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Title: Belles and Ringers
Author: Smart, Hawley
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Belles and Ringers" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



BELLES AND RINGERS


BY

HAWLEY SMART,


AUTHOR OF

"BOUND TO WIN;" "FALSE CARDS;" "TWO KISSES;" "COURTSHIP," ETC.



NEW EDITION.



LEVER BROTHERS, LTD.,

PORT SUNLIGHT, NEAR BIRKENHEAD.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I.

TODBOROUGH GRANGE


CHAPTER II.

THE CONSPIRATORS TRIUMPH


CHAPTER III.

THE COMMONSTONE BALL


CHAPTER IV.

THE ROCKCLIFFE GAMES


CHAPTER V.

AN EXCURSION TO TROTBURY


CHAPTER VI.

A SHORT CUT HOME


CHAPTER VII.

"THE PLAY'S THE THING!"


CHAPTER VIII.

MRS. WRIOTHESLEY


CHAPTER IX.

SATURDAY AT HURLINGHAM


CHAPTER X.

MRS. WRIOTHESLEY'S LITTLE DINNER


CHAPTER XI.

THE RINGING OF THE BELLES



BELLES AND RINGERS.


CHAPTER I.

TODBOROUGH GRANGE.

Todborough Grange, the seat of Cedric Bloxam, Justice of the Peace, and
whilom High Sheriff for East Fernshire, lies low.  The original Bloxam,
like the majority of our ancestors, had apparently a great dislike to
an exposed situation; and either a supreme contempt for the science of
sanitation, or a confused idea that water could be induced to run
uphill, and so, not bothering his head on the subject of drainage, as
indeed no one did in those days, he built his house in a hole, holding,
I presume, that the hills were as good to look up at as the valleys to
look down upon.  It was an irregular pile of gabled red brick, of what
could be only described as the composite order, having been added to by
successive Bloxams at their own convenience, and without any regard to
architectural design.  It was surrounded by thick shrubberies, in which
the laurels were broken by dense masses of rhododendrons.  Beyond these
again were several plantations, and up the hill on the east side of the
house stretched a wood of some eighty acres or so in extent.

As a race, the Bloxams possessed some of the leading Anglo-Saxon
characteristics; to wit, courage, obstinacy, and density--or perhaps I
should rather say slowness--of understanding.  The present proprietor
had been married--I use the term advisedly--to Lady Mary Ditchin, a
daughter of the Earl of Turfington, a family whose hereditary devotion
to sport in all its branches had somewhat impoverished their estates.
The ladies could all ride; and some twenty odd years ago, when Cedric
Bloxam was hunting in the Vale of White Horse country, Lord Turfington
and his family chanced to be doing the same.  Lady Mary rode; Cedric
Bloxam saw; and Lady Mary conquered.  She had made him a very good
wife, although as she grew older she unfortunately, as some of us do,
grew considerably heavier; and when no longer able to expend her
superfluous energies in the hunting-field, she developed into a
somewhat ambitious and pushing woman.  In this latter _rôle_ I do not
think she pleased Cedric Bloxam quite so well.  She insisted upon his
standing for the county.  Bloxam demurred at first, and, as usual, in
the end Lady Mary had her own way.  He threw himself into the fight
with all the pugnacity of his disposition, and, while his blood was up,
revelled in the fray.  He could speak to the farmers in a blunt homely
way, which suited them; and they brought him in as one of the
Conservative Members for East Fernshire.  But on penetrating the
perfidy of the wife of his bosom, Cedric Bloxam mused sadly over the
honours that he had won.  When Lady Mary had alternately coaxed and
goaded him into contesting the eastern division of his county, she was
seeking only the means to an end.  They had previously contented
themselves with about six weeks of London in May and June; but his wife
now pointed out to him that, as a Member of Parliament, it was
essential that he should have a house for the season.  It was the thin
end of the wedge, and though Cedric Bloxam lost his seat at the next
general election, that "house for the season" remained as a memento of
his entrance into public life.

"You see," said Lady Mary to her intimates, while talking the thing
over, "it was absolutely necessary that something should be done.
After he has done the Derby, Ascot, and the University Match, Cedric is
always bored with London.  The girls are growing up, and how are they
ever to get properly married if they don't get their season in town,
poor things!  I began by suggesting masters; but that had no effect on
Cedric--he only retorted, 'Send them to school;' so it was absolutely
necessary to approach him in another manner, and I flatter myself I was
equal to the occasion."

All this took place some six or seven years before the commencement of
our story; and the result had fully warranted Lady Mary's machinations,
as she had successfully married off her two elder daughters, and, as
she had occasionally told her intimates, her chief object in life now
was to see Blanche, the younger, suitably provided for.  Lady Mary was
in her way a stanch and devoted mother.  Her duty towards her
daughters, she considered, terminated when she had once seen them
properly married.  She had two sons--one in a dragoon regiment, and the
younger in the Foreign Office--and she never neglected to cajole or
flatter any one who, she thought, might in any way be capable of
advancing their interests.

The Bloxams had come down from town to entertain a few friends during
the Easter holidays at Todborough, and Lady Mary was now sitting in the
oriel window of the morning-room engaged in an animated _tête-à-tête_
with one of her most intimate friends, Mr. Pansey Cottrell.  Mr. Pansey
Cottrell had been a man about town for the last thirty years, mixing
freely everywhere in the very best society.  It must have been a pure
matter of whim if Pansey Cottrell ever paid for his own dinner during a
London season--or, for the matter of that, even out of it--as he had
only to name the week that suited him to be a welcome guest at scores
of country houses.  Nothing would have been more difficult than to
explain why it was that Pansey Cottrell should be as essential to a
fashionable dinner party as the epergne.  Nothing more puzzling to
account for than why his volunteering his presence in a country house
should be always deemed a source of gratulation to the hostess.  He was
a man of no particular birth and no particular conversational powers;
and unless due to his being thoroughly _au courant_ with all the very
latest gossip of the London world, his success can only be put down as
past understanding.  Neophytes who did not know Pansey Cottrell, when
they met him in a country house, would gaze with awe-struck curiosity
at the sheaf of correspondence awaiting him on the side-table, and
wondered what news he would unfold to them that morning.  But the more
experienced knew better.  Pansey Cottrell always came down late, and
never talked at breakfast.  He kept his budget of scandal invariably
for the dinner-table and smoking-room.  Such was Pansey Cottrell, as he
appeared to the general public, though he possessed an unsuspected
attribute, known only to some few of the initiated, and of which as yet
Lady Mary had only an inkling.

A portly well-preserved gentleman, with iron-grey hair, and nothing
particularly striking about him but a pair of keen dark eyes, he sits
in the window, listening with a half-incredulous smile to the voluble
speech of his buxom hostess.

"Well," exclaimed Lady Mary, in reply to some observation of her
companion's, "I tell you, Pansey" (she had known him from her
childhood, and always called him Pansey, as indeed did many other
middle-aged matrons)--"I tell you, Pansey," she repeated, "it is all a
mistake; the majority of young men in our world do _not_ marry whom
they please: they may think so, but in the majority of cases they marry
whom _we_ please.  The bell responds to the clapper; but who is it that
makes the clapper to speak?  The ringer.  Do you see the force of my
illustration?"

"If I fail to see its force," he replied, "I, of course, perfectly
understand your illustration; and in this case Miss Blanche is of
course the belle, you the ringer, and Mr. Beauchamp the clapper."

"Just so," replied Lady Mary, laughing.  "Look at Diana, my eldest.
She thinks she married Mannington; he thinks he married her; and _I
know I married them_.  People are always talking of Shakespeare's
'knowledge of human nature,' more especially those who never read him.
Why don't they take a leaf out of his book?  Do you suppose Beatrice
nowadays, when she is told Benedick is dying for love of her, don't
believe it, and that Benedick cannot be fooled in like manner?  Go
to--as they said in those times."

"And you would fain play Leonato to this Benedick," replied Pansey
Cottrell.  "Is this Beauchamp of whom you speak one of the Suffolk
Beauchamps?"

"Yes; his father has a large property in the south of the county; and
this Lionel Beauchamp is the eldest son, a good-looking young fellow,
with a healthy taste for country life; just the man to suit dear
Blanche admirably."

"And when do you expect him?"

"Oh, he ought to be here this evening in time for dinner," replied Lady
Mary.  "He seemed rather struck with Blanche in London, so I asked him
down here for the Easter holidays, thinking it a nice opportunity of
throwing them more together."

"I see," replied Mr. Cottrell, laughing; "you think in these cases it
is just as well to assist nature by a little judicious forcing."

"Exactly.  You see, a good-looking girl has such a pull in a country
house, and when she is the only good-looking one, has it all her own
way; and I need scarcely say I have taken care of that."

"Ahem!  Todborough lies dangerously near to that most popular of
watering-places, Commonstone," observed Cottrell; "and there is always
attractive mettle to be found there."

"But I don't intend we shall ever go near it," replied her ladyship
quickly.  "We'll make up riding parties, plan excursions to Trotbury,
and so on.  Just the people in the house, you know, and the rector's
daughters, nice pleasant unaffected girls, who, though not plain----"

"Cannot be counted dangerous," interposed Cottrell.  "I understand.  I
congratulate you on your diplomacy, Lady Mary.  By the way, who is your
rector?"

"The Rev. Austin Chipchase.  A good orthodox old-fashioned parson,
thank goodness, with no High Church fads or Low Church proclivities."

"Chipchase?  Ahem!  I met an uncommon pretty girl of that name down in
Suffolk last autumn, when I was staying at Hogden's place."

At this juncture the door opened, and the object of all this maternal
solicitude entered the room.  Her mother did Blanche Bloxam scant
justice when she called her a good-looking girl.  She was more than
that; she might most certainly have been called a very good-looking
girl of the thoroughly Saxon type--tall and well made, with a profusion
of fair sunny hair, and deep blue eyes.  Blanche was a girl no man
would ever overlook, wherever he might come across her.

"What state secrets are you two talking," she exclaimed, "that you pay
no attention to the bell?  Come to lunch, mamma, please; for we have
been playing lawn tennis all the morning, and are well-nigh distraught
with hunger."

Lady Mary rose and followed her daughter to the dining-room, where the
whole of the house party were assembled round the luncheon-table.  It
consisted, besides the family and Mr. Cottrell, of a Mr. and Mrs.
Evesham and their two daughters--"such amiable girls, you know," as
Lady Mary always said of them; a Mr. and Mrs. Sartoris, a young married
couple; Jim Bloxam, the dragoon; and a Captain Braybrooke, a brother
officer of his.

"Come along, mother," exclaimed Jim.  "Mrs. Sartoris has given me such
a dusting at lawn tennis this morning that no amount of brown sherry
and pigeon-pie will support me under the ignominy of my defeat."

"Thank you, Mrs. Sartoris," said Lady Mary, laughing.  "I am very glad
indeed, Jim, that somebody has been good enough to take the conceit out
of you.  But what do all you good people propose doing with yourselves
this afternoon?  There are a certain number of riding-horses; and of
course there's the carriage, Mrs. Evesham."

"Don't you trouble, mother," exclaimed Jim Bloxam; "we are going upon
an expedition of discovery.  Mrs. Sartoris has got a brother in the
army.  She don't quite recollect his regiment; and beyond that it is in
England, she does not know precisely where he is quartered.  But he is
in the something-somethieth, and we are going to see if we can find him
in Rockcliffe Camp."

"Don't be so absurd, Captain Bloxam," rejoined Mrs. Sartoris.  "But I
am told, Lady Mary, it is a pretty walk to the camp, and that there is
a grand view over the Channel on the south side of it."

"It is the very thing, mamma," observed Blanche.  "It is our duty to
absorb as much ozone as possible while we are down here, in order to
fit us for the fatigues of the season which, I trust, are in store for
us."

"Getting perilously near Commonstone," whispered Pansey Cottrell, who
happened to be sitting next to his hostess.

Although the arrangement did not exactly meet with her approbation, yet
Lady Mary could make no objection, any more than she could avoid
smiling at Cottrell's remark; but it would seem as if some malignant
genie had devoted his whole attention to thwarting her schemes, the
malignant genie in this case taking the form of her eldest son.  Upon
an adjournment, Jim Bloxam strongly urged that those of the party who
were not for a tramp to Rockcliffe should drive into Commonstone, and
ascertain if there was anything going on that was likely to be worth
their attention.  In the middle of this discussion came a ring at the
front door bell, immediately followed by the announcement of the Misses
Chipchase; and the rector's two daughters entered the room,
accompanied, to Lady Mary's horror, by one of the most piquant and
brilliant brunettes she had ever set eyes on.

"So glad to see you down again, dear Lady Mary," said Miss Chipchase,
"and with a house full too! that's so nice of you; just in time to
assist at all our Easter revelries.  Let me introduce you to my cousin,
Sylla Chipchase, just come down to spend a month with us."  And then
the rector's daughters proceeded to shake hands with Blanche and
Captain Bloxam, and be by them presented to the remainder of the party.

Pansey Cottrell could scarce refrain from laughing outright as he
advanced to shake hands with Sylla Chipchase, the identical young lady
whom he had met last autumn in Suffolk, and who had now turned up at
Todborough, looking more provokingly pretty than ever.  He had caught
one glance of his hostess's face; and, behind the scenes as he was,
that had been so nearly too much for his risible faculties that he
dared not hazard another.  As he advanced to shake hands with Miss
Sylla, he felt that the Fates had been even more unkind to Lady Mary
than she could as yet be possibly aware of; for he remembered at
Hogden's that Miss Sylla had not only been voted the belle of a party
containing two or three very pretty women, but had also enchanted the
men by her fun, vivacity, and singing.  Poor Lady Mary! it was hard, in
spite of all her efforts to secure a clear field, to find her daughter
suddenly confronted by such a formidable rival.

"We meet again, you see, Miss Sylla," said Cottrell, as they shook
hands.  "I told you in Suffolk, if you remember, that in my ubiquity I
was a person very difficult to see the last of."

"And who that had ever met Mr. Cottrell would wish to have seen the
last of him?" replied the young lady gaily.  "We had great fun together
in Suffolk, and I hope we are going to have great fun together in
Fernshire.  My cousins tell me there are no end of balls and dances to
come off in the course of the next ten days."

"Dear me!" replied Mr. Cottrell, his eyes twinkling with the fun of the
situation.  "This is all very well for you country people, Miss Sylla;
but we poor Londoners have come down for rest after a spell of hot
rooms and late hours, preparatory to encountering fresh dissipations.
Is it not so, Lady Mary?  Did you not promise me quiet and country air,
with a dash of the salt water in it?"

"Of course," was the reply; "we have come down here to recruit."

"Oh, but, Lady Mary, you will never shut yourself up and turn recluse,"
returned the elder Miss Chipchase.  "You must come to the Commonstone
ball on Easter Monday; you will all come, of course.  I quite count
upon you, Captain Bloxam."

"Perfectly right, Miss Chipchase," replied the dragoon, with a glance
of unmistakable admiration at the new importation.  "Did you ever know
me fail you in valsing? and are not the soldiers of to-day every bit as
much 'all there' as the sailors of yore, whenever England generally, or
Commonstone in particular, expects that every man this night will do
his duty?"

"Ah, yes," replied Miss Chipchase, "I recollect our trying to valse to
'God save the Queen;' but we could make nothing out of it.  And you,
Mr. Bloxam,--you are bound to be there.  Remember you engaged me for
'Sir Roger de Coverley,' for the next dance we met at, last Christmas
Eve."

"I don't forget, Laura," laughed the Squire; "only you really must
moderate the pace down the middle this time."

"And then," continued the voluble young lady, "they have got a big
lunch at the camp, with athletic sports afterwards, on Tuesday, for
which you will, of course, receive cards."

"There is nothing like rural retirement for rest and quietness,"
observed Pansey Cottrell, dryly.

"My dear Laura," interposed Lady Mary, "your tongue is running away
with you.  I have told you we have come down here for a little quiet.
I am very glad, for your sake, that you have so much gaiety going on;
but I am afraid you will have to excuse us taking part in it."

"Now, really that is too bad of you, Lady Mary," returned Miss
Chipchase.  "You are always so kind," she continued, dropping her
voice; "and you know what a difference it makes to us to be able to
join the Todborough party.  With my cousin Sylla staying with us and
all, I really did hope----"

"Impossible, my dear," interrupted Lady Mary.  "If we don't get a
little quiet now, I shall be having dear Blanche thoroughly knocked up
before the season is over."

Miss Chipchase said nothing, but marvelled much what all this anxiety
about dear Blanche's health might portend.  The two girls were sworn
friends, and Laura Chipchase had more than once envied Blanche's
physique when she had met her, looking as fresh as a rose, at the
covertside in the morning, after they had been both dancing until four.

"I am so sorry we shall not see you at the Commonstone ball, Captain
Bloxam," said Miss Sylla, with whom Jim had entered into conversation.

"Why so?  What makes you think I shall not be there?"

"Because your mamma has brought you down here for the repairing of your
shattered constitutions," replied the young lady, demurely.  "Do you
all go to bed at half-past ten?"

"Well, yes," returned Jim, with mock gravity.  "I shall have to comply
with the maternal's programme as far as that goes; but to do honour to
the _début_ of so fair a stranger in the land, I think Miss Sylla, I
can contrive to get out of the window after they are all asleep, and
make my way over to Commonstone."

"Dear me, how I should envy you!  What fun it would be, the really
going to a ball in such surreptitious fashion!"

"Yes," said Jim; "but think about all the fears and anxieties of
getting back again.  It's always so much easier to get out of a window
than to get into one."

"But what are you all proposing to do this afternoon, Blanche?"
inquired Laura Chipchase.

"Well, we thought of walking up to the camp and having a look at the
sea."

"And to search for Mrs. Sartoris's brother," interposed Jim Bloxam.

"You have a brother quartered at Rockcliffe, Mrs. Sartoris?  I wonder
whether we know him?  What is he in?" exclaimed Laura Chipchase.

"No; it is only some of Captain Bloxam's nonsense.  I have a brother in
the army, and he pretends that I don't know where he is, or what is his
regiment."

"A walk to the camp--ah, that would be amusing!" said Miss Sylla.  "I
never saw one.  Are they under canvas?"

"No; boards," returned Jim.  "But come along; if we are going to walk
to Rockcliffe, it is time we were off.  The sooner you ladies get your
hats on, the better.  We'll find Mrs. Sartoris's brother, launch Miss
Sylla here in military circles, and return with raging appetites to
dinner."  And so saying, the dragoon, followed by most of the party,
made his way to the front door.

"Very nice of you, Pansey," said Lady Mary, "to put in that plea for
peace and quietness.  I can't think what has come to the place.  Who
ever heard of Commonstone breaking out with an Easter ball before?
Todborough generally is as dull as ditch-water at this time of year.
Something, it is true, may be going on at the camp; but as we know
nobody there just now, it usually does not affect us.  However, I have
no intention of submitting to such a _bouleversement_ of my schemes as
this; and go to that ball _I don't_."



CHAPTER II.

THE CONSPIRATORS TRIUMPH.

The dressing-bell was pealing as the gay party returned in high spirits
from their walk.  It had been a very successful excursion, and the
newcomer, Miss Sylla, was unanimously voted an acquisition.

"Laura tells me," said Miss Bloxam, "that her cousin sings charmingly,
and is simply immense at charades, private theatricals, and all that
sort of thing."

"Ah, we might do something in that way one evening next week," said her
brother, as they passed through the hall.  "Mr. Beauchamp here, James?"

"Yes, sir; came about a quarter of an hour ago; he has just gone up to
dress."

Blanche was sitting in front of her dressing-table, with her maid
putting the finishing-touches to her toilette, when a slight tap at the
door was followed by the entrance of her mother.

"That will do, Gimp," said Lady Mary.  "I will arrange those flowers in
Miss Blanche's hair myself;" and, obedient to the intimation, the
lady's-maid left the room.  "I have just looked in to speak to you,
Blanche, about this ball.  If the subject is revived at dinner this
evening, you won't want to go to it: you understand?"

"Of course, mamma, I will say so if you wish it; but I should like to
go, all the same."

"Oh, nonsense!  An Easter ball at Commonstone would be a shocking,
vulgar, not to say rowdy, affair.  Besides, surely you have had plenty
of dancing in London, to say nothing of heaps more in perspective."

"Dancing!" replied the girl, with a shrug of her shoulders.  "I don't
call a London ball dancing.  One jigs round and round in a place about
ten feet square, but one never gets a really good spin.  We have been
at Commonstone balls before.  What makes you think this one would be
more uproarious than usual?"

"We have never been to an Easter ball, my dear," replied Lady Mary,
adjusting a piece of fern in her daughter's tresses.  "We came down
here for quiet, and if you don't require a rest, I do.  You must think
of your poor chaperon a little, Blanche."

"Don't say another word, mamma.  You are a dear amiable chaperon, and
have been awfully good about staying a little late at times.  I don't
want to drag you over to Commonstone, when your wish is to be left
peacefully at home.  We won't do the Easter ball, though it is sad to
think what a capital room they have for it.  But come along, there goes
the bell, and I am sure now I look most bewitching."

It was not Lady's Mary's custom to take her daughters into her
confidence, in the first instance, with regard to the matrimonial
designs she had formed for their benefit.  All the preliminary
manoeuvres she conducted herself.  The idea of young people gravitating
together naturally was a theory she would have received with profound
derision.  She looked upon it that all what she would have termed
successful marriages were as much owing to the clever diplomacy of
mothers or chaperons as the victory of a horse in a big race is due to
the skilful handling of his jockey.  During the afternoon she had been
meditating over the plan of her Easter campaign, and resolved to adhere
to her original determination.  Most decidedly she would have nothing
to do with Commonstone and its gaieties, nor would she afford greater
favour to any revelries at the Rockcliffe camp; and most devoutly did
she wish that it was in her power to keep the rector's daughters
altogether at arm's length, now that she had seen this new cousinly
importation.  At arm's length as much as possible the Misses Chipchase
should be held, she determined.

"That Miss Sylla," she muttered, "is just the sort of girl men always
lose their heads about; clever, too, if I mistake not.  Well, I don't
mean to see more of her at the Grange than I am positively obliged to;
but keep her out altogether I can't.  The Chipchase girls have grown up
with my own, and been always accustomed to come and go pretty much as
they liked.  However," thought her ladyship, "the first thing to settle
undoubtedly is this ball;" and, as she and her daughter descended to
dinner, Lady Mary did fancy that, at all events, she had settled that.

"Ah, here you are at last," said the Squire, as they entered the
drawing-room; "dinner is already announced, my lady.  Come along, Mrs.
Evesham, it's no use letting the soup get cold."

"How do you do, Mr. Beauchamp?" said Lady Mary, as a dark, good-looking
young fellow came forward to shake hands with her.  "It seems I am
dreadfully late, and have only time now to say I am delighted that you
have found your way to Todborough.  Perhaps you will take care of
Blanche."  And then the hostess turned away to pair off her other
guests.

"I congratulate you, Lady Mary, on so favourable an augury," said
Pansey Cottrell, as he leisurely consumed his fish.

"Favourable augury!  What can you mean?"

"Do you not see," returned Cottrell, in mock-tragical tones, "that we
are thirteen to dinner?  Do you not know that Lionel Beauchamp is the
thirteenth? and do you not know what Fate has invariably in store for
the thirteenth at a dinner party?"

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Lady Mary; "why, they say it's hanging, do
they not?"

"Well, of late years they have rather qualified the sentence.  Popular
opinion, I think, now inclines to the belief that the thirteenth, when
a man, will be either hung--or married."

"I suppose we are advancing in the science of augury as in all other
sciences," replied her ladyship, laughing, "and find that the omens,
like the readings of the barometer, are capable of two interpretations."

"You must not speak lightly of the science of augury, Lady Mary.  Allow
me to give you the complete interpretation of the omen.  The Fates have
not only decreed that Lionel Beauchamp shall either be hung or married
within the twelvemonth, but reserved the latter lot for him; and they
indicate further who his future wife shall be.  When there is no lady
next him, it's a hanging matter, saith the oracle; where there is, that
lady will be his wife before the year is out.  Now, it can hardly point
to Mrs. Evesham, who is on the right, and therefore I conclude it must
indicate Miss Blanche, who is on his left."

"Very ingenious, indeed, Mr. Cottrell; but, dear me! they have begun to
talk about that horrid ball again at the bottom of the table, have they
not?"

"I say, mother," exclaimed Jim Bloxam, "of course we are all going to
this Commonstone ball on Monday?"

"Nonsense!  I am surprised at your thinking of such a thing.  The idea
of our going to a Commonstone ball on Easter Monday!  Just fancy, my
dear Jim, what it would be,--townspeople and excursionists from round
about.  No; I don't go in for being exclusive, goodness knows; but the
Commonstone Easter ball is a rather more boisterous business than I can
stand."

"What nonsense!" rejoined the dragoon, a little staggered, all the
same, by his mother's argument.  "It will be great fun, and I don't
suppose a bit worse than any other of the Commonstone balls; and we
have always gone to them, you know."

"Yes, but that's a very different thing from an Easter Monday ball.  Of
course you and any of the gentlemen of the party can go.  You will have
great fun, no doubt."

"But," urged Jim, "we are a large party, and can keep to ourselves, you
know.  It is a good room; and here is Blanche, I know, dying for a
galop.  Are you not, my sister?"

"No, indeed," said Blanche, responding bravely to her before-dinner
tutoring; "I assure you I don't care about it in the least.  I have no
doubt mamma is right, and that the ball will be crowded with all sorts
of disagreeable people."

"You little traitress," said Jim, with a comical grin upon his
countenance, "I did think I could count upon you; but you are as
perfidious as a county elector in these days of the ballot-box."

Poor Blanche coloured and bit her lip.  She was conscious of gross
tergiversation, of having ratted shamefully; for that merry party in
the afternoon, as they stood in the camp of Rockcliffe overlooking
Commonstone, had, one and all, vowed to foot it merrily in the
town-hall on Easter Monday, and agreed that for real lovers of dancing
a country ball beat a London one all to pieces.

"Well, mother," rejoined Jim, with one of his queer smiles, "on your
head be it if any harm comes to us; if you will allow your young braves
to go out on the war-path without their natural protectors, you must
not be surprised if some of them lose their scalps.  Beauchamp, you are
a devotee of the goddess, I know.  You will of course form one of 'the
lost children' who brave all the horde of excursionists for the honour
of Todborough."

"Thanks, no," replied Lionel.  "I don't think I care about facing the
barbarians at play."

He was a good deal smitten with Blanche, and knew better than to run
counter to his enslaver's pronounced opinion.

