! It was sharper than a
serpent's tooth.

The time had not been allowed to go by without some endeavour being
made to bring Violet to a better state of feeling. That was the tone
taken about her by Mrs. Tempest and the Vicar's wife in their
conferences. The headstrong misguided girl was to be brought to a
better state of mind. Mrs. Scobel tackled her, bringing all her
diplomacy to bear, but without avail. Vixen was rock. Then Mr. Scobel
undertook the duty, and, with all the authority of his holy office,
called upon Violet to put aside her unchristian prejudices, and behave
as a meek and dutiful daughter.

"Is it unchristian to hate the man who has usurped my father's place?"
Violet asked curtly.

"It is unchristian to hate anyone. And you have no right to call
Captain Winstanley a usurper. You have no reason to take your mother's
marriage so much to heart. There is nothing sinful, or even radically
objectionable in a second marriage; though I admit that, to my mind, a
woman is worthier in remaining faithful to her first love; like Anna
the prophetess, who had been a widow fourscore-and-four years. Who
shall say that her exceptional gift of prophecy may not have been a
reward for the purity and fidelity of her life?"

Mr. Scobel's arguments were of no more effect than his wife's
persuasion. His heart was secretly on Violet's side. He had loved the
Squire, and he thought this marriage of Mrs. Tempest's a foolish, if
not a shameful thing. There was no heartiness in the feeling with which
he supervised the decoration of his pretty tittle church for the
wedding.

"If she were only awake," thought Mrs. Tempest, "I would make a last
appeal to her feelings, late as it is. Her heart cannot be stone."

She took her candle, and went through the dark silent house to Violet's
room, and knocked gently.

"Come in," said the girl's clear voice with a wakeful sound.

"Ah!" thought Mrs. Tempest triumphantly, "obstinate as she is, she
knows she is doing wrong. Conscience won't let her sleep."

Vixen was standing at her window, leaning with folded arms upon the
broad wooden ledge, looking out at the dim garden, over which the pale
stars were shining. There was a moon, but it was hidden by drifting
clouds.

"Not in bed, Violet?" said her mother sweetly.

"No, mamma."

"What have you been doing all these hours?"

"I don't know--thinking,"

"And you never came to wish me good-night."

"I did not think you would want me. I thought you would be busy
packing--for your honeymoon."

"That was not kind, Violet. You must have known that I should have many
painful thoughts to-night."

"I did not know it. And if it is so I can only say it is a pity the
painful thoughts did not come a little sooner."

"Violet, you are as hard as iron, as cold as ice!" cried Mrs. Tempest,
with passionate fretfulness.

"No, I am not, mamma; I can love very warmly, where I love deeply. I
have given this night to thoughts of my dead father, whose place is to
be usurped in this house from to-morrow."

"I never knew anyone so obstinately unkind. I could not have believe it
possible in my own daughter. I thought you had a good heart, Violet;
and yet you do not mind making me intensely wretched on my wedding-day."

"Why should you be wretched, mamma, because I prefer not to be present
at your wedding? If I were there, I should be like the bad fairy at the
princess's christening. I should look at everything with a malevolent
eye."

Mrs. Tempest flung herself into a chair and burst into tears.

The storm of grief which had been brooding over her troubled mind all
day, broke suddenly in a tempest of weeping. She could have given no
reason for her distress; but all at once, on the eve of that day which
was to give a new colour to her life, panic seized her, and she
trembled at the step she was about to take.

"You are very cruel to me, Violet," she sobbed. "I am a most miserable
woman."

Violet knelt beside her and gently took her hand, moved to pity by
wretchedness so abject.

"Dear mamma, why miserable?" she asked. "This thing which you are doing
is your own choice. Or, if it is not--if you have yielded weakly to
over-persuasion--it is not too late to draw back. No, dear mother, even
now it is not too late. Indeed, it is not. Let us run away as soon as
it is light, you and I, and go off to Spain, or Italy, anywhere,
leaving a letter for Captain Winstanley, to say you have changed your
mind. He could not do anything to us. You have a right to draw back,
even at the last."

"Don't talk nonsense, Violet," cried Mrs. Tempest peevishly. "Who said
I had changed my mind? I am as devoted to Conrad as he is to me. I
should be a heartless wretch if I could throw him over at the last
moment. But this has been a most agitating day. Your unkindness is
breaking my heart."

"Indeed, mamma, I have no wish to be unkind--not to you. But my
presence at your wedding would be a lie. It would seem to give my
approval to an act I hate. I cannot bring myself to do that."

"And you will disgrace me by your absence? You do not care what people
may say of me."

"Nobody will care about my absence. You will be the queen of the day."

"Everybody will care--everybody will talk. I know how malicious people
are, even one's most intimate friends. They will say my own daughter
turned her back upon me on my wedding-day."

"They can hardly say that, when I shall be here in your house!"

Mrs. Tempest went on weeping. She had reduced herself to a condition in
which it was much easier to cry than to leave off crying. The fountain
of her tears seemed inexhaustible.

"A pretty object I shall look to-morrow!" she murmured plaintively, and
this was all she said for some time.

Violet walked up and down the room, sorely distressed, sorely
perplexed. To see her mother's grief, and to be able to give comfort,
and to refuse. That must be undutiful, undaughterly, rebellious. But
had not her mother forfeited all right to her obedience? Were not their
hearts and lives completely sundered by this marriage of to-morrow? To
Violet's stronger nature it seemed as if she were the mother--offended,
outraged by a child's folly and weakness. There sat the child, weeping
piteously, yearning to be forgiven. It was a complete reversal of their
positions.

Her heart was touched by the spectacle of her mother's weakness, by the
mute appeal of those tears.

"What does it matter to me, after all, whether I am absent or present?"
she argued at last. "I cannot prevent this man coming to take
possession of my father's house. I cannot hinder the outrage to my
father's memory. Mamma has been very kind to me--and I have no one else
in the world to love."

She took a few more turns, and then stopped by her mother's chair.

"Will it really make you happier, mamma, if I am at your wedding?"

"It will make me quite happy."

"Very well then; it shall be as you please. But, remember, I shall look
like the wicked fairy. I can't help that."

"You will look lovely. Theodore has sent you home the most exquisite
dress. Come to my room and try it on," said Mrs. Tempest, drying her
tears, and as quickly comforted as a child who has obtained its desire
by means of copious weeping.

"No, dear mamma; not to-night, I'm too tired," sighed Violet.

"Never mind, dear. Theodore always fits you to perfection. Go to bed at
once, love. The dress will be a pleasant surprise for you in the
morning. Good-night, pet. You have made me so happy."

"I am glad of that, mamma."

"I wish you were going to Scotland with us." (Vixen shuddered.) "I'm
afraid you'll be dreadfully dull here."

"No, mamma; I shall have the dogs and horses. I shall get on very well."

"You are such a curious girl. Well, good-night, darling. You are my own
Violet again."

And with this they parted; Mrs. Tempest going back to her room with
restored peace of mind.

She looked at the reflection of her tear-blotted face anxiously as she
paused before the glass.

"I'm afraid I shall look an object to-morrow," she said, "The morning
sunshine is so searching."



CHAPTER IV.

The Vow is vowed.

Only a chosen few had been bidden to Mrs. Tempest's wedding. She had
told all her friends that she meant everything to be done very quietly.

"There is so much that is saddening in my position," she said
pensively. But she was resolved that those guests who were asked to
lend their countenance to her espousals should be the very best people.

Lord and Lady Ellangowan had been asked, and had accepted, and their
presence alone would lend dignity to the occasion. Colonel and Mrs.
Carteret, from Copse Hall; the Chopnells, of Chopnell Park; and about
half-a-dozen other representative landowners and commoners made up the
list.

"There is such a satisfaction in knowing they are all the best people,"
Mrs. Tempest said to Captain Winstanley, when they went over the list
together.

His own friends were but two, Major Pontorson, his best man, and a
clerical cousin, with a portly figure and a portwiney nose, who was to
assist Mr. Scobel in the marriage service.

It was a very pretty wedding, the neighbourhood declared unanimously;
despite the absence of that most attractive feature in more youthful
bridals--a string of girlish bridesmaids. The little church at
Beechdale was a bower of summer flowers. The Abbey House conservatories
had been emptied--the Ellangowans had sent a waggon-load of ferns and
exotics. The atmosphere was heavy with the scent of yellow roses and
stephanotis.

Violet stood among the guests, no gleam of colour on her cheeks except
the wavering hues reflected from the painted windows in the low Gothic
chancel--the ruddy gold of her hair shining under the Vandyke hat with
its sweeping azure feather. She was the loveliest thing in that crowded
church, whither people had come from ten miles off to see Squire
Tempest's widow married; but she had a spectral look in the faint light
of the chancel, and seemed as strange an image at this wedding as the
ghost of Don Ramiro at Donna Clara's bridal dance, in Heine's ghastly
ballad.

Violet did not look like the malevolent fairy in the old story, but she
had a look and air which told everyone that this marriage was
distasteful to her.

When all was over, and the register had been signed in the vestry,
Captain Winstanley came up to her, with both hands extended, before all
the company.

"My dear Violet, I am your father now," he said. "You shall not find me
wanting in my duty."

She drew back involuntarily; and then, seeing herself the focus of so
many eyes, suffered him to touch the tips of her fingers.

"You are very kind," she said. "A daughter can have but one father, and
mine is dead. I hope you will be a good husband to my mother. That is
all I can desire of you."

All the best people heard this speech, which was spoken deliberately,
in a low clear voice, and they decided inwardly that whatever kind of
wife Captain Winstanley might have won for himself, he had found his
match in his stepdaughter.

Now came the ride to the Abbey House, which had put on a festive air,
and where smartly-dressed servants were lending their smiles to a day
which they all felt to be the end of a peaceful and comfortable era,
and the beginning of an age of uncertainty. It was like that day at
Versailles when the Third Estate adjourned to the Tennis Court, and the
French Revolution began. People smiled, and were pleased at the new
movement and expectancy in their lives, knowing not what was coming.

"We are bound to be livelier, anyhow, with a military master," said
Pauline.

"A little more company in the house wouldn't come amiss, certainly,"
said Mrs. Trimmer.

"I should like to see our champagne cellar better stocked," remarked
Forbes the butler. "We're behind the times in our sparkling wines."

Captain Winstanley entered the old oak-panelled hall with his wife on
his arm, and felt himself master of such a house as a man might dream
of all his life and never attain. Money could not have bought it. Taste
could not have created it. The mellowing hand of time, the birth and
death of many generations, had made it beautiful.

The wedding breakfast was as other wedding feasts. People ate and drank
and made believe to be intensely glad, and drank more sparkling wine
than was good for them at that abnormal hour, and began to feel sleepy
before the speeches, brief as they were, had come to an end. The August
sun shone in upon the banquet, the creams and jellies languished and
collapsed in the sultry air. The wedding-cake was felt to be a
nuisance. The cracker-cake exploded faintly in the languid hands of the
younger guests, and those ridiculous mottoes, which could hardly amuse
anyone out of Earlswood Asylum, were looked at a shade more
contemptuously than usual. The weather was too warm for enthusiasm. And
Violet's pale set face was almost as disheartening as the skeleton at
an Egyptian banquet. When Mrs. Tempest retired to put on her
travelling-dress Violet went with her, a filial attention the mother
had in no wise expected.

"Dear girl," she said, squeezing her daughter's hand, "to-day is not to
make the slightest difference."

"I hope not, mamma," answered Violet gravely; "but one can never tell
what is in the future. God grant you may be happy!"

"I'm sure it will be my own fault if I am not happy with Conrad," said
the wife of an hour, "and oh, Violet! my constant prayer will be to see
you more attached to him."

Violet made no reply, and here happily Pauline brought the
fawn-coloured travelling-dress, embroidered with poppies and
cornflowers in their natural colours, after the style of South
Kensington, a dress so distractingly lovely that it instantly put an
end to serious conversation. The whole costume had been carefully
thought out, a fawn-coloured parasol, edged with ostrich feathers, a
fawn-coloured bonnet, fawn-coloured Hessian boots, fawn-coloured
Swedish gloves with ten buttons--all prepared for the edification of
railway guards and porters, and Scotch innkeepers and their
_valetaille_.

Verily there are some games which seem hardly worth the candle that
lights the players. And there was once upon a time an eccentric
nobleman who was accounted maddest in that he made his wife dress
herself from head to foot in one colour. Other times, other manners.

Violet stayed with her mother to the last, receiving the last
embrace--a fond and tearful one--and watched the carriage drive away
from the porch amidst a shower of rice. And then all was over. The best
people were bidding her a kindly good-bye. Carriages drove up quickly,
and in a quarter of an hour everyone was gone except the Vicar and his
wife. Vixen found herself standing between Mr. and Mrs. Scobel, looking
blankly at the hearth, where an artistic group of ferns and scarlet
geraniums replaced the friendly winter fire.

"Come and spend the evening with us, dear," said Mrs. Scobel kindly;
"it will be so lonely for you here."

But Violet pleaded a headache, a plea which was confirmed by her pale
cheeks and the dark rings round her eyes.

"I shall be better at home," she said. "I'll come and see you in a day
or two, if I may."

"Come whenever you like, dear. I wish you would come and stay with us
altogether. Ignatius and I have been so pleased with your conduct
to-day; and we have felt for you deeply, knowing what a conquest you
have made over yourself."

The Reverend Ignatius murmured his acquiescence.

"Poor mamma!" sighed Violet, "I am afraid I have been very unkind."

And then she looked absently round the old familiar hall, and her eye
lighted on the Squire's favourite chair, which still stood in its place
by the hearth. Her eyes filled with sudden tears. She fancied she could
see a shadowy figure sitting there. The Squire in his red coat, his
long hunting whip across his knee, his honest loving face smiling at
her.

She squeezed Mrs. Scobel's friendly hand, bade her and the Vicar a
hurried good-bye, and ran out of the room, leaving them looking after
her pityingly.

"Poor girl," said the Vicar's wife, "how keenly she feels it!"

"Ah!" sighed the Vicar, "I have never been in favour of second
marriages. I can but think with St. Paul that the widow is happy if she
so abide."

Vixen called Argus and went up to her room, followed by that faithful
companion. When she had shut and locked the door, she flung herself on
the ground, regardless of Madame Theodore's masterpiece, and clasped
her arms round the dog's thick neck, and buried her face in his soft
hide.

"Oh, Argus, I have not a friend in the world but you!" she sobbed.



CHAPTER V.

War to the Knife.

A strange stillness came upon the Abbey House after Mrs. Tempest's
wedding. Violet received a few invitations and morning calls from
friends who pitied her solitude; but the best people were for the most
part away from home in August and Septernber; some no farther than
Bournemouth or Weymouth; others roaming the mountainous districts of
Europe in search of the picturesque or the fashionable.

Violet did not want society. She made excuses for refusing all
invitations. The solitude of her life did not afflict her. If it could
have continued for ever, if Captain Winstanley and her mother could
have wandered about the earth, and left her in peaceful possession of
the Abbey House, with the old servants, old horses, old dogs, all
things undisturbed as in her father's time, she would have been happy.
It was the idea of change, a new and upstart master in her father's
place, which tortured her. Any delay which kept off that evil hour was
a blessed relief; but alas! the evil hour was close at hand,
inevitable. That autumn proved exceptionally fine. Scotland cast aside
her mantle of mist and cloud, and dressed herself in sunshine. The
Trosachs blossomed as the rose. Gloomy gray glens and mountains put on
an apparel of light. Mrs. Tempest wrote her daughter rapturous letters
about the tour.


"We move about very slowly," she said, "so as not to fatigue me.
Conrad's attention is more than words can describe. I can see that even
the waiters are touched by it. He telegraphs beforehand to all the
hotels, so that we have always the best rooms. He thinks nothing too
good for me. It is quite saddening to see a herd of travellers sent
away, houseless, every evening. The fine weather is bringing crowds to
the Highlands. We could not have travelled at a more favourable time.
We have had only a few showers, but in one, on Loch Katrine, my poor
fawn-coloured dress suffered. The scarlet of the poppies ran into the
blue of the cornflowers. Is it not a pity? I was quite unconscious of
what was going on at the time; and afterwards, when I discovered it, I
could have shed tears.

"I hope when you marry, darling, you will come to Scotland for your
honeymoon. The mountains seem to appeal to one's highest feelings.
There are ponies, too, for the ascent; which is a great comfort if one
is wearing pretty boots. And you know, Violet, my idea that a woman
should be essentially feminine in every detail. I never could bring
myself to wear the horrid clump-soles which some women delight in. They
seem to me to indicate that strong-minded and masculine character which
I detest. Such women would want the suffrage, and to have the learned
professions thrown open to them. I meet ladies or, at least, persons
calling themselves such--in horrid waterproof costumes and with coarse
cloth hats. Hideousness could go no farther. And though I regret the
wreck of my fawn-colour, I can but remember with satisfaction what
Theodore always says to me when she shows me one of her
_chef-d'oeuvres:_ 'Mrs. Tempest, it is a dress fit for a _lady_.' There
are ill-natured people who declare that Theodore began life as
kitchen-maid in an Irish inn, but I, for one, will never believe it.
Such taste as hers indicates a refined progeniture."


With such letters as these did Mrs. Winstanley comfort her absent
daughter. Vixen replied as best she might, with scraps of news about
the neighbours, rich and poor, the dogs, horses, and gardens. It was
hateful to her to have to direct her letters to Mrs. Winstanley.

The days went on. Vixen rode from early morning till noon, and rambled
in the Forest for the best part of the afternoon. She used to take her
books there, and sit for hours reading on a mossy bank under one of the
boughy beeches, with Argus at her feet. The dog was company enough for
her. She wanted no one better. At home the old servants were more or
less--their faces always pleasant to see. Some of them had lived with
her grandfather; most of them had served her father from the time he
had inherited his estate. The Squire had been the most conservative and
indulgent of masters; always liking to see the old faces. The butler
was old, and even on his underling's bullet-head the gray hairs were
beginning to show. Mrs. Trimmer was at least sixty, and had been
getting annually bulkier for the last twenty years. The kitchen-maid
was a comfortable-looking person of forty. There was an atmosphere of
domestic peace in the offices of the Abbey House which made everybody
fat. It was only by watchfulness and tight-lacing that Pauline
preserved to herself that grace of outline which she spoke of in a
general way as "figure."

"And what a mite of a waist I had when I first went out to service,"
she would say pathetically.

But Pauline was now in Scotland, harassed by unceasing cares about
travelling-bags, bonnet-boxes, and extra wraps, and under-valuing Ben
Nevis as not worth half the trouble that was taken to go and look at
him.

The gardeners were gray-headed, and remembered potting the first
fuchsia-slips that ever came to the Forest. They had no gusto for
new-fangled ideas about cordon fruit-trees or root-pruning. They liked
to go their own way, as their fathers and grandfathers had done before
them; and, with unlimited supplies of manure, they were able to produce
excellent cucumbers by the first of May, or a fair dish of asparagus by
about the same time. If their produce was late it was because nature
went against them. They could not command the winds, or tell the sun
that he must shine. The gardens at the Abbey House were beautiful, but
nature had done more for them than the Squire's old gardeners. The same
rose-trees budded and bloomed year after year; the same rhododendrons
and azaleas opened their big bunches of bloom. Eden could have hardly
owed less to culture. The noble old cedars, the mediaeval yews, needed
no gardener's hand. There was a good deal of weeding, and mowing, and
rolling done from week's end to week's end; and the borders were
beautified by banks of geranium and golden calceolaria, and a few other
old-fashioned flowers; but scientific horticulture there was none. Some
alterations had been begun under Captain Winstanley's directions; but
the work languished in his absence.

It was the twentieth of September, and the travellers were expected to
return within a few days--the exact date of their arrival not being
announced. The weather was glorious, warmer than it had been all
through the summer; and Vixen spent her life out of doors. Sad thoughts
haunted her less cruelly in the great wood. There was a brightness and
life in the Forest which cheered her. It was pleasant to see Argus's
enjoyment of the fair weather; his wild rushes in among the underwood;
his pursuit of invisible vermin under the thick holly-bushes, the
brambles, and bracken; his rapturous rolling in the dewy grass, where
he flung himself at full length, and rolled over and over, and leaped
as if he had been revelling in a bath of freshest water; pleasant to
see him race up to a serious-minded hog, and scrutinise that stolid
animal closely, and then leave him to his sordid researches after
edible roots, with open contempt, as who should say: "Can the same
scheme of creation include me and that vulgar brute?"

All things had been set in order for the return of the newly-married
couple. Mrs. Trimmer had her dinner arranged and ready to be put in
hand at a moment's notice. Violet felt that the end of her peaceful
life was very near. How would she bear the change? How would she be
able to behave herself decently? Well, she would try her best, Heaven
giving her strength. That was her last resolve. She would not make the
poor frivolous mother unhappy.

"Forgive me, beloved father, if I am civil to the usurper." she said.
"It will be for my mother's sake. You were always tender and indulgent
to her; you would not like to see her unhappy."

These were Vixen's thoughts this bright September morning, as she sat
at her lonely little breakfast-table in the sunny window of her den,
with Argus by her side, intensely watchful of every morsel of
bread-and-butter she ate, though he had already been accommodated with
half the loaf.

She was more amiably disposed than usual this morning. She had made up
her mind to make the best of a painful position.

"I shall always hate him," she told herself, meaning Captain
Winstanley; "but I will begin a career of Christianlike hypocrisy, and
try to make other people believe that I like him. No, Argus," as the
big paw tugged her arm pleadingly, "no; now really this is sheer
greediness. You can't be hungry."

A piteous whine, as of a dog on the brink of starvation, seemed to
gainsay her. Just then the door opened, and the middle-aged footman
entered.

"Oh, if you please, miss, Bates says would you like to see Bullfinch?"

"To see Bullfinch," echoed Vixen. "What's the matter? Is he ill? Is he
hurt?"

"No, miss; but Bates thought as how maybe you'd like to see 'un before
he goes away. He's sold."

Vixen turned very pale. She started up, and stood for a few moments
silent, with her strong young hands clenched, just as she gripped them
on the reins sometimes when Arion was running away with her and there
were bogs in front.

"I'll come," she said in a half-suffocated voice.

"He has sold my father's horse, after all," she said to herself, as she
went towards the stables. "Then I shall hate him openly all my life.
Yes, everybody shall know that I hate him."

She found the stables in some commotion. There were two strangers,
groomy-looking men, standing in front of Bullfinch's loose-box, and all
the stablemen had come out of their various holes, and were standing
about.

Bates looked grave and indignant.

"There isn't a finer horse in the county," he muttered; "it's a shame
to send him out of it."

Vixen walked straight up to the strange men, who touched their caps,
and looked at her admiringly; her dark blue cloth dress fitted her like
a riding-habit, her long white throat was bare, her linen collar tied
loosely with a black ribbon, her chestnut hair wound into a crown of
plaits at the top of her head. The severe simplicity of her dress set
off her fresh young beauty.

"She's the prettiest chestnut filly I've seen for a long time." one of
the grooms said of her afterwards. "Thoroughbred to the tips of her
ears."

"Who has bought this horse?" she asked authoritatively.

"My master, Lord Mallow, miss," answered the superior of the men. "You
needn't be anxious about him; he'll have a rare good home."

"Will you let me see the order for taking him away?"

"Your groom has got it, miss."

Bates showed her a sheet of paper on which Captain Winstanley had
written:


"Trosachs Hotel, September 12.

"The bay horse, Bullfinch, is to be delivered, with clothing, &c., to
Lord Mallow's groom.

"C. WINSTANLEY."


Vixen perused this paper with a countenance full of suppressed rage.

"Does your master give much money for this horse?" she asked, turning
to the strange groom.

"I haven't heard how much, miss." Of course the man knew the sum to a
penny. "But I believe it's a tidyish lot."

"I don't suppose I have as much money in the world," said Vixen, "or
I'd buy my father's horse of Captain Winstanley, since he is so badly
in want of money, and keep him at a farm."

"I beg your pardon, miss," said the groom, "but the hoss is sold. My
master has paid his money. He is a friend of Captain Winstanley's. They
met somewhere in Scotland the other day and my lord bought the hoss on
hearsay; and I must say I don't think he'll be disappointed in him."

"Where are you going to take him?"

"Well, it's rather an awkward journey across country. We're going to
Melton. My lord is going to hunt the hoss in October, if he turns out
to my lord's satisfaction."

"You are going to take him by rail?"

"Yes, miss."

"He has never been by rail in his life. It will kill him!" cried Vixen,
alarmed.

"Oh no it won't, miss. Don't be frightened about him. We shall have a
padded box, and everything tip-top. He'll be as snug and as tight as a
sardine in its case. We'll get him to Leicestershire as fresh as paint."

Vixen went into the loose-box, where Bullfinch, all regardless of his
doom, was idly munching a mouthful of upland meadow hay. She pulled
down his noble head, and laid her cheek against his broad forehead, and
let her tears rain on him unheeded. There was no one to see her in that
dusky loose-box. The grooms were clustered at the stable-door, talking
together. She was free to linger over her parting with the horse that
her father had loved. She wound her arms about his arched neck, and
kissed his velvet nose.

"Oh, Bullfinch, have you a memory? Will you be sorry to find yourself
in a strange stable?" she asked, looking into the animal's full soft
eyes with a pathetic earnestness in her own.

She dried her tears presently; she was not going to make herself a
spectacle for the scornful pity of stablemen. She came out of the
loose-box with a serene countenance, and went up to Lord Mallow's
groom. "Please be kind to him," she said, dropping a sovereign into the
man's ready hand.

"No fear of that, miss," he said; "there are very few Christians that
have as good a time of it as our hosses."

That sovereign, taken in conjunction with the donor's beauty, quite
vanquished Lord Mallow's stud-groom, and very nearly bought Violet
Tempest a coronet.

Bullfinch was led out presently, looking like a king; but Violet did
not stop to see him go away. She could hardly have borne that. She ran
back to the house, put on her hat and jacket, called Argus, and set out
for along ramble, to walk down, if possible, the angry devil within her.

No; this she would never forgive--this sale of her father's favourite
horse. It was as if some creature of her own flesh and blood had been
sold into slavery. Her mother was rich, would squander hundreds on fine
dresses, and would allow her dead husband's horse to be sold.

"Is Captain Winstanley such a tyrant that mamma can not prevent this
shameful thing?" she asked herself. "She talks about his attention, his
devotion, as if he were at her feet; and yet she suffers him to
disgrace her by this unparalleled meanness!"



CHAPTER VI.

At the Kennels.

It was a fresh sunny morning, a soft west wind blowing up all the
sweetness of the woods and leas. The cattle were grouped in lazy
stillness on the dewy grass; the year's pigs, grown to the hobbledehoy
stage of existence, were grubbing about contentedly among the
furze-bushes; by the roadside, a matronly sow lay stretched flat upon
her side in the sunshine, just where carriage-wheels must pass over her
were carriages frequent in those parts.

Even the brightness of the morning had no charm for Vixen. There was no
delight for her in the green solemnity of the forest glades, where the
beechen pillars led the eye away into innumerable vistas, each grandly
mysterious as a cathedral aisle. The sun shot golden arrows through
dark boughs, patching the moss with translucent lights, vivid and clear
as the lustre of emeralds. The gentle plash of the forest stream,
rippling over its pebbly bed, made a tender music that was wont to seem
passing sweet to Violet Tempest's ear. To-day she heard nothing, saw
nothing. Her brain was clouded with angry thoughts.

She left the Forest by-and-by, following one of the familiar
cart-tracks, and came out into the peaceful little colony of Beechdale,
where it was a chance if the noonday traveller saw anything alive
except a youthful family of pigs enjoying an oasis of mud in a dry
land, or an intrusive dog rushing out of a cottage to salute the
wayfarer with an inquiring bark. The children were still in school. The
hum or their voices was wafted from the open windows. The church door
stood open. The village graves upon the sunward-fronting slope were
bright with common flowers; the dead lying with their feet to the west,
ready to stand up and see their Lord at the resurrection morning.

Vixen hurried through the little village, not wanting to see Mrs.
Scobel, or anyone she knew, this morning. There was a long rustic lane
opposite the church, that led straight to the kennels.

"I will go and see the foxhounds," said Vixen. "They are true and
faithful. But perhaps all those I love best have been sold, or are dead
by this time."

It seemed to her ages since she had been to the kennels with her
father. It had been his favourite walk, out of the hunting season, and
he had rarely suffered a week to pass without making his visit of
inspection. Since her return Violet had carefully avoided the
well-known spot; but to-day, out of the very bitterness of her heart,
came a desire to renew past associations. Bullfinch was gone for ever,
but the hounds at least remained; and her father had loved them almost
as well as he had loved Bullfinch.

Nothing was changed at the kennels. The same feeder in corduroy and
fustian came out of the cooking-house when Vixen opened the five-barred
gate. The same groom was lounging in front of the stables, where the
horses were kept for the huntsman and his underlings. The whole place
had the same slumberous out-of-season look she remembered so well of
old in the days when hunting was over.

The men touched their caps to Miss Tempest as she passed them. She went
straight to the kennels. There were the three wooden doors, opening
into three square stone-paved yards, each door provided with a small
round eye-hole, through which the authorities might scrutinise the
assembly within. A loud yelping arose as Vixen's footsteps drew near.
Then there were frantic snuffings under the doors, and a general
agitation. She looked through the little eye-hole into the middle yard.
Yes; there they were, fourteen or fifteen couple, tumultuously excited,
as if they knew she was there: white and black and tan, pointed noses,
beautiful intelligent eyes, bright tan spots upon marked brows, some
with a streak of white running down the long sharp noses, some heavy in
the jowl, some with muzzles sharp as a greyhound's, thirty tails erect
and agitated.

