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´╗┐Title: Flaming June
Author: Vaizey, George de Horne, Mrs., 1857-1917
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 "Flaming June" ***

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Flaming June

By Mrs George de Horne Vaizey
________________________________________________________________________
This book is a little different from most of the others from this
author.  The cast of the story are just a shade older than we are used
to in Vaizey books, and there is no one who is afflicted with a
disabling disease, such as the author herself suffered from.  I suppose
you could describe the setting as the upper-class Mayfair set.

The scene opens in the house of a tidy old spinster, living in a tidy
little seaside town, in a row of large houses of similar people, sharing
private access to a well-kept garden.  A rather stable existence.

There is also a nice young American girl, over in England as part of her
education, no doubt.  Her father has become very rich in America, but he
is the brother of the tidy old spinster, on whom, and to whose dismay,
he has imposed Cornelia's visit.  Cornelia is simply not used to the
standards of English behaviour, for instance chaperones, and not gadding
about with young men.  Cornelia has quite enough pocket-money to do as
she pleases.  But her aunt is proved right in the end, for among all
these nice well-brought-up people there is a baddy, which is revealed
only towards the end.  NH
________________________________________________________________________

FLAMING JUNE

BY MRS. GEORGE DE HORNE VAIZEY



CHAPTER ONE.

Somewhere on the West coast of England, about a hundred miles from the
metropolis, there stands a sleepy little town, which possesses no
special activity nor beauty to justify its existence.  People live in it
for reasons of their own.  The people who do _not_ live in it wonder for
_what_ reasons, but attain no better solution of the mystery than the
statement that the air is very fine.  "We have such bracing air!" says
the resident, as proudly as if that said air were his special invention
and property.  Certain West-country doctors affect Norton-on-Sea for
patients in need of restful change, and their melancholy advent
justifies the existence of the great hotel on the esplanade, and the row
of bath-chairs at the corner.  There are ten bath-chairs in all, and on
sunny days ten crumpled-looking old ladies can generally be seen sitting
inside their canopies, trundling slowly along the esplanade, accompanied
by a paid companion, dressed in black and looking sorry for herself.
Occasionally on Saturdays and Sundays a pretty daughter, or a tall son
takes the companion's place, but as sure as Monday arrives they
disappear into space.  One can imagine that one hears them bidding their
farewells--"So glad to see you getting on so well, mother dear!  I
positively _must_ rush back to town to attend to a hundred duties.  It's
a comfort to feel that you are so well placed.  Miss Biggs is a
treasure, and this air is so bracing!..."

The esplanade consists of four rows of lodging-houses and two hotels, in
front of which is a strip of grass, on which a band plays twice a week
during the summer months, and the school-children twice a day all the
year long.  The invalids in the hotel object to the children and make
unsuccessful attempts to banish them from their pitch, and the children
in their turn regard the invalids with frank disdain, and make audible
and uncomplimentary surmises as to the nature of their complaints as the
procession of chairs trundles by.

In front of the green, and separating it from the steep, pebbly shore,
are a number of fishermen's shanties, bathing machines, and hulks of old
vessels stretched in a long, straggling row, while one larger shed
stands back from the rest, labelled "Lifeboat" in large white letters.

Parallel with the esplanade runs the High Street, a narrow thoroughfare
showing shops crowded with the useless little articles which are
supposed to prove irresistibly attractive to visitors to the seaside.
At the bazaar a big white label proclaims that everything in the window
is to be sold at the astounding price of "eleven-three," and the
purchaser is free to make his choice from such treasures as work-boxes
lined in crimson plush, and covered with a massed pattern in shells;
desks fitted with all the implements for writing, scent bottles tied
with blue ribbons; packets of stationery with local views, photograph
frames in plush and gelatine, or to select more perishable trophies in
glass and china, all solemnly guaranteed to be worth double the price.

At the photographer's, a few yards farther along, a visitor can have his
portrait taken a yard square, the size of a postage stamp, or on a
postcard to send to his friends.  Ingenious backgrounds are on hand,
representing appropriate seaside scenes in which the sitter has nothing
to do but to press his face against a hole on the canvas, and these are
extensively patronised, for what can be more convenient than to stand on
solid earth, attired in sober, everyday clothing, yet be portrayed
splashing in the waves in the spandiest of French bathing costumes,
riding a donkey along the sands, or manfully hauling down the sails of a
yacht!

Mr Photographer Sykes is a man of resource, and deserves the prosperity
which is the envy of his neighbours.  Mrs Sykes wears silk linings to
her skirts on Sundays, and rustles like the highest in the land.  She
had three new hats in one summer, and the fishmonger's wife knows for a
fact that not one of the number costs less than "twenty-five-six."

The High Street and the esplanade constitute the new Norton-on-Sea which
has sprung into being within the last ten years, but the real, original,
aristocratic Norton lies a couple of miles inland, and consists of a
wide, sloping street, lined with alternate shops and houses, branching
off from which are a number of sleepy roads, in which detached and semi-
detached villas hide themselves behind trees and hedges, and barricade
their windows with stiff, white curtains.  The one great longing
actuating the Norton householder seems to be to see nothing, and to be
seen by none.  "Is the house overlooked?" they ask the agent anxiously
on the occasion of the first application.  "Does it overlook any other
house?"

"There _is_ another house across the road, madam!" the agent is
sometimes regretfully obliged to admit, "but it has been very cleverly
planted out."

So it has! by means of a fir or an elm planted within a few yards of the
windows, and blocking out something more important than another villa,
but the Norton resident desires privacy above all things.  The sun and
the air have to creep in as best they may.

The more aristocratic the position of a family, the more secluded
becomes their position.  Fences are raised by an arrangement of lattice-
work on the top of boards; shrubs are planted thickly inside the hedges;
even the railings of the gates are backed by discreetly concealing
boards.  If there happens to be a rise in the road from which a passer-
by can catch a glimpse of white figures darting to and fro on the tennis
courts, the owner promptly throws up a bank, and plants on the top one
or two quickly growing limes.  It is so disagreeable to be overlooked!

At the date at which this history opens, there were several large places
in the neighbourhood of Norton, foremost among them were the Manor
House, occupied by the young squire, Geoffrey Greville, and Madame, his
mother; Green Arbour, owned by Admiral Perry, who had married the widow
of the late High Sheriff; and The Meads, the ofttime deserted seat of a
rich London banker.

With these exceptions, quite the most aristocratic dwellings were
situated in what was known as "The Park," though perhaps "The Crescent"
would have been the more appropriate name, for the twelve houses were
built on one side of a curving road, looking out on a charming stretch
of land, dipping down to a miniature lake, and rising again to a soft
green knoll, surmounted by a bank of trees.  The carefully-mowed grass
looked like softest velvet, and might be seen, but not touched, being
surrounded by tiny wire arches, and protected by wooden boards,
requesting visitors to keep to the paths, and not trespass on the
"verges."  Impressive title!  Visitors were likewise requested not to
touch the flowering shrubs; not to pick the flowers; not to throw
rubbish into the lake, or to inscribe their initials on the seats.
These rules being carefully observed, the twelve householders who paid
for the upkeep of these decorous gardens were free to enjoy such
relaxations as could be derived from gravel paths, and wooden benches.

The view from their windows the residents apparently did not wish to
enjoy, for they planted their trees and heightened their fences as
industriously as the owners of the fifty-pound villas in Hill Street.
Mrs Garnett, at Buona Vista, having a garden deficient in foliage, had
even erected a temporary trellis at the end of the lawn, and covered it
with creepers, rather than face the indignity of an open view.  It gave
her such a "feeling of publicity" to see the neighbours pass to and fro!

It was only the residents themselves who enjoyed the proud privilege of
pacing the Park unmolested, for at either entrance stood small eaved
lodges in which were housed the two gardeners and their wives.  To be
lodge-keeper to the Park was as great a guarantee of respectability in
Norton as to be vicar of the parish church itself.  Only middle-aged,
married, teetotal, childless churchmen could apply for the posts, and
among their scant ranks the most searching inquiries were instituted
before an appointment was finally arranged.  It is safe to affirm that
no working couples on earth were more clean, industrious, and alive to
their duty towards their betters, than the occupants of the North and
South Lodges of Norton Park!

All day long the two husbands mowed grass, clipped hedges, and swept up
gravel paths; all day long the wives scrubbed and dusted their
immaculate little houses, keeping a weather-eye on the door to see who
passed to and fro.  Their duty it was to pounce out on any stranger who
dared attempt to force an entrance through the hallowed portals, and
send them back discomfited.

"You can't come this way, madam!  This road is private!"

"Can't I just walk straight through on the path?  It is so much nearer
than going all the way round!"

"The park is private, madam; there is no thoroughfare."

Occasionally some child of sin would endeavour to prevaricate.

"I wish to pay a call!"

"Which house did you wish to go to, madam?"

"Er--Buona Vista!"

"Buona Vistas is away from home.  They won't be back till the end of the
month."

Foiled in her attempts the miscreant would have to retrace her steps, or
make her way round by the narrow lane by means of which the tradesmen
made their way to the back-doors of these secluded dwellings.

Perhaps the most unpromisingly decorous house in the Park was christened
"The Nook," with that appalling lack of humour which is nowhere
portrayed more strikingly than in the naming of suburban residences.  It
stood fair and square in the middle of the crescent; and from garret to
cellar there was not a nooky corner on which the eye could light.  Two
drawing-room windows flanked the front door on the left; two dining-room
windows on the right.  There was not even a gable or a dormer to break
the square solidity of the whole.  Fourteen windows in all, each
chastely shrouded in Nottingham lace curtains, looped back by yellow
silk bands, fastened, to a fraction of an inch, at the same height from
the sill, while Aspidistra plants, mounted on small tables, were
artfully placed so as to fill up the space necessarily left in the
centre.  They were handsome plants of venerable age, which Mason, the
parlourmaid, watered twice a week, sponging their leaves with milk
before she replaced them in their pots.

It was a typical early Victorian residence, inhabited by a spinster lady
of early Victorian type and her four henchwomen--Heap the cook, Mary the
housemaid, Mason the parlourmaid, and Jane the tweeny.  Four women, plus
a boot-boy, to wait upon the wants of one solitary person, yet in
conclave with the domestic at The Croft to the right, and The Holt to
the left, Miss Briskett's maids were wont to assert that they were
worked off their feet.  It was, as has been said, an early Victorian
household, conducted on early Victorian lines.  Other people might be
content to buy half their supplies ready-made from the stores, but Miss
Briskett insisted on home-made bread, home-made jams and cakes; home-
made pickles and sauces; home-cured tongues and hams, and home-made
liqueurs.  Cook kept the tweeny busy in the kitchen, while Mary grumbled
at having to keep half a dozen unused bedrooms in spick and span
perfection, and Mason spent her existence in polishing, and sweeping
invisible grains of dust from out-of-the-way-corners.

As a rule the domestic wheel turned on oiled wheels and Miss Briskett's
existence flowed on its even course, from one year's end to another,
with little but the weather to differentiate one month from another, but
on the day on which this history begins, a thunderbolt had fallen in the
shape of a letter bearing a New York post-mark, which the postman handed
in at the door of The Nook at the three o'clock delivery.  Miss Briskett
read its contents, and gasped; read them again, and trembled; read them
a third time, and sat buried in thought for ten minutes by the clock, at
the expiration of which time she opened her own desk, and penned a note
to her friend and confidant, Mrs Ramsden, of The Holt--

  "My dear Friend,--I have just received a communication from America
  which is causing me considerable perturbation.  If your engagements
  will allow, I should be grateful if you will take tea with me this
  afternoon, and give me the benefit of your wise counsel.  Pray send a
  verbal answer by bearer.--Yours sincerely,--

  "Sophia A Briskett."

The trim Mason took the note to its destination, and waited in the hall
while Mrs Ramsden wrote her reply.  The reference to a verbal answer
was only a matter of form.  Miss Briskett would have been surprised and
affronted to receive so unceremonious a reply to her invitation--

  "My dear Friend,--It will give me pleasure to take tea with you this
  afternoon, as you so kindly suggest.  I trust that the anxiety under
  which you are labouring may be of a temporary nature, and shall be
  thankful indeed if I can in any way assist to bring about its
  solution.--Most truly yours,--

  "Ellen Bean Ramsden."

"The best china, Mason, and a teapot for two!" was Miss Briskett's order
on receipt of this cordial response, and an hour later the two ladies
sat in conclave over a daintily-spread table in the drawing-room of The
Nook.

Miss Briskett was a tall, thin woman of fifty-eight or sixty, wearing a
white cap perched upon her grey hair, and an expression of frosty
propriety on her thin, pointed features.  Frosty is the adjective which
most accurately describes her appearance.  One felt a moral conviction
that she would suffer from chilblains in winter, that the long, thin
fingers must be cold to the touch, even on this bright May day; that the
tip of her nose was colder still, that she could not go to sleep at
night without a hot bottle to her feet.  She was addicted to grey
dresses, composed of stiff and shiny silk, and to grey bonnets
glittering with steely beads.  She creaked, as she moved, and her thin
figure was whale-boned into an unnatural rigidity.

Mrs Ramsden was, in appearance at least, a striking contrast to her
friend, being a dumpy little woman, in whose demeanour good-nature vied
with dignity.  She was dressed in black, and affected an upright feather
in front of her bonnets.  "To give me height, my dear!"

In looking at her one was irresistibly reminded of a pouter pigeon
strutting along on its short little legs, preening its sleek little head
to and fro above its protuberant breast.

"Read that!" said Miss Briskett, tragically, handing the thin sheet of
paper to her friend, and Mrs Ramsden put on her spectacles and read as
follows--

  "My dear Sister,--Business connected with mines makes it necessary for
  me to go out West for the next few months, and the question has arisen
  how to provide for Cornelia meantime.  I had various notions, but she
  prefers her own (she generally does!), and reckons she can't fill in
  this gap better than by running over to pay you a visit in the Old
  Country.  I can pick her up in the fall, and have a little trot round
  before returning.  She has friends sailing in the _Lucania_ on the
  15th, and intends crossing with them.  You will just have time to
  cable to put her off if you are dead, or otherwise incapacitated; but
  I take it you will be glad to have a look at my girl.  She's worth
  looking at!  I shall feel satisfied to know she is with you.  She
  might get up to mischief over here.

  "Looking forward to seeing you later on,--Your brother, Edward
  Briskett."

  "_P S_--Dear Aunt Soph, don't you worry to prepare!  I'll just chip
  in, and take you as you are.  We'll have some high old times!--Your
  niece, Cornelia."

Letter and eye-glasses fell together upon Mrs Ramsden's knee.  She
raised startled eyes, and blinked dumbly at her friend.

Miss Briskett wagged her head from side to side, and heaved a sepulchral
sigh.

The halcyon days of peace were over!



CHAPTER TWO.

"My dear," said Mrs Ramsden, solemnly, "this is indeed great news.  I
don't wonder that you feel unnerved!"

"I do, indeed.  The three o'clock post came in, and I was quite
surprised when Mary came in with the salver.  I was not expecting any
letters.  I have so few correspondents, and I am mostly in their debt, I
am afraid.  Still, of course, there are always the circulars.  I looked
for nothing more exciting, and then--_this_ arrived!  I really felt that
I could not sit alone and think it out by myself all day long.  I hope
you will forgive me for asking you to come over on such short notice."

"Indeed, I am flattered that you should wish to have me.  Do tell me all
about this brother.  He has lived abroad a long time, I think?  It is
the eldest, is it not?  The rich one--in America?"

"I believe he is rich for the moment.  Goodness knows how long it may
last," sighed Miss Briskett, dolefully.  "He speculates in mines, my
dear, and you know what _that_ means!  Half the time he is a pauper, and
the other half a millionaire, and so far as I can gather from his
letters he seems just as well satisfied one way as another.  He was
always a flighty, irresponsible creature, and I fear Cornelia has taken
after him."

"She is the only child?"

"Yes!  She had an English mother, I'm thankful to say; but poor Sybil
died at her birth, and Edward never married again.  He was devoted to
Sybil, and said he would never give another woman the charge of her
child.  Such nonsense!  As if any man on earth could look after a
growing girl, without a woman's help.  Instead of a wise, judicious
stepmother, she has been left to nurses and governesses, and from what I
can hear, has ruled _them_, instead of the other way about.  You can see
by the tone of her father's letter that he is absurdly prejudiced."

"That is natural, perhaps, with an only child, left to him in such
peculiarly sad circumstances.  We must not judge him hardly for that,"
said little Mrs Ramsden, kindly.  "Has the girl herself ever written to
you before, may I ask, or is this her first communication?"

Miss Briskett's back stiffened, and her thin lips set in a straight
line.

"She has addressed little notes to me from time to time; on birthdays,
and Christmases, and so on; but to tell you the truth, my dear, I have
not encouraged their continuance.  They were unduly familiar, and I
object to being addressed by abbreviations of my name.  Ideas as to what
is right and fitting seem to differ on different sides of the Atlantic!"

"They do, indeed.  I have always understood that young people are
brought into quite undue prominence in American households.  And their
manners, too!  One sees in that postscript--you don't mind my saying so,
just between ourselves--a--a _broadness_--"

"Quite so!  I feel it myself.  I am most grieved, about it.  Cornelia is
my niece, and Edward is the head of the family.  Her position as his
only child is one of importance, and I feel distressed that she is so
little qualified to adorn it.  She has been well educated, I believe;
has `graduated,' as they call it; but she has evidently none of our
English polish.  Quite in confidence, Mrs Ramsden, I feel that she may
be somewhat of a shock to the neighbourhood!"

"You think of receiving her, then?  Your brother leaves you the option
of refusing, and I should think things over very seriously before
incurring such a responsibility.  A three-months' visit!  I doubt you
could not stand the strain!  If you excused yourself on the ground of
health, no offence could possibly be taken."

But at that Miss Briskett protested strongly.

"Oh, my dear, I could not refuse!  Edward wishes to find a home for the
girl, and says he would be relieved to have her with me.  I could not
possibly refuse!  I think I may say that I have never yet shirked a
duty, distasteful though it might be, and I must not do so now.  I shall
cable to say that I will be pleased to receive Cornelia, when it suits
her to arrive."

Mrs Ramsden crumbled her seed-cake and wondered why--that being the
case--she had been summoned to give advice, but being a good-natured
soul, smiled assent, and deftly shifted the conversation to the
consideration of details.

"Well, dear, I only trust you may be rewarded.  Miss Cornelia is
fortunate to have such a home waiting to receive her.  What room do you
propose to dedicate to her use?"

Miss Briskett's face clouded, and she drew a long, despairing sigh.

"That's another thing I am troubled about.  I had the best spare room
done up only this spring.  The carpet had faded, and when I was renewing
it I took the opportunity to have in the painters and paperhangers.  It
is _all_ fresh, even the curtains and bed-hangings.  They have not once
been used."

Mrs Ramsden purred in sympathetic understanding.

"Poor dear!  When one has just made a room all fresh and clean, it is
_most_ trying to have it taken into use!  But why give her that room at
all, dear?  You have several others.  A young, unmarried girl should be
satisfied with a room at the back, or even on the third storey.  You
have a nice little guest room over your own bedroom, have you not?"

"No!"  Miss Briskett again manifested a noble determination to do her
duty.  "I should like Edward to feel, when he comes over, that I have
paid his daughter all due honour.  She must have the spare room, and if
she spills things over the new carpet, I must pray for grace to bear it.
She has been accustomed to a very luxurious style of living for the
last few years, and I daresay even my best room will not be as handsome
as her own apartment.  In the present state of Edward's finances, she
is, I suppose, a very great heiress."

Little Mrs Ramsden stared into her cup with a kindly thoughtfulness.

"I should keep that fact secret, if I were you," she said earnestly.
"Poor lassie! it's always a handicap to a girl to be received for what
she has, rather than what she is.  And there are two or three idle,
worthless young men hanging about, who might be only too glad to pick up
a rich wife.  I should simply announce that I was expecting a niece from
the United States of America, to pay me a visit of some months'
duration, and offer no enlightenment as to her circumstances.  You will
have enough responsibility as it is, without embarrassing
entanglements."

"Yes, indeed.  Thank you so much.  I feel sure that your advice is wise,
and I shall certainly follow it.  There's that soldier nephew of Mrs
Mott's, who is constantly running down on short visits.  I object
intensely to that dashing style!  He is just the type of man to run
after a girl for her money.  I shall take special care that they do not
meet.  One thing I am determined upon," said Miss Briskett, sternly,
"and that is that there shall be no love-making, nor philandering of any
kind under my roof.  I could not be troubled with such nonsense, nor
with the responsibility of it.  I am accustomed to a quiet, regular
life, and if Cornelia comes to me, she must conform to the regulations
of the household.  At my age I cannot be expected to alter my ways for
the sake of a girl."

"Certainly not.  She is a mere girl, I suppose!  How old may she be?"

Miss Briskett considered.

"She was born in the winter!  I distinctly remember coming in and seeing
the cable, and taking off my fur gloves to open it.--It was the year I
bought the dining-room carpet.  It was just down, I remember, and as we
drank the baby's health, the cork flew out of the bottle, and some of
the champagne was spilt, and there was a great fuss wiping it up--
Twenty-two years ago!  Who would have thought it could be so long?"

"Ah, it always pays to get a good thing while you are about it.  It
costs a great deal at the start, but you have such satisfaction
afterwards.  It's not a bit faded!"  Mrs Ramsden affirmed, alluding, be
it understood, to the Turkey carpet, and not to Miss Cornelia Briskett.
"Twenty-two.  Just a year younger than my Elma!  Elma will be glad to
have a companion."

"It is kind of you to say so.  Nothing would please me better than to
see Cornelia become intimate with your daughter.  Poor child, she has
not had the advantages of an English upbringing; but we must hope that
this visit will be productive of much good.  She could not have a better
example than Elma.  She is a type of a sweet, guileless, English girl."

"Ye-es!" asserted the sweet girl's mother, doubtfully; "but you know,
dear Miss Briskett, that at times even Elma..."  She shook her head,
sighed, and continued with a struggling smile: "We must remember--must
we not--that we have been young ourselves, and try not to be too hard on
little eccentricities!"

Mrs Ramsden spoke with feeling, for memory, though slumbering, was not
dead.  She had not always been a well-conducted widow lady, who
expressed herself with decorum, and wore black cashmere and bugles.
Thirty odd years ago she had been a plump little girl, with a lively
capacity for mischief.

On one occasion she had danced two-thirds of the programme at a ball
with an officer even more dashing than the objectionable nephew of Mrs
Mott, and in a corner of the conservatory had given him a flower from
her bouquet.  He had kissed the flower before pressing it in his pocket-
book, and had looked as if he would have liked to kiss something else
into the bargain. ...  After twenty-five years of life at Norton, it was
astonishing how vividly the prim little widow recalled the guilty thrill
of that moment!  On yet another occasion she had carried on a
clandestine correspondence with the brother of a friend, and had
awakened to tardy pangs of conscience only when a more attractive suitor
came upon the scene!

Mrs Ramsden blushed at the remembrance, and felt a kindly softening of
the heart towards the absent Cornelia but Miss Briskett remained coldly
unmoved.  She had been an old maid in her cradle, and had gone on
steadily growing old maidier ever since.  Never had she so forgotten
herself as to dally with the affections of any young man, which was
perhaps the less to her credit, as no young man had exhibited any
inclination to tempt her from the paths of single blessedness.

She looked down her nose at her friend's remark, and replied that she
trusted she might be enabled to do her duty, without either prejudice or
indulgence, and soon afterwards Mrs Ramsden took her leave, and
returned to her own domain.

At one of the windows of the over-furnished sitting-room of The Holt, a
girl was standing gazing dreamily through the spotted net curtains, with
a weary little droop in the lines of the figure which bespoke fatigue,
rather mental, than physical.  She was badly dressed, in an ill-cut
skirt, and an ill-cut blouse, and masses of light brown hair were
twisted heavily together at the back of her head; but the face, which
she turned to welcome her mother reminded one instinctively of a bunch
of flowers--of white, smooth-leaved narcissi; of fragrant pink roses; of
pansies--deep, purple-blue pansies, soft as velvet.  Given the right
circumstances and accessories, this might have been a beauty, an
historical beauty, whose name would be handed down from one generation
to another; a Georgina of Devonshire, a beautiful Miss Gunning, a
witching Nell Gwynne; but alas! beauty is by no means independent of
external aid!  The poets who declaim to the contrary are men, poor
things, who know no better; every woman in the world will plump for a
good dressmaker, when she wishes to appear at her best.

Elma Ramsden, with the makings of a beauty, was just a pretty, dowdy
girl, at whom a passer-by would hardly cast a second glance.  She looked
bored too, and a trifle discontented, and her voice had a flat,
uninterested tone.

"Well, mother, back again!  Have you enjoyed your call?"

"Thank you, dear, it was hardly a case of enjoyment.  I was invited to
give my opinion of a matter of importance."

"Yes, I know!--Should she have the sweep this week, or the week after
next?--Should she have new covers for the drawing-room?--Would you
advise slate-grey, or grey-slate for the new dress? ...  I hope you
brought the weight of your intellect to bear on the great problems, and
solved them to your mutual satisfaction!"

Mrs Ramsden seated herself on a deeply-cushioned arm-chair, and began
pulling off her tight kid gloves.  A touch of offence was visible in her
demeanour, and the feather in the front of her bonnet reared itself at
an aggressive angle.

"It is not in good taste, my dear, to talk in that tone to your mother.
Matters of domestic interest may not appeal to you in your present
irresponsible position, but they are not without their own importance.
The subject of to-day's discussion, however, was something quite
different.  You will be interested to hear that Miss Briskett is
expecting a young American niece to pay her a visit at an early date."

"How young?" inquired Elma, tentatively.  Her mother had a habit of
alluding to "girls" of thirty-five, which did not commend itself to her
youthful judgment.  She reserved her interest until assured on this
important point.

"About your own age or slightly younger.  The only daughter of Mr
Edward Briskett, the head of the family.  His business takes him away
from home for several months, and his daughter is anxious to avail
herself of the opportunity of visiting her aunt."

"Oh!" said Elma; no more and no less, but as she turned her pansy-like
eyes once more to the window, she grimaced expressively.  She was sorry
for the delusion of the American daughter who was willing to cross a
whole ocean for the privilege of beholding Miss Sophia Briskett!

"What is she like?" she asked presently.  "Did you hear anything about
her?"

Mrs Ramsden shook her head dolefully.

"I fear, dear--strictly between ourselves--that she is not precisely
what we should call a _nice_ girl!  The tone of her letter was decidedly
flippant.  Miss Briskett is hoping much from your influence.  You two
girls will naturally come a good deal into contact, and I hope you will
do your utmost to set her an example of ladylike demeanour."

Elma stared steadily through the window.  "_Flippant_" she repeated to
herself in a breathless whisper.  "_Flippant_!"  The pansy eyes widened.
She heaved a sigh of deep, incredulous delight.



CHAPTER THREE.

The _Lucania_ was due to arrive in the Mersey early on a Tuesday
forenoon, and Miss Briskett expected to welcome her niece on the evening
of the same day.  The best spare room was already swept and garnished,
and nothing remained but to take counsel with Heap the cook, and draw
out a menu of a dinner which could most successfully combat the strain
of waiting.  The spinster's own appetite, though sparse, was fastidious,
and Heap was a mistress of her art, so that between the two a dainty
little meal was arranged, while Mason, not to be outdone, endeavoured to
impart an extra polish to her already highly-burnished silver.  In the
seclusion of the pantry she hummed a joyful air.  "Praise the pigs! we
shall have something young in the house, at last," said she to herself.
"I don't mind the extra work, if she'll only make a bit of a stir!"

By six o'clock the dinner-table was laid, and Miss Briskett was sitting
in state, clad in her newest grey silk gown, though a reference to
Bradshaw made it seem improbable that the traveller could arrive before
seven o'clock.  At half-past six hot water was carried up to the
bedroom; ten minutes later Miss Briskett left her seat to move another
few yards nearer the window.  Streaks of colour showed in her cheeks,
her fingers clasped and unclasped in nervous fashion.  She was conscious
of a quick thud-thud at the left side of the thickly-boned bodice, and
realised with surprise that it came from that almost forgotten organ,
her heart.  She had never experienced this agitation before when
awaiting the arrival of her own friends.  The old adage was right after
all--blood was thicker than water!  What would the child be like?
Edward was a big fair man, with no special beauty of feature.  Sybil had
been slight and dainty.  It did not seem likely that Cornelia would be
specially pretty, her aunt prayed above all things that she was
unnoticeable--to be unnoticeable was regarded as the climax of elegance
in Norton society!--then with a sudden softening of expression found
herself hoping that there would be something of Edward in looks or
manner!  She was a lonely woman, living apart from her kin.  To have
someone of her own would be a new and delightful experience.  She felt
glad, actually _glad_ that Cornelia was coming!

Seven o'clock!  At any moment now a cab might appear bearing the
expected guest from the station.  Miss Briskett crossed the room to
alter the arrangement of a vase of flowers, and as she did so, the door
opened, and Mason entered carrying a telegram upon a silver salver.
Miss Briskett tore it open, and read the following message:--

  "Safe and sound.  Staying night in London with friends.  Sight-seeing
  to-morrow morning.  Be with you at five.  God save the Queen!--
  Cornelia."

Miss Briskett's lips tightened.  She folded the orange-coloured paper
and returned it to its envelope, cleared her throat and said coldly--

"Inform Heap that my niece will not arrive until to-morrow evening, and
be good enough to serve dinner at once."

Mason's face clouded with disappointment.  In the kitchen Heap banged
the saucepan-lids, and wanted to know what was the use of doing your
best in a despicable world where you never got nothing for your pains!
Mary repaired dolefully upstairs to take away the hot water, and shroud
the furniture in dust-sheets; even the tweeny felt a sudden dampening of
spirits, while in the dining-room the mistress of her house sat at her
solitary meal with anger smouldering in her heart!

A delay to the boat would, of course, have been inevitable; if Cornelia
had been so fatigued that she felt it necessary to break her journey
half-way, that would have been a disappointment pure and simple, but
that the girl had _chosen_ to delay her arrival for her own amusement
and gratification, this was an offence indeed--a want of respect and
consideration well-nigh unforgivable.  Staying in town with friends!--
Staying _where_?--With what friends?  Doing the sights to-morrow
morning!  Miss Briskett's lip curled in disdain.  Then that ridiculous
ending!  What would Miss Brewster, the telegraph clerk at the post-
office, think of such frivolity!  In this tiny township, everyone was as
well acquainted with their neighbour's business as with their own, and
while Emily Brewster at the post-office was keenly interested in the
advent of the American visitor, Miss Briskett, in her turn, knew all
about Emily's parentage and education, the nature and peculiarities of
the diseases which she had enjoyed, and vouchsafed a patronising
interest in her prospects.  It was gall and wormwood to feel sure that
Emily had laughed and made merry over a message addressed to a Briskett,
from a member of her own house!

Everyone has experienced the flatness which ensues when an expected
excitement is postponed at the last moment, leaving the hours to drag
along a slow, uneventful course.  It was long since Miss Briskett had
felt so consciously lonely and depressed as at her solitary dinner that
evening.  In the drawing-room, even Patience lost its wonted charm, and
she was thankful when the time arrived to sip her tumbler of hot water,
and retire to bed.

Next day it seemed somewhat flat to make the same preparations a second
time over, but as no contradictory message had been received, it did not
appear possible that a second disappointment could supervene.  The tea-
table was set out with special care, and a supply of home-made cakes
placed on the three-storied brass stand.  Once more Miss Briskett donned
her best gown, and sat gazing through the lace window curtains.

At last!  A cab drove up to the gate; two cabs, laden with enough
luggage for a family journeying to the seaside.  The door of the first
was thrown open and there jumped out--a _man_! a tall, alert young man
clad in a suit of light-checked tweed, who turned and gave his hand to a
girl in blue serge, carefully assisting her to alight.  They sauntered
up the path together, laughing and chattering in leisurely enjoyment;
half-way to the house the girl turned round, and stood for a moment to
stare at the view, pointing, as she did so, in frank, unabashed fashion.
Then they approached the door, held hospitably open in Mason's hand.

"Why, Aunt Soph, is that you?" cried a high, clear voice, with a
pronounced American accent, which rang strangely in the unaccustomed
ears.  "This is me, anyhow, and I'm real glad to see you.  I've had a
lovely ride!  This is Mr Eustace C Ross, who crossed with us in the
_Lucania_.  He's brought me right here in case I got lost, or fell over
the edge.  England's sweet!  I've been all over London this morning, and
we did a theatre last night. ...  Aunt Soph, you have a look of father
about the nose!  Makes me feel kinder homesick to see your nose.  I'm
going to kiss it right away?"

And kiss it she did, on its thin, chilly tip, with Mason sniggering with
delight in the background, and the strange young man chuckling in the
foreground.  Miss Briskett retreated hastily into the drawing-room, and
her niece followed, casting curious glances to right and to left.

"You've got a real cosy little house, Aunt Soph.  It looks real
English--not a mite like our place at home.  Is that tea?  I'm just
about dying for a cup of tea, and so's Mr Ross.  Don't you want a cup
of tea more than anything in the world, Mr Ross?  I see you do by the
way you look!"

She sank into an easy chair, and flashed a mischievous glance at the
young man by her side.  He was a tall, well-built young fellow, with the
square shoulders and aggressive chin which to the English eye are the
leading characteristics of American men.  He had the air of being
exceedingly well able to look after himself, but even his self-
possession wavered before the frosty nature of his reception.  He stood
irresolutely, hat in hand, waiting for a repetition of Cornelia's
invitation, but none came, and with an almost imperceptible shrug of the
shoulders, he resigned himself to the inevitable, and announced that it
was imperative that he should hasten back to the station to catch a
return train to town.  He proceeded, therefore, to take leave of his
travelling companion, a proceeding characterised on his side by
transparent regret, on hers by an equally transparent indifference.

"You'll be sure to let me know when you come home!"

"Yes, indeed!  I'll write when I start, and you shall come down to meet
the boat.  Good-bye!  You've been real kind!  I'm ever so much obliged!"

"Oh, I've enjoyed it enormously.  You must be sure to let me know if
there is anything I can do--at any time--anywhere!" repeated the young
fellow, ardently.

He bowed to Miss Briskett, who extended her hand in patronising
farewell, accompanying him to the door of the room, less, it appeared,
from motives of kindliness, than to satisfy herself that he had really
departed.

On her return she found that her niece had taken off her hat, and was
leaning back in her chair, sticking hat-pins through the crown with
smiling complacence.  Miss Briskett surveyed her with not unnatural
curiosity, and came to the swift conclusion that she was not at all
pretty, but most objectionably remarkable in appearance.  The sort of
girl whom people would stare at in the street; the sort of girl whom
Norton would emphatically disapprove!  Her hair in itself was arresting.
Miss Briskett had never seen such hair.  It was not red, it was not
gold, it was not brown; but rather a blending of all three colours.  It
was, moreover, extraordinarily thick, and stood out from the head in a
crisp mass, rippling into big natural waves, while behind each ear was a
broad streak of a lighter shade, almost flaxen in colour.  No artificial
means could have produced such an effect; it was obviously the work of
nature.  "American nature!"  Miss Briskett told herself with a sniff.  A
respectably brought-up English girl could never have possessed such a
head!  Underneath this glorious mass of hair was a pale, little face,
lighted up by a pair of golden-brown eyes.  The eyebrows were well-
marked and remarkably flexible; the nose was thin and pointed, a
youthful replica of Miss Briskett's own.  The only really good feature
was the mouth, and that was adorable, with coral red lips curling up at
the corners; tempting, kissable lips, made for love and laughter.  For
the rest, it was difficult to understand how a plain blue serge gown
could possibly contrive to look so smart, or how those tiniest of tiny
brown boots had managed to keep so dazzlingly free from dust throughout
a railway journey.

Miss Briskett sat herself down by the tea-table, and cleared her throat
ominously.  Her niece had not been ten minutes in the house, yet already
an occasion had arisen for a serious rebuke.

"Are you engaged to that young man, may I ask, Cornelia?"

Cornelia gave a little jump upon her seat, and opened her golden eyes in
a stare of amazement.

"Mussy, no!  What in the land put such an idea in your head?"

"Your tone and manner, my dear, and the fact of his accompanying you all
the way from town.  It is not usual for young men to put themselves to
so much trouble for a mere acquaintance."

"He don't think it a trouble.  He loves flying around!  He's a sweet
thing," said Miss Cornelia, with smiling recollection, "but he's not my
Chubb!  I'm sorry he couldn't stay to tea, for he's real amusing when he
once gets started.  He'd have made you screech with laughter."

Miss Briskett looked down her nose, in her most dignified and rebuking
fashion.

"I am not accustomed to `screech' about anything, and in this country,
my dear, it is not considered convenable for young girls to accept the
escort of a gentleman to whom they are not engaged.  No English girl
would think of doing such a thing!"

"They must have a middling dull time of it," retorted Cornelia, calmly,
"I must teach them a thing or two while I'm over."  She rose to take the
teacup from her aunt's hand, and to help herself to a couple of
sandwiches from a dainty heart-shaped dish.  "Well--aren't you pleased
to have me, Aunt Soph?  I've wanted years to come over and see you.  It
seemed too bad that I knew none of Poppar's people.  And now I'm here!"
She wheeled round, teacup in hand, staring curiously around the
handsome, over-furnished room; at the big ebony console table,
ornamented with bunches of fruit manufactured out of coloured pebbles;
at the grand piano in its walnut case; the piano which was never opened,
but which served as a stand for innumerable photographs and ornaments;
at the old-fashioned sofas and chairs in their glazey chintz covers; at
the glass-shaded vases on the marble mantelshelf.  "I'm here, and it's
too quaint for words!  Everything's--_different_!  I suppose England
_is_ different, isn't it, Aunt Soph?"

"Very different!"  Miss Briskett's tones fairly bubbled with innuendoes.
She put down her rolled slice of bread and butter, and added frostily,
"Before we go any further, Cornelia, I must really beg you to address me
by my proper name.  My name is Sophia.  You have no intention of being
disrespectful, I feel sure, but I am not accustomed to abbreviations.  I
have never had a nickname in my life, and I have no wish to begin at
this late date."

"My! you poor sufferer, how lonesome for you!  Nicknames are so homely
and cosy.  I have about as many as I have toes.  One of my friends calls
me `Corney.'  He's a bit of a wag--(`He,' indeed!)--Another one calls me
`Nelia,'--`Neel-ya!'"  She threw a lingering sentiment into the
repetition, and chuckled reminiscently.  "To most of my chums I'm just
`Neely.'  Life's too short for three syllables every day of the week!"

"Over here in England we are not too hurried to address people in a
proper manner.  I shall call you by your full name, and expect you to do
the same by me."

"All right, Aunt Sophia Ann, just as you please," cried Cornelia,
naughtily.  She was standing up, cup in hand, but even as she spoke she
subsided on to a footstool by Miss Briskett's side, with a sudden lithe
collapse of the body, which made that good lady gasp in dismay.  She had
never seen anybody but a professional acrobat move so quickly or
unexpectedly, and felt convinced that the tea must have been spilt, and
crumbs scattered wholesale over the carpet.  But no! not even a drop had
fallen into the saucer, and there sat Cornelia nibbling at an undamaged
sandwich with little, strong, white teeth, as cool and composed as if
such feats were of everyday occurrence.

"This is how I sit by Poppar at home; it's more sociable than right
across the room.  Poppar and I are just the greatest chums, and I hate
it when he's away.  There was a real nice woman wanted to come and keep
house, and take me around--Mrs Van Dusen, widow of Henry P Van Dusen,
who made a boom in cheese.  Maybe you've heard of him.  He made a pile,
and lost it all, trying to do it again.  Then he got tired of himself
and took the _grippe_ and died, and it was pretty dull for Mrs Van.
She visits round, and puts in her time the best way she can.  She'd have
liked quite well to settle down at our place for three or four months,
and I'd have liked it too, if it hadn't been for you.  I wanted to see
you Aunt Soph--ia Ann!"

She put up a thin little hand, and rubbed it ingratiatingly up and down
the shiny silk lap, to the stupefaction of Mason, who came in at that
moment bearing a plate of hot scones, and retired to give a faithful
rendering of the position to her allies in the kitchen, sitting down on
the fender stool, and stroking the cook's apron in dramatic imitation,
while that good lady and her satellites went into helpless fits of
laughter.

"I'd as soon stroke a nettle myself," said the cook, "but there's no
accounting for taste!  You take my word for it, if she goes on stroking
much longer, she'll get a sting as she won't forget in a hurry!"

Upstairs in the drawing-room, Miss Briskett's fidgeting uncomfortably
beneath that caressing hand.  In her lonely, self-contained life, she
was so unused to demonstrations of the kind that she was at a loss how
to receive them when they came.  Instinctively she drew herself away,
shrinking into the corners of her chair and busying herself with the re-
arrangement of the tray, while Cornelia asked one question after another
in her high-pitched, slightly monotonous voice.