"Then," exclaimed Jim, "like Curtius, I must leap into the gulf
single-handed.  Stop! hang it, I will exercise my military prerogative;
yes, Braybrooke, I shall order you to accompany me, if it is only to
witness the sacrifice."

"Stay, Captain Bloxam," said Mrs. Sartoris, laughing.  "Such devoted
gallantry deserves encouragement; I won't see you fall into the hands
of the Philistines without an effort at your preservation.  You'll go,
Tom, won't you?" she continued, appealing to her husband, "if Lady Mary
can only find us transport."

"Yes, I am good to go, if you wish it," replied Sartoris.

"How I should like to shake the life out of that woman!" thought Lady
Mary, as she smilingly murmured that "if Mrs. Sartoris had the courage
to face the horrors of an Easter ball, there was, of course, the
carriage at her disposal."

"Bravo, Mrs. Sartoris!" cried Jim; "and now that you have given them a
lead, I have no doubt I shall pick up some more recruits, at all
events, young ladies," he continued, appealing to the Misses Evesham,
"it's a consolation to think that we have secured a chaperon, even if
our mothers remain obdurate on the point."

But Lady Mary was not going to suffer any further discussion concerning
the Commonstone ball, if she could possibly prevent it.  What she
mentally termed the pig-headedness of her son already threatened to
upset the seclusion that she had marked out as most conducive to Lionel
Beauchamp's subjection.  Taking advantage of the decanters having made
their appearance on the table, she bent her head to Mrs. Evesham, and
the rising of the ladies put an end to the subject, at all events for
the present.  "If," thought Lady Mary, as she followed her guests to
the drawing-room, "I can only stop their talking any more about this
wretched ball, there will be no harm done.  Jim, Captain Braybrooke,
and the Sartorises are welcome to go, so long as the rest stay at home."

Though silent, Pansey Cottrell had been an amused auditor of the
previous conversation.  Living, as he habitually had done from his
boyhood, always in society, he derived no little amusement from
watching the foibles and manoeuvres of those around him, and
occasionally indulged himself by gently pulling the strings for his own
diversion.  It was a secret that had been penetrated by only a few of
his intimates, but there was lurking in Pansey Cottrell a spirit of
mischief that sometimes urged him to contravene the schemes of his
associates.  It was never from any feeling of malice, but from a sheer
sense of fun.  The present state of affairs, for instance, tickled him
immensely.  He knew that poor Lady Mary had resolutely made up her mind
that the Grange party should have none of this ball, and equally did he
foresee that there was every probability of both herself and all her
guests being present at it.  Secondly, she had brought Lionel Beauchamp
down here, far away from rival beauties, so that Miss Blanche might
capture him at her leisure; and such was Lady Mary's malignant star,
that an exceedingly pretty and fascinating stranger immediately
appeared upon the scene.  Now this was just one of the little dramas
that it so amused Pansey Cottrell occasionally to exercise his
influence in.  I do not mean to say that he would interfere to such an
extent as to either make or mar the wedding; but to take part with the
conspirators and coerce Lady Mary into going to this Commonstone ball
was a bit of mischief quite in his way.  He could not resist the
temptation of teasing his fellow-creatures, and what gave such
particular zest to such tormenting was that his victims were always
perfectly unconscious that he was at the bottom of their annoyance.

In the drawing-room Lady Mary expressed her disapproval of the ball so
strongly that Mrs. Sartoris felt quite guilty, and rather repented her
of having volunteered to join Captain Bloxam's party; but when the
gentlemen made their appearance, Lady Mary was doomed to be made once
more uncomfortable by the proceedings of her first-born.

She listened in somewhat _distrait_ fashion to a flood of anecdote and
small-talk that Mr. Cottrell was pouring into her ears; for she felt
intuitively that Jim was canvassing the whole party on the subject of
this abominable ball with an ardour worthy of a better cause.  She had
seen him talking and laughing with Mrs. Sartoris, and knew that he had
confirmed that lady in her iniquity.  Now he was talking with the
Misses Evesham, and she felt convinced that those flabby-minded damsels
had admitted that they should like to be present, although not half an
hour ago they had assured her that they detested all such "omnium
gatherums."  If she could but have got hold of Jim and told him that
there were particular reasons why the Grange party should not attend
upon this occasion! but no, Pansey Cottrell was entertaining her with a
scandalous and apparently interminable narrative of the doings of one
of her friends, and she felt she had been as effectually buttonholed as
if she were the victim of the Ancient Mariner.

Suddenly a "Confound it, Jim, do hold your tongue!" from the
whist-table caught her ear.  "You deuced near made me revoke.  What on
earth makes you so red hot about this ball?"  And the Squire
mechanically looked round to his wife for telegraphic guidance as to
what line he was to take.

By a sudden shifting of Mr. Pansey Cottrell's chair that gentleman's
form intercepted the slight bending of the brows and shake of the head
that replied to her husband's look of inquiry.

"The proper thing to do, sir," resumed Jim; "residents in the vicinity
of Commonstone must support Commonstone festivities.  The Todborough
contingent must show up on such an occasion, and the Todborough
contingent must show with its chief at its head.  Who knows but you may
want to contest the county again some of these days? and if you don't,
why, perhaps I shall.  I assure you I have a very pretty talent for
public speaking--at least, so our fellows all say.  Isn't it so,
Braybrooke?"

"Oh, I don't quite know about that," was the reply.  "We give you
credit for unlimited 'cheek' when on your legs after supper, and that's
about as far as we can give you a character."

"Well, I don't know; we always do go.  I suppose we ought to go this
time; but there's no necessity for all this hurry.  The ball is not
until the day after to-morrow."  And the Squire again looked anxiously
round for instructions from his wife; but Pansey Cottrell was now
standing between Lady Mary and the card-table, and such inspiration as
might be derived from his back was sole response to the inquiry.

"Excuse me," said Jim, "we can't have people making up their mind about
ball-going on Sundays.  Ball-dresses, however perfect, nearly always
want a little something doing to them at the last, don't they, Mrs.
Sartoris?  Besides, vacillation spoils slumber.  I am only anxious that
you shall lay your head tranquilly on your pillow, like myself, with
your mind made up to do a good and virtuous action."

"Come, I say," cried the Squire, chuckling, "that's rather tall talk,
you know.  I never heard going to a ball called a 'good and virtuous
action' before."

"Well, perhaps not," replied Jim; "but it is, comparatively, you know,
when you think of the many worse things you might do;--Stay at home
here, for instance, trump your partner's thirteenth, revoke, lose your
money and your temper."

"You make out a good case, Jim," said the Squire, laughing.  "I suppose
we must go, lest, as you say, worse should come to us."

As these two latter speeches reached her ears, Lady Mary felt that she
could have boxed those of her son with exceeding satisfaction, and so
wandered in her attention to Pansey Cottrell's narrative as to occasion
that gentleman, who was perfectly aware of the disturbing influence,
infinite amusement.  As a _causeur_ of some repute in his own
estimation, he considered himself in duty bound to take vengeance for
such negligence, and spun out his story to its extreme attenuation
before suffering his hostess to escape.  At length released, Lady Mary
crosses to the whist-table; but the conversation has dropped.  Jim has
moved to another part of the room; and that the Todborough Grange party
shall go to the ball is an accepted fact.  To revive the subject now
Lady Mary felt would be useless, but she made up her mind somewhat
spitefully that her lord should hear a little more about it before he
slept.

"Rather a sudden change in the wind," said Lionel Beauchamp, as he lit
Miss Bloxam's candle in the hall: "instead of being dead against, it
seems to be blowing quite a gale in the direction of the Commonstone
ball.  I suppose you will go too, if the rest do?"

"Yes," she replied mendaciously.  "I don't care in the least about it,
but suppose, like all minorities, I shall have to recant my opinion,
or, what is the same thing, do as the others do; and I shall expect you
to do the same, Mr. Beauchamp, and not, after the manner of some
shameless London men whom we have had here, plead a bad cold, and then
spend the evening tranquilly in the smoking-room, over much tobacco and
a French novel."

"Not I, Miss Bloxam," replied Lionel, laughing.  "I can assure you I am
very fond of a country ball.  My objection is to a country ball with
all the attraction left out."

"Thank you," said Blanche, making him a little mock curtsey, "that is a
very pretty speech to send me to sleep upon; and now good night.  O
Jim, Jim!" she whispered, as she passed her brother, "how could you?
Had you been yet in your childhood, bread and water and dungeons dark
would be punishment quite inadequate to your offending."

"Why, good Heavens! what have I done?"

"Couldn't you see that mamma is dead against any of us going to this
ball, and have you not been canvassing us all as if you had been a
steward?"

"Go to bed, you arrant little humbug," replied Jim, with a perceptible
quiver of his right eye.  "What the _madre's_ reasons may be for
setting her face against this bit of jollity I don't know; but you and
she needn't go, you know.  Mrs. Sartoris has kindly undertaken the
charge of all us young people."

Blanche merely smiled, nodded, and then tripped up the staircase.  I
think there was an unspoken understanding between these two on the
subject of the Commonstone ball.  Jim Bloxam had before known his
sisters take part with the authorities against their private likings
and convictions.

Lady Mary, when she had gained the privacy of her own chamber, felt, to
speak figuratively, that the horses had got a little out of her hand;
that her party, or at all events the larger portion of them, would
attend this ball whether she liked it or not.  Of course she herself
could stay at home and keep Blanche with her; but it would be a little
too marked to attempt to retain Mr. Beauchamp when all the rest of the
party were bound for Commonstone.  She was far too skilful a manoeuvrer
to give lookers-on such transparent grounds for designating her a
match-making mother.  But Lady Mary was a woman both clever and fertile
in resource, one who thoroughly understood the philosophy that, when
things are not going to your liking, there only remains to make the
best of things as they are.  Her instinct warned her that it would have
been better for her designs if she could have carried out her original
programme, and contrived that the Grange party should keep to
themselves; but as things were it was obvious that Lionel Beauchamp
would go to the Commonstone ball, and under those circumstances she
promptly decided that it would be advisable for Blanche and herself to
go too.  Her mind misgave her that Sylla Chipchase was a formidable
rival to Blanche in the matter of beauty and attraction; still, the
encountering of no opposition could but make Miss Sylla more
formidable.  Just as she had resolved upon a change of front, the
Squire entered the room.

"My dear Cedric," she exclaimed, "how could you be so foolish?  What
made you encourage all these people in the absurdity of wishing to
attend that Easter ball?--a mob of tag, rag, and bobtail, tradespeople
and people from Heaven knows where: very good fun, no doubt, for the
officers from Rockcliffe, Jim, or any other young men, but no place for
ladies and their daughters to go to."

"What nonsense, Mary!  Why, you know we always did go to the
Commonstone balls; besides, Mrs. Sartoris expressed----"

"Don't talk to me about what Mrs. Sartoris expressed," interrupted Lady
Mary sharply; "that woman is evidently one of the fast school, and I am
very sorry for Blanche's sake that I asked her down here at all."

This was a most unjustified accusation against poor little Mrs.
Sartoris, who was simply a young married woman fond of dancing and
gaiety.

"Besides," she continued, "you might have remembered that I wanted
Blanche to have a quiet fortnight.  Girls at her age are so easily
knocked up by the dissipations of London, and it is very desirable that
she should take the opportunity of a rest now she can get it."

"Pooh! that's all nonsense, Mary, and you know it.  Blanche is as
strong as a horse, and no girl enjoys dancing more.  Why, she has never
been sick nor sorry since she was a little thing!  I'll go bail that
she's none the worse for her first season."

"Oh, very well; of course if you know better than I do, well and good.
A mother is usually supposed to be the best judge of such matters.  If
she is regularly knocked up by July, don't forget I raised my voice
against the Commonstone ball."

"No, my dear," replied the Squire, as he composed himself for slumber;
"there is not the slightest probability of my forgetting it, insomuch
as, if such a misfortune should befall the girl, I feel confident that
fact would be pretty constantly recalled to my memory."



CHAPTER III.

THE COMMONSTONE BALL.

The same evening that all this discussion--one might almost say
plotting and counter-plotting--concerning the Commonstone ball was
going on at the Grange, there was a conversation going on at Todborough
Rectory, which, could she but have heard it, would have somewhat opened
Lady Mary's eyes to the conspiracy of which she had been the victim.

"I wonder," exclaimed Laura Chipchase, "whether Jim has carried his
point?  He vowed to-day the Grange party should go to the ball, and I
hope they may."

"Yes," said Miss Sylla, "it is always nicer, I think, to be one of a
large party in an affair of this sort.  You are quite independent
then,--a ball within a ball, as it were."

"Just so," said the younger sister.  "And though we know plenty of
people, and are not likely to want for partners, yet it's not the fun
of going a big party.  As for you, Sylla, I can't imagine your wanting
partners anywhere."  And the girl gazed with undisguised admiration at
her pretty cousin.

"The young men are mostly good to me," replied Miss Sylla demurely.
"But what made Lady Mary set her face so dead against this ball?  You
told me she was full of fun, and either assisted at or promoted all the
gaiety in the neighbourhood."

"Ah, I cannot understand that," rejoined Laura.  "The excuse about
Blanche requiring rest is all nonsense.  Why, she told me to-day, she
was never better, and, as you yourself heard, said she should like to
go to this ball immensely."

"Ah, well," said Sylla, with a shrug of her shoulders and a slight
elevation of her expressive eyebrows, "I don't think I care much about
your Lady Mary; your word-painting has been a little too flattering."

"You mustn't condemn her just because she has got this whim in her
head.  We know her well, and like her very much.  We have been brought
up so much with her own children, you know.  But you never told us you
knew Mr. Cottrell."

"Why should I?" rejoined Sylla.  "I hadn't the slightest idea he was in
these parts until I saw him.  He is a dear clever old gentleman" (if
Pansey could but have heard that!), "and one of my most devoted
admirers.  I met him at the Hogdens' last autumn.  It amused me so much
to see how he always got his own way about everything, that I struck up
a desperate flirtation with him, and then, you see, I got mine.  Oh,
you needn't look shocked.  It's great fun when they have arrived at
years of discretion, like Mr. Cottrell; they always get you everything
you want, and are no more in earnest than you are.  Then they are
always at hand to save you 'an infliction.'  I always said I was
engaged to Mr. Cottrell whenever I didn't want to dance with any one
who claimed me, and if I made him a pretty speech, he would always
forgive my throwing him over.  My dear Laura," continued the young lady
gravely, "an admirer of that sort is worth a good half-dozen younger
ones.  But tell me a little more about the Bloxams."

"There is nothing much to tell," rejoined Laura.  "The Squire is just
what you saw him--a fresh, genial, and hospitable country gentleman.
Blanche is a dear unaffected girl, a good horsewoman, and good at lawn
tennis, billiards, and all that sort of thing.  Jim Bloxam is what you
see--as gay, light-hearted, and rattlepated a dragoon as any in the
service; and as for Lady Mary, she is very much better than you give
her credit for."

"Whether the big house goes or not makes a difference in our staff of
partners," observed the younger Miss Chipchase sententiously.  "Let's
see: there's Captain Bloxam, Captain Braybrooke, and Mr. Sartoris--all
most eligible, don't you think so, Laura?  I wonder what this other man
is like whom Blanche talked about--Lionel Beauchamp? he comes to-night."

"What, Lionel Beauchamp!" exclaimed Sylla: "do you mean to say Lionel
Beauchamp is coming to the Grange?"

"So Blanche told me this afternoon; why, do you know him?"

"Know him?  yes, pretty much in the same way you know Jim Bloxam.  By
the way, do you call him 'Jim'?"  (The two girls nodded assent.)  "Ah,
I like to ask about these things: proprieties differ in different
counties; it strikes me Fernshire is of the rigidly decorous order."

"Well," laughed Miss Chipchase, "it is past twelve; and if Todborough
Rectory is to keep its character, we must be off to bed and listen no
more to your Suffolk gabbling.  It's well mamma is laid up with a cold,
or we should have been broomed off long ago."

"Very well, Laura; in revenge for that last aspersion I will tell you
nothing whatever more about Lionel Beauchamp.  Only promise me one
thing: don't let out that he and I have known each other from
childhood, please don't.  I do so want to see Lady Mary's face when she
hears me call him Lionel.  I suspect she is inclined to think me a very
fast young woman.  She shall!" and with this ominous menace Miss Sylla
danced upstairs to bed.  Lady Mary, when she found that she must yield
in the matter of the ball, was far too clever a diplomatist not to give
a most gracious assent.  She laughed, and vowed that she really thought
a set of Londoners like they all were would have looked forward to
quiet during the Easter holidays; but as they preferred racket, well,
racket be it to their hearts' content.  Her duty towards her guests as
hostess was simply to promote the happiness of the greater number.
They would all go to Commonstone, and it only remained now to settle
the matter of transport.  The break would hold eight comfortably.  If
Mr. and Mrs. Evesham with their daughters, Mr. and Mrs. Sartoris, Mr.
Cottrell, and the Squire would go in that, then she, Blanche, and
either Captain Braybrooke or Mr. Beauchamp could go in the carriage,
and Jim could drive one gentleman over in the dog-cart.

Jim Bloxam knew that he had carried his point sorely against his
mother's inclination; but he had got his cue now, and resolved to
second all her arrangements loyally.

"All right, mother," he said, "that will do very well, you take
Beauchamp in the carriage, and Braybrooke can come in the cart with me."

Although the party generally cared little about the manner of their
going to the ball, there was one exception, and this was Mr. Pansey
Cottrell.  That gentleman was extremely fond of his own ease and
comfort, and when a hostess presumed to take him out to a country ball,
he did consider that she was at least bound to find him a front seat in
a most comfortable carriage.  "Breaks are all very well," quoth Mr.
Cottrell, "for tough country gentlemen; but I don't expect to be carted
about as if I was a stag on Easter Monday."  In short, although Pansey
Cottrell could hardly have been said to be seriously annoyed, yet he
held Lady Mary guilty of a want of consideration for a man of his
status in the fashionable world.  To the mischief inherent in his
disposition, and which so often led him to thwart the schemes of those
about him, was now added a mild feeling of resentment, not amounting to
anger, but a feeling that he owed it to himself to mete out some slight
punishment to his hostess.  "Yes," he muttered, as he arranged his
white tie in the glass just before dinner, "I think, Lady Mary, the
chances are that I shall contrive to make you a little uncomfortable
this evening.  That Sylla Chipchase is as full of devilry as she can
be, and with a very pretty taste for privateering besides.  If I give
her a hint of your designs, I should think there is nothing she would
like better than to do a little bit of cutting-out business, and
temporarily capture Lionel Beauchamp under the very guns of the fair
Blanche; however, I shall be guided by events.  But there is one thing,
my lady, you may be sure--I shall not forget I was relegated to a
break."

When the ringers are not in accord the result is wont to be

  "Sweet bells jangled, out of tune."


Upon arrival at Commonstone it became at once evident that Lady Mary
had shamefully libelled the Easter ball.  It was a mixed ball,
certainly; but by no means the tag, rag, and bobtail affair that Lady
Mary had stigmatized it.  If there was a sprinkling of the tradespeople
and also of strangers, there was also a large muster of all the best
people in Commonstone and its neighbourhood.  The Rockcliffe camp, too,
had sent a strong contingent; and altogether, with a good room and good
music, there was every prospect, as Jim Bloxam said, of a real good
dance.  That the Misses Chipchase should meet the Grange party and
attach themselves to it was but natural.  They had always been
encouraged to do so, and how were they to know that the _avatar_ of
such an incarnation of fun, spirits, and beauty as Sylla should have
made Lady Mary repent of former good-nature?  However, Jim showed the
way with Mrs. Sartoris, and the whole party were soon whirling away to
the strains of the "Zingari" valses.

"At last, Mrs. Sartoris," said Jim, "I taste the sweets of successful
diplomacy, and in the Commonstone terpsichorean temple publicly
acknowledge the valuable assistance you lent me in the late great
crisis."

"I am very glad, Captain Bloxam," replied Mrs. Sartoris, laughing,
"that my poor exertions have been so fully recognized.  I am terribly
afraid that Lady Mary has registered a black mark against my name as a
giddy and contumacious guest, not to be lightly entertained for the
future."

"No," replied Jim, "I must stand up for my mother; she may fume a good
deal at the time, but she never bears malice.  But here comes one of my
greatest allies, Dick Conyers; I hope you will allow me to present him
to you."

Mrs. Sartoris bowed assent; the introduction made, his name duly
inscribed on the lady's tablets, and Captain Conyers exclaimed,

"Of course you are coming to 'our athletics' to-morrow?  I know cards
have been duly sent to the Grange--for the matter of that, round the
country generally.  There will be lunch all over the camp; but mind, I
expect you to patronize our mess in particular.  Mile races, half-mile
races, quarter-mile races, sack races, barrow races,--in short,
humanity contending on its feet in every possible shape."

"The very thing," said Jim, "after a ball; don't you think so, Mrs.
Sartoris?  Fresh air, amusement, gentle exercise, and a little
stimulant close at hand if we feel low."

"Ah, Mrs. Sartoris," replied Conyers, "and I really am a little low
about to-morrow.  The best race of the day is a quarter-mile race for
the 'All Army Cup.'  There is a horribly conceited young Engineer of
the name of Montague who already regards it as his own property; and
saddest of all remains the fact that, notwithstanding his crowing, he
can run above a bit; we have nobody in the camp with a chance of
defeating him."

"Why don't you make Captain Bloxam, here, run?" said Mrs. Sartoris.
"Why, you know," she said, turning to Jim, "that you beat all the men
at the Orleans Club a fortnight ago across the cricket-ground in that
impromptu handicap."

"Of course," replied Conyers; "I never thought of that.  I remember now
you won the quarter mile at Aldershot last year.  Capital! this race is
open to the whole army, and the entries don't close till to-morrow.
I'll stick your name down; and if ever you wish to do me a turn, mind
you cut Montague's comb for him to-morrow."

"Well, I can only say," replied Jim, "I am good to have a shy, and will
do my best."

Enthroned amongst the chaperons, and keeping a watchful eye upon her
flock, Lady Mary so far views their proceedings with much complacency.
After two successive dances with Blanche, Lionel Beauchamp has
disappeared with that young lady, and though her daughter is no longer
under her eye, still Lady Mary feels that events are marching in the
right direction.  However, it seemed as if Miss Bloxam had retired into
the purlieus of the ball-room for the evening, and though, under the
circumstances of her disappearance, Lady Mary felt no whit disturbed,
about it, yet she thought she should like a cup of tea, and asked Mr.
Sartoris to be her escort.  But upon arrival at the tea-room, her
equanimity was destined to be somewhat upset, for the first sight that
met her eyes was Lionel Beauchamp and Sylla Chipchase seated in one of
the corners, and apparently engaged in a tolerably pronounced
flirtation.  Now, in the confusion of the greeting between the Grange
party and the rectory people, it had quite escaped Lady Mary that
Lionel Beauchamp shook hands like an old acquaintance with Sylla.  She
had, therefore, no idea that they had met before this evening, and her
dismay at finding Mr. Beauchamp improving his opportunities with Miss
Sylla, when she had pictured him similarly engaged with Blanche, may be
easily imagined.  However, crossing over to the culprit, she observed,
with a pleasant smile,

"Not half a bad ball, Mr. Beauchamp, I think.  I can only hope you find
it so.  I really am quite glad I was persuaded into coming.  By the
way, what have you done with Blanche?  She was dancing with you when I
last saw her some half-hour ago."

"Oh, the room was so warm,", replied Lionel, "we came down here to get
cool; and then Mr. Cottrell and Miss Sylla joined us; and then Cottrell
told Miss Bloxam that it was his dance--or you wanted her--or
something, and----"

"Left me as a substitute," interrupted Sylla Chipchase.

"Ah, well," said Lady Mary, "if Mr. Cottrell is taking care of her,
Blanche is in good hands; I need not trouble myself much about her."

"You make a terrible mistake there, Lady Mary," said Sylla, in accents
of mock anguish.  "Mr. Cottrell is one of the most dangerous and
inconstant of his sex.  He made most desperate love last year to me in
Suffolk, whispers pretty speeches into my ear the whole of this
evening, and then turns me over--consigns me, I believe, is the proper
term--to Mr. Beauchamp as if I were a bale of calico!"  And the young
lady assumed the prettiest attitude of most pitiable resignation.

"I was quite right," thought Lady Mary, as she resumed her cavalier's
arm: "it is as I thought; that girl is as practised and brazen a flirt
as ever crossed a poor woman's schemes.  It was an ill wind that blew
her into Fernshire this Easter."

"Come along, Lionel," said Sylla; "remember that here we must not call
each other by our Christian names.  Fernshire don't understand that we
have been brought up together.  In Suffolk it's different; but
Fernshire will be putting it down as my habit to call all gentlemen by
their Christian names, and I certainly don't want that."

"As you like, Syl--I mean, Miss Chipchase," replied Lionel; and with
that they made their way to the ball-room, where Jim Bloxam immediately
claimed the young lady's hand.

In the course of their dance Jim told his partner all about the
programme for the morrow; how it was arranged that they should all
drive up to the camp to lunch, look at the games, and either walk or
drive back as seemed good to then.  Then he confided to her how he was
going to enter for the "All Army Cup."  "Principally," continued Jim,
"to oblige Dick Conyers, who is so extremely anxious to see the conceit
taken out of a fellow in the Engineers called Montague."

"And you," said Sylla, who manifested great interest in the affair,
"are you really a good runner?"

"Well, no, I can hardly say that--remember that is rather a big thing
to say; but I am a bit above the average, and have beaten good fields
upon three or four occasions."

"I understand; and what chance do you think you have with this Mr.
Montague?  Recollect, I mean plunging in gloves unless you assure me it
is hopeless."

"Well, if I thought it that," replied Jim, "I shouldn't run, and that's
about as much as I can say.  I have never seen Montague run, and I
don't think either of us can possibly draw an estimate of the other's
form; still, the best man in a camp like Rockcliffe must be a pretty
good amateur.  I can only take for my comfort that Aldershot is bigger,
and I proved myself the best man there over a similar distance last
year."

"That's good enough for me.  You must pardon my getting a little
slangy," replied Sylla, laughing; "but, dear me! when we come down to
pedestrianism we can't help it.  I like your friend Captain Conyers.
He is very anxious, you tell me, to see Mr. Montague's colours lowered."

"Yes, I assure you he was quite pathetic in his adjuration to me to do
my utmost," rejoined Jim.

"Ah, well, we must hope he will be gratified, and in spite of _Punch's_
wicked comparison of the dismounted dragoon to the goose on the
turnpike-road, I shall hope to see the camp champion go down before
Todborough to-morrow.  But now tell me, how long have you known Lionel
Beauchamp?"