The feeder remembered Miss Tempest perfectly, though it was more than
three years since her last visit.

"Would you like to go in and see 'em, miss?" he said.

"Yes, if you please, Dawson. You have Gauntlet still, I see. That is
Gauntlet, isn't it? And Dart, and Juno, and Ringlet, and Artful?"

"Yes, miss. There ain't many gone since you was here. But there's a lot
o' poppies. You'd like to see the poppies, wouldn't you, miss? They be
in the next kennel, if you'll just wait five minutes."

Cleanliness was the order of the day at the kennels, but to do the late
master's daughter more honour, Dawson the feeder called a
bright-looking lad, his subordinate, and divers pails of water were
fetched, and the three little yards washed out vigorously before Miss
Tempest was invited to enter. When she did go in, the yard was empty
and clean as a new pin. The hounds had been sent into their house,
where they were all grouped picturesquely on a bench littered with
straw, looking as grave as a human parliament, and much wiser. Nothing
could be more beautiful than their attitudes, or more intelligent than
their countenances.

Vixen looked in at them through the barred window.

"Dear things," she exclaimed; "they are as lovely as ever. How fond
papa was of them."

And then the kennel-huntsman, who had appeared on the scene by this
time, opened the door and smacked his whip; and the fifteen couple came
leaping helter-skelter out into the little yard, and made a rush at
Vixen, and surrounded her, and fawned upon her, and caressed her as if
their recognition of her after long years was perfect, and as if they
had been breaking their hearts for her in the interval. Perhaps they
would have been just as affectionate to the next comer, having a large
surplus stock of love always on hand ready to be lavished on the human
race; but Vixen took these demonstrations as expressive of a peculiar
attachment, and was moved to tears by the warmth of this canine
greeting.

"Thank God! there are some living things that love me," she exclaimed.

"Something that loves you!" cried a voice from the door of the yard.
"Does not everything noble or worthy love you, as it loves all that is
beautiful?"

Turning quickly, with a scared look, Violet saw Roderick Vawdrey
standing in the doorway.

He stood quietly watching her, his dark eyes softened with a look of
tender admiration. There could hardly have been a prettier picture than
the tall girlish figure and bright chestnut head, the fair face bending
over the upturned noses of the hounds as they clustered round her, some
standing up with their strong white paws upon her shoulder, some
nestling at her knees. Her hat had fallen off, and was being trampled
under a multitude of restless feet.

Rorie came into the little yard. The huntsman cracked his whip, and the
hounds went tumbling one over the other into their house, where they
leaped upon their straw bed, and grouped themselves as if they had been
sitting for their portraits to Sir Edwin Landseer. Two inquisitive
fellows stood up with their paws upon the ledge of the barred window,
and looked out at Violet and the new master.

"I did not know you were at Briarwood," she said, as they shook hands.

"I only came home last night. My first visit was naturally here. I
wanted to see if everything was in good order."

"When do you begin to hunt?"

"On the first of October. You are going to be amongst us this year, of
course."

"No. I have never followed the hounds since papa's death. I don't
suppose I ever shall again."

"What, not with your stepfather?"

"Certainly not with Captain Winstanley."

"Then you must marry a hunting-man," said Rorie gaily. "We can't afford
to lose the straightest rider in the Forest."

"I am not particularly in love with hunting--for a woman. There seems
something bloodthirsty in it. And Bates says that if ladies only knew
how their horses' backs get wrung in the hunting season, they would
hardly have the heart to hunt. It was very nice to ride by papa's side
when I was a little girl. I would have gone anywhere with him--through
an Indian jungle after tigers--but I don't care about it now."

"Well, perhaps you are right; though I should hardly have expected such
mature wisdom from my old playfellow, whose flowing locks used once to
be the cynosure of the hunting-field. And now, Violet--I may call you
Violet, may I not, as I did in the old days?--at least, when I did not
call you Vixen."

"That was papa's name," she said quickly. "Nobody ever calls me that
now."

"I understand; I am to call you Violet. And we are to be good friends
always, are we not, with a true and loyal friendship?"

"I have not so many friends that I can afford to give up one who is
stanch and true," answered Violet sadly.

"And I mean to be stanch and true, believe me; and I hope, by-and-by,
when you come to know Mabel, you and she will be fast friends. You may
not cotton to her very easily at first, because, you see, she reads
Greek, and goes in for natural science, and has a good many queer ways.
But she is all that is pure-minded and noble. She has been brought up
in an atmosphere of adulation, and that has made her a little
self-opinionated. It is the only fault she has."

"I shall be very glad if she will let me like her," Violet said meekly.

They had strolled away from the kennels into the surrounding forest,
where the free horses of the soil were roaming from pasture to pasture,
and a few vagabond pigs were stealing a march on their brethren, for
whom the joys of pannage-time had not yet begun. They walked along
idly, following a cart-track that led into the woody deeps where the
earliest autumn leaves were dropping gently in the soft west wind.
By-and-by they came to a fallen oak, lying by the side of the track,
ready for barking, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to
sit down side by side on this rustic seat, and talk of days gone by,
lazily watching the flickering shadows and darting sunrays in the
opposite thicket, or along the slanting stretch of open turf--that
smooth emerald grass, so inviting to the eye, so perilous to the foot
of man or beast.

"And now, Violet, tell me all about yourself, and about this second
marriage of your mother's," Roderick began earnestly; "I hope you have
quite reconciled yourself to the idea of it by this time."

"I have not reconciled myself; I never shall," answered Violet, with
restrained anger. "I know that mamma has heaped up sorrow for herself
in the days to come, and I pity her too much to be angry with her. Yes;
I, who ought to look up to and respect my mother, can only look down
upon her and pity her. That is a hard thing, is it not, Rorie? She has
married a bad man--mean, and false--and tyrannical. Shall I tell you
what he has done within these last few days?"

"Do. I hope it is not anything very bad."

Violet told how Bullfinch had been sold.

"It looks mean, certainly," said Mr. Vawdrey; "but I daresay to Captain
Winstanley, as a man of the world, it might seem a foolish thing to
keep a horse nobody rode; especially such a valuable horse as
Bullfinch. Your father gave two hundred and fifty for him at Andover, I
remember. And you really have too many horses at the Abbey House."

"Arion will be the next to be sold, I daresay."

"Oh, no, no. He could not be such an insolent scoundrel as to sell your
horse. That would be too much. Besides, you will be of age in a year or
two, and your own mistress."

"I shall not be of age for the next seven years. I am not to come of
age till I am five-and-twenty."

"Phew!" whistled Rorie, "That's a long shot off. How is that?"

"Papa left it so in his will. It was his care of me, no doubt. He never
would have believed that mamma would marry again."

"And for the next seven years you are to be in a state of tutelage,
dependent on your mother for everything?"

"For everything. And that will really mean dependent upon Captain
Winstanley; because I am very sure that as long as he lets mamma wear
pretty dresses and drink orange pekoe out of old china, she will be
quite contented to let him be master of everything else."

"But if you were to marry----"

"I suppose that would entangle or disentangle matters somehow. But I am
not likely to marry."

"I don't see that," said Rorie. "I should think nothing was more
likely."

"Allow me to be the best judge of my own business," exclaimed Vixen,
looking desperately angry. "I will go so far as to say that I never
shall marry."

"Oh, very well, if you insist upon it, let it be understood so. And
now, Vix----Violet, don't you think if you could bring yourself to
conciliate Captain Winstanley--to resign yourself, in fact, to the
inevitable, and take things pleasantly, it would make your life happier
for the next seven years? I really would try to do it, if I were you."

"I had made up my mind to an existence of hypocrisy before he sold
Bullfinch," replied Vixen, "but now I shall hate him frankly."

"But, Violet, don't you see that unless you can bring yourself to live
pleasantly with that man your life will be made miserable? Fate
condemns you to live under the same roof with him."

"I am not sure about that. I could go out as a governess. I am not at
all clever, but I think I could teach as much as would be good value
for twenty pounds a year; or at the worst I might give my services in
exchange for a comfortable home, as the advertisements say. How I wish
I could read Greek and play Chopin, like Lady Mabel Ashbourne. I'll
write to dear old McCroke, and ask her to get me a place."

"My dear Violet, how can you talk so absurdly. You, the future mistress
of the Abbey House--you, with your youth and beauty and high spirit--to
go meandering about the world teaching buttermen's or tea-dealers'
children to spell B a, ba, and A b, ab?"

"It might be better than sitting at meat with a man I detest," said
Vixen. "Am I to value the flesh-pots of Egypt more than, my liberty and
independence of mind?"

"You have your mother to think of," urged Roderick. "You owe duty and
obedience to her, even if she has offended you by this foolish
marriage. If you have so bad an opinion of Captain Winstanley, you are
all the more bound to stand by your mother."

"That is an argument worth listening to," said Vixen. "It might be
cruel to leave poor mamma quite at his mercy. I don't suppose he would
actually ill-treat her. He knows his own interest too well for that. He
would not lock her up in a cellar, or beat, or starve her. He will be
content with making himself her master. She will have no more will of
her own than if she were a prettily dressed doll placed at the head of
the table for show. She will be lulled into a state of childish bliss,
and go smiling through life, believing she has not a wish ungratified.
Everybody will think her the happiest of women, and Captain Winstanley
the best of husbands."

Vixen said all this with prophetic earnestness, looking straight
forward into the green glade before her, where the beech-nuts and
acorns were dropping in a gentle rain of plenty.

"I hope things won't be quite so bad as you anticipate. I hope you will
be able to make yourself happy, in spite of Captain Winstanley. And we
shall see each other pretty often, I hope, Violet, as we used in old
times. The Dovedales are at Wiesbaden; the Duke only holds existence on
the condition of deluging himself with German waters once a year; but
they are to be back early in November. I shall make the Duchess call on
Mrs. Winstanley directly she returns."

"Thanks; mamma will be very pleased. I wonder you are not with them."

"Oh, I had to begin my duties as M. F. H. I wouldn't have been away for
the world."

Violet looked at her watch. It was a good deal later than she had
supposed. Time goes quickly when one is talking over a new grievance
with an old friend. She was a long way from the Abbey House.

"I must go home," she said; "mamma and Captain Winstanley may arrive at
any moment. There is no time named in mamma's last telegram; she said
only that they are moving gently homewards."

"Let us go then," said Rorie, rising from his rugged seat.

"But I am not going to take you out of your way. Every step of my
journey home takes you further from Briarwood."

"Never mind if it does. I mean to walk to the Abbey House with you. I
daresay, if I were very tired, Bates would lend me a mount home."

"You can have Arion, if you like."

"No, thanks. Arion shall not have my thirteen stone; I want a little
more timber under me."

"You ought to have had Bullfinch," said Vixen regretfully.

"I would have had him, if I had known he was in the market. The writing
of a figure or so more or less on a cheque should not have hindered me."



CHAPTER VII.

A Bad Beginning.

That walk through the Forest was very pleasant to Violet. It was a day
on which mere existence was a privilege; and now that her spirits had
been soothed by her confidential talk with Rorie, Vixen could enjoy
those sights and sounds and sweet wild scents of the woodland that had
ever been a rapture to her.

This Forest-born girl loved her native woods as Wordsworth loved his
lakes and mountains, as Byron loved the bleak bare landscape round the
city of Aberdeen. Their poetry and beauty filled her heart with a deep
contentment. To walk or ride alone through pathless forest glades, or
in the scented darkness of fir plantations, was enough for happiness.
But it was comforting to-day--on this day when her heart had been so
cruelly wounded--to have Roderick Vawdrey by her side. It was like a
leaf out of the closed volume of the past.

They talked freely and happily during that long homewards walk, and
their conversation was chiefly of bygone days. Almost every speech
began with "Do you remember?" Vixen was gayer than she had been for a
long time, save once or twice, when a pang shot through her heart at
the idea that Bullfinch was being shaken about in a railway-box,
oscillating helplessly with every vibration of the train, and
panic-stricken in every tunnel.

The sun had declined from his meridian; he had put on his sober
afternoon glory, and was sending shafts of mellower gold along the
green forest aisles, when Miss Tempest and her companion drew near the
Abbey House. They went in at the gate by the keeper's cottage, the gate
which Titmouse had jumped so often in the days when he carried his
childish mistress. They went through the wood of rhododendrons, and
past the old archway leading to the stables, and round by the shrubbery
to the porch. The door stood open as usual, and the Squire's old
pointer was lying on the threshold; but within all was commotion.
Dress-baskets, hat-cases, bonnet-boxes, gun-cases, travelling-bags,
carriage-rugs, were lying about in every direction. Mrs. Winstanley was
leaning back in the large chair by the fireplace, fanning herself with
her big black fan; Pauline was standing by in attendance; and the
silver tray, with the Swansee tea-set, was being brought in by Forbes
the butler, whose honest old face wore a troubled aspect.

Captain Winstanley was standing with his back to the hearth, his
countenance and whole figure wearing the unmistakable air of the master
of a house who has returned to his domicile in an execrable temper.

Violet ran to Mrs. Winstanley, every other thought forgotten in the
pleasure of seeing her mother again. These three weeks were the longest
parting mother and daughter had ever known; and after all, blood is
thicker than water; and there is a natural leaning in a child's mind
even to the weakest of parents.

Mr. Vawdrey stood in the background, waiting till those affectionate
greetings natural to such an occasion should be over.

But to his surprise there were no such greetings. Mrs. Winstanley went
on fanning herself vehemently, with a vexed expression of countenance,
while Violet bent over and kissed her. Captain Winstanley swayed
himself slowly backwards and forwards upon the heels of his boots, and
whistled to himself sotto voce, with his eyes fixed upon some lofty
region of empty air. He vouchsafed not the faintest notice of his
stepdaughter or Mr. Vawdrey.

"It's really too bad of you, Violet," the mother exclaimed at last.

"Dear mamma," cried Vixen, in blank amazement, "what have I done?"

"To go roaming about the country," pursued Mrs. Winstanley plaintively,
"for hours at a stretch, nobody knowing where to find you or what had
become of you. And my telegram lying there unattended to."

"Did you telegraph, mamma?"

"Did I telegraph? Should I come home without telegraphing? Should I be
so mad as to expose myself knowingly to the outrage which has been
offered to me to-day?"

"Dearest mamma, you alarm me. What has happened?"

"One of the deepest humiliations I ever had to endure. But you were
roaming about the Forest. You were following the instincts of your wild
nature. What do you care for my mortification? If I had telegraphed to
my housekeeper, it would not have happened. But I trusted in my
daughter."

"Dear mamma," pleaded Vixen, looking anxious and bewildered, "if you
would only explain. You make me miserable. What has happened?"

"Violet, your stepfather and I had to drive home from the station in a
fly!"

"Oh, mamma!" cried Vixen, with a gasp. "Is that all?"

"Is that all? Do you think that is not enough? Do you understand,
child?--a fly--a common innkeeper's fly--that anybody may have for
half-a-guinea; a fly with a mouldy lining, smelling of--other people!
And on such an occasion, when every eye was upon us! No; I was never so
degraded. And we had to wait--yes, a quarter of an hour, at least, and
it seemed ages, while Pycroft's fly was got ready for us; yes, while a
rough forest pony was dragged out of his wretched stable, and a man,
whose face had not been washed for a week, shuffled himself into an old
coachman's coat. And there were all the porters staring at me, and
laughing inwardly, I know. And, as a last drop in the cup, Colonel
Carteret drove up in his phaeton to catch the up-train just as we were
getting into that disgraceful looking vehicle, and would stop to shake
hands with us both, and insisted upon handing me into the horrid thing."

"Dear mamma, I am more sorry than I can say," said Vixen gently; "but I
was afraid it was something much worse."

"Nothing could be worse, Vixen."

"Then the telegram was to order the carriage to meet you, I suppose?"

"Of course. We telegraphed from the Grosvenor at nine o'clock this
morning. Who would imagine that you would be out of doors at such an
hour?"

"I am not often out so early. But something happened this morning to
put me out of temper, and I went for a ramble."

"A ramble lasting from ten in the morning till half-past four in the
afternoon," remarked Captain Winstanley, with his gaze still fixed upon
empty space. "Rather a long walk for a solitary young lady."

Vixen appeared unconscious that anyone had spoken. Roderick Vawdrey
felt a burning desire to kick the new master of the Abbey House.

"Shall I pour out your tea, mamma?" asked Vixen meekly.

"If you like. I am utterly prostrate. To have no carriage to meet me on
such an occasion! I daresay everybody in the Forest knows all about it
by this time. When I came home from my honeymoon with your poor papa,
the joy-bells rang all the afternoon, and the road was lined with
people waiting to get a glimpse of us, and there were floral arches----"

"Ah, mamma, those things cannot happen twice in a lifetime," said
Vixen, with irrepressible bitterness. "One happy marriage is as much as
any woman can expect."

"A woman has the right to expect her own carriage," said Captain
Winstanley.

"I am afraid I have paid my visit at rather at unfortunate moment,"
said Roderick, coming forward and addressing himself solely to Mrs.
Winstanley; "but I could not go without saying How do you do? I hope
you had a pleasant journey from Scotland--bar the fly."

"How do you do, Roderick? Yes; it was all pleasant except that last
contretemps. Imagine the Duchess of Dovedale's feelings if she arrived
at the station adjoining her own estate, and found no carriage to meet
her!"

"My aunt would tuck up her petticoats and trudge home," answered
Roderick, smiling. "She's a plucky little woman."

"Yes, perhaps on an ordinary occasion. But to-day it was so different.
Everybody will talk about our return."

"Most people are still away," suggested Rorie, with a view to comfort.

"Oh, but their servants will hear it, and they will tell their masters
and mistresses. All gossip begins that way. Besides, Colonel Carteret
saw us, and what he knows everybody knows."

After this, Roderick felt that all attempts at consolation were
hopeless. He would have liked to put Mrs. Winstanley into a better
temper, for Violet's sake. It was not a pleasant home atmosphere in
which he was obliged to leave his old playfellow on this the first day
of her new life. Captain Winstanley maintained a forbidding silence;
Mrs. Winstanley did not even ask anyone to have a cup of tea; Violet
sat on the opposite side of the hearth, pale and quiet, with Argus at
her knee, and one arm wound caressingly round his honest head.

"I've been inspecting the kennels this morning," said Roderick, looking
at the new master of the Abbey House with a cheerful assumption that
everything was going on pleasantly. "We shall begin business on the
first. You'll hunt, of course?"

"Well, yes; I suppose I shall give myself a day occasionally."

"I shall not have a happy moment while you are out," said Mrs.
Winstanley. "I used to be miserable about poor dear Edward."

Vixen winced. These careless references to the dead hurt her more than
the silence of complete oblivion. To remember, and to be able to speak
so lightly. That seemed horrible.

"I doubt if I shall hunt much this season," pursued Captain Winstanley,
as much as to say that he was not going to be grateful to the new
master of the foxhounds as a public benefactor, however many hundreds
that gentleman might disburse in order to make up the shortcomings of a
scanty subscription. "I shall have a great deal to occupy me. This
place has been much neglected--naturally--within the last few years.
There is no end of work to be done."

"Are you going to pull down the Abbey House and build an Italian villa
on its site?" asked Vixen, her upper lip curling angrily. "That would
be rather a pity. Some people think it a fine old place, and it has
been in my father's family since the reign of Henry the Eighth."

To the Captain's ear this speech had a covert insolence. The Abbey
House was to belong to Violet in the future. Neither he nor his wife
had a right to touch a stone of it. Indeed, it was by no means clear to
him that there might not be ground for a Chancery suit in his cutting
down a tree.

"I hope I shall do nothing injudicious," he said politely.

"My aunt will be back in a week or two, Mrs. Winstanley," said
Roderick. "I shall bring her over to see you directly she settles down
at Ashbourne. And now I think I'd better be off; I've a long walk home,
and you must be too tired to care about talking or being talked to."

"I am very tired," answered Mrs. Winstanley languidly; "but I should
have liked to hear all your news."

"I'm afraid that's not much. I only came home last night; I have been
shooting grouse in Renfrew."

"Plenty of birds this year?" inquired the Captain, with a languid
interest.

"Pretty fair. The rainy spring killed a good many of the young birds."

"Do you remember any year in which that complaint was not made?"
retorted Captain Winstanley.

Rorie took his departure after this, and contrived to give Violet's
hand an encouraging squeeze at parting, accompanied with a straight
steady look, which said as plainly as words: "You have one friend who
will be stanch and true, come what may."

Vixen understood him, and sudden tears welled up to her eyes--the first
that had clouded them since her parting with Bullfinch. She brushed
them away hurriedly, but not so quickly as to escape Captain
Winstanley's observation.

"If you'll excuse me, mamma. I'll run and dress for dinner," she said,
"unless there is anything I can do for you. Your rooms are quite ready."

"I'm glad of that," replied Mrs. Winstanley fretfully; "for really
after our reception at the railway-station, I expected to find
everything at sixes and sevens."

"Dear mamma, you must know that was quite an accident."

"An accident very likely to occur when a young lady indulges in
tête-à-tête forest rambles with an old friend, instead of waiting at
home for her mother's letters and telegrams," remarked Captain
Winstanley, caressing his neat whisker with his irreproachable hand.

"What do you mean?" said Vixen, turning sharply upon him. "I went out
alone this morning. Mr. Vawdrey and I met at the kennels by accident."

"A chapter of accidents," sneered the Captain. "I have no objection to
make, Miss Tempest, if your mamma has none. But I am rather sorry for
the young lady Mr. Vawdrey is going to marry."

"Mr. Vawdrey was my father's friend, and will never cease to be mine,"
said Vixen, with flashing eyes. "There can be nothing offensive to Lady
Mabel Ashbourne in our friendship."

She was gone before her stepfather could reply, or her mother reprove
her want of respect for that new relative.

"I suppose I had better go and dress too," said Mrs. Winstanley, "and
in the evening we can talk about our first dinner-party. I daresay we
shall have a great many people calling to-morrow afternoon. It will be
rather trying. There is such a painful feeling in being a bride and not
a bride, as it were. People's congratulations hardly sound hearty."

"I daresay they have rather a vapid flavour, like a warmed-up dinner,"
said the Captain. "That is the result of living in a neighbourhood
where your first husband was known and popular. If we went among
strangers, their congratulations would be a great deal heartier. But I
hope you don't begin to repent already, my dear Pamela."

"Conrad! How can you imagine such a thing?--after your delicate
attentions, your devoted care of me during our tour. What dress shall I
wear this evening? Do you like me best in blue or amber?"

"To my eye all colours suit you. But I think a woman"--he was going to
say "of your age," but checked himself and substituted--"in the
maturity of her beauty looks best in velvet, or some rich and heavy
material that falls in massive folds, like the drapery in a portrait by
Velasquez. A border of fur, too, is an artistic introduction in a
woman's dress--you see it often in Velasquez. Heavy old laces are, of
course, always admirable. And for colour I like the warmer hues
best--wine-dark purples or deep glowing reds; rich ruddy browns, with a
knot of amber now and then for relief."

"How beautifully you talk," cried Mrs. Winstanley, delighted. "I only
wish Theodore could hear you. It would give her new ideas; for, after
all, the best dressmakers are _bornées_. It is too early in the year
for velvet. I shall put on my dark green brocade with the old Flanders
lace. I am so glad you like lace. It is my chief weakness. Even dear
Edward, who was so generous, thought me a little extravagant in the
matter of lace. But when one once begins to collect, the study is so
interesting. One is led on."

"Good Heavens! is my wife a collector?" thought Captain Winstanley,
horrified. "That must be put a stop to, or she will ruin me."

And then he wont off to his dressing-room rather wearily, to put on
full-dress for a home dinner, a sacrifice to his new state of existence
which he found very irksome. He would have liked to dine in a
shooting-jacket, and smoke all the evening. But his smoking now,
instead of pervading the whole house, as it had done in his snug
bachelor quarters, was an indulgence to be taken out of doors, or in a
room appointed for the purpose. He was not even to smoke in the fine
old hall, for it was one of the family sitting-rooms, and Mrs.
Winstanley could not endure smoke.

"I am not at all fanciful or capricious," she told her husband early in
the honeymoon, "but smoking is one of my horrors. I hope, dear Conrad,
it is not too much to ask you never to smoke in any room I use."

Captain Winstanley pledged himself to respect this and every other wish
of his wife's. It was his policy to be subservient in small matters, in
order to be master in essentials. But that daily dressing for dinner
was something of a bore; and the dinners themselves--_tête-à-tête_
dinners, in which he had to take as much trouble to be amusing as at a
dinner-party, had been apt to hang heavily upon him. He had even
proposed dining at the _table-d'hôte_, while they were on their Scotch
travels, but this idea Mrs. Winstanley rejected with horror.

"I have never dined at a _table-d'hôte_ in my life, Conrad," she
exclaimed, "and I certainly should not begin during my wedding tour."



CHAPTER VIII.

On Half Rations.

Captain Winstanley entered upon his new position with a fixed
determination to make the best of it, and with a very clear view of its
advantages and disadvantages. For seven years he was to be master of
everything--or his wife was to be mistress, which, in his mind, was
exactly the same. No one could question his use of the entire income
arising from Squire Tempest's estates during that period. When Violet
came of age--on her twenty-fifth birthday--the estates were to be
passed over to her _in toto;_ but there was not a word in the Squire's
will as to the income arising during her minority. Nor had the Squire
made any provision in the event of his daughter's marriage. If Violet
were to marry to-morrow, she would go to her husband penniless. He
would not touch a sixpence of her fortune until she was twenty-five. If
she were to die during her minority the estate would revert to her
mother.

It was a very nice estate, taken as a sample of a country squire's
possessions. Besides the New Forest property, there were farms in
Wiltshire and Dorsetshire; the whole yielding an income of between five
and six thousand a year. With such a revenue, and the Abbey House and
all its belongings rent free, Captain Winstanley felt himself in a land
of Canaan. But then there was the edict that seven years hence he was
to go forth from this land of milk and honey; or, at any rate, was to
find himself living at the Abbey House on a sorely restricted income.
Fifteen hundred a year in such a house would mean genteel beggary, he
told himself despondently. And even this genteel beggary would be
contingent on his wife's life. Her death would rob him of everything.

 He had a mind given to calculation, and he entered upon the
closest calculations as to his future. He meant to enjoy life, of
course. He had always done that to the best of his ability. But he saw
that the chief duty he owed to himself was to save money; and to lay by
against the evil inevitable day when Violet Tempest would despoil him
of power and wealth. The only way to do this was by the cutting down of
present expenses, and an immediate narrowing of the lines on which the
Abbey House was being conducted; for the Captain had discovered that
his wife, who was the most careless and incompetent of women as regards
money matters, had been spending the whole of her income since her
husband's death. If she had not spent her money on society, she had
spent it on travelling, on lace, on old china, on dress, on hothouse
flowers, on a stable which was three times larger than she could
possibly require, on a household in which there were a good many more
cats than were wanted to catch mice, on bounties and charities that
were given upon no principle, not even from inclination, but only
because Squire Tempest's widow had never been able to say No.

Captain Winstanley's first retrenchment had been the sale of Bullfinch,
for which noble animal Lord Mallow, a young Irish viscount, had given a
cheque for three hundred guineas. This money the Captain put on deposit
at his banker's, by way of a nest-egg. He meant his deposit account to
grow into something worth investing before those seven fat years were
half gone.

He told his wife his views on the financial question one morning when
they were breakfasting _tête-à-tête_ in the library, where the Squire
and his family had always dined when there was no company. Captain and
Mrs. Winstanley generally had the privilege of breakfasting alone, as
Violet was up and away before her mother appeared. The Captain also was
an early riser, and had done half his day's work before he sat down to
the luxurious nine-o'clock breakfast with his wife.

"I have been thinking of your ponies, pet," he said, in a pleasant
voice, half careless, half caressing, as he helped himself to a salmon
cutlet. "Don't you think it would be a very wise thing to get rid of
them?"

"Oh, Conrad!" cried his wife, letting the water from the urn overflow
the teapot in her astonishment; "you can't mean that! Part with my
ponies?"

"My dear love, how often do you drive them in a twelvemonth?"

"Not very often, perhaps. I have felt rather nervous driving
lately--carts and great waggon-loads of hay come out upon one so
suddenly from cross-roads. I don't think the waggoners would care a bit
if one were killed. But I am very fond of my gray ponies. They are so
pretty. They have quite Arabian heads. Colonel Carteret says so, and he
has been in Arabia."

"But, my dear Pamela, do you think it worth while keeping a pair of
ponies because they are pretty, and because Colonel Carteret, who knows
about as much of a horse as I do of a megalosaurus says they have
Arabian heads? Have you ever calculated what those ponies cost you?"

"No, Conrad; I should hate myself if I were always calculating the cost
of things."

"Yes, that's all very well in the abstract. But if you are inclined to
waste money, it's just as well to know how much you are wasting. Those
ponies are costing yon at the least one hundred and fifty pounds a
year, for you could manage with a man less in the stables if you hadn't
got them."

"That's a good deal of money certainly," said Mrs. Winstanley, who
hated driving, and had only driven her ponies because other people in
her position drove ponies, and she felt it was a right thing to do.