"It's mighty quiet out here, Aunt Soph--ia Ann!  Does it always go on
being just as still?  Do you live all the year round, right here in this
house by your lonesome, listening to the grass growing across the lane?
What do you _do_, anyway?  That's a real smart-looking maid!  Will she
be the one to wait upon me?  Most all my shirt waists fasten up the
back, and there's got to be someone round to fix them, or I'm all
undone.  I guess you're pretty tidy by the looks of you, Aunt Soph.  I
can't see after things myself, but I fidget the life out of everybody if
I'm not just so.  I've got the sweetest clothes.--Do you have gay times
over here in Norton?  Is there a good deal of young society?  I love
prancing round and having a good time.  Poppar says the boys spoil me;
there's always a crowd of them hanging round, ready to do everything I
want, and to send me flowers and bon-bons.  I'm just crazed on bonbons!
My state-room was piled full of bouquets and chocolates coming over.  I
had more than any other girl on board!"

Miss Briskett's lips tightened ominously.  "If by `boys' you mean young
men, Cornelia, I am surprised that your father allows you to receive
indiscriminate gifts from strangers.  I fear he hag become a thorough
American, and forgotten his early training.  In England no young man
would venture to send a gift to a lady to whom he was not either
related, or engaged to be married."

"My! how mean!  Amurican men are for ever sending things, and the girls
just love to have them do it.  Seems to me, Aunt Soph, it's about time I
came over to teach you how to do things in this benighted isle!  Poppar
says you're all pretty mouldy, but, short of an earthquake, he can't
think of anything better calculated to shake you up, than a good spell
of me waltzing around.  I guess he's about right.  I'm never quiet
unless I'm sick.  There's not much of the Sleeping Beauty about Cornelia
E Briskett!"

Miss Briskett sat still, a pillar of outraged propriety.  This was worse
than anything she had expected!  The girl appeared to have no modesty,
no decorum, no sense of shame.  She might straighten her back until it
was as stiff as a poker, might arch her brows into semicircles, and
purse her lips into an expression of disapproval which would have
frightened Elma Ramsden out of her senses, but Cornelia never appeared
to notice that anything was amiss, and continued her meal with bland
enjoyment.  When she had finished the sandwiches she rested her left arm
more firmly on her aunt's knee, and raised her pointed chin until it
rested, actually rested, upon the edge of the table, the while she
carefully scrutinised the different varieties of cake, and selected the
piece most to her taste.  At this she proceeded to nibble with evident
satisfaction, lifting it to her lips in one thin hand, while the other
still rested caressingly on that shiny silk lap.  Miss Briskett's dumb
swellings of anger gradually subsided to the point when it became
possible to put them into words.  She cleared her throat with the usual
preliminary grunt, whereupon the girl turned her stag-like head, to gaze
questioningly upwards, her expression sweetly alert, her eyes--limpid,
golden eyes--widely opened between the double line of lashes!

Miss Briskett looked, and the remonstrance died on her lips.  The scene
shifted, and in an instant she had travelled back through the years to a
day long, long ago, when she sat, a girl in her teens, talking to the
little boy brother who was the dearest of all created things, telling
him stories, and watching the wonder in his eyes!  Pert, self-
sufficient, and presumptuous as she might be, by some contradictory
freak of nature, that divine innocence still lingered in this young
girl's eyes.  The sight of it arrested the words on the spinster's lips.
She realised with shame that almost every word which she had spoken to
the girl since her arrival had been tinged with reproof, and blushed for
her own lack of hospitality.  The frown faded, and was replaced by a
struggling smile.  With a half-strained movement she advanced a chilly
hand to meet the girl's warm grasp.

Cornelia drew a long, fluttering sigh; a sigh of utter contentment, and
laid her russet head on the folds of the stiff grey silk.

"Oh, Aunt Soph--ia! you are just as sweet!" she murmured beneath her
breath.



CHAPTER FOUR.

Perfect health, radiant spirits, supreme self-confidence, a sweetly
smiling determination to have her own way, and go her own course, though
the skies fell, and all creation conspired to prevent her--these were
the characteristics of Miss Cornelia Briskett most apparent on a
superficial acquaintance.  On the morning after her arrival, when Mary
the housemaid carried the cup of early morning tea to her bedside, she
found the young lady leaning back against the pillows, enveloped in a
garment which suggested a garden party, rather than a night-gown, wide
awake, and ready for conversation.  Really a most affable young lady,
who instead of vouchsafing a cool good-morning, launched out into quite
a confidential talk, inquiring after the different members of Mary's
family, their names, ages, and occupations, and showing a most
sympathetic interest in the girl's own future.

"I guess you are going to be married pretty soon!  You've got a marrying
face!" she said shrewdly, whereupon Mary, blushing, acknowledged that
she _had_ a friend, and that he _did_ speak of early next spring.

"Told you so!" cried Cornelia, dimpling.  "Well, Mury, see here, you nip
round and wait upon me the best you know, and I'll give you an elegant
present!  I wear muslins most all the time in summer, and I can't endoor
to have them mussed.  You keep carrying them away and ironing them out
nice and smooth, without bothering me to tell you.  See!  I need lots of
attention; there's no getting away from that, but I'll make it worth
your while.  You just put your mind to it, and I guess you'll make a
tip-top maid!"

Mary was at least prepared to perish in the attempt.  She related the
conversation downstairs, with the natural result that each of the other
three maids registered a vow to be second to none in her attentions to
the young visitor.

The breakfast-gong rang at eight o'clock, but it was a good ten minutes
later before Cornelia came sauntering downstairs, singing an unknown
ditty at the pitch of a sweet, if somewhat nasal voice.  She was dressed
in white of the most elaborate simplicity, and her shaded hair looked
even more crisply conspicuous than on the night before.  The last line
of the song did not come to an end until she was half-way across the
dining-room floor, and so far from being dismayed by her aunt's stare of
disapproval, she only laughed, waved her hands, and threw an extra
flourish into the rallentando.  Then she swooped down upon the stiff
figure, hugged it affectionately, and planted three kisses on the cold,
grey face; one on the lips, one on the brow, a third--deliberately--on
the tip of the nose.

"Cornelia, please!  Recollect yourself, my dear!  Have a little respect.
You must never do that again!" cried Miss Briskett, irritably, but the
girl showed not the faintest sign of being awed.

"It's the nose of my father, and I've just _got_ to kiss it!  It's not a
mite of use promising that I won't.  I've got to kiss it regularly every
morning, and every night, until he comes over to be kissed himself!" she
announced calmly, seating herself at the opposite side of the square
dining-table, and peering curiously at the various dishes.  "Poppar says
you never have anything for breakfast in England but bacon and eggs, but
I don't see any here.  What's under this cover?--Fish?"

"If you wait a few minutes your bacon will be brought in.  It had grown
cold with waiting so long, so I sent it away to be kept hot.  The
breakfast hour is eight; not a quarter past."

"It's not a mite of use telling me the hours.  I'm always late!  I don't
suppose I've ever been down in time in my life, unless by a mistake,"
returned Cornelia, cheerfully.  "I like to stay in bed and let the day
get sorter warmed up and comfortable, before I begin.  What makes you
want to get up so early, anyway?  I should have thought nine would have
been heaps early enough, when you have nothing to do."

It was not a promising beginning to the day.  In her own household Miss
Briskett was accustomed to an authority as complete as that of the
general of an army.  She was just, and she was generous; her servants
were treated with kindness and consideration, but if they wished to
retain their places, they had to learn the lesson of dumb, unquestioning
obedience.  She might be right, she might be wrong, she might remember,
she might forget--no matter! it was not their business to enlighten her.
"Theirs but to do, and die!"  She would not brook a question as to her
own authority.  It was, therefore, a distinct blow to the good lady to
find her decrees ignored by her young guest with a smiling good-nature,
more baffling than the most determined opposition.

She remained stolidly silent throughout the meal, but Cornelia
apparently regarded he attitude as a tactful abdication in her own
favour, and kept up an incessant flow of conversation from start to
finish.  When the bell was rung for prayers, she seated herself in a low
chair, directly facing the servants' seats, and smiled a dazzling
greeting to each in turn.  They sat down in their usual positions, heads
bent, hands folded on the middle of their clean white aprons; feet
tucked carefully out of sight; there was no outward sign of irreverence
or inattention in their demeanour, but Miss Briskett _felt_, that every
single woman of them was absorbed--utterly, consumedly absorbed--in
casting sly glances at that distracting white vision in the easy chair;
at the dully glowing hair, the floating folds of white, the tiny,
extended feet.  She might have read a page of the dictionary, and they
would not have noticed; even Heap, who was old enough to know better,
was edging sideways in her chair, to get a better view!

When the four stiffly-starched dresses had rustled out of the room,
Cornelia yawned, and stretched herself like a sleepy, luxurious kitten,
then snoodled down once more in her comfortable chair.  Her eyes were
fixed upon her aunt's face, while that good lady bustled about the room,
folding the newspaper into an accurate square, and putting it away in a
brass-bound cage; collecting scattered envelopes and putting them in the
waste-paper basket, moving the flower-vases on the chimney-piece, so
that they should stand at mathematically the same distance from the
central clock.  At every movement she waited to hear the expected, "Can
I help you, Aunt Sophia?" which right feeling would surely prompt in any
well-principled damsel, and though her reply would of a certainty have
been in the negative, she felt aggrieved that the opportunity was not
vouchsafed.

She was determined not to look in the girl's direction, nor to meet
those watching eyes, but presently, in spite of herself, she felt a
magnetic compulsion to turn her head to answer the bright, expectant
glance.

"Well?" queried Cornelia, smiling.

"Well what, my dear?"

"How are you going to amuse me this forenoon?"

Miss Briskett sat down suddenly in the nearest chair, and suffered a
mental collapse.  Positively this view of the situation had never once
dawned upon her unimaginative brain!  Mrs Ramsden had dimly wrestled
with the problem, solving it at last with an easy, "She can talk to
Elma!" but the aunt and hostess had been too much occupied with
consideration for her own comfort to think of anyone else.  It had
crossed her mind that the girl might tire her, bore her, worry her, or
humiliate her before the neighbours; in an occasional giddy flight of
fancy she had even supposed it possible that Cornelia might amuse her,
and make life more agreeable, but never for the fraction of a second had
she realised that she herself was fated either to bore, or to amuse
Cornelia in return!

The discovery was a shock.  Being a just woman, Miss Briskett was forced
to the conclusion that she had been selfish and self-engrossed; but such
self-revelations do not as a rule soften our hearts towards the fellow-
creature who has been the means of our enlightenment.  Miss Briskett was
annoyed with herself, but she was much more annoyed with Cornelia, and
considered that she had good reason to be so.

"I have no time to think of frivolities in the morning, my dear.  I am
too busy with household duties.  I am now going to the kitchen to
interview my cook, then to the store-room to give out what is needed for
the day, and when that is accomplished I shall go to the shops to give
my orders.  If you wish, I shall be pleased to have your company!"

"Right oh!" cried Cornelia, nodding.  "It will be a lesson in your silly
old pounds and pence.  What do you keep in your store-room, Aunt Soph?
Nice things?  Fruits?  Candy?  Cake?  I wouldn't mind giving out the
stores for a spell, now and again.  Well! ...  I'll just mouch round,
and be ready for you when you set out for your walk."

Miss Briskett left the room, in blissful ignorance of what "mouch" might
mean, and much too dignified to inquire, but by the time that ten
o'clock had struck, she had learnt to connect the expression with all
that was irritating and presumptuous.  In the midst of her discussion
with the cook, for instance, the sound of music burst upon her ears; the
echo of that disused piano which had almost forgotten to be anything but
a stand for ornaments and lamps.  Bang went the bass, crash went the
treble, the tune a well-known dance, played with a dash and a spirt, a
rollicking marking of time irresistible to any human creature under
forty, who did not suffer from corns on their toes.  In the recesses of
the scullery a subdued scuffling was heard.  Tweeny was stepping it to
and fro, saucepans in hand; from the dining-room overhead, where Mason
was clearing away the breakfast dishes, came a succession of mysterious
bumping sounds.  Heap stood stolid as a rock, but her eyes--her small,
pale, querulous eyes--danced a deliberate waltz round the table and
back...

"I must request Cornelia not to play the piano in the morning!" said
Miss Briskett to herself.

From the store-room upstairs a sound of talking and laughing was heard
from within the visitor's bedroom, where sat that young lady in state,
issuing orders to Mary, who was blissfully employed in unpacking the
contents of one of the big dress boxes, and hanging up skirts in the
mahogany wardrobe.

"I must beg Cornelia not to interfere with the servants' work in the
morning!" said Miss Briskett once more.  At half-past ten silence
reigned, and she went downstairs, equipped in her black silk mantle and
her third best bonnet, to announce her readiness to start on the usual
morning round.

Cornelia was not in the morning-room; she was not in the drawing-room,
though abundant signs of her recent presence were visible in the
littered ornaments on the open piano.

"I must beg Cornelia to put things back in their proper places!" said
Miss Briskett a third time as she crossed the hall to the dining-room.
This room also was empty, but even as she grasped the fact, Miss
Briskett started with dismay to behold a bareheaded figure leaning over
the garden gate, elbows propped on the topmost bar, and chin supported
on clasped hands.  This time she did not pause to determine what
commands she should issue in the future, but stepped hastily down the
path to take immediate and peremptory measures.

"My dear! in the front garden--without a hat--leaning over the gate!
What can you be thinking of?  The neighbours might see you!"

Cornelia turned in lazy amusement.  "Well, if it's going to be a shock
to them, they might as well begin early, and get it over."  She ran a
surprised eye over her aunt's severe attire.  "My, Aunt Soph, you look
too good to live!  I'm 'most frightened of you in that bonnet.  If you'd
given a hoot from the window I'd have hustled up, and not kept you
waiting.  Just hang on two shakes while I get my hat.  I won't stay to
prink!"

"I am not accustomed--" began Miss Briskett, automatically, but she
spoke to thin air.  Cornelia had flown up the path in a cloud of
swirling skirts; cries of "Mury!  Mury!" sounded from within, and the
mistress of the house slowly retraced her steps and seated herself to
await the next appearance of the whirlwind with what patience she could
command.

It was long in coming.  The clock ticked a slow quarter of an hour, and
was approaching twenty minutes, when footsteps sounded once more, and
Cornelia appeared in the doorway.  She had not changed her dress, she
had not donned her jacket; her long, white gloves dangled from her hand;
to judge from appearances she had spent a solid twenty minutes in
putting on a tip-tilted hat which had been trimmed with bows of dainty
flowered ribbon, on the principle of the more the merrier.  Miss
Briskett disapproved of the hat.  It dipped over the forehead, giving an
obviously artificial air of demureness to the features; it tilted up at
the back, revealing the objectionable hair in all its wanton profusion.
It looked--_odd_, and if there was one thing more than another to which
Norton objected, it was a garment which differentiated itself from its
fellows.

Aunt and niece walked down the path together in the direction of the
South Lodge, the latter putting innumerable questions, to which the
former replied in shocked surprise.  "What were those gardens across the
road?"--They were private property of householders in the Park.--"Did
they have fine jinks over there in summer time?"--The householders in
the park never, under any circumstances, indulged in "jinks."  They
disapproved thoroughly, and on principle, of anything connected with
jinks!--"Think of that now--the poor, deluded creatures!  What did they
use the gardens for, anyway?"--The gardens were used for an occasional
promenade; and were also valuable as forming a screen between the Park
and the houses on the Western Road.--"What was wrong with the houses on
the Western Road?"--There was nothing wrong with the houses in question.
The residents in the Park objected to see, or to be seen by, _any_
houses, however desirable.  They wished to ensure for themselves an
unbroken and uninterrupted privacy.--"My gracious!"

Mrs Phipps, the dragon of the South Lodge, came out to the doorstep,
and bobbed respectfully as Miss Briskett passed by, but curiosity was
rampant upon her features.  Cornelia smiled radiantly upon her; she
smiled upon everyone she met, and threw bright, curious glances to right
and to left.

"My! isn't it _green_?  My! isn't it still?  Where _is_ everyone,
anyway?  Have they got a funeral in every house?  Seems kind of
unsociable, muffling themselves up behind these hedgerows!  Over with
us, if we've got a good thing, we're not so eager to hide it away.  You
can walk along the sidewalk and see everything that's going on.  In the
towns the families camp out on the doorsteps.  It's real lively and
sociable. ...  Are these your stores?  They look as if they'd been made
in the year one."

They were, in truth, a quaint little row--butcher, grocer, greengrocer,
and linen-draper, all nestled into a little angle between two long,
outstanding buildings, which seemed threatening at every moment to fall
down and crush them to atoms.  The windows were small, and the space
inside decidedly limited, and this morning there was an unusual rush of
customers.  It seemed as if every housewife in the neighbourhood had
sallied forth to make her purchases at the exact hour when Miss Briskett
was known to do her daily shopping.  At the grocer's counter Cornelia
was introduced to Mrs Beaumont, of The Croft.

"My niece, Miss Cornelia Briskett.  Mrs Beaumont," murmured Miss
Briskett.

"Mrs Beau_mont_!" repeated Cornelia, loudly, with a gracious, sidelong
observance, at which unusual manner of receiving an introduction both
ladies stared in surprise.

Presently Mrs Beaumont recovered herself sufficiently to put an all-
important question.

"How do you like England?"

"I think it's lovely," said Cornelia.

In the fishmonger's shop Mrs Rhodes and Mrs Muir came up in their
turn, and opened wide eyes of surprise as the strange girl again
repeated their names in her high monotone.  Evidently this was an
American custom.  Strange people, the Americans!  The ladies simpered,
and put the inevitable query: "How do you like England?"

"I think it's sweet," said Cornelia.

The draper's shop was a revelation of old-world methods.  One anaemic-
looking assistant endeavoured to attend to three counters and half a
dozen customers, with an unruffled calm which they vainly strove to
emulate.  Miss Briskett produced a pattern of grey ribbon which she
wished to match.  Four different boxes were lifted down from the wall,
and their contents ransacked in vain, while the patient waiters received
small sops in the shape of cases and trays, shoved along to their corner
of the counter.  When persuasion failed to convince Miss Briskett that
an elephant grey exactly matched her silvery fragment--"I'll see if we
have it in stock!" cried the damsel, hopefully, and promptly disappeared
into space.  The minutes passed by; Cornelia frowned and fidgeted, was
introduced to a fourth dame, and declared that England was "'cute."
Weary waiters for flannel and small-wares looked at their watches, and
fidgeted restlessly, but no one rebelled, nor showed any inclination to
walk out of the shop in disgust.  At length the assistant reappeared,
flushed and panting, to regret that they were "sold out," and "What is
your next pleasure, madam?"

Madam's next pleasure was a skein of wool, which investigation again
failed to produce.  "But we have a very nice line in kid gloves; can I
show you something in that line this morning?"  Miss Briskett refused to
be tempted, and produced a coin from her purse in payment of a small
account.  Cornelia was interested to be introduced to "hef-a-crown," and
tried to calculate what would be left after the subtraction of a
mysterious "seven-three."  She had abundant time to calculate, for, to
the suspicious mind, it might really appear as if the assistant had
emigrated to foreign climes with the half-crown as capital in hand.  The
little shop was dull and stuffy; an odour of flannel filled the air; the
faces of the patient waiters were colourless and depressed.  Cornelia
flounced on her seat, and curled her beautiful lips.

"My stars and stripes!" she cried aloud.  "I'll take root if I sit here
much longer.  Seems as that change won't be ready till the last trump!"

She sprang from her chair as she spoke, too much absorbed in her own
impatience to note the petrifaction of horror on the faces of the
waiters at the counter, and in the doorway came face to face with a
plump, dignified little lady, accompanied by a girl in navy blue.

"How do you do, my dear?  I am Mrs Ramsden," said the stoat lady,
holding out her hand with a very pleasant friendliness.  "As the niece
of my dear friend and neighbour, allow me to give you a hearty welcome
to our shores.  This is my daughter, Elma, with whom I hope you will be
great friends.  I will leave you to talk together while I make my
purchases.  Young people always get on better alone!"

She smiled, a kind, motherly smile, nodding her head the while, until
the upright feather quivered on its stem, then disappeared through the
dingy portals, leaving the two girls on the narrow pavement staring at
each other with bright, curious eyes.

"How--how do you like England?" queried Elma, shyly, and Cornelia
answered with a happy laugh--

"I've been asked that question hef a dozen times already, and I only set
foot on these shores day before yesterday.  I think it seems a real good
place for a nerve rest, but if you want to hustle!--" She shrugged
expressively, and Elma smiled with quick understanding.

"Ah, you have been shopping at Willcox's!  But Willcox's is not
England--Norton is not England; it's just a sleepy little backwater,
shut away from the great current of life.  Don't judge England by what
you see here.  You'd like the _real_ England--you couldn't help liking
that!"

"I like _you_!" said Cornelia, bluntly.  She held out her hand with a
gesture of frank camaraderie, and Elma clasped it, thrilling with
pleasure.  A happy conviction assured her that she had found a friend
after her own heart.



CHAPTER FIVE.

By the time that Cornelia had been a week in residence at The Nook, she
had become the one absorbing topic of Norton conversation, and her
aunt's attitude towards her was an odd mingling of shame and pride.  On
principle the spinster disapproved of almost everything that the girl
did or said, and suffered every day a succession of electric shocks--
but, as we all know, such shocks are guaranteed to exercise a bracing
influence on the constitution, and Miss Briskett was conscious of
feeling brighter and more alert than for many years past.  She no longer
reigned as monarch over all she surveyed.  A Czar of Russia, suddenly
confronted by a Duma of Radical principles and audacious energy, could
not feel more proudly aggrieved and antagonistic, but it is conceivable
that a Czar might cherish a secret affection for the leader of an
opposition who showed himself honest, clever, and affectionate.  In
conclave with her own heart, Miss Briskett acknowledged that she
cherished a distinct partiality for her niece, but in view of the said
niece's tendency to conceit, the partiality was rigorously concealed.

As for Norton society, it welcomed Cornelia with open arms; that is to
say, all the old ladies of Miss Briskett's acquaintance called upon her,
inquired if she liked England, and sent their maids round the following
day with neat little notes inviting aunt and niece to take tea on a
certain afternoon at half-past four o'clock.  These tea-drinkings soon
became a daily occurrence, and Cornelia's attitude towards them was one
of consecutive anticipation, amusement, and ennui.  You dressed up in
your best clothes; you sat in rows round a stuffy room; you drank stewed
tea, and ate buttered cakes.  You met every day the same--everlastingly
the same ladies, dressed in the same garments, and listened every day to
the same futile talk.  From the older ladies, criticisms of last
Sunday's sermon, and details of household grievances; from the younger,
"_Have_ you seen Miss Horby's new hat?  _Did_ you hear the latest about
the Briggs? ...  I'm going to have blue, with lace insertions..."

Cornelia bore it meekly for a week on end, and then she struck.  Two
notes were discovered lying upon the breakfast-table containing
invitations to two more tea-parties.  "So kind of them!  You will like
to go, won't you, my dear?" said Miss Briskett, pouring out coffee.

"No, I shan't, then!" answered Cornelia, ladling out bacon.  Her curling
lips were pressed together, her flexible eyebrows wrinkled towards the
nose.  If Edward B Briskett had been present he would have recognised
signals of breakers ahead!  "I guess I'm about full up of tea-parties.
I'm not going to any more, this side Jordan!"

"Not going, my dear?"  Miss Briskett choked with mingled amazement and
dismay.  "Why not, if you please?  You have no other engagements.  My
friends pay you the honour of an invitation.  It is my wish that you
accept.  You surely cannot mean what you are saying!"

She stared across the table in her most dignified and awe-inspiring
fashion, but Cornelia refused to meet her eyes, devoting her entire
attention to the consumption of her breakfast.

"You bet I do!"

"Cornelia, how often must I beg you not to use that exceedingly
objectionable expression?  I ask you a simple question; please answer it
without exaggeration.  Why do you object to accompany me to these two
parties?"

"Because it's a waste of time.  It's against my principles to have the
same tooth drawn six times over.  I know all I want to about tea-parties
in England, and I'm ready to pass on to something fresh.  I'd go clean
crazed if I'd to sit through that performance again."

"I am sorry you have been so bored.  I hoped you had enjoyed yourself,"
said Miss Briskett, stiffly, but with an underlying disappointment in
her tone, which Cornelia was quick to recognise.  The imps of temper and
obstinacy which had peeped out of her golden eyes suddenly disappeared
from view, and she nodded a cheery reassurement.

"I wasn't a mite bored at the start.  I loved going round with you and
seeing your friends, but I _have_ seen them, and they've seen me, and we
said all we want to, so that trick is played out.  You can't go on
drinking tea with the same old ladies all the days of your life?  Why
can't they hit on something fresh?"

Miss Briskett did not reply.  She was indeed too much upset for words.
Tea-drinking was the only form of dissipation in which she and her
friends indulged, or had indulged for many years past.  In more
energetic days an occasional dinner had varied the monotony, but as time
crept on there seemed a dozen reasons for dropping the more elaborate
form of entertainment.  A dinner-party upset the servants; it
necessitated the resurrection of the best dinner-service from the china
cupboard, and the best silver from the safe; it entailed late hours, a
sense of responsibility, the exertion of entertaining.  How much simpler
to buy a sixpenny jar of cream and a few shillings worth of cake welcome
your friends at half-past four, and be free at half-past five to lie
down on the sofa, and have a nap before dressing for dinner!

Miss Briskett had counted on a protracted orgy of tea-parties in her
niece's honour, and had already planned a return bout on her own accord,
to set the ball rolling a second time.  Her wildest flight of fancy had
not soared beyond tea, and here was Cornelia showing signs of rebellion
at the end of a fortnight!  It said much for the impression which that
young lady had made that there was a note of actual entreaty in the
voice in which her aunt addressed her.

"I think you must reconsider your decision, Cornelia.  I strongly wish
you to accept these invitations, and my friends will be much
disappointed if you refuse.  When you understand the position, I feel
sure you will put your own wishes on one side, and consent to do what is
right and fitting."

But Miss Cornelia tossed her head, and the impish light flashed back
into her golden eyes.

"I ken't break my word," she said bluntly.  In moments of friction her
American accent was even more strongly marked than usual, which fact was
not calculated to soften her aunt's irritation, "Poppar had me taught to
say a thing and stick to it, no matter how I suffered.  I've _said_ I
won't go, and I _won't_--not if all the old ladies in Christendom were
to come and howl at the door!  You ken tell 'em I've come out in spots,
and you reckon I'm going down with small-pox."

"That would not be true."

"Oh, shucks!" shrugged Cornelia.  "Troth is a fine institootion, but,
like most old things, it gives out at times, and then there's nothing
for it but to fall back upon good, new-fashioned imagination."

Miss Briskett rose majestically from her seat and left the room.

Cornelia lifted the remnant of bread which lay beside her plate, raised
it high above her head, and deliberately pitched it to the end of the
room.  It hit against the wall, and fell over the carpet in a shower of
crumbs.  She chuckled malevolently, gave the table a vicious shove on
one side, and rose in her turn.

On one of the tables by the window stood a neat little pile of books;
she lifted the topmost, and thrusting it under her arm, marched
deliberately down the garden path to the front gate, and thence across
the road towards the gate leading into the plantation.  It was a hot,
sunny day, and half-way up the green knoll stood an oak tree, whose
spreading branches made delightful dapplings of shade.  Here also a
gentle breeze rustled the leaves to and fro, while in the stuffy paths
below the air itself seemed exhausted and bereft of life.  Cornelia
lifted her white skirts, with a display of slim brown ankles which would
have scandalised the Norton worthies, stepped neatly and cleanly over
the wire arches, and made a bee-line across the grass for the forbidden
spot.  She was in the mood when it seemed an absolute necessity to defy
somebody, and even a printed notice was better than nothing.  She seated
herself aggressively in the most conspicuous position, on the side of
the tree facing the houses, spread wide her skirts on either side,
folded her arms, and awaited developments.

"I hope they'll _all_ look out and see me sitting on their old grass!  I
hope they'll come over, and stand in _rows_ on the path, telling me that
nice young girls never sat on the grass in England. ...  Then I'll tell
'em what _I_ think. ...  I'm just in the mood to do it.  Seems as if I
hadn't drawn a free breath for weeks.  `Cornelia, _don't_!  Cornelia,
_do_!'  `In this country we always--' `In this country we never--' My
stars and stripes; why did I leave my happy home?"

Round the corner of the path there came into view the figure of Morris,
keeper of the South Lodge, sweeping the gravel path, his head bent over
his task.  Cornelia's naughty eyes sent out a flash of delight.  She
cleared her throat in a deliberate "hem," cleared it again, and coughed
in conclusion.  Morris leant on his broom, surveyed the landscape o'er,
and visibly reeled at the sight of such barefaced trespassing.  The
broom was hoisted against a tree, while he himself mounted the sloping
path, shading his eyes from the sun.  At the first glance he had
recognised the "'Merican young lady," whose doings and clothings--
particularly clothings--had formed the unvarying theme of his wife's
conversation for the last fortnight.  He had committed himself so far as
to say that he rather fancied the looks of her, but in the depths of his
heart the feeling lingered that for a born lady she was a trifle "free."
Morris was a survival of the old feudal type who "knew his place," and
enjoyed being trampled under foot by his "betters."  If an employer
addressed him in terms of kindly consideration, his gratitude was tinged
with contempt.  These were not the manners of the good old gentry in
whose service he had been trained!

Opposite the oak tree he came to a stand, and assumed his official
manner.

"Beg pardon, miss; visitors his not permitted on the graws."

"For the land's sake, why not?"

"It's against the rules, miss."

"Suppose it is!  What will happen if I break 'em?"

Morris looked discomfited, pushed his hat from his forehead, and
murmured vaguely that he 'sposed she'd be punished.

"Who by?  Who does the grass belong to, anyhow?"

"To yer Rant, miss, and the hother ladies and gentlemen that owns the
park."

"Well, and what could _they_ do?"

Morris, still vague and uncomfortable, murmured concerning prosecution.

"What's prosecution?" queried Cornelia.  "Sounds exciting, anyway.  Much
more exciting than sitting on the gravel paths.  Guess I'll stay where I
am, and find out.  You get on with your work, and keep calm, and when
the fun begins you can waltz in, and play your part.  It's no use _one_
officer trying to arrest me, though!  You'll need a _posse_, for I'll
fight to the death!  You might give them the tip!"

Morris walked down hill in stunned surprise, leaving Cornelia to chuckle
to herself in restored good humour.  Her impulses towards rebellion and
repentance were alike swift and speedy, but between the two lay a span
of licence, when she revelled in revolt, and felt the tingling of
riotous success.  Such a moment was the present as she watched Morris's
dumb retreat, and cast her dancing eyes around, in search of the next
victim.

For the moment no living creature was in sight, but the scene was
sufficiently entrancing to justify the statement that there is no
country in the world so charming as England on a fine June day.

It was hot, but not too hot to be exhausting; little fleecy white clouds
flecked the blue dome overhead; the air was sweet with the odour of
flowering trees now in the height of their beauty.  The gardener who had
planted them had possessed a nice eye for colour, and much skill in
gaining the desired effects.  The golden rain of laburnum, and deep rich
red of hawthorn, were thrown up against the dark lustre of copper-beech,
or the misty green of a graceful fir tree; white and purple lilac were
divided by a light pink thorn, and on the tall chestnuts the red and
white blossoms shone like candles on a giant Christmas tree.  It was the
one, all-wonderful week, when everything seems in bloom at the same
time; the week which presages the end of spring, more beautiful than
summer, as promise is ever more perfect than fulfilment.  Even the stiff
crescent of houses looked picturesque, viewed through the softening
screen of green.  Cornelia scanned the row of upper windows with smiling
curiosity.  No one was visible; no one ever _was_ visible at a window at
Norton Park; but discreetly hidden by the lace curtains, half a dozen
be-capped heads might even now be nodding in her direction.--"My dear,
_what_ is that white figure under the oak tree?  I thought at first it
must be a sheep, but it is evidently a female of some description.  It
looks exceedingly like--but it could not be, it could not _possibly_ be,
Miss Briskett's niece! ..."

Miss Briskett's niece chuckled, and turned her head to look up the
sloping path.  Her choice of position had been largely decided by the
fact that Elma Ramsden was due to return by this route from a weekly
music lesson somewhere about the present time.  In the course of the
past week the two girls had drunk tea in the same houses every
afternoon, and exchanged sympathetic glances across a phalanx of elderly
ladies, but the chances for _tete-a-tete_ conversations had been
disappointingly few, and this morning Cornelia had a craving for a
companion young enough to encourage her in her rebellion, or at least to
understand the pent-up vitality which had brought it to a head.

She watched eagerly for the advent of the tall, blue-robed figure.  Elma
always wore dark blue cambric on ordinary occasions.  "So useful!" said
her mother, "and such a saving in the washing bill."  Mother and
daughter ran up the plain breadths in the sewing machine, and the only
fitting in the body was compassed by a draw-string at the waist.  It did
not seem a matter of moment to Mrs Ramsden whether the said string was
an inch higher or lower, and Elma was economical in belts.  Cornelia's
expression was eloquent as she viewed the outline of the English girl's
figure as she slowly approached down the narrow path.  So far Elma had
not noticed her presence.  She was too much buried in her own dreams.
Poor pretty thing!  That was all that was left to her--to take it out in
dreams.  She had not yet begun to be awake!



CHAPTER SIX.

Twenty yards farther Elma came to a halt, eyes and lips opened wide in
gaping astonishment at the sight of the trespasser.

"Cornelia!  You are sitting on the grass."

"That's so!  Why shouldn't I, if I've a mind?"

"It's forbidden!"

"Oh, shucks!" cried Cornelia, impatiently.  "Who by?"

Elma waved her hand vaguely towards the crescent of houses.

"Everybody--all of them!  It's a rule.  They all agreed."

"Suppose they did!  I guess it would take more than ten old ladies to
prevent me doing what I want.  What's the good of grass, anyway, if you
can't enjoy it?  It's lovely up here.  I'm as cool as an otter.  You
look pretty warm after your walk.  Step over, and come right here by
me."  She patted the ground beside her, and smiled in her most
irresistible fashion.  "We'll have the loveliest talk--"

Elma hesitated, fascinated but dismayed.

"I daren't.  It's breaking the rules.  What would they say?"

"That's what we've got to find out.  They can't kill us, anyway, and
we'll have had a good time first.  You've got to pay your bills in this
wicked world.  Now, then--hustle!"

"I can't!" faltered Elma, and lifted one foot over the wire arch, "I
daren't!" and stepped completely over, lifting her skirt behind her.
The deed was done!  A tingle of excitement ran through her veins, she
reared her head and laughed aloud, looking with bright, unashamed eyes
at the curtained windows.  The moment of revolt had come; a moment long
desired in the depths of a meek, long-suffering heart, and prepared for
by many a seething inward struggle.  Cornelia had applied the match, and
the tow blazed.  Elma laughed again, and seated herself beneath the
tree.  Cornelia had tossed her hat on the ground and clasped her hands
round her knees in comfortable, inelegant position.  Elma did the same,
and the American girl, watching her, was at a loss to account for the
reckless radiance of her smile.  The sunshine flickered down between the
branches on the sweet pink and white face, the pansy blue eyes, and long
slender throat; it shone alike on the ill-fitting gown, the clumsy
shoes, the carelessly arranged hair.  Cornelia's golden eyes travelled
up and down, down and up, in earnest, scrutinising fashion.  She met
Elma's glance with a shake of the head, forbearing, yet reproachful.

"Say!  You don't know how to prink, do you?"

"Prink?"  Elma was doubtful even as to the meaning of the word.  She
arched her brows in inquiry, whereat Cornelia laughed aloud.

"You are real, genuine English!  You make me think of roses, and cream,
and honey, and mountain dew, and everything that's sweet and wholesome,
and takes no thought of the morrow.  If you lived over with us, we'd fix
you up so your own mother wouldn't know you, and there'd be paragraphs
about you in the papers every single day, saying what you did, and what
you were wearing, and how you looked when you wore it."

"`Miss Elma Ramsden sat on the grass, attired in a blue rag, with
freckles on her nose.'"

"My, no!"  Cornelia chuckled.  "They spread it pretty thick when they
once begin.  You'd have every adjective in the dictionary emptied over
you.  `The irresistible Elma,' `Radiant Miss Ramsden,' `The beauteous
English Rose.'  Half the time it's only bluff, but with you it would be
a true bill.  You _are_ beautiful.  Do you know it?"

The pink flush deepened in Elma's delicate face.

"Am I?" she asked wistfully.  "Really?  Oh, I hope you are right.  I
should be so happy if it were true, but--but, I'm afraid it can't be.
No one notices me; no one seems to think I am--nice!  I'm only just Elma
Ramsden--not radiant, nor irresistible, nor anything of the kind.  Plain
Elma Ramsden, as much a matter of course as the trees in the park.
Since you came here, in one fortnight, you've had more attention than
I've had in the whole course of my life."

"_Attention_?" echoed Cornelia, shrilly, and rolled her eyes to the
firmament.  "Attention?  You ken sit there and look me in the face, and
talk about the `attention' that's been paid me the last two weeks!
You're crazed!  Where does the attention come in, I want to know?  I
haven't spoken to a single man since the day I arrived.  You don't call
a dozen old ladies clucking round _attention_, do you?  Where _are_ all
the young men, anyhow?  I have been used to a heap of men's society, and
I'm kind of lost without it.  I call attention having half a dozen nice
boys to play about, and do whatever I want.  Don't you ever have any
nice young men to take you round?"

Elma's dissent was tinged with shocked surprise, for she had been
educated in the theory that it was unmaidenly to think about the
opposite sex.  True, experience had proved that this was an
impossibility, for thoughts took wing and flew where they would, and
dreams grew of themselves--dreams of someone big, and strong, and
tender; someone who would _understand_, and fill the void in one's heart
which ached sometimes, and called for more, more; refusing to be
satisfied with food and raiment.  Sometimes the dream took a definite
shape, insisted on the possession of grey eyes and wide square
shoulders, associating itself with the personality of a certain young
squire of racing, bridge-playing tendencies, at whom all Park dwellers
glanced askance, refusing to him the honour of their hospitality!

There remained, however, certain functions at which this outlaw must
annually be encountered; functions when one was thrillingly conscious of
being signalled out for unusual attention.  One remembered, for example,
being escorted to eat ices, under the shade of an arbour of crimson
ramblers; of talking with tongues about the weather, and the flowers,
and the music; while grey eyes looked into blue, and said unutterable
things.  Oh, the beauty of the sky seen through those rosy branches!
Oh, the glory of the sun!  There had never been such a summer day
before. ...  Elma trembled at the remembrance, and then blushed at her
own audacity.  It was terrible to have to acknowledge such things to
one's inmost heart, but to put them into words--!  She pursed her lips,
and looked demurely scandalised by her companion's plain speaking.

"Do you know, Cornelia,"--she had been commanded to use the Christian
name, but it still came with a certain amount of hesitation--"if I were
you I would not talk like that before your aunt.  We--we don't do it
over here!  It is not considered--nice--for a girl to talk about young
men."

Cornelia smiled slowly.  Her beautiful lips curved upwards at the
corner, giving an air of impish mischief to her face.  She nodded her
head three times over, and hitched a shoulder under the muslin gown.

"We-ell?" she drawled in her most pronounced accent, "if I've got to
think of 'em, I might as well talk of 'em, and I'm _bound_ to think of
'em!"  She relaxed the grasp of her knees, and lay back against the
trunk of a tree, chuckling softly in retrospective triumph.  "I've had
such heaps of fun!  I just love to carry on, and have half-a-dozen boys
quarrelling over me, and hustling to get the first chance.  I've had as
many as ten bouquets before a ball, and I wore an eleventh, which I'd
gotten for myself, and they were all clean crazed to find out who'd sent
it.  Poppar says I'll be an old maid yet, but it won't be for want of
asking.  There's one young man who's just daft about me--he's young, and
he's lovely, and he's got ten million and a hef dollars, and I've
_tried_ to love him."  She sighed despairing.  "I've tried hard, but I
_ken't_!"

Elm a struggled between disapproval, curiosity, and a shocking mingling
of something else, which was not, could not possibly be, _envy_ of such
adventures!  The lingering doubt served to add severity to her
indictment.

"It's very wicked to flirt!"

Once again Cornelia flashed her impish smile.

"It's vurry nice!  I don't see a mite of use in being young if you ken't
have some fun.  You grow old fast enough, and then there's nothing else
to it but to sit round and preach.  Your mother and Aunt Soph have just
_got_ to preach, but I wouldn't start yet awhile if I were you.  You'd
be just the prettiest thing that was ever seen if you knew how to fix
yourself up, but you _don't_, and you seem to me to mope along the whole
blessed time, without a bit of fun to perk you up.  Say! don't you feel
a bit tired of it sometimes?  Don't you ever have a kind of feeling that
you want to _do_ something for a change?"