"I met him this year in London for the first time."

"What do you think of him?"

"He is a very good fellow as far as I can judge," replied Jim; "very
quiet; but you know I have had no opportunity of seeing much of him."

"You never saw him ride, I suppose?"

"No, except in the Row.  Does he hunt?"

"Oh, yes, he hunts in his own county," replied Sylla.  "You never saw
him shoot, I suppose?"

"No, he doesn't attend Hurlingham; that is to say, I mean he doesn't go
in for pigeons.  But why all these questions, Miss Sylla?"

"Never mind; that's my secret.  You may be sure it is intended for your
good," laughed his interrogator.  "In short, you never saw him ride,
shoot, nor do any of those things."

"No," rejoined Jim, much amused; "I never saw him commit himself to
rackets, skating, billiards, or any of those things."

"Ah," rejoined Sylla, "I was curious to see how much you knew about
him.  And now I think I must go and join the rest of them."

Upon arriving at the part of the ball-room in which Lady Mary had taken
up her abode, they found most of the elders of the party assembled, and
the expediency of a move homewards prominently under discussion.

"Ah, make room for me, please," exclaimed the vivacious young lady, "in
that corner next to you, Mr. Cottrell.  You have neglected me
shamefully the whole of the evening, you know.  The sole admirer I can
reckon on in all Fernshire, an adorer privileged to say sweet things to
me, and whose bounden duty it is never to neglect an opportunity of
administering such sugarplums--how dare you treat me so?  You abandon
me in the tea-room, leaving me to be picked up like any other derelict
by the passing stranger.  Now, Mr. Cottrell, I should just like to hear
what you have got to say in your defence."

"Well, Miss Sylla," rejoined the accused, "I left you under very
tolerable protection, and Lady Mary had given me a hint to find Miss
Bloxam for her if I could."

"I don't believe a word of it," replied the young lady.  "You got rid
of me, you know you did, because you felt lazy and unequal to the
exigencies of the situation."

Of course Pansey Cottrell knew that this was all fooling; but then,
like many other middle-aged gentlemen, he rather liked such fooling
with a pretty girl; in fact, was somewhat given to what may be
designated as fatherly flirtation.

"I don't think I left you quite so desolate as you make out.  I should
imagine Beauchamp an eligible cavalier.  He comes from your county, so
no doubt you know him."

"Yes, Mr. Beauchamp and I have foregathered before to-day."

"Ah, it was provoking," continued Cottrell, "after all the pains I took
on your behalf, that Lady Mary, looking upon you as one of her charges,
should be so sternly determined to do her duty by you as to penetrate
the tea-room and nip such a promising flirtation in the bud."

"Yes," said the girl musingly, "I don't think she was altogether
pleased at finding me there.  Still, I can't see that Lady Mary's duty
extends to us just because we have joined her party."

"Can't you really, Miss Sylla?" replied Cottrell, with a twinkle in his
eye and a preternatural solemnity of manner that immediately aroused
the young lady's attention.  "Don't you know that one of the most
important duties of the governors of all communities is to see that the
right men are in the right place?"

"I don't understand you," said Sylla.

"To speak more plainly, then, it is the duty of chaperons to see that
the right men don't sit out with the wrong ladies."

"Ah," replied Sylla, her eyes dancing with fun, "I think I begin to
understand you now.  I was the wrong young lady."

"Well," said Cottrell, "I am very much afraid you were.  Do you see now
why I so basely deserted you and changed partners with Beauchamp?  You
used to be quick enough in abetting me in such pranks last winter."

"I declare," rejoined Sylla, laughing, "you are the wickedest and most
amusing man I ever came across.  You dare to tell me that these Bloxam
people have the audacity to come poaching on our Suffolk preserves?"

"Oh, I don't say that; still, people are so unscrupulous now-a-days.
But I want your help in another little bit of mischief."

"What is it?" rejoined the young lady, with an animation which promised
ready assent.

"Do you know Beauchamp well enough to ask him to dance?"

"Yes, certainly; only don't you let them know it at the Grange."

"Not I.  The carriages have just been sent for; make him dance with
you, and take him out of the way when I signal to you.  He came here
with Lady Mary and Miss Bloxam in the carriage.  When he is not to be
found, I shall volunteer to take his place, leaving him to follow and
take mine in the break; and shall take care that the fact of his being
left dancing with you does not escape Lady Mary's attention."

"Go across and tell Mr. Beauchamp I want him," said Sylla.  "I'll take
care he is out of the way when wanted."

This little conspiracy was crowned with success; and when the carriage
was announced, Lionel Beauchamp was nowhere to be seen.

"It's nonsense waiting for him, Lady Mary," said Mr. Cottrell.  "As
Miss Bloxam is not dancing, you had better be off at once; I will come
with you, and Beauchamp can take my place in the break.  What has
become of him and Sylla Chipchase, goodness only knows!"

There was nothing for it but to submit to circumstances; and, with a
feeling of no little asperity towards that "flirting Suffolk girl,"
Lady Mary drove home to Todborough.



CHAPTER IV.

THE ROCKCLIFFE GAMES.

When Lady Mary came to think over the events of the night she found
considerable cause for dissatisfaction, but it was as nothing to the
further discomfiture awaiting her at the breakfast-table the next
morning.  Her scheme of seclusion--of a quiet party which, contenting
themselves with their own society, should seek for no other amusement
than was comprised within the resources of the Grange--had been already
rudely broken in upon.  And now she was confronted by an arrangement
which her son had entered into without consulting her.  On entering the
breakfast-room she found Jim explaining the programme of the day,--how
they were all to lunch at the mess of the --th regiment and witness the
athletic sports of Rockcliffe camp.

"Cold collation all over the camp, five o'clock tea, fresh air, fun and
flirtation, society and sunshine; if all that does not realize 'a dream
of fair women,' well, then, I know nothing about them," were the first
words that greeted Lady Mary's ear.  Lady Mary Bloxam was no weak
vacillating woman--a woman, on the contrary, wont to carry her point,
and who contrived to have her own way, perhaps, rather more than most
people; but she saw at once that it would be hopeless to stem the tide
upon this occasion.  With all her guests on a lovely spring day anxious
to attend an entertainment not three miles off, what was there to be
said?  No possible pretext could be devised for preventing them.  Why,
oh, why had she persuaded that graceless dragoon to leave Aldershot and
share the peace and tranquillity of home?  She might have remembered
how foreign peace and tranquillity were to Jim's mercurial disposition;
and then, Lady Mary reflected ruefully, that flirting Suffolk girl was
certain to be present at the sports.  In her dismay, she for a second
thought of taking counsel with Pansey Cottrell as to what it were best
to do under the circumstances; but after such festivities as that of
the previous night Mr. Cottrell was always invisible to every one save
his valet till past midday.

The hierarchy of Olympus had apparently taken the Rockcliffe games
under their special protection.  A more glorious April day never dawned
than the Tuesday appointed for its athletic sports.  Here and there a
few fleecy clouds flecked the sky, as here and there a snowy patch of
canvas dotted the sea.  The sun shone forth in all his majesty, and the
soft south-west wind just rippled the waters of the treacherous Channel
and fluttered the flags with which the huts were decorated.  Over every
mess-room flew the regimental burgee as a signal that therein was lunch
for all comers; while in front of those near the course, flanked on
either side by rows of chairs and benches, were pitched marquees for
the convenience of those who might desire lighter refreshment.  As the
Todborough carriages drove up, Captain Conyers and one or two of his
brother officers stepped forward to welcome the party, and, as Lady
Mary had anticipated, almost the next people to greet them were the
Reverend Austin Chipchase, his daughters, and niece.

"Good morning, Mr. Cottrell," said Sylla, with an arch glance at her
fellow-conspirator of last night.  "May I hope that the sweet sleep
that waits on virtuous actions was vouchsafed to you?"

"Thanks, yes," replied that gentleman.  "I slept as a good man should.
I am afraid some of us were a little over-tired.  I regret to say there
was a little irritability manifest in my carriage on the way home;" and
the twinkle in Cottrell's eyes told Sylla Chipchase that Lady Mary had
made due note of her offending.

"You have heard of course that Captain Bloxam means trying for the 'All
Army Cup.'  Great excitement it will be for us, will it not?  We are
all bound to bet recklessly upon the Todborough champion.  I should
like to see this Mr. Montague.  I must get Captain Conyers to point him
out to me.  But, ah, look! here they come!" and as she spoke the girl
pointed to some half-score figures who, clad in gaily-coloured jerseys,
came racing down over six flights of hurdles.  The leading three or
four were well together till they cleared the last hurdle save one; but
immediately they were over that, a pink jersey shot to the front, left
his antagonists apparently without an effort, and, clearing the last
hurdle in excellent style, ran in an easy winner by some half-score
yards, amid tumultous cheering.

"Oh, do find out what this is all about; who won that? what was it?
Ah, Captain Braybrooke, please come here and explain all this to me.
Why are they cheering?"

"That was the two hundred yard race over hurdles, Miss Chipchase.  They
are cheering the winner, Mr. Montague, our opponent, you know.  It
seems ever since Jim's name appeared in the 'All Army Cup' this
morning, excitement has run high; you see, of course they know that Jim
won the quarter of a mile race at Aldershot last year.  It becomes a
case of Rockcliffe _versus_ Aldershot, and of course all the sympathies
of Rockcliffe are with their own champion.  I don't think, Miss
Chipchase, they will throw things at us; but you mustn't expect Jim's
victory to be received with enthusiasm.  It's great fun to see the
excitement his appearance in the lists has occasioned.  It was looked
upon as a foregone conclusion for Montague before; and though he is
still favourite, they know now that he has not got it all his own way."

"Thank you so much," said Sylla, in her most dulcet tones.  "And now,
Captain Braybrooke, I want you to do me a great favour.  It's of no use
denying it, but I am an arrant gambler at heart; I must and will have a
gamble on this.  Will you please put five pounds for me on Captain
Bloxam?" and as she spoke Sylla saw with infinite satisfaction that she
had Lady Mary for an auditor.

"Certainly, Miss Chipchase," replied Braybrooke.  "There can be no
manner of difficulty about that.  I have backed Jim myself, and you can
stand in that much with my bets."

"Once more, thank you," replied Sylla; "and pray let Captain Bloxam
know that the fortunes of all Todborough depend upon his exertions."

But Sylla made a great mistake if she thought that her making a bet on
the result of this race would shock Lady Mary.  The Ladies Ditchin had
known what it was as girls to lose their quarter's allowance over one
of their father's unlucky favourites for a big race; and Lady Mary all
her life had been far too accustomed to regard backing an opinion as
the strongest proof of sincere belief in it to feel in the least
shocked at anybody holding similar views.  She had indeed told her
husband, as soon as the fact of her son being entered for this race
came to her knowledge, that she must have her usual wager of ten pounds
on the result.  All the sporting instinct of her nature had been
aroused, and Jim's entering the lists against the Rockcliffe champion
had gone far to reconcile her to such an infringement of her programme
as was involved in their attending the Rockcliffe games.

"Your brother is a good runner, I presume, Miss Bloxam?" inquired
Lionel Beauchamp, who was sitting with Blanche on the other side of the
marquee.

"Yes, Jim is fast and has won several 'gentlemen's' races.  I don't
want to brag, Mr. Beauchamp, but we Bloxams are all pretty good at
those sort of things, and of course that's all as it should be with my
brothers; but with us girls I don't know that it works quite so well.
We can all dance, but we can none of us draw.  We all play lawn tennis
pretty well, but we can't play the piano; can all ride an awkward
horse, but can neither sing a note in Italian nor any other language.
And you--are you fond of any of these things?  It is so difficult to
tell what a man likes in London."

"Yes," rejoined Beauchamp, "in the London world we are wont to rave
about matters we really don't care a rush about, to affect aesthetic
tastes which we have not got, and the pretension to which entraps us
into much foolish speaking.  We go to all sorts of entertainments we
don't care about, simply because other people go.  You must not betray
me, Miss Bloxam, but I declare I think one passes no pleasanter
afternoon in London than when witnessing a good match at Lord's with a
pleasant party on a warm day."

"Ah, we are all cricketers down here in Fernshire, boys and girls, men
and women; we believe we invented the game, and in the old days stood
pre-eminent in it.  However, we now number so many disciples, and they
have profited so much by our teaching that we are like the old man who,

  "'To teach his grandson draughts then his leisure did employ,
  Until at last the old man was beaten by the boy.'"


"Well, we must hope the old county is not going to be beaten this
afternoon; for I take it your brother represents Fernshire, and
Montague England, and the race by all accounts is reduced pretty well
to a match between them.  But see, there go the competitors!" and
Beauchamp pointed to five men who, with overcoats thrown loosely over
their flannels, were making their way down to the quarter-mile
starting-post.

In spite of their reputation of being swift-footed, Montague and Bloxam
found three other competitors bent on testing whether they really were
as fast over a quarter of a mile as rumour credited them: men of the
stamp always to be found in the army, who do not believe they are to be
beaten till they have had actual experience of it, and who are wont to
be a little incredulous even then about their conqueror's ability to
repeat his victory.  As one of these philosophers remarked, "Montague
means running in the hurdle race; there is always a possibility of his
breaking or straining something in that, and so being _hors de combat_
for the Cup."  However, Mr. Montague had won that race without damage
to himself, and was evidently perfectly fit to take part in the fray.
There is some slight delay at the start, owing to the praiseworthy but
mistaken attempts of a gentleman in a dark blue jersey to get off
somewhat in advance of his companions--an undue eagerness which, having
resulted in his twice jumping off before the word, terminates in his
getting two or three yards the worst of the start when the word "go" is
finally given.  A green and white jersey dashes to the front, and
assuming a longish lead, brings them along at a great pace.  Next come
the all white of Jim Bloxam and the pink of Montague running side by
side and eyeing each other closely.  They take but little heed of their
leader, as they know very well that he can never last the quarter of a
mile at the pace that he is going.  As they anticipated, the green and
white champion is in difficulties before they have travelled half-way,
and the two favourites come on side by side.  They are as nearly level
as possible, but, if anything, the pink jersey has a slight advantage.
The conviction is gradually stealing over Jim that his opponent has a
little the speed of him; his only chance, he thinks, is that his
adversary may not quite "stay" home.  The marquee of the --th regiment,
of which the Todborough party are the guests, is close to the
winning-post, and as the competitors near it the excitement becomes
intense.  Just opposite it, and not thirty yards from the winning-post,
Montague makes his effort, and for a second shows a good yard in
advance; but Jim instantly replies to the challenge and partially
closes the gap.  But it is all of no use:--though he struggles with
unflinching pluck he can never quite get up, and the judge's fiat is in
favour of the pink jersey by half a yard.

"A terrible result that, Mrs. Sartoris," said Conyers, when the judge's
decision was made known: "not only have we lost our money, but there
will be no holding Montague at all now he has lowered the colours of
the Aldershot champion."

"Well," replied the lady, "I don't think Mr. Montague can crow much
over his victory."

"No, indeed!" chimed in Sylla Chipchase; "Captain Bloxam struggled
splendidly, and Mr. Montague had nothing in hand if I know anything
about it."

"Ah, you don't know the man," replied Conyers.  "The closeness of the
contest will not prevent his talking very big about his victory."

"Now that reminds me of a serious omission on your part, Captain
Conyers; remember we have not yet been introduced to the hero of the
hour, and you know what hero-worshippers our sex are."

"That's an omission easily rectified, Miss Chipchase, for here come the
two antagonists.  And as he spoke Jim and his conqueror came up to the
marquee.

"Ah, Miss Sylla," exclaimed the dragoon gaily, "I am afraid I have
disappointed all Todborough; I did my level best, but it was of no use.
Montague here is just a little too good for me.  Allow me to introduce
him to you."

"You must not expect very warm congratulations from us Todborough
people, Mr. Montague.  As you may easily suppose, both our money and
our sympathies were with Captain Bloxam."

"That would naturally be the case," replied the young officer; "and I
am myself indebted to Bloxam's putting in an appearance for a victory
worth winning.  I should have beaten my other opponents without much
difficulty."

"Yes, indeed," replied Sylla, "we fell into what you military men call
the weakness of underrating our opponent.  We did not half believe in
your prowess, Mr. Montague."

"I can only hope that I have convinced you now," he rejoined, smiling;
"and that another time you will range yourself amongst my supporters."

"Oh, I don't know," replied the young lady, with a slight shrug of her
shoulders.  "We are obstinate in our convictions at Todborough, are we
not, Lady Mary?  We still think we can beat Rockcliffe Camp over a
quarter of a mile."

Those around her were listening with no little interest to Sylla
Chipchase's _badinage_.  Pansey Cottrell, who knew the girl better than
the others, felt pretty sure, from the mischief dancing in her eyes,
that this was not mere idle talk, and awaited the disclosure of her
design with considerable curiosity; while Lady Mary, although putting
Sylla down as the most audacious little piece of sauciness she had ever
come across, showed no little admiration for the stanchness with which
the girl stood to her guns in thus upholding their defeated champion.

"No doubt, Miss Chipchase," replied Montague, "a race is sometimes
reversed when run over again, but you must excuse my clinging to the
conviction that what I have once done I can also do again."

"Ah, well," replied the young lady, with an air of mock resignation; "I
told you Todborough fell into the error of underrating the enemy, and
Todborough has paid the penalty of defeat.  Had we deemed you so swift
of foot, Mr. Montague, we should certainly have entered the best runner
we had against you."

Sylla's auditors were now thoroughly nonplussed.  What could the girl
be driving at?  Mr. Cottrell's curiosity was raised to the highest
pitch, whilst Jim Bloxam stared at the fair speaker with undisguised
astonishment.  He most certainly deemed that he was fleeter of foot
than any one in Todborough, and, having lived there all his life, Jim
was not likely to fall into any mistake on that point.

"With the greatest deference for your opinion," rejoined Montague, "I
think, perhaps, we men are better judges on that point than you can be,
Miss Chipchase.  I think, if you ask Bloxam, he will tell you that he
not only can beat everybody at Todborough, but, with the exception of
professionals, can dispose of most men that he comes across."

"That is so like you lords of the creation," replied Sylla, with a
wicked little laugh; "you never will allow that we know anything about
sporting affairs; and yet I have heard my father say that the best
judge of racing he ever knew was a woman, and I am sure some of us take
the best of you to keep with us in the hunting-field.  I have no doubt
that Captain Bloxam thinks, as you do, that there is nobody that can
beat him at Todborough."

"I most undoubtedly don't know it if there is," interposed Jim.

"And yet, Mr. Montague," continued Sylla, "if you had not run such a
severe race to-day, I would challenge you to beat my champion over the
same course."

"Oh, pray don't let that be any consideration," replied Montague, now
somewhat nettled.  He had felt no little elated at defeating Bloxam,
and did not relish any disparagement of his victory.  "Running a
quarter-mile race," he continued, "does not place one _hors de combat_
for the afternoon."

"Ah, well," cried Sylla gaily, "I told you Todborough was stubborn to
believe itself beaten.  If you dare, I'll wager my bracelet"--and she
touched a very handsome bangle on her wrist--"against the cup you have
just won that my champion beats you this afternoon."

"It shall be a match if you wish it.  I can merely say I have beaten
the only man I considered dangerous, and am afraid of none other.
Don't blame me if I rob you of your bracelet; but remember, Miss
Chipchase, this match was none of my seeking.  However, your champion
is on the ground, I presume; perhaps, now, you don't mind naming him."

"Not at all," she replied.  "Will somebody please tell Lionel Beauchamp
I want him?"

"Lionel Beauchamp!" ejaculated Jim, and then he shook his head; for he
regarded Sylla's proceedings now as mere temper.

To the bystanders, of course, the name of Lionel Beauchamp told
nothing.  He was a stranger to all except the Todborough party.  His
name had never been heard of in connection with athletic sports in any
way.  Lionel Beauchamp, in fact, was a young man who, what between
taking a degree at Oxford and foreign travel, had scarcely is yet been
either seen or heard of in the London world.  He was known only in his
own country as one of those quiet reserved dispositions little given to
vaunt their accomplishments.  Both Braybrooke and Jim Bloxam, having
been appealed to by Captain Conyers, said they could form no idea
whatever of his capabilities.  They had never heard him say a word
about running; and if he ever had done anything in that way, it was odd
that he had never mentioned it in the smoking-room last night, when, in
consequence of Jim's entry for the "All Army Cup," discussion had run
high concerning such things.  Lady Mary, on her part, was lost in
conjecture--not so much as to whether Mr. Beauchamp could run, but as
to where Sylla Chipchase could have attained such intimate knowledge of
his accomplishments; while Mr. Cottrell alone showed faith in this
unknown champion, observing cynically to Mrs. Sartoris, that when women
went the length of wagering their bracelets, he thought it most
advisable to be upon their side.

"They really must know they have an immense deal the best of it when
they do that, depend upon it."  Further speculation on the match was
here interrupted by the appearance of Lionel Beauchamp, whom Mr.
Sartoris had duly fetched from the other side of the marquee, where he
had discovered him--what Lady Mary would have called--profitably
employing himself by the side of Miss Bloxam.

"Oh, Lionel!" exclaimed Sylla, and to Mr. Cottrell's intense amusement
she stole a glance at Lady Mary to see how she liked this familiar
address, "I have sent for you to preserve me from the fruits of my
rashness.  If you don't beat Mr. Montague for me over a quarter of a
mile, I shall have to go home without my bracelet."

"But I am sure," interrupted Beauchamp, "that Mr. Montague has no wish
to hold you to so foolish a wager."

"Certainly not," interposed Montague; "I have no wish whatever to press
it.  The match, I assure you, is of Miss Chipchase's making, not mine."

"Ah, well, then," exclaimed Sylla, "perhaps it is my obstinacy, not my
rashness.  I can be obstinate, you know, Lionel; but you will run for
me all the same, won't you?"

"I think it a very foolish wager," he replied, "and that you will
probably lose your bracelet; but I cannot say no if you insist upon it,
and must only do my best."

"You must run," she replied, quickly.  "I could not be so cowardly as
to 'cry off' now.  You _must_ run, and you _will_ win, I feel.  Nobody
here believes it but me; but I know it."  Then, leaning towards him,
she said, with a light laugh, and in tones so low that the others could
not overhear her words, "Lose if you dare, sir!"

Blanche Bloxam, who had come up with Mr. Sartoris and Beauchamp, was no
better pleased than her mother at hearing her late cavalier so
familiarly addressed by such an extremely pretty girl as Sylla
Chipchase.  As for Lionel, he turned away in a quiet matter-of-fact
manner, and said,

"I suppose somebody here can lend me a pair of shoes; and as soon as I
have fitted myself out with those, I am at your disposal, Mr. Montague,
whenever you like."

Any amount of cricket and racket-shoes were speedily placed at
Beauchamp's disposal; and Montague having said that he should be
prepared to try conclusions with the new-comer in half an hour, the
match at once became the subject of animated discussion.  But if the
Engineer had been favourite before, he was still more so now.  With all
the _prestige_ of having beaten the Aldershot champion, it was but
natural that the camp should proffer liberal odds on their "crack"
against an unknown man, and the stanchest adherents of Todborough stood
aloof, with the exception of Mr. Cottrel, and his faith, to speak
correctly, was the result of his belief in Sylla Chipchase.

"Won't you wish me luck, Miss Bloxam?" said Lionel, quietly, as the
bugle summoned the competitors in the match to the starting-post.

"Certainly, with all my heart," rejoined Blanche.  "All our sympathies
are of course with you.  But do you think you can win?"

"I really don't know.  If it was only a mile, Montague would find me
troublesome to get rid of; but this is hardly far enough for me."

The "novice," as the camp with much promptitude christened him, was
keenly scanned when, having divested himself of his coat, he appeared
at the post.  A slight, dark, wiry young fellow, with a terrible
wear-and-tear look about him that should make an antagonist judge him
difficult to dispose of in a struggle of any duration.  There was no
delay this time about the start; for the two jumped off at the first
attempt, Montague having decidedly somewhat the best of it.  By the
time they had gone a hundred yards the Engineer felt sure that he had
the speed of his opponent, and then, sad to say for his supporters, he
fell into the very error which Sylla Chipchase had so deprecated, viz.,
holding his antagonist too cheap.  Mr. Montague's vanity had been
considerably wounded by that young lady's disbelief in his prowess.
She had contrived, as she had most assuredly intended, to irritate him
by her persistent scepticism as to his being the swift-footed Achilles
he so loved to pose as.  He determined to show her and all other
unbelievers what he could really do.  He would make a veritable
exhibition of his antagonist.  He would cut him down and run clean away
from him.  Fired with this idea, he shot well to the front, and came
along the next hundred yards at a great pace, and a shout went up from
the marquees near the winning-post of "Montague wins anyhow!"  But we
all know what comes of the attempt to astonish the gallery.  Although
the Engineer had undoubtedly established a strong lead, yet his wiry
foe, running well within himself, hung persistently on his track, and
was a long way from beaten off.  During the next hundred yards it was
palpable that Beauchamp was slowly but steadily diminishing the gap
between them, and thence up to the marquees he closed rapidly on his
leader.  Thirty yards from the winning-post Lionel made his effort,
fairly collared his antagonist about ten yards from home, and, leaving
him without an effort, won a good race by a couple of yards.  Whether
the result would have been different had Mr. Montague held his opponent
in higher esteem, as in all such cases, it is impossible to determine;
but there can be no doubt that the ostentatious victory he aspired to
made Lionel Beauchamp's task considerably more easy.

Gratulations and condolences welcomed the victor and vanquished as they
walked slowly back to the marquees; but it was with somewhat of a
crestfallen air that Montague advanced to present Sylla with the cup
that she had won.  He feared that she would be merciless in this her
hour of triumph, and dreaded the banter to which he might be subjected.
But Sylla knew well the virtue of moderation, and was, besides, far too
pleased with her success to be hard upon any one.

"No, no, Mr. Montague!" she exclaimed, with the sunniest of smiles; "I
cannot take it; I cannot, indeed.  I am not entitled to it, for my
champion is not even a soldier.  I know without Lionel telling me that
I have been very lucky to save my bracelet.  I am well content to leave
my cup in your hands, for I feel quite sure that you will keep it for
me against all comers."

But if Sylla Chipchase was content, Lady Mary Bloxam was very much the
reverse.  Mr. Beauchamp's victory had gratified her, it was true; but
then how came this sparkling brunette not only to call him "Lionel,"
but apparently to know all his habits and capabilities?  She felt, too,
exceedingly wroth at the manner in which Sylla had unexpectedly usurped
the position of queen of the revels, and again determined that she
would see as little as possible of the Chipchase girls as long as their
cousin was with them.