Still the idea of parting with anything that appertained to her state
wounded her deeply.

"I can't see why we should worry ourselves about the cost of the
stables," she said; "they have gone on in the same way ever since I was
married. Why should things be different now?"

"Don't you see that you have the future to consider, Pamela. This
handsome income which you are spending so lavishly----"

"Edward never accused me of extravagance," interjected Mrs. Winstanley
tearfully, "except in lace. He did hint that I was a little extravagant
in lace."

"This fine income is to be reduced seven years hence to fifteen hundred
a year an income upon which--with mine added to it--you could not
expect to be able to carry on life decently in such a house as this. So
you see, Pamela, unless we contrive between us to put by a considerable
sum of money before your daughter's majority, we shall be obliged to
leave the Abbey House, and live in a much smaller way than we are
living now."

"Leave the Abbey House!" cried Mrs. Winstanley with a horrified look.
"Conrad, I have lived in this house ever since I was married."

"Am I not aware of that, my dear love? But, all the same, you would
have to let this place, and live in a much smaller house, if you had
only fifteen hundred a year to live upon."

"It would be too humiliating! At the end of one's life. I should never
survive such a degradation."

"It may be prevented if we exercise reasonable economy during the next
seven years."

"Sell my ponies, then, Conrad; sell them immediately. Why should we
allow them to eat us out of house and home. Frisky shies abominably if
she is in the least bit fresh, and Peter has gone so far as to lie down
in the road when he has had one of his lazy fits."

"But if they are really a source of pleasure to you, my dear Pamela, I
should hate myself for selling them," said the Captain, seeing he had
gained his point.

"They are not a source of pleasure. They have given me some awful
frights."

"Then we'll send them up to Tattersall's immediately, with the
carriage."

"Violet uses the carriage with Titmouse." objected Mrs. Winstanley. "We
could hardly spare the carriage."

"My love, if I part with your ponies from motives of economy, do you
suppose I would keep a pony for your daughter?" said the Captain with a
grand air. "No; Titmouse must go, of course. That will dispose of a man
and a boy in the stables. Violet spends so much of her life on
horseback, that she cannot possibly want a pony to drive."

"She is very fond of Titmouse," pleaded the mother.

"She has a tendency to lavish her affection on quadrupeds--a weakness
which hardly needs fostering. I shall write to Tattersall about the
three ponies this morning; and I shall send up that great raking brown
horse Bates rides at the same time. Bates can ride one of my hunters.
That will bring down the stable to five horses--my two hunters, Arion,
and your pair of carriage-horses."

"Five horses," sighed Mrs. Winstanley pensively; "I shall hardly know
those great stables with only five horses in them. The dear old place
used to look so pretty and so full of life when I was first married,
and when the Squire used to coax me to go with him on his morning
rounds. The horses used to move on one side, and turn their heads so
prettily at the sound of his voice--such lovely, sleek, shining
creatures, with big intelligent eyes."

"You would be a richer woman if it had not been for those lovely,
sleek, shining creatures," said Captain Winstanley. "And now, love, let
us go round the gardens, and you will see the difference that young
able-bodied gardeners are making in the appearance of the place."

Mrs. Winstanley gave a plaintive little sigh as she rose and rang the
bell for Pauline. The good old gray-haired gardeners--the men who had
seemed to her as much a part of the gardens as the trees that grew in
them--these hoary and faithful servants had been cashiered, to make
room for two brawny young Scotchmen, whose dialect was as Greek to the
mistress of the Abbey House. It wounded her not a little to see these
strangers at work in her grounds. It gave an aspect of strangeness to
her very life out of doors. She hardly cared to go into her
conservatories, or to loiter on her lawn, with those hard unfamiliar
eyes looking at her. And it wrung her heart to think of the Squire's
old servants thrust out in their old age, unpensioned, uncared for. Yet
this was a change that had come about with her knowledge, and,
seemingly, with her consent. That is to say, the Captain had argued her
into a corner, where she stood, like the last forlorn king in a game of
draughts, fenced round and hemmed in by opponent kings. She had not the
strength of mind to assert herself boldly, and say: "I will not have it
so. This injustice shall not be."

A change had come over the spirit of the Abbey House kitchen, which was
sorely felt in Beechdale and those half-dozen clusters of cottages
within a two-mile radius, which called themselves villages, and all of
which had turned to the Abbey House for light and comfort, as the
sunflower turns to the sun. Captain Winstanley had set his face against
what he called miscellaneous charity. Such things should be done and no
other. His wife should subscribe liberally to all properly organised
institutions--schools, Dorcas societies, maternity societies,
soup-kitchens, regulated dole of bread or coals, every form of relief
that was given systematically and by line and rule; but the good
Samaritan business--the picking up stray travellers, and paying for
their maintenance at inns--was not in the Captain's view of charity.
Henceforward Mrs. Winstanley's name was to appear with due honour upon
all printed subscription-lists, just as it had done when she was Mrs.
Tempest; but the glory of the Abbey House kitchen had departed. The
beggar and the cadger were no longer sure of a meal. The villagers were
no longer to come boldly asking for what they wanted in time of
trouble--broth, wine, jelly, for the sick, allowances of new milk, a
daily loaf when father was out of work, broken victuals at all times.
It was all over. The kitchen-doors were to be closed against all
intruders.

"My love, I do not wonder that you have spent every sixpence of your
income," said Captain Winstanley. "You have been keeping an Irish
household. I can fancy an O'Donoghue or a Knight of Glyn living in this
kind of way; but I should hardly have expected such utter riot and
recklessness in an English gentleman's house."

"I am afraid Trimmer has been rather extravagant," assented Mrs.
Winstanley. "I have trusted everything to her entirely, knowing that
she is quite devoted to us, poor dear soul."

"She is so devoted, that I should think in another year or so, at the
rate she was going, she would have landed you in the bankruptcy court.
Her books for the last ten years--I have gone through them
carefully--show an expenditure that is positively ruinous. However, I
think I have let her see that her housekeeping must be done upon very
different lines in future."

"You made her cry very bitterly, poor thing," said his wife. "Her eyes
were quite red when she came out of your study."

"Made her cry!" echoed the Captain contemptuously. "She is so fat that
the slightest emotion liquefies her. It isn't water, but oil that she
sheds when she makes believe to weep."

"She has been a faithful servant to me for the last twenty years,"
moaned Mrs. Winstanley.

"And she will be a much more faithful servant to you for the next
twenty years, if she lives so long. I am not going to send her away.
She is an admirable cook, and now she knows that she is not to let your
substance run out at the back door. I daresay she will be a fairly good
manager. I shall look after her rather sharply, I assure you. I was
caterer for our mess three years, and I know pretty well what a
household ought to cost per head."

"Oh, Conrad!" cried his wife piteously, "you talk as if we were an
institution, or a workhouse, or something horrid."

"My love, a man of sense ought to be able to regulate a private
establishment at least as well as a board of thick-headed guardians can
regulate a workhouse."

Poor Mrs. Trimmer had left her new master's presence sorely bowed down
in spirit. She was so abased that she could only retire to her own snug
sitting-room, a panelled parlour, with an ancient ivy-wreathed casement
looking into the stable-yard, and indulge herself with what she called
"a good cry." It was not until later that she felt equal to
communicating her grief to Forbes and Pauline, over the one-o'clock
dinner.

She had had a passage of arms, which she denominated "a stand further,"
with the Captain; but it appeared that her own stand had been feeble.
He had been going over the housekeeping accounts for the last ten
years--accounts which neither the Squire nor his wife had ever taken
the trouble to examine--accounts honestly, but somewhat carelessly and
unskillfully made out. There had been an expenditure that was
positively scandalous, Captain Winstanley told Mrs. Trimmer.

"If you're dissatisfied, sir, perhaps I'd better go," the old woman
said, tremulous with indignation. "If you think there's anything
dishonest in my accounts, I wouldn't sleep under this roof another
night, though it's been my home near upon forty year--I was
kitchen-maid in old Squire Tempest's time--no, I wouldn't stay another
hour--not to be doubted."

"I have not questioned your honesty, Trimmer. The accounts are honest
enough, I have no doubt, but they show a most unjustifiable waste of
money."

"If there's dissatisfaction in your mind, sir, we'd better part. It's
always best for both parties. I'm ready to go at an hour's notice, or
to stay my month, if it's more convenient to my mistress."

"You are a silly old woman," said the Captain. "I don't want you to go.
I am not dissatisfied with you, but with the whole system of
housekeeping. There has been a great deal too much given away."

"Not a loaf of bread without my mistress's knowledge," cried Trimmer.
"I always told Mrs. Tempest every morning who'd been for soup, or wine,
or bread--yes, even to broken victuals--the day before. I had her leave
and license for all I did. 'I'm not strong enough to see to the poor
things myself, Trimmer,' she used to say, 'but I want them cared for. I
leave it all to you.'"

"Very well, Trimmer. That kind of thing must cease from this very hour.
Your mistress will contribute to all the local charities. She will give
the Vicar an allowance of wine to be distributed by him in urgent
cases; but this house will no longer be the village larder--no one is
to come to this kitchen for anything.

"What, sir?--not in case of sickness?"

"No. Poor people are always sick. It is their normal state, when there
is anything to be got by sickness. There are hospitals and infirmaries
for such cases. My house is not to be an infirmary. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir; I understand that everything is to be different from what it
was in my late master's time."

"Precisely. Expenses are to be kept within a certain limit. They are
not to fluctuate, as they do in these books of yours. You must get rid
of two or three women-servants. There are at least three too many. I am
always seeing strange faces about upstairs. One might as well live in a
hotel. Think it over, Trimmer, and make up your mind as to which you
can best spare, and give them a month's wages, and pack them off. I
don't care to have servants about me who are under notice to quit. They
always look sulky."

"Is that all, sir?" inquired the housekeeper, drying her angry tears
upon her linen apron.

"Well, yes, that is all at present. Stay. What wages has my wife given
you?"

"Sixty pounds a year," replied Trimmer, quite prepared to be told that
her stipend was to be reduced.

"Then I shall give you seventy."

At this unexpected grace Trimmer began to tremble with an excess of
indignation. She saw in this bounty a bribe to meanness.

"Thank you, sir; but I have never asked to have my wages raised, and I
am quite contented to remain as I am," she answered with dignity.
"Perhaps, if the ways of the house are to be so much altered, I may not
feel myself comfortable enough to stay."

"Oh, very well, my good soul; please yourself," replied the Captain
carelessly; "but remember what I have told you about cadgers and
interlopers; and get rid of two or three of those idle young women. I
shall examine your housekeeping accounts weekly, and pay all the
tradespeople weekly."

"They have not been used to it, sir."

"Then they must get used to it. I shall pay every account
weekly--corn-merchant, and all of them. Bring me up your book on
Saturday morning at ten, and let me have all other accounts at the same
time."

Here was a revolution. Trimmer and Forbes and Pauline sat long over
their dinner, talking about the shipwreck of a fine old house.

"I knew that things would be different," said Pauline, "but I didn't
think it would be so bad as this. I thought it would be all the other
way, and that there'd be grand doings and lots of company. What awful
meanness! Not a drop of soup to be given to a poor family; and I
suppose, if I ask my aunt and uncle to stop to tea and supper, anywhen
that they call to ask how I am, it will be against the rules."

"From what I gather, there's not a bit nor a sup to be given to
mortal," said Mrs. Trimmer solemnly.

"Well, thank Providence, I can afford to buy a bit of tea and sugar and
a quart loaf when a friend drops in," said Pauline, "but the meanness
isn't any less disgusting. He'll want her to sell her cast-off dresses
to the secondhand dealers, I shouldn't wonder."

"And he'll be asking for the keys of the cellars, perhaps," said
Forbes, "after I've kept them for five-and-twenty years."



CHAPTER IX.

The Owner of Bullfinch.

Captain Winstanley had been master of the Abbey House three months, and
there had been no open quarrel between him and Violet Tempest. Vixen
had been cold as marble, but she had been civil. For her mother's sake
she had held her peace. She remembered what Roderick Vawdrey had said
about her duty, and had tried to do it, difficult as that duty was to
the girl's undisciplined nature. She had even taken the loss of
Titmouse very quietly--her father's first gift, the pony that had
carried her when she was a seven-year-old huntress with tawny hair
flowing loose under her little velvet _toque_. She gave no expression
to her indignation at the sale of this old favourite, as she had done
in the case of Bullfinch. If she wept for him, her tears were shed in
secret. She took the sale of her pet almost as a matter of course.

"The Captain thinks we have too many horses and ponies, dear; and you
know dear papa was a little extravagant about his stables," said her
mother apologetically, when she announced the fate of Titmouse; "but of
course Arion will always be kept for you."

"I am glad of that, mamma," Vixen answered gravely. "I should be sorry
to part with the last horse papa gave me as well as with the first."

To the Captain himself Vixen said no word about her pony, and he made
no apology for or explanation of his conduct, He acted as if Heaven had
made him lord of the Abbey House and all its belongings in his cradle,
and as if his wife and her daughter were accidental and subordinate
figures in the scene of his life.

Despite the era of retrenchment which the new master had inaugurated,
things at the Abbey House had never been done with so much dignity and
good style. There had been a slipshod ease, an old-fashioned liberality
in the housekeeping during the Squire's reign, which had in some
measure approximated to the popular idea of an Irish household. Now all
was done by line and rule, and according to the latest standard of
perfection. There was no new fashion in Belgravia--from a brand of
champagne to the shape of a menu-holder--which Captain Winstanley had
not at his finger's ends. The old-style expensive heavy dinners at the
Abbey House: the monster salmon under whose weight the serving man
staggered; the sprawling gigantic turbot, arabesqued with sliced lemon
and barberries; the prize turkey, too big for anything but a poultry
show; these leviathans and megatheria of the market were seen no more.
In their stead came the subdued grace of the _dîner à la Russe_, a
well-chosen menu, before composing which Captain Winstanley studied
Gouffé's artistic cookery-book as carefully as a pious Israelite
studies the Talmud. The new style was as much more economical than the
old as it was more elegant. The table, with the Squire's old silver,
and fine dark blue and gold Worcester china, and the Captain's
picturesque grouping of hothouse flowers and ferns, was a study worthy
of a painter of still life. People exclaimed at the beauty of the
picture. The grave old dining-room was transformed from its heavy
splendour to a modern grace that delighted everybody. Mrs. Winstanley's
bosom thrilled with a gentle pride as she sat opposite her husband--he
and she facing each other across the centre of the oval table--at their
first dinner-party.

"My love, I am delighted that you are pleased," he said afterwards,
when she praised his arrangements. "I think I shall be able to show you
that economy does not always mean shabbiness. Our dinners shall not be
too frequent, but they shall be perfect after their kind."

The Captain made another innovation in his wife's mode of existence.
Instead of a daily dropping in of her acquaintance for tea and gossip,
she was to have her afternoon, like Lady Ellangowan. A neat
copper-plate inscription on her visiting-card told her friends that she
was at home on Tuesdays from three to six, and implied that she was not
at home on any other day. Mrs. Winstanley felt her dignity enhanced by
this arrangement, and the Captain hoped thereby to put a stop to a good
deal of twaddling talk, and to lessen the consumption of five-shilling
tea, pound-cake, and cream.

The Duke and Duchess returned to Ashbourne with Lady Mabel a short time
before Christmas, and the Duchess and her daughter came to one of Mrs.
Winstanley's Tuesday afternoons, attended by Roderick Vawdrey. They
came with an evident intention of being friendly, and the Duchess was
charmed with the old oak hall, the wide hearth and Christmas fire of
beech-logs, the light flashing upon the men in armour, and reflected
here and there on the beeswaxed panels as on dark water. In this wintry
dusk the hall looked its best, dim gleams of colour from the old
painted glass mixing with the changeful glow of the fire.

"It reminds me a little of our place in Scotland," said the Duchess,
"only this is prettier. It has a warmer homelier air. All things in
Scotland have an all-pervading stoniness. It is a country overgrown
with granite."

Mrs. Winstanley was delighted to be told that her house resembled one
of the ducal abodes.

"I daresay your Scotch castle is much older than this," she said
deprecatingly. "We only date from Henry the Eighth. There was an abbey,
built in the time of Henry the First; but I am afraid there is nothing
left of that hut the archway leading into the stables."

"Oh, we are dreadfully ancient at Dundromond; almost as old as the
mountains, I should think," answered the Duchess. "Our walls are ten
feet thick, and we have an avenue of yew trees said to be a thousand
years old. But all that does not prevent the Duke getting bronchitis
every time he goes there."

Vixen was in attendance upon her mother, dressed in dark green cloth.
Very much the same kind of gown she had on that day at the kennels,
Rorie thought, remembering how she looked as she stood with quickened
breath and tumbled hair, encircled by those eager boisterous hounds.

"If Landseer could have lived to paint her, I would have given a small
fortune for the picture," he thought regretfully.

Lady Mabel was particularly gracious to Violet. She talked about dogs
and horses even, in her desire to let herself down to Miss Tempest's
level; praised the Forest; made a tentative remark about point lace;
and asked Violet if she was fond of Chopin.

"I'm afraid I'm not enlightened enough to care so much for him as I
ought." Vixen answered frankly.

"Really! Who is your favourite composer?"

Violet felt as if she were seated before one of those awful books which
some young ladies keep instead of albums, in which the sorely-tormented
contributor is catechised as to his or her particular tastes,
distastes, and failings.

"I think I like Mozart best."

"Do you, really?" inquired Lady Mabel, looking as if Violet had sunk
fathoms lower in her estimation by this avowal. "Don't you think that
he is dreadfully tuney?"

"I like tunes," retorted Vixen, determined not to be put down. "I'd
rather have written '_Voi che sapete_,' and '_Batti, batti_,' than all
Chopin's nocturnes and mazurkas."

"I think you would hardly say that if you knew Chopin better," said
Lady Mabel gravely, as if she had been gently reproving some one for
the utterance of infidel opinions. "When are you coming to see our
orchids?" she asked graciously. "Mamma is at home on Thursdays. I hope
you and Mrs. Winstanley will drive over and look at my new
orchid-house. Papa had it built for me with all the latest
improvements. I'm sure you must be fond of orchids, even if you don't
appreciate Chopin."

Violet blushed. Rorie was looking on with a malicious grin. He was
sitting a little way off in a low Glastonbury chair, with his knees up
to his chin, making himself an image of awkwardness.

"I don't believe Violet cares twopence for the best orchid you could
show her," he said. "I don't believe your _Dendrobium Formosum_ would
have any more effect upon her than it has upon me."

"Oh, but I do admire them; or, at least, I should admire them
immensely," remonstrated Vixen, "if I could see them in their native
country. But I don't know that I have ever thoroughly appreciated them
in a hothouse, hanging from the roof, and tumbling on to one's nose, or
shooting off their long sprays at a tangent into awkward corners. I'm
afraid I like the bluebells and foxgloves in our enclosures ever so
much better. I have seen the banks in New Park one sheet of vivid blue
with hyacinths, one blaze of crimson with foxgloves; and then there are
the long green swamps, where millions of marsh marigolds shine like
pools of liquid gold. If I could see orchids blooming like that I
should be charmed with them."

"You paint of course," said Lady Mabel. "Wild flowers make delightful
studies, do they not?"

Vixen blushed violently.

"I can't paint a little bit," she said. "I am a dreadfully
unaccomplished person."

"That's not true," remonstrated Rorie. "She sketches capitally in pen
and ink--dogs, horses, trees, you and me, everything, dashed off with
no end of spirit."

Here the Duchess, who had been describing the most conspicuous costumes
at the German baths, to the delight of Mrs. Winstanley, rose to go, and
Lady Mabel, with her graceful, well-drilled air, rose immediately.

"We shall be so glad to see you at Ashbourne," she murmured sweetly,
giving Violet her slim little hand in its pearl-gray glove.

 She was dressed from head to foot in artistically blended
shades of gray--a most unpretending toilet. But to Violet's mind the
very modesty of her attire seemed to say: "I am a duke's only daughter,
but I don't want to crush you."

Vixen acknowledged her graciousness politely, but without any warmth;
and it would hardly have done for Lady Mabel to have known what Miss
Tempest said to herself when the Dovedale barouche had driven round the
curve of the shrubbery, with Roderick smiling at her from his place as
it vanished.

"I am afraid I have a wicked tendency to detest people," said Vixen
inwardly. "I feel almost as bad about Lady Mabel as I do about Captain
Winstanley."

"Are they not nice?" asked Mrs. Winstanley gushingly, when she and
Violet were alone.

"Trimmer's drop-cakes?" said Vixen, who was standing by the tea-table
munching a dainty little biscuit. "Yes, they are always capital."

"Nonsense, Violet; I mean the Duchess and her daughter."

Vixen yawned audibly.

"I'm glad you do not find the Duchess insupportably dreary," she said.
"Lady Mabel weighed me down like a nightmare."

"Oh Violet! when she behaved so sweetly--quite caressingly, I thought.
You really ought to cultivate her friendship. It would be so nice for
you to visit at Ashbourne. You would have such opportunities----"

"Of doing what, mamma? Heading polonaises and mazurkas in seven double
flats; or seeing orchids with names as long as a German compound
adjective."

"Opportunities of being seen and admired by young men of position,
Violet. Sooner or later the time must come for you to think of
marrying."

"That time will never come, mamma. I shall stay at home with you till
you are tired of me, and when you turn me out I will have a cottage in
the heart of the Forest--upon some wild ridge topped with a hat of
firs--and good old McCroke to take care of me; and I will spend my days
botanising and fern-hunting, riding and walking, and perhaps learn to
paint my favourite trees, and live as happily and as remote from
mankind as the herons in their nests at the top of the tall beeches on
Vinny Ridge."

"I am very glad there is no one present to hear you talk like that,
Violet," Mrs. Winstanley said gravely.

"Why, mamma?'

"Because anybody hearing you might suppose you were not quite right in
your mind."


The Duchess's visit put Mrs. Winstanley in good-humour with all the
world, but especially with Roderick Vawdrey. She sent him an invitation
to her next dinner, and when her husband seemed inclined to strike his
name out of her list, she defended her right of selection with a
courage that was almost heroic.

"I can't understand your motive for asking this fellow," the Captain
said, with a blacker look than his wife had ever before seen on his
countenance.

"Why should I not ask him, Conrad? I have known him ever since he was
at Eton, and the dear Squire was very fond of him."

"If you are going to choose your acquaintance in accordance with the
taste of your first husband, it will be rather a bad look out for your
second," said the Captain.

"What objection can you have to Roderick?"

"I can have, and I have, a very strong objection to him. But I am not
going to talk about it yet awhile."

"But, Conrad, if there is anything I ought to know----" began Mrs.
Winstanley, alarmed.

"When I think you ought to know it you will be told, my dear Pamela. In
the meantime, allow me to have my own opinion about Mr. Vawdrey."

"But, Conrad, in dear Edward's time he used to come to this house
whenever he liked, as if he had been a near relation. And he is the
Duchess's nephew, remember; and when he marries Lady Mabel, and the
Duke dies, he will be one of the largest landowners in South Hampshire."

"Very well, let him come to your dinner. It can make very little
difference."

"Now you are offended, Conrad," said Mrs. Winstanley, with a
deprecating air.

"No, I am not offended; but I have my own opinion as to your wisdom in
giving any encouragement to Mr. Vawdrey."

This sounded mysterious, and made Mrs. Winstanley uncomfortable. But
she was determined not to offend the Duchess, who had been so
particularly gracious, and who had sent Captain and Mrs. Winstanley
a card for a dinner to be given on the last day of the year.

So Roderick got his invitation, and accepted it with friendly
promptitude. He was master of the hounds now, and a good many of his
days were given up to the pleasures of the hunting-field. He was an
important person in his way, full of business; but he generally found
time to drop in for an hour on Mrs. Winstanley's Tuesday afternoons, to
lounge with his back against the massive oaken chimney-breast and talk
to Violet, or pat Argus, while the lady-visitors gossiped and tittered
over their tea-cups.

This last dinner of Mrs. Winstanley was to take place a few days before
Christmas, and was to be given in honour of a guest who was coming to
spend the holidays at the Abbey House. The guest was Captain
Winstanley's Irish friend, Lord Mallow, the owner of Bullfinch.

Vixen's heart gave an indignant bound when she heard that he was coming.

"Another person for me to hate," she said to herself, almost
despairingly. "I am becoming a mass of envy, hatred, and malice, and
all uncharitableness."

Lord Mallow had spent the early morning of life in the army, it
appeared, with no particular expectations. He and Captain Winstanley
had been brother-officers. But the fell sergeant Death had promoted
Patrick Hay to his elder brother's heritage, and he had surrendered a
subaltern's place in a line regiment to become Viscount Mallow, and the
owner of a fine stretch of fertile hill and valley in County Cork. He
had set up at once as the model landlord, eager for his tenantry's
welfare, full of advanced ideas, a violent politician, liberal to the
verge of radicalism. If the Irish Church had not been disestablished
before Lord Mallow went into Parliament, he would have gripped his
destructive axe and had a chop or two at the root of that fine old
tree. Protestant, and loyal to the Church of England in his own
person--so far as such loyalty may be testified by regular attendance
at divine service every Sunday morning, and a gentlemanlike reverence
for bishops--it seemed to him not the less an injustice that his native
land should be taxed with the maintenance of an alien clergy.

The late Lord Mallow had been a violent Tory, Orange to the marrow of
his bones. The new Lord Mallow was violently progressive, enthusiastic
in his belief in Hibernian virtues, and his indignation at Hibernian
wrongs. He wanted to disestablish everything. He saw his country as she
appears in the eyes of her poets and song-writers--a fair dishevelled
female, oppressed by the cruel Sassenach, a lovely sufferer for whose
rescue all true men and leal would fight to the death. He quoted the
outrages of Elizabeth's reign, the cruelties of Cromwell's soldiery,
the savagery of Ginkell, as if those wrongs had been inflicted
yesterday, and the House of Commons of to-day were answerable for them.
He made fiery speeches which were reported at length in the Irish
newspapers. He was a fine speaker, after a florid pattern, and had a
great command of voice, and a certain rugged eloquence that carried his
hearers along with him, even when he was harping upon so hackneyed a
string as the wrongs of "Ould Ireland."

Lord Mallow was not thirty, and he looked younger than his years. He
was tall and broad-shouldered, robust, and a trifle clumsy in figure,
and rode fourteen stone. He had a good-looking Irish face, smiling blue
eyes, black hair, white teeth, bushy whiskers, and a complexion
inclining to rosiness.

"He is the perfection of a commonplace young man," Vixen said, when she
talked him over with her mother on the day of his arrival at the Abbey
House.

"Come, Violet, you must admit that he is very handsome," remonstrated
Mrs. Winstanley, who was sitting before her dressing-room fire, with
her feet on a fender-stool of her own crewel-work, waiting for Pauline
to commence the important ceremony of dressing for dinner. "I think I
never saw a finer set of teeth, and of course at his age they must all
be real."

"Unless he has had a few of the original ones knocked out in the
hunting-field, mamma. They go over a good many stone walls in Ireland,
you know, and he may have come to grief."

"If you would only leave off talking in that horrid way, Violet. He is
a very agreeable young man. How he enjoyed a cup of tea after his
journey, instead of wanting soda-water and brandy. Conrad tells me he
has a lovely place near Mallow--on the slope of a hill, sheltered on
the north with pine woods; and I believe it is one of the prettiest
parts of Ireland--so green, and fertile, and sweet, and such a happy
peasantry."

"I think I'd better leave you to dress for dinner, mamma. You like a
clear hour, and it's nearly half-past six."

"True, love; you may ring for Pauline. I have been wavering between my
black and maize and my amethyst velvet, but I think I shall decide upon
the velvet. What are you going to wear?"

"I? oh, anything. The dress I wore last night."

"My love, it is positively dowdy. Pray wear something better in honour
of Lord Mallow. There is the gown you had for my wedding," suggested
Mrs. Winstanley, blushing. "You look lovely in that."

"Mamma, do you think I'm going to make a secondhand bridesmaid of
myself to oblige Lord Mallow? No; that dress too painfully bears the
stamp of what it was made for. I'm afraid it will have to rot in the
wardrobe where it hangs. If it were woolen, the moths would inevitably
have it; but, I suppose, as it is silk it will survive the changes of
time; and some clay it will be made into chair-covers, and future
generations of Tempests will point to it as a relic of my great-aunt
Violet."

"I never heard anything so absurd," cried Mrs. Winstanley fretfully.
"It was Theodore's _chef-d'oeuvre_, and no doubt I shall have to pay an
awful price for it."

"Ah, mamma, we are continually doing things for which we have to pay an
awful price," said Vixen, with one of her involuntary bursts of bitter
sadness.



CHAPTER X.

Something like a Ride.

It was impossible to go on hating Lord Mallow for ever. He was a man
whose overflowing good-nature would have conciliated the direst foe,
could that enemy have been exposed long enough to its softening
influence. He came upon the dull daily life of the Abbey House like a
burst of sudden sunshine on a gloomy plain. The long winter evenings,
when there was no company, had been sorely oppressive to Vixen. Out of
respect to her mother she had kept her place in the drawing-room,
reading, or working at some uninteresting strip of point-lace, which
she had no hope of ever finishing, though it had been promised to Mr.
Scobel for his church. Captain Winstanley read the newspapers or the
quarterlies, and paced the room thoughtfully at intervals. He talked to
his wife just enough to escape the charge of neglect, but rarely spoke
to or noticed Violet. Sometimes Mrs. Winstanley asked for a little
music; whereupon Violet went to the piano and played her scanty
recollections of Mozart or Beethoven--all "tuney" bits, remembered out
of the sonatas or symphonies Miss McCroke had taught her; or, if asked
to sing, the girl sang a ballad or two, to order, in her full round
mezzo-soprano, which had a thrilling expression at times, when feeling
got the better of her proud reserve, and all the pent-up sorrow of her
heart broke loose into her song. But Captain Winstanley took no notice
of these efforts, and even her mother's praises were not enthusiastic.