"Sometimes!  Do I ever!"  Elma echoed the words with startling emphasis.
"Always, always!  It is here,"--she pressed her hands on her
breast--"stifled up here all the time--a horrible, rebellious longing to
get out; to be free, to do--I don't know what--really I don't--but
something _different_!  I've lived in Norton all my life, and hardly
ever been away.  Mother hates travelling in winter, and in the summer
she hates to leave the garden, and I'm so strong that I don't need
change.  I never went to school like other girls.  Mother disapproves of
school influences, so I had governesses instead.  It's awful to have a
resident teacher in the house, and be an only pupil; you feel
governessed out of your life.  And now I have no friends to visit, or to
visit me, only the Norton girls, for whom I don't care.  It seems
ungrateful when I have so much to be thankful for, but I feel _pent_!
Sometimes I get such a wicked feeling that I just long to snap and snarl
at everybody.  I'm ashamed all the time, and can _see_ how horrid I am,
but--"

She broke off, sighing deeply, and Cornelia crouched forward, clasping
her knees as before, and bending her chin to meet them, her eyes ashine
with eagerness and curiosity.

"Yes, I know; I've been there myself.  I was there this morning after
just two weeks.  I don't begin to have your endoorance, my dear, but you
take a straight tip from me.  When you feel the symptoms coming on,
don't you go trying to be sweet and forbearing, and bottling up all the
froth; it's not a mite of use, for it's bound to rise to the top, and
keeping don't improve it.  Just let yourself go, and be right-down ugly
to _somebody_--anyone will do, the first that comes handy--and you'll
feel a heap better!"  She sighed, and turned a roguish glance towards
the shrouded windows of The Nook.  "I was ugly to Aunt Soph before I
came out!"

Already Elma had mastered the subtleties of Americanese sufficiently to
understand that the terms "lovely" and "ugly" had no bearing on outward
appearance, but were descriptive of character only.  Her eyes widened,
partly in horrified surprise at listening to a doctrine so diametrically
opposed to everything which she had previously heard, and partly in
pure, unadulterated curiosity to know the cause of the rebellion.

"To Miss Briskett?  Oh, how had you the courage?  I should never have
_dared_.  What was it about?"

"Teas!" replied Cornelia, shortly.  "I've attended tea-parties regularly
for the last ten days, and met the same people every single time, and
now I've struck.  I've had about enough teas to last the rest of my
natural life, but Aunt Soph seemed to think I was bound to go wherever I
was asked.  Two more old ladies sent invitations to-day."

"I know--at lunch-time.  We got ours, too.  You can't refuse, Cornelia,
if you haven't another engagement."

"Can't I just?  You bet I can.  Besides, what's to hinder having an
engagement if I want to?  Say! let's fix one up right here.  I'd be
delighted to have you come a drive with me to show me the country,
Thursday afternoon at a quarter after four.  We could hire something, I
suppose, to drive in, and find a place to have tea on the way.  We'd
have a high old talk, and you'd enjoy it a heap more than the tea-
party."

"Oh, I know that, but I don't know if I ought,--Mrs Nevins' invitation
came first."

"Shucks!" cried Cornelia, "you've got too much conscience--that's what's
the matter with you.  You'll never have much of a time in this world if
you don't take the pick of a choice.  What's two hours, anyway?  You go
right home, and write nice and pretty to say you're real sorry you've
got another engagement.  Your mother can trot along with Aunt Soph.
They'll enjoy themselves a heap better sitting round without us, talking
over the perversities of the young.  They were all tame angels when they
were girls, and never did anything they ought not to have done.  My!"
She twisted her saucy nose, and rolled her eyes heavenwards.  "I'm
thankful I struck a livelier time!  As for you, Elma Ramsden, you're
going to be equal to any one of them, if nothing happens to shake you
up.  I guess it's my mission to do the shaking, so we'll start fair from
now on.  You're engaged to me Thursday afternoon.  D'you understand?  I
guess we'd better go home and break the news before the answers are
written."

She rose to her feet, and Elma followed her example, shaking her skirts
and fastening on the shady mushroom hat.  No further protestations rose
to her lips, so it might be taken for granted that silence gave consent,
but half-way down the path she spoke again, in tentative, hesitating
fashion.

"I don't mind about Mrs Nevins.  She is rich and strong, and enjoys her
life; but Miss Nesbitt is different.  She's an old maid, and poor.  She
belongs to a good family, so she is asked out with the rest, but she
hardly ever gives a tea--not once in a year.  It will be a great event
to her; she'll be beginning to make preparations even now; baking cakes,
and cleaning the silver, and taking off the covers of the drawing-room
chairs.  It is all in your honour.  She'll be disappointed if you don't
go."

Cornelia turned upon her with a flash of reproof.  "Why couldn't you
tell me that before, I want to know?  Pretty mean I should have felt,
backing out of a thing like that!  I wouldn't disappoint the old dear
for a fortune.  Is it the one with the flat hair, and the little
ringlets dangling at the sides?  They are too 'cute for anything, those
ringlets.  Yes!  I guessed she was the one, for I noticed her clothes
looked all used up.  Don't you worry!  I'll take tea with Miss Nesbitt
as often as she wants, and behave so pretty you'll admire to see me.
That's an olive branch to carry in to Aunt Soph--eh?  I reckon she'll be
pretty dusty."

"I reckon she will."  Elma glanced with a half-fearful smile at her
companion's unruffled face.  "I wouldn't be in your shoes for a hundred
pounds.  Miss Briskett is formidable enough when she is pleased; but
when she is angry--!  Cornelia, aren't you frightened?"

Cornelia's joyous peal of laughter floated away on the air, and caught
the ears of the industrious Morris, who was sweeping the path a hundred
yards away.  He turned to lean on his brush and stare, while Elma
glanced nervously at the curtained windows.

"I never was scared in my life that I know of, and I'm not going to
begin with my very own aunt.  I rather like a fizzle now and then--it
freshens one up.  Don't you worry about me!  I'm quite able to stand up
for myself."

She pushed open the gate of The Nook as she spoke and sauntered up the
path; laughing, bareheaded, radiantly unashamed.  Miss Briskett beheld
her approach from her seat in the corner of the drawing-room, and two
spots of colour shone dully on her thin cheek bones.  The hands which
held her knitting trembled with indignation, and her eyes welcomed the
culprit with a steely flash.

"Cornelia, are you aware that you are forbidden to trespass on the grass
of this park?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"You are also aware, I presume, that to wander alone bareheaded is not
the habit of young ladies in this neighbourhood, and that it is
intensely annoying to me that you should do so?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"You _do_ know!  You are not ashamed to acknowledge it!  Then may I
inquire why you have deliberately chosen to do what you know to be
wrong?"

Cornelia drew up a comfortable chair and seated herself by her aunt's
side, arranging her draperies with a succession of little pulls and
pats.  She rested one elbow on the arm of the chair, and leant her chin
upon the upraised palm, a pretty, thoughtful-looking pose into which she
fell naturally in leisure moments.  The cat blinked at her through
sleepy eyelids, then, deliberately ignoring the devotion of years, rose
from its place by its mistress's side, stretched itself with feline
grace, and stalked majestically across the rug to nestle against the
soft white skirts.  Miss Briskett eyed its desertion over the brim of
her spectacles.  Poor lady! her measure of love received was so small,
that she felt a distinct pang at the defection.

"What explanation have you to offer, Cornelia?  You knew that you would
annoy me?"

"Why, yes, of course.  That's all there was to it!  It didn't thrill me
a mite to walk over a strip of lawn, without figging up in my best duds.
I can do that any day I want at home, but I just _had_ to raise Cain
somehow!  It's the only way I ken pull round again when I get mad.  I
just go right away and do the ugliest thing I can strike, and then I
feel all soothed, and calmed down.  You try it yourself, next time; it
beats knitting stockings all into fits!  I'm just as sweet as candy now,
so you've got to forgive me, and be friends.  I'm sorry I acted so mean,
but you were pretty nippy yourself, weren't you now?  I guess we've both
been used to take our own way without any fluster, and it comes pretty
hard to be crossed, but now we've had our fling, we've got to kiss and
make friends.  That's so; isn't it?"

She bent forward, pouting her lips to receive the token of peace, but
Miss Briskett drew back in chilly dignity.  For the past hour she had
nourished a smouldering resentment, feeling herself the most ill-used of
womenkind, and this calm inclusion of herself in the list of wrong-doers
did not tend to pour oil on the troubled waters.  For Cornelia to
acknowledge her deliberate intention to offend, and in the same breath
to offer a kiss of reconciliation, showed a reprehensible lack of proper
feeling.  Miss Briskett was a woman of high principles, and made a point
of forgiving her enemies--slowly!  As a preliminary process she demanded
an abject apology, and a period of waiting, during which the culprit was
expected to be devoured by remorse and anxiety.  Then, bending from an
impeccable height, she vouchsafed a mitigated pardon.  "I forgive you,
but I can never forget!"  Some such absolution she would have been ready
to bestow upon a tearful and dejected Cornelia, but the pink and white
complaisance of the uplifted face steeled her heart afresh.  She shrank
back in her chair, ignoring the outstretched hand.

"Excuse me, my dear, but I do not care to kiss a person who has just
acknowledged that she has deliberately tried to annoy me.  I was
naturally displeased at your rejection of my friend's hospitality, but
it is exceedingly impertinent to compare my behaviour to your own.  You
seem to forget that I am your hostess, and nearly three times your age."

"Then you ought to be three times better, oughtn't you?" retorted
Cornelia, blandly.  "Well, I'll own up that I'm sorry about Miss
Nesbitt, and I'll be pleased to take tea with her as often as she likes,
but I regret that a previous engagement prevents my going Thursday also.
You tell the old lady from me that I'm real sorry to miss the treat,
and if it will ease her mind any to know that I don't think England's a
patch on America, she's welcome to the information.  Elma Ramsden and I
have fixed up a drive to see the country, Thursday afternoon."

Miss Briskett's knitting-needles clinked irritably together.  A half
concession was little better than none, and the frivolous tone of
Cornelia's remarks spoke of something far removed from the ideal
repentance.  Apart from the question of the tea-party, she disapproved
of two young girls driving about the country unattended, but her courage
shrank from the thought of another battle.  She dropped her eyelids, and
replied icily--

"As you have already made your arrangements it is useless for me to
offer any objections.  You are evidently determined to take your own way
in spite of anything I can say.  I can only trust that no harm may come
of the experiment."



CHAPTER SEVEN.

On Thursday afternoon at three o'clock Cornelia retired to her bedroom,
and with the help of the devoted Mary proceeded to make an elaborate
toilette for the drive.  Those wonderful trunks seemed to contain
garments suitable for every possible occasion which could arise; for
every fluctuation of weather, for every degree of festivity.  From one
of the number out came a long driving coat, snowy white, light of
texture, an ideal garment for a warm yet dusty summer's day, which being
fastened down the side by huge pearl buttons, displayed a degree of
smartness nothing short of uncanny in an untrimmed garment.  To wear
with the coat there was a jaunty cap, and a pair of driving gloves with
wide, gauntleted cuffs.  Cornelia made faces at herself in the glass as
her custom was the while she arranged the "set" of her hat, puffed out
her shaded locks, and affably cross-questioned her attendant on her
private affairs.

"Mury, how's your friend?"

"He isn't so well as he was, miss, thank you all the same.  He's been a
bit upset in his indigestion."

"Think of that now!  Isn't that sad!  You buy him a bottle of physic and
send it along.  I'll pay!  It's not a mite of use having a friend with
indigestion.  He'll be just as doleful, and you want him to give you a
real good time. ...  How's your mother getting along?"

"Nicely, thank you, miss.  She said she didn't know how to thank you
enough for the shawl.  Her poor old bones haven't ached half so much
since she's had it to hap round her of a night."

"Isn't that sweet!  Hustle up now with my high shoes, and don't mind
buttoning in bits of flesh as you did last time.  I'd just as lief be
left out.  See here, Mury, I want everything put back in its place after
I'm gone!  I hate to find a muss when I get back, and that blue muslin
has got to be pressed out for to-night, and those bits of lace washed,
and the parcels changed at the shop.  Mind, it's got to be all done by
the time I am back.  And see here, next time you go out to meet your
friend, there's that taffetas waist you can have for yourself!  You'll
look dandy in it, and he'll be so proud.  Maybe it will help the
indigestion better than physic."

Mary was incoherent with delight, and promised ardently to execute all
the young lady's orders, knowing full well that it was the silver
afternoon, and that her time should of rights be fully occupied with
household duties.  She promised, and she intended to perform.  By dint
of smiles, pleasant words, kindly interests in "friends," and ceaseless
doles of finery and physic, Cornelia had established such a hold upon
the affections of the staff, that her wish already took precedent of her
aunt's law.  Mary mentally condemned half the contents of the silver
cupboard to neglect, the while she ironed out foaming frills and
floating sash ends.

Mrs Ramsden accompanied Elma to the gate of The Nook, and stood beside
Miss Briskett looking on with dubious eyes, while the two girls took
their places in the high dog-cart.  A groom had driven the horse from
the livery stable, and both good ladies expected him to take possession
of the back seat, in the double capacity of chaperon and guide.  It
came, therefore, as a shock, when Cornelia dismissed the man with a
smile, and a rain of silver dropped into an eager hand, but
protestations, feeble and stern, were alike disregarded.

"How do you suppose we are going to talk, with him perched there, with
his ears sticking out, listening to every word we say?  We don't want
any men poking round, this journey!" laughed Cornelia, settling herself
in her seat, and taking the reins in her gauntleted hands.  Miss
Briskett was dismayed to feel a thrill of pride mingling with her
displeasure, for the girl looked so fresh, so trim, so sparklingly alive
perched up on her high driving seat.  Elma Ramsden, for all her superior
beauty, looked tame and insignificant beside her.  Although she would
not condescend to look around, Miss Briskett divined that behind the
curtains of the neighbouring houses the occupants were looking on with
admiring curiosity, and noting every detail of the girl's attire.  If
Cornelia were self-willed and defiant, in appearance at least she was a
worthy representative of her race.  The stern lines of the spinster's
mouth relaxed into an unwilling smile as she said urgently--

"But, my dear, the horse!  I am responsible for your safety.  Are you
quite sure that you are capable of managing him?"

Cornelia's ripple of amusement was sufficiently expressive.  "One old
mare in a hired trap, when I've driven a four-in-hand over some of the
wickedest roads in America!  If we are smashed, Aunt Soph, you can lay
it to providence, and not to my driving.  Don't get to worrying if we
are late.  If we're killed you'll hear all about it soon enough.  You
can only die once, and a carriage spill is a good slick way of getting
it over."

"Cornelia, I insist--"

"Miss Cornelia, I beg--"

The cart dashed suddenly onward in response to a flip of the whip,
leaving the two old ladies upon the roadway, the unfinished appeal
frozen upon their lips.  Elma turned round to wave an abashed adieu, the
long habit of servitude struggling with a delicious new sense of liberty
and adventure.

"Oh--oh, Cornelia, if you could only _see_ them!  They are standing
stock-still, staring after us.  They look petrified! ...  It _was_
naughty of you.  You frightened your aunt on purpose."

"That's so!" assented Cornelia, frankly.  "I meant to do it.  It's going
to hurt me a lot more than it does her, as the mommar said when she
spanked the nipper, but she's got just as set as a fossil, paddling
along in this little backwater, and imagining it's the whole big ocean,
and there's no one on hand to rouse her but myself.  It's my mission.
Wake up, England!" and she flourished her whip dramatically as the mare
trotted through the south gateway of the park.

Outside the gate lay a smooth wide road stretching uphill, and in
response to a movement of Elma's outstretched hand, Cornelia turned the
mare in this direction, flashing a radiant smile into the pink-and-white
face.

"Well?"

"Well what?"

"How do you feel?"

"Excited!--As if something were going to happen!"

Cornelia nodded sagely.

"Perhaps it is; there's no saying.  I've seen horses I'd sooner trust in
a scrimmage, but a little spill would do you no harm.  You're skeery as
a cat.  You want nerve, my dear, nerve!"  Cornelia flicked her whip
round the horse's ears to give emphasis to her words, and chuckled with
mischievous amusement as Elma clutched the seat, and gasped in dismay.

"I call this crawling, not driving.  When we get out into the real
country I'll make her go, so we get some fresh air into our lungs, then
you can hold on if you like, but don't pay before the show begins.  Now,
then--where are we bound?"

Elma cast down her eyes, faintly blushing beneath her hat.  Surely there
was something infectiously electric in the air this afternoon, or why
should her thoughts fly as an arrow from the bow to just that very spot
which it should have been her maidenly duty to avoid?  She blushed at
her own audacity; telling herself sternly that she ought to be ashamed;
held the temptation afar off, looking at it, longing after it,
regretfully deciding to cast it aside, then with a sudden impetuous
change of front, hugged it to her breast.  Yes, she would!  For one
afternoon, one golden, glorious afternoon, she would send prudence to
the winds, and follow her own instincts.  After all, why not?  Because a
certain person happened to be squire of a certain district it did not
follow that other people could not drive over his land without being
suspected of personal designs.  It was to the last degree unlikely that
one would happen to meet anyone one knew, but if one _did_--Elma
acknowledged to herself that a lift of the hat, a glance of pleased
recognition, would remain in memory as the pleasantest episode of the
afternoon.

As a palliative to her conscience, Elma suggested a farther village as
the termination to the drive, directing the course with a thrill of
guilty triumph at each fresh turning.

"Ain't this dandy!" cried Cornelia, preening her little head, and
showing her white teeth in a smile of delight.  "This England of yours
is just a 'cute little garden, with the roads rolled out like gravel
paths.  You'd stare to see the roads about my home.  Over here it's all
grass and roses.  You are a rose, too--a real, sweet garden rose, with
the dewdrops on its leaves.  If I were an artist I'd paint a picture of
you on one panel, and Aunt Soph on the other, as two types of English
life, and the people could look on, and learn a lesson.  It's kinder
sweet and touching to dream along so long as you're young, but if you go
on keeping your eyes shut, it don't pan out well in old age.  It's best
to have 'em wide open, and realise that there are two or three more
people in the world beside yourself."

Elma smiled in vague, preoccupied fashion.  Her own thoughts were all
engrossing, and at every fresh winding of the road she held her breath
in suspense, while the wild rose colour deepened in her cheeks.
Suppose--suppose they met him!  How would he look?  What would he do?
What would he think?  Even the compliment to herself faded into
insignificance beside such questions as these.

The mare was trotting briskly along a high level road, on the right side
of which lay the boundary wall of a large estate--_the_ estate, every
inch of which was thrilling with interest to one onlooker, at least; to
the right a bank of grass sloped gradually to a lower road, beneath
which again could be seen a wide-stretched panorama of country.
Cornelia slackened the reins, and gave herself up to the enjoyment of
the moment.

Up to now decorous toddles to and fro the outlying villas had been her
only form of exercise, and she was amazed and delighted with the verdant
beauty of the scene.  As Elma did not seem inclined for conversation she
made no further remark, and for the next quarter of an hour the two
girls drove onward in silence, each happy in her own thoughts, in the
sunshine, in the sweet, balmy air, fragrant with the scent of the
flowering trees.  Then of a sudden one of the lodges of the park came
into view, and on the roadside beside the door a dazzling golden object,
at sight of which Cornelia puckered puzzled brows.

"What in the land's name is that?  The sun dazzles so that I can't see."

"It's a--a cage, I think!  I see something like bars."

"What fool-trick are they up to, then, putting a gilt cage on the high
road in the blazing sunshine?  They might use the sense they were born
with.  Steady, old lady, steady!" cried Cornelia, soothingly, as the
mare pricked up her ears and shied uneasily to the farther side of the
road.  "Yes, it's a cage right enough, and a poll parrot inside.  Guess
I'll pull up at that house, and tell the inmates that it looks for all
the world like a blazing firework on the side of the path; enough to
scare any horse in creation.  This old lady is as nervous as a cat!"

The fact was painfully apparent even to Elma's inexperience, for the
mare, refusing to be soothed by Cornelia's cajoling words and chuckles,
shied still nearer the opposite hedge, her ears cocked nervously erect.
Seen nearer at hand, and out of the direct dazzle of sunlight, the cage
looked innocent enough with its grey inmate swinging solemnly to and fro
on its perch, but as the cart swung rapidly past, Mistress Poll
evidently felt that it was time to assert herself, and opened her mouth
to emit a shrill, raucous cry, at the sound of which the mare bounded
forward in a headlong gallop.

"I knew it!" cried Cornelia, shortly.  "I just guessed that had to come
next."  She sat bolt upright, twisting the reins round her fingers, her
lips pressed into a thin red line, her eyes ashine with an excitement in
which was more than a spice of enjoyment.  She shook herself impatiently
free from Elma's frenzied grasp.  "Now, then, none of that!  You leave
my arms alone.  I'll need all my strength before we're through with this
trouble.  My stars and stripes, how she does pull."

"Oh, oh, Cornelia!  What shall we do?  What shall we do?  Shall we be
thrown?  What's going to happen?  _Cornelia_?"

Not by a fraction of an inch did Cornelia turn her head in answer to
this frenzied appeal.  Upright as a dart she sat in her seat, her
slender wrists straining at the reins.

"Don't yelp!" she said shortly.  "Keep that till you're hurt.  Say! what
happens to the road after the next turn?"

"I don't know. ...  Oh, what shall we do?  Why did we ever come? ...
Cornelia, can you hold her back?" ...

"No!" snapped Cornelia, shortly.  "I can't!--Not for many minutes
longer, at this rate.  My wrists are about broken as it is.  What
happens after this turning, I say?  You must know.  Use your brains, for
goodness' sake--if you want any left to use another day.  Is it a good
road--better than this?  What's on the sides--hedgerows, walls, water?
For the land's sake, child, sort your ideas!"

Thus admonished, Elma made a violent effort to pull herself together.
For reasons already mentioned, this particular bit of country was
clearly imprinted on her memory, and she had but to collect her
scattered wits to see a clear picture of the path ahead.

"The road is quite good.  There is a wall--two walls.  Some farm
buildings on the right.  At the end there is a hill; it leads down into
the next village."

"Humph!"  Cornelia's nostrils dilated widely, and two spots of pink
showed on her white cheeks.  "Then I guess this is the end of the
volume.  A grass bank is better than a wall any day of the week. ...
Now then, young woman, if you've got any grit stowed away, get it out,
and use it.  _It's coming_!  Are you ready?"

"No, no!" shrieked Elma, wildly.  She clutched the seat with despairing
hands, as with a sudden convulsive movement Cornelia switched the mare
violently to the right.  "Help, help!  Oh, help--"

The bank rose before her eyes in a sudden mountainous sweep; the mare,
instead of being in front, soared suddenly on the top of the trap; the
hinges creaked and strained; and the seat assumed a perpendicular
position.  It was all over in a couple of minutes, but to Elma it seemed
as many hours.  She had time to hear the rush of approaching footsteps,
to see over the top of the hedge three startled masculine faces; to
recognise the nearer of the three with a great throb of relief, and to
stretch out her arms towards him with a shrill cry of appeal--then the
crash came, and she was shot headlong into space.

Fireworks! that was the first impression.  Little dots of flame flitting
about before her eyes, forming into circles of light and whizzing
rapidly round and round.  Then when her eyes were open, a heavy confused
stupor, in which she saw, but refused to understand.  Why was she lying
on the grass in the middle of the day?  Why did Cornelia look so queer,
with her face stained with soil, and her hat on one side?  Why did they
offer her things to drink?  She wasn't thirsty; the tea was bad; it
stung her mouth.  It wasn't tea at all, but something hot and nasty.  It
was brandy out of a flask!  Elma lifted big, lovely eyes of a pansy
blue, and stared vacantly into the face by her side, but at the sight of
it memory came back in a rush.  She sat up stiffly, moving her limbs in
nervous, tentative fashion--gasped, sighed, and quavered out a
tremulous--

"What happened?  Is it all over?  Are we saved?"

Cornelia loomed above her, alert even in this moment of shock and
dishevelment.  One cheek was plastered with soil; patches of green stain
discoloured her coat, her hair hung rakishly askew, yet never had her
manner been more composed nor complacently matter of fact.

"We've had a pretty lucky let-off.  You are alive all right, and I guess
there's not much the matter with you but nerves.  There's nothing wrong
with your lungs, anyway.  You scared the mare pretty near as much as the
bird--yelping like a crazed thing, and hanging on to my arm.  The grass
is soft enough.  It hasn't hurt you any.  You needn't worry feeling all
over to see if there's a break.  You'd know it fast enough if there
were."

"Miss Ramsden is feeling stunned.  I think it would be wiser to allow
her to recover gradually.  It is a shock to--er--to most systems, to be
shot out of a cart, however short the distance!"

The masculine voice was thunderous with indignation, and the arm which
supported Elma's back tightened its hold, as if to protect her against
the world.  Cornelia turned aside, her red lips twisted into a smile,
and walked along the bank to where the other two men were unharnessing
the mare, which lay on her side trembling with fright, the blood oozing
from several ugly-looking cuts and scratches.  As Cornelia walked she
held her right wrist tightly with her left hand, as if she still felt
the strain of that wrestle with the reins, but there was no flinching in
voice or manner as she stood over the men, issuing instructions in
brisk, incisive tones.  The nearer of the two was impressed to the
extent of ceasing work to touch his cap; the second darted one
contemptuous glance in her direction, and placidly continued to disobey.
Cornelia promptly knelt on the grass by his side, with intent to
demonstrate her own greater efficiency, but the first movement of the
strained wrist brought a flush of pain to her cheeks.  She sat back,
pursing her lips together to restrain an involuntary groan, while the
stranger flashed a second look in her direction.  He was a tall, lean,
somewhat cadaverous--looking man, with steel-like eyes shaded by haughty
eyelids, perpetually adroop as though no object on earth were worthy of
his regard.  Cornelia took him in in a swift, comprehensive glance, and
with youthful ardour decided that she loathed the creature.

"Hurt yourself?"

"Not a bit, thanks.  I guess there's enough of you to do the work
without me, but I'm used to seeing things done in a hurry, and you
seemed pretty deliberate--"

"A little caution is not thrown away sometimes.  What induced you to
come out driving alone if you could not manage a horse?"

There being no reply to this question, and the last buckle of the
harness being unstrapped, the speaker turned an inquiring glance over
his shoulder, to behold a rigid figure and a face ablaze with
indignation.

There was something in the girl's face at that moment so vital, so
bizarre and arresting, that so long as Rupert Guest lived, it remained
with him as one of the most striking pictures in his mental picture-
gallery.  He had but to pass a high green hedge in the June sunshine, to
catch the fragrance of the honeysuckle and roses, and it rose up before
him again--the white, furious face, with the red, roughened locks, and
the gleam of white teeth through the scarlet lips.  There was no
admiration in his thoughts; this was not at all the type of girl whom he
admired, but she was a being by herself, different from anyone whom he
had met.  He stared at her with curious attention.

"Do you mean," said Cornelia, in the slow, even tones of intense anger,
"that you think this was my doing--that I upset the cart by my bad
driving?  If that's so, you are a little out in your reckoning.  If I
hadn't been used to horses all my days we might have been in kingdom
come by this time.  I _pulled_ her into the bank before worse things
happened!"

"Then what sent her off in the first instance?"

"A poll parrot, screeching in its cage, set right out in the roadway by
some fool owner, who ought to be had up for murder."

The stranger pursed up his lips in an expressive whistle, then suddenly
sprang upwards as the mare, freed from her harness, rolled on her side
and struggled to her feet, where she stood shivering and tossing her
head, displaying fresh cuts and bruises in her dusty coat.  The labourer
put his hand on her neck, soothing her with gentle words and touches,
while his master surveyed her with kindly concern.

"Poor brute!  Better take her to the stables, James, and send off for a
vet.  Mrs Greville can no doubt spare a carriage to take these ladies
home."  He turned towards Cornelia with an impulse of provocation which
seemed to spring from some source outside himself.  As a rule he was
chivalrous where women were concerned, but there was something in the
personality of this girl which aroused his antagonism.  It seemed almost
a personal offence that she should be so alert and composed while the
mare bled and trembled, and that pale, lovely thing lay like a broken
snowdrop on the bank.  He felt a growing desire to annoy, to wound, to
break down this armour of complacent vanity.

"So you could not hold her till she tired herself out?  Well! the
experiment seems to have answered less successfully from her point of
view than your own.  She'll need a considerable time to recover her
nerves and give these scratches time to heal."

"Skin deep!" sneered Cornelia, with a curl of the lip.  "I'll drive her
back in a day or two; and up and down this road until she learns not to
play that trick again.  I've never given in to a horse yet, and I'm not
going to begin with a hack mare!"

The stranger eyed her with cold disapproval.

"Perhaps her owner may refuse to allow her to be experimented upon
again.  I should, in his place!  It may be foolish, but I hate to see a
brute suffer, even for the noble purpose of proving my own superiority."

He swung away as he spoke, thus failing to see the stunned blankness of
Cornelia's expression.  Straight as a dart she stood, with head thrown
back, scarlet lips pressed tightly together, and dark brows knitted
above the wounded tragedy of her eyes.  The labourer standing by the
mare's side looked towards her with honest sympathy.  He had had
personal experience of the "length of the Captain's tongue," and was
correspondingly sympathetic towards another sufferer.  A tender of dumb
animals, he was quick to understand the expression on the girl's face,
and to know that she had been wrongfully accused.

"Don't you take on, miss!" he said, touching his cap with the unashamed
servility at which the American girl never ceased to wonder.  "I'll look
after her meself, and if the dirt is washed out of the sores at once,
she'll come to no harm.  Likely as not there'll be nothing for the vet
to do by the time he arrives.  At the worst it'll be only a few
stitches.  She'll soon get over that."

Cornelia shivered, and bit hard on her lower lip.  She slipped her hand
into an inside pocket of the white coat, and, coming a step nearer,
dropped a coin into the man's hand.  He cast down his eyes, started, and
flushed a deep red.

"Thank you, miss.  Beg pardon, but you've made a mistake!"

A sovereign lay brightly on his grimy palm; he stared at it with
respectful awe, scarcely regretful, since it did not enter his mind to
conceive that such a munificent gift could seriously have been offered
for his acceptance.  It had seldom happened that he had had the handling
of such a fortune, since his whole weekly earnings reached a total of
eighteen shillings, but Cornelia in her turn looked abashed and
discomfited, thrusting her hand once again into the tightly-buttoned
little pocket.

"I'm sorry!  I ken't get used to your money over here.  Will that make
it enough?"

To the man's utter stupefaction she placed a second sovereign beside the
first in his outstretched palm.  He stared at it with distended eyes,
thrilled by the discovery that she _had_ meant it after all, awed by the
revelation of such munificence.

"Beg pardon, miss, I was thinking as you'd mistook it for a shilling,
not making so bold as to complain.  I thank your ladyship kindly!  I'm
sure I can't rightly say what I ought--"

He stuttered, incoherent with excitement, but even as he spoke he held
out the second sovereign, and Cornelia understood that his good feeling
permitted him to accept only what had been originally offered.  She
would have felt the same in his place, and realising as much, took back
the coin without a demur.

"Well! it's waiting for you next time I come, if you've done your duty
by that mare."

She turned, and walked slowly back to where the two men were standing
talking together, some eight or ten yards away.  Their backs were turned
towards her, and her assailant of a few minutes past was evidently
answering an appeal from his friend.  She caught the last words as she
drew near: "I will go to the stable and look after the mare. ...  You
can take them up to the house without my help.  I can't stand any more
of that girl--"

He wheeled round as he spoke, and found himself face to face with
Cornelia.  They stared each other full in the eyes, like two combatants
measuring strength before a battle.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

To Elma it was still a dream, but a dream growing momentarily more
wonderful and thrilling.  The stupor in her head was passing away, and
there was nothing painful in the lassitude which remained.  She was just
weak and languid, content to lie still in the sunshine, her head resting
on one of the cushions from the overturned cart, her eyes turning
instinctively to the bronzed face which bent over her with such tender
solicitude.

As for Geoffrey Greville, he was realising with a curious mingling of
dismay and elation that the moment was fated to be historic in the story
of his life.  For the last two years he had been haunted by the vision
of Elma Ramsden's flower-like face at odd, but by no means inconsequent,
moments.  When, for instance, his mother expatiated on the duty of
marriage for a man in his position, and extolled the fascinations of
certain youthful members of county society; when he walked down the long
picture-gallery, and regarded the space on the wall where his wife's
portrait might some day hang beside his own; when he sat at the head of
his table, and looked across at the opposite space; why was it that in
such moments as these the face of this one girl flashed forward, and
persistently blocked the way?  Elma Ramsden!--just a little,
insignificant girl, whom he had met at half a dozen garden parties, and
at homes.  She did not even belong to the county set, but was the
daughter of a funny, dumpy little mother, who disapproved on principle
of everything smart and up-to-date--himself emphatically included.  The
good lady evidently regarded him as a wicked, fox-like creature, whose
society was fraught with danger to her tender bantling.  He had seen her
clucking with agitation as he had sat with Elma beneath the trees.

Mrs Greville had a calling acquaintance with the Park ladies, and
occasionally referred with a blighting toleration to "Goody Ramsden,"
but she never by any chance mentioned Mrs Ramsden's daughter.  Geoffrey
was doubtful whether she realised the fact of Elma's existence.  Up till
now he himself had drifted along in the easy-going manner of bachelors
approaching their thirtieth birthday before the crucial moment arrives
which acts as a spark to smouldering flames.  He had indulged in lazy
day-dreams in which Elma played the part of heroine; had thoroughly
enjoyed her society when fate placed her in his way, without, however,
exerting himself to take any active steps to secure additional meetings.
This afternoon as he walked across the meadow with his friend, he would
have indignantly denied the accusation that he was in love, but the
historic moment was at hand.  A cry for help rang in his ears; above the
hedge he caught a glimpse of a white, frenzied face, and saw two hands
held out towards him in appeal.

The anguished grip of the heart with which he realised at once Elma's
identity, and her peril, was a revelation of his own feelings which
could not be reasoned away.  As he knelt by her side in those first
anxious moments he was perhaps almost as much stunned as herself, for in
the flash of an eye his whole life had altered.  Where he had doubted,
he was now convinced; where he had frivoled, he was in deep, intense
earnest; the fact that there would be certain difficulties to overcome
only seemed to strengthen the inward determination.  If Elma would
accept him, she should be his wife though the whole world were against
them!

And Elma lay and looked at him with her dazed, lovely eyes, allowing him
to arrange the cushions under her head with a simple acquiescence which
seemed to him the sweetest thing in the world.  Now that the first dread
was relieved, he felt a guilty satisfaction in the knowledge of her
prostration, and of the damage done to horse and cart.  It was
impossible that she could drive back to Norton without some hours' rest,
and a special providence seemed to have arranged that the accident
should take place close to his own gates.  He was too much engrossed in
his own interests to notice the look which was exchanged between his
friend and Cornelia, and as the Captain turned, away discomfited,
Geoffrey eagerly addressing his remarks to the girl herself.

"I want to get Miss Ramsden up to the house.  She must rest and be
looked after, and my mother will be delighted--I mean, she'd be awfully
distressed if you didn't come.  It's not far--only a few hundred yards
up the avenue.  I could carry her easily if she can't manage to walk."

But at that Elma sat up, a spot of colour shining on her white cheeks.

"Ah, but I can; I'm better!  I'm really quite well.  But it's giving so
much trouble.  I could wait in the lodge..."

"Indeed you couldn't; I wouldn't allow it!  There's no accommodation
there, and the children would annoy you.  Take my arm and lean on me.
Miss--er--your friend will support you on the other side."

"Briskett!" volunteered Cornelia, bowing towards him in gracious
acknowledgment.  "Now then, Elma, up with you!  Guess you're about sick
of that bank by this time.  There's nothing to it but nerves, and that
won't prevent you walking with a prospect of tea ahead.  You're not half
as bad as you think you are."

Elma thought she was a good deal worse!  The sudden rise to her feet,
drawn by two strong hands, brought with it a return of the faintness,
and for a moment it seemed as if Geoffrey would have to carry out his
first proposition.  She struggled bravely, however, and Cornelia
forcibly ducked her head forward--a sensible, though on the face of it,
rather a callous remedy, of which Geoffrey plainly disapproved.  He drew
the little hand through his arm, pressing it close to his side, and thus
linked together the three made their way to the lodge-gate and up the
winding avenue.

As they went Cornelia kept casting quick, scrutinising glances at her
companions, her brain busily at work trying to place this stranger,
whose name had never been mentioned in her hearing, but who yet appeared
to take such a deep interest in Elma's welfare.  Once, with a sigh, the
girl had regretted that her mother disapproved of "some of the nicest
people in the neighbourhood."  Was Geoffrey Greville to be regarded as
representing that vague quantity?  Again, with a second sigh, Elma had
confessed that the county people on their side showed no desire to
cultivate her own acquaintance.  This afternoon, with a blush, she had
maintained that the best road lay through Steadway, though a signpost
persistently pointed in another direction.  Two sighs, and a blush!  In
the court of love such evidence is weighty, while of still greater
import was the manner in which Elma clung for support to the arm on the
right, leaving only the gentlest pressure on that to the left.

As for the man himself, there could be no doubt that he had reached the
stage of entire subjugation.  His whole bearing was instinct with
possessive pride, his strong, bronzed features softened into a beautiful
tenderness as he watched the flickering colour in Elma's cheeks, and
smiled encouragement into her eyes.  He had a good face; a trifle
arrogant and self-satisfied, no doubt, but these were failings which
would be mitigated by the power of an honest love.  For the rest, he
looked strong, and brave, and true.  Cornelia's frown gave way to a
smile of approval.

"I guess it's just about as 'cute a little romance as you can read for a
dollar, and just as English!  Her mommar don't approve of him, 'cause
he's smart and worldly; and _his_ mommar don't approve of _her_, 'cause
she lives in a row, and don't mix with the tip-top set.  She sits still
and mopes, and he sets to and kills the first thing that comes handy, to
distract his thoughts, and they're going to stick right there till the
door's closed, and the lamps give out.  This is where _you_ step in,
Cornelia Briskett!  You've got to waltz round and fix up this business
while you've a chance.--I guess I've been a bit too bracing.  I'd better
begin to feel a bit scared about Elma's health. ...  Seems to me she's
had a pretty bad shock and wants to settle right in, and not risk
another move for the next three or four days!" ...

The scarlet lips twisted whimsically, and a dimple dipped in the white
cheek.  If there was one thing Cornelia loved above another, it was to
feel herself a kind of _Deus ex machina_, and she experienced a
malicious satisfaction in ranging herself on the side of the lovers, in
the battle between youth and age.

Presently a curve in the road brought the house into view, and the sight
of its mullioned windows and old grey stone gables brought with it a
sudden remembrance of her own dishevelled condition.  The disengaged
hand darted up to her head to set the cap at the correct angle, and from
thence continued a patting, smoothing-out excursion, productive of
distinctly smartening results.  Fortunately the long coat had sheltered
the dress from harm, so that on reaching the house she could shed it and
look "just so."  As for Elma, it was a comfort to see her a little
"mussed," for in her conscientious adherence to order she sacrificed
much of the picturesque nature of her beauty.

The great oak door stood hospitably open.  At the inner glass door an
old butler appeared, and was immediately despatched by the Squire to
find his mistress, and inform her that her son had brought home two
ladies who had experienced a carriage accident at the gates.  Meantime
Geoffrey led the way into the drawing-room, and while Elma rested
thankfully against the cushions on her chair, Cornelia enjoyed her first
view of a room in a typical English country house.  It fascinated her by
its very difference from the gorgeous apartments which took its place in
her own country.  Space, daintiness, simplicity--these were the first
impressions.  Long French windows standing open to a velvet stretch of
lawn; deep chairs and couches covered with chintz; pale green walls and
the fragrance of many flowers.  A closer inspection showed the intrinsic
value and beauty of each detail which went to make up the charming
whole.  Sheraton cabinets holding specimens of rare old china; ivory
miniatures of Grevilles, dead and gone, simpering in pink-and-white
beauty in the velvet cases on the walls; water-colours signed by world-
famed artists; wonderful old sconces holding altar-like lines of
candles; everywhere the eye turned, something beautiful, rare and
interesting, and through it all an unobtrusive good taste, which placed
the most precious articles in quiet corners, and filled the foreground
with a bower of flowers.

"It's just--gaudy!" said Cornelia to herself, using her favourite
superlative with sublime disregard of suitability.  She looked across
the room to where Elma sat, resting her head against a brocaded blue
cushion.  One of the half-dozen cases of miniatures hung just behind the
chair, and it was impossible not to notice the likeness between the
living face and those portrayed on the ivory backgrounds.  Actual
similarity of feature might not exist, but the delicate colouring, the
fine lines of the features, the loosened cloud of hair, made the
resemblance striking enough.  If some day Elma's own miniature should be
added to the number, it would fully sustain the reputation for the
beauty so long enjoyed by the women of the house.

Coming back from the voyage of comparison, Cornelia's eyes met those of
the Squire fixed upon her in a questioning fashion.  He averted them
instantly, but all his determination could not restrain the mantling
blush which dyed his cheek, and she had little doubt that his own
thoughts had been a duplicate of her own.  Before the silence was
broken, however, the door opened, and Mrs Greville entered the room.



CHAPTER NINE.