CHAPTER V.

AN EXCURSION TO TROTBURY.

That there is nothing succeeds like success, is an axiom most
profoundly believed in by women.  The sex have a natural tendency to
hero-worship, and can you but snatch the laurel-leaf, you will ever
count plenty of admirers among them.  In the drawing-room at Todborough
that evening the victor of the afternoon was quite the hero of the
occasion; but we may be sure that in the course of the conversation the
race provoked, Lady Mary did not neglect to ascertain how it was that
Lionel had become on such a familiar footing with Sylla Chipchase.
That young lady having dropped the mask, of course Beauchamp made no
mystery of the fact that they lived close to each other and had been
friends from childhood.  Lady Mary was by no means gratified by this
discovery.  She foresaw that Lionel must necessarily be thrown much
into the society of one whom, with all her prejudice, she could not but
admit was a most attractive girl; and she reflected that young men at
times discover that the little-thought-of playmates of their childhood
have grown up wondrous fair to look upon.  Blanche's curiosity, too,
was also much exercised on this subject, and young ladies, in their own
artless fashion, can cross-examine in such cases as adroitly as a
Queen's Counsel.  On one point there was much unanimity, namely, that
it was a great triumph for the Grange, and most satisfactory that Jim
Bloxam's defeat should have been so speedily avenged.

In the tobacco parliament, held as usual after the ladies had retired,
the race was again discussed, but from its more professional aspect.

"In these hard times," exclaimed Jim, "we cannot allow such a
formidable amateur to be idle.  We shall have to christen you the
'Suffolk Stag,' Beauchamp, enter you at Lillie Bridge, and keep on
matching you at the Orleans Club, Hurlingham, and in the vicinity of
the metropolis generally.  There is only one thing puzzles me: while we
were all talking pedestrianism the other evening, you never gave us a
hint of your powers.  You and Miss Sylla could not surely have already
arranged the successful coup of this afternoon?"

Pansey Cottrell listened somewhat curiously for Lionel's reply.  He did
not think exactly that the pair were confederates, but he most
assuredly suspected that the little comedy had been most deliberately
planned by the young lady, though not perhaps intended to have been
played had Jim Bloxam proved successful; but he called to mind the
dexterity with which she had led up to the wager, and thought of the
many rash bets which he had seen the esquires of fair women goaded into
by their charges at Sandown, Ascot, and the like.

"Certainly not," replied Beauchamp, "I knew nothing about it till I was
called upon to run.  If I had, I should have protested strongly; but it
was too late when I was consulted--there was nothing for it but to save
her bracelet if I could."

"Well, all I can say," returned Jim, "is that the lady is a much better
judge of your capabilities than you are yourself; though how she got
her knowledge I own I am at a loss to determine."

"Well," said Lionel, as he ejected a thin cloud of smoke from his lips,
"I can explain that to you.  I was the quickest in my time at Harrow,
and Sylla Chipchase knows that, as well as that when I was out in North
America after the big game I could hold my own with any of the Indian
hunters of our party; but I never contended against any amateur runners
at home here.  I should think, Bloxam, your opinion is the same as my
own about this afternoon.  Montague would, I fancy, have beaten me if
he hadn't tried to cut me down; over double the distance I have no
doubt I should always beat him."

"It might have made a difference," returned Jim; "but I should back you
all the same if it were to be run over again."

"By the way, Bloxam," observed Mr. Sartoris, as he busied himself in
opening a bottle of seltzer-water, "now I am down here I must see
Trotbury Cathedral.  I suppose it's easy enough to slip over by rail
from Commonstone."

"Oh dear, yes," replied Jim; "but hang it, that's an idea!  We'll do
ever so much better than that, we'll organize a big ride-and-drive
party there; as many of us as can will ride, and the remainder must
travel on wheels.  We will have every available horse out of the
stables to-morrow, go over to Trotbury, lunch at "The Sweet Waters," do
the cathedral and place generally in the afternoon, and get back in
time for dinner.  It'll make a capital day,--suit everybody down to the
ground."

"That would be very charming, and it is extremely good of you to
suggest it; but, my dear Bloxam, I didn't quite mean that.  Lady Mary
has very likely made other arrangements, and of course I don't want to
interfere with those.  I can slip over by myself----"

"Oh, fiddle-de-dee!" interposed Jim.  "My mother will be only too glad
to hear that we have hit off our day's diversion."

"Yes," observed Mr. Cottrell, in a meditative manner; "I have known
Lady Mary for many years, and that is her great charm as a hostess.
She is always anxious that her guests should amuse themselves after
their own fashion.  Too many of our entertainers, alas! will insist
upon it we shall amuse ourselves in theirs."

Jim Bloxam looked sharply at the speaker as he lit his bed-room candle.
Jim had a shrewd idea that Mr. Cottrell at times laughed a little at
his friends as well as with them.

"Cottrell is right, however," he said.  "It's time to go to bed.  After
dancing all last night and running races this afternoon, Beauchamp,
like myself, feels no doubt fit for it."

When Mr. Cottrell reached his bed-room, he took two or three turns up
and down the floor in a somewhat preoccupied manner.  At length a faint
smile played about his mouth, and muttering to himself, "I will!" he
seated himself at the writing-table, rapidly penned a short note,
addressed it, and then sought his pillow in the tranquil frame of mind
that befits a man who has planned a pleasant surprise for his
fellow-creatures.  When his valet brought him his cup of tea the next
morning at nine, Mr. Cottrell briefly informed him that there was a
note on the table for the rectory.

"If you don't know where it is, Smithson," he continued, "inquire
quietly.  Take it at once; there is no answer; and no tattling about
where you have been, mind."

Smithson vanished silently, though aggrieved.  He did feel that the
latter injunction to such a model of discretion as himself amounted
almost to an insult.  A very paragon of valets was Smithson--could be
relied on to be mute as a fish concerning his master's doings, unless
paid to be otherwise, when he of course held to the accepted traditions
of his class.

After a previous conference with the stable authorities, Jim Bloxam at
breakfast proposed the Trotbury expedition.  Lady Mary listened to the
proposed excursion at first with some misgivings.  She expected to hear
it announced that the Chipchase girls had been already asked to join
the party.  They had been thus invited so often before, that they would
have been quite justified in themselves proposing to do so on hearing
such an expedition was in contemplation; but no, neither from Blanche
nor Jim came a hint of such being the case; and then Lady Mary
expressed most unqualified approval of the idea.  It was settled that
they should start punctually at twelve; and as Mr. Cottrell had not as
yet made his appearance, Lady Mary very thoughtfully sent a message up
to his room to inform him of what was in contemplation.  The breakfast
party had nearly all dispersed, even the late comers had thrown their
napkins on the table, and yet the hostess, usually one of the first to
bustle off upon her own private affairs, still lingered over the
_Morning Post_.

"Come, mother," said Jim, suddenly putting his head into the room, "if
you have finished.  I want you to help me to tell people off.  The
governor is not coming; so that leaves his hack at our disposal.  I
thought if we gave that to Sartoris, Beauchamp and myself can take the
hunters, Blanche has her own horse, and the rest of you can go quite
comfortably in the break.  I told them to take the hood off.  And as
for Braybrooke, he is going over to Rockcliffe to see some chum of his
who is quartered there."

"I have no doubt, my dear Jim, that will all do very well," replied
Lady Mary.  "I don't think I shall go myself; and Mrs. Evesham is also,
I fancy, of my way of thinking."

"All right, then; I shall consider that as settled;" and with that
observation Jim left his mother once more in the undisturbed enjoyment
of her paper.

But whether the proceedings of her Majesty's Government, or whether the
denunciation of her Majesty's Opposition, were not to her liking; or
whether the perusal of the Court news had disturbed her serenity;
whether it was that the latest discovery in tenors was reported
stricken with sore throat that grieved her; or whether it was the last
atrocity in crime that made her flesh creep and so disquieted her, it
was impossible to say; but that Lady Mary fidgeted considerably over
her journal was a fact past dispute.  A looker-on, had there been one,
would have noticed that her eye frequently wandered from the page to
the door; and as the clock on the mantelpiece chimed eleven, she rose
from her chair with a petulant gesture and walked towards the window.
A few minutes more, and her patience was rewarded: Pansey Cottrell
strolled into the room, and rang lazily for some fresh tea.

"You're shamefully late, Pansey; you always are, I know," she said, as
she advanced with outstretched hand to greet him.  "But it was too bad
of you to be so when I am so particularly anxious to talk to you."

"My dear Lady Mary, why did you not send me word upstairs?  You know my
usual habits; but you know also that I break them without hesitation
whenever I can be of service to a lady, or even gratify her caprice."

Lady Mary laughed, as she said, "I know better than to exact such a
tremendous sacrifice."  She was perfectly well aware that Cottrell,
blandly as he might talk, never submitted to the faintest interference
with what he termed his natural hours.  "You are in my confidence," she
continued, "and have seen how circumstances combined against me.  Who
could have dreamt those Chipchase girls had such a provokingly pretty
cousin?  They had never even mentioned her very existence."

"Yes, it is awkward," replied Cottrell slowly, "a Miss Chipchase
turning up who is dangerous--decidedly dangerous."

"Yes; and the rector's daughters have always been so intimate with us
all that it is difficult to keep them at a distance--in fact, since
they amalgamated with our party at that dreadful ball, impossible.
Tell me, what do you think of this Sylla Chipchase?  You met her down
in Suffolk.  She is just the saucy chit men go wild about, I suppose?"

"Well," replied Cottrell, with a malicious twinkle in his eyes, "there
is no real harm in the girl; but she'd flirt with a bishop if she sat
next to him at dinner.  And as for men going wild about her, we had two
or three very pretty women at Hogden's last year; and the manner in
which some of those fellows wavered in their allegiance was positively
shameful."

"Men always _do_ make such fools of themselves about girls of that
sort," said Lady Mary, with no little asperity.  "Tell me, did you
notice anything between them?"

"Between whom?" replied Cottrell languidly, and with an expression of
such utter ignorance of her meaning in his face as did infinite credit
to his histrionic powers.

"Between her and Mr. Beauchamp, of course," said Lady Mary sharply.

"Beauchamp wasn't there," replied Cottrell.  "I never saw him till I
met him in this house."

"And what do you think about it now?"

"Two things," replied Cottrell, smiling, "both of which are calculated
to give you comfort.  First, people brought up together don't often
fall in love; seeing too much of each other is probably an excellent
antidote to that complaint.  Secondly, that he seems very much devoted
to Miss Bloxam at present."

"Well, I hope you are right," said Lady Mary.  "It would really be a
very nice thing for Blanche.  At all events, we are out of the
Chipchase girls for to-day."  And, so saying, she rose somewhat
comforted, little aware, poor woman, that another ringer was meddling
with the ropes.

But now the party began to muster in the front hall.  Lady Mary
observed with maternal complacency that Blanche was looking her best
and brightest in one of Creed's masterpieces.  Jim was fidgeting about,
all impatience, and, throwing open the dining-room door, called out,

"You really have time for no more breakfast, Cottrell, if you are
coming with us.  You must put off further satisfying of your hunger
until we arrive at 'The Sweet Waters' at Trotbury.  The horses will be
round directly.  Ah, here they are!"

And as he spoke, the sound of hoofs was heard on the gravel outside,
speedily followed by a peal on the bell; and Mr. Cottrell emerged from
the dining-room just in time to see Jim open the hall door to Laura
Chipchase, attired in hat and habit, with Miss Sylla mounted and
holding her cousin's horse in the background.

Mr. Cottrell contemplated the tableau with all the exultation of a
successful artist; and as for Lady Mary, her heart sank within her as
the conviction crossed her mind she was destined never to be quit of
that "Suffolk girl."

"Admirable, Laura!" exclaimed Jim, as he shook hands.  "What happy
chance inspired you to turn up all ready for riding?  We are just off
to lunch at Trotbury, and of course you and Miss Sylla will join us."

"That will be charming," replied Miss Chipchase.  "Sylla was wild for a
ride this morning; so she and I came over to see if any of you are in
the same mood;" and then the young lady passed on to greet the rest of
the party.

Lady Mary, sad to say, received this statement with the utmost
incredulity, and mentally arraigned her own offspring of duplicity; but
whether Jim or Blanche was the traitor she could not determine.  Could
she but have peeped over Sylla Chipchase's shoulder as that
laughter-loving damsel read Pansey Cottrell's note, she would have been
both enlightened and astonished.


"DEAR MISS SYLLA," it ran, "I cannot recollect the name of the French
song that you told me would just suit Mrs. Wriothesley.  Please send it
me.  We are all going over to-morrow to lunch at Trotbury; some on
horseback, and some upon wheels.  You should join the riding party if
you can, as it will be doubtless pleasant; and though I am not
empowered to say so, Lady Mary will of course be delighted to see you."


"Song!" muttered Miss Sylla, as she read this note, "I never said
anything to him about a French song; but, ah--stop--I think I see it
now!" and she ran through the note again, and as she finished it, broke
into a merry laugh.  "What a dear, clever, mischievous old man he is!"
she muttered.  "Of course he means that I am to join that riding party
and make Lady Mary a little uncomfortable.  Well, she really does
deserve it.  How dare she pretend that I am setting my cap at Lionel?
Such a designing matron deserves some slight punishment, and she little
knows what Mr. Cottrell and I can do when we combine together to avenge
ourselves."

When she descended to the breakfast-room, Sylla found no difficulty in
persuading her cousin Laura to go for a ride.  It was of course easy to
suggest Trotbury.  Then it was agreed they might as well look in at the
Grange on the way, to see if they could persuade any of the party there
to join them in such an expedition; and thus Sylla Chipchase
successfully carried out Mr. Cottrell's design, without making mention
to any one of the note that she had received from him.

The merry party were soon started.  The Misses Evesham, Mrs. Sartoris,
and Pansey Cottrell in the carriage--the reduced number of those
electing to travel on wheels sparing the latter the indignity of the
"break"--the remainder were of course upon horseback; and as Lady Mary
looked after them, admiring the firm seat of her daughter sitting
squarely and well back in her saddle, she wondered whether the "Suffolk
chit," as she persistently termed her, could ride.

"That's a very good-looking one you are riding, Miss Bloxam, and up to
a stone or two more than your weight, as a lady's horse always should
be."

"I don't know about that," replied Blanche, laughing.  "I am tall, and
by no means of the thread-paper order.  King Cole," she continued.
leaning forward to pat the glossy neck of her black favourite, "would
probably tell you he found me quite enough on his back, could he be
consulted.  He is as good, too, as he is handsome, as I shall perhaps
have an opportunity of showing you to-day."

"How so?" inquired Beauchamp.

"Well, we very often on these excursions to Trotbury ride there
quietly, and then lark home.  There is a lovely piece of galloping
ground over Tapton Downs, and a charming cut across country this side
of it, by which we can save nearly a mile."

"That'll be great fun," replied Beauchamp, "and I advocate strongly
such a saving of distance on our homeward journey.  This is one of your
father's hunters I am riding, is it not?"

"Yes, and a grand jumper he is too: accustomed to papa's weight,
carrying you will be quite play to him."

Arrived at Trotbury, the first thing, as Jim remarked, was obviously to
order lunch at "The Sweet Waters;" fortified with which they could then
proceed to do the cathedral, and spend as much time as seemed good to
them over that noble pile.

"There are all sorts of tombs and chapels to see," continued Jim, "with
more than an average crop of historical legends concerning them; and
the vergers have all the characteristics of that class: once upset them
in their parrot-like description, and they flounder about in most
comical manner.  The last time I was here they showed me the tomb of
St. Gengulphus, with an effigy of that eminent clergyman--considerably
damaged about the nose--in stone, on the top.  I appealed to the verger
gravely to know if it was considered a good likeness.  He was staggered
for a moment, and then replied hurriedly that it was.  But, thank
goodness, here comes the lunch.  I feel as hungry as an unsuccessful
hawk."

"Too bad of you, too bad, Mr. Cottrell," exclaimed Sylla Chipchase;
"you were not one of the riding party, and so I have had no opportunity
as yet of rebuking you for your forgetfulness: you had no business to
forget the name of that French song I told you to recommend to my aunt."

"Allow me to observe, Miss Sylla, that I don't consider I deserve much
rebuke on the subject.  I quite remembered your message to Mrs.
Wriothesley; it was only the name of the song that escaped my memory."

"Is Mrs. Wriothesley an aunt of yours?" inquired Blanche, with no
little curiosity; "we know her, and often meet her in town."

"Yes; isn't she charming?  I am going up to stay with her as soon as
the Easter holidays are over; we shall no doubt meet often."

Blanche said no more, but pondered for a minute or two over this little
bit of intelligence.  She did not understand why, but she was quite
certain that her mother disliked Sylla Chipchase, and was conscious of
being not quite in accord with that young lady herself.  She knew,
moreover, that if there was one person that Lady Mary detested in all
her London circle, it was this very Mrs. Wriothesley.

But luncheon is finished, and the whole party proceed to view the
cathedral.  Pansey Cottrell, however, was not to be got beyond the
threshold: he protested that he had too small a mind for so great a
subject, and declared his intention of solacing himself with a cigar
outside for the temporary absence of the ladies, which was, as Miss
Sylla informed him, a mere pandering to the coarser instincts of his
nature, whatever he might choose to call it.  With the exception of Mr.
Sartoris, it may be doubted whether any of the party paid much
attention to what they were shown.  The principal effect on Blanche's
mind was a hazy conviction that Sylla Chipchase was a somewhat
disagreeable girl.  She considered that the familiar way in which that
young lady addressed Lionel Beauchamp, to say the least of it, was in
very bad taste.

But these irreverent pilgrims at last brought their inspection of the
famous shrine to a conclusion, having displayed on the whole, perhaps,
no more want of veneration than is usually shown by such sightseers,
and, picking up the philosophic Cottrell in the close, wended their way
once more back to "The Sweet Waters."

"Don't you think Lady Mary was enraptured to see me this morning, Mr.
Cottrell?" inquired Sylla Chipchase, as they lingered for a minute or
two behind the rest.

"Quite sure of it," was the reply, and the speaker's keen dark eyes
twinkled with fun as he spoke; "and what is more, if my ears do not
deceive me, we shall carry back to the Grange a little bit of
intelligence that I am quite sure will gladden the heart of our
hostess."

"What is that?" inquired Sylla.

"Don't you know?  No; how could you possibly, considering that you are
only now about to make your _début_ in the London world?  You must
know, then, that your aunt Mrs. Wriothesley is the object of Lady
Mary's particular detestation."

"But how came that about?  What was the cause of their quarrel?  I am
sure my aunt is a very charming woman."

"An assertion that I most cordially endorse, and so would all the men
of her acquaintance, and most of the women; but when you come to ladies
in society, there are wheels within wheels, you see.  Your aunt and
Lady Mary have been rivals."

"Nonsense, Mr. Cottrell!" exclaimed Sylla; "why, my aunt is at least
fifteen years younger than Lady Mary.  She was not only married, but
all her children born, before my aunt Mrs. Wriothesley came out."

"True, Miss Sylla; but there are rivalries of many kinds, as you will
find as you grow older.  I can only repeat what I have said
before--Mrs. Wriothesley and Lady Mary have been rivals."

"Please explain," said Sylla in her most coaxing tones.

"No, no," rejoined Cottrell, laughing; "you are quick enough, and can
afford to trust to your own ears and your own observation when you
reach town."

On again arriving at "The Sweet Waters" Jim ordered tea at once, and
the horses in half an hour.  The conversation became general around the
tea-table, and Jim Bloxam was suddenly moved by one of those strokes of
inspiration of which his mother had such wholesome dread.

"Miss Sylla," he explained, "I hear you are a theatrical 'star' of
magnitude in your own country; there is Mrs. Sartoris too, well known
on the amateur London boards; and there are others amongst us who have
figured with more or less success.  It would be sinful to waste so much
dramatic talent; don't you think so, Blanche?  We have not time to get
up regular theatricals, but there is no reason we should not do some
charades to-morrow evening; don't you all think it would be great fun?"

There was a general chorus of assent from all but Blanche, though Miss
Bloxam did not venture upon any protest.

"Then I consider that settled," exclaimed Jim.  "You will do the proper
thing, Laura; my mother's compliments to your father, and she hopes you
will all come up in the evening for charades and an impromptu valse or
two in the hall.  And now, ladies and gentlemen, to horse, to horse! or
else we shall never save the dressing-bell."

"And, Jim," exclaimed Miss Bloxam, as she gathered up her habit, "let's
go the cross-country way home."

"Certainly; well thought of, sister mine.  It's a lovely evening for a
gallop."



CHAPTER VI.

A SHORT CUT HOME.

Through the streets of Todborough and on through the environs of the
city the gay cavalcade rode decorously and discreetly; but nearing
Tapton Downs, the spirits of the party seemed to rise as they
encountered the fresh sea-breeze.

"I am sure you must be dying for a good gallop," said Blanche, turning
to Sylla Chipchase.  "We turn off the main road a little farther on,
and then, if you remember, we have lovely turf upon each side of the
way.  We generally have what Jim calls a 'real scurry' over that."

"I understand--an impromptu race; that will be great fun.  But tell me,
Miss Bloxam--you know all these horses--have I any chance of beating
Lionel?"

"I can hardly say," returned Blanche, laughing.  "We have really never
tried them in that way I should think old Selim, the horse he is
riding, is rather faster than yours."

"Ah; but then, you see, I am much lighter than he is.  Lionel, I
challenge you to a race as soon as we turn off across the downs.  You
shall bet me two dozen pair of gloves to one.  I always make him do
that, you know," she remarked confidentially to Blanche, "in all our
battles, whatever they may be at."

"Very well," replied Beauchamp.  "Only remember, I shall expect those
gloves if I win them; and as I did my best for you yesterday at
Rockcliffe, so I intend to do the best for myself now."

"A very sporting match," exclaimed Bloxam.  "There's about a mile of
capital going over the downs without trespassing.  I'll ride forward,
and be judge and winning-post, while Sartoris will start you."  And so
saying, Jim trotted forward.

"Now," exclaimed Blanche, as, quitting the main highway, they turned
into the cross-country road that led over the downs towards the sea,
"this is where you ought to start from.  If one of you will take the
turf on the right-hand side, and the other that on the left, and do
your best till you come to Jim, we shall all have a splendid gallop,
whichever of you wins.  You start them, Mr. Sartoris.  Let them get a
hundred yards in front of us, and then we'll follow as fast as we can."

The antagonists took their places as directed; Mr. Sartoris gave the
word "Go!" and away they dashed.  Miss Bloxam, sailing away on King
Cole in the wake of Sylla Chipchase, scans that young lady's
performance with a critical eye.  A first-rate horsewoman herself, she
was by no means favourably impressed with it.  Sylla rides well enough,
but her seat is not such as would have been held in high repute in the
shires.  She also displays a most ladylike tendency on the present
occasion to what is technically called ride her horse's head off.

"Two to one!" murmured Blanche; "why, it should be ten to one upon old
Selim!" and with that she turned her eyes to ascertain after what
fashion old Selim's jockey is conducting himself.  But a single glance
at Lionel bending slightly forward in his stirrups, with hands low and
his horse held firmly by the head, pretty well convinces her that he is
a first-flight man to hounds, and probably has appeared in silk on a
racecourse.  The match terminates as might be anticipated: Sylla, under
the laudable impression that she is making her advantage in the weights
tell, gallops her luckless mare pretty nearly to a standstill, and
Lionel, though winning as he likes, good-naturedly reduces it to a half
length, whereby his defeated antagonist lays the flattering unction to
her soul that, had he carried a few more pounds, the result would have
been the other way.

They jogged soberly along some couple of miles, when Blanche exclaimed
gaily, "Who is for the short cut home?  'Let all who love me follow
me.'"  And, putting King Cole at the small fence that bordered the
road, she jumped into the big grass-field on the other side.  Lionel
Beauchamp and Laura Chipchase followed promptly; but Jim, who was a
little in advance, said quietly,

"We had better, I think, keep the road, Sartoris.  The governor's hack,
though admirable in his place, is not quite calculated for the
inspection of the agriculture of the neighbourhood."

He said this good-naturedly, solely upon Sylla's account.  He had
marked the finish of her race with Lionel, and had come to the
conclusion that the young lady was not much of a horsewoman.  Now this
short cut, although over an easy country, did involve the negotiation
of two or three good-sized fences, and he thought it just possible that
the girl would prefer not being called upon to ride over anything of
that sort.  Sylla was possessed of a good many accomplishments, but
riding across country was not one of them.  She had, however, that
curious but common desire to excel in that for which she had no
aptitude; still, if she possessed no other attribute of a horsewoman,
she was undoubtedly gifted with nerve amounting almost to recklessness.

"Oh, no, Captain Bloxam," she exclaimed; "I am sure we can go anywhere
that the rest of them do.  Don't you think so, Mr. Sartoris?"

Without waiting for a reply, the young lady jumped her horse into the
field, and cantered smartly after Blanche and her cousin.

"Well, wilful woman must have her way," Jim said drily.  "Come along,
Sartoris; the governor's hack can jump well enough if you don't hurry
him."  And the two men promptly followed their fair leader across the
grass.

King Cole enjoyed the scurry across country to the full as much as his
mistress, and expressed his pleasure by shaking his head and reaching
hard at his bit.  Laura Chipchase's horse was also roused by the smart
canter at which they were going, and began to pull unpleasantly.

"Let him go, Laura," cried Miss Bloxam; "the King, too, is fidgeting
most uncomfortably.  A good gallop will take the nonsense out of them."

And with that the two girls quickened their pace, and, going on side by
side, led the way at a fair hunting gallop.  The first few fences were
small, and as she sailed triumphantly over them, Sylla's pulses
tingled, and she was fired with the spirit of emulation.  Although she
was some little distance behind, she resolved to catch and pass the
leaders, and with that intent commenced bucketing her mare along in
rather merciless fashion.  In vain did Jim shout words of warning.  She
turned a deaf ear to them.  Had he not recommended that she should keep
the road?  Did he think the art of crossing a country was known only to
the maidens of Fernshire?  She was determined to catch Blanche and her
cousin, whatever her escort might urge to the contrary, and saw with
infinite satisfaction that she was rapidly closing the gap between
them.  Jim Bloxam, galloping a little to her left, and watching her
closely, has already come to the conclusion that wilful woman will have
her fall, and only trusts it may not be serious.