"Very sweet, very nice," was the most Vixen ever heard from those
maternal lips as she closed the piano.

But here was Lord Mallow, passionately fond of music and singing, and
the beauties of nature, and all things that appeal to the sensitive
Hibernian character. It seemed a new thing to Violet to have someone
standing by the piano, turning over the leaves, applauding rapturously,
and entreating for another and yet another Irish melody. When she sang
"The Minstrel Boy," he joined in with a rich baritone that harmonised
finely with her full ripe notes. The old room vibrated with the strong
gush of melody, and even Captain Winstanley was impelled to praise.

"How well your voices harmonise," he said. "You ought to try some
duets. I remember that fine baritone of yours in days of old, Mallow."

Thereupon Lord Mallow asked Miss Tempest if she had any duets, and
Vixen produced her small stock of vocal music. They tried one or two of
Mendelssohn's, "I would that my love," and "Greeting," and discovered
that they got on wonderfully well together. Vixen fell asleep that
night wondering at her own amiability.

"To think that I should sing sentimental duets with him," she said to
herself. "The man who has Bullfinch!"

Lord Mallow's presence at the Abbey House had a marked effect upon
Captain Winstanley's treatment of his stepdaughter. Hitherto there had
been a veiled bitterness in all his speeches, a constrained civility in
his manners. Now he was all kindness, all expansion. Even his wife, who
admired him always, and thought him the soul of wisdom in all he did,
could not be blind to the change, and a new sense of peacefulness stole
into her feeble mind. It was so pleasant to see dear Conrad so sweetly
kind to Violet.

"What are we going to do with Lord Mallow this morning, Violet?" asked
the Captain at breakfast, the day after the Irishman's arrival. "We
must try to amuse him somehow."

"I don't think I have much to do with it," Vixen answered coldly. "You
will find plenty of amusement. I daresay, in the billiard-room, in the
stables, or in showing Lord Mallow your improvements."

"That would do very well for a wet morning, but it would be a
profligate waste of fine weather. No; I propose that you should show
Mallow some of the prettiest bits in the Forest. I am not half so
accomplished a guide as you; but we'll all go. I'll order the horses at
once if you like my plan, Mallow," said Captain Winstanley, turning to
his friend, and taking Violet's consent for granted.

"I shall be quite too delighted, if Miss Tempest will honour us with
her company," replied the Irishman, with a pleasant look at Vixen's
fresh morning face, rosy-red with vexation.

It was the first time her stepfather had ever asked her to ride with
him, and she hated doing it. It was the first time she had ever been
asked to ride with anyone but her father or Roderick Vawdrey. Yet to
refuse would have been impossible, without absolute discourtesy to her
mother's husband and her mother's guest. So she sat in her place and
said nothing; and Lord Mallow mistook the angry carnation for the warm
red of happy girlhood, which blushes it knows not wherefore.

Captain Winstanley ordered the horses to be at the door in
half-an-hour: and then he took Lord Mallow off to look at the stables,
while Violet went upstairs to put on her habit. Why was the Captain so
unusually amiable? she speculated. Was his little soul so mean that he
put on better manners to do honour to an Irish peer?

She came tripping down the wide old staircase at the end of the
half-hour, in habit and hat of Lincoln green, with a cock's feather in
the neat little hat, and a formidable hooked hunting-crop for opening
gates, little feet daintily shod in patent leather, but no spur. She
loved her horse too well to run a needle into his sleek hide at the
slightest provocation.

There were three horses, held by Bates and Lord Mallow's groom.
Bullfinch, looking as if he had just taken a prize at Islington and was
inclined to be bumptious about it. Arion, tossing his delicately
modelled Greek head, and peering furtively after bogies in the adjacent
shrubbery. Captain Winstanley's well-seasoned hunter, Mosstrooper,
nodding his long bony head, and swaying his fine-drawn neck up and down
in a half-savage half-scornful manner, as if he were at war with
society in general, like the Miller of Dee.

Vixen, who had looked the picture of vexation at the breakfast-table,
was now all gaiety. Her hazel eyes sparkled with mischief. Lord Mallow
stood in the porch, watching her as she came down the shining oak
staircase, glorious in the winter sunlight. He thought her the
perfection of a woman--nay, more than a woman, a goddess. Diana, the
divine huntress, must have looked so, he fancied. He ran forward to
mount her on the fidgety Arion; but honest old Bates was too quick for
him; and she was looking down at Lord Mallow graciously from her perch
on the well-worn doeskin saddle before he had time to offer his
services.

She leaned over to pat Bullfinch's massive crest.

"Dear old horse," she murmured tenderly, remembering those winter
mornings of old when he had stood before the porch as he stood to-day,
waiting for the noble rider who was never more to mount him.

"Yet life goes on somehow without our beloved dead," thought Violet.

Her changeful face saddened at the idea, and she rode along the
shrubberied drive in silence.

"Where are you going to take us?" asked the Captain, when they had
emerged from the Abbey House grounds, crossed the coach-road, and made
their plunge into the first cart-track that offered itself.

"Everywhere," answered Vixen, with a mischievous laugh. "You have
chosen me for your guide, and all you have to do is to follow."

And she gave Arion a light touch with her hunting-crop, and cantered
gaily down the gently sloping track to a green lawn, which looked, to
Captain Winstanley's experienced eye, very much like a quaggy bog.

"Steer towards your left!" he cried anxiously to Lord Mallow.

If there was danger near Vixen managed to avoid it; she made a sweeping
curve, skirted the treacherous-looking lawn, and disappeared in another
cart-track, between silvery trunks of veteran beeches, self-sown in the
dark ages, with here and there a gnarled old oak, rugged and
lichen-mantled, with feathery tufts of fern nestling in the hollow
places between his gaunt limbs.

That was a ride! Lord Mallow could remember nothing like it, and he was
destined to carry this in his memory for a lifetime. The ghostly trees;
the silver-shining bark of the beeches, varying with a hundred
indescribable shades of green, and purple, and warmest umber; the
rugged gray of the grand old oaks; the lichens and mosses, the
mysterious wintry growths of toadstool and weed and berry; that awful
air of unearthliness which pervaded the thicker portions of the wood,
as of some mystic underworld--half shadow and half dream. No, Lord
Mallow could never forget it; nor yet the way that flying figure in
Lincoln green led them by bog and swamp, over clay and gravel--through
as many varieties of soil as if she had been trying to give them a
practical lesson in geology; across snaky ditches and pebbly fords;
through furze-bushes and thickets of holly; through everything likely
to prove aggravating to the temper of a wellbred horse; and finally,
before giving them breathing-time, she led them up the clayey side of a
hill, as steep as a house, on the top of which she drew rein, and
commanded them to admire the view.

"This is Acres Down, and there are the Needles," she said, pointing her
whip at the dim blue horizon. "If it were a clear day, and your sight
were long enough, I daresay you would see Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney,
and Sark. But, I think, to-day you must be content with the Needles.
Can you see them?" she asked Lord Mallow.

"See them!" exclaimed the Irishman. "I can see well enough to thread
one of them if I wanted."

"Now, you've seen the Isle of Wight," said Vixen. "That's a point
accomplished. The ardent desire of everyone in the Forest is to see the
Isle of Wight. They are continually mounting hills and gazing into
space, in order to get a glimpse at that chalky little island. It seems
the main object of everybody's existence."

"They might as well go and live there at once, if they're so fond of
it," suggested Lord Mallon.

"Yes; and then they would be straining their eyes in the endeavour to
see the Great Horse--that's a group of firs on the top of a hill, and
one of our Forest seamarks. That frantic desire to behold distant
objects has always seemed to me to be one of the feeblest tendencies of
the human mind. Now you have seen the Needles, we have accomplished a
solemn duty, and I may show you our woods."

Vixen shook her rein and trotted recklessly down a slippery path,
jumped a broad black ditch, and plunged into the recesses of the wood,
Bullfinch and Mosstrooper following meekly.

They went a wonderful round, winding in and out of Bratley Wood,
piercing deep into the wintry glories of Mark Ash; through mud and moss
and soft pitfalls, where the horses sank up to their hocks in withered
leaves; avoiding bogs by a margin of a yard or so; up and down, under
spreading branches, where the cattle line but just cleared the heads of
the riders; across the blackened bracken; by shining hollies, whose
silvery trunks stood up like obelisks out of a thicket of dwarf bushes:
through groves, where the tall beech-trunks had a solemn look like the
columns of some gigantic temple; then into wondrous plantations of
Scotch firs, where the air was balmy as in summer, and no breath of the
December wind penetrated the dense wall of foliage. Then to higher
ground, where the wintry air blew keen again, and where there were a
soft green lawn, studded with graceful conifers--cypress, deodora,
Douglas fir--tall with a growth of thirty years; the elegant
importations of an advanced civilisation. Anon by the gray lichened
walls of a deserted garden, which had a strangely-romantic look, and
was as suggestive of a dreamy idyllic world as a poem by Tennyson; and
so down into the green-and-gray depths of Mark Ash again, but never
returning over the same ground; and then up the hill to Vinny Ridge and
the Heronry, where Captain Winstanley cracked his whip to scare the
herons, and had the satisfaction of scaring his own and the other two
horses, while the herons laughed him to scorn from their cradles in the
tree-tops, and would not stir a feather for his gratification. Then by
a long plantation to a wild stretch of common, where Vixen told her
companions that they were safe for a good while, and set them an
example by starting Arion across the short smooth turf at a
hand-gallop. They pulled up just in time to escape a small gulf of moss
and general sponginess, waded a stream or two, splashed through a good
deal of spewy ground, and came to Queen's Bower; thence into the oak
plantations of New Park; then across Gretnam Wood; and then at a smart
trot along the road towards home.

"I hope I haven't kept you out too long?" said Vixen politely.

"We've only been five hours," answered the Captain with grim civility;
"but if Mallow is not tired, I shall not complain."

"I never enjoyed anything so much in my life, never," protested Lord
Mallow.

"Well, to-morrow we can shoot the pheasants. It will be a rest for us
after this."

"It will be dull work after the enchantments of to-day," said the
Irishman.

Captain Winstanley rode homewards a few paces in the rear of the other
two, smiling to himself grimly, and humming a little song of Heine's:

  "Es ist eine alte Geschichte,
  Doch bleibt sie immer neu."



CHAPTER XI.

Rorie objects to Duets.

Mrs. Winstanley's little dinner went off smoothly and pleasantly, as
all such entertainments had done under the new _régime_. The Captain
knew how to select his guests, as well as he knew how to compose a
_menu_. People felt pleased with themselves and with their neighbours
at his table. There was nothing heavy in the dinner or in the
conversation; there were no long sittings over old port or particular
claret. The wines were of the first quality; but there was no fuss made
about them. Colonel Carteret remembered how he and the Squire had sat
prosing over their port or Château Lafitte, and felt as if he were
living in a new world--a world in which full-blooded friendship and
boisterous hospitality were out of fashion. People whose talk had
hitherto been intensely local--confined, for the most part to petty
sessions, commoners' rights, hunting, and the parish church and
schools--found themselves discussing the widest range of topics, from
the prospect of a European war--that European war which has been
impending more or less distinctly for the last twenty years--to the
latest social scandal in the upper currents of London society. Captain
and Mrs. Winstanley's country friends, inspired by one or two clever
young men just imported from the London clubs, were surprised to
discover how well they were able to criticise the latest productions in
literature, art, and the drama; the newest results of scientific
investigation; or the last record of African or Central Asian
exploration. It was quite delightful to quiet country people, who went
to London on an average once in three years, to find themselves talking
so easily about the last famous picture, the latest action for libel in
artistic circles, or the promised adaptation of Sardou's last comedy at
a West End theatre, just as glibly as if they knew all about art, and
had read every play of Sardou's.

Roderick Vawdrey enjoyed himself wonderfully at this particular
dinner-party, so long as the dinner lasted; for Captain Winstanley, by
an oversight which made him inwardly savage all dinner-time, had placed
Mr. Vawdrey and Miss Tempest side by side. There had been some
confusion in his mind as he finished his plan of the table; his
attention having been called away at the last moment, or this thing
could not have happened--for nothing was farther from Captain
Winstanley's intention than that Violet and her old playfellow should
be happy in each other's society. And there they sat, smiling and
sparkling at each other in the exuberance of youth and high spirits,
interchanging little confidential remarks that were doubtless to the
disparagement of some person or persons in the assembly. If dark
electric glances shot from the covert of bent brows could have slain
those two happy triflers, assuredly neither of them would have lived to
the end of that dinner.

"How do you like him?" asked Rorie, stooping to sniff at the big
Maréchal Niel bud, in the specimen glass by his plate.

"Whom?"

"The man who has Bullfinch."

Lord Mallow was in the place of honour next his hostess. Involuntarily
Violet glanced in that direction, and was startled to find the
Irishman's good-humoured gaze meeting hers, just as if he had been
watching her for the last half-hour.

"How do I like him? Well, he seems very good-natured."

"Seems good-natured. You ought to be able to give me a more definite
answer by this time. You have lived in the same house with him--let me
see, is it three or four days since he came?"

"He has been here nearly a week."

"A week! Why then you must know him as well as if he were your brother.
There is no man living who could keep himself dark for a week. No; I
don't believe the most inscrutable of men, born and bred in diplomatic
circles, could keep the secret of a solitary failing from the eyes of
those who live under the same roof with him for seven days. It would
leak out somehow--if not at breakfast, at dinner. Man is a
communicative animal, and so loves talking of himself that if he has
committed murder he must tell somebody about it sooner or later. And as
to that man," continued Rorie, with a contemptuous glance at the
single-minded Lord Mallow, "he is a creature whom the merest beginner
in the study of humanity would know by heart in half-an-hour."

"What do you know about him?" asked Vixen laughing. "You have had more
than half-an-hour for the study of his character."

"I know ever so much more than I want to know."

"Answered like a Greek oracle."

"What, have you taken to reading Greek?"

"No; but I know the oracles were a provoking set of creatures who
answered every inquiry with an enigma. But I won't have you abuse Lord
Mallow. He has been very kind to Bullfinch, and has promised me that he
will never part with him. The dear old horse is to have a comfortable
stable and kindly treatment to his dying day--not to be sent out to
grass in his old age, to shiver in a dreary solitude, or to be scorched
by the sun and tormented by the flies."

"He has promised all that, has he? He would promise a good deal more, I
daresay," muttered Rorie, stooping over his rosebud. "Do you think him
handsome? Do women admire a fresh complexion and black whiskers, and
that unmistakable air of a hairdresser's wax model endowed with
animation?"

"I see you consider him an idiot," said Vixen laughing. "But I assure
you he is rather clever. He talks wonderfully about Ireland, and the
reforms he is going to bring about for her."

"Of course. Burke, and Curran, and Castlereagh, and O'Connell, and
fifty more have failed to steer that lumbering old vessel off the
mudbank on which she stranded at some time in the dark ages; in fact,
nobody except Oliver Cromwell ever did understand how to make Ireland
prosperous and respectable, and he began by depopulating her. And here
is a fresh-coloured young man, with whiskers _à la côtelette de
mouton_, who thinks he was born to be her pilot, and to navigate her
into a peaceful haven. He is the sort of man who will begin by being
the idol of a happy tenantry, and end by being shot from behind one of
his own hedges."

"I hope not," said Vixen, "for I am sure he means well. And I should
like him to outlive Bullfinch."

Roderick had been very happy all dinner-time. From the soups to the
ice-puddings the moments had flown for him. It seemed the briefest
dinner he had ever been at; and yet when the ladies rose to depart the
silvery chime of the clock struck the half-hour after nine. But Lord
Mallow's hour came later, in the drawing-room, where he contrived to
hover over Violet, and fence her round from all other admirers for the
rest of the evening. They sang their favourite duets together, to the
delight of everyone except Rorie, who felt curiously savage at "I would
that my love," and icily disapproving at "Greeting;" but vindictive to
the verge of homicidal mania at "Oh, wert thou in the cauld blast!"

"His 'plaidie,' indeed," he ejaculated inwardly. "The creature never
possessed anything so comfortable or civilised. How preposterous it is
to hear an Irishman sing Scotch songs. If an Irishman had a plaidie, he
would pawn it for a dhrop o' the cratur."

Later Violet and Lord Mallow sang a little duet by Masini, "_O, que la
mer est belle!_" the daintiest, most bewitching music--such a melody as
the Loreley might have sung when the Rhine flowed peacefully onward
below mountain-peaks shining in the evening light, luring foolish
fishermen to their doom. Everybody was delighted. It was just the kind
of music to please the unlearned in the art. Mrs. Carteret came to the
piano to compliment Violet.

"I had no idea you could sing so sweetly," she said. "Why have you
never sung to us before?"

"Nobody ever asked me," Vixen answered frankly. "But indeed I am no
singer."

"You have one of the freshest, brightest voices I ever had the
happiness of hearing," Lord Mallow exclaimed enthusiastically.

He would have liked to go on singing duets for an indefinite period. He
felt lifted into some strange and delightful region--a sphere of love
and harmony--while he was mingling his voice with Violet's. It made the
popular idea of heaven, as a place where there is nothing but
singing--an eternal, untiring choir--clearer and more possible to him
than it had ever seemed before. Paradise would be quite endurable if he
and Violet might stand side by side in the serried ranks of choristers.
There was quite a little crowd round the piano, shutting in Violet and
Lord Hallow, and Roderick Vawdrey was not in it. He felt himself
excluded, and held himself gloomingly apart, talking hunting talk with
a man for whom he did not care twopence. Directly his carriage was
announced--_sotto voce_ by the considerate Forbes, so as not to wound
anybody's feelings by the suggestion that the festivity was on its last
legs--Mr. Vawdrey went up to Mrs. Winstanley and took leave. He would
not wait to say good-night to Violet. He only cast one glance in the
direction of the piano, where the noble breadth of Mrs. Carteret's
brocaded amber back obscured every remoter object, and then went away
moodily, denouncing duet-singing as an abomination.

When Lady Mabel asked him next day what kind of an evening he had had
at the Abbey House, in a tone which implied that any entertainment
there must be on a distinctly lower level as compared with the
hospitalities of Ashbourne, he told her that it had been uncommonly
slow.

"How was that? You had some stupid person to take into dinner, perhaps?"

"No; I went in with Violet."

"And you and she are such old friends. You ought to get on very well
together."

Rorie reddened furiously. Happily he was standing with his back to the
light in one of the orchid-houses, enjoying the drowsy warmth of the
atmosphere, and Mabel was engrossed with the contemplation of a fine
zygopetalum, which was just making up its mind to bloom.

"Oh, yes, that was well enough; but the evening was disgustingly slow.
There was too much music."

"Classical?"

"Lord knows. It was mostly French and German. I consider it an insult
to people to ask them to your house, and then stick them down in their
chairs, and say h--sh--h! every time they open their months. If people
want to give amateur concerts, let them say so when they send out their
invitations, and then one would know what one has to expect."

"I am afraid the music must have been very bad to make you so cross,"
said Lady Mabel, rather pleased that the evening at the Abbey House
should have been a failure. "Who were the performers?"

"Violet, and an Irish friend of Captain Winstanley's--a man with a rosy
complexion and black whiskers--Lord Mallow."

"Lord Mallow! I think I danced with him once or twice last season. He
is rather distinguished as a politician, I believe, among the young
Ireland party. Dreadfully radical."

"He looks it," answered Rorie. "He has a loud voice and a loud laugh,
and they seem to be making a great deal of him at the Abbey House."

"'Tommy loves a lord,'" says Lady Mabel brightly. Rorie hadn't the
faintest idea whence the quotation came. "I daresay the Winstanleys are
rather glad to have Lord Mallow staying with them."

"The Squire would have kicked him out of doors," muttered Rorie
savagely.

"But why? Is he so very objectionable? He waltzes beautifully, if I
remember right; and I thought him rather a well-meaning young man."

"Oh, there's nothing serious against him that I know of; only I don't
think Squire Tempest would have liked a singing man any more than he
would have liked a singing mouse."

"I didn't know Miss Tempest sang," said Lady Mabel. "I thought she
could do nothing but ride."

"Oh, she has a very pretty voice, but one may have too much of a good
thing, you know. One doesn't go out to dinner to hear people sing
duets."

"I'm afraid they must have given you a very bad dinner, or you would
hardly be so cross. I know that is the way with papa. If the dinner is
bad he abuses everything, and declares the ladies were all ugly."

"Oh, the dinner was excellent, I believe. I'm not a connoisseur, like
my uncle. People might give me the most wonderful dinner in the world,
and I would hardly be the wiser; or they might give me a wretched one,
and I should not feel particularly angry with them."

The next day was Tuesday, and, as the Duchess and her daughter happened
to be driving within a mile or so of the Abbey House, Lady Mabel
suggested that they should call upon Mrs. Winstanley.

"I am rather anxious to see the wild Irishman they have captured
lately--Lord Mallow. We met him at Lady Dumdrum's, if you remember,
mamma. I danced with him twice."

"My dear Mabel, do you think I can remember all your partners?"

"But Lord Mallow is rather celebrated. He makes very good speeches.
Papa read one of them to us the other day when there was a great debate
going on upon the Irish land question."

The Duchess remembered being read to one evening after dinner, but the
debates, as delivered by the Duke, had generally a somnolent effect
upon his wife. She had a faint idea of the beginning, and struggled
heroically to discover what the speakers were talking about; then came
a soft confusion of sound, like the falling of waters; and the middle
and end of the debate was dreamland. Lady Mabel was of a more energetic
temper, and was interested in everything that could enlarge her sphere
of knowledge, from a parliamentary debate to a Greek play.

The Duchess had never in her life refused compliance with any wish of
her daughter's, so the horses' heads were turned towards the Abbey
House, along a smooth hard road through a pine wood, then through a
lodge-gate into a forest of rhododendrons.

"This is really a nicer place than Ashbourne, mamma," remarked Lady
Mabel disapprovingly.

It appeared to her quite a mistake in the arrangement of the universe
that Violet Tempest should be heiress to a more picturesque estate than
that which she, the Duke of Dovedale's only daughter, was to inherit.

"My dear, Ashbourne is perfect. Everyone says so. The stables, the
offices, the way the house is lighted and heated, the ventilation."

"Yes, mamma; but those are details which nobody thinks about except an
architect or a house-agent. Ashbourne is so revoltingly modern. It
smells of stucco. It will take a century to tone it down. Now this fine
old place is like a dream of the past; it is a poem in wood and stone.
Ashbourne would be very well for a hunting-box for anyone who had three
or four other places, as my father has; but when my time comes, and I
have only Ashbourne, I'm afraid I shall hate it."

"But you will have a choice of places by-and-by," said the Duchess
consolingly "You will have Briarwood."

"Briarwood is a degree uglier than Ashbourne," sighed Lady Mabel,
leaning back in the carriage, wrapped to the chin in Russian sable, the
image of discontent.

There are moments in every life, as in Solomon's, when all seems
vanity. Lady Mabel Ashbourne's life had been cloudless--a continual
summer, an unchangeable Italian sky; and yet there were times when she
was weary of it, when some voice within her murmured, "This is not
enough." She was pretty, she was graceful, accomplished, gifted with a
self-confidence that generally passed for wit; all the blood in her
veins was the bluest of the blue, everybody bowed down to her, more or
less, and paid her homage; the man she liked best in the world, and had
so preferred from her childhood, was to be her husband; nobody had ever
contradicted her, or hinted that she was less than perfect; and yet
that mysterious and rebellious voice sometimes repeated, "It is not
enough." She was like the woman in the German fairy tale, who,
beginning as the wife of a half-starved fisherman, came, by fairy
power, to be king, and then emperor, and then pope: and still was not
contented, but languished for something more, aye, even to have the
ordering of the sun and moon.

The rebellious voice expostulated loudly this winter afternoon, as Lady
Mabel's languid eyes scanned the dark shining rhododendron bushes,
rising bank above bank, a veritable jungle, backed by tall beeches and
towerlike Douglas firs. A blackbird was whistling joyously amongst the
greenery, and a robin was singing on the other side of the drive. The
sunlit sky was soft and pearly. It was one of those mild winters in
which Christmas steals unawares upon the footprints of a lovely autumn.
The legendary oak was doubtless in full bud at Cadenham, like its
miraculous brother, the Glastonbury thorn.

"I don't think any of my father's places can compare with this," Lady
Mabel said irritably.

She would not have minded the beauty of the grounds so much had they
been the heritage of any other heiress than Violet Tempest.

The old hall was full of people and voices when the Duchess and her
daughter were announced. There was a momentary hush at their entrance,
as at the advent of someone of importance, and Mrs. Winstanley came
smiling put of the firelight to welcome them, in Theodore's last
invention, which was a kind of skirt that necessitated a peculiar
gliding motion in the wearer, and was built upon the lines of a
mermaid's tail.

"How good of you!" exclaimed Mrs. Winstanley.

"We were coming through Lyndhurst, and could not resist the temptation
of coming in to see you," said the Duchess graciously. "How do you do,
Miss Tempest? Were you out with the hounds this morning? We met some
people riding home."

"I have never hunted since my father's death," Violet answered gravely;
and the Duchess was charmed with the answer and the seriously tender
look that accompanied it.

Lord Mallow was standing before the hearth, looking remarkably handsome
in full hunting costume. The well-worn scarlet coat and high black
boots became him. He had enjoyed his first day with the Forest hounds,
had escaped the bogs, and had avoided making an Absalom of himself
among the spreading beechen boughs. Bullfinch had behaved superbly over
his old ground.

Mr. and Mrs. Scobel were among those dusky figures grouped around the
wide firelit hearth, where the piled-up logs testified to the Tempest
common of estovers. Mr. Scobel was talking about the last advance
movement of the Ritualists, and expatiating learnedly upon the
Ornaments Rubric of 1559, and its bearing upon the Advertisements of
1566, with a great deal more about King Edward's first Prayer-book, and
the Act of Uniformity, to Colonel Carteret, who, from an antique
conservative standpoint, regarded Ritualists, Spirit-rappers, and
Shakers in about the same category; while Mrs. Scobel twittered
cheerily about the parish and the schools to the Colonel's bulky wife,
who was a liberal patroness of all philanthropic institutions in her
neighbourhood.

Lord Mallow came eagerly forward to recall himself to the memories of
Lady Mabel and her mother.

"I hope your grace has not forgotten me," he said; and the Duchess, who
had not the faintest recollection of his face or figure, knew that this
must be Lord Mallow. "I had the honour of being introduced to you at
Lady Dumdrum's delightful ball."

The Duchess said something gracious, and left Lord Mallow free to talk
to Lady Mabel. He reminded her of that never to be, by him, forgotten
waltz, and talked, in his low-pitched Irish voice, as if he had lived
upon nothing but the recollection of it ever since.

It was idiosyncratic of Lord Mallow that he could not talk to any young
woman without seeming to adore her. At this very moment he thought
Violet Tempest the one lovable and soul-entrancing woman the world held
for him; yet at sight of Lady Mabel he behaved as if she and no other
was his one particular star.

"It was a nice dance, wasn't it? but there were too many people for the
rooms," said Lady Mabel easily; "and I don't think the flowers were so
prettily arranged as the year before. Do you?"

"I was not there the year before."

"No? I must confess to having been at three balls at Lady Dumdrum's.
That makes me seem very old, does it not? Some young ladies in London
make believe to be always in their first season. They put on a
hoydenish freshness, and pretend to be delighted with everything, as if
they were just out of the nursery."

"That's a very good idea up to thirty," said Lord Mallow. "I should
think it would hardly answer after."

"Oh, after thirty they begin to be fond of horses and take to betting.
I believe young ladies after thirty are the most desperate--what is
that dreadful slang word?--plungers in society. How do you like our
hunting?"

"I like riding about the Forest amazingly; but I should hardly call it
hunting, after Leicestershire. Of course that depends in a measure upon
what you mean by hunting. If you only mean hounds pottering about after
a fox, this might pass muster; but if your idea of hunting includes
hard riding and five-barred gates, I should call the kind of thing you
do here by another name."

"Was my cousin, Mr. Vawdrey, out to-day?"

"The M. F. H.? In the first flight. May I get you some tea?"

"If you please. Mrs. Winstanley's tea is always so good."

Mrs. Winstanley was supremely happy in officiating at her gipsy table,
where the silver tea-kettle of Queen Anne's time was going through its
usual sputtering performances. To sit in a fashionable gown--however
difficult the gown might be to sit in--and dispense tea to a local
duchess, was Mrs. Winstanley's loftiest idea of earthly happiness. Of
course there might be a superior kind of happiness beyond earth; but to
appreciate that the weak human soul would have to go through a
troublesome ordeal in the way of preparation, as the gray cloth at
Hoyle's printing-works is dashed about in gigantic vats, and whirled
round upon mighty wheels, before it is ready for the reception of
particular patterns and dyes.