It was Mrs Greville's pleasure to be addressed as "Madame" by the
members of her household, and the name had spread until it was now
adopted as a sobriquet by the entire neighbourhood.  The tradesmen
instructed their underlings to pay implicit attention to "Madame's"
orders; the townsfolk discussed "Madame's" clothes and manner,
alternately aggrieved and elated, as she smiled upon them, or stared
them haughtily in the face.  Her friends adopted it for ease, and Mrs
Greville herself was well pleased that it should be so.  She would have
disdained a cheap title, but it seemed fitting that she should be known
by a more distinguished and exclusive designation than the vulgar
"Mrs", which was equally the property of the meanest of her dependants.
She was a graceful woman, with a narrow face, aquiline features, and a
society smile.  She dressed perfectly, in soft satins and brocades; not
black, but of rich, subdued colours, softened by fichus of lace, while
her wonderfully silky white hair was dressed in the latest and most
elaborate fashion.  To-day, her dress was of a dull heliotrope, a bunch
of Parma violets was fastened in the folds of the fichu at the breast,
ruffles of old point d'Alencon lace fell back from her wrists, and as
she moved there came the glint of diamonds, discreetly hidden away.
Elma recalled her mother's afternoon costume of black cashmere, with
prickly jet edging on the cuffs, and felt several degrees more faint and
weary from pure nervous collapse.  Cornelia beamed in artistic
satisfaction.

"Mother, you know Mrs Ramsden!  This is her daughter, and her friend,
Miss--er--Briskett.  I happened to be behind a hedge just as their cart
overturned.  It was all the fault of that lunatic, Mrs Moss--what must
she do but stick her blessed parrot cage on the side of the road, to
frighten stray horses out of their wits!  It's a mercy they were not all
killed.  Miss Ramsden has had a severe shock."

"Poor dear!  How trying for you!" ejaculated Madame, in gushing tones of
sympathy.  (What she _really_ said was "Paw dar!" as Cornelia was quick
to note; storing up the fact, to produce next time she herself was
accused of murdering the English language!) "How quite too senseless of
Mrs Moss!  She really is an impossible woman--but so clean!  One can't
expect brains, can one, in persons of that class?  So sweet of you to
come up, and let us do what we can to comfort you.  It is really our
fault, isn't it?  Employers' liability, you know, and that kind of
thing!  Is the horse hurt?  Your hands are hot, dear, but you look
white.  Now what is it to be?  Tea?  Wine?  Sal volatile?  Tell me just
what you think would help you most!"

She held Elma's hand in her own, and stretched out the other towards
Cornelia, thus making both girls feel the warmth of her welcome.  Elma
smiled her pretty, shy smile, but left it to her friend to reply.  She
was considerably astonished at the sudden development of anxiety which
the answer displayed.

"I guess, if you don't mind, Miss Ramsden had better lie right-down for
a spell.  She's had some brandy, and a cup of tea would be pretty
comforting, but it's rest she needs most of all.  It's a pretty hard
strain sitting by, and watching someone else driving straight to glory.
When you've got something to do, there's not so much time to think.  The
spill was bound to come, so it was up to me to choose the softest
place!"

Mrs Greville stared, in obvious disregard of the meaning of the words.

"Why, you are American!  How odd!  I've never met an American in Norton
before, in all the years I have lived here!"

"I'm not a mite surprised!" replied Cornelia, with a depth of meaning
which her hearers failed to fathom.  They imagined that she was humbly
appreciative of her own good fortune in visiting a neighbourhood as yet
preserved from the desecration of the American tourists, whereas she was
mentally reviewing the sleepy shops where the assistants took a solid
five minutes to procure twopence change, the broken-down flies which
crawled to and from the station; the tortoise-like round of village
life.

"If Providence had sent over half a dozen more like me a dozen years
ago, there's no saying but they might be rubbing their knuckles into
their eyes by now, and beginning to wake up!  I've got to butt right in,
if I'm to make any mark by the end of three months!"

Such were the young woman's mental reflections, while Geoffrey rang the
bell and anticipated his mother's order for tea.  He was anxious that
Elma should lie down then and there, but she refused to do so, with a
glance from the delicate cushions to her own dusty boots.  Cornelia's
openly expressed solicitude had had the not unnatural result of
increasing her feeling of exhaustion, and the colour flamed and faded in
her cheeks as she endeavoured to drink tea and take part in the
conversation which ensued.  Mother and son watched her continuously, the
one with unconcealed anxiety, the other with a wholly impersonal
admiration, as though the girl were a new article of furniture, which
fitted unusually well into its niche.  Her air was kindly enough, but
too dispassionate to be sympathetic.  Elma Ramsden hardly counted as an
independent human being in the estimation of Madame Greville, but she
was a lovely piece of flesh and blood, at whom it was pleasant to look.
It would be a thousand pities if her beauty were marred.  It was more in
a spirit of a connoisseur than a friend that she made the inquiry which
her son was already longing to prompt.

"My dear child, you look very ill!  How are we going to get you home?
Your own cart is injured, you say.  I think you had better have the
brougham, where you can rest against the cushions.  You shall have our
horses, of course.  They won't run away with you, though I don't say
they have never done it before!  I like a horse with a spirit of its
own, but these two have been out to-day, so they ought to be pretty
quiet."

At this reassuring speech Elma turned white to the lips, and for a
moment swayed in her seat, as if about to faint.  Cornelia sprang to her
side, while Geoffrey whispered to his mother in urgent tones, to which
she listened with lifted brows, half-petulant, half-amused.  A final nod
and shrug proved her consent, and she turned to Elma with a gracious air
of hospitality.  Madame could never be less than gracious to a guest in
her own house!

"My dear child, forgive me!  I did not realise how unnerved you were.
Of course, you must not dream of returning home to-night.  Your mother
and I are old friends, and she will trust me to take care of you.  Your
friend will tell her that you are going to rest quietly here until you
are better.  Quite a charity, I assure you, to keep me company!  It will
remind me of the days before my own Carol deserted me for that monster,
and went off to India.  Only daughters should not be allowed to marry in
their mother's lifetime.  Remember that when your time comes!  You
won't, of course, but it's horribly ungrateful all the same.  Now that's
settled!  To-morrow they can send you out some things, but for to-night
I can supply all you need.  A tea-gown fits anyone, and I've a dream
which has just come home, that will suit you to distraction.  Don't
worry any more, dear--it's all settled!"

But Elma was palpitating with agitation.  That she, Elma Ramsden, should
be invited to spend several days at Norton Manor seemed altogether too
unlooked for and extraordinary a happening to be realised.  She was
overcome with gratitude, with regret, with incredulity, for of course it
was impossible to accept.  Madame could not be in earnest!  The
invitation was merely a polite form of speech!  Even if she did mean it,
her own mother would strongly disapprove, for did she not consider
Madame a hopeless worldling, and her son a wolf in sheep's clothing, a
type of everything that a young man should not be?  Oh, no! it was
quite, quite impossible, all the more so that she longed, longed
intensely; longed from the very bottom of her heart, to accept!

Elma straightened herself in her chair, protesting, explaining,
thanking, and refusing in confused broken sentences, to which none of
her hearers paid the least attention.  Mrs Greville and her son waived
objections aside with the easy certainty of victory, while Cornelia
cried briskly--

"You don't hev a choice!  I undertook to bring you out, but I won't take
you back if I know it, until you ken sit behind a horse without going
off into hysterics every time he tosses his mane.  Your mother'd be a
heap more scared to see you coming back looking like a death's head,
than to hear that you were comfortably located with a friend till you
pulled round.  I guess there's nothing for you to do but to say `Thank
you,' as prettily as you know how, and settle down to be comfortable.
Why make a fuss?"

That last exhortation was decisive!  Elma blushingly subsided into the
silence which gives consent, and was forthwith escorted to the room
which was to be given over to her use, there to rest quietly until it
should be time to dress for dinner.

"Unless she would like to go to bed at once.  Do you think that would be
the better plan?"  Madame asked Cornelia in a whispered aside, but that
young lady was quick to veto a retirement which would be so detrimental
to the progress of the "cure" which she had at heart.

"Why, no, indeed!  To be left alone to worry herself ill, brooding over
the whole affair, is about the worst thing that could happen to her just
now.  It was only a play-baby spill, but it seems the worst accident
that the world ever knew to her.  She's got to be roused!  I'll sit up
here and see that she rests quietly for an hour, and then I'll fix her
up for the evening, so she can lie on a sofa and listen while you talk.
I must get home by seven o'clock to soothe the old ladies.  It would be
real sweet if you'd lend something to take me back!  I'm afraid I ken't
walk all the way."

Madame laughed pleasantly.

"I wish we could keep you, too, but it would not be kind to Mrs Ramsden
to leave her with only a message to-night.  I must hope to have the
pleasure another time.  You American girls are so bright and amusing,
and I love to be amused.  My son wishes me to have a companion, but a
well-conducted young woman who knew her place would exasperate me to
distraction, and I should kill anyone who took liberties, so the
situation is a little hard to fill.  Do tell me who you are?  Where are
you staying in Norton, and how long have you been in England?"

"Just over three weeks, and I like it pretty well, thank you," returned
Cornelia, anticipating the inevitable question, "though I guess I've not
struck the liveliest spot in the land.  I'm located with my aunt, Miss
Briskett, in the Park, and my poppar's coming over to fetch me in the
fall."

Madame's interest waned with surprising suddenness.  Of an American
girl, almost more than any other, is that worldly adage true that it is
wise to treat her politely, since there is no knowing whom she may
ultimately marry.

A girl of such striking appearance and obvious affluence might belong to
anyone, or become anything in these radical, topsy-turvy days.  The
mother of a son with broad acres and small income could not but remember
that a large proportion of present-day duchesses hail from across the
water, but it was a very different matter when the young woman suddenly
assumed the personality of the niece of a middle-class spinster resident
at the Manor gates.  To Mrs Greville, Miss Briskett stood as a type of
all that was narrow, conventional, and depressing.  As much as she could
trouble herself to dislike any woman outside her own world, she disliked
the rigid, strait-laced spinster, and was fully aware that the dislike
was returned.  Miss Briskett invariably declined the yearly invitations
which were doled out to her in company with the other townsfolk,
satisfied that in so doing she proclaimed a dignified disapproval of the
frivolities of the Manor.  "Thank goodness, that old cat's not coming!"
was Madame's invariable reception of the refusals, but at the bottom of
her heart she resented the fact that so insignificant a person should
dare to reject her hospitality.

"Miss Briskett's niece.  Really!  How ver-ry interesting!" she drawled,
in a tone eloquent of the most superlative indifference.  Her easy
graciousness of manner became suddenly instinct with patronage, her
eyelids drooped with languid disdain.  She sauntered round the room,
giving a touch here and there, turned over the garments which her maid
had laid on the bed ready for Elma's use, and finally sailed towards the
door.  "We will leave you to rest, then, as long as you think fit.  Pray
ring for anything you require!"

The door closed, leaving Elma to snoodle down on her pillows, with a
sigh of relief, while Cornelia lifted her skirt in both hands and danced
a pas seul, bowing low towards the doorway, blowing kisses from her
finger-tips the while, after the manner of riders in a circus.

She pranced and pirouetted, while Elma protested in shocked surprise.
It struck her that Cornelia's anxiety as to her own condition had died a
remarkably sudden death with the disappearance of Mrs Greville from the
room.  A pantomimic display was not the best way to ensure quiet and
repose, nor was there much sympathy to be read in the expression of the
twinkling golden eyes.  Elma found herself blushing before their gaze,
and guiltily drooping her lashes.

"Cornelia, what do you mean?"

"Columns, my dear, which sweet little buds like you ought to know
nothing about!  You lie still, and look pretty, and ask no questions;
that's _your_ part in the play!  You've got to remember that you've had
a shock, and your nervous system's all to pieces.  You don't have no
pain, nor suffering, and anyone to look at you might think you were
quite robust; but just as soon as you make the least exertion, you're
all of a flop, and have to be waited on hand and foot!--That's so, isn't
it now!"

Elma's delicate brows were furrowed in her attempt to make out what
Cornelia _did_ mean, and what she didn't!  There was a note in her voice
which did not ring true--a good-naturedly mocking note, which accorded
ill with the words themselves.  She blushed still deeper, and put on an
air of wounded dignity.

"I certainly am very far from well.  My head feels so light and
swimming.  I should be very sorry to have to walk far at present.
Coming upstairs just now tried me horribly."

Cornelia clapped her hands in approval.

"Capital! capital!  Keep it at that, and you can't do better.  Go slow,
and don't try to mend all of a sudden.  Even when you _do_ begin to buck
up, in a day or two's time, the very sight of a horse will set you
palpitating for all you're worth.  You'll kind-er feel as if you'd
rather crawl home on all fours than sit behind the steadiest old nag
that was ever raised.  It's three or four miles from home, isn't it, or
maybe more--much too far for an invalid to attempt, for a week at least.
Just a little saunter in the grounds will be all you're fit for this
side Sunday, _with someone to support you carefully as you go_! ...
You'll be apt to turn giddy if you go about alone. ...  Have you gotten
that nicely off by heart now, so you won't go forgetting at the wrong
moments?"

"Why should I forget?  Surely my own feelings will be my best guide?"

"Yes, 'um!" said Cornelia, demurely.  She let her lids droop over her
tell-tale eyes, and stood beside the couch for a long, eloquent moment,
during which the flickering colour deepened on Elma's cheek; then turned
aside, took down a book from a shelf, and settled herself comfortably on
a wicker chair.

"I guess we understand one another, and there's no more to be said.  Now
for one hour by the clock you've to shut your eyes and be quiet.  Go to
sleep if you can!  I'll wake you up in time for the prinking."

Elma buried her head in the cushions and shed a silent tear.  Cornelia
was laughing at her, and she could not bear it.  Her mind, trained to
habits of introspection, began at once to wonder if she were _really_
pretending, as the other seemed to think; if the agitation which she
felt was not so much the result of the accident, as caused by the
excitement of seeing Geoffrey Greville, and meeting his ardent glances.
The prospect of remaining in the same house and of meeting him from hour
to hour was incredible but delightful, yet Elma would give it up a
hundred times over, rather than accept hospitality under false
pretences.  Was it her duty to insist upon returning home?  Should she
announce that she felt so much refreshed by her rest that there was no
longer any reason why she should be treated as an invalid?  The sinking
feeling of disappointment which followed this inspiration was easily
mistaken for a physical symptom.  Yes.  She _was_ ill!  It was quite
true that she felt faint.  Surreptitiously she felt her own pulse, and
was convinced that its beat had increased.  She thought of the
expression of Geoffrey's eyes as he lifted her from the ground--blushed,
and felt certain that she was feverish.  Yes, she would stay!  It would
be foolish and ungrateful to refuse.  Mother had always warned her not
to run risks where health was concerned...

A soft little sigh of contentment sounded through the room.  If Elma had
been fifteen years younger this was the moment at which a warm, sticky
little thumb would have crept into her mouth, as a sign that earthly
cares were swept aside, and that she had resigned herself to slumber;
being a young woman of sweet and twenty, she snoodled her head into the
pillow, and fell fast asleep.

For over an hour she slept, and woke to find Cornelia leaning back in
her chair watching her, while the book lay closed on her lap.  For a
moment she hardly recognised the face which she had always seen
animated, self-confident, and defiant, but which was now softened into
so sweet a tenderness.  A lightning thought flashed through her mind
that it was thus Cornelia would look, if ever in the time to come she
watched by the bedside of her own child.  She smiled lazily, and
stretched out a caressing hand.

"Why, Cornelia, have you been sitting there all the time?  How dull for
you!  How long have I been asleep?"

"It's half after five, so we must be lively, if I am to get back in time
to settle the old ladies, and get ready for dinner.  Hustle now!  I'll
help you to shed your own duds, and then pipe up for the transformation!
That tea-gown's the limit!  I thought I knew the last thing there was
to learn about clothes, but I wouldn't be above going in for a course of
too-ition from the woman who fixed those frills!  This is going to be an
historic occasion for you, my friend.  Your sinful nature is kinder dead
to the joys of frillies, but there's going to be a big awakening!  The
woman isn't born who could come out of that gown the same as she went
in!"  She lifted the blue serge skirt over Elma's head, and surveyed the
plain hem with tragic eyes.  "It's pretty hard luck to be born a woman
instead of a man, but it softens it some to have a swirl of frills round
one's ankles!  If I'd to poke around with a hem, I'd give up
altogether.--Now, then, sit still where you are, while I fix your hair!
I'm going to do it a way of my own, that will be more comfy for leaning
up against cushions.  If you don't like it you can say so, but I guess
you will."

She brushed the soft light tresses to the top of Elma's head, and
arranged them skilfully in massed-up curls and loops.  From time to time
she retreated a step or two as if to study the effect, returning to
heighten a curl, or loosen the sweep over the forehead.  In reality she
was reproducing, as nearly as possible, the coiffure of one of the
beauties in miniature hanging on the drawing-room walls behind the couch
on which Elma would probably pass the evening.  It might chance that the
eyes of mother or son would observe the likeness between the two girlish
faces, a fact which could not but score in Elma's favour!

When the dainty white robe was fastened, and each ribbon and lace patted
into its place by skilful fingers, then, and not till then, Elma was
allowed to regard herself in the glass.  It was a startling revelation
of her own beauty, but the predominant feeling was not elation, but
distress.  Accustomed as she was to a puritan-like simplicity, Elma felt
almost shocked at her own changed appearance.  The sweeping folds of the
gown gave additional height to her figure, her neck looked like a round
white pillar above the square of lace; the quaintly arranged tresses
gave a touch of piquancy to her gentle features.  An involuntary and
quite impersonal admiration was followed by quick repentance.

"Cornelia, I can't!  I can't go down like this!  I daren't do it.  I
look like an actress--so dressed up!  Just as if I _wanted_ to look
nice!"

Cornelia sniffed eloquently.

"Well--don't you?"

"Yes, but--but I don't like to _look_ as if I did!  Oh, Cornelia,
couldn't I put on my own dress again, and do my hair the old way?  I'd
be so much happier!"

"The Grevilles wouldn't!  You've got to remember that they are used to
finery, and not to having young women sitting round in blue serge in the
evening.  It seems gaudy to you, but it's just dead, everyday-level to
them, and won't raise a ripple.  You look a Daisy, and I'm proud of you,
and if you had a mite of feeling you'd say `Thank you,' instead of
finding fault after all my work!"

Elma wheeled round; surprised another glance of tender admiration, and
held out impulsive hands.

"Cornelia, you are good!  I _do_ thank you; I know quite well that you--
you are trying--I _do_ love you, Cornelia!"

"Oh, shucks!" cried Cornelia, hastily.  "Don't gush; I hate gush!  Take
my arm, and come along downstairs.  Lean on it pretty heavily, mind.
Your spirit's too much for your strength, and you are apt to forget that
you are an invalid.  You've got to keep a check on yourself, my dear,
and remember that a nervous shock's a ticklish thing, and needs a lot of
tending!"

Elma's head drooped; she twisted her fingers together, and glanced
beneath the lashes at her friend's face--glanced timidly, questioningly,
as it were, in dread.

Cornelia deliberately--_winked_!



CHAPTER TEN.

Geoffrey was lounging about in the hall as the two girls descended the
wide staircase.  His attitude gave the impression that he had been
impatiently awaiting their advent, and, as he took in Elma's changed
looks in one comprehensive sweep, his eyes brightened with an expression
before which her lids drooped in embarrassment.  He came forward eagerly
to lead the way into the drawing-room, where Madame sat reading by an
open window, and a sofa had been pulled forward and banked with cushions
in readiness for the invalid.  She smiled a welcome as the little
procession entered the room, and looked on with an amused scrutiny while
Cornelia shook out the cushions, skilfully altering their position so
that the blue brocade should form the background for Elma's fair head.
She did not attempt to rise, but her words were kindly enough, if a
trifle patronising.

"Well, dear, and how are you now after your rest?  We must take care of
you, and not let you get overtired.  Sure you are comfortable?  You look
too sweet in that gown!  I shall never have the heart to wear it after
you.  Isn't it wicked that a woman is obliged to live on after her
complexion has faded?  I could bear any affliction better than watching
myself growing uglier every day. ...  I should have a little pillow
tucked into your back. ...  Sure you won't feel the draught?  That's
right!  And you really must leave us, Miss Briskett?  Couldn't possibly
stay to dinner?  I suppose it _would_ be unkind!  The dog-cart is
waiting for you.  I told them to have it round by seven.  Geoffrey will
drive you home, of course.  After your adventure this afternoon we
should not be happy to leave you to a groom.  He'll see you safely to
the door, and report to us on your safe arrival."

Geoffrey's face clouded involuntarily.  He had mapped out a much more
interesting programme for himself, deciding to slip upstairs and dress
for dinner so early that he should be able to descend the moment that
his mother was securely shut into her own room.  Madame's evening
toilette was a matter of three-quarters of an hour at least, during
which time he would have Elma all to himself--to speak to, to look at,
to make her look at him.  Lovely creature!  He had not realised how
beautiful she was, and so sweet, and gentle, and shy.  What a marvel to
meet a _shy_ girl in these days of loud-voiced, smoking, tailor-made
women!  A man may appreciate the society of a twentieth-century damsel
whom he designates as a "rattling good sort," but he wants a womanly
woman for his wife.  Elma was womanliness personified--a sweet pink-and-
white, softly-curved creature, whose eyes regarded the masculine
creature with an unspoken tribute of homage.  "You are so big!" they
seemed to say; "I am so little!  Oh, please be kind to me!"  Inspired by
that look, Geoffrey was capable of fighting dragons on her behalf!

And now he was consigned to drive home a tiresome American girl, who was
remarkably well able to take care of herself!  Mentally he fumed;
outwardly, being a man of the world, he smiled, and murmured
"Delighted!" with an imitation of enthusiasm which won Cornelia's
admiration.

"One to you, Mr Greville!  You played up real well," was the mental
comment, as she dropped a kiss on Elma's brow and listened to her
anxious messages.

"Tell mother not to be anxious.  Tell her I'm not really ill--only silly
and nervous.  Tell her I shall soon be well--"

"That's all right, my dear.  I'll cool her fevered brow. ...  Your
mother'll be a circumstance compared with Aunt Soph!  I'll have to
promise never to look at a horse again while I'm in this country."  She
turned towards Mrs Greville with easy self-possession.

"It's real good of you to send me back, and take such care of us both.
Good-afternoon.  So pleased to have met you!"

Madame extended her thin, ringed hand, laughing softly the while.  As
she had said, she loved to be amused, and this American girl was quite
too ridiculously audacious!  Actually one might have supposed that she
believed herself to be speaking to an equal!

Cornelia and Geoffrey Greville passed along the hall, with its great oak
fireplace filled in with branches of spreading beech, its decorations of
tapestry, of armour, of stags' heads, of cases of stuffed birds.  The
ceiling was beamed with oak, the floor was polished to a dangerous
brightness, and covered in the centre by an ancient Persian rug.
Cornelia had never seen such an interior except as it is imitated on the
stage.  Her own tessellated, be-fountained entrance hall in New York was
as far removed from it on the one side, as on the other was the square
of oil-cloth, decorated with a hat-stand and two mahogany chairs, which
at The Nook was dignified by the same title.  She admired, but admired
with reservations.  "Kinder mouldy!" summoned up the ultimate verdict.

Geoffrey moved moodily towards the doorway.  Though bitterly annoyed at
his mother's interference, he was too much of a gentleman to wreak his
vengeance on the innocent cause of his exile.  As a mitigation of the
penance, it occurred to him that he might occupy the time of absence by
talking of Elma since he might not talk to her; but Providence was
merciful, and came to his aid at the eleventh hour.  The inner door
opened, and Captain Guest appeared upon the threshold, cap in hand,
evidently returning from a solitary ramble, and by no means overjoyed to
have arrived at such an inopportune moment.  He bowed, murmured some
inarticulate greeting, and would have passed by had not Geoffrey eagerly
blocked the way.  For the moment the claims of friendship were non-
existent; he did not care whether Guest were pleased or annoyed; he was
simply a means of escape, to be seized on without compunction.

"Halloa, here you are!  Just the man I wanted," he cried genially.  "You
shall have the privilege of driving Miss Briskett home.  I was going to
take her myself, but I've got some rather--er--pressing business to
attend to before dinner"--he chuckled mentally over the application of
the words--"so I'll stand aside in your favour.  We are not going to
trust her out of our sight until she is delivered safely into her aunt's
keeping.  Awfully sorry, Miss Briskett, but we shall meet again!  You'll
come up to see Miss Ramsden, won't you?  Do come!  Come on Saturday--we
could make up a game of tennis if she is fit enough by that time."

He helped Cornelia to her seat courteously, yet with an underlying haste
which could not be concealed.  Captain Guest gave him one look--a
murderous look--and murmured, "Delighted, I'm shaw!" in tones of ice.
Cornelia felt "ugly," and looked delightful; head erect, lips pursed,
eyes a-flash.

"Just as mad as he can be, to be obliged to be civil to `the girl' for a
short half hour!  Guess there's one or two, several sizes bigger than
him, who would cross the ocean to-morrow for the chance!  He's English--
real English!--the sort that's fixed up with liquid prejudice for blood,
and eye-glasses made to see nothing on earth but the British Empire.
Rather skeery at the present moment at being set down beside a bold
American hussy, with only a groom as chaperon! ...  Well!  I always was
tender-hearted.  I'll pile it on all I know, to fix him in his opinions.
I'm made so's I ken't endoore to disappoint anyone in his
expectations!"

She turned deliberately to stare at the silent figure by her side.
Certainly he was a fine figure of a man!  Her own countrymen who would
have travelled so far as to take his place, would have to be giants if
the "several sizes" bigger were to be taken in literal earnest.  The
lean cheek showed the square formation of the jaw, the lips were clean
shaven, the eyes dark, deep-set, thickly lashed and browed, the only
handsome feature in the face.  Cornelia mentally pulled herself
together, as Guest turned his head, and cast a fleeting glance at her
beneath his drooping lids.

"I was sorry to hear that your friend is too ill to be moved.  I
imagined at the time that she was worse than you realised."

"She _thinks_ she is, anyhow, and that's about as good as the real
thing--perhaps better, where health's concerned.  Some people don't need
much to upset 'em--Elma's one!  I guess there's never much snap to her!"

The dark brows arched expressively.  "Really!  I am afraid I hardly--
er--understand the expression!"

"You wouldn't!" returned Cornelia, calmly.  "It don't seem to flourish
in this part of the country.  At home we reckon no one _is_ much use
without it."

"So I have heard!"  Captain Guest's understanding of the term seemed to
have been more complete than he would acknowledge.  "Our standards
differ, however.  `Snap' may be a useful commodity in the business
world, but one resents its intrusion into private life.  The very name
is objectionable in connection with a girl like Miss Ramsden--with any
English girl!"

Cornelia curled her red lips.

"Yes, they flop; and you like 'em floppy!  Kind of ivy round a stalwart
oak, or a sweet, wayside rose.  A m-o-oss rose!"  No amount of
description could convey the intonation which she threw into that short
word.  The "o" was lengthened indefinitely, giving a quaint, un-English
effect to the word, which sounded at the same time incredibly full of
suggestion.  Guest flushed with annoyed understanding, even before
Cornelia proceeded to enlarge.  "The m-o-oss makes a nice, soft wadding
all round, to keep the little buds safe and hidden.  We use it quite a
good deal at home for packing curios.  _Dried_ moss!  It's apt to get a
bit stale with keeping, don't you think?"

"No doubt; but even so it retains some of its fragrance.  In its worst
state I should be sorry to exchange it for"--it was now the Captain's
turn to throw all his power of expression into one short word--"_snap_!"

Cornelia's laugh held a curious mingling of irritation and pleasure.

It was poor fun having a quarrel all to herself, and it whetted her
appetite to find a combatant who was capable of "hitting back."  She sat
up very straight in her seat, tossing her head backward in quick,
assertive little jerks, and clasping her bare hands on her lap.  Guest
glanced at her curiously from his point of vantage in the rear.  She was
like no other girl whom he had met, but somewhere, in pictured form, he
must surely have seen such a face, for it struck some sleeping chord of
memory.  A fantasy perhaps of some Norse goddess or Flame Deity; a wild,
weird head, painted in reds and whites, with wonderful shaded locks, and
small white face aglow with the fire within.  His lips twisted in an
involuntary smile.  Could anything be more aggressively unlike "the
sweet m-o-oss rose" of which she had spoken?

"I guess if you go to the root of things, a man's picture of a woman is
cut out to fit into his own niche!  If he's very big himself, there's
only a little corner left for her--a nookey little corner where the moss
can grow, but the plant don't have much scope to spread.  If he don't
take much stock of himself, he kind-er stands back, and gives her the
front place.  Then she gets her chance, and shoots ahead!"

Guest laughed in his turn; an exasperating little laugh, eloquent of an
immense superiority and disdain.

"You speak in an allegory--an allegory of English and American life.  I
am quite aware that with you the sexes have reversed positions, that the
man has sunk into a money-making machine, who slaves so that his wife
may spend, while the woman devotes her whole life to dress and
frivolity--"

"Have you ever been in my country?"

Cornelia was brought up short and sharp by an unexpected assent.  To
disparage America was an unforgivable offence, and she was prepared to
denounce the judgment of ignorance in words of flame.  Her anger was not
abated, but merely turned in another direction, by the discovery that it
was not ignorance, but blindness which she had now to denounce--the
blindness of the obtuse Englishman who had been granted a privilege
which he was incapable of appreciating.

"Some people travel about with such a heap of prejudice as baggage that
they might as well stay at home and be done with it.  Englishmen pride
themselves on being conservative, and if they've once gotten an idea
into their heads, it takes more'n they'll ever see with their eyes to
get it out.  I guess you spent your time in my country seeing just
exactly what you'd calculated on from the start.  It's big enough to
rear all sorts, and enlightened enough to hold 'em!"

"It is certainly very big," assented Guest, in a tone of colourless
civility.  Cornelia hated him for his indifference, his patronage, his
thinly-veiled antagonism.  She was accustomed to a surfeit of masculine
attention, and cherished a complacent faith in her own fascinations.  It
was a new and disagreeable experience to meet a man who, so far from
exhibiting the well-known symptoms of subjugation, was honestly anxious
to avoid her society.  To feel herself disliked; to be a bore to two
men--the one eager to hand her over to his friend, the other furious at
being so trapped--can the world contain a deeper degradation for
feminine three-and-twenty?  Cornelia's mood changed before it.  The
excitement which had tided her over the events of the afternoon died
away, to be succeeded by a wave of sickening home-sickness.  She was
lonesome--she wanted her poppar!  She hated this pokey place, and
everyone in it.  She guessed she'd take a cabin in the first boat and
sail away home. ...  Her lips quivered, and she blinked rapidly to
suppress a threatening tear.  She would rather shoot herself than cry
before this patronising Englishman, but it was almost past endurance to
play second fiddle all the afternoon, be snubbed on the way home, and
look forward to an evening spent in propitiating two nervous old ladies!

"I don't get any bou-quets in this play!" soliloquised Cornelia, sadly.
"'Far's I can see, there isn't a soul in Great Britain that cares a dump
about me at the present moment, except, maybe, Aunt Soph, and she'd like
me a heap better at a distance!"  She sighed involuntarily, and Captain
Guest, watching her from beneath his lowered lids, was visited by an
uncomfortable suspicion that while criticising another, his own
behaviour had not been above reproach.  Now that the girl had lost her
aggressive air, and looked tired and sad, the feminine element made its
appeal.  Arrogance gave place to sympathy, prejudice to self-reproach.
...  She was only a little thing after all, and as slim as a reed.

Rapidly reviewing the incidents of the afternoon, he was as much
surprised as shocked at the recollection of his own discourtesy.  This
stranger had overheard his frank declaration of dislike, had probably
also seen the glance of reproach which he had cast upon Greville in the
porch before starting out on this drive.  Twice in a few hours had he
overstepped the bounds of politeness, he, who flattered himself on
presenting an unimpeachable exterior, whatever might be the inward
emotions!  The explanation of the lapse was a suddenly conceived
prejudice at the moment of first meeting.  The girl's jaunty self-
possession had struck a false note, and he had labelled her as callous
and selfish.  Now, looking at her afresh, he realised that this was not
the face of a cold-hearted woman.  This girl could _fed_!  She was
feeling now--feeling something painful, depressing.  His eyes fell once
more on her ungloved hands; he noticed that she held the right wrist
tightly grasped, and even as he did so memory flashed back a picture of
her as she had stood above him on the bank, her hands held in the same
strained position.  Afterwards he marvelled at the accuracy of that
brain picture, but for the moment concern overwhelmed every other
feeling.  The inquiry came in quick, almost boyish tones, strangely
different from his previous utterances.

"I say! have you hurt your wrist?  You are holding it as if it were
painful."

Cornelia turned to see a face as altered as the voice, elevated her
brows in involuntary surprise, and drawled an indifferent assent.

"I guess I ricked it, hanging on to those reins.  It was pulled half out
of the sockets."

"Didn't you have anything done for it at the house?"

"No."

"Or tell anyone about it?"

"No."

"But why not?"

"I never yelp!" said Cornelia, proudly.  She tilted her chin, and her
eyes sent out a golden flash.  "There was enough of that business going
on without my joining in the chorus.  If you're hurt, it don't mend it
any to make a fuss."

Guest looked at her curiously.

"You certainly did not yelp!  I thought you had escaped entirely, and
that your friend had come in for all the knocking about.  I'm awfully
sorry.  Sprains are beastly things.  Look here, if you don't want to be
crippled, it ought to be massaged at once!  I'm knowing about sprains.
Had an ankle cured in a couple of days by a Swedish fellow, which would
have laid me up for weeks on the old methods.  The great point is to
keep the blood from congealing in the veins.  Of course, it must be done
in the right way, or it will do more harm than good.  You set to work
directly _above_ the joint.  Er--would you allow me?--might I show you
for just a moment?"

The horse was ambling peacefully along a quiet lane, and as he spoke
Captain Guest twisted the reins loosely round his own wrist and half
held out his hands, then drew them back again in obvious embarrassment.
The shyness was all on his own side, however, for Cornelia cried, "Why,
suttenly!" in frank response, and pulled back the loose lawn sleeve to
leave her wrist more fully exposed.

She watched with keen interest while he rubbed upward with gentle
pressure, increased gradually as she showed no sign of pain or
shrinking.

"That's the way--upward, always upward.  Follow the line of the blood
vessels--you see!"  He traced a fine blue line with the end of a big
finger, while the groom rolled curious eyes from behind, rehearsing a
dramatic recital in the servants' hall.  "After that has been done once
or twice, tackle the joint itself, and you'll be astonished at the
effect.  Is there anyone in the house who can do it for you?  You could
do a good deal for yourself, you know, if the worst comes to the worst.
Like this--give me the left hand, and I'll show you how to work the
joint itself!"

Cornelia edged round in her seat to adopt a more convenient position,
and laid her hand in his with the simplicity of a child.  Such a slip of
a thing it looked lying on his big brown paw, soft and white, with
carefully manicured nails--almond-shaped, transparent, faintly pink.
Guest loved a pretty hand, and held theories of its value as an exponent
of character.  The future Mrs Guest might or might not be handsome, as
Fate decreed, but it was inconceivable that he could ever marry a woman
with red fingers, or bitten nails.  A pure artistic delight possessed
him at the sight of Cornelia's little hand, but the soft confident touch
of it against his palm brought with it a thrill of something deeper.  He
gave his demonstration with a touch of awkwardness, but the girl herself
was as placidly self-possessed as if he had been a maiden aunt buttoning
up a glove.  She put question after question, requested him to "show her
again," and gripped his own wrist to prove that she had mastered the
desired movements.  A more business-like manner it was impossible to
imagine.  Guest doubted if another girl of his acquaintance would have
shown such an utter absence of self-consciousness.  It was admirable, of
course, quite admirable, but-- He took up the reins with a little rankle
of disappointment mingling with his approval.

Barely a mile now remained to be traversed, as the horse was trotting up
the long hill into Norton; at the top was the High Road, at the end of
the High Road the gates leading into the park.  If anything remained to
be said, it would be wise to say it now, but Cornelia seemed to have
nothing to say.  She sat in erect, straight-backed fashion, her right
hand lying on her knee, the fingers of the left rubbing softly up the
arm, serenely oblivious of his presence.  Guest cleared his throat once,
cleared it again, cleared it a third time, but the words would not come.
They passed through the lodge-gates and drew up before The Holt, where
the groom stood ready to assist Cornelia to alight.  Before Guest could
throw down the reins she had jumped to the ground, and was standing
facing him on the curb.  The slanting rays of the afternoon sun fell on
her as she stood, a slim white slip of a girl whom he could lift with
one hand--a spirit as of tempered steel, which might bend, but never
break.

"I thank you for your courtesy!" said Cornelia, clearly, as she inclined
her head towards him in formal, old-world fashion.

Captain Guest watched her progress up the narrow path, biting hard at
his lower lip.  Courtesy!  The word stung.  The big man felt uncommonly
small as he turned his horse and drove slowly home.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

At the first shock of hearing of the accident, Mrs Ramsden's motherly
anxiety swamped all other feeling.  She forgot to disapprove of a woman
who at sixty still wore a pad on her uncapped head, and lacy frills on
her petticoat, in gratitude to the hostess who had extended hospitality
to her ewe lamb.  For the moment also, Geoffrey himself ceased to be a
dangerous roue, and became a gallant rescuer, miraculously appearing on
the scene of danger.  She cried, and wanted to know how Elma looked;
what Elma said; how Elma felt; what Elma had had to eat; if Elma's
sheets had been aired; if Elma cried--poor darling! at being left
behind?  And Cornelia answered fully on all these points, not always, it
is to be feared, with a strict regard to veracity, but with a
praiseworthy desire to soothe, which was blessed with wonderful success.
Mrs Ramsden dried her eyes, and opined that life was full of
blessings, and that she ought to be thankful that things were no worse!
There was a sweet young girl whom she had once known, who had both legs
amputated, and died of gangrene, a month before she was to have been
married.  It was caused by a carriage accident, too, and now she came to
think of it, the poor dear had just the same pink-and-white complexion
as Elma herself.

"Well, I guess there's not much stump about Elma, this journey!"
returned Cornelia, cheerily.  "There's nothing to it but a little shock
to the constitootion.  Elma's constitootion is nervy.  What she needs is
re-pose.  Perfect re-pose!  If I were you, I'd send up a note to-morrow,
and stay quietly at home.  It would naturally upset her some to see you,
and she'd recuperate quicker by herself."

But at this Mrs Ramsden drew herself up with a chilly dignity.  She
must certainly see her child.  It was her duty to see for herself how
matters progressed.  In the matter of removal, she must be guided by
what she saw. ...

"Yes, 'um!" assented Cornelia, meekly.

She had said her say, and felt confident that Geoffrey Greville might
now be trusted to play his part.  As she walked along the few yards
which separated The Holt from The Nook, she congratulated herself that
the worst half of her explanations were over; but in this reckoning she
was mistaken.  Miss Briskett's displeasure was unsoftened by anxiety,
and was, moreover, accentuated by the remembrance that all this trouble
would have been averted if Cornelia had consented to accept Mrs Nevins'
invitation to tea in a reasonable and respectful manner.  The girl had
refused to make herself amiable, had insisted upon driving a strange
horse over strange roads, in the face of expressed disapproval, and had
contrived to come to grief outside the very house of all others which
she was most desired to avoid!  Cornelia was flighty enough already; the
only chance of keeping her in order was by introducing her to friends
who, by their quiet decorum, would exercise a restraining effect on her
demeanour.  Symptoms of dissatisfaction had already set in--witness that
same rejected tea--and this afternoon's experience had established a
certain amount of intimacy, which would entail endless difficulties in
the future.

Poor Miss Briskett, she was indeed sorely tried!  With her own eyes she
had beheld Cornelia driven up to the gate by a man who was even more
dangerous than the young Squire himself, inasmuch as he was often a
visitor in the Park for weeks at a time; his aunt being the proud
possessor of The Towers, the largest and most imposing of the crescent
houses.  On the afternoon on which Cornelia's coming had first been
discussed, she herself had remarked to Mrs Ramsden that the girl must
be protected from an acquaintance with Captain Guest!  It seemed almost
too exasperating to be borne that she should have effected an
introduction for herself within three short weeks of her arrival!

The spinster's sharp nose looked sharper than ever, her thin lips
thinner, her grey eyes more cold and colourless.  Cornelia looked from
them to the steel trimmings on her dress--really and truly, one looked
about as human as the other!  The "lonesome" feeling gripped once more,
and her thoughts flew longingly to "Poppar," away at the other side of
two thousand miles of ocean.

"I feel kinder _left_!" was the expressive mental comment as the maid
swept away the crumbs, placed the two fruit dishes and the decanter of
port before her mistress, and noiselessly retired from the room.  Miss
Briskett had been clearing her throat in ominous fashion for the last
ten minutes, and now that Mary's restraining presence was removed, she
wasted no further time in preliminaries.  "I think it is time that we
came to an understanding, Cornelia," she began, in ice-cold accents.
"If you remain under my roof you must give me your word to indulge in no
more escapades like that of this afternoon!  I gave my consent with much
reluctance; or, perhaps, it would be more correct to say that I was not
asked for my consent at all; and now you see what the consequences have
been!"