The mare Sylla was riding was a fairly good hunter, and if she would
but have left her alone would have carried the girl safely over such
obstacles as they had to encounter.  But Jim noticed with dismay that
Sylla had some indistinct idea of assisting her at her fences, the
result of which could only be inevitable grief.  The exhilaration of
the trio in front, as attested by the wild shout sent back by Lionel
Beauchamp as they cleared the first of those bigger fences previously
mentioned, put Sylla's blood thoroughly up.  Heedless of Jim's "For
God's sake, take a pull!" she struck her mare sharply with the whip,
and sent her at it as fast as she could lay legs to the ground.  The
consequence was the mare took off too soon, and the pair landed in the
next field somewhat in a heap.  Jim was over and off his horse in a
minute, and at once came to the discomfited fair's assistance.  It is
seldom that a lady shows to advantage after a regular "crumpler," the
story of Arabella Churchill notwithstanding; nor, for the matter of
that, do men either look the better for the process.  No real harm
having been done, the ludicrous side of the situation generally
presents itself; but Sylla was certainly an exception.  Although her
hat was broken, her habit woefully torn and mud-stained, nobody could
have looked at her somewhat flushed face and flashing dark eyes without
admitting that she was a very pretty girl even "in ruins."

"No, thanks; I am not in the least hurt, Captain Bloxam," she replied,
as Jim helped her to her feet; "but I could cry with vexation.  I had
set my heart upon catching those two; but now," she continued, with a
comical little grimace, "I have got to first catch my mare."

With the assistance of Mr. Sartoris, who, taking Jim's advice, had
followed at a more sedate pace, this was soon done; and Sylla, having
rectified her toilette as far as circumstances permitted, was once more
in the saddle.  That she presented a rather dilapidated and woebegone
appearance, nobody could be more conscious than herself; but, as a
woman always does under such affliction, she put the best face she
could upon it.

"I am looking a dreadful guy," she said; "and it is very good of you
two not to laugh at me.  I dare not even think of my hat, for nobody
ever did, nor ever will, succeed in straightening that article into any
semblance of its former shape when it has been once stove in.  I have
only one thing to be thankful for.  Do you know what that is?"

"That you are not hurt in any way," replied Jim.

"Hurt!" she rejoined, with a contemptuous shrug of her shoulders; "I
never thought of that.  Can you guess, Mr. Sartoris?"

"I think so," he returned, laughing.  "You are well pleased that your
cousin and Miss Bloxam were well in front."

"Just so," said Sylla.  "It is easy to see that you are married, Mr.
Sartoris, and can to some extent follow the windings of our feminine
minds.  _They_ would have laughed, and, under pretence of assistance,
called attention," and here the girl looked ruefully down at her rent
habit, "to all the weak joints in my armour; and, lastly, they would
have done what you won't,--tease me to death about it for the next
week."

"Matrimony has inculcated that blindness is wisdom as far as I am
concerned," said Sartoris.

"You see, Captain Bloxam, how that ceremony quickens the understanding.
But you are very good.  I know you think that my fall was my own fault;
that if I had listened to your warning it wouldn't have happened; and
you remain mute.  Laura is a dear good girl; but, in your place, she
couldn't have resisted saying, 'Didn't I tell you so?' to save her
life."

Jim muttered a courteous and most mendacious disclaimer of Miss Sylla's
"grief" being due to disregard of his warning.

The leading trio, in the meanwhile, lost in all the exultation of a
good gallop, and in utter ignorance of Sylla Chipchase's fall, kept on
without slacking rein till they once more found themselves near the
high-road, sweeping round from the point they had left it to this, in
an arc, by traversing the chord of which they had saved about a mile;
and now, looking round for the remainder of the party, discovered, to
their surprise, that they were nowhere in sight.

"They must have gone round by the road!" exclaimed Blanche.  "Perhaps
your cousin, Laura, is not used to crossing a country."

"That I can't say," replied Miss Chipchase.  "Till this Easter I
haven't seen her since she was quite a small child; but I must say,
from what I know of her, that I am rather surprised she didn't try."

"I think it most probable she has tried," observed Lionel quietly.
"Shall I ride back and see what has become of them?"

"No," said Miss Chipchase, "I don't think that is necessary.  Jim and
Mr. Sartoris will no doubt take every care of her.  We had better jump
into the road, Blanche, and see if they are coming that way."

But of course there were no signs of the rearguard along the highway;
and after a delay of a few minutes the party agreed that Sylla was well
taken care of, and they might as well proceed leisurely homewards.  The
victim of her ambition to "witch the world with noble horsemanship" saw
the leaders vanish from her view with much satisfaction.  Under Jim
Bloxam's guidance, and proceeding quietly over more moderate fences,
which, though not the straightest, was perhaps the safest, path to the
high-road, they regained it without further accident.  It must not be
supposed that Sylla's nerves were shaken by her fall.  She rode as
boldly as at first at everything her Mentor allowed; but she was in a
strange country, and compelled, whether she liked it or not, to trust
herself to Jim Bloxam's guidance.

"Now," she exclaimed, "you have come very nearly to the end of your
responsibilities, Captain Bloxam.  You have only, if possible, to
smuggle me into the rectory; and remember--I swear you both to secresy."

"I can take you," replied Jim, "by a bridle-path through the wood,
which will in all probability insure your reaching the rectory grounds
unnoticed; but your getting into the house I must leave to your own
ingenuity."

When, in the course of the evening, Jim, in his own impetuous fashion,
told that he had asked the Chipchase girls to come up to the Grange the
next evening, with a view to charades and an impromptu valse or two,
Lady Mary received the intelligence with the calm resignation of a
follower of Mahomet.  She saw it was hopeless attempting any further to
control the march of events.

"No," she murmured confidentially to Mr. Cottrell in the drawing-room,
"the Fates are against me.  I have done all that woman could, but I
cannot contend with destiny.  It is sad; but whatever with due
forethought I propose, destiny, embodied in the shape of that wretch
Jim, persistently thwarts.  There is no such thing as instilling the
slightest tact into him."

"But, my dear Lady Mary," rejoined Cottrell, whose sense of the
humorous was again highly gratified by the outcome of the trip to
Trotbury, "I really cannot see that you have any cause for complaint.
Things look to me progressing very favourably in the direction you
wish."

"My dear Pansey," replied her ladyship, solemnly, "you do not
understand these things _quite so well_ as I thought you did.  A
variety of belles disturbs concentration, and prevents that earnestness
of purpose which is so highly desirable."

"I see," rejoined Pansey, laughing.  "To revert to the metaphor you
used in our conversation some days since, you object to a peal of
belles.  Your doctrine may be embodied in the formula, I presume, of
one belle and one ringer."

"Yes," rejoined her ladyship, smiling, "that about describes it.  And
now I think it is about bed-time.  Jim, my dear," she continued, as she
took her bed-room candle, "as you have thought fit to improvise a ball,
you had better take care that the young ladies have partners by asking
three or four of the officers from Rockcliffe, if they will waive
ceremony and come."

"All right," he replied, "I will send over the first thing to-morrow
morning;" and from the inflexion of his mother's voice, Jim gathered
that his programme for the morrow had, at all events, not met
altogether with her approval.

But there were still a few more bitter drops to be squeezed into the
cup of Lady Mary's discontent before she laid her head upon her pillow.
She had not been ten minutes in her room when there was a tap at the
door, and Blanche entered.

"I just looked in, mamma dear, to ask you if you knew that the
Chipchases were related to Mrs. Wriothesley?"

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Lady Mary; "what can you be dreaming of?  Why, I
have known Laura and her sister all their lives; and had they been
related to that detestable woman, I must have heard of it."

"Well, I can only say that Sylla Chipchase told me to-day at Trotbury
that Mrs. Wriothesley was her aunt, and that she was going up to stay
with her as soon as the holidays were over."

"Good Heavens!" exclaimed Lady Mary, "I might have guessed it; I might
have known there was some reason for my instinctive dislike to that
girl.  That a niece of that horrid woman should turn out as
objectionable as herself is only what one might expect."

"But really, mamma dear," expostulated Blanche, "although I don't quite
like Sylla Chipchase myself, you cannot say that of her.  I know you
don't like Mrs. Wriothesley; but she is a very pretty woman, and Jim
declares a very pleasant one."

"Don't talk to me of Jim!" cried Lady Mary petulantly.  "He is too
provoking, and thinks every woman not positively ugly that smiles upon
him delightful; but I lose all patience when I speak of Mrs.
Wriothesley.  Of course it's quite possible for Mrs. Wriothesley to be
Sylla's aunt, although no relation to her cousins; and you say this
girl is going to stay with her?"

"Yes, for the remainder of the season," rejoined Blanche.

"Upon my word," exclaimed Lady Mary, "I really cannot think what sins I
have committed, that such a trial should be laid upon me.  Mrs.
Wriothesley is bad enough as it is, and hard enough to keep at arms'
length; but Mrs. Wriothesley with a pretty girl to chaperon--and I am
sorry to own that Sylla is that--a girl, moreover, who has forced her
way upon us in the country, will be simply unendurable."

Pansey Cottrell, had he been present at this scene, would most
thoroughly have enjoyed it, and even Blanche could not help laughing at
her mother's dismay.  Lady Mary's was no simulation of despair.  She
pictured, as Cottrell would have divined, herself and her former foe
once more pitted against each other as rivals, and recalled rather
bitterly that campaign of four or five years back, when another niece
of that lady's successfully carried off an eligible _parti_ that she,
Lady Mary, had at that time selected as suitable for her eldest
daughter.  She had congratulated her antagonist in most orthodox
fashion when the engagement was announced; and, though nothing but the
most honied words were exchanged between them, Mrs. Wriothesley had
contrived to let her see, as a woman always can, that she was quite
aware of her disappointment, and thoroughly cognizant that her soft
speeches were as dust and ashes in her mouth.

"Well, good night, mamma," said Blanche, breaking in upon her mother's
reverie.  "Although you don't like Mrs. Wriothesley, I really don't
think that need interfere with your slumbers."

"My dear, you don't know her," rejoined Lady Mary, with a vindictive
emphasis that sent Blanche laughing out of the room.

Jim Bloxam might have his faults, but no one could charge him with lack
of energy.  Whatever he busied himself about, Jim did it with all his
might.  He had--as in these days who has not?--dabbled a little in
amateur theatricals; and, whatever his audience might think of his
performance, the stage-manager would emphatically testify that he threw
himself into the business heart and soul.  That he should take counsel
with Mrs. Sartoris next morning concerning the proposed charades was
only what might have been expected; and then, an unusual thing in a
country-house party, a dearth of talent was discovered.  Neither
Blanche nor the Misses Evesham had ever taken part in anything of the
kind, and declared in favour of being lookers-on.  Mr. Sartoris
promised to assist to the extent of his ability; but neither he nor his
wife would accept the responsibility of deciding what they should do,
or in fact undertaking the management.  The trio seemed rather
nonplussed, when Pansey Cottrell, who had taken no part in the
discussion, said quietly,

"Why don't you go down to the rectory, and talk things over with the
young ladies there?  Miss Sylla is very clever in that way, I can
vouch, having seen her."

"Of course," exclaimed Jim.  "How stupid of me not to think of it
before!  Get your hat, Mrs. Sartoris.  We have just nice time to slip
across before lunch."

Upon arriving at the rectory, Jim plunged at once _in medias res_.

"We are come across to consult you about what we are to do to-night.
Rumour, in the shape of Pansey Cottrell, declares, Miss Sylla, that you
are 'immense' in all this sort of thing."

"Mr. Cottrell, as you will soon discover, has been imposing upon you to
a great extent," replied Sylla; "but still I shall be glad to be of any
use I can."

"Our difficulty is this," interposed Mrs. Sartoris: "when I have acted,
it has always been in a regular play.  My words have been set down for
me, so that of course I knew exactly what I had to say and when to say
it; but in charades, Captain Bloxam tells me, I shall have to improvise
my words.  I have never seen one acted; but that strikes me as
dreadfully difficult."

"You are perfectly right, Mrs. Sartoris; it is.  And yet people who
have serious misgivings about their ability to act a play have no
hesitation about taking part in charades.  It is wont to result in all
the characters wanting to talk together, or else in nobody apparently
having anything to say, or in one character being so enamoured with the
ease he or she improvises, that the affair resolves itself into a mere
monologue.  I would venture to suggest that our charades should be
merely pantomimic."

"Glorious!" exclaimed Jim.  "I vote we place ourselves in Miss Sylla's
hands, and elect her manageress.  Will you agree, Mrs. Sartoris?"

"Most certainly.  The idea sounds excellent, and to leave the
originator to carry it out is undoubtedly the best thing we can do."

"Very well, then; if you will give me an hour or two to think out my
words, I will explain how they ought to be done."

"If you wouldn't mind coming up to the Grange, we might have a
rehearsal this afternoon, rummage up the properties, and all the rest
of it," exclaimed Jim, energetically.

"That will do admirably," said Laura Chipchase.  "And now, Sylla, the
sooner you set that great mind of yours to work, the better."



CHAPTER VII.

"THE PLAY'S THE THING."

Todborough Grange rejoiced in what should be the adjunct of every country
house--a large unfurnished room.  It had been thrown out expressly as a
playroom for the children by Cedric Bloxam's father, and as they grew up
proved even more useful.  Should the house be full and the weather prove
wet, what games of battledore and shuttlecock, "bean-bags," &c., were
played in it in the daytime, and what a ball-room it made at night!
There was no trouble moving out the furniture or taking up the carpet,
there being nothing but a few benches and a piano in the room.  At one
end was a slightly-raised stage, and off that was a tiny chamber,
originally known as the toy-room, and pretty well dedicated to the same
use now, being stored with properties for cotillons, the aforesaid games,
theatrical representations, &c.  There was a regular drop-curtain to the
stage, but that was all.  Scenery there was none.  That was fitted in
when required, but would have been considered in the way as a permanency,
the stage being used at times as an orchestra, at others as a tea-room.
It was raised not quite a foot above the floor, and could therefore be
easily stepped on to; in fact, upon the few occasions that the Theatre
Royal Todborough opened, the entertainment had been confined invariably
to one-act farces.  At such times it was spoken of with considerable
ostentation as a theatre; but as a rule the old appellation was adhered
to, and it was generally known as the play-room.  It was in this room
that the Misses Chipchase found Blanche, Jim, Mr. Cottrell, Lionel
Beauchamp, and the Sartorises awaiting their arrival in the afternoon.

"Now, Miss Sylla," exclaimed Jim, "we are all ready for you.  We have
installed you in command, and hereby promise attention and obedience."

"Honour and obey, Jim," interrupted Blanche, laughing; "but it is the
lady who should say it."

"It does sound a little as if he had strayed into the marriage service,"
observed Cottrell.

"Ladies and gentlemen not intending to assist in this representation are
requested to withdraw," retorted Jim, "by order of the stage-manager,
James Bloxam."

"Come along, Mr. Cottrell: he has right on his side; the audience have
certainly no business at the rehearsals."

And, followed by the younger Miss Chipchase, Cottrell, and Beauchamp,
Blanche crossed towards the door.  At the threshold they were arrested by
Sylla, who exclaimed,

"You cannot all go; I must have another gentleman.  If Mr. Cottrell won't
act, you must, Lionel."

"I had no idea you acted," said Blanche Bloxam, with some little
surprise; "you said nothing about it this morning when we were talking
this over."

It may have been some slight inflexion of the voice that prompted the
deduction; but certain it was that as Pansey Cottrell heard that
commonplace little speech, he muttered to himself, "The lady is beginning
to take things in earnest, whatever Beauchamp may be."

"I have no idea that I can act," rejoined Lionel, laughing; "but I can
stand still in whatever attitude I am placed, and that, I fancy, is all
Sylla requires of me.  You do not feel any disposition to volunteer, I
suppose, Mr. Cottrell?"

"Heaven forbid!" rejoined Mr. Cottrell fervently, "Miss Sylla might want
me to stand upon one leg.  She will put some of you in most uncomfortable
attitudes, just for the fun of the thing, I know."

"Now," said the manageress-elect, as Mr. Cottrell closed the door behind
him, "what we have got to do is very simple.  I have thought of two words
which will each represent in three tableaux.  Now, I propose that we
arrange these tableaux--six in all--and then, if we run through them a
second time, just to be sure we have not forgotten our places, we shall
have nothing to do but to talk over any details that may occur to us.
First, Mrs. Sartoris, which will you represent, the Lady or the
Chambermaid of my charades?"

"Well, if you will allow me, I think I will do the Lady," said Mrs.
Sartoris, laughing.  "I ought, at all events, to be best in that; but
there are three of us.  What is Miss Chipchase going to do?"

"Oh, she is the Band," rejoined Sylla.  "You see, we must have soft music
all the way through these charades; and we want somebody to play for us
who knows what we are about, and so can follow us."

"And so," interposed Miss Chipchase, "we have settled that I shall play
the piano."

"Very well, Mrs. Sartoris," said Sylla; "then we will consider that
settled; you do the Ladies and I do the Chambermaids.  Now, gentlemen,
you must select your own lines.  What will you be, Mr. Sartoris--Walking
Gentleman, Low Comedian, or Melodramatic Villain?"

"Oh, Melodramatic Villain," cried Mrs. Sartoris,--"he will be delighted.
Tom's theatrical proclivities, shocking to relate, are murderous in the
extreme.  He is always complaining that he is never entrusted with a real
good assassination."

"Then that's settled," exclaimed Sylla.  "Captain Bloxam will take the
Walking Gentleman, and Lionel can do the Low Comedy part."

Under the young manageress's energetic directions the tableaux were
rapidly run through.  The little troupe worked with a will, and in
something under two hours they pronounced themselves perfect, and
predicted, as people always do under these circumstances, that the
performance would be a great success.

"Now comes a question," said Jim, "as to scenery, properties, and
dresses.  There is some little scenery in the granary that has been used
before at different times, and of course we have a certain amount of
properties.  What shall you want, Miss Sylla?" and Jim, taking a sheet of
paper and pencil in a very business-like manner, prepared to make notes
on the top of the piano.

"For the first charade," said Sylla, "the scenery should be a wood scene,
and then we want a lady's bed-chamber.  The second charade is simply a
drawing-room scene all through.  For properties a brace of pistols, a
pair of handcuffs, a jewel-box with plenty of bracelets, rings, &c.--we
ladies can easily find those amongst us.  In the second, nothing but a
letter in bold handwriting.  As for dresses, Mrs. Sartoris and I can
easily manage; and as for you gentlemen, you want nothing but a
policeman's dress, a livery, and a low comedy wig."

"No trouble about any of those things, Miss Sylla, unless it's the low
comedy wig, and about that I have my doubts.  However, Beauchamp must
manage the best he can with his own hair if I can't find one.  There is
only one thing more you forgot to tell us,--what the second word is."

"No forgetfulness at all, Captain Bloxam," replied the young lady,
laughing.  "I am very curious to see if any of you, or any of the
audience, make that word out."

"It's high time we were on our way home," observed Miss Chipchase; "as
soon as you have given us a cup of tea, Jim, Sylla, and I will be off."

When the evening came there was really a good sprinkling of visitors to
look on or join in whatever entertainment might be provided for them.
Jim the energetic, in pursuance of his mother's hints overnight, had not
only sent over to the Rockcliffe Camp, but had dispatched missives in all
directions by a groom on horseback, with the pithy intimation, "Charades
and an impromptu dance this evening at nine.  If you have nothing better
to do, please come."  Jim Bloxam was a popular man in his neighbourhood,
and the Grange had a reputation for improvising pleasant entertainments
in such fashion.  Lady Mary contemplated the forthcoming proceedings with
resignation, if not with satisfaction.  She had a presentiment that the
evening would end unpleasantly for her.  She felt certain that Sylla
would contrive to pose as its heroine; and that the niece of the woman
she most detested in the world should have the opportunity of for once
assuming such a position in the house of which she, Lady Mary, was
mistress, was exasperating.  Pansey Cottrell, too, had contributed not a
little to her irritation by dwelling somewhat persistently at dinner on
Miss Sylla's dramatic talent.  He had done this, dear pleasant creature!
simply for his own diversion.  He was acting as prompter to a little
comedy of real life; and it is ideas, not words, that the prompters on
such occasions instil into our minds.  As a rule, Pansey Cottrell would
have judiciously shirked such an entertainment as the one which he was
now with genuine curiosity taking his seat to witness.  Neither host nor
hostess ever succeeded in persuading him to do what he did not fancy.  He
would be ill, retire to his own bed-room at the shortest possible notice,
would no more make up a fourth at whist, or conduce to the entertainment
of his fellows, than volunteer for a turn on the treadmill.  If his
entertainers troubled him much, he did not come their way again.  Of
course, they need not ask him unless they liked.  But Mr. Cottrell knew
society well.  Once assure such recognition as he had done, and how
obtained matters not an iota: the more unmeasured your insolence to
society, the more does society bow down and worship.

  "Where's Brummell dished?"

Yes, but it was a mere matter of _L.s.d._ that dished him.  That he ever
did tell the Prince to ring the bell is unlikely; but society thought him
capable of doing so, and reverenced him accordingly.

The bell rings, and the fingers of Laura Chipchase, who has already
seated herself at the piano, begin to move dreamily over the keys.  She
plays well, and a soft weird-like melody attunes the minds of the
spectators to what is to follow.  Again the bell rings, and as the
curtain slowly rises comes the sharp report of a pistol.  "Good Heavens!
there is some accident," escapes from three or four lips.  But the wild
ghostly music still falls, without ceasing, from the piano.  Slowly the
curtain continues to rise, and discovers two men confronting each other
after the approved custom of duelling.  On the proper stage right stands
Mr. Sartoris, with brows bent and sullen scowl upon his lip; the
nerveless hand by his side grasps the still-smoking pistol.  Opposite,
and as far from him as the space will admit, is Bloxam, his right arm
upraised, and his hand holding a pistol pointed upwards.  In the
background stands Beauchamp, in an attitude expressive of intense
anxiety.  Having reached the ceiling, the curtain slowly commences to
descend.  As it does so, Bloxam's pistol is discharged in the air, and
the performers remain unmovable till once more masked from the view of
the spectators.

"A duel!" exclaims Miss Evesham; "what are we to make of that?"

"No, no, that won't do," ejaculates the Squire: "he has missed--missed,
don't you see?  Can't be quite right; but that's the idea."

"I have it," rejoins Miss Evesham; "you are right, Mr. Bloxam, that is
it.  It's not missed, but a miss.  There are lots of words, you know,
begin with 'miss.'"

Some slight delay, during which the soft dreamy music still falters
unceasingly from Laura Chipchase's fingers, and then the curtain once
more begins to ascend.  There is no such sensational effect as a
pistol-report to startle the audience this time.  The scene represents a
lady's dressing-room.  In an arm-chair, placed on the stage right
opposite the toilette-table on the stage left, attired as a smart
lady's-maid, reclines Sylla sound asleep; on the table are scattered
bracelets, &c., and also stands an open jewel-case.  Mr. Sartoris, got up
to represent a dog-stealer, a burglar, or other member of the predatory
classes, is in the act of getting in a practicable window at the back of
the stage.  A dark lantern is in his hand, and his feet are artistically
enshrined in india-rubbers.  Stealthily, with many melodramatic starts
and gestures, and anxious glances at the sleeping girl, he makes his way
to the toilette-table, fills his pockets with the glittering gewgaws,
then turns to depart, with his plunder, silently as he had come.  As he
passes the sleeping soubrette, she moves uneasily in her chair.  With a
ferocious gesture the robber draws from his breast an ominous-looking
knife, pauses for a moment, and then, reassured by her tranquillity,
makes his way to the window.  As he disappears, Mrs. Sartoris, an
opera-cloak thrown over her ball-room dress, and carrying a bed-room
candle in her hand, enters and crosses to the toilette-table.  Placing
her candle on the table, she seizes the jewel-box, and, it is evident,
becomes cognizant that robbery has been committed.  As she turns, Sylla
starts from the chair in great confusion; Mrs. Sartoris points to the
table, and then with a start notices the open window.  The curtain
descends upon Mrs. Sartoris pointing in an accusing manner to the window,
and Sylla with clasped hands mutely protesting her innocence and
ignorance of the robbery.

With the clue afforded by the solution of the first syllable, the
audience very soon make out the second; and that the word was either
"mistake" or "mistaken" they entertained little doubt.  Curiosity now
centred on what version they would give of the whole, for that each word
was to be rendered in three tableaux had been stated before the
performance commenced.

The curtain rises again upon the last scene; and upon this occasion the
representation is motionless.  In the centre of the stage, Lionel
Beauchamp, in the guise of a policeman, is snapping-to the hand-cuffs on
the weeping Sylla.  On the left, with averted head, stands Mrs. Sartoris,
indicating sorrow for the offender, but entire belief in her guilt.  On
the opposite side, Jim Bloxam, attired in evening costume, is
unmistakably directing the officer to remove his prisoner.  Slowly the
curtain descends amid much acclamation and cries of "Mistake!"  In his
capacity of stage-manager, Jim Bloxam glides for a moment in front, and,
in a few off-hand words to the audience, acknowledges the correctness of
their apprehension.

"I give Jim credit for his exertions.  That really was most successful,"
said Lady Mary, as her son disappeared.

"I fancy the success is due more to Miss Sylla than him," rejoined Pansey
Cottrell, suavely.  "Jim, as we all know, though one of the best of
fellows, is the most execrable of actors; and I don't think those
tableaux look like his inspiration."

"I am sure he is quite as good as the generality of amateurs," retorted
Lady Mary, with no little asperity.

She was no more exempt from the true womanly instinct that prompts the
regarding of her own chicks as swans than any of her sex.  Mr. Cottrell
was much too quick-witted not to see that his criticism was distasteful,
but he never could resist the temptation of teasing his fellow-creatures.

"Admitting, for the sake of argument, Lady Mary," he replied, "that Jim
is an average actor, when one knows that there is rather exceptional
talent in the troupe, one is apt to regard that as the guiding spirit.
Sylla Chipchase is very clever at all this sort of thing, I know, because
I have seen her on previous occasions."

"You seem to be losing your head about that girl, Pansey, like the rest
of them.  You all seem to think that she is wonderfully clever because
she happened to know that Mr. Beauchamp could run."

"I fancy she knows a good deal more about him than that," replied Mr.
Cottrell demurely.

"What do you mean?  What have you heard about her?" inquired Lady Mary,
somewhat eagerly.

"Nothing, further than she seemed to be equally well aware that he could
act.  But stop, they are commencing again."

Slowly, as before, the curtain ascends to a dreamy melody of the piano,
and discovers Sylla, attired as the smartest of soubrettes, in close
juxtaposition to Lionel Beauchamp in a groom's livery.  Taking a letter
from him, she places it in her bosom, and then looks up at him with all
the devilry of coquetry in her eyes.  She toys with the corner of her
apron, twiddling it backwards and forwards between her fingers.  She
glances demurely down at her feet, then looks shyly up at him again; then
once more studying her apron, she, as if unconsciously, proffers her
cheek in a manner too provocative for any man to resist, and as the
curtain descends Lionel Beauchamp is apparently about to make the most of
his opportunity.