Lady Mabel and Lord Mallow had a longish chat in the deep-set window
where Vixen watched for Rorie on his twenty-first birthday. The
conversation came round to Irish politics somehow, and Lord Mallow was
enraptured at discovering that Lady Mabel had read his speeches, or had
heard them read. He had met many young ladies who professed to be
interested in his Irish politics; but never before had he encountered
one who seemed to know what she was talking about. Lord Mallow was
enchanted. He had found his host's lively step-daughter stonily
indifferent to the Hibernian cause. She had said "Poor things" once or
twice, when he dilated on the wrongs of an oppressed people; but her
ideas upon all Hibernian subjects were narrow. She seemed to imagine
Ireland a vast expanse of bog chiefly inhabited by pigs.

"There are mountains, are there not?" she remarked once; "and tourists
go there? But people don't live there, do they?'

"My dear Miss Tempest, there are charming country seats; if you were to
see the outskirts of Waterford, or the hills above Cork, you would find
almost as many fine mansions as in England."

"Really?" exclaimed Vixen, with most bewitching incredulity; "but
people don't live in them? Now I'm sure you cannot tell me honestly
that anyone lives in Ireland. You, for instance, you talk most
enthusiastically about your beautiful country, but you don't live in
it."

"I go there every year for the fishing."

"Yes; but gentlemen will go to the most uncomfortable places for
fishing--Norway, for example. You go to Ireland just as you go to
Norway."

"I admit that the fishing in Connemara is rather remote from
civilisation----"

"Of course. It is at the other end of everything. And then you go into
the House of Commons, and rave about Ireland, just as if you loved her
as I love the Forest, where I hope to live and die. I think all this
wild enthusiasm about Ireland is the silliest thing in the world when
it comes from the lips of landowners who won't pay their beloved
country the compliment of six months' residence out of the twelve."

After this Lord Mallow gave up all hope of sympathy from Miss Tempest.
What could be expected from a young lady who could not understand
patriotism in the abstract, but wanted to pin a man down for life to
the spot of ground for which his soul burned with the ardour of an
orator and a poet? Imagine Tom Moore compelled to live in a humble cot
in the Vale of Avoca! He infinitely preferred his humdrum cottage in
Wiltshire. Indeed, I believe it has been proved against him that he had
never seen the Meeting of the Waters, and wrote about that famous scene
from hearsay. Ireland has never had a poet as Irish as Burns and Scott
were Scottish. Her whole-hearted, single-minded national bard has yet
to be born.

It was a relief, therefore, to Lord Mallow's active mind to find
himself in conversation with a young lady who really cared for his
subject and understood him. He could have talked to Lady Mabel for
ever. The limits of five-o'clock tea were far too narrow. He was
delighted when the Duchess paused as she was going away, and said:

"I hope you will come and see us at Ashbourne, Lord Mallow; the Duke
will be very pleased to know you."

Lord Mallow murmured something expressive of a mild ecstasy, and the
Duchess swept onward, like an Australian clipper with all sails set,
Lady Mabel gliding like a neat little pinnace in her wake.

Lord Mallow was glad when the next day's post brought him a card of
invitation to the ducal dinner on December the 31st. He fancied that he
was indebted to Lady Mabel for this civility.

"You are going, of course," he said to Violet, twisting the card
between his fingers meditatively.

"I believe I am asked."

"She is," answered Mrs. Winstanley, from her seat behind the urn; "and
I consider, under the circumstances, it is extremely kind of the
Duchess to invite her."

"Why?" asked Lord Mallow, intensely mystified.

"Why, the truth is, my dear Lord Mallow, that Violet is in an anomalous
position. She has been to Lady Southminster's ball, and a great many
parties about here. She is out and yet not out, if you understand."

Lord Mallow looked as if he was very far from understanding.

"She has never been presented," explained Mrs. Winstanley. "It is too
dreadful to think of. People would call me the most neglectful of
mothers. But the season before last seemed too soon alter dear Edward's
death, and last season, well"--blushing and hesitating a little--"my
mind was so much occupied, and Violet herself was so indifferent about
it, that somehow or other the time slipped by and the thing was not
done. I feel myself awfully to blame--almost as much so as if I had
neglected her confirmation. But early next season--at the very first
drawing-room, if possible--she must be presented, and then I shall feel
a great deal more comfortable in my mind."

"I don't think it matters one little bit," said Lord Mallow, with
appalling recklessness.

"It would matter immensely if we were travelling. Violet could not be
presented at any foreign court, or invited to any court ball. She would
be an outcast. I shall have to be presented myself, on my marriage with
Captain Winstanley. We shall go to London early in the spring. Conrad
will take a small house in Mayfair."

"If I can get one," said the captain doubtfully. "Small houses in
Mayfair are as hard to get nowadays as black pearls--and as dear."

"I am charmed to think you will be in town," exclaimed Lord Mallow;
"and, perhaps, some night when there is an Irish question on, you and
Miss Tempest might be induced to come to the Ladies' Gallery. Some
ladies rather enjoy a spirited debate."

"I should like it amazingly," cried Violet. "You are awfully rude to
one another, are you not? And you imitate cocks and hens; and do all
manner of dreadful things. It must be capital fun."

This was not at all the kind of appreciation Lord Mallow desired.

"Oh, yes; we are excruciatingly funny sometimes, I daresay, without
knowing it," he said, with a mortified air.

He was getting on the friendliest terms with Violet. He was almost as
much at home with her as Rorie was, except that she never called him by
his christian-name, nor flashed at him those lovely mirth-provoking
glances which he surprised sometimes on their way to Mr. Vawdrey. Those
two had a hundred small jokes and secrets that dated back to Vixen's
childhood. How could a new-comer hope to be on such delightful terms
with her? Lord Mallow felt this, and hated Roderick Vawdrey as
intensely as it was possible for a nature radically good and generous
to hate even a favoured rival. That Roderick was his rival, and was
favoured, were two ideas of which Lord Mallow could not dispossess
himself, notwithstanding the established fact of Mr. Vawdrey's
engagement to his cousin.

"A good many men begin life by being engaged to their cousins,"
reflected Lord Mallow. "A man's relations take it into their heads to
keep an estate in the family, and he is forthwith set at his cousin
like an unwilling terrier at a rat. I don't at all feel as if this
young man were permanently disposed of, in spite of all their talk; and
I'm very sure Miss Tempest likes him better than I should approve of
were I the cousin."

While he loitered over his second cup of coffee, with the ducal card of
invitation in his hand, it seemed to him a good opportunity for talking
about Lady Mabel.

"A very elegant girl, Lady Mabel," he said; "and remarkably clever. I
never talked to a young woman, or an old one either, who knew so much
about Ireland. She's engaged to that gawky cousin, isn't she?"

Vixen shot an indignant look at him, and pouted her rosy underlip.

"You mean young Vawdrey. Yes; it is quite an old engagement. They were
affianced to each other in their cradles, I believe," answered Captain
Winstanley.

"Just what I should have imagined," said Lord Mallow.

"Why?"

"Because they seem to care so little for each other now."

"Oh but, dear Lord Mallow, remember Lady Mabel Ashbourne is too
well-bred to go about the world advertising her affection for her
future husband," remonstrated Mrs. Winstanley. "I'm sure, if you had
seen us before our marriage, you would never have guessed from our
manner to each other that Conrad and I were engaged. You would not have
a lady behave like a housemaid with her 'young man.' I believe in that
class of life they always sit with their arms round each other's waists
at evening parties."

"I would have a lady show that she has a heart, and is not ashamed to
acknowledge its master," said Lord Mallow, with his eyes on Vixen, who
sat stolidly silent, pale with anger. "However, we will put down Lady
Mabel's seeming coldness to good-breeding. But as to Mr. Vawdrey, all I
can say about him is, that he may be in love with his cousin's estate,
but he is certainly not in love with his cousin."

This was more than Vixen could brook.

"Mr. Vawdrey is a gentleman, with a fine estate of his own!" she cried.
"How dare you impute such meanness to him?"

"It may be mean, but it is the commonest thing in life."

"Yes, among adventurers who have no other road to fortune than by
marrying for money; but do you suppose it can matter to Roderick
whether he has a thousand acres less or more, or two houses instead of
one? He is going to marry Lady Mabel because it was the dearest wish of
his mother's heart, and because she is perfect, and proper, and
accomplished, and wonderfully clever--you said as much yourself--and
exactly the kind of wife that a young man would be proud of. There are
reasons enough, I should hope," concluded Vixen indignantly.

She had spoken breathlessly, in gasps of a few words at a time, and her
eyes flashed their angriest light upon the astounded Irishman.

"Not half a reason if he does not love her," he answered boldly. "But I
believe young Englishmen of the present day marry for reason and not
for love. Cupid has been cashiered in favour of Minerva. Foolish
marriages are out of fashion. Nobody ever thinks of love in a cottage.
First, there are no more cottages; and secondly, there is no more love."

Christmas was close at hand: a trying time for Vixen, who remembered
the jolly old Christmas of days gone by, when the poor from all the
surrounding villages came to receive the Squire's lavish bounty, and
not even the tramp or the cadger was sent empty-handed away. Under the
new master all was done by line and rule. The distribution of coals and
blankets took place down in Beechdale under Mr. and Mrs. Scobel's
management. Vixen went about from cottage to cottage, in the wintry
dusk, giving her small offerings out of her scanty allowance of
pocket-money, which Captain Winstanley had put at the lowest figure he
decently could.

"What can Violet want with pocket-money?" he asked, when he discussed
the subject with his wife. "Your dressmaker supplies all her gowns, and
bonnets, and hats. You give her gloves--everything. Nobody calls upon
her for anything."

"Her papa always gave her a good deal of money," pleaded Mrs.
Winstanley. "I think she gave it almost all away to the poor."

"Naturally. She went about pauperising honest people because she had
more money than she knew what to do with. Let her have ten pounds a
quarter to buy gloves and eau-de-cologne, writing-paper, and
postage-stamps, and trifles of that kind. She can't do much harm with
that, and it is quite as much as you can afford, since we have both
made up our minds to live within our incomes."

Mrs. Winstanley sighed and assented, as she was wont to do. It seemed
hard that there should be this need of economy, but it was in a manner
Violet's fault that they were all thus restricted, since she was to
take so much, and to reduce her mother almost to penury by-and-by.

"I don't know what would become of me without Conrad's care," thought
the dutiful wife.

Going among her poor this Christmas, with almost empty hands, Violet
Tempest discovered what it was to be really loved. Honest eyes
brightened none the less at her coming, the little children flocked as
fondly to her knee. The changes at the Abbey House were very well
understood. They were all put down to Captain Winstanley's account; and
many a simple heart burned with indignation at the idea that the
Squire's golden-haired daughter was being "put upon."

One bright afternoon in the Christmas holidays Vixen consented, half
reluctantly, to let Lord Mallow accompany her in her visits among the
familiar faces. That was a rare day for the Squire's old pensioners.
The Irishman's pockets were full of half-crowns and florins and
sixpences for the rosy-faced, bare-footed, dirty, happy children.

"It puts me in mind of the old country," he said, when he had made
acquaintance with the interior of half-a-dozen cottages. "The people
seem just as kind and friendly, and improvident, and idle, and
happy-go-lucky as my friends at home. That old Sassenach Forester, now,
that we saw sitting in the winter sun, drinking his noon-day pint, on a
bench outside a rustic beer-shop, looking the very image of rustic
enjoyment--what Irishman could take life more lightly or seem better
pleased with himself? a freeborn child of the sun and wind, ready to
earn his living anyhow, except by the work of his hands. Yes, Miss
Tempest, I feel a national affinity to your children of the Forest. I
wish I were Mr. Vawdrey, and bound to spend my life here."

"Why, what would life be to you if you had not Ould Ireland to fight
for?" cried Vixen, smiling at him.

"Life would be simply perfect for me if I had----"

"What?" asked Vixen, as he came to a sudden stop.

"The dearest wish of my heart. But I dare not tell you what that is yet
awhile."

Vixen felt very sorry she had asked the question. She looked wildly
round for another cottage. They had just done the last habitation in a
straggling village in the heart of the woods. There was nothing human
in sight by which the conversation might be diverted from the
uncomfortable turn it had just taken. Yes; yonder under the beechen
boughs Vixen descried a small child with red legs, like a Jersey
partridge, dragging a smaller child by the arm, ankle-deep in the
sodden leaves. To see them, and to dart across the wet grass towards
them were almost simultaneous.

"Tommy," cried Vixen, seizing the red-legged child, "why do you never
come to the Abbey House?"

"Because Mrs. Trimmer says there's nothing for me," lisped the infant.
"The new master sells the milk up in Lunnun."

"Laudable economy," exclaimed Vixen to Lord Mallow, who had followed
her into the damp woodland and heard the boy's answer. "The poor old
Abbey House can hardly know itself under such admirable management."

"There is as big a house where you might do what you liked; yes, and
give away the cows as well as the milk, if you pleased, and none should
say you nay," said Lord Mallow in a low voice, full of unaffected
tenderness.

"Oh, please don't!" cried Vixen; "don't speak too kindly. I feel
sometimes as if one little kind word too much would make me cry like a
child. It's the last straw, you know, that crushes the camel; and I
hate myself for being so weak and foolish."

After this Vixen walked home as if she had been winning a match, and
Lord Mallow, for his life, dared not say another tender word.

This was their last _tête-à-tête_ for some time. Christmas came with
its festivities, all of a placid and eminently well-bred character, and
then came the last day of the year and the dinner at Ashbourne.



CHAPTER XII.

"Fading in Music."

"Mrs. Winstanley, on her marriage, by the Duchess of Dovedale."

That was the sentence that went on repeating itself like a cabalistic
formula in Pamela Winstanley's mind, as her carriage drove through the
dark silent woods to Ashbourne on the last night of the year.

A small idea had taken possession of her small mind. The Duchess was
the fittest person to present her to her gracious mistress, or her
gracious mistress's representative, at the first drawing-room of the
coming season. Mrs. Winstanley had old friends, friends who had known
her in her girlhood, who would have been happy to undertake the office.
Captain Winstanley had an ancient female relative, living in a fossil
state at Hampton Court, and vaguely spoken of as "a connection," who
would willingly emerge from her aristocratic hermitage to present her
kinsman's bride to her sovereign, and whom the Captain deemed the
proper sponsor for his wife on that solemn occasion. But what social
value had a fossilised Lady Susan Winstanley, of whom an outside world
knew nothing, when weighed in the balance with the Duchess of Dovedale?
No; Mrs. Winstanley felt that to be presented by the Duchess was the
one thing needful to her happiness.

It was a dinner of thirty people; quite a state dinner. The finest and
newest orchids had been brought out of their houses, and the
dinner-table looked like a tropical forest in little. Vixen went in to
dinner with Lord Ellangowan, which was an unappreciated honour, as that
nobleman had very little to say for himself, except under extreme
pressure, and in his normal state could only smile and look
good-natured. Roderick Vawdrey was ever so far away, between his
betrothed and an enormous dowager in sky-blue velvet and diamonds.

After dinner there was music. Lady Mabel played a dreary minor melody,
chiefly remarkable for its delicate modulation from sharps to flats and
back again. A large gentleman sang an Italian buffo song, at which the
company smiled tepidly; a small young lady sighed and languished
through "Non e ver;" and then Miss Tempest and Lord Mallow sang a duet.

This was the success of the evening. They were asked to sing again and
again. They were allowed to monopolise the piano; and before the
evening was over everyone had decided that Lord Mallow and Miss Tempest
were engaged. Only the voices of plighted lovers could be expected to
harmonise as well as that.

"They must have sung very often together," said the Duchess to Mrs.
Winstanley.

"Only within the last fortnight. Lord Mallow never stayed with us
before, you know. He is my husband's friend. They were
brother-officers, and have known each other a long time. Lord Mallow
insists upon Violet singing every evening. He is passionately fond of
music."

"Very pleasant," murmured the Duchess approvingly: and then she glided
on to shed the sunshine of her presence upon another group of guests.

Carriages began to be announced at eleven--that is to say, about
half-an-hour after the gentlemen had left the dining-room--but the Duke
insisted that people should stop till twelve.

"We must see the old year out," he said. "It is a lovely night. We can
go out on the terrace and hear the Ringwood bells."

This is how Violet and Lord Mallow happened to sing so many duets.
There was plenty of time for music during the hour before midnight.
After the singing, a rash young gentleman, pining to distinguish
himself somehow--a young man with a pimply complexion, who had said
with Don Carlos, "Three-and-twenty years of age, and nothing done for
immortality"--recited Tennyson's "Farewell to the Old Year," in a voice
which was like anything but a trumpet, and with gesticulation painfully
suggestive of Saint Vitus.

The long suite of rooms terminated in the orangery, a substantial stone
building with tesselated pavement, and wide windows opening on the
terrace. The night was wondrously mild. The full moon shed her tender
light upon the dark Forest, the shining water-pools, the distant
blackness of a group of ancient yew-trees on the crest of a hill.
Ashbourne stood high, and the view from the terrace was at all times
magnificent, but perhaps finest of all in the moonlight.

The younger guests wandered softly in and out of the rooms, and looked
at the golden oranges glimmering against their dark leaves, and put
themselves into positions that suggested the possibility of flirtation.
Young ladies whose study of German literature had never gone beyond
Ollendorff gazed pensively at the oranges, and murmured the song of
Mignon. Couples of maturer growth whispered the details of unsavoury
scandals behind perfumed fans.

Vixen and Rorie were among these roving couples. Violet had left the
piano, and Roderick was off duty. Lady Mabel and Lord Mallow were deep
in the wrongs of Ireland. Captain Winstanley was talking agriculture
with the Duke, whose mind was sorely exercised about guano.

"My dear sir, in a few years we shall have used up all the guano, and
then what can become of us?" demanded the Duke. "Talk about our
exhausting our coal! What is that compared with the exhaustion of
guano? We may learn to exist without fires. Our winters are becoming
milder; our young men are going in for athletics; they can keep
themselves warm upon bicycles. And then we have the gigantic
coal-fields of America, the vast basin of the Mississippi to fall back
upon, with ever-increasing facilities in the mode of transport. But
civilisation must come to a deadlock when we have no more guano. Our
grass, our turnips, our mangel, must deteriorate, We shall have no more
prize cattle. It is too awful to contemplate."

"But do you really consider such a calamity at all probable, Duke?"
asked the Captain.

"Probable, sir? It is inevitable. In 1868 the Chincha Islands were
estimated to contain about six million tons of guano. The rate of
exportation had at that time risen to four hundred thousand tons per
annum. At this rate the three islands will be completely exhausted by
the year 1888, and England will have to exist without guano. The glory
of the English people, as breeders of prize oxen, will have departed."

"Chemistry will have discovered new fertilisers by that time,"
suggested the Captain, in a comforting tone.

"Sir," replied the Duke severely, "the discoveries of modern science
tend to the chimerical rather than the practical. Your modern
scientists can liquefy oxygen, they can light a city with electricity,
but they cannot give me anything to increase the size and succulence of
my turnips. Virgil knew as much about agriculture as your modern
chemist."

While the Duke was holding forth about guano, Vixen and Rorie were on
the terrace, in the stillness and moonlight. There was hardly a breath
of wind. It might have been a summer evening. Vixen was shrouded from
head to foot in a white cloak which Rorie had fetched from the room
where the ladies had left their wraps. She looked all white and solemn
in the moonlight, like a sheeted ghost.

Although Mr. Vawdrey had been civil enough to go in quest of Violet's
cloak, and had seemed especially desirous of bringing her to the
terrace, he was by no means delightful now he had got her there. They
took a turn or two in silence, broken only by a brief remark about the
beauty of the night, and the extent of the prospect.

"I think it is the finest view in the Forest," said Vixen, dwelling on
the subject for lack of anything else to say. "You must be very fond of
Ashbourne."

"I don't exactly recognise the necessity. The view is superb, no doubt;
but the house is frightfully commonplace. It is a little better than
Briarwood. That is about all which an enthusiastic admirer could
advance in its favour. How much longer does Lord Mallow mean to take up
his abode with you?"

Vixen shrugged her cloaked shoulders with an action that seemed to
express contemptuous carelessness.

"I haven't the least idea. That is no business of mine, you know."

"I don't know anything of the kind," retorted Rorie captiously. "I
should have thought it was very much your business."

"Should you, really?" said Vixen mockingly.

If the gentleman's temper was execrable, the lady's mood was not too
amiable.

"Yes. Are not you the load-star? It is your presence that makes the
Abbey House pleasant to him. Who can wonder that he protracts his stay?"

"He has been with us a little more than a fortnight."

"He has been with you an age. Mortals who are taken up to Paradise
seldom stay so long. Sweet dreams are not so long. A fortnight in the
same house with you, meeting with you at breakfast, parting with you at
midnight, seeing you at noontide and afternoon, walking with you,
riding with you, singing with you, kneeling down to family prayer at
your side, mixing his 'Amen' with yours; why he might as well be your
husband at once. He has as much delight in your society."

"You forget the hours in which he is shooting pheasants and playing
billiards."

"Glimpses of purgatory, which make his heaven all the more divine,"
said Rorie. "Well, it is none of my business, as you said just now.
There are people born to be happy, I suppose; creatures that come into
the world under a lucky star."

"Undoubtedly, and among them notably Mr. Vawdrey, who has everything
that the heart of a reasonable man can desire."

"So had Solomon, and yet he made his moan."

"Oh, there is always a crumpled rose-leaf in everybody's bed. And if
the rose-leaves were all smooth, a man would crumple one on purpose, in
order to have something to grumble about. Hark, Rorie!" cried Vixen,
with a sudden change of tone, as the first silvery chime of Ringwood
bells came floating over the woodland distance--the low moon-lit hills;
"don't be cross. The old year is dying. Remember the dear days that are
gone, when you and I used to think a new year a thing to be glad about.
And now, what can the new years bring us half so good as that which the
old ones have taken away?"

She had slipped her little gloved hand through his arm, and drawn very
near to him, moved by tender thoughts of the past. He looked clown at
her with eyes from which all anger had vanished. There was only love in
them--deep love; love such as a very affectionate brother might
perchance give his only sister--but it must be owned that brothers
capable of such love are rare.

"No, child," he murmured sadly. "Years to come can bring us nothing so
good or so dear as the past. Every new year will drift us farther."

They were standing at the end of the terrace farthest from the orangery
windows, out of which the Duchess and her visitors came trooping to
hear the Ringwood chimes. Rorie and Vixen kept quite apart from the
rest. They stood silent, arm-in-arm, looking across the landscape
towards the winding Avon and the quiet market-town, hidden from them by
intervening hill. Yonder, nestling among those grassy hills, lies
Moyles Court, the good old English manor-house where noble Alice Lisle
sheltered the fugitives from Sedgemoor; paying for that one act of
womanly hospitality with her life. Farther away, on the banks of the
Avon, is the quiet churchyard where that gentle martyr of Jeffreys's
lust for blood takes her long rest. The creeping spicenwort thrives
amidst the gray stones of her tomb. To Vixen these things were so
familiar, that it was as if she could see them with her bodily eyes, as
she looked across the distance, with its mysterious shadows, its
patches of silver light.

The bells chimed on with their tender cadence, half joyous, half
sorrowful. The shallower spirits among the guests chattered about the
beauty of the night, and the sweetness of the bells. Deeper souls were
silent, full of saddest thoughts. Who is there who has not lost
something in the years gone by, which earth's longest future cannot
restore? Only eternity can give back the ravished treasures of the dead
years.

Violet's lips trembled and were dumb. Roderick saw the tears rolling
down her pale cheeks, and offered no word of consolation. He knew that
she was thinking of her father.

"Dear old Squire," he murmured gently, after an interval of silence.
"How good he was to me, and how fondly I loved him."

That speech was the sweetest comfort he could have offered. Vixen gave
his arm a grateful hug.

"Thank God there is someone who remembers him, besides his dogs and
me!" she exclaimed; and then she hastily dried her tears, and made
herself ready to meet Lord Mallow and Lady Mabel Ashbourne, who were
coming along the terrace towards them, talking gaily. Lord Mallow had a
much wider range of subjects than Mr. Vawdrey. He had read more, and
could keep pace with Lady Mabel in her highest flights; science,
literature, politics, were all as one to him. He had crammed his
vigorous young mind with everything which it behoved a man panting for
parliamentary distinction to know.

"Where have you two people been hiding yourselves for the last half
hour?" asked Lady Mabel. "You were wanted badly just now for 'Blow,
Gentle Gales.' I know you can manage the bass, Rorie, when you like."

"'Lo, behold a pennant waving!'" sang Rorie in deep full tones. "Yes, I
can manage that much, at a push. You seem music mad to-night, Mabel.
The old year is making a swan-like end--fading in music."

Rorie and Vixen were still standing arm-in-arm; rather too much as if
they belonged to each other, Lady Mabel thought. The attitude was
hardly in good taste, according to Lady Mabel's law of taste, which was
a code as strict as Draco's.

The bells rang on.

"The new year has come!" cried the Duke. "Let us all shake hands in the
friendly German fashion."

On this there was a general shaking of hands, which appeared to last a
long time. It seemed rather as if the young people of opposite sexes
shook hands with each other more than once. Lord Mallow would hardly
let Violet's hand go, once having got it in his hearty grasp.

"Hail to the first new year we greet together," he said softly. "May it
not be the last. I feel that it must not, cannot be the last."

"You are wiser than I, then," Vixen answered coldly; "for my feelings
tell me nothing about the future--except"--and here her face beamed at
him with a lovely smile--"except that you will be kind to Bullfinch."

"If I were an emperor I would make him a consul," answered the Irishman.

He had contrived to separate Roderick and Vixen. The young man had
returned to his allegiance, and was escorting Lady Mabel back to the
house. Everybody began to feel chilly, now that the bells were silent,
and there was a general hurrying off to the carriages, which were
standing in an oval ring round a group of deodoras in front of the
porch on the other side of the house.

Rorie and Vixen met no more that night. Lord Mallow took her to her
carriage, and sat opposite her and talked to her during the homewards
drive. Captain Winstanley was smoking a cigar on the box. His wife
slumbered peacefully.

"I think I may be satisfied with Theodore," she said, as she composed
herself for sleep; "my dress was not quite the worst in the room, was
it, Violet?"

"It was lovely, mamma. You can make yourself quite happy," answered
Vixen truthfully; whereupon the matron breathed a gentle sigh of
content, and lapsed into slumber.

They had the Boldrewood Road before them, a long hilly road cleaving
the very heart of the Forest; a road full of ghosts at the best of
times, but offering a Walpurgis revel of phantoms on such a night as
this to the eye of the belated wanderer. How ghostly the deer were, as
they skimmed across the road and flitted away into dim distances,
mixing with and melting into the shadows of the trees. The little gray
rabbits, sitting up on end, were like circles of hobgoblins that
dispersed and vanished at the approach of mortals. The leafless old
hawthorns, rugged and crooked, silvered by the moonlight, were most
ghostlike of all. They took every form, from the most unearthly to the
most grotesquely human.

Violet sat wrapped in her furred white mantle, watching the road as
intently as if she had never seen it before. She never could grow tired
of these things. She loved them with a love which was part of her
nature.

"What a delightful evening, was it not?" asked Lord Mallow.

"I suppose it was very nice," answered Violet coolly; "but I have no
standard of comparison. It was my first dinner at Ashbourne."

"What a remarkably clever girl Lady Mabel is. Mr. Vawdrey ought to
consider himself extremely fortunate."

"I have never heard him say that he does not so consider himself."

"Naturally. But I think he might be a little more enthusiastic. He is
the coolest lover I ever saw."

"Perhaps you judge him by comparison with Irish lovers. Your nation is
more demonstrative than ours."

"Oh, an Irish girl would cashier such a fellow as Mr. Vawdrey. But I
may possibly misjudge him. You ought to know more about him than I. You
have known him----"

"All my life," said Violet simply. "I know that he is good, and stanch
and true, that he honoured his mother, and that he will make Lady Mabel
Ashbourne a very good husband. Perhaps if she were a little less clever
and a little more human, he might be happier with her; but no doubt
that will all come right in time."

"Any way it will be all the same in a century or so," assented Lord
Mallow. "We are going to have lovely weather as long as this moon
lasts, I believe. Will you go for a long ride to-morrow--like that
first ride of ours?"

"When I took you all over the world for sport?" said Vixen laughing. "I
wonder you are inclined to trust me, after that. If Captain Winstanley
likes I don't mind being your guide again to-morrow."

"Captain Winstanley shall like. I'll answer for that. I would make his
life unendurable if he were to refuse."



CHAPTER XIII.

Crying for the moon.

Despite the glorious moonlight night which ushered in the new-born
year, the first day of that year was abominable; a day of hopeless,
incessant rain, falling from a leaden sky in which there was never a
break, not a stray gleam of sunshine from morn till eve.

"The new year is like Shakespeare's Richard," said Lord Mallow, when he
stood in the porch after breakfast, surveying the horizon. "'Tetchy and
wayward was his infancy.' I never experienced anything so provoking. I
was dreaming all night of our ride."

"Were you not afraid of being like that dreadful man in 'Locksley
Hall'?--

  Like a dog, he hunts in dreams,"

asked Vixen mockingly.

She was standing on the threshold, playing with Argus, looking the
picture of healthful beauty, in her dark green cloth dress and plain
linen collar. All Vixen's morning costumes were of the simplest and
neatest; a compact style of dress which interfered with none of her
rural amusements. She could romp with her dog, make her round of the
stables, work in the garden, ramble in the Forest, without fear of
dilapidated flounces or dishevelled laces and ribbons.