"I promise faithfully, Aunt Soph, that I'll never have a smash again, if
I can help it!  I'm not a bit more set on them than you are yourself,
and I guess the mare was as innocent as a babe, so far's you're
concerned.  She wasn't deliberately setting out to annoy you, as you
seem to imagine.  I guess she needs more sympathy than blame!"

"Don't fence with words, Cornelia, please.  I was not referring to the
horse, and I have no intention of allowing you to run any more risks.  I
distinctly forbid you to take more carriage expeditions without a
competent driver.  I am responsible for your safety, and your father
would blame me, if any harm happened to you while you are my guest.  I
acted against my judgment in allowing you to go alone to-day, but I
shall not do so again.  Do you clearly understand?"

Cornelia's golden eyes stared at her thoughtfully.  An inherent sense of
justice made her conscious that her aunt had right on her side, though
she might have worded her decree in more conciliatory fashion.  The
reference to her father also had a softening effect.  Poppar'd go crazy
if he heard that his daughter had been in any sort of danger! ...

"Well--" she said slowly.  "It's a `got-to,' I suppose!  It would be
playing it pretty low down, to land you with the worry of nursing me,
and keeping Poppar quiet at the other end of the world.  But you
wouldn't expect me to drive about with one of those fool-creatures from
the livery stable taking care of me, as if I were a kiddy?  No, sir!  I
don't see myself coming down to _that_ level yet awhile!  We'd best get
up some driving parties, with those men at the Manor.  They seem to have
lots of horses and carts and things hanging round, and I don't see as
they could employ themselves better than in giving Elma and me a good
time.  I'll air the subject when I go up to inquire!"

Miss Briskett fairly leapt on her seat with horror and indignation.  She
began to speak, and spoke rapidly for the next three minutes, laying
down a series of commandments to which Cornelia listened with bated
breath.

Thou shalt not hold any communication with the Manor, nor with the
people inhabiting the Manor; nor with the guest sojourning beneath the
roof of the Manor.  Thou shalt not associate with any men outside the
circle of thy aunt's acquaintances.  Thou shalt walk abroad by thine
aunt's side, on thine own legs, and comport thyself discreetly, as
behoves a young gentlewoman of good family.  Thou shalt remember that
thou art a self-invited guest, and conform to the rules of the
establishment, or else shalt promptly return to the place from whence
thou camest. ...

In a word, Miss Briskett lost her temper, and when a woman of mature
years and grey hairs loses control of herself, and lets her tongue run
amuck, it is a sorry spectacle.  The flush on Cornelia's cheeks was not
for her own humiliation, but for her aunt's.  She lowered her lids,
ashamed to look into the angry, twisted face.

"Yes, I understand," she replied quietly, in answer to the final
question.  "I guess I understand quite a lot."

"And you mean to obey?"

There was a moment's hesitation, and then--

"No," drawled Cornelia, calmly.  "I can't say as I do!  Those people
have been polite to me, and I'm bound to be civil in return.  I never
ran after any man that I know of, and I don't intend to begin, but when
I _do_ meet 'em, I'm going to be as pleasant as I know how.  It's a
pity, Aunt Soph, but you don't understand girls!  I've not been reared
on tea-parties and cribbage, and I tell you straight that I've just
_got_ to have a vent!  You be wise not to try to shut me up, for I get
pretty reckless if I'm thwarted."

"Cornelia, do you dare to threaten me?"

"No, Aunt Soph.  I'm kind enough to warn you before it is too late!"

Cornelia rose as she spoke, and walked upstairs to the square, prosaic
room, which seemed the only bit of "home" she possessed in the whole big
map of Europe; sat herself down, and reviewed the situation.

Aunt Soph had not wanted her!  The longing for a real heart-to-heart
friendship had been on one side only; that was the first, and most
petrifying revelation.  She had travelled two thousand sea-sick miles to
find herself an unwelcome guest, imprisoned within the four square walls
of a nook-less Nook; bound fast in the trammels of old-world
conventions.  "My country, 'tis of thee, sw-e-et land of libertee!"
murmured Cornelia, mournfully, beneath her breath.  Two big tears rose
in her golden eyes, and her lips quivered.  Should she pack up, and sail
for home forthwith?  For a moment the temptation seemed irresistible,
but only for a moment.  Poppar would feel badly if his two nearest
relations came to an open rupture; and besides, "When I make up my mind
to do a thing, I get there--ev-er-y time!" said the girl, staunchly.  "I
guess it'll take more than four weeks of this country to daunt Cornelia
E Briskett, if she's got her head set to stay.  For one thing, I've
taken in hand to start Elma Ramsden on the road to liberty, and there's
going to be a fight before she's through.  I'll have to stand by, and be
ready with the drill.  As for Aunt Soph, she's acted pretty meanly,
letting me come along when she hated to have me, but for Poppar's sake
I'll be as meek as I know how.  I thought we were going to be friends,
but she's such a back number she don't even remember how it felt to be a
girl, and it's not a mite of use arguing.  She thinks she knows better
than I do!"  Cornelia gurgled amused incredulity.  "Well, it's as easy
as pie to hev a little prank on my own account, and prank I _must_, if
I'm to last out another three months in this secluded seminary.  My
constitootion's fed on excitement!  I should wilt away without it.
Poppar wouldn't like to have me wilt!" ...  She sat gazing out of the
window; gazing--gazing, while a slow smile curled the corners of her
lips.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

Two golden days!  Summer sunshine, roses, lounging chairs set behind
sheltering trees, grey eyes eloquent with unspoken vows; on every side
beauty, and luxury, and sweet fostering care.  Elma felt as if she had
fallen asleep, and awakened in a fairyland more wonderful than her
wildest dreams!

On the morning after the accident, Mrs Ramsden had duly chartered a
fly, and driven to the Manor with intent to bring her daughter home
without delay.  During the night watches old dreads had revived; she
shuddered at the thought of Elma left alone--poor, innocent darling!--
with that terrible young man; pursed her lips at the recollection of
Madame's frivolities, and decided that nothing but grimmest necessity
should induce her to prolong the danger.  She entered the Manor, a
Spartan matron prepared to fight to the death for the rescue of her
child, but behold, instead of a battlefield, there stretched before her
eye a scene of pastoral simplicity, in which the most Puritan of critics
could not have discovered an objectionable detail.

A wide, velvet lawn, shaded by a belt of grand old beeches; a deck chair
placed in the most sheltered nook, on which Elma reclined against a bank
of cushions, while beside her--marvellous and confounding sight!--sat
Madame herself, turning the heel of a common domestic stocking, a
mushroom hat hiding the objectionable pompadour.  So far as the eye
could reach there was not a man in sight, not so much as a whiff of
tobacco smoke in the air!  As the round black figure waddled across the
lawn, Madame rose in gracious welcome, while Elma--Elma's heart began to
beat with sickening rapidity, a mist swam before her eyes, and a lump
swelled in her throat.  She could not speak; her cheeks turned first
red, and then white.  She shook her head in response to her mother's
greeting, and gasped as for breath.

The good lady was distracted at beholding such symptoms of collapse in
her quiet, well-disciplined daughter, and Madame reproached herself in
the conviction that the child was really much worse than she had
imagined.  As a matter of fact, the disease from which Elma was
suffering was nothing more nor less than pure, unadulterated fright!
Fright lest her mother should insist upon taking her home; lest she
should be compelled to leave the Manor before Geoffrey returned from an
excursion carefully timed to end just as his mother drove out to keep an
appointment in the town!  She was literally paralysed with fear.  It
seemed as if life itself hung on the issue of the next few moments.  She
shut her eyes and listened, with palpitating breath, to the conversation
between the two ladies.

"Don't be alarmed!  It is just seeing you that has upset her.  A few
minutes ago she was quite gay.  Weren't you gay, dear?  We have had such
a happy little morning together.  So long as she is absolutely quiet she
seems quite well.  But as you see, any excitement--" Madame gesticulated
eloquently behind Elma's back.  "Excitement prostrates you, doesn't it,
dear?  We must keep you quite a prisoner for the next few days!"

Mrs Ramsden sat down heavily on a wicker chair, folded her hands on her
sloping lap, and sighed resignedly.  Hardly a moment had elapsed since
her arrival, but already her cause was lost.  To subject Elma to the
fatigue of returning home would be madness, when even an ordinary
meeting had so disastrous effect; to refuse hospitality so charmingly
offered would be ungracious in the extreme.  There was nothing for it
but to submit with a good grace, and submit she did, arranging to send
up a box of clothing later in the afternoon, and promising to drive up
again in a few days' time.  "A few days!"  She wanted to come every
single morning, but Madame sweetly ignored her hints, and Elma,
brightening into something wonderfully like her old self, declared that
there was not the slightest cause for anxiety.

"I shall be _quite_ well, mother dear!" she murmured affectionately as
the poor lady stooped to kiss her before hurrying away, carefully
mindful of the fare of the waiting fly.  "_Quite_ well, and--happy!"
The pink flamed again at that last word, and Madame stroked the soft
cheek caressingly.

"That child is a picture!  I love to look at her," she said gushingly,
as the two ladies recrossed the lawn.  "How cruel of you to have kept
her to yourself all this time.  Really, do you know, I hardly realised
that you _had_ a daughter.  But we are going to alter all that, aren't
we?  So sweet of you to trust her to me!"

Madame's conversation was a mixture of questions and exclamations, but
she rarely paused for a reply.  She prattled unceasingly as she saw her
guest into her fly, and watched her drive down the avenue.  Poor old
Goody Ramsden; she was a worthy old dear!  Wrapped up in that child;
terrified to move her, yet terrified to leave her behind!  Madame smiled
in amused understanding of the good lady's scruples.  What duckings and
cacklings would go on in the parlours of the Park!  What fears and
forebodings would be experienced for the safety of the dove in the
eagle's nest!  Out of a pure spirit of bravado she was inclined to keep
the child as long as possible; and the fact of Geoffrey's obvious
admiration only strengthened her determination.  It was dull for a young
man with only his mother in the house.  Let him amuse himself with this
pretty girl.  A few days flirtation would put him in good humour, and
there was no danger of anything serious.  Geoffrey never _was_ serious.
His flirtations could be counted by the score, but they held no
connection with his future marriage.  That must be a serious business
arrangement, involving a name, a fortune, possibly a title; many
tangible qualities would be demanded from the future mistress of the
Manor.

Madame went through life regarding every person and thing from her own
personal standpoint; apart from herself they ceased to interest.  She
would be affectionate and gushing to Elma Ramsden so long as the girl
remained a guest under her roof; when she returned to The Holt she would
promptly fade out of recollection.  That a broken heart might be among
the impedimenta which she would carry away with her, was a possibility
which never once entered into the calculation.  A typical Society woman!
Verily, Goody Ramsden's fears were not built without a foundation!

An hour later Madame was driving out of her own gates, while Geoffrey
was installed on her seat by the invalid's couch.  A whole hour and a
half still remained before the gong would sound the summons to luncheon;
an hour and a half of solitude beneath the shadow of the trees!  Last
night there had been another _tete-a-tete_ while Madame and Captain
Guest played piquet at the end of the room; this morning there had been
yet another, when Elma was first installed in the garden, and Madame was
interviewing her staff.  Astonishing how intimate two people can become
in two long conversations!  Marvellous in what unison two separate minds
may move!  Geoffrey and Elma seemed constantly to be discovering fresh
subjects on which they thought alike, longed alike, hoped, grieved,
joyed, failed and fought, in precisely the same interesting fashion!
Each discovery was a fresh joy, a fresh surprise.  "Do you really?"
"Why, so do I!"  "How strange it seems!"  In the garden of Eden these
surprises grow on every bush!

Elma's heart was hopelessly out of keeping, but conscience still fought
feebly against temptation.  She had been trained to consider no man
worthy of her regard who did not attend Saint Nathaniel's Parish Church,
eschew amusements, wear a blue ribbon in his coat, belong to the Anti-
Tobacco League, and vote with the Conservative Party!  In the watches of
the night she had decided that it was her duty to use her influence to
lead this dear worldling into better ways, and, to his credit be it
said, the dear worldling appeared most eager to be reformed.  He
besought Miss Ramsden to "pitch into him"; declared that he knew, don't
you know, that he was an "awful rotter"; but represented himself as
waiting eagerly to be guided in the way in which he should go.  How was
he to begin?

Elma puckered her delicate eyebrows.  She was wearing no hat, as it was
more comfortable to recline against the cushions with uncovered head,
but a fluffy white parasol belonging to her hostess was placed by her
side, in case an obtrusive sunbeam penetrated the branches overhead.  "I
never know where the sun is going to move next.  Men always do, don't
they?  I think it is so clever of them!"  Madame had declared in her
charming, inconsequent fashion as she fluttered away.  Elma did not need
the parasol as a shade, but it came in very usefully as a plaything in
moments of embarrassment.  There was one all-important subject weighing
on her mind; she made a desperate plunge, and put it into words--

"You--you don't go to church!"

"Not very often, I admit.  I'm afraid it is not much in my line."

"Don't you--believe in it?"

The vague question was yet sufficiently explicit.  The Squire leant
forward, his hands clasped between his knees, his forehead knitted into
thoughtful lines.

"Er--yes!  As a matter of fact, I _do_!  Didn't once!  At college, you
know; got into a free-thinking set, and chucked the whole thing aside.
But I've been about a good bit.  I've seen countries where they go on
that tack and it doesn't pay.  The old way is the best.  I know I'm a
bit careless still.  Men are, Miss Ramsden, when they have only
themselves to think of.  They get into the way of leaving that sort of
thing to their mothers and sisters, but when a fellow starts for
himself, it's different!  I'm the master here, in name, but virtually
it's my mother who runs the house.  I don't interfere with her ways, but
when I--er--_marry_, it will be different!  Then I shall make a stand.
Family prayers, and that sort of thing, don't you know.  A man ought to
set an example.  You are quite right; you are always right!  Bit shy at
first, you know, and that sort of thing, but I'd do it; I promise you, I
would!  Turn up at church regularly every Sunday!"

"It would be your duty," said Elma, primly.  She twirled the handle of
the sunshade round and round, and strove womanfully to keep her thoughts
fixed on the subject on hand, and away from that thrilling "when I
marry."  "But it isn't only _form_, you know," she added anxiously!
"It's caring for it most of all, and putting it before everything else!"

Geoffrey gazed at her in a rapture of admiration.  He loved her
simplicity; he adored her earnestness.  In his eyes she was a shining
white angel sent down from heaven to be his guide through life.  It
needed all his self-control to keep back the words which were struggling
for utterance, but the fear of frightening Elma by a premature
declaration gave him strength to resist.

They turned instead into a prayer, a sincere yet bargain-making prayer,
like that of Jacob of old.

"Give me this woman!" cried the inner voice: "this one woman out of all
the world, and I will vow in return my faith, my allegiance!"  The most
earnest vows are often offered in the least conventional language, and
Geoffrey Greville was not a man to promise without intending to perform.
There was a long, pregnant silence.  Elma felt the presence of
electricity in the air, and forced herself to return to the attack.

"And there are other things! ...  You play bridge--"

"Certainly I do!"

"For money?"

"Shilling points."

"What are `points'?"

Geoffrey laughed happily.  This innocence sounded fascinating in his
infatuated ears.

"That's a little difficult to explain, isn't it, if you don't know
anything about the game?  Don't you play cards at all?"

"Mother won't have them in the house.  We have `Quartettes,' but they
are different. ...  Can you lose much at shilling points?"

"A fair amount, if you're unlucky, but you can win it, too!  I generally
do win, as a matter of fact!"

"What is the most you ever lost in a night?"

Geoffrey grimaced expressively.

"Sixty pounds; but I was a fool, and doubled no trumps on a risky hand,
on the chance of making the rubber.  That was quite an exceptional
drop!"

"I should hope so, indeed!"  Elma's horror was genuinely unassumed.
"Sixty pounds!  Why, it's more than many a poor family has to live on
all the year round!  Think of all the good you could do with sixty
pounds!  It seems awful to lose it on cards in one evening!"

"The next sixty pounds I win, I'll give to a workmen's charity!  Will
that wipe away my offence?"

Elma was not at all sure that it would.  Money won in unworthy fashion
could never bring with it a blessing, according to Mrs Ramsden's
theories.  She shook her head sadly, and ventured another question.

"You go to races, too, don't you?"

"Whenever I get the chance."

"You _like_ going?"

"Love it!  Why shouldn't I?  Finest thing in the world to see a good
hard race!  Wish I could keep a stud myself.  I would, if I had the
money.  I must tell you the truth, you see, even if you are shocked!"

"Racecourses are very wicked places."

"Ever seen one?"

"No."

"Oh!"

They looked at each other and simultaneously burst into a laugh.  They
were young and in love; it was delightful to brush aside problematical
difficulties, and give themselves over to enjoyment of the golden
present.  Elma forgot her usual somewhat prim reserve, and her laughter
was like a chime of silver bells.  It is a rare thing to bear a musical
laugh.  Geoffrey longed for nothing so much as to make her laugh again.

"I'm a born sportsman, Miss Ramsden, and I'll never be anything else.
I'd like to give up everything you dislike, but it's no use swearing
against one's convictions.  It's not honest, and it doesn't last, but I
can promise you always to play straight, and to keep down the stakes so
that I shall never run the risk of losing so much again."

"Why can't you play for nothing but just the fun of the game?"

"We call that playing for love!  It's rather dull--_in cards_!"

Elma twirled her parasol, and blushed to the eyes.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

Mrs Ramsden sent up a box to the Manor that same afternoon, containing
a dark linen dress, a blue blouse, and black skirt for evening wear; a
supply of underclothing, a grey Shetland shawl, and a flannel dressing-
gown.  An hour later, conveyed by special messenger, came a second box,
accompanied by a note in Cornelia's handwriting.  Elma was resting in
her bedroom when it arrived.  She opened it, and read as follows:--

  "Dear Moss Rose,--I guess tight gowns are a bit worrying in hot
  weather, so I've gotten together a few waists and skirts that may aid
  your recovery, and send them along with my love, wishing you many
  happy returns of the day.  If it isn't the right day, it ought to be,
  anyway!  I always calculated to be here for your birthday, and I'm
  about tired waiting.  If you send them back, I'll burn them, as sure
  as taxes, but I reckon you're too sweet to hurt my feelings.  Put on
  the one with the ruckings!  It's the duty of every woman to look her
  best in the eyes of--.  What wonderful weather for the time of year!--
  Your friend, Cornelia.

  "_PS_--There's quite a gale blowing round this corner!..."

"It _is_ sweet of her, but I mustn't, I can't, I really _couldn't_!" was
Elma's comment as she flushed with surprise and embarrassment.  It was
quite certain that she could not accept the gift, but there was no harm
in just looking to see what the box contained!  She crossed the room,
cut the string, and unfolded the brown papers which covered the
cardboard box; lifted fold after fold of tissue papers, and gasped in
admiration of each treasure as it was revealed.

The daintiest of white lawn morning blouses, with skirt to match; a
skirt and bodice of cream net marvellously rucked with ribbons; a blue
muslin, afoam with flounces.  All were fresh from the maker's hands,
and, as Elma divined, had been selected from Cornelia's storehouse of
garments, with careful regard to her own requirements.  The "waists"
would fit easily enough; the skirts--she shook out the muslin and held
it against her own dress.  Just a trifle short, perhaps, but not
sufficiently so to spoil the effect.  It was a _lovely_ skirt!  Elma
edged away from the glass with a little jerk of the figure calculated to
send the flounces in a swirl round her feet.  For three-and-twenty years
she had gone through life wearing plain hems, and as Cornelia predicted,
the flounces went to her brain.  After all, would it not be ungracious
to reject so kindly a gift?  Her real birthday fell in the middle of
July, and Cornelia, being rich and generous, would naturally offer a
gift on the occasion.  To keep the blue muslin would be only
anticipating the remembrance.

Yes! she _would_ keep it, and return the other dresses, explaining that
she really could not accept so much.  But on second thoughts Cornelia
had specially desired her to wear the net with the ruckings. ...  Elma
dropped the muslin on the bed, lifted the net blouse carefully from its
wrappings, and held it before her to view the effect.  Had mortal hands
fashioned it, or had it dropped down ready-made from a fairyland where
good spirits gathered pieces of cloud and sea-foam, and blew them
together for the benefit of happy girlhood!  Elma looked at herself in
the glass; looked back at the blue glace silk and black surah on the
bed, and thanked Heaven for Cornelia Briskett!  Indeed and indeed she
would wear the "rucked net to-night, and look her best in the eyes
of..."  And she would send back the white lawn, and say--_What_ should
she say?  Perhaps, after all, it would seem rather queer to keep the two
more elaborate gowns, and send back the simplest.  It might appear as if
she did not consider it worthy of acceptance.  She would keep them all;
wear them all; enjoy them all; and oh, dear, sweet, kind, and most
understanding Cornelia, if ever, ever, the time arrived when the gift
could be returned, with what a full heart should it be offered!

Pen, ink, and paper lay ready on the writing-table.  Elma seated
herself, and wrote her thanks:--

  "You dear Fairy-Godmother,--At first I thought I couldn't, but I've
  tried on all three, and I simply _can't_ part from them.  I don't know
  what mother will say, but I'm living just for the hour.  I'm going to
  wear the net to-night, and if I look my best it will be _your_ doing,
  and I'll never forget it!  It's just wonderful up here, but I feel
  wicked, for really and truly I'm not ill?  Captain Guest asked me a
  hundred questions about you last night, and I told him such nice
  things, Cornelia!  I wonder sometimes whether you are a witch, and
  upset the cart on purpose, but of course there _was_ the parrot!
  Madame is most kind, but I don't really _know_ her a scrap better than
  the moment we arrived.  She wears lovely clothes.  If it were not for
  you I should have to go downstairs to-night in an odd blouse and
  skirt, and feel a _worm_!  I hope you'll come up to inquire.  Come
  soon!  Everyone wants to see you again.  With a hundred thanks.--Your
  loving friend, Elma."

  "Why am I a `Moss Rose'?"

The note was slipped into the letter-box in the hall, as Elma went down
to dinner that night, lovely to behold in the "rucked gown," and the
perusal of it next morning was one of the pleasantest episodes which
Cornelia had known since her arrival.  Truth to tell, she had felt many
doubts as to the reception of her fineries, but the mental vision of
Elma's tasteless home-made garments, against the background of the
beautiful old Manor, had been distressing enough to overcome her
scruples.  She dimpled as she read, and laughed triumphantly.  Things
were going well; excellently well, and those dresses ought to exercise a
distinctly hurrying effect.  Four or five days--maybe a week.  "My!"
soliloquised Cornelia, happily; "I recollect one little misery who
proposed to me at the end of an afternoon picnic.  They're slower over
here, but Mr Greville was pretty well started before this spell began,
and if he's the man I take him for, he won't last out a whole week with
Elma among the roses.  Then the fun will begin!  Sakes alive, what a
flare-up!  And how will the `Moss Rose' stand pickling?  That's where I
come to a full stop.  I can't surmise one mite which way she'll turn;
but she's got to reckon with Cornelia E Briskett, if she caves in."

Miss Briskett did not vouchsafe any inquiry as to the contents of the
letter which had afforded such obvious satisfaction.  She had probably
recognised Elma's writing on the envelope, but made no inquiries as to
her progress.  Relationships between the aunt and niece were still a
trifle strained; that is to say, they were strained on Miss Briskett's
side; Cornelia's knack of relapsing into her natural manner on the very
heels of a heated altercation seemed somehow an additional offence,
since it placed one under the imputation of being sulky, whereas, of
course, one was exhibiting only a dignified reserve!

Miss Briskett set forth on her morning's shopping expedition without
requesting her niece to accompany her, an omission which she fondly
hoped would be taken to heart; but the hardened criminal, regarding the
retreating figure from behind the curtains, simply ejaculated, "Praise
the Fates!" swung her feet on to the sofa, and settled herself to the
enjoyment of a novel hired from the circulating library round the
corner.  For a solid hour she read on undisturbed, then the door opened,
and Mason entered, carrying a telegram upon a silver salver.

"For you, miss.  The boy is waiting for an answer."

Cornelia tore open the envelope with the haste of one separated far from
her dearest, took in the contents in a lightning glance, sighed with
relief, and slowly broke into a smile.

"Well--!" ... she drawled thoughtfully; "Well--! ...  Yes, there is an
answer, Mason.  Give me a pencil from that rack!"  She scribbled two or
three words; copied an address, and handed it back eagerly.

"There! give that to the boy--and see here, Mason, I shall want some
lunch ready by half after twelve.  Send Mury right along to my room.
I'm going away!"

Mason's chin dropped in dismay, but she was too well-trained an
automaton to put her feelings into words.  She rustled starchily from
the room, to give the dread message to Mary, who promptly flew upstairs,
voluble with distress.

"You never mean to say that you are going to leave us, Miss Cornelia?
Why, you've only just come!  I thought it was to be three months, at the
least.  You're never going so soon?"

"Only for a few days.  I'll be back again, to plague you, by the end of
next week.  Don't you want me to go, Mury?"

Mary shook her head vigourously.

"I'd like to keep you for ever!  The house isn't the same place since
you came.  I was saying to my friend only last Sunday that I couldn't a
bear to think of you leaving.  Couldn't you find a nice young gentleman,
and settle down in England for good?  I'd come and live with you!  I
wouldn't ask anything better than to live with you all my days."

"Mury, Mury! what about the friend?  What would he say to such
desertion?"

Mary's grimace expressed a lively disregard of the friend's sufferings.

"I don't know how it is, but I think a heap more of you nor I do of
him," she confessed candidly.  "I'd come fast enough, if you gave me the
chance.  There's lots of good-looking young gentlemen in England, Miss
Cornelia!"

"Is that so?  I hope I'll meet quite a number of them, then; but I
couldn't settle down out of my own country, Mury!  You'll hev to cross
the ocean if you want to tend my house.  We'll speak about that another
day; just now we've got to hustle round and get my clothes packed in the
next hef hour.  Just the dandiest things I've got.  I'm going to have a
real gay time in a hotel in London, Mury, with some friends from home,
so I must be as smart as I know how. ...  Get out the big dress basket,
and we'll hold a Selection Committee right here on the bed."

Mary set to work, unable, despite depression, to restrain her interest
in the work on hand.  The big boxes were dragged into the middle of the
room; bed, chairs, and sofas were strewn with garments, until the room
presented the appearance of a general drapery establishment.  Cornelia
selected and directed, Mary carefully folded up skirts, and laid them in
the long shallow shelves.  In the height of the confusion the door
opened, and Miss Briskett entered with hasty step.  Signs of agitation
were visible on her features, an agitation which was increased by the
sight of the dishevelled room.  In a lightning glance she took in the
half-filled trunks, the trim travelling costume spread over the chair by
the dressing-table, and a gleam of something strangely like fear shone
out of the cold grey eyes.  Cornelia had no difficulty in understanding
that look.  Aunt Soph was afraid she had pulled the rope just a trifle
too tight, and that it was snapping before her eyes; she was picturing a
flight back to America, and envisaging her brother's disappointment and
wrath.  Out of the abundance of her own content the girl vouchsafed a
generous compassion.

"Yes, I'm off, Aunt Soph!  My friends, the Moffatts, are putting up at
the Ritz for a week, and want to have me come and fly round with them.
They are going to meet me at four o'clock this afternoon, to be ready
for a theatre to-night.  I've got to be off at once.  Mason's getting
ready some lunch."

Miss Briskett stood severely erect, considering the situation.  Now that
the great anxiety was removed, the former irritation revived.

"And pray, who are the Moffatts?  I must know something more about them
before I can give my consent to this visit!"

Cornelia handed a pile of cardboard boxes into Mary's hands.

"Take that hat-box downstairs, and pack these on the tray.  Don't muss
them about!  Then you can come back to finish off."

She waited until the door was safely closed, then faced her aunt across
the bed.  "I'm pleased to answer your questions as well as I know how.
The Moffatts are--the Moffatts!  I guess that's about all their family
history, so far as I'm concerned.  They came over with me, and Mrs
Moffatt was real kind looking after me when I first came on deck, and
was feeling pretty cheap.  We saw quite a good deal of each other after
that, and she said she'd love to have me do the sights with her
sometime.  She was going straight through to Paris, to get fixed up with
clothes.  Now it seems she's back in London.  I gave her my address, and
she wires me to come."

"You spoke of `the Moffatts.'  Who are the other members of the party?"

"There's a husband, of course, but he's not much account, except to pay
the bills.  He must be pretty cashy, for she has everything she wants,
but it gets on her nerves having him poking round all the while.  That's
one reason why she wants me.  I could always keep him quiet!"

The complacent gurgle, the jaunty tilt of the head were as fuel to the
spinster's indignation.  She pressed her lips tightly together before
putting the final question.

"And your father knows nothing--nothing whatever of these people?"

"Well, I guess I may have mentioned their names.  He didn't know
anything about them before that."

"And you propose to stay at a London hotel with the casual acquaintances
of a few days?  You are mad!  I cannot possibly allow it.  You must wire
at once to say that you are unable to accept."

Cornelia stood silently erect.  Her chief personal characteristic was
that air of hot-house fragility so often seen in American girls, but in
that silence her chin squared, her lips set, the delicate brows
contracted in a beetling frown.  It was no longer the face of a girl of
two-and-twenty which confronted the spinster across the bed; it was the
face of Edward B Briskett, the financier who had twice over piled up
great fortunes by sheer force and determination.

"Now see here, Aunt Soph," said Cornelia, clearly; "this is where you
and I have got to come to an understanding.  I've been used to going my
own way ever since I was short-coated, and it wasn't hankering to be put
back into leading-strings that brought me across the ocean.  Poppar
trusts me, and that's enough for me.  You've got a right to boss your
own home, but where I'm concerned your authority don't spread one inch
beyond the gate.  If I decide to accept an invitation, it's on my own
responsibility, and no matter what happens, _you_ won't be blamed!  I've
decided to leave this at one twenty-five, and I'm _going_ to leave, if I
have to jump out of the window to get away!  Now, that's straight, and
we know where we are!"

"I shall write to your father to-night, and tell him that you have gone
in defiance of my wishes."

"I guess it's the best thing you can do.  Poppar'll cable back: `_Give
Corney her head; It's screwed on pretty straight_!' and you'll feel
easier in your mind."  She paused a moment, her features softened into a
smile.  Despite the force of her words, there had throughout been no
trace of ill-nature in her voice.  Now she drew slowly nearer her aunt,
holding out her pretty, white hands in ingratiating appeal.

"See here, Aunt Soph, don't be mad!  I'm sorry you take it like this,
for I've a feeling that it's just about the best thing that could happen
to both of us, for me to clear out for a spell just now.  We've been a
bit fratchetty this last week; gotten on each other's nerves somehow--
but when I come back we can make a fresh start.  In America, girls have
more liberty than over here; but there's not a mite of reason why we
should quarrel over it.  You're my own Poppar's sister, and I came quite
a good way to see you.  It's a pity if we ken't pull it off for the next
few months.  Don't you want to kiss me, and wish me a real good time?"

Miss Briskett drew back coldly, but the little hands clasped her
shoulder, the young face pressed nearer and nearer.  Looking down from
her superior stature, the girl's likeness to her father was once more
strikingly apparent; but it was not the man she recalled, but the dearer
memory of the Baby Edward of long ago, whose clear child's eyes had seen
in "Sister" the most marvellous of created things.  As on a former
occasion, the remembrance was more powerful than words.  Long years of
solitary confinement had hardened the spinster's heart beyond the
possibility of a gracious capitulation, but at least she submitted to
the girl's embrace, and made no further objections to the proposed
journey.

On the whole, Cornelia felt that she had scored a victory.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

Cornelia booked a first-class return to town, scattered half-crowns
broadcast among the astonished porters, ensconced herself in a corner of
an empty carriage, and prepared to enjoy the journey.  She did not
purchase any magazines at the bookstall; the only child of a millionaire
need not trouble about insurance coupons, and at two-and-twenty life is
more interesting than fiction.  Cornelia guessed she'd heaps more to
think about than would occupy a pokey little journey of from two or
three hours.  Just to think how things changed from day to day!
Yesterday she had supposed herself dumped right-down in Norton Park for
a solid three months, and to-day here she was full chase for London,
with the prospect of a week, crammed full of frivolity and amusement!

She gurgled to herself in much contentment.  Aunt Soph had kissed her,
or, at least, submitted to be kissed; Elma was engaged in playing the
part of Eve in flounced blue muslin, to an Adam in a flannel suit, in a
particularly well-mown Garden of Eden.  She could therefore be happy in
her mind concerning those who were left behind, and she had never yet
doubted her own ability to take care of herself.  She smoothed the
wrinkles on her long suede gloves, flicked the dust off the ridiculous
points of her "high shoes," and sighed impatiently.  She and her baggage
were safely aboard.  Why couldn't that old engine hustle up and start?

Cornelia rose to her feet, and thrust her head out of the open window.
There was only one passenger approaching along the deserted platform,
and as fate would have it, he had reached a spot but a couple of yards
away, so that the sudden appearance of the girl's head through the
window was followed by simultaneous exclamations of astonishment.
Exclamations of recognition, too, for the new-comer was none other than
Captain Guest himself, most obviously equipped for town.

"Miss Briskett--is that you?"

"Mussy, what a turn you gave me!  Who'd have dreamt of meeting you
here?"

"Are you going up to town?"

"I am!  Are you?"

"I am!  Do you prefer to travel alone?  If not, may I come in?"

"Why, suttenly!"  Cornelia was not yet quite sure whether she were
annoyed or pleased by the encounter, but on the whole the agreeable
element predominated.  She was of a gregarious nature, and at any time
preferred to talk, rather than remain silent.  After a month spent in a
strictly feminine household, the society of a male man was an agreeable
novelty.  Moreover--sweet triumph to a daughter of Eve!--half an hour's
_tete-a-tete_ on the drive home from the Manor had apparently made short
work of the Captain's preconceived dislike, since he was so anxious to
repeat the dose!  Cornelia smiled; the naughty, little smile of a spider
who welcomes a fly into his net.

Another minute, and the train was movings lowly out of the station,
while the two young people continued their cross-examination,
confronting each other from their separate corners.

"This is an unexpected visit, is it not?  I understood from Miss Ramsden
that she expected you to call at the Manor to-day or to-morrow."

(Cornelia scored a point against him, for his own desertion, in the face
of so interesting a prospect!)

"Vury unexpected!  I got a wire from a friend and came off within two
hours.  I understood from Mrs Greville that _you_ were making quite a
good stay?"

Guest grimaced eloquently.

"I was--but--circumstances alter cases!  To tell you the honest truth,
Miss Briskett, I'm just a bit fed up with playing gooseberry by day, and
piquet (with Madame!) by night, and the idea of spending a few days at
the club presented itself as an agreeable novelty.  My friends are
almost all in town just now, and there is a good deal going on.  I
generally put in a week or so of the season, so I thought I might as
well clear out at once.  They don't want me here!"

"I don't know about that," returned Cornelia, thoughtfully.  "What about
Madame?  _Someone's_ got to keep her occupied!  What's to happen to her
in the evenings now?  There'll be nothing for it but a three-handed
game, and that's the limit!  If you'd been a kind, self-sacrificing
friend, you'd have stayed on, and worked that piquet for all you were
worth!"

"But I'm not self-sacrificing, you see!"  Captain Guest explained, and
in truth he did not look it.  Cornelia's glance took in the magnificent
proportions of the man, the indefinable air of birth and breeding, the
faultless toilette; the strong, dark features.  To one and all she paid
a tribute of admiration, but the expression on the face was of
concentrated self-sufficiency.  At this point admiration stopped dead,
to be replaced by an uneasy dread.  Was Geoffrey Greville, even as his
friend, frankly indifferent to everything but his own amusement, and if
so, what of poor Elma and her dream?  It was an awful reflection that in
such a case she herself would be largely responsible for thrusting Elma
into danger.  Her expression clouded, and she stared through the window
with unseeing eyes.  Captain Guest's words had been so exceedingly plain
that she had not affected to misunderstand their meaning, and the ice
once broken, she was glad of the opportunity of solving her doubts.

"You know Mr Greville very well.  Is he--a flirt?"

Captain Guest flashed a glance at her; a rapid, understanding glance.

"He has been," he replied quietly.  "A desperate flirt; but--he is not
flirting now!"

"You think--"

"I'm sure!"

Cornelia clasped her hands with a sigh of relief.

"Then--?"

"The Deluge!"

"You mean--?"

"He can't marry her, of course!  She's a lovely girl, and everything
that's nice, and good, and that kind of thing, but--not at all the kind
of girl he ought to marry."

"Ought he to marry someone hideous then, with an ugly temper?  Poor
fellow!  Why?"

"There's no necessity to be hideous, that I know of, though as a matter
of fact he probably won't find a girl suitable as to means and position,
who is anything like so attractive, personally, as Miss Ramsden.
Greville is hardly his own master, Miss Briskett.  He is not a rich man,
and he has the place to think of.  Besides, there's Madame to consider.
Madame belongs to a noble house, and has high ideas for her son."

"Is it the custom over here, for the mommas to choose wives for their
sons?  I don't know much about Mr Greville, but from the look of him I
shouldn't suppose he was one of that sort.  He has a kind of an air as
if he'd want a lot of moving, once he got his head set!  If he really
cares--"

Captain Guest shrugged expressively.

"Oh, for the moment, of course, it's a case of `all for love, and the
world well lost,' but in a few days' time Miss Ramsden will return home;
they will drop out of each other's lives, and then prudence will come to
the fore.  There's a girl whom he has known for years, who is built for
him all the way round.  I don't say he'll like it so much, but he'll end
by marrying her like a good boy."

"By marrying her money, you mean to say?  I see, we Americans aren't the
only mercenary nation in the world, though we get the credit for it
sometimes.  Well!  I'll wait a while, before I judge.  There comes a
time in most men's lives when they forget their fine principles, and see
just one thing ahead, _and they've got to have it_!  Everything else
goes down like ninepins, even if it's a real stately old mother, with
her hair fixed-up like Marie Antoinette.  We'll wait and see if that
time comes along for Mr Greville!"

Guest's lip twitched with amusement.

"You seem to be very experienced on the subject."

"I am so.  I've seen quite a good deal of life," said Cornelia, with the
air of a female Methuselah.  She did not smirk nor giggle at the
insinuation, but accepted it placidly as a matter of course, an
occurrence of everyday happening.

Guest studied her critically, as she gazed out of the window.  Was she
plain, or beautiful?  It was difficult to say.  The colourless
complexion, and sharply pointed nose were serious blemishes, but the
mouth was exquisite, and the hair a marvel.  How Rossetti would have
gloried in painting it, unbound, with the great red-gold waves floating
over her shoulders!  The eyes were good, too, despite their unusual
colour--the colour of a tawny old sherry!

As though attracted by his scrutiny, Cornelia turned her head, and let
the golden eyes dwell thoughtfully upon his face.

"Does Mr Greville do anything?" she inquired.  "Has he any sort of
occupation in life?"

"He has a certain amount of business in connection with the property,
but the agent does most of that.  He hunts, of course, and shoots--he's
a capital shot--and fishes at odd times.  All the ordinary things that a
man does."

"Is that so?  They wouldn't be ordinary with us.  I like a man to work.
_You've_ got to work hard, I suppose?  You're a soldier."

The quick pucker of lips and brows were almost startlingly eloquent of
pain.

"Not now!  I was."

"You retired?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

Rupert Guest looked across the carriage in silence.  At any time he was
haughtily resentful of curiosity; but on this subject most of all he
could not endure to speak with his most intimate friends.  His first
impulse was to ignore the question, but as he met Cornelia's steady eyes
that impulse underwent an extraordinary reversion.  Incredible as it
might appear, he became conscious that it was not only possible that he
could tell this girl, this stranger, the hidden sorrow of his life, but
that he actually wished to tell it!  He wanted to hear what she would
say; to see how she would look.  Those childlike eyes would look very
beautiful, softened with the light of sympathy and consolation.  He
wanted to see that light shining for his sake.

"It's a long story," he began slowly, "I don't talk of it more than I
can help, but I'll tell you, if you care to hear it.  I come of a race
of soldiers: it never entered my head that I could be anything else.  My
father was in the Lancers; he died before I left Sandhurst, but my
mother managed to allow me fifteen hundred a year, and I joined my
father's regiment.  I was lucky as things go; went through two
engagements before I was thirty; gained distinction at Omdurman.  At
home I had a nailing good time: Adjutant of the regiment.  We had the
jolliest mess!  I don't think a man ever lived who enjoyed his life
more.  There was lots of play, but I loved the work too, and studied
hard, at every branch of the profession.  I had the credit of being one
of the best all-round men in the service."  He laughed; a hard, sore-
hearted laugh.  "I can say that now without reproach, for it belongs to
another life. ...  Then--my mother died!  She had been living beyond her
income, and there were all the legal expenses to face; selling up at a
loss; giving the girls their share.  She had made a special push to keep
me in the old regiment; but in the end it came down to this, that in
all, there was barely five hundred a year for me.  It was a big blow,
but there was nothing for it but to send in my resignation."

"Why?"

"One can't be an officer in a crack cavalry regiment with only five
hundred a year beyond his pay, Miss Briskett.  It can't be done.  There
wasn't one of my subs, who had less than eight hundred."