"By Jove!" laughed the Squire, "in Beauchamp's place I think I would have
been thoroughly realistic--the proper thing in these days!"

"Well," whispered Lady Mary to Pansey Cottrell, "of all the audacious
minxes!  Mr. Beauchamp deserves great credit for his discretion in
waiting until the curtain fell before he kissed her."

That Lady Mary assumed the ceremony was concluded may be easily imagined,
while the audience generally differed considerably about the scene, some
of the ladies contending that there was no necessity for carrying
dramatic representation quite so far; while the men, on the other hand,
thought that Beauchamp did not carry it far enough.

The second scene discovers Mrs. Sartoris in the centre of the stage, with
Jim Bloxam on one knee, kissing the hand she extends towards him.  On her
other side, Mr. Sartoris, made up as an elderly gentleman, with coat
thrown very much back, thumbs stuck in the armholes of his waistcoat,
contemplates the pair with a look of bland satisfaction.  Again the
curtain descends, leaving the audience more at sea than ever as to what
the word can be.  Nor is the third scene calculated to throw much
enlightenment on the subject.  In it Lionel Beauchamp, in his groom's
dress, appears to be pantomimically explaining something to the remainder
of the company, who are artistically grouped in the centre of the stage,
and which shrugs of the shoulders, upraised eyebrows, and other gestures,
indicate they either fail to understand, or, it may be, to agree with.
But the whole word, like more ambitious dramatic representations, is
somehow involved in fog.  You cannot help thinking that it must be a good
charade if you could only make out what it was about; but when the
curtain descends, the audience, instead of at once proclaiming the word,
can hardly even make a guess at it.  There are cries for the
stage-manager; and when Jim Bloxam appears in reply to a laughing call,
"The word? the word?" he bows low to the audience, and regrets his
inability to comply with their request.

"The distinguished authoress," continued Jim, "has taken none of us into
her confidence.  She has, I presume, strong opinions on the subject of
copyright, and is determined to give no opportunity of its infringement."

Jim's speech created both merriment and curiosity, and was followed by a
prompt call of "Author, author!"  A few seconds, and then the
stage-manager responds by leading Sylla forward in her soubrette dress.
Dropping the sauciest of curtsies in acknowledgment of the applause with
which she is greeted, she replies in clear distinct tones,

"Ladies and gentlemen, you find our word unintelligible.  Paradoxical as
it may seem, that is precisely the result we have aimed at; and now that
I have told you the word, I am sure you will admit our efforts have been
successful;" and once more bowing to her audience, Sylla disappeared
behind the curtain Jim held back for her.

What can she mean?  What do they mean?  What is it?  What was the word?
were questions responded to by the jolly laugh of Cedric Bloxam.

"Can't you see?" he said, "it's all a sell: we found it unintelligible,
and that is precisely what we were meant to do--that's the word."

And once more the Squire indulged in a hearty guffaw.

But now the company flock into the drawing-room for tea or other
refreshment, while the servants rapidly clear the play-room for dancing.
The curtain is pulled up, the stage occupied by a select section of the
Commonstone band, and, in something like a quarter of an hour Jim's
impromptu dance is in full swing.

"My dear Sylla," exclaimed Lady Mary, as that young lady, leaning upon
Bloxam's arm, stopped near her in one of the pauses of the valse, "I have
not had an opportunity of congratulating you upon your very spirited
pantomime--carried, my dear, a _little_ too far in that last charade."

"Oh, I hope you don't really think so, Lady Mary," cried Sylla; "but you
cannot half act a thing.  When the exigencies of the stage require one to
be embraced, one must admit of that ceremony.  Surely if a girl has
scruples about going through such a mere form, she had much better
decline to act at once."

"That's a question that we will not argue," said Lady Mary.  "I hear you
are going to stay with Mrs. Wriothesley for the remainder of the London
season."

"Yes, she is an aunt of mine; you know her, I believe."

"Very well; we are old friends, although I don't see so much of her as I
once did.  The London world has got so very big, you see, and Mrs.
Wriothesley and I have drifted into different sets."

"Yes," chimed in Pansey Cottrell, who was standing by, "it has got
perfectly unendurable.  One could calculate at one time upon seeing a
good deal of one's friends during the season; now half of them we only
come across some once or twice.  But surely you and Mrs. Wriothesley see
a good deal of each other."

"No, not in these days," rejoined Lady Mary, tartly, much to Mr.
Cottrell's amusement.

He knew perfectly well that the two ladies met continually, although
there was little cordiality between them.  But Lady Mary's last speech
showed him she intended to keep Mrs. Wriothesley at arms' length, if
possible, for the future; and Pansey Cottrell smiled as he thought that
his hostess's schemes would, in all likelihood, be as persistently
thwarted in town as they had been in the country.

"Well, I trust that Blanche and I will contrive to see a good bit of each
other all the same," replied Sylla courteously.  "You know my aunt,
Captain Bloxam," she continued, as she moved away.  "I should have
thought her an easy person to get on with; but I am afraid Lady Mary does
not like her."



CHAPTER VIII.

MRS. WRIOTHESLEY.

When Ralph Wriothesley of the Household Cavalry, better known among his
intimates as the "Rip," married pretty Miss Lewson, niece of that
worldly and bitter-tongued old Lady Fanshawe, everybody said what a
fool he had made of himself.  What did he, a man who had already
developed a capacity for expenditure much in excess of his income, want
with a wife who brought little or no grist to the mill?  The world was
wrong--as the world very frequently is on such points.  It was about
the first sensible thing that the "Rip," in the course of his
good-humoured, blundering, plunging career, had done.  It saved him.
Without the check that his clever little wife almost imperceptibly
imposed upon him, "Rip" Wriothesley would probably, ere this, have
joined the "broken brigade," and vanished from society's ken.  As it
was, the pretty little house in Hans Place throve merrily; and though
people constantly wondered how the Wriothesleys got on, yet the
unmistakable fact remained, that season after season they were to be
seen everywhere and ruffling it with the best.

The Wriothesleys had advantages for which those who marvelled as to how
they managed failed to make due allowance.  They were both of good
family--in fact, their escutcheons were better to investigate than
their banker's account.  Both popular in their own way, they were
always in request to make up a party for Hurlingham dinners, the Ascot
week, or other similar diversion.  They did not affect to entertain;
but the half-dozen little dinners--strictly limited to eight
persons--that they gave in that tiny dining-room in the course of the
season were spoken of with enthusiasm by the privileged few who had
been bidden.  An invitation to Mrs. Wriothesley's occasional little
suppers after the play was by no means to be neglected; the two or
three _plats_ were always of the best, and the "Rip" took care that
Giessler's "Brut" should be unimpeachable.  They had both a weakness
for race-meetings; but Wriothesley's plunging days were over, and his
modest ventures were staked with considerably more discretion than in
the times when he bet heavily.  The lady was a little bit of a
coquette, no doubt; but the most unscrupulous of scandalmongers had
never ventured to breathe a word of reproach against Mrs. Wriothesley.
A flirting, husband-hunting little minx, she had fallen honestly in
love with this big, _blond_, good-humoured Life Guardsman; and,
incredible as it might seem to the world she lived in, remained so
still.  They understood each other marvellously well, those two.  The
"Rip" regarded his wife as the cleverest woman alive; and, though she
most undoubtedly looked upon him in a very different light, nobody more
thoroughly appreciated the honest worth of his character than she did.
As she once said, to one of her female intimates, of her husband, "He
has one great virtue: he is always 'straight,' my dear.  The 'Rip'
couldn't tell me a lie if he tried."

Mrs. Wriothesley is sitting in her pretty little drawing-room listening
to Sylla Chipchase's spirited account of her visit to Todborough
Rectory.

"It was great fun," continued the girl.  "Lady Mary Bloxam was
thoroughly convinced, and no doubt is still, that I was setting my cap
at Lionel Beauchamp.  She had no idea that we had known each other from
childhood; and her face, when I first called him Lionel, would have
sent you into fits of laughter."

"But Lady Mary was right about one thing, Sylla.  Lionel Beauchamp
would be a very nice match for you."

"Don't talk nonsense, mine aunt, or speculate upon the impossible.  I
couldn't care for Lionel in that way any more than he would care for
me.  I am only eighteen, and I am sure I need not think about marriage
as a speculation for some years yet."

"Well," rejoined Mrs. Wriothesley, laughing, "I am certainly not
entitled to preach worldly wisdom.  I was as mercenary, speculative a
little animal at your age as you could wish to see; and what came of
it?  I forgot all my prudent resolutions, fell over head and ears in
love, married the 'Rip,' and have been the genteel pauper you see me
ever since."

"Consigned to such a poor-house as this," exclaimed Sylla
melodramatically, and glancing round at the china and other knicknacks
scattered about the room, "methinks that the stings of poverty are not
so hard to bear."

"Ah, yes," replied Mrs. Wriothesley; "but then, you see, I meant to
have had my country seat, my box at the opera, my two or three
carriages, and that _my_ balls should be _the_ balls of the season."

"Now, aunt, I want to ask you one question.  Mr. Cottrell told me that
you and Lady Mary were once rivals.  What did he mean by that?"

"No!  Did Pansey tell you that?" laughed Mrs. Wriothesley.  "He has a
good memory.  It's now some six or seven years ago that your cousin,
Lady Rosington, then unmarried, was staying with me for the season,
Mary Bloxam at that time was trailing that grenadier eldest girl of
hers about" (a little bit of feminine exaggeration this, the lady
referred to being only half an inch taller than Blanche), "and thought
Sir Charles would suit very well for her husband.  Unluckily for Mary
Bloxam, I thought Sir Charles equally suitable for Jessie, and--well,
in short, we won."

"Ah, now I understand; and I suppose you have never been friends since.
Lady Mary told me that she saw very little of you in London now."

"That is not quite the case.  I think we meet as often as formerly.
Friends we never were, but acquaintances we have been for some years.
Jim Bloxam, though, is one of my intimates.  He is a great friend of
both mine and the 'Rip's,' and we see a good deal of him when he is in
London; and, indeed," she continued, laughing, "for the matter of that,
when he is not; for he has a way of turning up at all places generally
when there is anything going on.  Indeed, we have half promised to
lunch at their regimental tent at Ascot.  And you, what do you think of
Captain Bloxam?"

"I like him very much indeed," replied Sylla.  And she looked her
inquisitor so steadily in the face, that Mrs. Wriothesley came promptly
to the conclusion that no love passages had taken place between the
pair as yet.  But it had suddenly shot through the energetic little
woman's mind that her favourite, Jim Bloxam, would make a most suitable
husband for her niece.  Jim was an eldest son, and Todborough, from all
accounts, a very respectable property.  Yes, it would do very well if
it could be brought about, to say nothing of the satisfaction there
would be in stealing from her old enemy's flock the only lamb that was
worth the taking.  All this ran through Mrs. Wriothesley's mind as
quick as lightning; and though she said nothing to Sylla on the
subject, she had pretty well resolved to do her best to marry those two.

When Mrs. Wriothesley took charge of nieces for the season, she
conceived it her clear and bounden duty to provide for them
satisfactorily if possible.  If Sylla could not be brought to think of
Lionel Beauchamp, it might be possible for her to take a more
favourable view of Captain Bloxam.  True, he was not quite so good a
_parti_ as the other; but it was comforting to think that there was
every probability that it would occasion her old antagonist equal
annoyance.  It further struck her that, engrossed in her plans for her
daughter, Lady Mary would probably totally overlook any flirtation of
her son's.  There is a species of fascination in countermining
difficult to resist; and, though of course she would have in some
measure to be guided by events, Mrs. Wriothesley had pretty well
determined upon the course she would pursue.

"What are you thinking about?" inquired Sylla, breaking in upon her
aunt's reverie.  "They should be pleasant thoughts, judging from the
smile on your lips."

"Thinking, my dear, that if we don't get our bonnets on, the world will
all have gone home to luncheon before we get to the Row, and it is good
for us to get the fresh air of the morning."

A little later, and the two ladies passed into the Park by the Albert
Gate, and made their way to the High Change of gossip of fashionable
London.  A bright fresh spring morning filled the Row to overflowing.
It was thronged, as it always is on a fine day after Easter.
Fashionable London comes to see who of its acquaintances may be in
town; and numberless parties and plans for the future are sketched out
on these occasions.  As for Mrs. Wriothesley's acquaintance, their name
was legion.  Everybody seemed to know her; and that she was popular was
evident from the numbers who stopped to speak to her.  They had not
been long installed in their chairs before Sylla perceived Mr. Cottrell
lounging towards them, and pointed him out to her aunt.

"Ah," exclaimed Mrs. Wriothesley, "I must signal him as soon as he gets
within range.  I want to speak to him.  I should like to hear his
account of your Todborough party."

"Do," replied Sylla, laughing.  "He is my fellow-conspirator, remember,
though I don't suppose he will confess anything.  It's delicious to see
the utterly unconscious way in which he will upset people's schemes.  I
used really at first to think he did it innocently, but I soon
discovered it was _malice prepense_."

"Yes, I know Pansey Cottrell very well.  He is very mischievous; though
not malicious, unless you interfere with his personal comfort; rather
given to playing tricks upon his fellow-creatures; but he is more of a
Puck than a Mephistopheles.--Good morning, Mr. Cottrell.  Pray come and
give an account of yourself.  Sylla tells me you have been passing
Easter with the Bloxams."

"Quite so," replied that gentleman, as he raised his hat.  "Miss Sylla
and I have been dedicating our poor talents to the amusement of Lady
Mary's guests, and to the furtherance of Lady Mary's plans.  I am sure
she was much delighted at all the dancing and theatricals we inveigled
her into.  I presume," he continued, turning to Sylla, "that you have
seen her since your arrival in town."

"Not yet," returned the girl.  "She told me, you know, at Todborough,
that she and my aunt moved in somewhat different sets."

"Which is hardly the case, as you know," interrupted Mrs. Wriothesley.
"What do you suppose she meant by that?"

"I?" replied Cottrell.  "My dear Mrs. Wriothesley, I never pretend to
understand what a woman means by doubtful speech of any kind.  Our
masculine understandings are a great deal too dense to penetrate the
subtleties of feminine language.  She might mean that she intends your
grooves to lie far apart for the future; and then again she might mean
something--something--else," continued Mr. Cottrell, rather vaguely.

"So you think Mary Bloxam intends to see as little of me in future as
possible?" rejoined Mrs. Wriothesley, taking no manner of notice of her
companion's last words.

"No; don't say I think so," interrupted Mr. Cottrell.  "I told you
particularly I could form no conclusion as to what she meant.  However,
this place is neutral ground, and all the world meets here, or rather
would, if it was not so crowded that it is almost impossible to find
anybody.  But--ah, here comes Lady Mary and _la belle_ Blanche!  Shall
I stop her, and ask her what she does mean?"  And Mr. Cottrell looked
so utterly unconscious, that any one who did not know him might have
deemed him actually about to put this awkward interrogatory.  But the
two ladies to whom he was speaking knew him better than that, and only
laughed.

Whether Lady Mary intended to pass Mrs. Wriothesley with merely a bow
it would be difficult to say, but certain it is that Mr. Cottrell
supposed that to be her intention.  Prompted by his insatiable passion
for teasing his fellow-creatures, he took advantage of his situation,
and, turning from Mrs. Wriothesley and Sylla, placed himself in Lady
Mary's way, and stopped her to shake hands.  It was only natural that
Sylla should jump up to say "How do you do?" to Blanche; and then
suddenly occurred to Mrs. Wriothesley the audacious idea of capturing
her enemy and bearing her off in triumph to luncheon.  She rose,
greeted Lady Mary and Blanche warmly, and then strongly urged that they
should come home with her to Hans Place when the Park should begin to
thin.

"You know, I am close to Prince's, and the Canadians are going to play
a match at La Crosse, which is well worth looking on at; such a pretty
game.  We can go across and have our afternoon tea at the little tables
overlooking the cricket-ground.  Everybody will be there."

"Mrs. Wriothesley is quite right," interposed Cottrell gravely.  "Not
to have seen La Crosse played is as grave an omission this season as
not to have done the Opera, the Royal Academy, or other of the
stereotyped exhibitions.  If you can't rave about the 'dexterity of the
dear Indians,' you are really not doing your duty to society.  They are
the last new craze; and admitting that you have not seen them being out
of the question, as a lover of veracity I counsel you to do so at once."

We lunch and dine at a good many places that we would rather not;
entertain, and are entertained by, a good many people for whom we feel
a by no means dormant aversion.  It is only the Pansey Cottrells of
this world who successfully evade all such obligations, and
persistently decline to do aught that does not pleasure them.

Lady Mary was too much a woman of the world to be entrapped by a _tour
de force_ such as this.  She hesitated; thought it was impossible.  It
was very kind of Mrs. Wriothesley; but they had so many visits to pay,
so much to do, &c.  But here, somewhat to her mother's astonishment,
Blanche interposed, and suggested that their other engagements could be
postponed.  The young lady was great at lawn tennis, having a natural
aptitude for all games of that description.  She had heard a great deal
about this La Crosse, and was extremely curious to see it; therefore it
was not surprising that she should advocate the acceptance of Mrs.
Wriothesley's invitation.

"It's a thing you will have to do some time or other, Lady Mary,"
observed Mr. Cottrell, "unless you are setting up as an 'eccentric.'
By-the-bye, Miss Sylla, of course you will see Beauchamp at Prince's.
Tell him I have heard of a park hack worth his looking at.  He was
wanting one the other day."

That settled the question.  Lady Mary felt now it was essential that
she should be at Prince's and see how Sylla progressed in her insidious
designs.  For that Miss Chipchase, under her aunt's guidance, was not
doing her best to entangle Lionel Beauchamp in her toils, no power
could have persuaded Lady Mary.  Mrs. Wriothesley was one of the few
people who thoroughly understood the whimsical perversity of Mr.
Cottrell's character, and she shrewdly suspected, as was indeed the
case, that he had no more heard of that hack than that he had that
Beauchamp wanted one.

It was seldom that Ralph Wriothesley honoured his wife's
luncheon-table, so the four ladies had that meal all to themselves.
Mrs. Wriothesley exerted herself to be agreeable; and if Lady Mary had
still doubts about her hostess's sincerity, she was not insensible to
the charm of her manner; so that in spite of her mother's misgivings
and Blanche's own nascent jealousy of Sylla, the afternoon glided
pleasantly by, until it was time to stroll across to Prince's.  They
found quite a fashionable mob already there assembled, for, as Mr.
Cottrell had told them, to see the Canadians play La Crosse was one of
the novelties of the season.  That gentleman's idle words proved true
also in more senses than one, for they had not long taken chairs
overlooking the cricket-field, before Lionel Beauchamp joined them,
and, as he greeted Sylla, thanked her for her very pretty present.

"I am very glad you like it," replied Sylla, smiling; "but I can't take
much credit for my generosity.  I am afraid, strictly speaking, it only
amounts to the payment of a debt.  You deserved a testimony of your
prowess, and I to pay a penalty for my rashness."

"What is this testimony?" inquired Blanche.  "What has Sylla given you?
and what have you done to deserve it?"

"A mere trifle," interposed Miss Chipchase; "I daresay he will show it
you some day.  He got me out of my scrape that day at Rockcliffe, you
know, as indeed he has been called upon to do before, though not quite
in that fashion.  He saved my bracelet, you remember; it's rather a pet
bangle, and I should have been very sorry to have lost it.  Have you
done my other commission for me?"

"Not as yet," replied Lionel.  "I haven't had time; but I will see
about it in a day or two."

All this fell very unpleasantly upon Blanche's cars.  She was utterly
unconscious of her mother's schemes and hopes.  She had not as yet
recognized that she was drifting into love with Lionel Beauchamp, but
she did know that his confidential intimacy with Sylla Chipchase was
very distasteful to her.  What was this present she had made him? and
what was this commission she had given him?  She did not like to ask
further questions just then, but she made up her mind that she would
know all about these things the first time she got Lionel to herself.
People who make mysteries of trifles at times exercise their friends a
good deal,--the imagination so often converts molehills into mountains;
and then there is always a power in the unknown.

"Have you seen this game of La Crosse before, Miss Bloxam?" inquired
Lionel.  "It looks incomprehensible and never-ending, to start with;
but when you have seen a goal or two taken you will understand it, and
admire the dexterity of the players."

"Mrs. Wriothesley explained it to me at luncheon.  As I told you at
Todborough, I am good at games, and can follow it very fairly.  But,
Sylla, you have a message for Mr. Beauchamp, which you have forgotten
to give him."

Sylla had not forgotten Mr. Cottrell's message at all, but she thought
it more than doubtful whether that message was intended to be
delivered.  She had her own opinion as to the motive of that message,
but, thus challenged, immediately replied, "Oh, yes, something about a
hack from Mr. Cottrell; he told me to tell you he had heard of one to
suit you."

"There he is wrong," rejoined Beauchamp: "a thing can't suit you when
you don't want it; and that's my case with regard to a hack."

"Curious that he should be so misinformed," said Lady Mary.  "He
certainly said you had asked him if he knew of one."

"Mixed up with somebody else," interposed Mrs. Wriothesley.  "Mr.
Cottrell is a very idle man with a very numerous acquaintance.
Somebody wanted a hack, and he has forgotten who."

If Lady Mary's suspicions had been lulled to sleep during luncheon,
they had been now most thoroughly reawakened.  She, like her daughter,
had overheard the conversation between Sylla and Lionel upon the
latter's first arrival.  She had always had misgivings that the
relations between the two would change into something much warmer, to
the downfall of her own hopes.  She was annoyed with herself for having
accepted the hand of amity extended by her ancient antagonist.  She
felt sure that the battle that she pictured to herself on that night at
the Grange, when she had first heard of the relationship between Sylla
and Mrs. Wriothesley, was already begun.  She had a horrible conviction
that she was once more destined to undergo the bitterness of offering
her congratulations to her successful opponent.  What cruel fatality
had ordained that whenever she had a daughter to settle, Mrs.
Wriothesley should invariably appear upon the scene with a niece?  And
in the anguish of her spirit she gave way to very harsh thoughts
concerning poor Sylla's conduct.  If she could but have divested
herself of all prejudice, and looked on matters with dispassionate
eyes, she would have seen, as Pansey Cottrell had told her at
Todborough, that things were travelling much in the way she wished
them.  At this very moment, when she is inwardly raging against Mrs.
Wriothesley, Lionel Beauchamp is undoubtedly paying at least as much,
if not more, attention to Blanche than he is to Miss Chipchase; but the
spectacles of prejudice are never neutral-tinted.

However, it is time to leave; and Lady Mary, rising, signals her
daughter, and makes her adieu.

"I really have no patience with that girl," said Lady Mary, when she
found herself outside.  "I think her making a present to a young man
like Mr. Beauchamp is going a great deal more than half-way."

"Oh, I don't know, mamma," replied Blanche; "she has known him all her
life; and you know he did save her bracelet."

"Very indelicate of her ever to have made such a wager," retorted Lady
Mary, quite trumpeting in her wrath.

"I have known you bet yourself, mamma," rejoined Blanche; "and I think
she was perhaps carried away by the excitement of the occasion.  I
wonder what it is that she has given him?"

It was curious, that although Miss Bloxam was as uncomfortable
concerning that gift as her mother, she still took Sylla's part
regarding it.  She was a proud girl, and it was probable that she
shrank from owning even to her mother that it could possibly matter to
her what presents any lady might choose to bestow on Mr. Beauchamp.



CHAPTER IX.

SATURDAY AT HURLINGHAM.

Hurlingham in the merry month of June, just when the east winds have
ceased to trouble; when the roses and strawberries are at their best;
when the lamb is verging towards muttony, and the whitebait are growing
up; when the leaves are yet young, and Epsom and Ascot either pleasant
or grim memories of the past.  Can anything be more delightful than
Hurlingham on a fine Saturday afternoon? that one week-day when the
daughters of Venus throng the pleasant grounds, and the birds sacred to
the goddess are held sacred for fear that the shooters should scatter
the coaches--it would be too grievous that the destruction of pigeons,
through frightening the horses, should result in the upsetting of a
drag bearing a bevy of London's fairest daughters.  What matches have
been made here both for life and for centuries--as, in the "shibboleth"
of our day, a hundred pounds is sometimes termed!  Much damage at times
has no doubt accrued both to the hearts of humanity and the legs of the
polo ponies.  The coaches gather thick about their allotted end of the
grassy paddock; drag after drag drops quietly into its position; the
teams are unharnessed and led slowly away; and their passengers either
elect to view the forthcoming match from their seats of vantage, or,
alighting, stroll up and mix with the fashionable crowd that throngs
the far side of the lawn-like paddock.  All London has flocked to
Hurlingham to-day to enjoy the bright afternoon, indulge in tea,
gossip, or claret-cup, and look lazily on at the polo match between the
--th Hussars and Monmouthshire.  Both teams are reported very strong,
and opinion is pretty equally divided as to which way the match will go.

Mrs. Wriothesley is, of course, there.  That lady is a pretty constant
_habituée_, and with Sylla to chaperon is not likely to miss it on this
occasion.  She has joined forces already with Lady Mary: as she said,
they have all a common interest in the event of the day, for was not
Captain Bloxam the life and soul of the Hussar side, and were they not
all there ready to sympathize or applaud?  Applause at Hurlingham, by
the way, being in as little accord with the traditions of the place as
it is in the stalls of a fashionable theatre.  The match has not yet
begun.  Two or three wiry ponies, with carefully-bandaged forelegs, are
being led up and down on the opposite side of the paddock.  The centre
is still unoccupied, save for a few late-comers walking quietly across,
none of the competitors having so far put in an appearance.

"Just the sort of thing to interest you, this, Miss Sylla," exclaimed
Pansey Cottrell, after lifting his hat in a comprehensive manner to the
whole party.  "I know you are passionately fond of horses and have a
taste for riding."

"Now, what does he mean by that?" thought Sylla.  There was nothing
much in the remark, but she was getting a little afraid of this
mischievous elderly gentleman.  She was beginning to look for a hidden
meaning in his speeches.  Could this be a covert allusion to her mishap
at Todborough?  Had the story of her fall come to his ears, and was he
about to indulge his love of teasing people at her expense?  "I don't
know," she replied, guardedly, "that I am so very passionately fond of
horses; but I have no doubt I shall enjoy this very much.  Knowing one
of the players will of course make it interesting."