"Violet's morning-dresses are so dreadfully strong-minded," complained
Mrs. Winstanley. "To look at her, one would almost think that she was
the kind of girl to go round the country lecturing upon woman's rights."

"No ride this morning," said Captain Winstanley, coming into the hall,
with a bundle of letters in his hand. "I shall go to my den, and do a
morning's letter-writing and accountancy--unless you want me for a shy
at the pheasants, Mallow?"

"Let the pheasants be at rest for the first day of the year," answered
Lord Mallow. "I am sure you would rather be fetching up your arrears of
correspondence than shooting at dejected birds in a damp plantation;
and I am luxurious enough to prefer staying indoors, if the ladies will
have me. I can help Miss Tempest to wind her wools."

"Thanks, but I never do any wool-work. Mamma is the artist in that
line."

"Then I place myself unreservedly at Mrs. Winstanley's feet."

"You are too good," sighed the fair matron, from her arm-chair by the
hearth; "but I shall not touch my crewels to-day. I have one of my
nervous headaches. It is a penalty I too often have to pay for the
pleasures of society. I'm afraid I shall have to lie down for an hour
or two."

And with a languid sigh Mrs. Winstanley wrapped her China crape shawl
round her, and went slowly upstairs, leaving Violet and Lord Mallow in
sole possession of the great oak-panelled hall; the lady looking at the
rain from her favourite perch in the deep window-seat, the gentleman
contemplating the same prospect from the open door. It was one of those
mild winter mornings when a huge wood fire is a cheerful feature in the
scene, but hardly essential to comfort.

Vixen thought of that long rainy day, years ago, the day on which
Roderick Vawdrey came of age. How well she remembered sitting in that
very window, watching the ceaseless rain, with a chilly sense of having
been forgotten and neglected by her old companion. And then, in the
gloaming, just when she had lost all hope of seeing him, he had come
leaping in out of the wet night, like a lion from his lair, and had
taken her in his arms and kissed her before she knew what he was doing.

Her cheeks crimsoned even to-day at the memory of that kiss. It had
seemed a small thing then. Now it seemed awful--a burning spot of shame
upon the whiteness of her youth.

"He must have thought I was very fond of him, or he would not have
dared to treat me so," she told herself. "But then we had been
playfellows so long. I had teased him, and he had plagued me; and we
had been really like brother and sister. Poor Rorie! If we could have
always been young we should have been better friends."

"How thoughtful you seem this morning, Miss Tempest," said a voice
behind Vixen's shoulder.

"Do I?" she asked, turning quickly round. "New Year's Day is a time to
make one thoughtful. It is like beginning a new chapter in the volume
of life, and one cannot help speculating as to what the chapter is to
be about."

"For you it ought to be a story full of happiness."

"Ah, but you don't know my history. I had such a happy childhood. I
drained my cup of bliss before I was a woman, and there is nothing left
for me but the dregs, and they--they are dust and ashes."

There was an intensity of bitterness in her tone that moved him beyond
his power of self-control. That she--so fair, so lovely, so deeply dear
to him already; she for whom life should be one summer-day of unclouded
gladness--that she should give expression to a rooted sorrow was more
than his patience could bear.

"Violet, you must not speak thus; you wound me to the heart. Oh, my
love, my love, you were born to be the giver of gladness, the centre of
joy and delight. Grief should never touch you; sorrow and pain should
never come near you. You are a creature of happiness and light."

"Don't!" cried Vixen vehemently. "Oh, pray don't. It is all
vain--useless. My life is marked out for me. No one can alter it. Pray
do not lower yourself by one word more. You will be sorry--angry with
yourself and me--afterwards."

"Violet, I must speak."

"To what end? My fate is as fixed as the stars. No one can change it."

"No mortal perhaps, Violet. But Love can. Love is a god. Oh, my
darling, I have learnt to love you dearly and fondly in this little
while, and I mean to win you. It shall go hard with me if I do not
succeed. Dear love, if truth and constancy can conquer fate, I ought to
be able to win you. There is no one else, is there, Violet?" he asked
falteringly, with his eyes upon her downcast face.

A burning spot glowed and faded on her cheek before she answered him.

"Can you not see how empty my life is?" she asked with a bitter laugh.
"No; there is no one else. I stand quite alone. Death took my father
from me; your friend has robbed me of my mother. My old playfellow,
Roderick Vawdrey, belongs to his cousin. I belong to nobody."

"Let me have you then, Violet. Ah, if you knew how I would cherish you!
You should be loved so well that you would fancy yourself the centre of
the universe, and that all the planets revolved in the skies only to
please you. Love, let me have you--priceless treasure that others know
not how to value. Let me keep and guard you."

"I would not wrong you so much as to marry you without loving you, and
I shall never love any more," said Vixen, with a sad steadfastness that
was more dispiriting than the most vehement protestation.

"Why not?"

"Because I spent all my store of love while I was a child. I loved my
father--ah, I cannot tell you how fondly. I do not think there are many
fathers who are loved as he was. I poured out all my treasures of
affection at his feet. I have no love left for a husband."

"What, Violet, not if your old friend Roderick Vawdrey were pleading?"
asked Lord Mallow.

It was an unlucky speech. If Lord Mallow had had a chance which he had
not, that speech would have spoiled it. Violet started to her feet, her
cheeks crimson, her eyes flashing.

"It is shameful, abominable of you to say such a thing!" she cried, her
voice tremulous with indignation. "I will never forgive you for that
dastardly speech. Come, Argus."

She had mounted the broad oak stairs with light swift foot before Lord
Mallow could apologise. He was terribly crestfallen.

"I was a brute," he muttered to himself. "But I hit the bull's-eye. It
is that fellow she loves. Hard upon me, when I ask for nothing but to
be her slave and adore her all the days of my life. And I know that
Winstanley would have been pleased. How lovely she looked when she was
angry--her tawny hair gleaming in the firelight, her great brown eyes
flashing. Yes, it's the Hampshire squire she cares for, and I'm out of
it. I'll go and shoot the pheasants," concluded Lord Mallow savagely;
"those beggars shall not have it all their own way to-day."

He went off to get his gun, in the worst humour he had ever been in
since he was a child and cried for the moon.

He spent the whole day in a young oak plantation, ankle-deep in oozy
mud, moss, and dead fern, making havoc among the innocent birds. He was
in so bloodthirsty a temper, that he felt as if he could have shot a
covey of young children, had they come in his way, with all the
ferocity of a modern Herod.

"I think I've spoiled Winstanley's coverts for this year, at any rate,"
he said to himself, as he tramped homewards in the early darkness, with
no small hazard of losing himself in one of those ghostly plantations,
which were all exactly alike, and in which a man might walk all day
long without meeting anything nearer humanity than a trespassing forest
pony that had leapt a fence in quest of more sufficing food than the
scanty herbage of the open woods.

Lord Mallow got on better than might have been expected. He went east
when he ought to have gone west, and found himself in Queen's Bower
when he fancied himself in Gretnam Wood; but he did not walk more than
half-a-dozen miles out of his way, and he got home somehow at last,
which was much for a stranger to the ground.

The stable clock was chiming the quarter before six when he went into
the hall, where Vixen had left him in anger that morning. The great
wood fire was burning gaily, and Captain Winstanley was sitting in a
Glastonbury chair in front of it. "Went for the birds after all, old
fellow," he said, without looking round, recognising the tread of Lord
Mallow's shooting-boots. "You found it too dismal in the house, I
suppose? Consistently abominable weather, isn't it? You must be soaked
to the skin."

"I suppose I am," answered the other carelessly. "But I've been soaked
a good many times before, and it hasn't done me much harm. Thanks to
the modern inventions of the waterproof-makers, the soaking begins
inside instead of out. I should call myself parboiled."

"Take off your oilskins and come and talk. You'll have a nip, won't
you?" added Captain Winstanley, ringing the bell. "Kirschenwasser,
curaçoa, Glenlivat--which shall it be?"

"Glenlivat," answered Lord Mallow, "and plenty of it. I'm in the humour
in which a man must either drink inordinately or cut his throat."

"Were the birds unapproachable?" asked Captain Winstanley, laughing;
"or were the dogs troublesome?"

"Birds and dogs were perfect; but---- Well, I suppose I'd better make a
clean breast of it. I've had a capital time here---- Oh, here comes the
whisky. Hold your hand, old fellow!" cried Lord Mallow, as his host
poured the Glenlivat somewhat recklessly into a soda-water tumbler.
"You mustn't take me too literally. Just moisten the bottom of the
glass with whisky before you put in the soda. That's as much as I care
about."

"All right. You were saying----"

"That my visit here has been simply delightful, and that I must go to
London by an early train to-morrow."

"Paradoxical!" remarked the Captain. "That sounds like your well-bred
servant, who tells you that he has nothing to say against the
situation, but he wishes to leave you at the end of his month. What's
the matter, dear boy? Do you find our Forest hermitage too dull?"

"I should ask nothing kinder from Fate than to be allowed to spend my
days in your Forest. Yes, I would say good-bye to the green hills and
vales of County Cork, and become that detestable being, an absentee,
if--if--Fortune smiled on me. But she doesn't, you see, and I must go.
Perhaps you may have perceived, Winstanley--perhaps you may not have
been altogether averse from the idea--in a word, I have fallen over
head and ears in love with your bewitching stepdaughter."

"My dear fellow, I'm delighted. It is the thing I would have wished,
had I been bold enough to wish for anything so good. And of course
Violet is charmed. You are the very man for her."

"Am I? So I thought myself till this morning. Unfortunately the young
lady is of a different opinion. She has refused me."

"Refused you! Pshaw, they all begin that way. It's one of the small
diplomacies of the sex. They think they enhance their value by an
assumed reluctance. Nonsense, man, try again. She can't help liking
you."

"I would try again, every day for a twelvemonth, if there were a
scintilla of hope. My life should be a series of offers. But the thing
is decided. I know from her manner, from her face, that I have no
chance. I have been in the habit of thinking myself rather a nice kind
of fellow, and the women have encouraged the idea. But I don't answer
here, Winstanley. Miss Tempest will have nothing to say to me."

"She's a fool," said Captain Winstanley, with his teeth set, and that
dark look of his which meant harm to somebody. "I'll talk to her."

"My dear Winstanley, understand I'll have no coercion. If I win her, I
must do it off my own bat. Dearly as I love her, if you were to bring
her to me conquered and submissive, like Iphigenia at the altar, I
would not have her. I love her much too well to ask any sacrifice of
inclination from her. I love her too well to accept anything less than
her free unfettered heart. She cannot give me that, and I must go. I
had much rather you should say nothing about me, either to her or her
mother."

"But I shall say a great deal to both," exclaimed the Captain,
desperately angry. "I am indignant. I am outraged by her conduct. What
in Heaven's name does this wilful girl want in a husband? You have
youth, good looks, good temper, talent, tastes that harmonise with her
own. You can give her a finer position than she has any right to
expect. And she refuses you. She is a spoiled child, who doesn't know
her own mind or her own advantage. She has a diabolical temper, and is
as wild as a hawk. Egad, I congratulate you on your escape, Mallow. She
was not born to make any man happy."

"Small thanks for your congratulations," retorted the Irishman. "She
might have made me happy if she had chosen. I would have forgiven her
tempers, and loved her for her wildness. She is the sweetest woman I
ever knew; as fresh and fair as your furzy hill-tops. But she is not
for me. Fate never meant me to be so blessed."

"She will change her mind before she is many months older," said
Captain Winstanley. "Her father and mother have spoilt her. She is a
creature of whims and fancies, and must be ridden on the curb."

"I would ride her with the lightest snaffle-bit that ever was made,"
protested Lord Mallow. "But there's no use in talking about it. You
won't think me discourteous or ungrateful if I clear out of this
to-morrow morning, will you, Winstanley?"

"Certainly not," answered his host; "but I shall think you a confounded
ass. Why not wait and try your luck again?"

"Simply because I know it would be useless. Truth and candour shine in
that girl's eyes. She has a soul above the petty trickeries of her sex.
No from her lips means No, between this and eternity. Oh, thrice
blessed will that man be to whom she answers Yes; for she will give him
the tenderest, truest, most generous heart in creation."

"You answer boldly for her on so short an acquaintance."

"I answer as a man who loves her, and who has looked into her soul,"
replied Lord Mallow. "You and she don't hit it over well, I fancy."

"No. We began by disliking each other, and we have been wonderfully
constant to our first opinions."

"I can't understand----"

"Can't you? You will, perhaps, some day: if you ever have a handsome
stepdaughter who sets up her back against you from the beginning of
things. Have you ever seen a sleek handsome tabby put herself on the
defensive at the approach of a terrier, her back arched, her eyes
flashing green lightnings, her tail lashing itself, her whiskers
bristling? That's my stepdaughter's attitude towards me, and I daresay
before long I hall feel her claws. There goes the gong, and we must go
too. I'm sorry Miss Tempest has been such a fool, Mallow; but I must
repeat my congratulations, even at the risk of offending you."

There were no duets that evening. Vixen was as cold as ice, and as
silent as a statue. She sat in the shadow of her mother's arm-chair
after dinner, turning over the leaves of Doré's "Tennyson," pausing to
contemplate Elaine with a half-contemptuous pity--a curious feeling
that hurt her like a physical pain.

"Poor wretch!" she mused. "Are there women in our days so weak as to
love where they can never be loved again, I wonder? It is foolish
enough in a man; but he cures himself as quickly as the mungoose that
gets bitten by a snake, and runs away to find the herb which is an
antidote to the venom, and comes back ready to fight the snake again."

"Are we not going to have any music?" asked Mrs. Winstanley languidly,
more interested in the _picots_ her clever needle was executing on a
piece of Italian point than in the reply. "Lord Mallow, cannot you
persuade Violet to join you in one of those sweet duets of
Mendelssohn's?"

"Indeed, mamma, I couldn't sing a note. I'm as husky as a raven."

"I'm not surprised to hear it," said the Captain, looking up from his
study of _The Gardener's Chronicle_. "No doubt you managed to catch
cold last night, while you were mooning upon the terrace with young
Vawdrey."

"How very incautious of you, Violet!" exclaimed Mrs. Winstanley, in her
complaining tone.

"I was not cold, mamma; I had my warm cloak."

"But you confess you have caught cold. I detest colds; they always go
through a house. I shall be the next victim, I daresay; and with me a
cold is martyrdom. I'm afraid you must find us very dull, Lord Mallow,
for New Year's Day, when people expect to be lively. We ought to have
had a dinner-party."

"My dear Mrs. Winstanley, I don't care a straw about New Year's Day,
and I am not in a lively vein. This quiet evening suits me much better
than high jinks, I assure you."

"It's very good of you to say so."

"Come and play a game of billiards," said Captain Winstanley, throwing
down his paper.

"Upon my honour, I'd rather sit by the fire and watch Mrs. Winstanley
at her point-lace. I'm in an abominably lazy mood after my tramp in
those soppy plantations." answered Lord Mallow, who felt a foolish
pleasure--mingled with bitterest regrets--in being in the same room
with the girl he loved.

She was hidden from him in her shadowy corner; shrouded on one side by
the velvet drapery of the fireplace, on the other by her mother's
chair. He could only catch a glimpse of her auburn plaits now and then
as her head bent over her open book. He never heard her voice, or met
her eyes. And yet it was sweet to him to sit in the same room with her.

"Come, Mallow, you can sing us something, at any rate," said the
Captain, suppressing a yawn. "I know you can play your own
accompaniment, when you please. You can't be too idle to give us one of
Moore's melodies."

"I'll sing, if you like, Mrs. Winstanley," assented Lord Mallow, "but
I'm afraid you must be tired of my songs. My _répertoire_ is rather
limited."

"Your songs are charming," said Mrs. Winstanley.

The Irishman seated himself at the distant piano, struck a chord or
two, and began the old melody, with its familiar refrain:

  Oh, there's nothing half so sweet in life
  As love's young dream.


Before his song was finished Violet had kissed her mother and glided
silently from the room, Lord Mallow saw her go, and there was a sudden
break in his voice as the door closed upon her, a break that sounded
almost like a suppressed sob.

When Vixen came down to breakfast next morning she found the table laid
only for three.

"What has become of Lord Mallow," she asked Forbes, when he brought in
the urn.

"He left by an early train, ma'am. Captain Winstanley drove him to
Lyndhurst."

The old servants of the Abbey House had not yet brought themselves to
speak of their new lord as "master." He was always "Captain Winstanley."

The Captain came in while Violet knelt by the fire playing with Argus,
whom even the new rule had not banished wholly from the family
sitting-rooms.

The servants filed in for morning prayers, which Captain Winstanley
delivered in a cold hard voice. His manual of family worship was of
concise and businesslike form, and the whole ceremony lasted about
seven minutes. Then the household dispersed quickly, and Forbes brought
in his tray of covered dishes.

"You can pour out the tea, Violet. Your mother is feeling a little
tired, and will breakfast in her room."

"Then I think, if you'll excuse me, I'll have my breakfast with her,"
said Vixen. "She'll be glad of my company, I daresay."

"She has a headache and will be better alone. Stop where you are, if
you please, Violet. I have something serious to say to you."

Vixen left off pouring out the tea, clasped her hands in her lap, and
looked at Captain Winstanley with the most resolute expression he had
ever seen in a woman's face.

"Are you going to talk to me about Lord Mallow?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Then spare yourself the trouble. It would be useless."

"I cannot conceive that you should be so besotted as to refuse a man
who offers so much. A man who has wealth, rank, youth, good looks----"

"Spare me the catalogue of your friend's merits. I think him a most
estimable person. I acknowledge his rank and wealth. But I have refused
him."

"You will change your mind."

"I never change my mind."

"You will live to repent your folly then, Miss Tempest: and all I hope
is that your remorse may be keen. It is not one woman in a thousand who
gets such a chance. What are you that you should throw it away?"

"I am a woman who would sooner cut my throat than marry a man I cannot
honestly love," answered Vixen, with unblenching firmness.

"I think I understand your motive," said Captain Winstanley. "Lord
Mallow never had a chance with you. The ground waft occupied before he
came. You are a very foolish girl to reject so good an offer for the
sake of another woman's sweetheart."

"How dare you say that to me?" cried Vixen. "You have usurped my
father's place; you have robbed me of my mother's heart. Is not that
cause enough for me to hate you? I have only one friend left in the
world, Roderick Vawdrey. And you would slander me because I cling to
that old friendship, the last remnant of my happy childhood."

"You might have a dozen such friends, if friendship is all you want,
and be Lady Mallow into the bargain," retorted Captain Winstanley
scornfully. "You are a simpleton to send such a man away despairing.
But I suppose it is idle to ask you to hear reason. I am not your
father, and even if I were, I daresay you would take your own way in
spite of me."

"My father would not have asked me to marry a man I did not love,"
answered Vixen proudly, her eyes clouding with tears even at the
thought of her beloved dead; "and he would have valued Lord Mallow's
rank and fortune no more than I do. But you are so fond of a bargain,"
she added, her eye kindling and her lip curving with bitterest scorn.
"You sold Bullfinch, and now you want to sell me."

"By Heaven, madam, I pity the man who may be fool enough to buy you!"
cried the Captain, starting up from his untasted breakfast, and leaving
Vixen mistress of the field.



CHAPTER XIV.

"Kurz ist der Schmerz und ewig ist die Freude."

Captain Winstanley said no more about Lord Mallow; but Violet had to
listen to much plaintive bemoaning from her mother, who could not
understand how any well-brought-up young woman could refuse an Irish
peer with a fine estate, and the delights of a _trousseau_ made by the
renowned Theodore. Upon this latter detail Mrs. Winstanley dwelt at
more length than upon that minor circumstance in a marriage--the
bridegroom.

"It would have been such a pleasure to me to plan your _trousseau_,
darling," she said; "such an occupation for my mind in these wretched
winter afternoons when there is no possibility of driving or making
calls. I should have attended to everything myself. Theodore's general
way is to make a list of what she thinks necessary, allowing her
customer to correct it; but I should not have been satisfied with that,
even from Theodore, though I admit that her taste is perfect. And then,
you know, she is hand in glove with Worth, and that alone is a liberal
education, as somebody says somewhere about something. No, dear, I
would have done it all myself. I know the exact shades that suit your
complexion, the dashes of colour that contrast with and light up your
hair, the style that sets off your figure. Your _trousseau_ should be
talked about in society, and even described in the fashion magazines.
And then Lord Mallow is really so very nice--and has such a charming
baritone--what more can you want?"

"Only to love him, mamma dearest, which I do not, and never shall. That
frank loud voice of his does not stir a fibre of my heart. I like him
extremely, and so I do Mr. Scobel, and Bates the groom. Lord Mallow is
no more to me than either of those. Indeed, Bates is much nearer and
dearer, for he loved my father."

"My dear Violet, you have the most republican ideas. Imagine anyone
putting Bates on a level with Lord Mallow!"

"I don't, mamma. I only say he is more to me than Lord Mallow could
ever be."

"Your travelling-dress," murmured Mrs. Winstanley, her mind still
dwelling on the _trousseau;_ "that affords more scope for taste than
the wedding-gown. Velvet suits your style, but is too heavy for your
age. A soft clinging cashmere, now, one of those delicious neutral
tints that have been so fashionable lately, over an underskirt of a
warmer colour in _poult de soie_, a picturesque costume that would
faintly recall Lely's portraits at Hampton Court."

"Dear mamma, what is the use of talking about dresses I am never going
to require? Not for all the finery that Theodore ever made would I
marry Lord Mallow, or anybody else. I am happy enough with you, and my
horse, and my dog, and all the dear old things, animal and vegetable,
that belong to this dear old place. I shall never leave you, or the
Forest. Can you not be content to know this and let me alone?"

"You are a very wilful girl, Violet, and ridiculously blind to your own
interests," remarked Mrs. Winstanley, throwing herself back in her
chair with a fretful look, "and you put me in an absurd position. The
duchess quite congratulated me about your brilliant prospects, when we
were chatting together on New Year's Eve. Anybody could see how devoted
Lord Mallow was, she said, and what a splendid match it would be for
you."

"Let the Duchess marry her own daughter, and leave me alone," cried
Vixen scornfully.

This was the kind of thing she had to endure continually during the
chill winter months that followed Lord Mallow's departure. Even her old
friends the Scobels worried her about the Irish peer, and lamented her
inability to perceive his merits. It was known throughout her
particular circle that she had been idiotic enough to refuse Lord
Mallow. Mrs. Winstanley had whispered the fact to all her friends,
under the seal of strictest secrecy. Of all Vixen's acquaintance,
Roderick Vawdrey was the only one who said no word to her about Lord
Mallow; but he was much kinder to her after the Irishman's departure
than he had shown himself during his visit.

Spring put on her green mantle; and when the woods were starred with
primroses, and the banks lovely with heaven-hued dog-violets, everyone
of any pretension to importance in the social scale began to flee from
the Forest as from a loathsome place. Lord Ellangowan's train of vans
and waggons set out for the railway-station with their load of chests
and baskets. Julius Caesar's baggage was as nothing to the Saratoga
trunks and bonnet-boxes of Lady Ellangowan. The departure of the
Israelites from Egypt was hardly a mightier business than this
emigration of the Ellangowan household. The Duke and Duchess, and Lady
Mabel Ashbourne, left for the Queen Anne house at Kensington, whereat
the fashionable London papers broke out in paragraphs of rejoicing, and
the local journals bewailed the extinction of their sun.

The London season had begun, and only the nobodies stayed in the Forest
to watch the rosy sunsets glow and fade behind the yellow oaks; to see
the purple of the beech-boughs change mysteriously to brightest green;
and the bluebells burst into blossom in the untrodden glades and
bottoms. Captain Winstanley found a small house in Mayfair, which he
hired for six weeks, at a rent which he pronounced exorbitant. He
sacrificed his own ideas of prudence to the gratification of his wife;
who had made up her mind that she had scarcely the right to exist until
she had been presented to her sovereign in her new name. But when Mrs.
Winstanley ventured to suggest the Duchess of Dovedale, as her sponsor
on this solemn occasion, her husband sternly tabooed the notion.

"My aunt, Lady Susan Winstanley, is the proper person to present you,"
he said authoritatively.

"But is she really your aunt, Conrad? You never mentioned her before we
were married?"

"She is my father's third cousin by marriage; but we have always called
her Aunt. She is the widow or Major-General Winstanley, who
distinguished himself in the last war with Tippoo Saïb, and had a place
at Court in the reign of William the Fourth."

"She must be dreadfully old and dowdy," sighed Mrs. Winstanley, whose
only historical idea of the Sailor King's reign was as a period of
short waists and beaver bonnets.

"She is not a chicken, and she does not spend eight hundred a year on
her dressmaker," retorted the Captain. "But she is a very worthy woman,
and highly respected by her friends. Why should you ask a favour of the
Duchess of Dovedale?"

"Her name would look so well in the papers," pleaded Mrs. Winstanley.

"The name of your husband's kinswoman will look much more respectable,"
answered the Captain; and in this, as in most matters, he had his own
way.

Lady Susan Winstanley was brought from her palatial retirement to spend
a fortnight in Mayfair. She was bony, wiggy, and snuffy; wore false
teeth and seedy apparel; but she was well-bred and well-informed, and
Vixen got on with her much better than with the accomplished Captain.
Lady Susan took to Vixen; and these two went out for early walks
together in the adjacent Green Park, and perambulated the
picture-galleries, before Mrs. Winstanley had braced herself up for the
fatigues of a fashionable afternoon.

Sometimes they came across Mr. Vawdrey at a picture-gallery or in the
Park; and at the first of these chance meetings, struck by the obvious
delight with which the two young people greeted each other, Lady Susan
jumped to a conclusion.

"That's your young man, I suppose, my dear," she said bluntly, when
Rorie had left them.

"Oh, Lady Susan!"

"It's a vulgar expression, I know, my dear, but it comes natural to me;
I hear it so often from our housemaids. I fancied that you and that
handsome young fellow must be engaged."

"Oh no. We are only old friends. He is engaged to Lady Mabel
Ashbourne--a very grand match."

"That's a pity," said Lady Susan.

"Why?"

"Well, my dear," answered the old lady hesitatingly, "because when one
hears of a grand match, it generally means that a young man is marrying
for the sake of money, and that young old friend of yours looks too
good to throw himself away like that."

"Oh, but indeed, Lady Susan, it is not so in Rorie's case. He has
plenty of money of his own."

The important day came; and Lady Susan, Mrs. Winstanley, and Violet
packed themselves and their finery into a capacious carriage, and set
off for St. James's. The fair Pamela's costume was an elaborate example
of Theodore's highest art; colours, design, all of the newest--a
delicate harmony of half-tints, an indescribable interblending of
feathers, lace, and flowers. Violet was simply and elegantly dressed by
the same great artist. Lady Susan wore a petticoat and train that must
have been made in the time of Queen Adelaide. Yes, the faded and
unknown hue of the substantial brocade, the skimpiness of the satin,
the quaint devices in piping-cord and feather-stitch--must assuredly
have been coeval with that good woman's famous hat and spencer.

Poor Mrs. Winstanley was horrified when she saw her husband's kinswoman
attired for the ceremony, not a whit less wiggy and snuffy than usual,
and with three lean ostrich feathers starting erect from her back hair,
like the ladies in the proscenium boxes of Skelt's Theatre, whose gaily
painted effigies were so dear to our childhood.

Poor Pamela felt inclined to shed tears. Even her confidence in the
perfection of her own toilet could hardly sustain her against the
horror of being presented by such a scarecrow.

The ceremony went off satisfactorily, in spite of Lady Susan's
antiquated garments. Nobody laughed. Perhaps the _habitués_ of St.
James's were accustomed to scarecrows. Violet's fresh young beauty
attracted some little notice as she waited among the crowd of
_débutantes;_ but, on its being ascertained that she was nobody in
particular, curiosity languished and died.

Mrs. Winstanley wanted to exhibit her court-dress at the opera that
evening, but her husband protested against this display as bad style.
Vixen was only too glad to throw off her finery, the tulle puffings and
festoonings, and floral wreaths and bouquets, which made movement
difficult and sitting down almost impossible.

Those six weeks in town were chiefly devoted to gaiety. Mrs.
Winstanley's Hampshire friends called on her, and followed up their
calls by invitations to dinner, and at the dinners she generally met
people who were on the eve of giving a garden-party, or a concert, or a
dance, and who begged to be allowed to send her a card for that
entertainment, spoken of modestly as a thing of no account. And then
there was a hurried interchange of calls, and Violet found herself
meandering about an unknown croquet-lawn, amongst unknown nobodies,
under a burning sun, looking at other girls, dressed like herself in
dresses à la Theodore, with the last thing in sleeves, and the last cut
in trains, all pretending to be amused by the vapid and languid
observations of the cavalier told off to them, paired like companions
of the chain at Toulon, and as almost as joyous.