"Don't you get any pay at all in your army then?"

"Certainly; about enough to pay the mess bills, and perhaps the changes
of kit.  The uniform costs several hundreds to start with, and those
fools at the War Office are everlastingly ordering senseless
alterations."

"Yes; but--I don't understand!  If the pay is enough for your keep, why
do you need such a heap more to get along?  Where does all the expense
come in?"

Guest knitted his brows in momentary embarrassment.

"Well, of course, there are certain things that a man must do to live up
to his position.  He must entertain; he must hunt; he must play polo.
It comes cheaper to him than ordinary men, for he has the use of the
regimental stables; but still, things run up.  It's astonishing how they
_do_ run up!  There are a hundred things that are _expected_ of him, and
there's no getting away from them."

"Isn't he expected first thing of all to serve his country?"

"That is, of course!"  Guest raised his head proudly.  "I have already
explained that I _had_ served her."

"Wouldn't they let you go on then, because you couldn't cut a dash?"

"_Let_ me!  There wasn't a man in the mess who didn't beg me to stay on!
The Duke sent for me, and argued for half an hour.  He promised me a
staff appointment.  He said some awfully decent things about my past
services.  I was glad of that...  I said, `It's no good, sir, I can't
face the prospect of being Colonel of the regiment, and not being able
to afford as much as my own subs.'  We went over it again and again, and
he lost his temper at last and called me a fool, but I stuck to it--"

Cornelia drew a sharp breath of excitement.

"You _did_ resign--for money?  In spite of all!  For only that?"

"It's a very big `only,' Miss Briskett.  You don't know how it feels to
have your income suddenly reduced by two-thirds."

"Oh, don't I just!  I know how it feels to have it wiped clean away.  I
guess my Poppar's dropped about as much in one slump as any man in the
States!" cried Cornelia, with the true American's pride in size, be it
for good or ill.  She did not feel it necessary to state that the lost
fortune had been more than retrieved, for one of the very few points on
which she found herself in complete agreement with her aunt, was the
suppression of her own wealth.  She had no wish to be judged from a
monetary standpoint, and Poppar's fame had not travelled across the
ocean.  He was just an ordinary everyday millionaire, with a modest
little income of from three to four hundred a day; not a real, genuine
high-flyer, with a thousand an hour!

"I had to give up my frills and fixings, but I held on like grim death
to the things that mattered.--I guess there's something wrong about your
army, if a man's got to have a fortune before he can be an officer!"

"A good many people are with you there, Miss Briskett, but unfortunately
that does not alter the fact."

"Then--what did you do after that?"

"Cleared out!  I sold my uniform for eighty pounds!"--he laughed again,
the same sore laugh--"and gave my orderly about a dozen suits of
ordinary clothes.  The only thing I kept was my sword.  I had ten swords
hung on my walls, used by ten generations in succession--I couldn't give
that up. ...  An old chum was going out ranching to the wildest part of
California.  He asked me to come with him, and I jumped at it.  I wanted
to get out of the country--away from it all.  If I'd seen the regiment
riding through the streets, I should have gone mad! ...  We sailed
within a few weeks..."

"_California_!"  Cornelia's face was eloquent with meaning.  She had
seen a regiment of Lancers riding through the streets of London on the
one day which she had spent in the metropolis; had stood to stare open-
mouthed, even as the crowd who thronged the pavement.  She recalled the
figure of the officer, a gorgeous, mediaeval knight, impenetrably
lifeless, sitting astride his high horse like a figure of bronze; a
glimpse of haughty, set features visible between cap and chin-strap.
Outwardly immovable, indifferent; but within!--ah! within, beyond a
doubt, a swelling pride in himself, in his men, in the noble animals
which bore them; in the consciousness that every day the pageant
attracted the same meed of admiration; pride in the consciousness that
he represented his King, his Empire, the power of the sword!  Cornelia,
a stranger and a Republican, had thrilled at the sight of the gallant
Lancers, and--she had visited the wilds of California also, and had
received hospitality at a lonely ranch!  There was a husky note in her
voice as she spoke again.

"How long were you there?"

"Three years."

"Did you--hate it very much?"

The laugh this time was more strangled than before.

"Twice over I came within an inch of shooting myself!  We were twenty
miles from the nearest neighbour.  My friend went his way; I went mine.
For days together we hardly exchanged a word.  There was nothing but the
great stretch of land, and the Rockies in the distance.  In time one
gets to think them beautiful, but at first...  I used to sit and think
of home, and the regiment.  It was _always_ with me.  I used to say to
myself: `Now they are at mess--Now the horses are coming out of the
stables--Now they are turning out for polo!'  I could hear the drum, and
the reveille, and the last post. ...  As clearly as in the barracks at
home, I heard them!" ...

He stopped short, turning his eyes from the window to look at Cornelia's
face.  It was distorted, quivering, with emotion; her hands were clasped
together, and down her cheek rolled two tear-drops, unashamed.  He
turned sharply aside, and for some moments neither spoke.  Cornelia was
seeing, as in a picture, the lonely ranch, with the solitary figure,
sitting with his face towards the East, thinking, thinking. ...  Guest
was reflecting with amaze on the strange antic of fate, which ordained
that it should be in the eyes of this Yankee stranger that he should see
the first woman's tears shed on his behalf!  She cried like a child;
simply, involuntarily, without thought of appearance; the tears rising
from a pure well of sympathy.  To the end of his life he would bless her
for those tears!

The train slackened and drew up at a country station.  A stout, elderly
lady approached the carriage, glanced from one to the other of the two
occupants, and hastily moved on.  Cornelia smiled, with the tears wet on
her lashes.  Again the wheels began to move, and Guest said shortly--

"Thank you for your sympathy!  I had a feeling that you would
understand--that's why I told you.  It's not a story that I often tell
to strangers, as you may guess."

"My, yes, I sympathise; I should just think I do.  I know what even our
own people suffer sometimes away out West; but I don't _understand_,"
said Cornelia, firmly.  "I don't understand--one--little--bit!  There's
more to soldiering than riding through the streets, looking fine and
large, and gotten up like a show.  I love to see it.  We profess to
laugh at forms and ceremonies, but we love them just the same as anybody
else, but it was your _country_ you'd promise to serve!  For better or
worse you allowed you were sworn to serve her.  You had risked your life
for her; I reckon you had shed your blood.  There was just one thing you
wouldn't sacrifice--your own pride!  You were thinking of _yourself_
when you sent in that resignation, Captain Guest!  You saw yourself
sitting looking out of the window, and seeing the boys riding off to
their sports, and leaving you behind.  You cared more for that, than the
thought that England might need you!"

"You hit hard, Miss Briskett."

"I hit straight.  I know just how you've suffered.  Seems to me I'm
going to remember all my life how you sat in that ranch and heard the
last post; but if I'd been in your place, if America had wanted me"--her
small, white face lit up with a very ecstasy of emotion--"I'd have
stayed at my post, _if I'd had to sweep the floors to do it_!"



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

The moment of tension passed, and the strain relaxed.  Captain Guest
stoutly defended his position, and Cornelia vouchsafed a generous
sympathy, while not budging an inch from her ultimate decision.  She
disapproved, but she had wept; the tears had rolled unchecked down her
cheeks on his behalf.  After that they could no longer be mere, casual
acquaintances.

By the end of the first hour they had left the personal element behind,
and were chatting busily about a dozen varying subjects--the English
landscape; Trusts; Free Trade; Miss Alice Roosevelt; chafing dishes, and
the London season.  Cornelia had a cut-and-dried opinion on each, and
was satisfied that every one who did not agree with her was a "back
number," but her arguments and illustrations were so apt and humorous,
that Guest was abundantly entertained.  Throughout the entire journey
their _tete-a-tete_ was uninterrupted, for though several passengers
approached the carriage with intent to enter, one and all followed the
example of the stout lady, and dropped the handle at sight of the two
occupants.  The third time that this interesting little pantomime was
enacted Cornelia laughed aloud, and cried serenely--

"Guess they think we're a honeymoon couple; they're so scared of getting
in beside us!"

Her colour showed not the faintest variation as she spoke.  It was Guest
who grew hot and embarrassed, and was at a loss how to reply.  He need
not have troubled himself, however, for Cornelia continued her
exposition touching the superiority of American everything, over the
miserable imitations of other countries, with hardly as much as a
comma's pause for breath.

Guest sat back in his corner, looking at her with every appearance of
attention, but in reality his thoughts were engaged in following a
bewildering suggestion.

"They think we are a honeymoon couple." ...  Suppose--it was folly, of
course, but for one moment, _suppose they were_!  He would be looking at
his wife!  She would smile across at him, and call him fond, silly
little names.  He would kiss her--she had beautiful lips to kiss! and
hold her hand--it was a soft little hand to hold, and tease her about
her shaded hair, and her sharp little nose, and her ridiculous, pointed
shoes!  They would get out at the terminus, but instead of bidding each
other a polite good-bye, would drive off together in a fly, discussing
joint plans for the evening.  Later on they would have dinner at a
little table in the great dining-hall of the hotel, criticising their
neighbours, and laughing at their peculiarities.  In the theatre they
would whisper together, and when the curtain went up on the heels of a
critical moment, he would see the tear-drops shining once more on her
lashes.--It was a lonely business going off to a man's club, where
nobody wanted you, or cared a brass farthing whether you came or went.
Not that for a moment he wished to be married--least of all to Cornelia
Briskett.  There were a dozen things about her which jarred on his
nerves, and offended his ideas of good taste.  He objected to her
accent, her unconventional expressions, her little tricks of manner;
while on almost every subject her point of view appeared to be
diametrically opposed to his own.  In her company he would be often
jarred, annoyed, and discomfited, but of a certainty he would never be
bored!  Rapidly reviewing his life for the last few years, it appeared
to Guest that he had existed in a chronic state of boredom.  If "we were
a honeymoon couple," that dreariness at least would come to an end!

He looked at Cornelia's ungloved left hand resting upon the dark
cushions--she wore a ring, a wide, flat band of gold, with one fine
diamond standing far out, in a claw setting.  American ladies affect
solitaire rings, as tokens of betrothal--did this mean that the
honeymooning question was already settled?  If it were so, the fact
would account for the girl's absence of embarrassment in his own
company; all the same, he did not believe it, for there was in her
manner a calm, virginal composure, an absence of sentimentality, which
seemed to denote that the citadel had not yet been stormed.

Cornelia noted his gaze, without in the least guessing its meaning.

"It was the other wrist that was sprained-- The right one!" she said,
holding it up as she spoke, and carefully moving it to and fro.  "It's
heaps better, thanks to you.  I set Mury to rub it, according to
instructions, and--there you are!  It's most as well as the other."

"Ready to shake hands, now?"

"Oh, yes."

"Mentally, as well as physically?"

The white teeth showed in a smile of comprehension.

"I--guess so!  I never was one to harbour animosity."

"I am glad of that!  You bade me such a frigid good-bye on Thursday
afternoon that I was afraid you had taken a violent dislike to me."

"My stars and stripes, that's pretty calm!  What about _you_, I beg to
ask?"  Cornelia rolled indignant eyes to the hanging lamp.  "I didn't
hev to think; I _heard_ from your own lips what you thought about _me_!
I couldn't rest easy in my bed, for fear you went home and did away with
Mr Greville, for making you drive me home.  I never supposed I should
live to endoor the degradation of having a man do things for me against
his will, but I had to come to England to find my mistake.  And then you
sit there and accuse me of disliking you!--Well!!!"

Guest flushed with embarrassment; with something deeper than
embarrassment; with honest shame.  He clasped his hands between his
knees, and bent forward eagerly.

"You are quite right, Miss Briskett, there is no excuse for me.  I
behaved like a cad.  Things got me on the raw, somehow.  I imagined--all
sorts of things which weren't true!  That's no excuse, I know.  I should
have controlled myself better.  But if I was annoyed at starting on that
drive, I was far more so when it came to an end.  You had your revenge!
And you don't deny that you disliked me in return."

"I did so!  I did heaps more than that.  I thought you just the
hatefullest person I'd ever met."

"And now?"

Cornelia laughed easily.

"Oh, well--we've had a pretty good time together, haven't we?  We can
let bygones be bygones.  You're English--vurry, vurry English, but I
guess you're nice!"

"What do you mean by English?"  But even as he put the question Captain
Guest straightened himself, and reared his neck within his stiff,
upstanding collar, with that air of ineffable superiority which marks
the Englishman in his intercourse with "inferior" nations.  Cornelia
laughed, a full-throated ha-ha of amusement.

"It's `English'!  There's no other word to it.  You are about as English
at this moment as you've been in the whole of your life.--I guess we
must be getting pretty near London now, for I ken see nothing but
smoke."

"Yes, we are nearly there.  Will you--may I call at your hotel some day,
on the chance of finding you in?"

"Why, suttenly!  I'd love to have you.  You could take me round.  If the
Moffatts have fixed-up a dinner for themselves, some night, we might go
to a theatre together!"

"Um--yes!"  Guest surveyed her with doubtful eyes.  "I suppose it would
be easy enough to find some other lady to play chaperon."

"I don't want a chaperon.  Why should I?  It's no fun having her poking
round, and listening to every word one says.  It's ever so much nicer
alone."

"I don't doubt it, but--in Rome one must do as the Romans do, Miss
Briskett!  In England a man does not take a girl to a theatre
unchaperoned.  It's not the thing."

"I don't care a mite.  It's the custom with us, anyway, and there's no
country in the world where women are more respected.  What's the harm, I
want to know!"

"No harm at all.  That's not the question.  It's simply not the custom."

"Do you mean to say you refuse to take me alone, even if I ask you?"

"I do!"

"Then you're a mean old thing, and I shan't go at all!"

Guest laughed; an amused little laugh, in which there was an unwonted
softness.  Somehow, he quite enjoyed being called "a mean old thing" by
Cornelia Briskett.  There was an intimacy in the sound, which more than
nullified the disparagement.

"I think you will!  You are too `straight' to punish me for what is not
my fault.  It would be much more amusing for me to take you about
unattended, and so far as I'm concerned, I can afford to ignore
conventions.  A man can do as he likes.  It is you I am thinking of.
You may not approve of our ideas, but that does not alter their
existence, or the fact that whip; you are here you must be judged by
them.  You would not like to be considered careless of your reputation?"

"I don't care a mite what the old fossils, think."

"_I_ do, then; and I will take no part in putting you in a false
position."

Cornelia pouted, but in her heart admired his firmness, as any woman
would.  She stared at the forest of chimney-tops without speaking, for
several minutes, then suddenly turned towards him, speaking in what was
evidently supposed to be a lifelike imitation of the English accent, as
spoken by the Lady of the Manor.

"Th-anks; aw-fly tha-anks!  How varry kind!  I shall be charmed. ...
Too aw-fly sweet of you, don't-cher-know!"

"That's all right!" laughed Guest, happily.  "We'll manage to enjoy
ourselves, never fear!  There's such a thing as taking _two_ chaperons
and letting them play with each other. ...  Here we are at Paddington.
Are your friends coming to meet you?"

"They are.  I guess they'll be waiting on the platform.  She's tall and
fine-looking, and dresses fit to kill--"

She paused with a sharp little intake of breath, for the train, as it
snorted into the station, had passed by the figure of a woman standing
conspicuously alone--a tall woman, with hair of a violent peroxide gold,
holding up an elaborate white gown, to display a petticoat of flounced
pink silk.  It was Cornelia's first introduction to Mrs Moffatt in
"shore clothes," and to an eye accustomed to Norton simplicity the
vision was sufficiently startling.  Also--it was hateful to think such
things--but, that hair!  On the steamer it had been just an ordinary
brown!

Cornelia would have died rather than own it, but she felt a qualm.  On
the platform she saw other ladies standing waiting the arrival of the
train; smart, well-dressed, even golden-headed ladies not a few, but
none in the least resembling Mrs Silas P Moffatt.  A swift desire arose
that Guest might depart before her hostess made her way through the
crowd, followed by a resigned recollection that that would be of no
avail, since the two were bound to meet sooner or later.  She stepped
out of the carriage, keeping her head turned in an opposite direction,
but almost immediately a crisp rustling of skirts, a strong odour of
violette de parme, and a loud--"Say! is that you?" proclaimed that the
search was at an end.

Cornelia forced a smile to her lips, and acknowledged her identity in
suitable terms, and Mrs Moffatt gushed over her, in a Yankee accent,
strong enough to cut with a knife, casting the while, arch, questioning
glances in Guest's direction.  Cornelia suffered qualm number two.  Even
to her ears, the tone of her friend's voice sounded unduly loud and
nasal, and looking from her to her late travelling companion, it
appeared that to be "English" need not be invariably a disadvantage.  Of
course, Mrs Moffatt was not a good type of American; she belonged to
the class who brought that honourable title into disrepute.  How was it
that she herself had hitherto been blind to peculiarities which now
aroused an instant prejudice?

"Don't you want to introduce me to your friend, dear?  I never came
across such a girl.  Someone flying around after you wherever you go!"
cried Mrs Moffatt, genially, and Cornelia mumbled the necessary words,
with an unusual display of embarrassment.  She dared not look at the
expression of Guest's face, and his cool, easy voice gave no hint of his
real feelings.  She turned aside to give instructions to a porter, while
her ears strained to catch every word which passed between her
companions.  Mrs Moffatt was talking about her, gushing over her, in
fulsome phrases.  Cornelia this!  Cornelia that!  What business had she
to use that name, anyway?  She had never received permission to do so.
It was impertinent to assume such an air of familiarity!

The three made their way together towards the luggage van, where
Cornelia claimed her two big boxes, and saw them hoisted on the top of a
four-wheeler.  The elation of ten minutes back had died a sudden death,
and she felt depressed and lonesome.  Among all the crowd no one seemed
a greater stranger than this woman by her side; in comparison with her,
Captain Guest appeared an old and proven friend.  She raised her eyes to
his, as the cabman busily strapped the last box to the roof, and found
his eyes fixed on her face with a very grave scrutiny.  She did not know
how pale and dejected was her own appearance, how different from the
jaunty self-confidence of an hour before; but Guest had been keen to
notice the quickly succeeding expressions, and was saying to himself:
"She is upset.  Something is different from what she expected.  It's a
bad lookout for her with that terrible woman, but she must have known
her before." ...

Mrs Moffatt glanced from one to the other, giggled meaningly, and
stepped into the cab.  They were alone; as much alone in the midst of
the noise and confusion, as in the quiet of the railway carriage.

"Well," said Guest, regretfully; "I suppose I must say good-bye!  I'll
come round soon to see how you are getting along, and--Miss Briskett,
here is my card.--It gives the address of my club.  If you should need
me for anything, at any time, ring me up!  You will promise, won't you?
I could be with you in a few minutes."

Cornelia smiled faintly.

"Oh, thanks; I don't know about _needing_.  Mr Moffatt will be round to
look after us, but--Norton's my only home over here, and you seem like a
bit of it!  I'll be real glad to see you."

She held out her hand to him; he held it for a moment in a tight,
protective grasp, then took off his hat to Mrs Moffatt, and turned
away.  Twenty yards farther on the cab passed him, and he caught another
glimpse of the two faces; one small and white, the other heavy in
outline, and suspiciously blue-pink as to cheeks.

"Thank heaven, I came up!" said Captain Guest to himself.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

Cornelia was surprised to find that her friends were not already housed
at the Ritz, but had been staying at a private hotel, in a dull side
street, where the cab called on the way from the station, to take up a
pile of luggage lying ready packed in the hall.

"The fashionable hotels are all crowded out in the season," Mrs Moffatt
explained.  "We've had our names down for ages at the Ritz, but it was
impossible to get in before to-day.  I don't know as we should have
managed even now, if it hadn't been for you, dear.  It worked wonders
when we said you would be one of the party.  You don't mind having your
name mentioned, do you?  You've just got to play up to these managers,
if you don't want to be put off for ever, or poked away in a back room."

"Oh, I don't mind," said Cornelia, easily.  "If my name is of any use,
use it for all you're worth.  I shouldn't have supposed anyone would
know it over here.  They don't in Norton."

"My dear, the hotel is crammed full of Americans, and any one of them
would say it was poor business to refuse the daughter of Edward B
Briskett.  The connection might be worth a heap, if you went home and
allowed you were satisfied.  Silas don't count for anything--he's no
push!  We might have waited for ever if it had been left to him!"

To judge by the hangdog expression of the said Silas as he came forward
to greet his guest at the door of the Ritz, the success attending his
wife's manoeuvres had not inspired him with any particular joy.
Cornelia thought he looked more henpecked than ever, but he received her
warmly, and hovered round to assist with the smaller impedimenta, while
his wife hurried forward into the hotel.  Inside all was brightness and
gaiety; little parties of visitors grouped here and there about the
large, light hall; obsequious clerks bowing before one, hoping that the
rooms reserved might give satisfaction; begging to be informed if any
comfort were lacking; summoning waiters to show the way to the lift.
Cornelia was annoyed to notice that most of these attentions were
directed towards herself, but as Mrs Moffatt did not appear to take
umbrage, it seemed wisest to make no protest.  The mistake was not
likely to occur again, for with so many guests in the house, individual
attention could not extend beyond the arrival civilities.

Tea was served in the Empire suite, which had been reserved for the
party, and Cornelia hated herself for feeling so little in sympathy with
a host and hostess whose one anxiety seemed to be to provide for her
enjoyment.  From a printed list of amusements, she was bidden to make
her choice for every evening in the week; for the afternoons, river-
picnics were suggested, coaching expeditions to outlying scenes of
interest, drives in the Park.  For the mornings--well, naturally, there
was just one thing to be done in the morning, and that was shopping!

"I hope you've brought up heaps of money, my dear.  You'll need it.  The
things are just heavenly this season!"  Mrs Moffatt declared, but
Cornelia remained unfired.

"I've a circular note; it's all right so far as that goes, but I shan't
want any more clothes for ages!  I brought over a whole trousseau, and
so far as I can see, the half will go back unpacked.  They don't dress
down at Norton--they _clothe_!  You've got to be covered right up to the
chin, and to work in all the blue serge you can, and that's about all
there is to it.  If you fixed-up like we do at home, you'd make as much
stir as the fire-engine.  I'd like to mail a few presents, if I saw
anything really new and snappy, but I shan't go near a store for
myself."

"I shall, then!" cried Mrs Moffatt, laughing.  "I got next to nothing
in Paris.  The shops over there aren't a patch on London, in my opinion,
and the language puts one off.  I can't get the hang of it, and it gets
on my nerves fitting on clothes, and not being able to find fault.
You'll have to come round with me, Cornelia.  I've been waiting till you
came, to decide on heaps of things.  You've got such lovely taste.
Silas wants to give me some furs, and I've seen an emerald necklace that
I'm bound to have if I'm to know another happy moment.  I've been in
twice to see it, and I guess the man's beginning to weaken.  It would
pay him to let me have it at a reduction, rather than keep it lying
idle.  You shall come with me, and say what you think it's worth; but
mind, I'm to have the first chance!  You mustn't try to snap it up.  A
few hundred dollars don't matter to you one way or the other, but I've
got to worry round to make the money go as far as it will.  It's not
that Silas wants to stint me; he's not that sort, but he hasn't the
balance behind him your father has!"

Silas smiled in sickly acknowledgment of his wife's consideration,
fidgeted in his seat, and finally took himself downstairs, to see about
securing theatre tickets, whereupon his wife heaved a sigh of relief,
and helped herself to a fresh cup of tea.

"Thank goodness!  I ken't stand men in the daytime.  They don't take any
interest in clothes or parcels, or trying-on, but kinder hang round,
looking bored and superior!  It gets on my nerves. ...  That was a real
smart-looking man you had with you to-day, dear.  Guest? did you say--
Captain Guest?  English, isn't he?  Acts as though he'd got the patent,
and everybody else was imitation.  I rather like it myself, I don't
think anything of a man who takes a back seat."  The short, impatient
little sigh was evidently dedicated to the memory of the absent Silas.
...  "Where did you pick him up, dear?  He seems very devoted.  Anything
coming on between you?"

Cornelia's "No!" made the listener start in her seat, so loud was it, so
stern, so eloquent of displeasure.  She herself was astonished at the
white heat of anger which possessed her as she listened to Mrs
Moffatt's questionings.  "Picked him up," indeed!  What insolence; what
vulgarity!  What an indignity to speak of him in such words.  Her
indignation seemed almost as much on Guest's account as her own.  A
vision of his face rose before her, she seemed to see the curl of the
lip, the droop of the eyelid with which he would have greeted such an
expression.

"No!  Suttenly not!  He is the merest acquaintance.  There is not even
an ordinary friendship between us.  I may very probably never meet him
again."

"Is that so?" queried Mrs Moffatt, calmly.  As the Captain had himself
announced his intention of calling at the hotel, the only effect of
Cornelia's violence was to deepen the impression that there was
"something in it," but she was too diplomatic to pursue the subject.
Instead, she prattled on about a dozen inconsequent topics, and finally
suggested a drive in the Park before dinner.

"It will freshen you up after your journey, and there's nothing else to
do for the next two hours.  Just ring, will you, dear, and make
arrangements, while I write a few notes in my room.  A victoria, or a
motor, whichever you prefer, and in about half-an-hour.  That will give
us time to prink."  She rustled out of the room, and Cornelia rang and
gave the order, only too thankful to avoid a prolonged _tete-a-tete_
indoors.  Once again she wondered how it had come to pass that she had
become on intimate terms with this woman, who now jarred upon her at
every turn.  On board the steamer her own friends had scarcely left
their state-rooms during the voyage, and Mrs Moffatt, in a neat tweed
costume, and an enveloping blue veil, had played the part of ministering
angel with much devotion, during three dreary days, when she herself had
lain on a chair in a sheltered corner of the deck; had read aloud,
repeated amusing little anecdotes about the passengers, taken her for
constitutionals up and down, and even helped her to bed at night.  When
Liverpool was reached, it seemed as if they had known one another for
years.  They had kissed at parting, and mutually agreed to meet, and
have a good time.

"Shucks!" cried Cornelia, mentally.  "It's that old Norton!  I've gotten
so used to dowds, that the sight of a Paris gown scares me all into
fits.  I've looked forward to coming to London all my life, and now I'm
here, I'm going to enjoy myself all I know.  Now then, for the Park!  I
guess that grey crepe, and the hat with the white feathers, will be
about the best I can do for the honour of the flag.  You've got to
strike a balance, my dear, and plump for neutral colours as long as you
run in harness with Mrs Silas P Moffatt!"

That first drive in Hyde Park was a pleasant experience, though the
trees looked grey and dusty, after the fresh green of the country.
Cornelia, like most of her sisters, had, as a first object, to see the
people, not the Park itself, and certainly they were worth the seeing.
There is no place in the world where finer specimens of humanity can be
seen than in Hyde Park on the afternoon of a bright June day.  Cornelia
admired the tall, immaculately-groomed men, the dainty, high-bred
looking women, with their air of indolent grace.  They did not look as
if they were enjoying themselves particularly, but she enjoyed, looking
at them, and honestly acknowledged the presence of a certain quality
unowned by herself.  "They've got a far-off look, as if they couldn't
see anything nearer than a hundred miles, and were scared to laugh, in
case they might break! ...  I guess it's what they call `_breed_!'
Captain Guest's got it, too.  We've not much use for that kind of thing
at home, but it--counts!  If you'd been used to it all your life, it
would be a jar to step down..."

Mrs Moffatt knew a great many people by sight, and pointed them out as
they drove by.  Lady this, the Countess of that, Mrs Blank, who wrote
society novels, and was noted for her taste in dress, the beautiful Miss
Dash.--"Not that I can see much beauty in her myself.  She's not a patch
on you, when you're in form!"  Cornelia felt a girl's natural pleasure
in the compliment, in the truth of which she complacently agreed.  She
did not envy Miss Dash her looks, but she did emphatically envy her her
friends, particularly her male friends, who clustered around her
carriage, eager for a word.  One felt decidedly out of it, driving
through a crowd of strangers, not one of whom turned a welcoming smile
in your direction, nor cared whether you came or went.  At home,
Cornelia was accustomed to be in the midst of all that was going on, a
central figure, round which all the rest revolved.  She did not at all
appreciate being relegated to the position of regarding the fray from
the vantage of a hired vehicle!

Cornelia craned her head to right and to left, scanning the passing
crowd for a familiar face.  It seemed impossible that among hundreds of
people there should not be someone whom she recognised, and her faith
was justified, for just at the bend near the Marble Arch, she had a
passing glimpse of Guest's tall figure, standing talking to two ladies,
one middle-aged, the other young, and graceful, and smiling.  They were
quietly, even simply, attired, but their whole air and carriage breathed
that indefinable something which she had just struggled to define:
something diametrically different from the ostentatious display of the
woman by her side.  Theoretically, Cornelia was thankful to escape
observation; in reality she felt an absurd pang of loneliness and
disappointment, as the carriage bore her out of sight.

The evening was spent at a theatre, and by eleven o'clock next morning
both ladies had started forth on one of the shopping expeditions, which
seemed to constitute Mrs Moffatt's chief pleasure in life.  They drove
first of all to the jeweller's, where Cornelia was shown the emerald
necklace, a wonderful collection of stones, in an antique setting, with
which she herself promptly fell in love.  The price was excessive, even
for her own deep purse, and she concluded that Mr Moffatt's means must
be even larger than she had imagined, since his wife seriously
contemplated such a purchase.  There was a good deal of bargaining,
half-serious, half-joking, between Mrs Moffatt and the very imposing-
looking personage behind the counter, but fortified by the advent of
another possible purchaser, the latter steadily refused to reduce his
price, and once again Mrs Moffatt retired discomfited from the
struggle.

"I know just how it will be," she cried, "I'll have to give it up, and
then you'll step in, and carry it off before my eyes!  But you've got to
wait a bit, till I see what I can do with Silas.  I'm not going to give
up yet awhile."

Cornelia laughed easily.  "Oh, I'll play fair.  If you give up the idea,
I daresay Poppar'd let me have it.  He says emeralds suit me better than
any other stones; but I shan't break my heart, one way or the other."
...  Then addressing the shopman: "Have you got anything really new and
tasty for little presents?  I might as well look round while I'm here."

Then followed a delightful hour, from the shopkeeper's point of view, at
least, when Cornelia examined the contents of tray after tray, and
selected "little presents" to the value of a cool hundred pounds: an old
pearl and enamel solitaire stud for her father; a hat-pin composed of a
big turquoise, and a selection of dainty, jewelled brooches and bangles
for special girl friends.

"I'll give you the addresses, and you'd better mail them from here.  I
don't know how you fix up things to travel safely from this side, but
you can do all that's necessary.  I'll give you a cheque and you needn't
send them out till you see that it's all right.  I'm a stranger to you,
and can't expect you to trust me right away, but you'll find the money's
there!"

"Well, I should think your name's good enough!  No one need fear
trusting your father's daughter for a few hundred dollars!"  Mrs
Moffatt protested, while the shopman waxed eloquent in protestation.
Cornelia continued to write addresses on the various boxes, without
troubling to answer, for the assiduous manner in which her friend
advertised her parentage was already beginning to jar.  First to the
hotel officials; then to casual acquaintances during the evening, and
now to this tradesman!  It was a disagreeable change from Norton, where
the subject of money was never mentioned, and no one seemed to care
whether you were rich or poor.

The whole morning was devoted to shopping; in the afternoon the two
ladies went out driving, and returned to the hotel, to find Captain
Guest's card on the sitting-room table.

"He has lost no time, anyhow!" said Mrs Moffatt, meaningly.

"He has done the polite thing.  Now he need not trouble any more,"
Cornelia replied.  On the whole, she was not sorry to have missed the
call.  Conversation, with Mrs Moffatt as audience, would have been
somewhat of a strain!



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

The Moffatts appeared to have few private friends in London, and to show
no anxiety to add to their number.  Though they displayed an insatiable
curiosity about everything which concerned their guest, they volunteered
very little information in return, and after three days spent entirely
in their society, Cornelia knew little more about them than on the first
day of their meeting on shipboard.  A mushroom city of the West figured
as "home," in occasional references; but the wife frankly declared a
hatred of domesticity, while the husband regretted that constant travel
was a necessity in his business.

Evidently the present period was one of holiday-making, for Mr Moffatt
seemed to do nothing but hang about the hotel, playing odd games of
bridge or billiards with stray loafers like himself, and being
correspondingly elated or depressed as he won or lost.  On the whole,
Cornelia preferred him when he was depressed.  Exuberance of spirits is
apt to wax offensive when divorced from good taste.  At times she
frankly disliked both husband and wife, and meditated an immediate
return to Norton; but as a rule she was absorbed in the interest and
charm of the grey old city, which was so unlike anything she had yet
visited.  It was like turning back a page of history, to see with her
own eyes those historical landmarks, of which she had read since
childhood; to drive about looking at the names of the streets, the
monuments at the corners, the great, inky buildings.  Visitors from
sunnier lands often take away from our capital an impression of gloom
and ugliness, but Cornelia's artistic sense realised a picturesque
element which rose superior to smoke and grime.  She loved the narrow,
irregular streets, the Turneresque haze which hung over the sky, even in
this fine summer weather.

The City was a solemn land of work, but the West End was a fairy realm
of luxury and pleasure.  Flowers everywhere, stacked up in great piles
at the corners of the streets; hanging from window-boxes; massed
together in the beds of the parks.  The carriages blocked one another in
the narrow roads; the balconies were draped with awnings; gorgeously-
clad flunkeys stood upon the doorsteps, ushering in long streams of
visitors.  In the City men worked for money; in the West End they threw
it away, carelessly, heedlessly, as if it had been dross.  The great
hotels sheltered hives of strangers, who admired and criticised, envied
and scoffed, and flitted industriously about on the edge of the feast;
on the edge, but never actually passing over the border!

On the fourth morning of her stay in town, a note, addressed in a
strange handwriting, was brought to Cornelia, with her morning tea.  She
guessed at its authorship before opening the envelope, and reading the
name "Rupert Guest," at the end of the letter.  "Rupert!"  A good name,
an appropriate name!  Strong and manly, with an old-world echo of
dignity in the sound.  One could not associate this man with
abbreviations or nicknames.  At work and at play, at home and abroad, he
would remain plain, unabbreviated "Rupert."  One doubted if even his own
mother ventured on a familiarity!  Cornelia read the few lines with
lively curiosity:--

  "Dear Miss Briskett,--I was disappointed to miss seeing you when I
  called at your hotel on Saturday.  My aunt, Lady Seymour, is giving a
  reception to-morrow afternoon, and would be delighted to see you and
  your friends, if you have nothing better on hand.  There ought to be
  some pretty good music.  I will call at three o'clock, on the chance
  that you may care to come.--Yours faithfully, Rupert Guest."

Enclosed was a formal card of invitation, dated from Grosvenor Gate,
"Miss Briskett and party" written on the corner.

Cornelia sat banked up against her pillows, her ruddy locks framing her
little face in a glory of rippling curls and waves, her lips pursed in
slow reflection.

"No-o!  I guess Miss Briskett and party would rather not!  I don't see
the fun of squeezing in among a lot of grandees, who don't want anything
of us but just to quiz and stare, and make remarks.  If he'd asked me
alone, I'd have risked it, just to see how they manage their shows over
here; but he's too proper to take me without a chaperon, and ...  Well,
anyway, the Moffatts are right-down good to me, and I'll have no hand in
having them snubbed!  Miss Briskett will politely refuse, and the party
won't have a chance of accepting, for they won't be told anything about
it.  I hate a fuss."

Cornelia went downstairs, deciding to write a letter before going out,
and post it to the club; but during breakfast Mrs Moffatt announced
with profuse apologies that she and her husband were obliged to devote
the afternoon to visiting a friend living at some distance from town,
and must therefore leave her to her own resources.  Perhaps she would
like to do a little shopping on her own account, take a drive, or visit
a gallery!  Cornelia, with a sudden rising of spirits, guessed she could
find a dozen things to do, and bade her friends feel no anxiety on her
score.  She wrote no letters that morning, but sallied forth on the
inevitable shopping excursion, with a particularly gay and jaunty air,
and an inclination to bubble into laughter on the slightest provocation,
at which Mrs Moffatt exclaimed in envy--

"My, what spirits you do enjoy!  I wish I could laugh like that.  Some
people have all the luck!"  She sighed as she spoke, and Cornelia,
glancing at her, caught a haggard look beneath the white veil.  It
occurred to her for the first time that her hostess was no longer young.
She wondered how she would look at night, denuded of powder and rouge,
and luxuriant golden locks?  An elderly woman, thin and worn, with the
crow's feet deepening round her eyes.  A woman whose life was spent in
the pursuit of personal gain, and who reaped in return the inevitable
harvest of weariness and satiety.  Cornelia was too happy to judge her
harshly.  She was sorry for her and made a point of being unusually
amiable during the long hours of trailing about from shop to shop, which
were beginning to be a severe tax on her patience.  Mrs Moffatt never
seemed to make a purchase outright, but preferred to pay half a dozen
visits to a shop, trying on garment or ornament, as the case might be,
haggling over the price, and throwing small sops to the vendor, in the
shape of the purchase of insignificant trifles.

Cornelia herself was tempted to buy a number of articles which she
neither needed nor knew exactly how to use, partly from want of
something to do while her companion was occupied, and partly from a
sense of shame, at giving so much trouble for nothing.  Every day, also,
boxes of fineries were sent "on approval," to the hotel, so that one
seemed to live in a constant atmosphere of milliner's shop.  Cornelia
wondered to what purpose was this everlasting dressing up.  The dejected
Silas could hardly count as an audience, since he was the most
indifferent of husbands, and it seemed a poor reward for so much trouble
to receive the passing glances of strangers.

"I hope when I settle down, I'll have some real interest in life.  I'll
take care that I have, too!  I'd go crazed if there was nothing more to
it than hanging round stores all the time," said Cornelia to herself, as
she bade farewell to her friends after lunch, and settled herself with a
book in the corner of the lounge, to await Guest's arrival.  She was
pleased at the prospect of meeting him again; mischievously amused at
the anticipation of his embarrassment when he found that her chaperons
had fled.  It would be a delightful change to chat with him for half an
hour, and when he departed to listen to the "pretty good music," she
herself would get into a hansom and drive to Saint Paul's to listen to
the wonderful boys' voices chanting the evening service.  Cathedrals
were not included in the London known to Mrs Silas P Moffatt, but
Cornelia was determined not to leave the metropolis without visiting the
great temple of the East.  After four days of pure, undiluted Moffatt,
she felt mentally and spiritually starved.  It would be good to leave
the world and sit apart awhile beneath the great dome...

At five minutes past three by the clock, Guest appeared in the doorway
of the hotel, made an inquiry of the porter, and was directed to
Cornelia's sheltered seat.  She saw him cast a glance over her neat,
walking costume, as he approached, and naughtily determined to prolong
his uncertainty.  On her own side, she honestly admired his appearance;
compared him to his advantage with the other men in the hall, and was
proud to welcome him as her friend.  Her little, white face was
sparkling with animation, as she held out her hand to greet him.

"How d'you do, Captain Guest?  It's real good of you to come again so
soon.  I was sorry to miss you Saturday afternoon."

"So was I."  Guest seated himself, and deposited his hat carefully by
his side.  "I waited half an hour, and then gave it up, and went to loaf
in the Park.  It's the only thing to do before dinner."

"I saw you there, standing on the sidewalk talking to two ladies, an old
one, and a young one, as pretty as--"

"A moss rose!" he suggested quickly, and they laughed together over the
remembrance.  "Were you driving?  I wish I had seen you!  Is--er--Mrs
Moffatt quite well?"

"Puffectly, thank you," said Cornelia, calmly.  She noted the quick
glance around, and wondered if he felt it compromising to sit with her
alone, even in the publicity of a hotel lounge.  "We drive most
afternoons, and go to the theatre every evening.  I'm having a giddy
time--just about as different from Norton as it's possible to imagine!
Have you heard anything from the Manor?  That wretched girl has never
sent me as much as a postal, and I'm dying to hear what's going on."

"No.  I've heard nothing.  I never for a moment expected that I should.
Greville is too much engaged."  Guest knitted his brows, bitched his
trousers at the knee, and cleared his throat uncertainly.  Cornelia
divined that he was waiting for her to refer to his aunt's invitation,
and feeling somewhat at a loss to account for the severity of her
costume.  At last the question came out suddenly.

"Er--you got my note?"

"I did!  I thank you for it.  It was real kind of good to take the
trouble.  I suppose you had to go and ask for those invitations?"

"I asked, of course, but my aunt was delighted to give them.  It will be
quite worth going to, I think--good music, and something of a function!
You would enjoy seeing the people.  I hope you are not going to say that
you can't come!"

"What makes you think that, I wonder?  Don't I look smart enough?  I'm
sorry you don't approve of my costume!"  She sat up straight in her
seat; a smart little hat perched on the top of shaded locks; a neat
little stock beneath the rolled-back collar of her coat; minute little
shoes, with ridiculous points, appearing beneath the hem of her skirt.
Guest looked her over deliberately, his dark face softening into a very
charming smile.

"I do!  Very much indeed!"

"Maybe it's a trifle homely, but it's best to strike a balance.  Mrs
Moffatt's apt to be a bit gaudy on these occasions."