"Quite so," replied Cottrell.  "It is a pity Mr. Beauchamp is not
playing.  If he were, I should consult you as to which side to back.
You judge his capabilities in all ways so accurately."

Neither Lady Mary nor Mrs. Wriothesley could help noticing this speech.
It was just one of those wicked little remarks to which Pansey Cottrell
treated his friends when they were wanting in deference to his comments
on things generally.

"Sylla has known him all her life," interposed Mrs. Wriothesley; "but
because she happened to know that Lionel could run, it does not follow
that she knows whether he can play polo.  However, as he is not
playing, it is a matter of very little account whether he can or no."

"Quite right.  Nothing is much in this world, except the weather and
the cooks.  The sun shines to-day; and whatever the rest of us are
called upon to endure, Mrs. Wriothesley, I know, can always rely upon
her soup and _entrées_.  I always look upon it as rather good of you to
dine out."

It was probable that such judicious remarks had done Mr. Cottrell good
service in the early part of his career; but now he was the fashion,
and realised his position most thoroughly.

"Very pretty of you to recognize the fact that my poor little
kitchenmaid is not a barbarian," rejoined Mrs. Wriothesley.

She also had her foible, and always spoke in disparaging tones of her
establishment.  She would ask her friends to take a cutlet with her, or
to come and eat cold chicken with her after the play, but took good
care that the menu should be of very different calibre.  She, like
Pansey Cottrell, was the fashion, and he knew it.  Besides, not only
was the lady a favourite of his, but he never would have permitted
himself to commit the folly of quarrelling with any one who so
thoroughly understood the mysteries of gastronomy.

But now, clad in white flannels, butcher-boots, and scarlet caps, a
couple of players make their appearance, and walk their sturdy little
steeds up the ground; another and another quickly follow, and soon the
contending sides group themselves together at opposite ends of the
enclosure.  The Monmouthshire quintet in their all white and scarlet
caps are faced by the Hussars in their blue and scarlet hoops.  The
umpire walks to the centre, glances round to the captains of either
side to see that they are all in readiness, and then drops the ball.
Quick as thought the contending teams are in motion, the "players up"
of each party scudding as fast as their wiry little ponies can carry
them for the first stroke.  It is a close thing; but the white and
scarlet obtains the first chance, and by some fatality misses the ball.
Another second, and Jim Bloxam has sent it flying towards the
Monmouthshire goal, and is pelting along in hot pursuit, only to see
the ball come whizzing back past him from a steady drive by one of the
adversary's back-players.  Backwards and forwards flies the ball, and
the clever little ponies, at the guidance of their riders, bustle now
this way, now that, in chase of it.  Over and over again it is driven
close to the fatal posts at either end--the being driven between which
scores the first goal of the game--only to be sent again in the reverse
direction by the back-player.  Then comes a regular scrimmage in the
centre of the ground, and the ball is dribbled amongst the ponies'
legs, first a little this way, and then that, but never more than a few
yards in any direction.  Suddenly it flies far away from the _mêlée_,
and Jim Bloxam races after it, hotly pursued by one of the white and
scarlet men.  Jim fails to hit the ball fair, and it spins off at a
tangent.  His antagonist swerves, quick as thought, to the ball, and by
a clever back-stroke sends it once more into the centre of the field;
another short _mêlée_, and then the Monmouthshire men carry the ball
rapidly down on the Hussar goal.  The back-player of the Hussars rides
forward to meet it; but a dexterous touch from the leader of the white
and scarlet men sends it a little to the right, and before any of the
Hussars can intervene, a good stroke from one of the Monmouthshire men
galloping on that side sends it between the posts, and the first goal
is credited to the white and scarlet.

Dr. Johnson, when asked by Boswell what a shining light of those days
meant by a somewhat vague remark, surmised that the speaker must have
"meant to annoy somebody."  The Doctor was probably right, being a
pretty good judge of that sort of thing.  There are many unmeaning
remarks made, the why of which it is difficult to explain, unless we
put that interpretation upon them.  It must have been some such
malicious feeling that prompted Mr. Cottrell to observe,

"Poor Jim!  He seems destined always to play second fiddle.  As at
Rockcliffe, he is just beaten again."

"Defeats such as Captain Bloxam's," exclaimed Sylla, "are as much to
one's credit as easily-obtained victories.  He was just defeated at
Rockcliffe after a gallant struggle.  I have seen some polo-playing
before at Brighton, and don't think I ever saw a harder-fought goal
played."

It was with somewhat amused surprise that Mr. Cottrell found his dictum
disputed by a young lady in her first season, and he shot a sharp
glance at Mrs. Wriothesley, to see what that lady thought of the
spirited manner in which her niece stood up for the vanquished Hussar;
but she and Lady Mary were just then engaged in welcoming Lionel
Beauchamp, and the observation consequently escaped their ears.

"I beg your pardon," rejoined Cottrell; "I did not know your sympathies
were so strong.  I am, of course," he continued, in mocking tones,
"prepared to condole with his family over Jim's defeat; but I must
comfort you in your affliction by reminding you that the loss of one
point does not mean the loss of the rubber."

"Thank you," replied Sylla.  "I have ranged myself to-day on the side
of the Hussars; and my champions are not always defeated, as you may
remember."

"I trust," replied Mr. Cottrell, laughing, "you will have a good
afternoon.  I reverence you as a young lady who wagers with infinite
discretion."  And so saying, he moved off to talk to other acquaintance.

Lionel Beauchamp had seated himself next Blanche, and, assisted by a
slight movement of the young lady's chair in his favour, found that he
had successfully obtained the _tête-à-tête_ for which he had manoeuvred.

"I want you to do me a favour, Miss Bloxam," he observed.

"Certainly, Mr. Beauchamp, if I can; what is it?"

"I want you to promise to join a water party that four of us are
organizing for this day fortnight; but we mean to go down the river
instead of up.  We intend chartering a steamer, and so be quite
independent, as we shall carry our own commissariat with us."

"I have no doubt mamma will say yes if we have no other engagement.
But favour for favour--I have one to ask of you; will you grant it?"

"I answer as you did--most certainly if I can."

"Ah, but you must answer differently; you must say 'certainly' without
any conditions."

"That is impossible; one cannot quite pledge oneself to that.  It is
not very likely that I shall refuse you."

"But you are refusing me now.  I want you to say 'certainly' without
any reservation whatever."

"And I can only reply as I did before, Miss Bloxam, that it is
impossible.  No sensible person could ever do that.  It is very
improbable that you should ask me, but it is possible that you might
wish me, to do something that I was bound to say 'no' to.  I repeat,
improbable but possible.  Won't you tell me what it is?  You may be
quite sure it is already granted if within my power."

"But it is quite within your power," replied Blanche; "you can do it if
you choose.  Why won't you say 'yes'?"

"Tell me what it is," he answered, more determined than ever not to
yield to her unreasonable demand.  He was not obstinate, but Lionel
Beauchamp had a will of his own, and could make up his mind quickly and
decidedly, a virtue sadly wanting in many of us.  His reservation had
been put in mechanically in the first instance, but Blanche's
persistence made him now resolute not to commit himself to an unlimited
promise.  Except unthinkingly, people do not make promises of this
nature, any more than they give blank cheques, the filling-in of which
in unwarrantable fashion might occasion much grief and tribulation to
the reckless donor.

Miss Bloxam felt a little indignant at not being able to carry her
point, but she knew just as well as Lionel did that she was insisting
on the exorbitant.  "Still," she argued, "if he were really in love
with me he would not mind promising to grant me whatever I asked.

"I want to know," she said at length, "what was the present Miss
Chipchase made you?"

"Good Heavens!" replied Lionel, laughing, "is that all you require?
She sent me these solitaires for saving her bracelet at Rockcliffe; are
they not pretty ones?"  And, pulling back his coat-sleeve, Beauchamp
exhibited the studs at his wrists.

"Very," returned Blanche.  "But that is not quite all: what is the
commission she has given you?"

Beauchamp looked a little grave at this question.  This commission was
in reality the mildest of mysteries; but he saw that Blanche believed
it to be of far greater importance.

"I cannot tell you," he replied.

"May I ask why?"

"Certainly.  I cannot tell you because I have promised not to mention
it.  You, of course, would not wish me to break my word?"

"Decidedly not," rejoined Miss Bloxam.  "My curiosity has led me into a
great indiscretion.  But the game is getting interesting.  Surely Jim's
side are having the best of it now?"  And Miss Bloxam, turning
half-round in her seat, devoted her attention to the polo-players with
laudable persistency.  If Blanche Bloxam was showing herself somewhat
childish and unreasonable--for there could be no doubt that the young
lady had turned away from Lionel more or less in a huff--it must be
remembered that she was very much in earnest in her love affair, that
she was jealous of Sylla Chipchase, and that though she believed Lionel
Beauchamp loved her, he had not as yet declared himself.  She had
foolishly, and perhaps whimsically, regarded this as a test question,
and she had been answered in the negative.  I do not know that she was
out-of-the-way foolish.  Maidens like Marguerite have played "He loves
me, he loves me not," many a time with a flower; and Blanche's appeal
was as wise as theirs, except in the one thing--you cannot quarrel with
a flower, but it is very possible to do so with a lover.  It is all
very well for the gods to laugh at such quarrels, but those interested
seldom see the humour of the situation, and in nineteen cases out of
twenty the cause of their occurrence is trifling.

The band of the Guards is ringing out the most seductive of valses.
Silken robes sweep the grass, and soft laughter floats upon the summer
air.  The polo-players are once more in the full tide of battle.  The
gaily-coloured jerseys are now here, now there, in pursuit of the
ever-flying sphere, for the temporary possession of which each player
seems as covetous as Atalanta was of the golden apple.  Ever and anon
comes a short, sharp, furious _mêlée_, and then from its midst flies
the ball, with three or four horsemen riding their hardest in pursuit;
while the back-player of the threatened goal warily prepares for the
attack that is impending unless some one of his comrades should succeed
in arresting it.  One of the fiercest of these _mêlées_ is now taking
place in front of the promenade.  From the confused surging knot
suddenly shoots the ball, and skims along at an ominous pace in the
direction of the goal of the scarlet and white.  Jim Bloxam, slipping
all the other players by a couple of lengths, leads the pursuit, with
two of his antagonists riding their hardest to catch him.  Jim makes
the most of his opportunity, and it looks like a goal for the Hussars.
He is riding a smartish pony, and feels that his followers will never
catch him.  He is bound to get first to the ball, and, if only he does
not miss his stroke, should drive it clean through the goal-posts.  But
though he is so far right that he keeps his lead of his antagonists,
there is another player to be taken into calculation, whom so far Jim
has quite overlooked, and this is the crafty back-player of the scarlet
and white men who is in charge of the goal.  He is quite as alive as
Jim to the gravity of the occasion.  He knows that Bloxam's stroke must
be prevented, if possible; and coming from the opposite direction,
although lying somewhat to Jim's left, is striving his utmost to
interfere.  The ball has all but stopped, and it is palpable that the
new-comer will cut Jim's course obliquely at the ball.  It is a fine
point.  Each man's wiry little steed is doing its very best.  But, ah,
Jim has it!  The Hussar's polo-mallet whirls high in the air, and, as
he passes the ball, a well-aimed stroke sends it flying through the
enemy's goal-posts; another second, and, unable to rein up their
ponies, Jim and the back-player of the scarlet and white meet in full
career and roll over in a heap on the ground, while Jim's two attendant
antagonists are both brought to similar grief from tumbling over their
leader.

"Good Heavens! there are four of them down!" exclaimed Lionel
Beauchamp.  "Don't be alarmed, Miss Bloxam: falls are not often serious
at polo; see, there are two of them getting up already."

The last _mêlée_ had taken place so close to the spectators that it had
been quite easy to identify the players, and Miss Bloxam was therefore
quite aware that her brother was one of the four men down; but she and
Lady Mary were too habituated to the accidents of the hunting-field to
feel that nervous terror at witnessing a fall that people not so
accustomed are apt to experience.  But there were other lookers-on with
whom it was very different.  It was a bad accident to look upon; and
Mrs. Wriothesley suddenly felt her wrist gripped with a force that
could hardly be supposed existent in the delicately-gloved fingers.
She glanced round at her niece's face.  The girl was white to her very
lips.  She had been educated abroad, and though, as we know, she had
displayed plenty of courage when she had fallen into similar
difficulties herself, accidents both in flood and field were a novel
sight to her.

"He does not get up," she faltered at last, in low tones.

"For goodness' sake don't make a fool of yourself," replied Mrs.
Wriothesley sharply.  She honestly thought the girl was about to faint,
and was filled with dismay at the prospect of finding her niece the
centre of a scene.  "Men don't get hurt at polo any more than they do
at cricket.  They will all be galloping past here again before five
minutes are over."

But in this conjecture Mrs. Wriothesley was wrong; for although two of
the fallen horsemen struggled promptly to their feet, Jim and the
antagonist with whom he had come in collision had neither of them as
yet done so.  By this time all the players were collected round the
spot where the accident had taken place, and an impression that some
one was seriously hurt was rapidly gaining ground.

"Lionel," exclaimed Mrs. Wriothesley, the moment she dared take her
eyes off her niece, "I am sure Lady Mary would be extremely obliged to
you if you would run down and see what is the matter.  For Heaven's
sake, Sylla," she whispered into her niece's ear, "don't make an
exhibition of yourself by fainting or any nonsense of that sort.
Ridiculous! as if any one was ever hurt by falling off a pony!"

Lady Mary reiterated Mrs. Wriothesley's request, and Beauchamp at once
slipped through the rails and ran down to the group.  He found Jim
resting his head upon his hand, lying on the grass and looking ghastly
pale, but his brother-sufferer was still insensible.

"I don't think I can go on," gasped Jim, in answer to inquiries as to
how he was--"that is, not to be of any use, you know; that confounded
cannon has not only knocked all the wind out of me, but knocked me half
foolish besides.  I feel so faint and sick, you must get on as you best
can without me for half an hour."

The other sufferer now gave signs of returning animation; and as, after
looking at him, the doctor pronounced him only stunned by the fall and
a good deal shaken, it was decided to draw a man from each side and so
continue the game.  Lionel Beauchamp made the best of his way back with
his report.

"No sort of cause, Lady Mary, for being in the least alarmed.  Bloxam
is sensible; says there is nothing the matter, further than that they
have knocked all the wind out of his body, and that he is too shaken to
go on with the game at present; he will be all right again in a couple
of hours.  See, there he is, walking away to the dressing-rooms at the
other side, along with his antagonist, who is in a similar case.  It
was an awkward collision, and it is well the results were no worse."
And, as he finished his speech, Beauchamp rather ruefully contrasted
the cool reception that Blanche gave to his intelligence with the
bright smile with which Sylla rewarded him.

Under no circumstances, perhaps, would it have been otherwise.  Blanche
was of a calmer disposition, very different from the vivacious
emotional temperament of Sylla Chipchase; and then she had never felt
the nervous apprehension as to its results that had so terrified Sylla.
Miss Bloxam loved her brother very dearly, but it would never occur to
her to feel any great anxiety at seeing Jim fall.  She would have told
you quietly that "Jim knew how to fall."  But she was filled with
exceeding bitterness about one thing,--that her secret love-test had
resulted in failure, and that her heart was, to a considerable extent,
out of her possession before it had been asked for.  No, her difference
with Lionel Beauchamp was not to be passed over so lightly as all that.
If he could refuse the slight request that she had made him, he could
care very little about her.  "As if any man, honestly in love, would
hesitate to break a mere promise made to another woman!"  And to the
best of my belief, the majority of her sex would be quite of Blanche's
opinion.

"He does not get up," thought Mrs. Wriothesley, as she drove home from
Hurlingham.  "Yes, Sylla, my dear, you have told me something to-day
that I honestly don't believe you knew yourself before.  When accidents
happen in the plural, and young ladies remark upon them only in the
singular number, it is a sign of absorbing interest in somebody
concerned.  People generally, I think, would have observed, 'They don't
get up.'"  But Mrs. Wriothesley wisely kept all these reflections to
herself.



CHAPTER X.

MRS. WRIOTHESLEY'S LITTLE DINNER.

The accident at Hurlingham had opened Sylla's eyes.  She became
conscious of what her feeling for Jim Bloxam was fast ripening into.
It made her thoughtful.  She was suddenly aware that she cared
considerably more about him than it was wise that a maiden should for
any man not her avowed lover.  She was a good deal startled by the
discovery; for had she asked herself the question previous to seeing
him stretched, as she thought, badly hurt, or perhaps even killed, on
the grass at that polo match, she would have answered, as she believed
truthfully, that she liked Captain Bloxam very much: he was a very
pleasant acquaintance; but as to his being anything more to her, she
would have scouted the idea.  She knew now that he was more to her than
that, and Sylla pondered gravely upon what was her best course to
pursue.  One thing was quite clear, and that was, a previous intention
of hers must be abandoned.  She accordingly dispatched a note to Lionel
Beauchamp, telling him that he need take no further trouble about her
commission, which elicited a speedy reply to the effect that it was
already executed.

One result of Sylla's discovery of the state of her feelings towards
Captain Bloxam was a strong desire to cultivate her acquaintance with
his mother and sister.  She got on fairly with Blanche down at
Todborough, but was quite aware that she was no favourite with Lady
Mary.  It most certainly was not because she fancied this would give
her greater opportunities of meeting Jim.  Far from it.  She knew very
well that she was more likely to meet Captain Bloxam in Hans Place than
at his mother's house; for when he came up from Aldershot, as he did
pretty constantly, it was rarely that Jim failed to appear in Mrs.
Wriothesley's drawing-room; but the truth is the girl was rather shy of
meeting Captain Bloxam just now.  That Sylla's overtures should be
coldly received was only what might be expected.  Both Blanche and her
mother regarded her as a dangerous rival.  Indeed, Lady Mary's dislike
to her from the first had proceeded from no other cause, so that
Sylla's attempts to improve the acquaintance met with little success.
Had Mrs. Wriothesley not obtained the keynote at Hurlingham, she would
have been puzzled to understand what had come to her niece.  The wand
of the enchanter had transformed the girl.  Her vivacity was
wonderfully toned down; her whole manner softened; and Sylla, most
self-possessed of young ladies, was unmistakably shy in the presence of
Jim Bloxam.  Diffidence is rarely an attribute of Hussars, and Jim was
not without experience of women.  The more retiring Miss Chipchase
became, the more ardent became the attentions of her admirer.

Mrs. Wriothesley of course comprehended how matters were, and viewed
the progress of events with entire satisfaction.  She saw that
projected scheme of hers rapidly approaching completion, and requiring
but little help from her fostering hand; still it would be just as
well, to use her own expression, "to assist nature;" and, with that
view, she wrote a note to Jim Bloxam, suggesting that an early dinner
and a night at the play were the proper restoratives for an invalid's
nerves.  She has seen Jim several times since his fall at Hurlingham,
and knows very well that he got over the effects of that shaking in two
or three days; but she has affected to regard him as a convalescent
ever since, and insists upon it that quiet society is what he requires,
meaning that, whenever he comes to town, the little house in Hans Place
is the haven of rest best suited to him.

"I wish, Rip," said Mrs. Wriothesley, putting her head into her
husband's _sanctum_ one morning, "you would look in at Bubb's this
afternoon, and tell them to send me a box for the Prince of Wales's
next Wednesday.  You will of course do as you like, but I am going to
ask Jim Bloxam to dine and go with us to the play."

"What a clever designing little woman it is!" replied her husband
lazily.  "I'll order the box; but you must pick up somebody else to do
'gooseberry' with you, as I can't come that night.  It's hardly fair
upon Jim; but as I have found matrimony pleasant myself, I don't for
once mind being in the conspiracy.  Besides, Sylla is a good sort if
she will only take a fancy to him: she seems rather inclined to avoid
him, it strikes me."

"Oh, you goose!" replied his wife.  "Get me the box, and pray that you
may have decent luck at whist for the next few weeks; we shall want all
the sovereigns you can scrape together to buy wedding presents before
the season is out."

Lady Mary Bloxam was really very much to be pitied.  Here was the
season slipping by, and the design with which she had opened the
campaign seemed further from accomplishment than ever.  Worse than all,
her own daughter was playing into the hands of the enemy.  There was no
disguising the fact.  It was too palpably evident.  There was something
wrong between Blanche and Lionel Beauchamp.  The young lady treated him
with marked coldness, which he on his side resented.  In vain did Lady
Mary cross-examine her daughter in the most insidious manner.  Blanche
would own to no quarrel, nor assign any reason for their gradual
estrangement; but Lady Mary saw with dismay that the two were drifting
wider apart as the weeks wore on.  That she should attribute all this
to Sylla and her designing aunt may be easily supposed.  It was true
that in society Lionel Beauchamp could most certainly not be accused of
paying pronounced devotion to Miss Chipchase.  But Lady Mary had ever a
picture before her mind of Beauchamp in a low chair, in the
drawing-room at Hans Place, making passionate love to Sylla; and her
dislike of that young lady was intensified accordingly.  She was at
variance with her daughter just now on the subject of the invitation
they had received from Lionel Beauchamp for a water party down the
river, and about which she and Blanche were by no means of one mind.
Lady Mary was all for its acceptance, while Miss Bloxam persistently
advocated its refusal.

"You are too provoking, Blanche," exclaimed Lady Mary; "sometimes you
are dissatisfied because we have not cards for this, that, and the
other; and now we have an invitation for what promises to be a very
pleasant party, you not only declare you won't go, but won't give any
reason for declining."

"I say 'no' because I don't wish to go," replied Miss Bloxam.

"Fiddle-de-dee!" replied her mother, sharply.  "All girls like to go to
what promises to be a pleasant party.  It is only right and proper they
should, unless they are unwell.  Is there anything the matter with you?"

"No, unless it be that I am getting rather tired of London gaiety.  I
shall be very glad, indeed, to get back to Todborough."

"That's a most unnatural remark for a girl to make in her second
season.  None of your sisters, thank goodness, ever required it; but I
am afraid I shall have to see what a doctor thinks of you.  I must get
hold of Pansey Cottrell and hear what he says about this picnic.  I
declare, if he reports favourably, I shall insist upon your going,
Blanche."

"I cannot see, mamma, what Mr. Cottrell has got to do with it.  There
can be no possible use in consulting him."

"Every use," rejoined Lady Mary quickly.  "Pansey knows everything that
is going on in society.  I declare I think sometimes that he must
employ a staff of detectives to collect all such knowledge and gossip
for him.  He will know who are going to this party."

"If he knows everything," said Blanche, "he should be able to tell me
what I want to know."

"And what is that?" inquired Lady Mary, with no little curiosity.

"He will know that also if omniscient, as you suppose, mamma."

"You are talking downright nonsense!  How can any one answer a question
which you won't ask them?  But Pansey's knowledge of what goes on in
his own world is marvellous.  He sees more than the most lynx-eyed
matron amongst us.  I have been to a good many places this year for
your amusement, and unless you are really ill, Blanche, it is only fair
you should go this once for mine."

Miss Bloxam made no reply, but inwardly determined to be extremely
unwell upon the day of that picnic.  She was by no means a selfish
girl, and would sacrifice herself to give her mother pleasure at any
time; but she felt that she had valid reasons for declining any
invitation from Lionel Beauchamp as things stood between them.  No
accusation of husband-hunting should ever be brought against her.  Her
mother was, of course, ignorant of how matters stood, and could
therefore be no guide for her in this affair.

Captain Bloxam, arriving at his quarters to dress for mess after a hard
afternoon's racquets, finds Mrs. Wriothesley's note lying on his table.

"Will I dine on Wednesday, go to the play, and come back to supper
afterwards?  Will I not?" ejaculates Jim.  "I am on duty on Wednesday,
but somebody else will have to do that; and there is a big field-day on
the Thursday.  Never mind: get back by the early train in time for it,
and I can do as much sleep as one wants coming down: so that is
satisfactorily settled."

Jim, by this, was very hard hit indeed; and had he been asked to stay a
month in the little house in Hans Place, would have sold out rather
than have foregone the invitation; and the night in question saw him
duly seated in Mrs. Wriothesley's dining-room in the highest possible
spirits.

"By the way," said Pansey Cottrell, who completed the quartet,
addressing his hostess, "what is our destined place of amusement this
evening?  Are we bound for the French plays?"

"No, we are going to the Prince of Wales's Theatre," rejoined Mrs.
Wriothesley.  "Are you very much given to the French plays, Mr.
Cottrell?"

"I am not very much given to any theatrical entertainment; but whenever
I feel low about the scarcity of money in the country, I like to go the
French plays.  To see so many people who can afford to pay a guinea for
an arm-chair to read in for three hours is a refreshing proof that
there is still money in the country.  People go there a great deal more
because it is the fashion than because they enjoy it.  It is like the
opera, which, though exquisite enjoyment to many, always commands a
strong contingent who attend solely because it is the fashion.  You are
going of course to this water party of Beauchamp & Co.?"

"Yes," replied Mrs. Wriothesley, "I rather like the idea.  It is quite
a novelty.  They have chartered a large steamer, and I hear the
arrangements are very perfect.  You are going, Captain Bloxam?"

"Certainly," replied Jim.  "I look forward to having pretty well the
pleasantest day of the season.  We are to lunch on board, dine on
board, and, I believe, dance on board.  As I told Beauchamp, the only
improvement I could suggest was a stage for charades.  We might have as
great a success, Miss Chipchase, as we had that night at Todborough."

"Yes," replied Sylla, slightly colouring at the recollection, and
wondering, in her mischievous resolve to a little shock Lady Mary,
whether she might not really have gone too far.

"I declare, if well done, if they have got a big enough steamer, the
right people, and it is a fine day, it ought to be a great success,"
observed Cottrell.

"Well," rejoined Mrs. Wriothesley, "from what Lionel told me, they have
secured everything but the last; and I do think their arrangements to
meet that are as perfect as possible."

Mr. Cottrell shook his head dubiously.

"In the event of a very unpromising day," continued Mrs. Wriothesley,
"people will find a most excellent lunch spread in the cabins; and they
have made up their minds not to leave their moorings at Westminster
Bridge, so that people can have just as much as they please of the
entertainment."

"That idea positively trenches on genius," exclaimed Mr. Cottrell
approvingly, "and reduces it merely to lunching at any house in London.
Cabs innumerable round there; one, as you say, can get away at any
time."

"And now, Captain Bloxam," said Mrs. Wriothesley, "if you will ring the
bell for coffee, Sylla and I will get our cloaks on while it cools; and
then I think we must be going.  Oh, about transport?" she adds, pausing
at the door.  "I think, Mr. Cottrell, if you will take me in your
brougham, we will send the young couple in mine.  Thanks," she
continued, in reply to Mr. Cottrell's bow of assent.  "Come, Sylla."