Violet Tempest attended no less than eight private concerts during
those six weeks, and heard the same new ballad, and the same latest
gavotte in C minor, at everyone of them. She was taken to pianoforte
recitals in fashionable squares and streets, and heard Bach and
Beethoven till her heart ached with pity for the patient labour of the
performers, knowing how poorly she and the majority of mankind
appreciated their efforts. She went to a few dances that were rather
amusing, and waltzed to her heart's content. She rode Arion in the Row,
and horse and rider were admired as perfect after then kind. Once she
met Lord Mallow, riding beside Lady Mabel Ashbourne and the Duke of
Dovedale. His florid cheek paled a little at the sight of her. They
passed each other with a friendly bow, and this was their only meeting.
Lord Mallow left cards at the house in Mayfair a week before the
Winstanleys went back to Hampshire. He had been working hard at his
senatorial duties, and had made some telling speeches upon the Irish
land question. People talked of him as a rising politician; and,
whenever his name appeared in the morning papers, Mrs. Winstanley
uplifted her voice at the breakfast-table, and made her wail about
Violet's folly in refusing such an excellent young man.

"It would have been so nice to be able to talk about my daughter, Lady
Mallow, and Castle Mallow," said Pamela in confidence to her husband.

"No doubt, my dear," he answered coolly; "but when you bring up a young
woman to have her own way in everything, you must take the
consequences."

"It is very ungrateful of Violet," sighed the afflicted mother, "after
the pains I have taken to dress her prettily, ever since she was a
baby. It is a very poor return for my care."



CHAPTER XV.

A Midsummer Night's Dream.

They were all back at the Abbey House again early in June, and Vixen
breathed more freely in her sweet native air. How dear, how doubly
beautiful, everything seemed to her after even so brief an exile. But
it was a grief to have missed the apple-bloom and the bluebells. The
woods were putting on their ripe summer beauty; the beeches had lost
the first freshness of their tender green, the amber glory of the young
oak-leaves was over, the last of the primroses had paled and faded
among the spreading bracken; masses of snowy hawthorn bloom gleamed
white amidst the woodland shadows; bean-fields in full bloom filled the
air with delicate odours; the summer winds swept across the long lush
grass in the meadows, beautiful with ever-varying lights and shadows;
families of sturdy black piglings were grubbing on the waste turf
beside every road, and the forest-fly was getting strong upon the wing.
The depths of Mark Ash were dark at noontide under their roof of
foliage.

Vixen revelled in the summer weather. She was out from morning till
evening, on foot or on horseback, sketching or reading a novel, in some
solitary corner of the woods, with Argus for her companion and
guardian. It was an idle purposeless existence for a young woman to
lead, no doubt; but Violet Tempest knew of no better thing that life
offered her to do.

Neither her mother nor Captain Winstanley interfered with her liberty.
The Captain had his own occupations and amusements, and his wife was
given up to frivolities which left no room in her mind for anxiety
about her only daughter. So long as Violet looked fresh and pretty at
the breakfast-table, and was nicely dressed in the evening, Mrs.
Winstanley thought that all was well; or at least as well as it ever
could be with a girl who had been so besotted as to refuse a wealthy
young nobleman. So Vixen went her own way, and nobody cared. She seemed
to have a passion for solitude, and avoided even her old friends, the
Scobels, who had made themselves odious by their championship of Lord
Mallow.

The London season was at its height when the Winstanleys went back to
Hampshire. The Dovedales were to be at Kensington till the beginning of
July, with Mr. Vawdrey in attendance upon them. He had rooms in Ebury
Street, and had assumed an urban air which in Vixen's opinion made him
execrable.

"I can't tell you how hateful you look in lavender gloves and a high
hat," she said to him one day in Clarges Street.

"I daresay I look more natural dressed like a gamekeeper," he answered
lightly; "I was born so. As for the high hat, you can't hate it more
than I do; and I have always considered gloves a foolishness on a level
with pigtails and hair-powder."

Vixen had been wandering in her old haunts for something less than a
fortnight, when, on one especially fine morning, she mounted Arion
directly after breakfast and started on one of her rambles, with the
faithful Bates in attendance, to open gates or to pull her out of bogs
if needful. Upon this point Mrs. Winstanley was strict. Violet might
ride when and where she pleased--since these meanderings in the Forest
were so great a pleasure to her--but she must never ride without a
groom.

Old Bates liked the duty. He adored his mistress, and had spent the
greater part of his life in the saddle. There was no more enjoyable
kind of idleness possible for him than to jog along in the sunshine on
one of the Captain's old hunters; called upon for no greater exertion
than to flick an occasional fly off his horse's haunch, or to bend down
and hook open the gate of a plantation with his stout hunting-crop.
Bates had many a brief snatch of slumber in those warm enclosures,
where the air was heavy with the scent of the pines, and the buzzing of
summer flies made a perpetual lullaby. There was a delicious sense of
repose in such a sleep, but it was not quite so pleasant to be jerked
suddenly into the waking world by a savage plunge of the aggravated
hunter's hindlegs, goaded to madness by a lively specimen of the
forest-fly.

On this particular morning Vixen was in a thoughtful mood, and Arion
was lazy. She let him walk at a leisurely pace under the beeches of
Gretnam Wood, and through the quiet paths of the New Park plantations.
He came slowly out into Queen's Bower, tossing his delicate head and
sniffing the summer air. The streamlets were rippling gaily in the
noontide sun; far off on the yellow common a solitary angler was
whipping the stream--quite an unusual figure in the lonely landscape. A
delicious slumberous quiet reigned over all the scene. Vixen was lost
in thought, Bates was dreaming, when a horse's hoofs came up stealthily
beside Arion, and a manly voice startled the sultry stillness.

"I've got rid of the high hat for this year, and I'm my own man again,"
said the voice; and then a strong brown hand was laid upon Vixen's
glove, and swallowed up her slender fingers in its warm grasp.

"When did you come back?" she asked, as soon as their friendly
greetings were over, and Arion had reconciled himself to the
companionship of Mr. Vawdrey's hack.

"Late last night."

"And have the Duchess and her people come back to Ashbourne?"

"_Pas si bête_. The Duchess and her people--meaning Mabel--have
engagements six deep for the next month--breakfasts, lawn-parties,
music, art, science, horticulture, dancing, archery, every form of
labourious amusement that the genius of man has invented. One of our
modern sages has said that life would be tolerable but for its
amusements. I am of that wise man's opinion. Fashionable festivities
are my aversion. So I told Mabel frankly that I found my good spirits
being crushed out of me by the weight of too much pleasure, and that I
must come home to look after my farm. The dear old Duke recognised that
duty immediately, and gave me all sorts of messages and admonitions for
his bailiff."

"And you are really free to do what you like for a month?" exclaimed
Vixen naïvely. "Poor Rorie! How glad you must be!"

"My liberty is of even greater extent. I am free till the middle of
August, when I am to join the Dovedales in Scotland. Later, I suppose,
the Duke will go to Baden, or to some newly-discovered fountain in the
Black Forest. He could not exist for a twelvemonth without German
waters."

"And after that there will be a wedding, I suppose?" said Violet.

She felt as if called upon to say something of this kind. She wanted
Rorie to know that she recognised his position as an engaged man. She
hated talking about the business, but she felt somehow that this was
incumbent upon her.

"I suppose so," answered Rorie; "a man must be married once in his
life. The sooner he gets the ceremony over the better. My engagement
has hung fire rather. There is always a kind of flatness about the
thing between cousins, I daresay. Neither of us is in a hurry. Mabel
has so many ideas and occupations, from orchids to Greek choruses."

"She is very clever," said Vixen.

"She is clever and good, and I am very proud of her," answered Rorie
loyally.

He felt as if he were walking on the brink of a precipice, and that it
needed all his care to steer clear of the edge.

After this there was no more said about Lady Mabel. Vixen and Rorie
rode on happily side by side, as wholly absorbed in each other as
Launcelot and Guinevere--when the knight brought the lady home through
the smiling land, in the glad boyhood of the year, by tinkling rivulet
and shadowy covert, and twisted ivy and spreading chestnut fans--and
with no more thought of Lady Mabel than those two had of King Arthur.

It was the first of many such rides in the fair June weather. Vixen and
Rorie were always meeting in that sweet pathless entanglement of oak
and beech and holly, where the cattle-line of the spreading branches
were just high enough to clear Vixen's coquettish little hat, or in the
long straight fir plantations, where the light was darkened even at
noonday, and where the slumberous stillness was broken only by the hum
of summer flies. It was hardly possible, it seemed to Violet, for two
people to be always riding in the Forest without meeting each other
very often. Various as the paths are they all cross somewhere: and what
more natural than to see Rorie's brown horse trotting calmly along the
grass by the wayside, at the first bend of the road? They made no
appointments, or were not conscious of making any; but they always met.
There was a fatality about it: yet neither Rorie nor Violet ever seemed
surprised at this persistence of fate. They were always glad to see
each other; they had always a world to tell each other. If the earth
had been newly made every day, with a new set of beings to people it,
those two could hardly have had more to say.

"Darned if I can tell what our young Miss and Muster Vawdrey can find
to talk about," said honest old Bates, over his dish of tea in the
servants' hall; "but their tongues ha' never done wagging."

Sometimes Miss Tempest and Mr. Vawdrey went to the kennels together,
and idled away an hour with the hounds; while their horses stood at
ease with their bridles looped round the five-barred gate, their heads
hanging lazily over the topmost bar, and their big soft eyes dreamily
contemplating the opposite pine wood, with that large capacity for
perfect idleness common to their species. Bates was chewing a straw and
swinging his hunting-crop somewhere in attendance. He went with his
young mistress everywhere, and played the part of the "dragon of
prudery placed within call;" but he was a very amiable dragon, and
nobody minded him. Had it come into the minds of Rorie and Vixen to
elope, Bates would not have barred their way. Indeed he would have been
very glad to elope with them himself. The restricted license of the
Abbey House had no charm for him.

Whither were those two drifting in the happy summer weather, lulled by
the whisper of forest leaves faintly stirred by the soft south wind, or
by the low murmur of the forest river, stealing on its stealthy course
under overarching boughs, mysterious as that wondrous river in Kubla
Khan's dream, and anon breaking suddenly out into a clamour loud enough
to startle Arion as the waters came leaping and brawling over the
shining moss-green boulders? Where were these happy comrades going as
they rode side by side under the glancing lights and wavering shadows?
Everybody knows what became of Launcelot and Guinevere after that
famous ride of theirs. What of these two, who rode together day after
day in sun and shower, who loitered and lingered in every loveliest
nook in the Forest, who had the same tastes, the same ideas, the same
loves, the same dislikes? Neither dared ask that question. They took
the happiness fate gave them, and sought not to lift the veil of the
future. Each was utterly and unreasonably happy, and each knew very
well that this deep and entire happiness was to last no longer than the
long summer days and the dangling balls of blossom on the beechen
boughs. Before the new tufts on the fir-branches had lost their early
green, this midsummer dream would be over. It was to be brief as a
schoolboy's holiday.

What was the good of being so happy, only to be so much more miserable
afterwards? A sensible young woman might have asked herself that
question, but Violet Tempest did not. Her intentions were pure as the
innocent light shining out of her hazel eyes--a gaze frank, direct, and
fearless as a child's. She had no idea of tempting Roderick to be false
to his vows. Had Lady Mabel, with her orchids and Greek plays, been
alone in question, Violet might have thought of the matter more
lightly: but filial duty was involved in Rorie's fidelity to his
betrothed. He had promised his mother on her death-bed. That was a
promise not to be broken.

One day--a day for ever to be remembered by Vixen and Rorie--a day that
stood out in the foreground of memory's picture awfully distinct from
the dreamy happiness that went before it, these two old friends
prolonged their ride even later than usual. The weather was the
loveliest that had ever blessed their journeyings--the sky Italian, the
west wind just fresh enough to fan their cheeks, and faintly stir the
green feathers of the ferns that grew breast-high on each side of the
narrow track. The earth gave forth her subtlest perfumes under the fire
of the midsummer sun. From Boldrewood the distant heights and valleys
had an Alpine look in the clear bright air, the woods rising line above
line in the far distance, in every shade of colour, from deepest umber
to emerald green, from the darkest purple to translucent azure, yonder,
where the farthest line of verdure met the sunlit sky. From Stony Cross
the vast stretch of wood and moor lay basking in the warm vivid light,
the yellow of the dwarf furze flashing in golden patches amidst the
first bloom of the crimson heather. This southern corner of Hampshire
was a glorious world to live in on such a day as this. Violet and her
cavalier thought so, as their horses cantered up and down the smooth
stretch of turf in front of The Forester's Inn.

"I don't know what has come to Arion," said Vixen, as she checked her
eager horse in his endeavour to break into a mad gallop. "I think he
must be what Scotch people call 'fey.'"

"And pray what may that mean?" asked Rorie, who was like the young lady
made famous by Sydney Smith: what he did not know would have made a big
book.

"Why, I believe it means that in certain moments of life, just before
the coming of a great sorrow, people are wildly gay. Sometimes a man
who is doomed to die breaks out into uproarious mirth, till his friends
wonder at him. Haven't you noticed that sometimes in the accounts of
suicides, the suicide's friends declare that he was in excellent
spirits the night before he blew out his brains?"

"Then I hope I'm not 'fey,'" said Rorie, "for I feel uncommonly jolly."

"It's only the earth and sky that make us feel happy," sighed Violet,
with a sudden touch of seriousness. "It is but an outside happiness
after all."

"Perhaps not; but it's very good of its kind."

They went far afield that day; as far as the yews of Sloden; and the
sun was low in the west when Vixen wished her knight good-bye, and
walked her horse down the last long glade that led to the Abbey House.
She was very serious now, and felt that she had transgressed a little
by the length of her ride. Poor Bates had gone without his dinner, and
that dismal yawn of his just now doubtless indicated a painful vacuity
of the inner man. Rorie and she were able to live upon air and
sunshine, the scent of the clover, and the freshness of the earth; but
Bates was of the lower type of humanity, which requires to be sustained
by beef and beer; and for Bates this day of sylvan bliss had been
perhaps a period of deprivation and suffering.

Violet had been accustomed to be at home, and freshly dressed, in time
for Mrs. Winstanley's afternoon tea. She had to listen to the
accumulated gossip of the day--complaints about the servants, praises
of Conrad, speculations upon impending changes of fashion, which
threatened to convulse the world over which Theodore presided; for the
world of fashion seems ever on the verge of a crisis awful as that
which periodically disrupts the French Chamber.

To have been absent from afternoon tea was a breach of filial duty
which the mild Pamela would assuredly resent. Violet felt herself
doomed to one of those gentle lectures, which were worrying as the
perpetual dropping of rain. She was very late--dreadfully late--the
dressing-bell rang as she rode into the stable-yard. Not caring to show
herself at the porch, lest her mother and the Captain should be sitting
in the hall, ready to pronounce judgment upon her misconduct, she ran
quickly up to her dressing-room, plunged her face into cold water,
shook out her bright hair, brushed and plaited the long tresses with
deft swift fingers, put on her pretty dinner-dress of pale blue muslin,
fluttering all over with pale blue bows, and went smiling down to the
drawing-room like a new Hebe, dressed in an azure cloud.

Mrs. Winstanley was sitting by an open window, while the Captain stood
outside and talked to her in a low confidential voice. His face had a
dark look which Vixen knew and hated, and his wife was listening with
trouble in her air and countenance. Vixen, who meant to have marched
straight up to her mother and made her apologies, drew back
involuntarily at the sight of those two faces.

Just at this moment the dinner-bell rang. The Captain gave his wife his
arm, and the two passed Vixen without a word. She followed them to the
dining-room, wondering what was coming.

The dinner began in silence, and then Mrs. Winstanley began to falter
forth small remarks, feeble as the twitterings of birds before the
coming storm. How very warm it had been all day, almost oppressive: and
yet it had been a remarkably fine day. There was a fair at Emery
Down--at least not exactly a fair, but a barrow of nuts and some horrid
pistols, and a swing. Violet answered, as in duty bound; but the
Captain maintained his ominous silence. Not a word was said about
Violet's long ride. It seemed hardly necessary to apologise for her
absence, since her mother made no complaint. Yet she felt that there
was a storm coming.

"Perhaps he is going to sell Arion," she thought, "and that's why the
dear thing was 'fey.'"

And then that rebellious spirit of hers arose within her, ready for war.

"No, I would not endure that. I would not part with my father's last
gift. I shall be rich seven years hence, if I live so long. I'll do
what the young spendthrifts do. I'll go to the Jews. I will not be
Captain Winstanley's helot. One slave is enough for him, I should
think. He has enslaved poor mamma. Look at her now, poor soul; she sits
in bodily fear of him, crumbling her bread with her pretty fingers,
shining and sparkling with rings. Poor mamma! it is a bad day for her
when fine dresses and handsome jewels cannot make her happy."

It was a miserable dinner. Those three were not wont to be gay when
they sat at meat together; but the dinner of to-day was of a gloomier
pattern than usual. The strawberries and cherries were carried round
solemnly, the Captain filled his glass with claret, Mrs. Winstanley
dipped the ends of her fingers into the turquois-coloured glass, and
disseminated a faint odour of roses.

"I think I'll go and sit in the garden, Conrad," she said, when she had
dried those tapering fingers on her fringed doiley. "It's so warm in
the house."

"Do, dear. I'll come and smoke my cigar on the lawn presently,"
answered the Captain.

"Can't you come at once, love?"

"I've a little bit of business to settle first. I won't be long!"

Mrs. Winstanley kissed her hand to her husband, and left the room,
followed by Vixen.

"Violet," she said, when they were outside, "how could you stay out so
long? Conrad is dreadfully angry."

"Your husband angry because I rode a few miles farther to-day than
usual? Dear mother, that is too absurd. I was sorry not to be at home
in time to give you your afternoon tea, and I apologise to you with all
my heart; but what can it matter to Captain Winstanley?"

"My dearest Violet, when will you understand that Conrad stands in the
place of your dear father?"

"Never, mamma, for that is not true. God gave me one father, and I
loved and honoured him with all my heart. There is no sacrifice he
could have asked of me that I would not have made; no command of his,
however difficult, that I would not have obeyed. But I will obey no
spurious father. I recognise no duty that I owe to Captain Winstanley."

"You are a very cruel girl," wailed Pamela, "and your obstinacy is
making my life miserable."

"Dear mother, how do I interfere with your happiness? You live your
life, and I mine. You and Captain Winstanley take your own way, I mine.
Is it a crime to be out riding a little longer than usual, that you
should look so pale and the Captain so black when I come home?"

"It is worse than a crime, Violet; it is an impropriety."

Vixen blushed crimson, and turned upon her mother with an expression
that was half startled, half indignant.

"What do you mean, mamma?"

"Had you been riding about the Forest all those hours alone, it would
have been eccentric--unladylike--masculine even. You know that your
habit of passing half your existence on horseback has always been a
grief to me. But you were not alone."

"No, mamma, I was not alone. I had my oldest friend with me; one of the
few people in this big world who care for me."

"You were riding about with Roderick Vawdrey, Lady Mabel Ashbourne's
future husband."

"Why do you remind me of his engagement, mamma? Do you think that
Roderick and I have even forgotten it? Can he not be my friend as well
as Lady Mabel's husband? Am I to forget that he and I played together
as children, that we have always thought of each other and cared for
each other as brother and sister, only because he is engaged to Lady
Mabel Ashbourne?"

"Violet, you must know that all talk about brother and sister is sheer
nonsense. Suppose I had set up brother and sister with Captain
Winstanley! What would you--what would the world have thought?"

"That would have been different," said Vixen. "You did not know each
other as babies. In fact you couldn't have done so, for you had left
off being a baby before he was born," added Vixen naïvely.

"You will have to put a stop to these rides with Roderick. Everybody in
the neighbourhood is talking about you."

"Which everybody?"

"Colonel Carteret to begin with."

"Colonel Carteret slanders everybody. It is his only intellectual
resource. Dearest mother, be your own sweet easy-tempered self, not a
speaking-tube for Captain Winstanley. Pray leave me my liberty. I am
not particularly happy. You might at least let me be free."

Violet left her mother with these words. They had reached the lawn
before the drawing-room windows. Mrs. Winstanley sank into a low
basket-chair, like a hall-porter's, which a friend had sent her from
the sands of Trouville; and Vixen ran off to the stables to see if
Arion was in any way the worse for his long round.

The horses had been littered down for the night, and the stable-yard
was empty. The faithful Bates, who was usually to be found at this hour
smoking his evening pipe on a stone bench beside the stable pump, was
nowhere in sight. Vixen went into Arion's loose-box, where that animal
was nibbling clover lazily, standing knee-deep in freshly-spread straw,
his fine legs carefully bandaged. He gave his mistress the usual grunt
of friendly greeting, allowed her to feed him with the choicest bits of
clover, and licked her hands in token of gratitude.

"I don't think you're any the worse for our canter over the grass, old
pet," she cried cheerily, as she caressed his sleek head, "and Captain
Winstanley's black looks can't hurt you."

As she left the stable she saw Bates, who was walking slowly across the
court-yard, wiping his honest old eyes with the cuff of her drab coat,
and hanging his grizzled head dejectedly.

Vixen ran to him with her cheeks aflame, divining mischief. The Captain
had been wreaking his spite upon this lowly head.

"What's the matter, Bates?"

"I've lived in this house, Miss Voylet, man and boy, forty year come
Michaelmas, and I've never wronged my master by so much as the worth of
a handful o' wuts or a carriage candle. I was stable-boy in your
grandfeyther's time, miss, as is well-beknown to you; and I remember
your feyther when he was the finest and handsomest young squire within
fifty mile. I've loved you and yours better than I ever loved my own
flesh and blood: and to go and pluck me up by the roots and chuck me
out amongst strangers in my old age, is crueller than it would be to
tear up the old cedar on the lawn, which I've heard Joe the gardener
say be as old as the days when such-like trees was fust beknown in
England. It's crueller, Miss Voylet, for the cedar ain't got no
feelings--but I feel it down to the deepest fibres in me. The lawn 'ud
look ugly and empty without the cedar, and mayhap nobody'll miss
me--but I've got the heart of a man, miss, and it bleeds."

Poor Bates relieved his wounded feelings with this burst of eloquence.
He was a man who, although silent in his normal condition, had a great
deal to say when he felt aggrieved. In his present state of mind his
only solace was in many words.

"I don't know what you mean, Bates," cried Vixen, very pale now,
divining the truth in part, if not wholly. "Don't cry, dear old fellow,
it's too dreadful to see you. You don't mean--you can't mean--that--my
mother has sent you away?"

"Not your ma, miss, bless her heart. She wouldn't sack the servant that
saddled her husband's horse, fair weather and foul, for twenty years.
No, Miss Voylet, it's Captain Winstanley that's given me the sack. He's
master here, now, you know, miss."

"But for what reason? What have you done to offend him?"

"Ah, miss, there's the hardship of it! He's turned me off at a minute's
notice, and without a character too. That's hard, ain't it, miss? Forty
years in one service, and to leave without a character at last! That do
cut a old feller to the quick."

"Why don't you tell me the reason, Bates? Captain Winstanley must have
given you his reason for such a cruel act."

"He did, miss; but I ain't going to tell you."

"Why not, in goodness' name?"

"Because it's an insult to you, Miss Voylet; and I'm not going to
insult my old master's granddaughter. If I didn't love you for your own
sake--and I do dearly love you, miss, if you'll excuse the liberty--I'm
bound to love you for the sake of your grandfeyther. He was my first
master, and a kind one. He gave me my first pair o' tops. Lor, miss, I
can call to mind the day as well as if it was yesterday. Didn't I fancy
myself a buck in 'em."

Bates grinned and sparkled at the thought of those first top-boots. His
poor old eyes, dim with years of long service, twinkled with the memory
of those departed vanities.

"Bates," cried Vixen, looking at him resolutely, "I insist upon knowing
what reason Captain Winstanley alleged for sending you away."

"He didn't allege nothing, miss: and I ain't agoing to tell you what he
said."

"But you must. I order you to tell me. You are still my servant,
remember. You have always been a faithful servant, and I am sure you
won't disobey me at the last. I insist upon knowing what Captain
Winstanley said; however insulting his words may have been to me, they
will not surprise or wound me much. There is no love lost between him
and me. I think everybody knows that. Don't be afraid of giving me
pain, Bates. Nothing the Captain could say would do that. I despise him
too much."

"I'm right down glad 'o that, miss. Go on a-despising of him. You can't
give it him as thick as he deserves."

"Now, Bates, what did he say?"

"He said I was a old fool, miss, or a old rogue, he weren't quite clear
in his mind which. I'd been actin' as go-between with you and Mr.
Vawdrey, encouragin' of you to meet the young gentleman in your rides,
and never givin' the Cap'en warnin', as your stepfeather, of what was
goin' on behind his back. He said it was shameful, and you were makin'
yourself the talk of the county, and I was no better than I should be
for aidin' and abettin' of you in disgracin' yourself. And then I
blazed up a bit, miss, and maybe I cheeked him: and then he turned upon
me sharp and short and told me to get out of the house this night, bag
and baggage, and never to apply to him for a character; and then he
counted out my wages on the table, miss, up to this evening, exact to a
halfpenny, by way of showing me that he meant business, perhaps. But I
came away and left his brass upon the table, staring at him in the
face. I ain't no pauper, praise be to God! I've had a good place and
I've saved money: and I needn't lower myself by taking his dirty
half-pence."

"And you're going away, Bates, to-night?" exclaimed Vixen, hardly able
to realise this calamity.

That Captain Winstanley should have spoken insultingly of her and of
Rorie touched her but lightly. She had spoken truly just now when she
said that she scorned him too much to be easily wounded by his
insolence. But that he should dismiss her father's old servant as he
had sold her father's old horse; that this good old man, who had grown
from boyhood to age under her ancestral roof, who remembered her father
in the bloom and glory of early youth; that this faithful servant
should be thrust out at the bidding of an interloper--a paltry schemer,
who, in Vixen's estimation, had been actuated by the basest and most
mercenary motives when he married her mother;--that these things should
be, moved Violet Tempest with an overwhelming anger.

She kept her passion under, so far as to speak very calmly to Bates.
Her face was white with suppressed rage, her great brown eyes shone
with angry fire, her lips quivered as she spoke, and the rings on one
clinched hand were ground into the flesh of the slender fingers.

"Never mind, Bates," she said very gently; "I'll get you a good place
before ten o'clock to-night. Pack up your clothes, and be ready to go
where I tell you two hours hence. But first saddle Arion."

"Bless yer heart, Miss Voylet, you're not going out riding this
evening? Arion's done a long day's work."

"I know that; but he's fresh enough to do as much more--I've just been
looking at him. Saddle him at once, and keep him ready in his stable
till I come for him. Don't argue, Bates. If I knew that I were going to
ride him to death I should ride him to-night all the same. You are
dismissed without a character, are you?" cried Vixen, laughing
bitterly. "Never mind, Bates, I'll give you a character; and I'll get
you a place."

She ran lightly off and was gone, while Bates stood stock still
wondering at her. There never was such a young lady. What was there in
life that he would not have done for her--were it to the shedding of
blood? And to think he was no more to serve and follow her; no longer
to jog contentedly through the pine-scented Forest--watching the
meteoric course of that graceful figure in front of him, the lively
young horse curbed by the light and dexterous hand, the ruddy brown
hair glittering in the sunlight, the flexible form moving in unison
with every motion of the horse that carried it! There could be no
deeper image of desolation in Bates's mind than the idea that this
rider and this horse were to be henceforth severed from his existence.
What had he in life save the familiar things and faces among which he
had grown from youth to age? Separate him from these beloved
surroundings, and he had no standpoint in the universe. The reason of
his being would be gone. Bates was as strictly local in his ideas as
the zoophyte which has clung all its life to one rock.

He went to the harness-room for Miss Tempest's well-worn saddle, and
brought Arion out of his snug box, and wisped him and combed him, and
blacked his shoes, and made him altogether lovely--a process to which
the intelligent animal was inclined to take objection, the hour being
unseemly and unusual. Poor Bates sighed over his task, and brushed away
more than one silent tear with the back of the dandy-brush. It was kind
of Miss Violet to think about getting him a place; but he had no heart
for going into a new service. He would rather have taken a room in one
of the Beechdale cottages, and have dragged out the remnant of his days
within sight of the chimney-stacks beneath which he had slept for forty
years. He had money in the bank that would last until his lees of life
were spilt, and then he would be buried in the churchyard he had
crossed every Sunday of his life on his way to morning service. His
kindred were all dead or distant--the nearest, a married niece, settled
at Romsey, which good old humdrum market-town was--except once a week
or so by carrier's cart--almost as unapproachable as the Bermudas. He
was not going to migrate to Romsey for the sake of a married niece;
when he could stop at Beechdale, and see the gables and chimneys of the
home from which stern fate had banished him.

He had scarcely finished Arion's toilet when Miss Tempest opened the
stable-door and looked, in ready to mount. She had her hunting-crop,
with the strong horn hook for opening gates, her short habit, and
looked altogether ready for business.

"Hadn't I better come with you, miss?" Bates asked, as he lifted her
into her saddle.

"No, Bates. You are dismissed, you know. It wouldn't do for you to take
one of Captain Winstanley's horses. He might have you sent to prison
for horse-stealing."

"Lord, miss, so he might!" said Bates, grinning. "I reckon he's capable
of it. But I cheeked him pretty strong, Miss Voylet. The thought o'
that'll always be a comfort to me. You wouldn't ha' knowed me for your
feyther's old sarvant if you'd heard me. I felt as if Satan had got
hold o' my tongue, and was wagging it for me. The words came so pat. It
seemed as if I'd got all the dictionary at the tip of my poor old
tongue."

"Open the gate," said Vixen. "I am going out by the wilderness."