"It is very good of her to take so much trouble.  Is--er--is she nearly
ready, do you know?"

Cornelia had been narrowly on the watch for the flicker of dismay on
Guest's face; it came surely enough, but was suppressed by such a
gallant effort that, to use her own vernacular, she "weakened" at the
sight.  The impish light died out of her eyes, and she said frankly--

"I guess I've been jollying all the time!  Mrs Moffatt's gone with her
husband to visit a friend who lives quite a good way out, and she won't
be back before seven.  I didn't tell her of your invitation, as her
plans were made, so it wasn't worth while.  I'm `alone in London' for
the afternoon.  Sounds kinder pathetic, don't it; but I'm enjoying it
very well."

"Then--er--am I to have the pleasure of taking you alone?"

Cornelia threw him a glance of tragic reproach.

"Captain Guest!  I'm surpr-iz-ed!  How dare you take advantage of my
unprotected position, to make such a suggestion?  In England young
girls--_nice_ young girls, do not go about with young gentlemen
unchaperoned.  I'm shocked at you!  I should have believed you would
have been more considerate!"

"We could start early.  I could introduce you to my aunt.  She would
find some ladies, with whom you could sit during the concert."

Cornelia made a grimace, the reverse of appreciative.

"No, thank you; I guess not!  I'm not over-fond of sitting with ladies
at any time, but strange ones are the limit.  You tell your aunt that
it's real kind of her, and I vury much regret that I don't want to go.
I've fixed-up just how I'm going to spend the afternoon.  First, I'm
going to give you some coffee--the waiter's bringing it along--then,
when you go off to your crush, I shall get into a hansom and drive away
into the City, to Saint Paul's.  The service is at four.  I'll sit right
by myself, and listen till that's over, then I'll go round and see the
tombs.  Quite a number of big people are buried there, I'm told."

"Saint Paul's!"  Guest's tone was eloquent of amazement.  "But why Saint
Paul's, of all places on earth?  Why not hit on something livelier,
while you are about it?  There's a splendid exhibition of paintings in
Bond Street, and the Academy, of course, and the Wallace Collection--
half a dozen shows which are worth seeing.  Why go into the City on a
day like this?"

"Because I want to!  I've had four days cram full of--" She hesitated,
seeking for a word that would not incriminate her hosts--"of _fuss_, and
I want something else for a change.  From all I hear, Saint Paul's is a
kinder big, and soothing, and empty.  You can sit and think without
being jostled up against someone else all the time.  I don't suppose
there's a more sociable creature on earth than I am myself, but every
now and then I've just _got_ to get away and have things out by myself."

Guest sipped his coffee in thoughtful silence, glancing at Cornelia from
time to time, with eyes full of a new diffidence.  An impulse gripped
him, an impulse so extraordinary that he hesitated to put it into words.
He wanted to go to Saint Paul's too; to drive beside Cornelia through
the streets, to see her face as she sat in the dim old cathedral; that
softened, tremulous face, of which he had caught a glimpse once before,
the memory of which lived with him still.  When the service was over, he
wanted to be her guide, to climb with her the tortuous staircase, and
look down on the ant-like figures in the streets below; to descend with
her to the subterranean vaults. ...  He, Rupert Guest, wished to visit
Saint Paul's on a grilling June afternoon, in preference to attending a
fashionable rendezvous--what madness was this which possessed him?  It
was rank folly; he would be ashamed to put the request into words.
Pshaw! it was only the impulse of a moment--he would never think of it
again.  Then he looked at Cornelia once more, and heard himself say, in
deliberate tones--

"May I come with you?  I should not interrupt.  If you prefer, I could
sit in another place during the service, but I'd like to come.
Afterwards we could go round together.  It would be good of you to give
me the chance."

"But--the reception?"

"Oh, hang the reception!  I'm not sure that I should go in any ease.  Do
let me come, Miss Briskett.  I want to.  Badly!"

Cornelia hesitated, staring at him with puzzled eyes.

"You seemed to think Saint Paul's a pretty queer choice when I mentioned
it a few minutes back!"

"I did; more shame to me, I suppose; but then you explained your
reasons.--I don't pretend that I should care to go by myself, but if you
take me as your companion, it might be good for me, too. ...  Would it
disturb you to have me there?"

"No-o," said Cornelia, slowly.  "I'd as lief you were there as not!  I
feel differently since I heard that story. ...  You must need heartening
up sometimes.  Let's go right along then, and see if we ken't lay in a
store of good thoughts, that will help us along for quite a while.  Will
you order a cab?" ...

Guest walked in silence to the door of the hotel.  By his own request he
was going to attend a church afternoon service with Cornelia Briskett!
The thing seemed too extraordinary to be believed!  He took his seat in
the hansom in a kind of stunned surprise.  Truly, every man was a
stranger to himself, and there was no foretelling what an hour might
bring forth!

Cornelia turned to survey herself in the slip of mirror, and carefully
adjusted the set of her hat.

"Say!" she cried, laughingly, "we've forgotten that chaperon!  Suppose
you think one's not needed in a cathedral."  She paused, dimpling
mischievously.  "Well! that's just as you're made.  I guess if I were
set on it, I could flirt in a _crypt_!"



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

Captain Guest could not flatter himself that Cornelia was in anyway "set
on" flirting with himself, since nothing could have been further removed
from that attitude than her behaviour during the afternoon.  She
displayed a keen interest in her first view of the Strand and Fleet
Street, and though her criticisms of those ancient thoroughfares were
the reverse of complimentary, she was evidently impressed by the vast
solemnity of the cathedral itself.  The usual congregation of stragglers
were dotted about on the chairs in the nave; dreary-looking derelicts
from God knows where, who drift in through the open doorways seeking
refuge from heat in summer, and cold in winter, and listen with
apathetic indifference to the passing services.  Guest seated himself by
Cornelia's side at the end of an unoccupied row, but for all the notice
she paid him, he might as well have been at his aunt's reception miles
away.  Only once, as the boys' voices soared upwards in a strain of
almost unearthly sweetness, did she turn her face towards him, in
involuntary appeal for sympathy, and at that moment there could no
longer be any doubt as to her looks.  She was beautiful; so beautiful
that Guest was dazzled by the sight of the white, kindled face.

The service was an unmitigated success; an hour to cherish in memory,
but in the sight-seeing expedition which followed, there was no denying
the fact that Cornelia _jarred_!  Even the most phlegmatic of Englishmen
must be roused to a feeling of pride by such a review of the deeds of
his countrymen as is set forth in a national cathedral; it may be even
conceded that his attitude may be a trifle irritating to strangers from
distant lands; be that as it may Guest and Cornelia seemed fated to view
everything from different points of view.  Where he waxed enthusiastic,
she displayed cool commonsense; when he stood dumb, she criticised the
design of the sculpture, and speculated as to the cost; she guessed it
was "playing it pretty low down on Wellington to stow him away in a
cellar," and made scathing remarks by Gordon's memorial.  "You muffed it
badly that time!  Guess if he'd belonged to _us_, he'd have been hopping
round still!"

Guest was thankful to mount the narrow staircase leading to the golden
gallery, for Cornelia was so essentially a creature of to-day that he
felt more in sympathy with her in the air and the sunshine, with the
echo of the great city rising to their ears.  They stood side by side,
while the breeze blew elf-like tendrils of hair round the girl's face.
The gentle expression of half an hour ago had departed, and she looked a
creature of steel and flame; a vital, indomitable being, tingling with
energy and joy.  At sight of the forest of chimney pots stretching away
into the horizon, her eyes shone with an enthusiasm which the wonders of
the cathedral had failed to inspire.  To Guest the outlook was
dreariness personified; the vastness which so impressed his companion
conveyed to him only a realisation of work and struggle; of a pent-house
in which human creatures struggled for existence.  He stood in silence,
while Cornelia exhausted her supply of adjectives, brooding on the
difference in the standpoints from which each regarded life, until
presently she interrupted with a personal question.

"You have never told me where you live, Captain Guest!  London is not
your real home, is it?"

"Thank goodness, no!  I could never live in a city.  My home is in the
country--Staffordshire.  It was a valuable property fifty or sixty years
ago, but the factories have crept nearer and nearer, and, of course,
that depreciates values.  It is let at present.  I hope to save enough
money to go back in time to end my days there.  It's a fine old place,
but its value is bound to go on dropping."

"Couldn't you pull it down, and build small property on the site?  If
there are factories about it might pay vury well."

Guest's look of stupefaction, incredulity, of horror, could scarcely
have been greater if Cornelia had suggested a leap down to the street
beneath.  "Good heavens! what an idea!  You can't realise what you are
talking about, Miss Briskett.  That house has been in the possession of
my family since the time of the Tudors!"

Cornelia elevated indifferent eyebrows.  "I don't know as that's any
reason why you should drop money on it now!  I wouldn't take any stock
of Toodors beside my own convenience.  It's better to own a house you
ken live in, than the Garden of Eden, and be obliged to rent it out!"

"There is such a thing as sentiment, Miss Briskett, though you don't
seem to realise it."

"Don't you make any mistake about that!  I realise it right enough.  I'm
death on sentiment in its right place, but it takes a back seat when
daily bread comes into the question."

"And if I told you that I'd rather starve than desecrate the home of my
ancestors--that I'd sooner end my days in a London garret than level a
single wall for my own benefit--what then?  Would you put me down as a
madman for my pains?"

Guest spoke with unwonted passion, staring down into the girl's face
with challenging eyes, but Cornelia preserved her attitude of
complacent, albeit commiserating, superiority.

"My Poppar'd say it was sheer wickedness to see a chance of making
money, and letting it slide, but I don't go so far as that.  Everyone
has a right to be miserable in his own way, but--I prefer to be
comfortable."

Her ripple of laughter struck a chill to Guest's heart.  He looked at
her moodily beneath knitted brows.

"How is it that we always _do_ feel differently?  We seem never to
agree.  What is the explanation, I wonder?"

"We _are_ different!" returned Cornelia, simply.  "The difference is
deep down beneath all we say or do.  We're _made_ differently from the
start.  You felt it the first moment we met, and I did the same.  We
kinder hated each other, and wanted to scratch!  That was instinct!  You
don't get behind instinct in a hurry.  Later on other things come in and
muddle one up, but just in the first moment one sees clearly.  You
thought Elma Ramsden the sweetest thing, and were all fired up to help
her, but when you looked at me you were bursting with pride and
prejudice.  Why was that, I want to know?"

"You have answered yourself.  Prejudice--a blind, ignorant prejudice, of
which I am ashamed; and pride--wounded pride, because you attempted to
lay down the law!  Don't judge me by that unfortunate beginning, Miss
Briskett.  I have repented sufficiently to deserve forgiveness!"

Cornelia rested her chin on her clasped hands, and stared thoughtfully
over the forest of chimney-tops.

"You are sorry because I'm a girl, and we've had some pretty good times
together; but that don't alter the position of the case.  I guess we are
each pretty good types of our different nationalities.  We ken't blame
ourselves for that; if the truth's told, I expect we are proud of it,
but it makes it impossible to feel the same way.  We're bound to jolt up
against each other every time we dip below the surface."

"You find it impossible then to think of me as a friend?"

To his own amazement there was a touch of genuine anxiety in Guest's
voice.  It seemed to matter a great deal whether this girl of the ruddy
locks and curling lips accepted his friendship, or deliberately put it
aside; to matter none the less that she had jarred upon a dozen
prejudices during the course of the last half hour!  He knew the tension
of suspense before he met her radiant, answering smile.

"Oh, my, no, we're friends right enough!  If you haven't to live with
people all the time, it's easy enough to avoid the rubs.  I guess we can
agree to differ for the few times we're likely to meet." ...  She buried
her face in her hand, to suppress a yawn.  "Those steps have just about
finished me!  I'm all used up.  Don't you want to give me some tea?  I
noticed one of those Fuller stores in the Strand as we came along.
Let's go right back and have a rest!"

Guest led the way downwards, feeling but indifferently consoled.  An
uncomfortable depression weighed on him as he walked through the
streets, and sat with Cornelia in a corner of the tea-shop.  It was the
first meal of which he had partaken in her company, and it gave a
feeling of intimacy to face each other across the daintily-spread table,
to watch her pour out tea with the pretty white hands on which the
diamond solitaire twinkled meaningly.  She seemed really tired, and for
once was content to be silent while she drank boiling tea and munched
rich cakes, with supreme disregard of digestion.  As for Guest, two
phrases rang in his ears, to the exclusion of other thoughts--"The few
times we are likely to meet"--"We might be a honeymoon couple..."  Two
suggestions, far apart as the poles, yet each bringing within it a
thrill of something like fear.  He did not wish to find himself in the
position of bridegroom to this Yankee stranger; the thought was absurd,
nevertheless it was distinctly unpleasant to picture anyone else
occupying the position!  It was worse than unpleasant, it was actually
painful to think that the newly-formed friendship might be interrupted
by a separation of three thousand miles!  He sat, staring at his
companion with the intensity which accompanies a preoccupied mind, until
presently Cornelia began to arch her eyebrows, purse up her lips, and
crane her head from side to side.

"I beg your pardon!  If I was to get up and stand on that bench, do you
think it would aid your scrutiny?  What's the verdict, please?  It's the
least you can do to tell me, after quizzing all this time! ...  What do
you think of my looks?  Honestly, mind, without any bunkum!  I'm crazy
to know."

"I think--sometimes--you are beautiful!"

"Seriously?  You mean it?"

"I do!"

The golden eyes met his with a flash of delight, and an arm was
stretched impetuously across the table.  "Shake hands!  You're just the
nicest thing!  To be puffectly candid, I've thought the same once or
twice when I've caught sight of myself in a mirror at a big moment, when
I was all worked up!--Big moments are vury suiting, but on ordinary
days" (Cornelia put a strong accent on the penultimate), "my nose," she
closed one eye to regard with the other the sharp little tip of the
member in question, "there's no getting away from it, that my nose is a
set-back!  It's a mean little thing, without a mite of dignity.  And I'm
kinder washed-out and pasty by your English roses!  Do you think I
should look better if my cheeks were pink like Elma's?"

She looked at him with arch inquiry, and even as she did so, either as
the result of something which she read in the watching eyes, or by the
action of some mysterious mental power, the pink flamed in her cheek,
and lo! she was a rose herself; a wonderful, exotic rose, flaming from
red to gold!  Guest looked at her for a moment, and then hastily dropped
his eyes.  He was not by nature an impetuous man, but he had a
conviction that if he looked at Cornelia any longer at this moment, he
might say something which he should afterwards regret.

He did not answer.  It seemed unnecessary to answer.  His eyes had done
that eloquently enough in that moment of meeting.  There was a long
silence, while Guest mentally pulled himself together, calling himself a
fool for his pains; recalling the fact that by her own confession
Cornelia was an accomplished flirt; steeling himself against her
blandishments.  When presently he heard his name pronounced in dulcet
tones, he looked up with his most unapproachable air.  Cornelia was
holding her plate towards him with one hand, while with the other she
held a fragment of cake to her lips.

"Another piece, please!" she commanded.  "It's the best thing I've
struck since I've been this side, and I'm going to wolf into it for all
I'm worth!  Ordinary meals bore the life out of me, but I'm just wicked
when I get started on sweets!"

Guest signalled to a damsel in attendance, and saw her eyes widen in
amazement at the renewed order.  She walked away suppressing a smile,
and could be observed obviously retailing the incident to a companion
behind the counter.  It detracted woefully from the romance of the
situation to be pointed out as a couple who had demolished a large
plateful of cakes, and sent out an order for more!



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

Before parting from Cornelia at the hotel, Guest made a point of finding
out her programme of amusements for the next few days, as a consequence
of which he called at a theatrical depot on his way to his club, and
secured an odd stall for either night.  He had already more social
engagements than he could keep, but it occurred to him that it would be
possible to run into the theatre for an odd half hour, and chat with
Cornelia during an interval, on his way from one place to another.  He
assured himself with much solemnity that it was his duty to look after
the girl, since she had told him that he seemed to her like a bit of
home, and he had the poorest possible opinion of her hosts.

As for Cornelia, she ran gaily upstairs to her room, disdaining the
lift, and all a-sparkle with pleasurable excitement.  From her point of
view the afternoon had been an unmitigated success; she had been
conscious of no jar, being blandly indifferent to every opinion but her
own, and was now as whole-hearted in appreciation of her companion as
she had previously been violent in denunciation.  He was just the
sweetest thing, and she was going to see him again to-morrow; maybe, to-
night.  It felt like being at home again to have a nice man hopping
around!

She threw open the door of her room, and started with surprise to meet
Mrs Moffatt on the threshold, her arms piled high with parcels.  A
long, narrow box lay on the top, and she had an impression of seeing her
own name written on the cover, before Mrs Moffatt hurried past,
speaking rapidly over her shoulder.

"Why, Cornelia, is that you?  Excuse me, won't you, coming into your
room?  The stupid things have gotten the parcels all mixed up.  These
are the things I ordered this morning.  Come into the parlour before you
change.  I want you a moment."

She bustled down the passage towards her own room, deposited her
bundles, then crossed the corridor to the sitting-room, where Cornelia
was already seated.  She looked up as the elder woman entered, and
thought she had never seen her look so worn and tired; so old, despite
the artificial colouring.

"I'm afraid you've not had a good time.  You look all used up!  Wasn't
the visit as nice as you expected?"

Mrs Moffatt threw herself down on a chair with a sigh of impatience.

"Oh, my dear, I am so rattled!  Every mortal thing's gone wrong from
start to finish.  Don't ask me about it, for it don't bear speaking of.
My head aches fit to split, and now Silas has taken the huff and marched
off goodness knows where, and there's a man sitting down in the hall
refusing to go away until he gets his money, and disgracing me before
the whole hotel.  It's for those furs I had sent in the other day.  I
decided to keep them, and mailed them to a friend in the country to
house for me.  I can't be worried with a lot of goods in a hotel, so she
gives me store-room until we sail.  That's where I'm fixed-up, you see.
I can't give him either the goods or the money, and when Silas turns
ugly, goodness only knows when he may come back.  Maybe not till late at
night.  I'm so mortified I don't know what to do."

Cornelia laughed easily.

"Don't you worry.  It's as easy as pie.  I'll give you a cheque, and Mr
Moffatt can pay me back in the morning.  I'll go and write it out for
you now.  What's the damage?"

"Two hundred pounds; Fredburg and Company.  You are an angel, Cornelia!
I ken't begin to thank you."

"Don't try, please!  What does it matter for a few hours?" cried
Cornelia, brightly.  She went into her own room, made out the cheque,
and handed it to her friend, who promptly carried it away, to return at
the expiration of five minutes with a sigh of relief.

"That was one for him.  He looked kinder small when he saw your name on
the cheque.  It's real sweet of you, dear, and Silas will pay up like a
lamb when you are the creditor.  He won't show his temper to you, as he
would to me.  You are a stranger, you see, and I'm only his wife."

There was an accent of bitterness in the speaker's voice, and she leant
her head on her hands, in an attitude of profound dejection.  Cornelia
had never before been the witness of so abandoned a mood, but her ideas
of loyalty were too much outraged to permit of sympathy.  She held her
head erect, and her voice sounded cold and distant.

"I'd just as soon not hear any more about Mr Moffatt, if you don't
mind.  He's been very kind to me, and it's not my business how he
behaves.  I guess a good many men get crusty when the bills come in, and
you're a pretty expensive wife.  I should think you'd get tired of
prowling about those stores!"

Mrs Moffatt flushed, and bit her lower lip, not attempting to defend
herself, but staring before her with weary, vacant eyes.  It was a
welcome diversion when a waiter entered the room carrying a tray with
tea and refreshments, and Cornelia waited on her hostess with an
attention which was intended to mitigate her late severity.  Although a
fuller acquaintance of Mrs Moffatt had increased neither liking nor
respect, it had developed a sincere pity for a woman whose life was
barren of purpose, of interest, apparently of love also.  It was not in
Cornelia's nature to see anyone suffer and not try to help, and if it
had been her own mother on whom she was waiting she could not have shown
more care and consideration.  A table was placed by Mrs Moffatt's side,
tea was made with exact remembrance of her preferences; a cushion was
brought from a sofa to put behind her back, and a footstool placed ready
for her feet.  It was while she still knelt to put the stool in position
that the elder woman at length broke silence.

"See here, Cornelia!" she cried suddenly, "I mayn't have another chance
of talking to you quietly before you go, and there's something I want to
say. ...  You are young, and rich, and pretty, and strong, and you've
had a good time all the way through.  Your Poppar spoils you, and you've
got just to wish for a thing, and it's there right along.  I'm glad of
it, for you're a real sweet girl, but, _don't come down too hard on
other people_! ...  It's a pretty queer world when you compare one
person's luck with another!  I'm not going to tell you all I've come
through, but it's not been too easy.  At times I've been to blame, and
at times I haven't.  I don't know as it makes much difference anyway--
the end's the same.  Seems to you I'm a pretty poor thing, but you don't
know how you'd have been yourself, Cornelia, if you'd come along the
same road.  You've got to remember that, before you judge!"

"That's so!" assented Cornelia, gravely.  She was too "straight" to deny
an insinuation which was all too true, but at the same time she felt an
acute regret and embarrassment in the thought that a woman so much older
than herself should feel it necessary to make such a confession of
unworthiness.  "I ought to be a heap better than I am, for there isn't
anyone living that's had a better time.  We've had spells when Poppar's
had bad luck, and the money's been short, but we were as happy as grigs
planning out how we'd spend the next pile.  So long as you can get
along, it doesn't matter much about the extras, when you're as happy
together as we are, Poppar and I."

Mrs Moffatt sighed once more.

"I never knew my parents.  They died when I was a baby, and I was raised
among strangers, who put up with me for the sake of the pay.  Love never
came my way, somehow.  I suppose some folks would say that was my own
fault.  There was a man I could have cared for, but he didn't want me,
and I married Silas for a change; to get away from the dull old life.
...  You be careful who you marry, Cornelia!  You're the sort of girl
who does things pretty thoroughly either way; there's no middle course
for you.  You're bound to be either blissful or wretched.  You've got
enough money of your own, so you can afford to choose.  Lucky girl!--Is
it going to be that Captain Guest?"

"Suttenly not!"  Cornelia rose to her feet, and walked back to the tea-
table, very stiff in the back, and pink in the cheeks.  She was angry
with herself for blushing, and the fact naturally made her blush the
more.  "I told you before that we have only met once or twice, and
more'n half the time has been taken up in quarrelling.  We are too
different ever to run together in double harness."

"Well--I'm sorry!  He's got lots of frills, but he looks the right sort
all the same.  I'm sorry.  You ought to have a good man, Cornelia."

Mrs Moffatt pushed aside her half-finished cup of tea, and rose wearily
to her feet.

"Well, I guess I'll go and dress.  We'll have some champagne for dinner,
and that will perk us up for the theatre.  They say it's a real good
play, and we shall only be together two more nights, so I want you to
have a good time.  It seems mean not to ask you to stay on, but our
plans are all uncertain.  We may be off ourselves any time now.  Silas
never settles down for more than a few days."

Cornelia gave the politely inaudible murmur usual on such occasions.
Much as she had enjoyed the stay in town, she could not pretend to
regret the prospect of returning to Norton.  Later on she would make a
longer visit to town, in Poppar's company, but even if the invitation
were given she could not consent to remain any longer the guest of Mrs
Silas P Moffatt.  She was a woman whom it was impossible to respect, and
to Cornelia, respect was a necessary foundation to friendship.  Silas
did not count!  He was "a little misery," to be regarded only as an
adjunct to his wife.  She was even surprised to hear that he was capable
of exhibiting ill-temper.  In any case, it seemed to be short-lived, as
dinner found him in his usual place, and then and throughout the evening
he was, if anything, a trifle more animated than usual, thanking
Cornelia warmly for helping his wife out of an awkward position, and
regretting that in the rush to the theatre there was not time to
discharge the debt forthwith.  "But we must settle up after breakfast
to-morrow.  Short accounts make long friends!" he declared smilingly, as
he helped her to put on her cloak.

Cornelia had dressed with a vivid remembrance of the fact that Captain
Guest had never seen her in evening attire, and a determination to
secure "a big moment," for his benefit.  When an hour or two later he
stood at the entrance to the stalls, and caught sight of her seated in
the centre of the front row, it seemed at first sight that she was clad
entirely in black, but even as he was applauding the choice for the
display of ruddy locks and snowy shoulders, she made a sudden movement,
and lo! the black was transformed into vivid, glittering green.  Now she
was conspicuous--too conspicuous, to please his fastidious taste.  He
could see opera-glasses levelled on her from the boxes overhead, and
over the edge of the dress circle.  She sat well forward in her stall,
with head thrown back, and eyes fixed upon the stage, in absorbed
attention.  There was no doubting the unconsciousness of the pose; she
was as oblivious of the gaze of others as of his own presence, but he
felt an irritated longing to muffle her in veils and wrappings; to lift
her up and transplant her to the back seat in a box.  What business had
those idiots to stare at her, as if she were one of the actresses on the
stage?  He branded the idiots with even stronger titles, the while he
continued to follow their example.  Surely it was a forgivable sin to be
conspicuously attractive; to stand out, vivid and dazzling, from the
surrounding throng, whose chief characteristics seemed to be a bleached
inanity, and indifference...

Guest stood in the shadow, his deep-set eyes fixed on the girl with
unblinking scrutiny.  He remembered that such a gaze was said to demand
a response where a certain amount of affinity existed between the people
involved, and put out his strength to try the truth of the statement in
his own case.  The proof came almost startlingly soon.  Cornelia's head
turned over her shoulder, and her eyes lightened with a flash of
recognition.  She smiled at him, nodded her head, and arched her brows,
signalling a message, which he could easily divine to be an invitation
to come to speak to her between the acts.  When the curtain fell, Mr
Moffatt made an immediate rush for the door, and Guest took possession
of his seat, devoutly thankful that it did not happen to adjoin that of
the other lady of the party.

"I'm very pleased to meet you again!  Seems quite a good time since we
parted," said Cornelia, gaily.  Her hair stood out round her head like a
halo of gold, her eyes shone like stars, her cheeks were softly pink.
Guest was dazzled by the bizarre beauty of her.  She wore no jewels, not
so much as a chain round her neck, and the dress by some witchery was
black once more, a thin black gauze, heavily jetted.  He pointed at it
with a curious finger.

"I could have sworn it was green over there!  What has happened to turn
it into black?"

Cornelia laughed complacently.

"It's meant to change!  There are skirts and skirts: ever so many of
them, on top of each other, and each one is different.  They all get a
chance at times.  It's the vury latest craze.  Mrs Moffatt nearly
killed me when she saw it."

"A chameleon effect.  I see!  Is it supposed to be symbolic?"

"Of me?  I guess not!  When I've made up my mind, I _stick_!  There's no
chopping about for this child!"

It was extraordinary how illusion vanished at the sound of the high-
pitched, nasal voice.  The fairy princess vanished, and in her place sat
a flesh-and-blood damsel, composed, complacent, and matter-of-fact.
Guest felt again the intrusion of a jarring note.  He would have liked
Cornelia to welcome him with a flutter of embarrassment, to have seen
her eyes droop before his, and hear a quiver in her voice.  He wanted to
realise that he was the natural head and protector, and she the woman,
the weak, clinging creature, whose happy destiny it was to be the
helpmeet of man; but as Cornelia herself would have phrased it, there
was "no cling to her."  It seemed ridiculous to think of protection in
connection with a creature so jauntily self-satisfied and independent.

He sat by her side until the conclusion of the interval, but the
conversation was forced and uninteresting, and he rose to depart with
the depressing consciousness that the interview had been a failure,
since it left him less in sympathy with Cornelia than he had been in the
afternoon.

On his way to the door, Guest's eyes caught the signal of a warning fan,
and he looked up to see one of the boxes occupied by a party of his own
friends.  He had been too much occupied with Cornelia to look around the
audience, but now it was impossible to leave the theatre without going
upstairs a few minutes.  After the ordinary greetings, complaints of the
heat, and comparisons of engagements, followed the inevitable question--

"Who is Miss Rossetti?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Your friend in the stalls.  The girl with the wonderful hair?"

"She's an American--a Miss Briskett.  Over from the States on a short
visit.  I met her lately down in the country, and we happened to strike
the same week for a visit to town."

"Lucky for you!  I've been admiring her all night.  That hair and skin,
and the glittering black-green frock!  Quite bewitching!  Where is she
staying?"

"At the Ritz, with some people she met coming over.  She knows no one
over here."

The good lady's interest appeased, she turned back to the stage,
fluttering her fan to and fro.  Attracted by its movement, or by the
glances focussed upon her, Cornelia tilted her head upwards, recognised
Guest, and whispered to her companion.  Mr Moffatt's eyes travelled
obediently towards the box, to fasten, not on Guest but on the man by
his side.  For a moment they widened in unmistakable recognition,
before, of set purpose, as it were, they grew blank and lifeless.  He
bowed slightly to Guest, and turned back to the stage.

The man by Guest's side laughed drily, and followed him out into the
corridor.

"Look here, Guest," he said shortly, "if that girl is a friend of yours,
and is staying in a hotel here with those people, you'd better advise
her to get away as soon as possible!  That man's a bad egg.  I ran up
against him in Marienbad last year.  He and his wife made the hotel too
hot to hold them, and were politely requested to leave.  There was
nothing definite proved, but too many shady things to be pleasant.  He
had an extraordinary facility for winning at cards, and the fair Mrs
Schuter--by the way her hair was brown at that time--"

"These people are called Moffatt!  Perhaps you are mistaking them for
somebody else!"  Guest interrupted eagerly: but he knew the futility of
his hope before he heard the reply.

"No doubt they have half a dozen aliases!  What does it matter what they
choose to call themselves.  You saw for yourself that the man recognised
me just now.  Sorry to interfere, you know, and all that, but I'd be
nailing sorry to leave any girl I knew in such a caravansary.  Thought I
ought to tell you!"

"Thanks very much!  You are perfectly right.  I'll send her off to-
morrow," said Guest, firmly.  As he walked down the steps again he was
smouldering with fury, with an impulse to walk into the theatre,
denounce the adventurers to their faces, and bear Cornelia away to a
place of safety.  For all her assurance, events had proved that she was
neither capable of taking care of herself, nor of choosing her own
companions.  She had been led away by impulse, like other girls; he
liked her the more, not the less, for the discovery, and his heart
softened at the thought of her disillusion.  No use to worry her to-
night!  Let her have a good night's rest, and to-morrow morning, bright
and early, he would go round to the hotel, when Mr and Mrs Schuter, or
Moffatt, or whatever their name happened to be, would once more find
their quarters too hot to hold them!



CHAPTER TWENTY.

On returning to the hotel that evening, Mr Moffatt announced that he
and his wife had business on hand next morning, which would necessitate
an early breakfast, and that once again they would be obliged to leave
Cornelia to her own resources.  He suggested, however, that they should
all meet at Paddington Station at two o'clock, whence they could take
train to Maidenhead for an afternoon on the river.

Cornelia hailed the prospect with delight, and mentally dedicated the
morning to doing a picture-gallery, and to choosing a suitable present
for her aunt and Elma Ramsden.  Aunt Soph should have lace; something
soft, and smooth, and womanly, to take the place of the prickly steel
trimmings which seemed to constitute her one idea of adornment.  Elma,
dear thing, what should be chosen for her?  Not clothes; it would not be
good taste to offer another gift of the kind; a piece of jewellery would
be best; something good and quiet, and unobtrusive, suitable for the
wear of "a nice young girl."

Cornelia chuckled to herself in prospective enjoyment next morning, as
she repaired to the private sitting-room of the suite, where breakfast
was invariably served.  Her host and hostess had already risen from the
table and were dressed for walking.  Mrs Moffatt stood before the
window looking down into the street with a pale and worried expression.
Her husband was scribbling at a side table, but jumped up at Cornelia's
entrance, as if he had been anxiously awaiting her appearance.

"Ah, good-morning, Miss Briskett!  We are just off, but I wanted to
settle up with you first.  Here's the cheque, with many thanks!  Perhaps
you will kindly look over it, to see it is all right."

"Oh, Mr Moffatt, you should not have troubled when you were so hustled.
It's too good of you!" cried Cornelia, eagerly, her heart warming to
the little man for a promptitude in money matters which reminded her of
her own beloved Poppar.  "Of course it's all right!"  She cast a casual
glance over the cheque, and broke into a surprised laugh.  "It isn't,
though!  You've paid me too much!  I guess I'm not a usurer, to want
interest for a single night.  It was only two hundred that I lent!"

Mr Moffatt gave an exclamation of irritation.

"And I have made it out for two hundred and fifty!  How very annoying!
I have advised it to the bank, too, and sent off the letter.  I wanted
to get through with as much business as possible this morning.  The more
hurry the less speed!  Why on earth could you not give me the right
figures, Gertrude?"

He turned upon his wife with an expression of querulous anger, which she
treated with her usual cool disdain.

"I _did_ tell you, Silas--but, for the land's sake, don't make a fuss!
It's simple enough, Cornelia can give me the change in notes, and it
will do to pay up one or two odd accounts before we leave.  You won't
mind, dear, I know; and, see here!  I'm fairly rattled this morning, and
I want you to help me through.  I've written out a list of errands that
ought to be done right away, as soon as you've gotten through breakfast.
The particulars are down on this list, and I'd be for ever obliged.
You ought to get through before one, if you start soon, so meet me at
Buzzard's and we'll have lunch together.  In case I should be late,
don't wait, but just order for yourself, and allow half an hour to get
to Paddington.  If I'm delayed, I'll go straight there, and look out for
you on our platform."

"That'll be all right.  I'll stay till you come," Cornelia assented.
She had already opened the gold chain bag which hung by her side, and
was smoothing-out a roll of notes.  "Two fives, two tens; I guess that's
all I can do this morning!  I'll give you the rest to-night."

"Oh, my, yes; there's no hurry.  Thank you, dear; much obliged!" said
Mrs Moffatt, lightly, but her expression altered as she spoke.
Cornelia wondered if she were imagining a look of disappointment.  It
_must_ be imagination, for of what importance were a trumpery hundred
dollars to a woman who daily squandered many times the amount on her own
adornment!

After the Moffatts had departed, Cornelia ate her breakfast, and set out
in a hansom to accomplish Mrs Moffatt's commissions before proceeding
to shop on her own account.  She handed the driver the list of addresses
which she was asked to visit in town, and wondered at his expression of
astonishment; but she wondered no longer as they traversed mile after
mile of dreary roadways, to find on arriving at the first destination
that as great a distance still separated it from the second on the list.
The commissions themselves were trivial and unimportant, at which
Cornelia was not surprised after her personal experience of Mrs
Moffatt's shopping eccentricities, but when she had wasted a couple of
hours driving to and fro for no tangible result, she waxed impatient,
determined that she had done enough for the honour of friendship, and
that Mrs Moffatt could herself finish the remaining transactions.  She
therefore directed the driver to take her to the jeweller's shop in Bond
Street where she had made her previous purchases, and anticipated a
pleasant half hour choosing an ornament which would commend itself to
Elma's approval.

The partner in the firm welcomed her with his usual empressement,
mingled with a certain surprise for which she was at a loss to account.
Although a keen tradesman, pearl brooches and bangles seemed this
morning too trivial matters to engross his attention; he had the air of
waiting momentarily to discuss a more important subject, and presently
introduced it himself, unable to be longer silent.

"I despatched a messenger to the hotel an hour ago with the emerald
necklace!  Mrs Moffatt informed him that you were not in at the moment,
but would be able to see him at tea-time.  She was probably unaware that
you intended to call yourself."

"Yes, she was.  It doesn't matter a mite.  So long as she was there,
it's all right," Cornelia replied, turning over the tray of ornaments
absently.  It seemed odd that Mrs Moffatt should have returned to the
hotel after representing that she was obliged to be absent all morning,
but no doubt some engagement had fallen through which she had intended
to keep.  She had lifted a brooch in her hands and turned towards the
window to examine the colour of the pearls, when the jeweller spoke
again.

"We were delighted to receive your agreement to take the necklace, for,
as Mrs Moffatt had definitely decided that it was beyond her figure, we
were on the point of sending it over to our Paris house.  I am sure Mr
Briskett will not regret this purchase when he sees the quality of the
stones."

Cornelia stood stock-still, staring hard at the little pearl brooch, a
hundred vague doubts and dreads which had previously been resolutely
thrust aside, darting back into her mind with a new and terrible
significance.  She felt stunned and bewildered, but the predominant
sensation was the necessity for caution.  She must be certain of what
had happened before she presumed to judge.  She rallied all her self-
possession, and was surprised at the natural sound of her own voice as
she replied--

"What makes you speak of my father, Mr Marchant?  Did I mention to you
at any time that he was fond of emeralds?"

"I believe you did on one occasion, but it was your reference this
morning to which I alluded."  Mr Marchant drew out his pocket-book and
selected one letter from the contents.  "This is it, I think.  Yes!  You
say--`I have just received a cable permission from my father, Mr Edward
B Briskett, to purchase the emerald necklace.'  I was referring to this
quotation, rather than any casual remark."

Cornelia leant over the counter and read the words with her own eyes;
saw the signature of her own name written below in Mrs Moffatt's
handwriting.

"Why, of course!  I forgot.  I never do remember what I write," she said
calmly.

She was sure now; there was no longer any reason for doubt!  The
everlasting shopping expeditions; the purchase of a succession of
worthless trifles; the exploiting of her own wealth, had all been
designed to create a confidence which would prepare the way for such a
_coup_ as the present.  And this morning she had been deliberately
decoyed out of the way, while the last scene of the comedy was enacted.
The messages were plainly a ruse, while the different rendezvous would
have provided a further detention, allowing the conspirators plenty of
time to decamp.

Once opened, Cornelia's eyes were wonderfully keen.  She understood now
why the goods which it was inconvenient to harbour in a hotel had been
constantly despatched to the keeping of "a friend."  She realised that
she had been cheated--doubly cheated--in first giving a cheque for two
hundred pounds, and afterwards in counting out change for a worthless
return.

"I need never fancy myself again after this!  I'm just the greenest
peach on the wall!" she told herself furiously, but through all the
anger and shock, the necessity for caution remained predominant in her
mind.  Mr Marchant must not suspect that anything was wrong.  Even now,
at the eleventh hour, the fraud might be prevented.  She must get back
to the hotel at once; see Mrs Moffatt and reason with her, argue with
her, command her to hand over the jewels!  The woman was not all bad,
and life had gone hardly with her.  She should have another chance!
Cornelia waived aside all thought of responsibility toward the jeweller
himself, by the easy decision to pay for the necklace if necessary, but
a sudden feeling of helplessness weighed upon her at the prospect of the
interview ahead.

Suppose Mr Moffatt were at the hotel with his wife!  Then there would
be two to one, and once the outer veneer was broken through, there was
no saying to what extremes of abuse, of threatening, even of violence
itself, they might descend.  Cornelia recalled the two faces; the
woman's hard, sullen, coarse; the man's mean and crafty, and shuddered
at the prospect.

All at once the thought of Guest occurred, to bring with it a wave of
relief.  Guest had begged her to summon him if at any time he should be
needed; now the need had arisen, and he should help her through.

She hastily selected a pearl bangle and laid it on one side on the
counter.

"I will decide on that!  Let your man bring it round at five o'clock,
and ask to see me personally.  He can bring a bill made out for all I
owe, and I'll settle at once.  And, Mr Marchant, I want to use your
telephone!  Can you ring and have me switched on to the Army and Navy
Club?"

While the preliminary operations were going on at the telephone,
Cornelia racked her brain to think of a suitable rendezvous, and failing
a better suggestion, decided on a tea-shop exactly across the road.  To
her immense relief, Guest was found at his club, and announced that he
would be with her in ten minutes' time, so that there was nothing to do
but to dismiss the hansom, and secure a table in a quiet corner.

The time seemed long, but in reality it was less than ten minutes before
Guest seated himself by her side.  He looked grave and stern;
preoccupied almost to the point of discourtesy, for the ordinary
greetings were exchanged for a succession of short, eager questions.

"Where have you been all the morning?  Have you been back to the hotel?
Did you get my message?"

"I did not!  I've been out since about half-past nine.  What was the
message about?  Anything important?"

"Tell me first what you wanted me for just now."

Cornelia paused for a moment and her lips trembled.  She clasped her
hands together and leant across the little table, staring earnestly into
his eyes.

"Captain Guest, I'm in trouble!  I've a pretty good opinion of myself as
a rule, but--I ken't see it through alone! ...  It's going to be one of
the meanest businesses you ever touched. ...  Will you help me?"

"I will!" said Guest, quietly.  "Thank you for asking me.  Is it--excuse
my asking--anything in connection with Mr and Mrs Moffatt?  Ah!" as
the girl exclaimed in sharp surprise, "I fancied that last night's
meeting might bring things to a crisis.  Now, I'll tell you just what
happened in that box, and then you must tell me your story."

For the next ten minutes they sat with heads bent close together,
exchanging confidences of grave import.  Cornelia kept nothing back, and
as he listened, Guest's face grew momentarily sterner.  The hastily
ordered meal lay neglected on the table while they faced the desperate
situation with which they had to deal.