Mr. Cottrell's thoughts were naturally unspoken, but he could not
refrain from mentally ejaculating, "Poor Lady Mary! what chance can she
have against such an artist as this?"

A few weeks ago, and no girl would, perhaps, have laughed more at the
idea of being nervous about driving alone to the theatre with Captain
Bloxam than Sylla Chipchase; but she unmistakably was this evening,
and, only that she was afraid of being ridiculed by her aunt, would
have asked to change escorts.  She could not help showing it in her
manner a little when they were fairly started; and the Hussar was far
from discouraged thereby.

His mind was fully made up, and he pleaded his best, not one bit
abashed by her faint responses to his passionate protestations.

"I cannot tell you when I began to love you," he continued; "it was
from the first time I saw you, I believe; and, Sylla, I do hope you
care a little about me.  I can hardly expect an answer tonight" (he
did, and meant having it, all the same).  It would be hardly fair; but
if you can promise to be my wife before we part, I shall be the
lightest-hearted Hussar that rides up the Long Valley tomorrow."

"I don't know.  I didn't think you cared about me.  I must have time,"
she murmured.

Oh, these lovers!  She did know; she did think he cared about her, and
she wanted no time.

"Sylla, dearest," continued Jim, "you must have known that I loved you;
no woman is ever blind to that.  That you should reflect before you
give me an answer, I can understand; but please let me know my fate as
soon as possible.  It is cruel to keep me in suspense."  And here the
flood of Jim's eloquence was arrested by the brougham pulling up at the
door of the theatre.

Mrs. Wriothesley and her cavalier glanced keenly at the pair as they
entered the box.  Mr. Cottrell, indeed, had complimented his hostess on
her little bit of _finesse_ on the road, and she had made no scruple of
admitting that she hoped to bring about a marriage between the two.  As
to the Hussar, he was quite equal to the occasion, and from all that
could be gathered from his imperturbable manner, might have been
entertaining his companion with his meteorological views for the last
half-hour.  But with poor Sylla it was different.  However good an
actress the girl might be theatrically, she was a lamentable failure in
the affairs of real life now that she found herself the leading lady;
and both her quick-eyed aunt and the lynx-eyed Mr. Cottrell felt just
as certain that an _éclaircissement_ had taken place as if they had
assisted at it.  More discreet chaperons were impossible, and after the
first glance they took no further notice of the lovers, confining their
conversation to each other, and their attention to the stage.  After a
little Mr. Cottrell discovered a friend in the stalls, with whom it was
an absolute necessity he should exchange a few words; and then the
interest Mrs. Wriothesley took in the play proved what an enthusiast
she was about dramatic art.

But the green curtain fell at last--though, with the exception of Mrs.
Wriothesley, it would be almost open to question whether any of them
knew even the name of the piece they had witnessed--and the party
proceeded homewards.  Jim made good use of his opportunities on the
drive back to Hans Place; and upon arrival, took advantage of Sylla's
temporary escape upstairs to whisper to Mrs. Wriothesley that he had
told his tale, and been favourably listened to.  He felt assured of her
congratulations.  He knew he was a favourite of hers, and that she was
much too clever a woman to have allowed him to see so much of Sylla
unless she had approved of his suit.  They were a very pleasant but
rather quiet party at supper.  Lovers in the spring-tide of their
delirium have rarely conversation except for each other; but then that
suffices amply for their enjoyment.  Mrs. Wriothesley, triumphant in
her schemes, chatted gaily with Mr. Cottrell, who was Sybarite enough
to know that the discussion of the fish salad that he was then engaged
upon, accompanied by the prattle of a pretty woman and irreproachable
champagne, was about as near Elysium as a man of his years and prosaic
temperament could expect to arrive at.  He had had some conversation
with his hostess on the way home.  They had both arrived at the
conclusion, from what they had seen in the theatre, that, even if
everything was not yet settled, it would be before the evening was out.
When she bade him good night, Mrs. Wriothesley added in low tones,

"Of course it is as we guessed; but don't say anything about it for the
next few days."

It was with feelings of great complacency that Mr. Cottrell, having lit
his cigar, stepped into his brougham.  He had dined and supped
satisfactorily.  He had passed a pleasant evening, and he was in the
early possession of a little piece of intelligence connected with that
comedy which he had seen commenced at Todborough which made its finish
perfectly plain to him.  He could not help laughing as he thought of
the complication of feeling that this would produce in the mind of Lady
Mary Bloxam when it reached her, which of course it speedily would.
Would indignation at having to welcome as a daughter-in-law a girl she
disliked so much as she did Sylla Chipchase overcome the gratification
she would feel at finding that she need no longer dread her as an
obstacle to her plans for the settlement of Blanche?  Upon the whole,
Mr. Cottrell thought not.

"They don't know it," he argued; "but Sylla Chipchase's father is a
wealthy man, and the young lady, in consequence of her mother's
settlement, a very long way off a penniless maiden.  I don't think Lady
Mary has ever yet thought about Jim's marrying at all; but if Beauchamp
and Blanche only make a match of it, I fancy it would reconcile her
ladyship to a good deal.  She wouldn't then, at all events, be beaten
at all points of the game by her pet aversion--Mrs. Wriothesley."  And
once more Mr. Cottrell chuckled over the situation.  "Piccadilly, eh?"
he muttered, looking out of the window.  "I don't feel a bit like bed.
Egad, I'll turn in here and have another cigar;" and so saying Mr.
Cottrell stopped his brougham at the door of a well-known club, got
out, and leisurely ascended the steps.

Several men were seated smoking in the hall, and a little knot, of
which Lionel Beauchamp was the principal figure, attracted Mr.
Cottrell's attention.

"Ah, my lords of Greenwich and Gravesend!" he exclaimed gaily, "all the
world is much exercised about you and your doings.  Wondrous are the
stories afloat as to the fitting out of your ship, and all the fun that
you have prepared for us.  People don't know what to expect.  Some say
you are about to revive the old Folly and Ranelagh.  Others that you
have rolled the Italian Opera and Willis's Rooms all into one, and put
it on board ship."

"I can't say what they expect in the way of entertainment," exclaimed
Beauchamp, "but they seem to think that we have at all events chartered
the Great Eastern.  We are perfectly inundated with applications for
tickets."

"No doubt," replied Cottrell, as he took a chair beside them; "and from
people of whose existence you were in happy ignorance.  To extend your
acquaintance, only give a big show of some sort, and let it be known
that a card of invitation is well-nigh an impossibility.  But what a
very dandy cigar-case!" and as he spoke Cottrell lifted from the table
by Beauchamp's side a very smart specimen of the article in question,
made of maroon velvet, with a monogram embroidered on one side, and the
motto, "_Loquaces si sapiat vitet_," on the other.  "Very pretty
indeed," he continued, looking at the monogram; "but surely you don't
spell Lionel with a T?"

"No," replied Beauchamp, laughing; "I spell it with an 'L,' like other
people; but that cigar-case was neither embroidered nor made for me."

"I see," rejoined Cottrell: "you have been annexing a friend's
property.  I regret to see the notorious laxity of principle on the
subject of umbrellas is extending to cigar-cases."

"Wrong again," replied Beauchamp.  "I am in perfectly legitimate
possession of the case, although it was not made for me."

Insatiable thirst for gossip is naturally allied with insatiable
curiosity, and Mr. Cottrell was no exception.

"J. B., J. B.?" he said, still fingering the case.

"I have it!  I am right, for a dollar!  You borrowed it from Jim Bloxam
when we were down at Todborough."

"No," returned Lionel, much amused; "you are wrong again.  I had a
commission to get that case made----"

"For Jim Bloxam," interposed Cottrell quickly.

"I didn't say that," returned Lionel; "anyhow, it was not wanted; and
at the risk of being accused of not being able to spell my own name, I
kept it for myself.  I was further commanded to adhere strictly to the
motto."

"And 'avoid talkative people.'  Curious, very," observed Mr. Cottrell,
as he put down the cigar-case, wondering not a little who gave the
commission, and for whom the case was originally intended; but he of
course refrained from further inquiry.



CHAPTER XI.

THE RINGING OF THE BELLES.

The more Lady Mary heard of this water party, the more determined she
was to attend it.  True, her pet design, the establishment of her
daughter, seemed to be running awry, but there was no occasion as yet
for abandoning it.  There was evidently something wrong between Blanche
and Lionel Beauchamp, but that could never be put right by persistently
avoiding him.  Whatever the cloud between them, it was little likely to
be dispelled if they never met.  Then again, why should she facilitate
matters for that odious Mrs. Wriothesley and her saucy chit of a niece?
No; all the sporting blood of the Ditchins boiled in Lady Mary's veins
as she muttered,

"Margaret Wriothesley may stand in my way again, as indeed she has all
her life; but she sha'n't, at all events, be treated to the luxury of a
'walk over.'"

Not encountering Mr. Cottrell in the course of the next two or three
days, she dropped him a line of inquiry as to the composition of this
coming water party, and concluded her note with--


"Blanche is most provoking.  She has evidently had some tiff with
Lionel Beauchamp.  She is very resolute about not going to this
affair--hints mysteriously she wants to know something, and declines to
say what.  I have no patience with such nonsense; and if I hear from
you that the right people will be there, shall insist upon her going.
Her thirst for knowledge applies, I suspect, to some proceedings of Mr.
Beauchamp's.  If she would only confide what it is to me, I have little
doubt I could put her mind at rest in eight and forty hours.

"Yours sincerely,
  "MARY BLOXAM."


Mr. Cottrell received this note the morning after he had dined and
supped in Hans Place.  Putting one thing and the other together, he
began to have a tolerable inkling of how matters stood.  He was looking
forward to spending rather a pleasant day at this party of Beauchamp's,
and he now saw the possibility of adding still greater zest to his
enjoyment by pulling the strings of one of those small social dramas so
constantly occurring in our midst, which was a thing Pansey Cottrell
dearly loved.  He felt that he should be the good fairy on board that
steamer,--that two or three of the human puppets thereon would dance in
accordance with his fingering of the wires; and mischievously as he
would interfere at times in such matters, felt upon this occasion that
the puppets would jig as much to their own gratification as to his.


"Dear Lady Mary," he replied, "it is to be quite one of the pleasantest
things of the season.  All your own set will be there--pre-eminently
the right people all round.  I saw Beauchamp and his _confrères_ last
night.  They say they are overwhelmed with applications for tickets,
but have adhered rigidly to the number originally determined on.  They
may naturally expect to find themselves quite out of society next
season.  Those that were asked will have forgotten all about it, while
those that were not won't.  Kind regards to Miss Blanche.  Tell her
that there is a great deal of information to be picked up at water
parties, and that I will guarantee her making one or two discoveries
which I think will surprise and please her.

"Yours sincerely,
  "PANSEY COTTRELL."


On receipt of that note Miss Bloxam's determination not to attend the
Beauchamp party vanished.  It would be hard to say now whether mother
or daughter were more impatient for that afternoon, or more curious as
to what it might bring forth.  Lady Mary's speculations were vague in
the extreme.  Mr. Cottrell's shadowy announcement she regarded as
liable to mean as much or as little as "hear of something to one's
advantage" might in an advertisement in the second column of the
_Times_.  But with Blanche the case was different.  Miss Bloxam's ideas
took definite shape, and, with very slight grounds to go upon, she
jumped instinctively to the conclusion--as women will in such
cases--that whether Lionel Beauchamp was to be all to her or nothing
would be effectually settled that afternoon.  The promoters of the
picnic themselves could not have prayed more fervently for fine weather
than did Lady Mary and her daughter.

"Happy is the bride that the sun shines on," saith the proverb; but if
it is vouchsafed one to command a fine day at will in the course of
existence, it would be better to reserve that privilege not for one's
wedding, but for our first important picnic.  Lionel Beauchamp and his
_confrères_ were especially favoured.  The day for their picnic was
like unto that described by De Quincey, when "midsummer with all its
banners was marching through the sky."  A more gorgeous afternoon to
loiter away upon the water it was hard to imagine.  Moored along the
side of the Westminster Pier was, if not the _Great Eastern_, at all
events as large a steamer as it was practicable to bring there.
Awnings were stretched both fore and aft above decks, the snowy
whiteness of which would have done no discredit to a man-of-war.  In
the bows of the boat a band was pouring forth all sorts of popular
melody, inciting the fashionable crowd to "Haste to the Wedding," "Down
among the Coals," "When Johnny comes marching Home," &c.  At the head
of the gangway the hosts received their guests, and the numbers in
which they trooped on board gave some warrant to Lionel Beauchamp's
laughing assertion that giving a party in London is something like the
making of a snowball: it increases with undreamt-of rapidity.

"Twenty-five guests apiece, Mrs. Wriothesley, was, I give you my word,
the first faint-hearted conception of myself and three companions,"
said Beauchamp, laughing, as he welcomed that lady and Miss Chipchase;
"but you see people have been kind to us, and that we are more popular
in society than we dared venture to hope."

"Ah, Lionel, yes," rejoined Mrs. Wriothesley, as she shook hands, "and
with so nice a ship, such glorious weather, and so many pleasant
_compagnons de voyage_ as I see around me, you will find us all willing
to dance to your pipe, even if it led us all the way to New York."

"We are too discreet to attempt the impossible," replied Lionel.  "If
we can only please and amuse our guests to Gravesend and back, we shall
sleep contented."  And then he turned away to welcome fresh arrivals,
leaving Sylla and Mrs. Wriothesley to greet their friends and inspect
the arrangements made for their entertainment.

And that these had been the result of much thought and preparation was
transparent even to the unreflecting.  Like an elaborate piece of
clockwork, the whole affair was not as yet in motion.  But a glance on
the foredeck of the steamer showed, mingling amongst the fashionable
crowd, Spanish singers with their guitars, Tyrolese jödelers, and some
two or three popular comedians, who at times consent to dispel the
dreariness of an evening party.  Mr. Cottrell even whispered to Mrs.
Wriothesley that he should not be at all surprised if the thing was a
real success.

"They are young, very young," he continued, "to undertake the
responsibilities of the commissariat; but let us be charitable, and
trust that they have had the wisdom to seek sound advice relative to
the cookery and champagne."

Fair though the day might be, yet its opening to the eyes of Lady Mary
Bloxam seemed unpropitious in the extreme.  Lionel Beauchamp received
her and Blanche with grave courtesy, but no more; indeed, his manner to
Miss Bloxam touched upon the ceremonious.  It was true that as a host
he could hardly be expected to devote much time to any individual
guest; but still it is very possible to convey a good deal, even in the
few words of welcome; and under the circumstances Lady Mary decided
that Lionel Beauchamp had greeted them more as acquaintance, whose
hospitality it was incumbent on him to return, than as intimate friends
whom he was only too delighted to see.  He had not lingered to exchange
a few words with them as he had with Mrs. Wriothesley and Sylla, and
Lady Mary felt filled with dread that her rival had already triumphed,
and was receiving, conjointly with Miss Chipchase, the homage of the
conquered.  Blanche, too, who had already made up her mind that this
day was either to set things straight with her and Lionel, or to
estrange them for good, felt that there was little likelihood of its
ending in the manner she desired.  She would scarcely see anything of
him in a large party such as this, unless he specially sought her, and
she thought now it was improbable he would do that.  She bitterly
regretted that she had not adhered to her original determination.
Nothing can be more dreary than a gay party from which there is no
escape when one's mind is out of tune for society of any description.
The idea that for so many hours the conventional smile must be upon our
brow, and the conventional nothings upon our lips, is depressing in the
extreme.  It may be injudicious, but it is certainly allowable, to look
sad when the bank that holds our all suddenly falls; but for a woman to
acknowledge in her face that the bank of her affections is broke is
most indecorous, and shows a want of proper spirit and proper pride
pitiful to witness.  She may scream if she is pinched; but neither sign
nor cry must show that her heart-strings are wrung.

It is well to set your guests eating and drinking betimes on these
occasions.  The fasting man takes an acrid view of your arrangements
compared with that taken by the man who has well fed; and the deferred
opening of the supper-room has sealed the fate of many a dance which
but for that had been voted pleasant enough.  Lionel Beauchamp and his
_confrères_ determined to fall into no such mistake.  No sooner are
their friends on board and the steamer cast off from her moorings than
the signal is given for lunch.  The day is so fine that it has been
decided to go down nearly to the Nore.  With scarce a ripple on the
water, even those who have no confidence whatever in their sea-going
capabilities can feel no terror of _mal de mer_.  The whole affair is
an undoubted success.  Mr. Cottrell himself pronounces the luncheon not
only satisfactory, but indicative of much promise as regards dinner
later on.  The gay crowd breaks into knots and parties all over the
decks.  Now listening to the ballad some swarth Spaniard trills forth
to his guitar, anon laughing at some buffo song humorously rendered by
a well-known comedian, while ever and again Beauchamp and his brethren
clear a space on the deck, and a valse or two becomes the order of the
day.

"A very charming party, Miss Blanche, don't you think so?" remarked Mr.
Cottrell, as he sauntered up to that young lady's side.  "Have you been
forward to look at what they call the 'Fair'?  You can shoot for nuts,
look at peep-shows, play _roulette_ for gingerbread; in fact, indulge
in all the amusements of childhood."

"No; the whole thing is no doubt very well done, but I don't feel
myself to-day.  I am not quite up to the sort of thing.  Stupid of me
to come.  People should keep themselves to themselves when not in the
vein for society."

"Ah," rejoined Mr. Cottrell, laughing, "not in the vein for society is
a charming phrase.  It embraces so much, and defines it so vaguely.
Not in the vein for society may mean that we want our lunch; that some
one we wanted to meet has not come; that we have fallen to the charge
of the wrong person.  I always feel that my being in the vein for
society depends a good deal upon what the society consists of.  Every
now and then I get somebody to take down to dinner that makes me sigh
for the Desert of Sahara.  Now, I wonder what's wrong with you to-day?"

"Had too much of London, I fancy," replied Blanche, smiling.  "I want
to get back to Todborough.  These headaches never trouble me there."

"Who was the shocking old infidel who declared young ladies' headaches
were simply heartaches?  What mistakes we make by seeing things as we
imagine them, instead of as they actually are!  I would lay a small
wager, for instance, that your low spirits are the result simply of
looking through the wrong end of the telescope."

"Don't talk nonsense, Mr. Cottrell!  I feel a little hipped to-day, but
every one does at times.  I cannot plead any excuse for it."

"I am very glad to hear you say that," replied Cottrell gravely.  "I
thought perhaps you might be put out by this affair of your brother's."

"Affair of my brother's!" exclaimed Blanche quickly.  "Jim surely is in
no trouble!  Why, he is here!"

"Exactly.  No need to assure you he is a very long way off from being
in trouble; having, on the contrary, a particularly good time, I should
say judging from what I last saw of him.  But surely, Miss Blanche, you
must have observed that a man's relations are often moved to tears at
the mode in which he takes his pleasure, and, as a rule, always
consider they are far more capable of choosing a wife for him than he
is."

"Choosing a wife!  Do you mean to tell me Jim is going to be married?"

"I presume so.  I can only say he and Miss Chipchase are engaged in a
very high-pressure flirtation, if it only means that."

"Jim going to marry Sylla!  Why, I thought----"  And here Blanche
paused abruptly, and a rather compromising blush suffused her face.

"Ah, you thought," observed Cottrell, "that it was a mere flirtation.
Well, there is no doubt that sisters don't often make a mistake about a
brother's love affair when it comes within their knowledge; but in this
instance I venture to think I am right."

Miss Bloxam's unnatural blindness to her brother's growing passion for
Sylla Chipchase can be easily accounted for.  Neither she nor her
mother knew anything about his visits to Hans Place.  Jim by no manner
of means thought it necessary to call upon his own people every time he
came up from Aldershot, and they were consequently unaware even of his
being in town five times out of six.

"You must pardon my indiscretion," resumed Mr. Cottrell; "but I really
supposed that Jim must have formally announced it.  Ah, Beauchamp, the
very man!  Spare one moment from your hospitable cares, and receive the
congratulations of Miss Bloxam and myself upon the perfection of your
arrangements.  Everything is admirable; and if ever people deserved the
favour of a gorgeous day, you and your companions have done so."

"To have won the approbation of such an expert as Mr. Cottrell is ample
recompense," replied Lionel, laughing, and making a mock salaam of
great humility.

"We thoroughly mean what we say; and in the meantime extend your
amiability so far as to give me a cigarette.  Miss Blanche, I am sure,
will permit it?"

Miss Bloxam bent her head in assent as Lionel Beauchamp produced the
identical cigar-case that had so attracted Mr. Cottrell's attention
some two or three nights ago.

"A very pretty case this, is it not?" said Cottrell, as he leisurely
selected a cigarette.  "In excellent taste; it does the greatest
possible credit to the designer.  But it is a very curious whim of
Beauchamp's to spell Lionel with a 'J.'  'J.B.,' you see, would stand
for John Bradshaw, Joshua Burton, or even Jim Bloxam; but you can't
possibly make 'Lionel Beauchamp' out of it."

"That will do," replied Lionel, laughing; "you chaffed me enough about
this the other night.  Take heed, and remember the motto."

"A motto, Miss Bloxam," said Cottrell, "the meaning of which he doth
not comprehend."

"Well, I flatter myself I do," replied Beauchamp; "but no matter;" and
he extended his hand for the case.

"One minute.  For fear you should give some spurious version, I will
translate it first for Miss Bloxam's benefit; a lady cannot be supposed
to know the meaning of '_Loquaces si sapiat vitet_.'  Listen,"
continued Cottrell: "the Latin is a comprehensive language,
remember,--'_Si_,' if; '_sapiat_,' you are not a fool; '_vitet_,' have
nothing to say to; '_loquaces_,' ladies' commissions.  A wickedly
cynical saying to have broidered on one's case, even if you _have_
found ladies' commissions troublesome and productive of much
inconvenience.  But, dear me!  Lady Mary is signalling me.  I must go
and see what it is she wants.  Try if you can make him disclose the
story of that case, and who it was that commanded him to spell Lionel
with a 'J,' and not chatter about it afterwards.  I plead guilty to a
most horrible curiosity on that point."  And so saying, Mr. Cottrell
dropped the cigar-case into Blanche's lap, and crossed the deck in
obedience to Lady Mary's apocryphal signal.

Blanche knew now that her presentiment was fulfilled--that the crisis
had arrived; and that the next two or three minutes would decide
whether she and Lionel Beauchamp were to be all in all to each other,
or go their respective ways.  Be that as it might, on one point she
must absolve herself in his eyes.  With somewhat tremulous tones, she
hurriedly exclaimed, as she handed the cigar-case back to Lionel,

"I have unwittingly discovered, Mr. Beauchamp, what you refused to tell
me some little time ago at Hurlingham; and I hope you believe me when I
say that I have never taken any steps to do so; nor, indeed, has any
allusion to it passed my lips since."

"How Mr. Cottrell comes by his knowledge, I cannot say.  I think he
must possess a 'familiar' of some sort; but one thing, Miss Bloxam, I
own, puzzles me.  Why should you make such a point of my telling you
what Sylla's commission was?  I cannot understand it."

"And I cannot tell you.  Surely the caprice of my sex is quite enough
to account for it."

Apparently Lionel Beauchamp did not think so; and seating himself by
Miss Bloxam's side, he proceeded to inquire into this instance of a
woman's whimsies with great earnestness of purpose.

It was, of course, quite evident to Mr. Cottrell that Jim Bloxam had
not as yet disclosed to his own people his engagement to Sylla
Chipchase; and so delighted was Mr. Cottrell with the theatrical effect
that he had just produced, that he felt the sooner he diverted himself
by the production of another "situation" the better.  He had crossed
over to Lady Mary with no other object than the benevolent design of
giving Blanche and Lionel an opportunity of clearing up their
difference.  He accordingly suggested to Lady Mary that they should
take a turn forward and see what was going on in that part of the boat.

"It is not only that I wanted you to see what is going on in the fore
part of the ship, but I want you not to see what is going on aft.  I
want to open your eyes to Mrs. Wriothesley's machinations, and to steel
your heart against Lionel Beauchamp's perfidy."

"Lionel Beauchamp's perfidy!  Good gracious, Pansey, what do you mean?"

"That I will lay you a small wager Lionel Beauchamp has stolen your
daughter from you before we get back--no, don't interrupt me.  Those
foolish young people, finding their courtship was running too smooth,
indulged themselves in the luxury of a mock quarrel--about what, shall
we say?--well, a packet of lemon-drops would about represent the state
of the case.  However, as you know, quarrels about nothing sometimes
assume portentous proportions; but I am happy to think that I have just
put things right between those two."

"I only hope what you tell me is true.  You know how much I have
Blanche's settlement at heart."

"Yes, there is something about water parties that predisposes to
flirtation.  Atlantic voyages and trips to India are notorious for
fostering such sweet frivolity.  I really feel quite afraid of walking
about to-day for dread of unknowingly interfering.  It wouldn't be
discreet, for instance, to intrude upon that couple so snugly ensconced
under the shelter of the paddle-box.  I don't know, but he is telling
her secrets, I presume."

"Why, it is Sylla Chipchase!" exclaimed Lady Mary.  "I cannot see who
is her victim; but of course she would never neglect such a golden
opportunity as to-day's."

"Hush!" replied Cottrell, drily; "the companion of her delinquency,
remember, is Jim."

"Why, you surely don't mean to tell me----" exclaimed Lady Mary.

"Very much so," rejoined Cottrell; "and the sooner you make up your
mind to take it _au serieux_ the better."

Poor Lady Mary!  Mr. Cottrell's dramatic disclosures were getting a
little too much for her.

Before they had reached Westminster Bridge Blanche and Sylla knew that
they were to be sisters, and there had been much quiet laughter amongst
the four whom it chiefly concerned about the story of the cigar-case.

"I still don't understand," said Beauchamp, "why you should have so
resented my keeping Sylla's commission secret?"

"And never will, Lionel, until you comprehend of what a jealous woman's
imagination is capable."

"I can't see," whispered Jim, "why I was kept so long out of my
cigar-case?"

It was in his possession at last.

"O you stupid Jim!" said Sylla softly, "don't you see it was so easy to
give it you before I knew I loved you, and----"

"Well, and what?" inquired Bloxam.

"It was so difficult afterwards, until I knew you loved me."


The bells of Todborough rang bravely out one morning early in the
autumn for a double marriage, and, as Mr. Cottrell wickedly whispered
to one of his intimates, for the Millennium besides.  The lion was
lying down with the lamb.  Mrs. Wriothesley was an honoured guest at
the Grange.



THE END.





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