Bates opened the gate under the old brick archway, and Vixen rode
slowly away, by unfrequented thickets of rhododendron and arbutus,
holly and laurel, with a tall mountain-ash, or a stately deodora,
rising up among them, here and there, dark against the opal evening sky.

It was a lovely evening. The crescent moon rode high above the
tree-tops; the sunset was still red in the west. The secret depths of
the wood gave forth their subtle perfume in the cool, calm air. The
birds were singing in suppressed and secret tones among the low
branches. Now and then a bat skimmed across the open glade, and melted
into the woodland darkness, or a rabbit flitted past, gray and
ghostlike. It was an hour when the woods assumed an awful beauty. Not
to meet ghosts seemed stranger than to meet them. The shadows of the
dead would have been in harmony with the mystic loveliness of this
green solitude--a world remote from the track of men.

Even to-night, though her heart was swelling with indignant pain,
Violet felt all the beauty of these familiar scenes. They were a part
of her life, and so long as she lived she must love and rejoice in
them. To-night as she rode quietly along, careful not to hurry Arion
after his long day's work, she looked around her with eyes full of deep
love and melancholy yearning. It seemed to her to-night that out of all
that had been sweet and lovely in her life only these forest scenes
remained. Humanity had not been kind to her. The dear father had been
snatched away: just when she had grown to the height of his stout
heart, and had fullest comprehension of his love, and greatest need of
his protection. Her mother was a gentle, smiling puppet, to whom it
were vain to appeal in her necessities. Her mother's husband was an
implacable enemy. Rorie, the friend of her childhood--who might have
been so much--had given himself to another. She was quite alone.

"The charcoal-burner in Mark Ash is not so solitary as I am," thought
Vixen bitterly. "Charcoal-burning is only part of his life. He has his
wife and children in his cottage at home."

By-and-by she came out of the winding forest ways into the straight
high-road that led to Briarwood, and now she put her horse at a smart
trot, for it was growing dark already, and she calculated that it must
be nearly eleven o'clock before she could accomplish what she had to do
and get back to the Abbey House. And at eleven doors were locked for
the night, and Captain Winstanley made a circuit of inspection, as
severely as the keeper of a prison. What would be said if she should
not get home till after the gates were locked, and the keys delivered
over to that stern janitor?

At last Briarwood came in sight above the dark clumps of beach and oak,
a white portico, shining lamplit windows. The lodge-gate stood
hospitably open, and Violet rode in without question, and up to the
pillared porch.

Roderick Vawdrey was standing in the porch smoking. He threw away his
cigar as Vixen rode up, and ran down the steps to receive her.

"Why, Violet, what has happened?" he asked, with an alarmed look.

It seemed to him, that only sudden death or dire calamity could bring
her to him thus, in the late gloaming, pale, and deeply moved. Her lips
trembled faintly as she looked at him, and for the moment she could
find no words to tell her trouble.

"What is it, Violet?" he asked again, holding her gloved hand in his,
and looking up at her, full of sympathy and concern.

"Not very much, perhaps, in your idea of things: but it seems a great
deal to me. And it has put me into a tremendous passion. I have come to
ask you to do me a favour."

"A thousand favours if you like; and when they are all granted, the
obligation shall be still on my side. But come into the drawing-room
and rest--and let me get you some tea--lemonade--wine--something to
refresh you after your long ride."

"Nothing, thanks. I am not going to get off my horse. I must not lose a
moment. Why it must be long after nine already, and Captain Winstanley
locks up the house at eleven."

Rorie did not care to tell her that it was on the stroke of ten. He
called in a stentorian voice for a servant, and told the man to get
Blue Peter saddled that instant.

"Where's your groom, Violet?" he asked, wondering to see her unattended.

"I have no groom. That's just what I came to tell you. Captain
Winstanley has dismissed Bates, at a minute's warning, without a
character."

"Dismissed old Bates, your father's faithful servant! But in Heaven's
name what for?"

"I would rather not tell you that. The alleged reason is an insult to
me. I can tell you that it is not for dishonesty, or lying, or
drunkenness, or insolence, or any act that a good servant need be
ashamed of. The poor old man is cast off for a fault of mine; or for an
act of mine, which Captain Winstanley pleases to condemn. He is thrust
out of doors, homeless, without a character, after forty years of
faithful service. He was with my grandfather, you know. Now, Rorie, I
want you to take Bates into your service. He is not so ornamental as a
young man, perhaps; but he is ever so much more useful. He is faithful
and industrious, honest and true. He is a capital nurse for sick
horses; and I have heard my dear father say that he knows more than the
common run of veterinary surgeons. I don't think you would find him an
incumbrance. Now, dear Rorie," she concluded coaxingly, with innocent
childish entreaty, almost as if they had still been children and
playfellows, "I want you to do this for me--I want you to take Bates."

"Why, you dear simple-minded baby, I would take a regiment of Bateses
for your sake. Why this is not a favour----"

"''Tis as I should entreat you wear your gloves,'" cried Vixen, quoting
Desdemona's speech to her general.

Rorie's ready promise had revived her spirit. She felt that, after all,
there was such a thing as friendship in the world. Life was not
altogether blank and dreary. She forgot that her old friend had given
himself away to another woman. She had a knack of forgetting that
little fact when she and Rorie were together. It was only in her hours
of solitude that the circumstance presented itself distinctly to her
mind.

"I am so grateful to you for this, Rorie," she cried. "I cannot tell
you what a load you have taken off my mind. I felt sure you would do me
this favour. And yet, if you had said No----! It would have been too
dreadful to think of. Poor old Bates loafing about Beechdale, living
upon his savings! I shall be able to pension him by-and-by, when I am
of age; but now I have only a few pounds in the world, the remains of a
quarter's pocket-money, according to the view and allowance of the
forester," added Vixen, quoting the Forest law, with a little mocking
laugh. "And now good-night; I must go home as fast as I can."

"So you must, but I am coming with you," answered Rorie; and then he
roared again in his stentorian voice in the direction of the stables,
"Where's that Blue Peter?"

"Indeed, there is no reason for you to come," cried Vixen. "I know
every inch of the Forest."

"Very likely; but I am coming with you all the same."

A groom led out Blue Peter, a strong useful-looking hack, which Mr.
Vawdrey kept to do his dirty work, hunting in bad weather, night-work,
and extra journeys of all kinds. Rorie was in the saddle and by Vixen's
side without a minute's lost time, and they were riding out of the
grounds into the straight road.

They rode for a considerable time in silence. Vixen had seldom seen her
old friend so thoughtful. The night deepened, the stars shone out of
the clear heaven, at first one by one: and then, suddenly in a
multitude that no tongue could number. The leaves whispered and rustled
with faint mysterious noises, as Violet and her companion rode slowly
down the long steep hill.

"What a beast that Winstanley is!" said Rorie, when they got to the
bottom of the hill, as if he had been all this time arriving at an
opinion about Violet's stepfather. "I'm afraid he must make your life
miserable."

"He doesn't make it particularly happy," answered Vixen quietly; "but I
never expected to be happy after mamma married. I did not think there
was much happiness left for me after my father's death; but there was
at least peace. Captain Winstanley has made an end of that."

"He is a wretch, and I should like to shoot him," said Rorie
vindictively. "Dear little Vixen--yes, I must call you by the old pet
name--to think that you should be miserable, you whom I remember so
bright and happy, you who were born for happiness! But you are not
always wretched, dear," he said, leaning over to speak to her in
closer, more confidential tones, as if the sleepy birds and the
whispering forest leaves could hear and betray him. "You were happy--we
were happy--this morning."

He had laid his hand on hers. That useful Blue Peter needed no
guidance. They were just leaving the road, and entering a long glade
that led through a newly-opened fir plantation, a straight ride of a
mile and a half or so. The young moon was gleaming cool and clear above
the feathering points of the firs.

"Yes," she answered recklessly, involuntarily, with a stifled sob, "I
am always happy with you. You are all that remains to me of my old
life."

"My dearest, my loveliest, then be happy for ever!" he cried, winding
his arm round her slim waist, and leaning over her till his head almost
rested on her shoulder. Their horses were close together, walking at a
foot-pace, Blue Peter in nowise disconcerted by this extraordinary
behaviour of his rider.

"My love, if you can be happy at so small a price, be happy always!"
said Rorie, his lips close to the girl's pale cheek, his arm feeling
every beat of the passionate heart. "I will break the toils that bind
me. I will be yours, and yours only. I have never truly loved anyone
but you, and I have loved you all my life--I never knew how dearly till
of late. No, dearest love, never did I know how utterly I loved you
till these last summer days which we have lived together, alone and
supremely happy, in the forest that is our native land. My Violet, I
will break with Mabel to-morrow. She and I were never made for one
other. You and I were. Yes, love, yes: we have grown up together side
by side, like the primroses and violets in the woods. It is my second
nature to love you. Why should we be parted? Why should I go on acting
a dismal farce, pretending love to Mabel, pretending a friendship to
you--alike false to both? There is no reason, Violet, none--except----"

"Except your promise to your dying mother," said Violet, escaping from
his arm, and looking at him steadily, bravely, through the dim light.
"You shall not break that for my sake--you ought not, were I ten times
a better woman than I am. No, Rorie, you are to do your duty, and keep
your word. You are to marry Lady Mabel, and be happy ever after, like
the prince in a fairy tale. Depend upon it, happiness always comes in
the long run to the man who does his duty."

"I don't believe it," cried Roderick passionately; "I have seen men who
have done right ail through life--men who have sacrificed feeling to
honour, and been miserable. Why should I imitate them? I love you. I
loved you always; but my mother worried and teased me, vaunting Mabel's
perfections, trying to lessen you in my esteem. And then, when she was
dying, and it seemed a hard thing to oppose her wishes, or to refuse
her anything, were it even the happiness of my life, I was weak, and
let myself be persuaded, and sold myself into bondage. But it is not
too late, Violet. I will write Mabel an honest letter to-morrow, and
tell her the truth for the first time in my life."

"You will do nothing of the kind!" cried Violet resolutely. "What, do
you think I have no pride--no sense of honour? Do you think I would let
it be said of me, that I, knowing you to be engaged to your cousin, set
myself to lure you away from her; that we rode together, and were seen
together, happy in each other's company, and as careless of slander as
if we had been brother and sister; and that the end of all was that you
broke your faith to your promised wife in order to marry me? No, Rorie,
that shall never be said. If I could stoop so low I should be worthy of
the worst word my mother's husband could say of me."

"What does it matter what people say--your mother's husband above all?
Malice can always find something evil to say of us, let us shape our
lives how we may. What really matters is that we should be happy: and I
can be happy with no one but you, Violet. I know that now. I will never
marry Mabel Ashbourne."

"And you will never marry me," answered Vixen, giving Arion a light
touch of her whip which sent him flying along the shadowy ride.

Blue Peter followed as swiftly. Rorie was by Violet's side again in a
minute, with his hand grasping hers.

"You mean that you don't love me?" he exclaimed angrily. "Why could you
not have said so at the first; why have you let me live in a fool's
paradise?"

"The paradise was of your own making," she answered. "I love you a
little for the past, because my father loved you--because you are all
that remains to me of my happy childhood. Yes, if it were not for you,
I might look back and think those dear old days were only a dream. But
I hear your voice, I look at you, and know that you are real, and that
I once was very happy. Yes, Rorie, I do love you--love you--yes, with
all my heart, dearer, better than I have ever loved anyone upon this
earth, since my father was laid in the ground. Yes, dear." Their horses
were walking slowly now; and her hand was locked in his as they rode
side by side. "Yes, dear, I love you too well, and you and I must part.
I had schooled myself to believe that I loved you only as I might have
loved a brother; that you could be Lady Mabel's husband and my true
friend. But that was a delusion--that can never be. You and I must
part, Rorie. This night-ride in the Forest must be our last. Never any
more, by sun or moon, must you and I ride together. It is all over,
Rorie, the old childish friendship. I mean to do my duty, and you must
do yours."

"I will never marry a woman I do not love."

"You will keep your promise to your mother; you will act as a man of
honour should. Think, Rorie, what a shameful thing it would be to do,
to break off an engagement which has been so long publicly known, to
wound and grieve your good aunt and uncle."

"They have been very kind to me," sighed Rorie. "It would hurt me to
give them pain."

His conscience told him she was right, but he was angry with her for
being so much wiser than himself.

Then, in a moment, love--that had slumbered long, idly happy in the
company of the beloved, and had suddenly awakened to know that this
summer-day idlesse meant a passion stronger than death--love got the
better of conscience, and he cried vehemently:

"What need I care for the Duke and Duchess! They can have their choice
of husbands for their daughter; an heiress like Mabel has only to
smile, and a man is at her feet. Why should I sacrifice myself, love,
truth, all that makes life worth having? Do you think I would do it for
the sake of Ashbourne, and the honour of being a duke's son-in-law?"

"No, Rorie, but for the sake of your promise. And now look, there is
Lyndhurst steeple above the woods. I am near home, and we must say
good-night."

"Not till you are at your own gate."

"No one must see you. I want to ride in quietly by the stables. Don't
think I am ashamed of my errand to-night. I am not; but I want to save
my mother trouble, and if Captain Winstanley and I were to discuss the
matter there would be a disturbance."

Roderick Vawdrey seized Arion by the bridle.

"I shall not let you go so easily," he said resolutely. "Vixen, I have
loved you ever since I can remember you. Will you be my wife?"

"No."

"Why did you say that you loved me?"

"Because I cannot tell a lie. Yes, I love you, Rorie; but I love your
honour, and my own, better than the chance of a happiness that might
fade and wither before we could grasp it. I know that your mother had a
very poor opinion of me while she was alive; I should like her to know,
if the dead know anything, that she was mistaken, and that I am not
quite unworthy of her respect. You will marry Lady Mabel Ashbourne,
Rorie: and ten years hence, when we are sober middle-aged people, we
shall be firm friends once again, and you will thank and praise me for
having counselled you to cleave to the right. Let go the bridle, Rorie,
there's no time to lose. There's a glorious gallop from Queen's Bower
to the Christchurch Road."

It was a long grassy ride, safe only for those who knew the country
well, for it was bordered on each side by treacherous bogs. Violet knew
every inch of the way. Arion scented his stable afar off, and went like
the wind; Blue Peter stretched his muscular limbs in pursuit. It was a
wild ride along the grassy track, beside watery marshes and reedy pools
that gleamed in the dim light of a new moon. The distant woods showed
black against the sky. There was no light to mark a human habitation
within ken. There was nothing but night and loneliness and the solemn
beauty of an unpeopled waste. A forest pony stood here and
there--pastern-deep in the sedges--and gazed at those two wild riders,
grave and gay, like a ghost. A silvery snake glided across the track; a
water-rat plunged, with a heavy splash, into a black pool as the horses
galloped by. It was a glorious ride. Miserable as both riders were,
they could not but enjoy that wild rush through the sweet soft air,
under the silent stars.

Vixen gave a long sigh presently, when they pulled up their horses on
the hard road.

"I think I am 'fey' now," she said. "I wonder what is going to happen
to me?"

"Whatever misfortunes come to you henceforth will be your own fault,"
protested Rorie savagely. "You won't be happy, or make me so."

"Don't be angry with me, Rorie," she answered quite meekly. "I would
rather be miserable in my own way than happy in yours."

Arion, having galloped for his own pleasure, would now have liked to
crawl. He was beginning to feel the effects of unusual toil, and hung
his head despondently; but Vixen urged him into a sharp trot, feeling
that matters were growing desperate.

Ten minutes later they were at the lodge leading to the stables. The
gate was locked, the cottage wrapped in darkness.

"I must go in by the carriage-drive," said Vixen. "It's rather a bore,
as I am pretty sure to meet Captain Winstanley. But it can't be helped."

"Let me go in with you."

"No, Rorie; that would do no good. If he insulted me before you, his
insolence would pain me."

"And I believe I should pain him," said Rorie. "I should give him the
sweetest horsewhipping he ever had in his life."

"That is to say you would bring disgrace upon me, and make my mother
miserable. That's a man's idea of kindness. No, Rorie, we part here.
Good-night, and--good-bye."

"Fiddlesticks!" cried Rorie. "I shall wait for you all to-morrow
morning at the kennels."

Vixen had ridden past the open gate. The lodge-keeper stood at his door
waiting for her. Roderick respected her wishes and stayed outside.

"Good-night," she cried again, looking back at him; "Bates shall come
to you to-morrow morning."

The hall-door was wide open, and Captain Winstanley stood on the
threshold, waiting for his stepdaughter. One of the underlings from the
stable was ready to take her horse. She dismounted unaided, flung the
reins to the groom, and walked up to the Captain with her firmest step.
When she was in the hall he shut the door, and bolted and locked it
with a somewhat ostentatious care. She seemed to breathe less freely
when that great door had shut out the cool night. She felt as if she
were in a jail.

"I should like half-a-dozen words with you in the drawing-room before
you go upstairs," Captain Winstanley said stiffly.

"A hundred, if you choose," answered Vixen, with supreme coolness.

She was utterly fearless. What risks or hazards had life that she need
dread? She hoped nothing--feared nothing. She had just made the
greatest sacrifice that fate could require of her: she had rejected the
man she fondly loved. What were the slings and arrows of her
stepfather's petty malice compared with such a wrench as that?

She followed Captain Winstanley to the drawing-room. Here there was
more air; one long window was open, and the lace curtains were faintly
stirred by the night winds. A large moderator lamp burned upon Mrs.
Winstanley's favourite table--her books and basket of crewels were
there, but the lady of the house had retired.

"My mother has gone to bed, I suppose?" inquired Vixen.

"She has gone to her room, but I fear she is too much agitated to get
any rest. I would not allow her to wait here any longer for you."

"Is it so very late?" asked Vixen, with the most innocent air.

Her heart was beating violently, and her temper was not at its best.
She stood looking at the Captain, with a mischievous sparkle in her
eyes, and her whip tightly clenched.

She was thinking of that speech of Rorie's about the "sweetest
horsewhipping." She wondered whether Captain Winstanley had ever been
horsewhipped; whether that kind of chastisement was numbered in the sum
of his experiences. She opined not. The Captain was too astute a man to
bring himself in the way of such punishment. He would do things that
deserved horsewhipping, and get off scot free.

"It is a quarter-past eleven. I don't know whether you think that a
respectable hour for a young lady's evening ride. May I ask the motive
of this nocturnal expedition?"

"Certainly. You deprived Bates of a comfortable place--he has only been
in the situation forty years--and I went to get him another. I am happy
to say that I succeeded."

"And pray who is the chivalrous employer willing to receive my
dismissed servant without a character?"

"A very old friend of my father's--Mr. Vawdrey."

"I thought as much," retorted the Captain. "And it is to Mr. Vawdrey
you have been, late at night, unattended?"

"It is your fault that I went unattended. You have taken upon yourself
to dismiss my groom--the man who broke my first pony, the man my father
gave me for an attendant and protector, just as he gave me my horse.
You will take upon yourself to sell my horse next, I suppose?"

"I shall take a great deal more upon myself, before you and I have done
with each other, Miss Tempest," answered the Captain, pale with passion.

Never had Vixen seen him so strongly moved. The purple veins stood out
darkly upon his pale forehead, his eyes had a haggard look; he was like
a man consumed inwardly by some evil passion that was stronger than
himself, like a man possessed by devils. Vixen looked at him with
wonder. They stood facing each other, with the lamplit table between
them, the light shining on both their faces.

"Why do you look at me with that provoking smile?" he asked. "Do you
want to exasperate me? You must know that I hate you."

"I do," answered Vixen; "but God only knows why you should do so."

 "Do you know no reason?"

"No."

"Can't you guess one?"

"No; unless it is because my father's fortune will belong to me
by-and-by, if I live to be five-and-twenty, and your position here will
be lessened."

"That is not the reason; no, I am not so base as that. That its not why
I hate you, Violet. If you had been some dumpy, homely, country lass,
with thick features and a clumsy figure, you and I might have got on
decently enough. I would have made you obey me; but I would have been
kind to you. But you are something very different. You are the girl I
would have perilled my soul to win--the girl who rejected me with
careless scorn. Have you forgotten that night in the Pavilion Garden at
Brighton? I have not. I never look up at the stars without remembering
it; and I can never forgive you while that memory lives in my mind. If
you had been my wife, Violet, I would have been your slave. You forced
me to make myself your stepfather; and I will be master instead of
slave. I will make your life bitter to you if you thwart me. I will put
a stop to your running after another woman's sweetheart. I will come
between you and your lover, Roderick Vawdrey. Your secret meetings,
your clandestine love-making, shall be stopped. Such conduct as you
have been carrying on of late is a shame and disgrace to your sex."

"How dare you say that?" cried Vixen, beside herself with anger.

She grasped the lamp with both her hands, as if she would have hurled
it at her foe. It was a large moon-shaped globe upon a bronze
pedestal--a fearful thing to fling at one's adversary. A great wave of
blood surged up into the girl's brain. What she was going to do she
knew not; but her whole being was convulsed by the passion of that
moment. The room reeled before her eyes, the heavy pedestal swayed in
her hands, and then she saw the big moonlike globe roll on to the
carpet, and after it, and darting beyond it, a stream of liquid fire
that ran, and ran, quicker than thought, towards the open window.

Before she could speak or move, the flame had run up the lace curtain,
like a living thing, swift as the flight of a bird or the gliding
motion of a lizard. The wide casement was wreathed with light. They
two--Vixen and her foe--seemed to be standing in an atmosphere of fire.

Captain Winstanley was confounded by the suddenness of the catastrophe.
While he stood dumb, bewildered, Vixen sprang through the narrow space
between the flaming curtains, as if she had plunged into a gulf of
fire. He heard her strong clear voice calling to the stablemen and
gardeners. It rang like a clarion in the still summer night.

There was not a moment lost. The stablemen rushed with pails of water,
and directly after them the Scotch gardener with his garden-engine,
which held several gallons. His hose did some damage to the
drawing-room carpet and upholstery, but the strong jet of water
speedily quenched the flames. In ten minutes the window stood blank,
and black, and bare, with Vixen standing on the lawn outside,
contemplating the damage she had done.

Mrs. Winstanley rushed in at the drawing-room door, ghostlike, in her
white _peignoir_, pale and scared.

"Oh, Conrad, what has happened?" she cried distractedly, just able to
distinguish her husband's figure standing in the midst of the
disordered room.

"Your beautiful daughter has been trying to set the house on fire," he
answered. "That is all."



CHAPTER XVI.

"That must end at once."

A quarter of an hour later, when all the confusion was over, Violet was
kneeling by her mother's chair, trying to restore tranquillity to Mrs.
Winstanley's fluttered spirits. Mother and daughter were alone together
in the elder lady's dressing-room, the disconsolate Pamela sitting,
like Niobe, amidst her scattered fineries, her pomade-pots and
powder-boxes, fan-cases and jewel-caskets, and all the arsenal of
waning beauty.

"Dear mother," pleaded Violet, with unusual gentleness, "pray don't
give way to this unnecessary grief. You cannot surely believe that I
tried to set this dear old home on fire--that I could be so
foolish--granting even that I were wicked enough to do it--as to
destroy a place I love--the house in which my father was born! You
can't believe such a thing, mother."

"I know that you are making my life miserable," sobbed Mrs. Winstanley,
feebly dabbing her forehead with a flimsy Valenciennes bordered
handkerchief, steeped in eau-de-cologne, "and I am sure Conrad would
not tell a falsehood."

"Perhaps not," said Vixen with a gloomy look. "We will take it for
granted that he is perfection and could not do wrong. But in this case
he is mistaken. I felt quite capable of killing him, but not of setting
fire to this house."

"Oh," wailed Pamela distractedly, "this is too dreadful! To think that
I should have a daughter who confesses herself at heart a murderess."

"Unhappily it is true, mother," said Vixen, moodily contrite. "For just
that one moment of my life I felt a murderous impulse--and from the
impulse to the execution is a very short step. I don't feel myself very
superior to the people who are hanged at Newgate, I assure you."

"What is to become of me?" inquired Mrs. Winstanley in abject
lamentation. "It is too hard that my own daughter should be a source of
misery in my married life, that she should harden her heart against the
best of stepfathers, and try, yes, actually try, to bring discord
between me and the husband I love. I don't know what I have done that I
should be so miserable."

"Dear mother, only be calm and listen to me," urged Violet, who was
very calm herself, with a coldly resolute air which presently obtained
ascendency over her agitated parent. "If I have been the source of
misery, that misery cannot too soon come to an end. I have long felt
that I have no place in this house--that I am one too many in our small
family. I feel now--yes, mamma, I feel and know that the same roof
cannot cover me and Captain Winstanley. He and I can no longer sit at
the same board, or live in the same house. That must end at once."

"What complaint can you have to make against him, Violet?" cried her
mother hysterically, and with a good deal more dabbing of the perfumed
handkerchief upon her fevered brow. "I am sure no father could be
kinder than Conrad would be to you if you would only let him. But you
have set yourself against him from the very first. It seems as if you
grudged me my happiness."

"It shall seem so no longer, mamma. I will cease to be a thorn in your
garland of roses," replied Vixen, with exceeding bitterness. "I will
leave the Abbey House directly any other home can be found for me. If
dear old McCroke would take care of me I should like to go abroad,
somewhere very far, to some strange place, where all things would be
different and new to me," continued Vixen, unconsciously betraying that
aching desire for forgetfulness natural to a wounded heart. "Sweden, or
Norway, for instance. I think I should like to spend a year in one of
those cold strange lands, with good old McCroke for my companion. There
would be nothing to remind me of the Forest," she concluded with a
stifled sob.

"My dear Violet, you have such wild ideas," exclaimed her mother with
an injured air. "It is just as Conrad says. You have no notion of the
proprieties. Sweden or Norway, indeed! Was there ever anything so
outlandish? What would people say, I wonder?"

"Ah, what indeed, mamma. Perhaps, they might for once say what is true:
that I could not get on with Captain Winstanley, and so was forced to
find another home."

"And what a reproach that would be to me," cried her mother. "You are
so selfish, Violet; you think of no one but yourself."

"Perhaps that is because nobody else thinks of me, mother."

"How can you say such abominable things, Violet? Am I not thinking of
you this moment? I am sure I have thought of you this evening until my
head aches. You force one to think about you, when you behave in such a
disgraceful manner."

"What have I done that is disgraceful, mamma? I have ridden out at an
unusual hour to get a place for an old servant--a man who has served in
this house faithfully for forty years. That is what I have done, and I
should not be ashamed if it were known to everybody in Hampshire. Yes,
even to Lady Mabel Ashbourne, that pattern of chilly propriety. The
disgrace is Captain Winstanley's. It is he who ought to be ashamed of
turning off my father and grandfather's old servant. What you have to
be sorry for, mamma, is that you have married a man capable of such an
action."

"How dare you speak against him!" cried the offended wife. "He has done
everything for the best. It was your own foolish conduct that obliged
him to dismiss Bates. To think that a daughter of mine should have so
little self-respect as to go roaming about the Forest with an engaged
man! It is too dreadful."

"You need not make yourself unhappy about the engaged man, mamma," said
Vixen scornfully. "He is out of danger. Rorie and I need never see each
other again. I should be more than content that it should be so. Only
arrange with Captain Winstanley for some allowance to be made me--just
money enough to enable me to live abroad with dear old McCroke. I want
no gaieties, I want no fine dresses, The simplest mode of life, in a
strange country, will suit me best."

"I can't bear the idea of your going away," whimpered Mrs. Winstanley.
"People will talk so. A stepfather's is such a delicate position.
People are sure to say cruel things about Conrad. And it is all your
fault, Violet. We might have lived so happily together if you had
liked."

"We might, perhaps, mamma; but I don't think any of us knew the way.
Captain Winstanley could hardly expect that to sell my father's
favourite horse was the shortest way to my liking; and that's how he
began his reign in this house. Don't let us talk any more, my dear
mother. Words are useless to heal such wounds as ours. Good-night.
Sleep well, and forget all about me. To-morrow you and the Captain can
give me my liberty."

"I thought you were so fond of the Abbey House," moaned her mother.

"So I was when it was home. It has ceased to be my home, and I shall be
glad to leave it."

"Oh, Violet, you have a hard heart."

"Good-night, mamma."

She was gone, leaving Mrs. Winstanley feebly moaning, and vaguely
dabbing her forehead, feeling that the Fates had not been kind to her.
Life seemed to have gone all askew. It was as if Theodore had taken to
sending home misfits. Nothing was smooth or pleasant in an existence
whose halcyon calm had once been undisturbed by so much as a crumpled
rose-leaf.

Vixen went straight to her room, accompanied by Argus, who had followed
her from the hall to the door of her mother's dressing-room, and had
waited patiently for her in the corridor, with his head leaning against
the closed door, as if he scented trouble within.

When girl and dog were alone together, Violet flung herself on the
ground, threw her arms round the mastiff's thick neck, and let her
tears flow freely against that faithful head.

"Oh, Argus," she cried piteously, "you are the only friend left me in
this wide world!"



END OF VOL. II.



Transcriber's note: Typographical errors silently corrected:

volume 2 chapter 11: =sighed Mabel= replaced by
                     =sighed Lady Mabel=

chapter 12: =We many learn= replaced by =We may learn=

chapter 12: =drift us farther.= replaced by =drift us farther."=

chapter 15: =outside, "How= replaced by =outside, "how=

chapter 15: =in your grandfather's time= replaced by
            =in your grandfeyther's time=

chapter 15: =as your stepfather= replaced by
            =as your stepfeather=





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