Guest took a man's cut-and-dried view of the case, and was strongly in
favour of apprising Mr Marchant of what had happened and returning to
the hotel, supported not only by him, but by a police officer into the
bargain, but Cornelia would not be induced to agree.

"She's done wrong, and she forged my name for her own purposes--there's
no getting away from that, but there may be some explanation which will
make it look a little less black.  Anyway, I'm going to hear it before I
judge, and if she'll make things good I'll give her another chance.  You
don't know what's come before this!"

"I should have little difficulty in guessing, however," Guest said
drily.

He thought of the hotel in Marienbad; of the changed name; the dyed
hair; and mentally conjured up the dreary life of plotting and scheming,
of constant danger, and miserable success, which constitutes the life of
the professional adventurer, but Cornelia saw only the haggard face
which had looked at her in the sitting-room of the hotel, the face of
the woman whose childhood had known no home, whom love had passed by.
She heard again the hopeless intonation of the voice which had reminded
her--"You'd have to tread the same road yourself, before you could judge
me, Cornelia!"  Her chin squared with the look of stubborn determination
which her aunt already knew so well, and she said firmly--

"Well, anyway, I've got to see her first!  If you don't approve, I'll go
alone, but I'd like best to have you there."

"Of course I'll come.  There's no question about that.  We had better
get off at once, then, and not waste any more time, but first you must
have something to eat!  You've been driving about all morning, and
there's trouble ahead.  I'll ring for something hot and tempting.  What
would you like best?"

"I couldn't swallow a bite if you paid me for it.  It would stick in my
throat."

"Have a glass of wine, then!  I'm not going to stir till you have
something.  You look tired out."

"I never touch wine.  I think perhaps I could drink some cor-fee!"
Cornelia said doubtfully, and Guest's stern face suddenly lightened into
a smile.

"Coffee!  The worst thing possible for your nerves.  You funny little
girl!  You have not the smallest glimmering of an idea how to take care
of yourself."

To his surprise and alarm, two big tears brimmed up suddenly in
Cornelia's eyes, and her lips quivered.

"Don't be good to me!" she whispered sharply.  "_Don't_!  For two straws
I'll howl!  I'm all worked up.  Take me out, out into the street, quick,
before I make a scene!"

Guest needed no second bidding.  In an incredibly short time the
untasted meal was paid for, a hansom summoned, and he was driving once
more through the streets by Cornelia's side, while she mopped her eyes
with a minute pocket-handkerchief.

"_You_ haven't lived with her for days at a time. ...  _You_ haven't
thought of her as a friend. ...  _You_ haven't had her nurse you, when
you were sick!..."

"Thank heaven for that!" ejaculated Guest, devoutly.  It was ridiculous
to indulge in sentiment in connection with a thief and a forger; the
woman deserved no mercy, and would receive none, if he had his way; none
the less was he charmed by Cornelia's emotion, by her pity, her amazing
inconsistency.  Gone were her airs of complacency and independence; at
the first threatening of danger the pretty pretence was broken up; weak,
trembling, tearful, she summoned her natural protector to her side!
Guest's heart swelled with a passion of tenderness.  In his immaculate
frock-coat, freshly-creased trousers, and irreproachable silk hat, he
was as truly a knight-errant at that moment as any mailed warrior of
old, going forth to fight a tourney for his lady's favour.

"Don't cry!" he cried eagerly.  "Look here, you know, if you want me to
let her down lightly, you must pull yourself together.  I can't stand
this.  If you cry any more--I'll--_kill her_!"

Cornelia swallowed dismally, blinking the tears from her eyelids.

"I don't know as it wouldn't be the best way out, as far as she's
concerned, but I'd just as lief you didn't _all_ turn criminals on my
hands!  I'll pull myself up once we are there, but I'm all of a flutter
thinking it over in advance."

"We'll be there soon now," Guest told her reassuringly.

They drove in silence down the length of Bond Street, and out into the
whirl of Piccadilly.  Soon, almost too soon for Cornelia's jangled
nerves, they had drawn up before the great door of the hotel.

Here nothing of a sensational nature had occurred.  The porter touched
his cap to Cornelia with his usual stolid air, the clerk bowed with
unruffled complacence--no hint of trouble had come to their ears.  The
lift was full of a laughing, chattering crowd.  It seemed to Cornelia
almost incredible that these women were repairing to their rooms to deck
themselves for fresh pleasures, while she was about to bring a prisoner
to the bar.  She turned towards Guest, as he stood by her side, and felt
a fresh sense of comfort in his nearness, his bigness, his air of quiet
strength.

On the second floor the lift discharged half its occupants--a merry
flock for the most part, hurrying along the corridor, laughing and
jesting as they went, while two followed gravely behind, looking to
right and left with anxious eyes.

The door of Mrs Moffatt's bedroom was closed.  Was it already
deserted--its drawers and wardrobes despoiled of their treasures; a
bundle of worthless trifles left behind?--Cornelia's heart beat in
sickening throbs; she knew a coward wish that she might be too late.  To
pay up and go quietly home seemed an easy way out of the difficulty into
which she had walked so blindly!

She drew a quick, frightened breath, and felt Guest's hand press
protectingly on her arm.  The sitting-room door opened, and side by side
they entered the room.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

Mrs Moffatt was standing before the table, tearing up old papers.  She
looked up with a start, to see Guest and Cornelia standing before her in
that eloquent, linked attitude, and over her features there passed that
helpless, trapped expression of guilt discovered and brought to bay,
which, once seen, can never be forgotten.  The blood ebbed from her
face, leaving it ashen white, except for two fixed spots of colour on
either cheek; her fingers relaxed their hold, and the fragments of paper
fluttered downward to the floor.  There was a ghastly silence.

It was Guest who was the first to speak, standing straight and stern at
the opposite side of the table, and at the sound of his opening words
the wretched woman trembled violently, and sank on a chair for support.

"Mrs Schuter!  I have come here with Miss Briskett to ask your
explanation of a letter sent in her name to Mr Marchant, the jeweller,
this morning.  She has seen the letter, with the forged signature at the
end, and has heard that the necklace was brought to this hotel, and
delivered to you.  May I trouble you to hand it over?"

Each word was sharp and cutting as an icicle, and Guest's steel-like
eyes were alight with remorseless anger.  Cornelia turned her head
aside, unable to endure the pitiful spectacle.  Mrs Moffatt stammered
out a broken subterfuge.

"What necklace?  I don't know--I don't--understand!"

Even as she spoke, one trembling hand twitched upward, to be as quickly
lowered, but not before Guest had pounced upon the clue with swift
intuition.

"You understand very well!  As a matter of fact, you are wearing it at
this moment beneath your dress.  Will you kindly take it off, and put it
on the table?"

He turned aside as he spoke, paying this small tribute to her womanly
feelings.  A strangled sob broke the silence; the sound of laboured
breathing, then a faint, clicking sound, and he looked round to see a
dazzle of light on a corner of the table, where the sunbeams had found a
plaything.  A bauble of green and white stones, for which a woman had
sold her soul.

Cornelia was leaning against the mantelpiece, her face hidden in her
hands.  Guest realised that it was her sob which he had heard, and the
knowledge did not soften his heart.

"Thank you!" he said in the same tone of cutting politeness.  "That is
so much to the good, but I shall have to trouble you still further.
There was two hundred pounds lent to you yesterday, ostensibly to be
paid to a furrier, that, of course, was a mere excuse!--and thirty
pounds in bank-notes this morning.  I fear the first sum is gone beyond
recall, since your husband's cheque is probably not worth the paper on
which it is written, but I take it that the notes are still intact.  As
you prefer someone else to pay your bills, you will have kept them for
personal use.  They are probably in your pocket at this moment!"

"I have not got the cheque--I could not return it if I would," said Mrs
Moffatt, hoarsely.  "My husband cashed it as soon as the bank was open,
and left London shortly after.  He has the money.  I have not had a cent
of it.  The notes are in my purse.  He left them so that I should be
able to follow."

"Just so.  You will please return them to Miss Briskett, and we will
deal with the other sum later on.  Your intention was to leave the hotel
for good this morning, and you provided Miss Briskett with commissions
to keep her out of the way while you made your preparations.  That is
the case, is it not?"

The woman did not answer, but looked across the room towards where
Cornelia stood; and Cornelia parted her hands and looked back at her in
pitiful inquiry.

"_Did_ you mean to run away, and leave me here alone?"

Mrs Moffatt bent her head in shame.  Her face was not white now, but
deep, burning red.

"We knew--after last night--that the game was up.  We _had_ to go,
Cornelia--or--"

"Be kind enough not to address Miss Briskett by her Christian name!"
interrupted Guest, sharply.  It seemed to him an impossible humiliation
that this woman should still dare to address the girl in the language of
friendship.  "Let us get to the end of this business.  I presume there
are other bills, which will come in, in due course; bills for goods
ordered in other forged notes.  Am I right in supposing this?  It is
your best plan to speak the truth!"

"Y-es!"

"There _are_ more bills!  Can you give me an approximate idea of their
amount?  Fifty pounds, one hundred, two hundred?  What is the amount?"

"About--one hundred."

"And the hotel expenses!  Miss Briskett suspects from the manner of the
officials that you were thoughtful enough to take these rooms in her
name.  Again I ask you, is that the case?"

A bend of the head gave assent, and Guest wheeled round with a gesture
of intense indignation, took a few rapid strides up and down the room,
then halted again by Mrs Moffatt's side.

"And, not content with cheating and plotting to desert this young girl,
whom you professed to befriend, how many of her personal possessions
have you stolen?  You had free access to her room--have you taken
advantage of her absence this morning to rob her of her private
belongings?"

Two exclamations, of denial, of dismay, and reproach, sounded in his
ears.  Innocent and guilty alike regarded him with indignant eyes.  To
the mysterious feminine reasoning it appeared there were different
degrees in the crime of theft.  To pay a debt by means of a worthless
cheque was evidently less reprehensible than to pilfer a brooch from a
dressing-table.  Guest knew himself condemned before he heard the
simultaneous replies.

"Captain Guest, how _can_ you!  She would never do that!"

"Indeed, you are mistaken.  I'm bad enough, but I have not fallen quite
so low.  I have not touched a thing."

"You must excuse my denseness.  I fail to see how one theft is so much
worse than the other.  I am sorry to seem intrusive, Miss Briskett, but
I have taken a certain responsibility upon myself, and I must be
satisfied on this point before we go any further.  Will you take Mrs
Schuter with you to your room while you carefully check your
possessions, and get back your bank-notes.  I will wait here till you
return."

For a moment Cornelia appeared on the point of refusing, but she changed
her mind, and without a word led the way down the corridor towards her
own bedroom.  Her dressing-case stood on a table by the window; she
stood over it uncertainly, as if still debating with herself whether she
should or should not obey Guest's command, and as she did so Mrs
Moffatt's voice broke the silence--

"Cornelia!--there's not a mite of reason why you should take my word,
but I tell you straight I haven't laid a finger on one of your things.
You ken look as well as not, but it's wasting time.  The thirty pounds
is in my purse, ready for you to take.  When it comes to the last Silas
takes fright.  There's no need to tell any more lies.  We have lived by
this sort of thing for years past, but as soon as he scents danger in
the air, he makes off to a place of safety, and leaves me to finish up.
You won't find him, however hard you search, but I'm right here. ...
What are you going to do with me, Cornelia?"

Cornelia drew a sharp, sobbing breath.

"Oh, why did you do it?" she cried wildly.  "Why did you do it?  You
laid a plot for me from the start.  I was rich, and--and _green_, so you
fussed over me, and acted like a friend, and invited me up here, for
nothing but to bleed me--to get as much out of me as you could, and then
leave me to face it out alone in a strange place.  I was your own
countrywoman, and I trusted you.  Hadn't you got a spark of loyalty
left, that you could act so--_mean_?"

Mrs Moffatt put her hand to her throat.  Her voice seemed paralysed;
husky, disjointed, and feeble.

"No!  It's all gone; loyalty, faith, everything that matters.  There's
nothing left but _this_!  You'd not believe me if I said I was fond of
you, Cornelia, but it's the solid truth, though I robbed you all the
same.  I _plotted_ to rob you, as you say!  You had plenty of money, and
we were cleaned out.  I meant to get away with that necklace, and sell
the stones on the Continent.  There are people there who will buy
without asking questions.  I've got to know them pretty well during the
last few years. ...  Cornelia, what are you going to do?  Is Mr
Marchant sending to arrest me here?"

"He doesn't know that anything is wrong.  I managed to keep quiet, and
let him believe I knew all about it.  To the last I kept hoping that
there was some way out.  Captain Guest wanted to bring an officer along,
but I wouldn't do it."

"That was like you!  You wanted I should have a chance, but it's all
true; every one thing!  There's more true than you know of--other bills
to come in, a big sum run up here.  You can give back the necklace, but
even so, it is going to be heavy enough. ...  Cornelia, _what are you
going to do_?  I'm a bad woman--are you going to send me to prison, to
have a chance of growing worse, among other bad women like myself?"

Cornelia threw out her arms with a sudden, reckless gesture.

"_No_!" she cried strongly, "I'm not!  I'm going to let you go; I'm
going to _help_ you to go.  Captain Guest's a pretty hard man; I guess
you'd better not see him again.  Keep those notes--you'll need some
money to help along, and march out of the hotel right now, and lose
yourself as fast as ever you can.  You can have ten minutes to do it,
while I wait here, and as much longer as I can keep him quiet; but
you've got to be slippy. ...  You shall have your chance!"

Mrs Moffatt gasped for breath, her face twitched convulsively, and she
tottered as she stood.

"You mean that?  Oh, God bless you, Cornelia Briskett!  If there are any
blessings going, there's no one on earth deserves them more than you.
You've saved me this time.  Whatever happens in the future, you've given
me a chance."

"That's so, but the question is, _are you going to take it_?  See here!
let's strike a bargain over this before you go!  You are a clever woman,
or you wouldn't have escaped so long, but the game is played out.  It
isn't safe to go on, when any moment you may be recognised by people you
have fooled before.  You're bound to make a fresh start--why shouldn't
you try being straight for a change?  You'd find it would pay better in
the end.  You've got to think, when you leave this to-day, that a girl's
whim is all there is between you and a prison cell.  That ought to be a
pretty bracing remembrance, I should say. ...  Start away with the money
you have in hand, and see if you ken't make some more for yourself.
There's another thing!  You can write to me in a year from now, and tell
me where you are, and what you have been about.  I'll ferret into every
single thing, and if it's _straight_, I'll help you again; I'll go _on_
helping you!  You need never say after this that you cheat because
you're obliged.  Live straight, and work hard, and I'll see to it that
you don't want.  You've got your chance! ...  I guess you'd better
scoot!"

Mrs Moffatt stood before her, trembling and abject; overcome with a
pitiful emotion.

"I'm going!  Could you, could you kiss me, Cornelia, before I go?"

Cornelia drew herself up proudly.

"No, I guess not!  We'll leave that over for another time.  Some day,
perhaps, when you're straight. ...  You'd best not waste any more
time..."

"I'm going.  I can't thank you.  I swear to you--"

"No, don't swear!  I don't want any promises.  Promise _yourself_;
that's the best thing. ...  Good-bye."

"Good-bye, Cornelia Briskett!"

The door opened, and shut.  Cornelia listened with bated breath, but all
was silent from the corridor without.  She leant her head on the
dressing-table, and burst into a passion of tears.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Captain Guest paced up and down the sitting-room for a quarter of an
hour, casting impatient glances at the clock, and pausing now and then
to lift the emerald necklace from the table and examine it with
wondering curiosity.  It was a pretty enough plaything, but from his
point of view it seemed a preposterous waste of money to sink a cool
thousand pounds on its purchase.  He mentally ran over the various
necessary repairs on his own property, which could be completed for the
sum, and shrugged his shoulders expressively.  Still, women liked such
playthings, and if one were specially interested in a woman (a woman,
say, to whom emeralds were specially becoming!), there would be a
certain satisfaction in seeing her wearing the pretty things.  It was
conceivable that the pleasure so given might even be as keen as that
derived from a new chimney-stack or a barn!

A vision rose before him; a vision of a ruddy head and snowy shoulders,
on which the green light flashed and waned.  He saw Cornelia, as she had
appeared, sitting in the front row of the stalls at the theatre, and
mentally clasped the necklace round her throat.

The door opened.  He thrust the vision aside, and wheeled round quickly,
reassuming his sternest expression.  A dejected little girl stood on the
threshold, with dishevelled locks and tear-stained eyes, and as he
stared in amazement, she quietly closed the door, and collapsed in a
limp little heap on the corner of the sofa.

"I've--come back!"

"Where's Mrs Moffatt?"

"She's"--the voice broke in a strangled sob--"_gone_!"

"Gone _where_?"

"Gone away.  Ten minutes ago.  She's ever so far off by now!"

Guest stood still, transfixed with anger and astonishment.

"Do you mean to say that she escaped before your eyes?  What happened?
Did you leave her alone in your room?"

"No; I told her to go.  I sent her away.  It was my suggestion from the
start."

"You--told--her--to go!"  Guest's face was a study of outraged wrath.
"After all she has done; after the deliberate way in which she has
cheated and deceived you; after the lies she has told; after her
thefts,--hundreds of pounds still to pay up! after intending to desert
you in this hotel, you mean to tell me seriously that you _sent_ her
away!"

The tousled head nodded dumbly; two big tears trickled down the reddened
cheeks.

"Are you aware that you have compounded a felony?  If Mr Marchant heard
what you had done, he could accuse you of being a partner in the crime.
Do you know that you have broken the law of the country, and that I
could give you in charge at this moment, if I wished to do so?"

"I guess that's so.--Are you going to do it?"

"That's ridiculous!  You know it is, but--"

"Then you're another!" cried Cornelia, laughing through her tears.
"You're as bad as I am, so you can't preach!  She's gone anyway, and
I'm--_glad_!  We got the necklace, and for the rest, I'll just have to
pay up, and look pleasant.  Poppar says you've got to pay for experience
in this world.  I'll tell him I concluded I'd better learn it pretty
thoroughly, once I'd started.  He won't mind."

"Your father must be a wealthy man if he can afford to lose four or five
hundred pounds without feeling annoyed!"

Cornelia looked at him quickly, and replied in a tone of studied
indifference.

"Oh, he's flush enough at the moment.  Likely enough we shall be paupers
next year.  Don't be angry with me, Captain Guest.  I simply _had_ to
give her a chance!  I can afford to pay up, and if I'd sent her to
prison it would have killed the last little mite of self-respect.  I
trusted her instead, and I believe that's going to help more than any
punishment.  It would _me_!  She's had a good old fright, and maybe this
will be the turning-point in her life."

Guest's lips curled in eloquent disbelief.  He paced slowly up and down
the room, then stationed himself once more in front of the sofa.

"Did you look over your things to see that they were all right?"

"No! ...  She said she hadn't touched them."

"Did you make her return the notes?"

"No, I--I guessed she'd need them herself!"

"How extremely considerate!  Didn't you feel it necessary to offer her a
little more, while you were about it?  To give her another twenty
pounds, say, to make up the full change for the cheque?"

The face that peered up at him was at once so abashed, so discomfited,
so childlike in its humility, that his anger melted before it, and gave
place to a wave of tenderness.

"You ridiculous, high-flown, little girl!  Who would have believed that
all your shrewd commonsense would collapse like this!  No!  I'm not
angry, I shan't scold any more.  The thing's done now, and you've had
enough worry.  I'm going to ring the bell, and order some luncheon.  We
will have it here together, and comfort ourselves after all this
excitement.  I'm hungry enough, whatever you are!  What shall it be?
You are going to treat me, you know, so it must be something good.
Roast chicken!  That's what ladies generally prefer, and some sweets,
and fruit.  Claret for me, and what for you?  Is it to be--`corfee'--
once more?"

He went to the door to give the order to the waiter, accompanied by a
tip which had the effect of producing the meal in an extraordinarily
short space of time.  Cornelia's appearance being still distinctly
dishevelled, Guest dismissed the waiter and himself took the head of the
table, carving the chicken, handing the vegetable dishes, and even
pouring out the coffee.  If they had been a honeymoon couple the
intimacy of the scene could not have been greater, but in that case he
would have taken his wife in his arms and kissed away her tears.  Poor,
little, red-eyed girl!  There was precious little beauty about her at
the moment, yet she had never appeared more attractive.

"I ken't eat a bite!" was Cornelia's first melancholy statement, but
when one wing of the chicken had disappeared from her plate--"It's
mighty good!" she said, and promptly set to work on a second.  She drank
copious draughts of coffee, began to revive in spirits, and experience
qualms concerning her appearance.  "Say! do I look a perfect freak?"

"You look much better than you did ten minutes since.  In another ten
minutes you will look quite like yourself, if you obey my orders, and
eat a good meal."

Cornelia shrugged expressively.

"I know what that means!  I guess I'm ugly enough to kill.  That's why I
hate to cry--it musses one up so for hours after. ...  Captain Guest,
what am I going to do next?  Can I settle up, and get away to Norton
this afternoon, do you suppose?"

"I am afraid not.  The last train leaves at three o'clock, and that does
not give enough time for all that has to be done.  I was wondering
whether my aunt--whether you would consent to sleep at her house to-
night."

"Suttenly not!  Why should I?  It won't be the first time by a good many
that I've stayed a night by myself in a hotel, and there's no reason why
I should move.  I'll have my meals up in this room, if it will ease you
any, but I won't leave this place till to-morrow morning.  Then I'll go
back," she laughed feebly, "to The Nook, and humble pie!"

"You need not tell your aunt what has happened, if you don't choose to
do so!"

"Oh, yes; I'll own up!  Aunt Soph will be pleased to feel she was right.
Maybe she'll like me better when I'm down on my luck. ...  What must I
set about first?"

"I shall interview the hotel manager, and tell him the whole story--
that's due to him, you know, or there might be a repetition of the
offence.  Then there's the jeweller--he must be warned in the same way,
and the necklace returned.  I presume you don't want to keep it."

Cornelia shuddered.

"Oh, no.  I could never wear it.  But when Poppar comes over I'll make
him buy me something else instead.  Mr Marchant shan't lose!  I guess
I'd better drive there straight away, and then to the bank.  I'll have
to arrange for a pretty big draft. ...  You never know how things are
going to pan out in this world, do you?  I thought I was going to spend
this afternoon on the river, gliding about so sweet and peaceful!"

Guest flushed, hesitated, and--plunged!

"Why shouldn't we go all the same?  We can finish our business and still
have time.  If you will allow me, I'll take great care of you and bring
you home before it's dark.  It would be too dreary sitting up here by
yourself, all the evening."

Cornelia sprang to her feet, clapping her hands with delight.

"How lovely!  How lovely!  You're just the nicest thing!  It's sweet of
you to think of it!  Go right away now, and get through with your
interview, and I'll join you in the lounge as soon as I've prinked, and
gotten my face into order.  I'll hang my head out of the window, and
massage my nose. ...  Let's go and be happy, and forget all our woes!"

She ran to the door, waved her hand gaily over her shoulder, and
disappeared from sight.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

When Guest drove round to the hotel next morning to escort Cornelia to
the station, she was surprised to see his own bag on the roof, and to
hear that he intended to accompany her all the way to Norton.

"I want to make sure that you are safely housed once more," he explained
as they drove off.  "I feel a certain responsibility for you, and I
think perhaps your aunt would like to see me, and hear from a second
person that everything is satisfactorily settled here."

"My aunt," said Cornelia, demurely, "my aunt isn't a mite disposed to
acknowledge your responsibility.  She thinks you're `dashing'!  She
don't approve of dashing young men.  She warned me specially to avoid
you."

"Humph! dashing, am I?  The word has an Early Victorian sound that
suggests side-whiskers and leg-of-mutton trousers.  I'm not at all sure
that I'm flattered!" returned Guest, as he alternately stared out of the
window, and busied himself in arranging the bags on the front seat of
the cab.

There was an air of embarrassment in his manner this morning, and he
talked against time, as if anxious not to let the conversation come to a
pause.  The afternoon on the river had been a delightful experience,
abundantly proving the truth of his prophecy that it would be impossible
to be bored in Cornelia's society.  She had looked very sweet in her
softened mood, and as they drifted down the stream together, had
prattled away in simple, confiding fashion, telling him the story of her
life; of the ups and downs which she and her Poppar had known together;
of her own individual adventures.  He learnt that she was not engaged,
and had never been in love, though there were always heaps of admirers
"prancing" round.  She intended to marry some day, however.  Why,
suttenly!  Just as soon as ever the right man hove along.  What was the
good of being a woman, if you didn't have your own home, and your own
husband and children!  Then she looked at him with her clear, golden
eyes, and inquired how it was with himself.  Was he in love?

"No!" answered Guest, but, even as he spoke, he knew in his heart that
he lied.  In the guise of a Yankee stranger, who embodied in herself all
the traits which he most condemned, the one woman of his life had
appeared.  He loved--and the woman whom he loved was Cornelia Briskett!

After that, conversation languished.  Guest was too much bewildered by
the sudden realisation of his position to wish to talk, and Cornelia had
developed a headache as a result of the morning's emotion.  She was glad
to be quiet; to allow herself to be led about, and cared for, and told
what she must do.

"Just like a `nice young girl'!" she said, laughingly as they parted in
the lounge of the hotel.  "If I lived over here long enough--there's no
telling--I might grow into a Moss Rose myself!"

"I wish you would!  I wish you would!  Won't you try?"  Guest cried
eagerly.  He, himself, did not know what he really meant by the inquiry,
for the words had sprung to his lips almost without thought.  He was as
much startled by the sound of them as was Cornelia herself.  He saw the
dismay in her eyes, the dawning comprehension; he saw something else
also--the first flicker of self-consciousness, the first tell-tale droop
of the lids.  She put him off with a light answer, and he went out to
pace the streets until the night closed around him. ...  What was this
that had happened, and what was it going to mean?  One week--a week to
the day since he had first met this girl and conceived a violent dislike
to her on the spot.  Voice, accent, and manner had alike jarred on his
nerves: she had appeared in every respect the opposite to the decorous,
soft-voiced, highly-bred, if somewhat inane, damsel who represented his
ideal of feminine charm.  One week ago!  What magic did she possess,
this little red-haired, white-faced girl, to make such short work of the
scruples of a lifetime?  What was this mysterious feminine charm which
blinded his senses to everything but just herself, and the dearness of
her, and the longing to have her for his own?  The jarring element had
not disappeared, the difference of thought still existed, but for the
moment he was oblivious of their existence.  For the first time in his
three-and-thirty years he was in love, and had room for no other
thought.

The morning brought colder reflections.  When--supposing he ever
married, it would be wormwood and gall to see his wife condemned by his
friends!  He had looked forward to espousing the daughter of some
irreproachable county family, and returning to his old home to live in
frugal state for the rest of his life; driving to church in the old
barouche, attending a succession of dull, country-house dinners; taking
the chair at village meetings.  He tried to imagine Cornelia spending
long, peaceful years as the squire's wife, contentedly pottering about
the village, superintending Dorcas meetings, and finding recreation in
occasional garden parties, where the same people met the same people,
attired in the same frocks, and sat meekly in rows, drinking claret cup
and sour lemonade, but the effort failed.  Cornelia obstinately refused
to fit into the niche.  He could summon up a vision of her, indeed, but
it was a disconcerting vision, in which she "pranced round," while the
neighbourhood turned its back, and pursed disapproving lips.

He was attracted by the girl--seriously attracted, _but_-- It was a
great big _but_, and he promised himself to be cautious, to think long
and well before taking the plunge.  All the same, it seemed imperative
that he should return to Norton.  His aunt was always delighted to put
him up, and he could not be happy until he had satisfied himself that
all was well with Cornelia once more.  Incidentally also, he was
interested to know what was happening at the Manor.

On the journey to Norton the presence of fellow-travellers kept the
conversation necessarily impersonal, and at the station Cornelia
dismissed her escort, refusing point blank to drive with him to the
Park.

"I'm going back as a sorrowing penitent, and it don't suit the part to
drive up with a dashing young man.  There are only two players in this
act, and they are Aunt Soph and myself.  You come round in the evening,
when I've paved the way."

"Till to-night, then!" said Guest, raising his hat.  Once again, as he
looked at her through the window of the cab, the clear eyes wavered
before his own; once again his scruples vanished.  He loved, and the
world held nothing but that glad fact.

Cornelia exhibited much diplomacy in her interview with her aunt.
Seated at the good lady's feet in an attitude of childlike humility, she
related the story of her adventures in simple, unexaggerated language,
without any attempt at self-justification.

"I ought to have guessed from the start; but it seems I'm not as smart
as I thought.  They had me, the whole way through.  You were right, you
see, and I was wrong.  I should have taken your advice.  Guess it will
be a lesson to me!"

"I trust it may prove so, my dear! a dearly-bought, but invaluable
lesson!" quoth Miss Briskett, blandly.  So far from being incensed, she
actually purred with satisfaction, for had not the truant returned home
in a humble and tractable spirit, ready to acknowledge and apologise for
her error?  Her good humour was such that she bore the shock of hearing
of Guest's role in the drama with comparative composure.

"He seems," she declared, "to have comported himself with considerable
judgment, but, my dear Cornelia, if anything more were needed to
demonstrate the necessity for caution and restraint in the future, it
must surely be the remembrance that you were driven into such intimate
relationship with a man whose acquaintance you had made but a few short
days before!  It seems to me that the recollection must be painfully
embarrassing to any nice young girl."

"Yes, 'um!" said Cornelia, meekly.  She lowered her eyelids, and her
cheeks flushed to a vivid pink.  Such a typical picture did she make of
a modest and abashed young girl, that the spinster's stern face relaxed
into a smile, and she laid her hand affectionately upon the ruddy locks.

"There! there!  We will say no more about it--

  "`Repentance is to leave
  The sins we loved before;
  And show that we in earnest grieve
  By doing so _no more_!'

"Another time you will be guided by wiser counsels!"

"...Have you missed me, Aunt Soph, while I've been away?"

"Er--the house has seemed very quiet," replied Miss Briskett,
truthfully.  "I am sorry that I am obliged to leave you this afternoon,
my dear, but I have promised to attend a committee meeting at four
o'clock.  You will be glad to rest after your journey, and to unpack and
get your things put neatly away."

"Has Elma come home?"

"She returned yesterday morning.  I saw the dog-cart from the Manor
waiting outside the gate this morning.  Mrs Ramsden told me the other
day that Elma's health was completely restored."

Cornelia pondered over these scanty items of news as she sat at her
solitary tea an hour later.  Elma was well; Elma had returned home.  A
dog-cart from the Manor had been observed waiting outside the gate of
The Holt that morning.  A dog-cart!  Imagination failed to picture the
picturesque figure of Madame perched on the high seat of that
undignified vehicle.  If the cart had not conveyed the mother, it must,
in all probability, have conveyed the son.  The dog-cart had been
_waiting_!  The deduction was obvious to the meanest intellect.
Geoffrey Greville had driven down to see Elma the morning after her
departure, and had spent a considerable time in her society!

Suddenly Cornelia realised that her anxiety could brook no delay, and
that it would be impossible to spend another night without discovering
how the Moss Rose had fared during her absence.  She despatched Mary to
The Holt with a verbal message to the effect that she had returned from
town, and, if convenient, would much like to see Miss Ramsden for a few
minutes before six o'clock, and while she was still at tea the answer
was received; a note this time, written in pencil, and bearing marks of
haste and agitation.

  "Dearest Cornelia,--Yes, of course!  I _am_ thankful you are back.
  Come right up to my room.  It's perfectly wretched here, but I'm so
  happy!  Elma."

Cornelia rolled her eyes to the ceiling, and indulged in an expressive
whistle.  Contradictory as Elma's epistle might have appeared to an
ordinary reader, she understood it readily enough.  It was Mrs Ramsden
who was wretched, Elma who was happy--"_so_ happy," despite the
atmosphere of disapproval.  The crisis had arrived!

In five minutes' time, Cornelia was in her friend's room, holding her
hands, gazing into her face, kissing her flaming cheeks.

"Elma, _is_ it?  It is!  I can see it in your face!  Oh, you dear thing!
When?  How?  I'm crazy to know.  Tell me every single thing."

Elma laughed; a delicious little laugh of conscious happiness.

"Yes, yes, it is!  Oh, Cornelia, isn't it wonderful?  I can't believe
it!  It's partly your doing, you know, and I love you for that, but
doesn't it seem impossible that he can really care for--_me_!"  She
turned her exquisite, flower-like face towards her friend, with an
expression of humility as sweet as it was sincere.  "He might have had
anybody, and he chooses--_me_!  Oh, Cornelia, I never knew that one
could live, and be so happy!  It seems like a dream."

"Wake up, then, and get down to facts!  I'm crazy to hear all about it.
When was it settled?"

"This morning."

"Only this morning!  I calculated it would come off Monday at latest."

"No, it didn't.  Of course he was very--I mean, I knew--we both
understood, but Geoffrey says he couldn't possibly have spoken plainly
while I was a guest under his own roof.  It wouldn't have been the right
thing.  He was obliged to wait till I got home!"

"My! how mediaeval.  I should have thought Geoffrey Greville had more
snap to him, than to hang on to such worn-out notions.  Fancy letting
you go away, and driving down in cold blood next morning!  It's the
dullest thing!"

"It's not dull at all!" contradicted Elma, hotly.  "It's noble, and
manly, and self-sacrificing.  I love him for it--

  "`I could not love thee, dear, so much
  Loved I not honour more!'"

"Shucks!" sniffed Cornelia, scornfully.  "I'd as lief have a little less
high-falutin', and a lot more push.  I wouldn't mind if it was his house
ten times over, I'd want him to feel he couldn't wait another five
minutes, and settle it off, so's we could have a good time together.  If
he let me come away, not knowing if he were in fun or earnest, I'd have
led him a pretty dance for his pains.  But you're so meek; I bet you
dropped into his mouth like a ripe plum!"

Elma drew herself up with a charming dignity.

"I told him the truth without any pretences, if that is what you mean,"
she said quietly.  "I am perfectly satisfied with Geoffrey's behaviour,
and I'd rather not discuss it, Cornelia, please.  We may seem old-
fashioned to you, but we understand each other, and there is not a
thing--not a single thing--I would wish altered.  I am perfectly,
utterly happy!"

"Bless you, you sweet thing, I see you are, and I'm happy for you!
Never mind how it happened; it _has_ happened, and that's good enough.
...  How's Mrs Ramsden bearing up?"

Elma's face fell.  For a person who had just proclaimed herself
completely happy, she looked astonishingly worried and perturbed.

"Oh, my dear, such a scene!  I took Geoffrey in to see her, and she
couldn't have been more horrified if he had been the most desperate
character in the world.  She refused to listen to a word.  You would not
have recognised mother, she was so haughty and distant, and--rude!  Some
things she said were horribly rude.  After he went, she cried!  That was
the worst of all.  She cried, and said she had given her whole life for
me for twenty-three years, and was I going to break her heart as a
reward?  I cried, too, and said, No, I should love her more, not less,
but she wouldn't listen.  She said if I married Geoffrey it would be as
bad as a public refutation of all the principles which I had professed
since childhood.  Then she called him names, and I got angry.  We didn't
speak a word all through lunch, and as soon as it was over she sent for
a fly to drive to the Manor.  She's there still!"

"Shut up with Madame, hatching the plan of campaign!  Madame won't like
it any better, I suppose!"

Elma flushed miserably.

"No; she's against us, too!  Geoffrey told her what he was coming for,
and--isn't it curious?--she was quite surprised!  She had not suspected
a bit, and I'm afraid she was pretty cross.  Geoffrey wouldn't let me
say it, but I know she doesn't think me good enough.  I'm not; that's
quite true.  No one knows it better than I."

"If you say that again, I'll shake you!  You're a heap too good for the
best man that ever lived.  Mind now, Elma, don't start out on this
business by eating humble pie!  You've got to hold up your end of the
stick for all you're worth, and let them see you won't be sat upon.
When you feel redooced, go and sit in front of the glass for a spell,
and ask yourself if he won't be a lucky man to have that vista across
the table all the rest of his life.  Don't be humble with _him_,
whatever happens!  Make him believe he's got the pick of the bundle!"

"He--he does!" said Elma, and blushed again.  "It makes me ashamed to
hear him talk about me, for I know I am really so different.  He would
not have thought me so sweet if he had heard me scolding mother this
morning.  Poor mother!  I'm so terribly sorry for her.  It must be hard
to care for a child for twenty-three years, as she says, and then have
to step aside for a stranger.  I sympathised with every word she said,
and knew that I should have felt the same.  My head was with her all the
time, but my heart"--she clasped her hands to her side with the
prettiest of gestures--"my heart was with Geoffrey!  Reason's not a bit
of use, Cornelia, when you're in love."

"Well!" said Cornelia, firmly, "my heart's got to wait and behave
itself, until my head goes along at the same pace.  I've not kept it in
order for twenty-three years to have it weaken at the last moment.  I'll
stick to my guns, whatever it may cost."

Elma looked at her with surprised curiosity.

"Why, you talk as if, as if you were in love, too!  I wish you _were_!
We could sympathise with each other so beautifully.  _Are_ you in love,
Cornelia?  You never said so before."

Cornelia turned to the window and gazed out on the forbidden grass of
the Park.  Her face was hidden from view, and she answered by another
question, put in slow, thoughtful tones.--"What is love?  You seem to
feel pretty certain that yours is the genuine article.  Define it for
me!  How do you feel when you are in dear Geoffrey's society?"

"Happy! so wonderfully happy that I seem to walk on air.  Everything
seems beautiful, and I love everybody, and long to make them as happy as
myself.  Nothing troubles me any more.  It seems as if nothing could
_ever_ trouble me.  Geoffrey's there!  He is like a great big rock,
which will shelter me all my life."

"Do you feel one moment that it's the cutest thing in the world to sit
right there in the shade and be fussed over, and the next as if you
wanted to knock the rock down _flat_, and march away down your own road?
Do you feel blissful one moment and the next all worked up, and fit to
scratch?  When he's kinder big and superior, and the natural protector,
do you feel ugly; or inclined to cave in, and honour and obey?"

Elma stared at her with shocked blue eyes.

"Of _course_ I'll obey!  Geoffrey is so wise and clever.  He knows so
much better than I.  I'm only too thankful to let him decide for us
both.  You talk so strangely, Cornelia; I don't understand--"

Cornelia swung round quickly, and kissed her upon the cheek.

"Never mind, sweetling!" she said fondly, "don't _try_ to understand!
You are better off as you are.  It is women like you who have the best
time in the world, and are the most loved.  I wish I were like you, but
I'm not, so what's the use of repining.  I am as I wor' created!"

She laughed, but the laugh had a forced, unnatural sound.  Elma saw with
dismay a glimmer of tears in the golden eyes.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

For a whole week the battle raged; the battle between youth and age,
love and the world.  Elma pleaded for patience and self-restraint,
Geoffrey urged defiance and independence; Mrs Ramsden quoted Scripture,
and made constant reference to serpents' teeth, while Madame remained
charmingly satirical, refusing to treat the matter otherwise than as a
joke, laughing at Geoffrey's rhapsodies, and assuring him that he was
suffering from an attack of sun, from which recovery would be swift and
certain.  Rupert Guest and Cornelia hurried to and fro on the outskirts
of the fray, in the character of aides-de-camp carrying messages, and
administering encouragement and consolation.  Every morning Cornelia sat
in conclave with her friend in the prosaic Victorian drawing-room which
took the place of the turret chamber of romance.  Elma would not
condescend to hold stolen interviews with her lover, while both families
so strongly opposed the engagement, so she shut herself up in the house,
growing daily whiter and thinner, wandering aimlessly from room to room,
and crying helplessly upon her bed.  It was as a breath of fresh
mountain air when Cornelia appeared upon the scene, bearing always the
same terse, practical advice--"Make sure of your own mind, and--_stick_
to it!"

The colour came back to Elma's face as she listened, and hope revived in
her heart.  She declared anew that nothing in the world should separate
her from Geoffrey; that she would be true to him to the last day of her
life.  Cornelia repeated these touching vows in conclave with Guest
behind the shrubbery of the Park, and then he went off post-haste to the
Manor, to cheer Geoffrey with the news of the steadfast loyalty of his
_fiancee_.  Second-hand assurances soon pall, however, on the youthful
lover, and after a week had passed by, Geoffrey suddenly waxed
desperate, and announced that he would not submit to the separation for
another hour.  He was perfectly capable of choosing his own wife, Elma
was of age, and at liberty to decide for herself.  He would go down to
The Holt that very afternoon and have it out with the old lady, once for
all.  If his mother liked to accompany him, so much the better.  She and
Mrs Ramsden could each have their say, and then he and Elma would have
theirs.  For his part he warned them that no arguments could move him
from his point, but they might see what they would do with Elma!
Perhaps they could persuade Elma to give him up!

He smiled as he spoke, in proud, self-confident fashion, but Madame
looked at him thoughtfully, smoothed the ruffles on her sleeves, and
replied in her sweetest tones--

"Dear boy, yes! quite a good idea.  Let us talk it over like sensible
people.  Elma has such truly nice feelings.--I feel sure we may trust
her decision!"

Geoffrey sat him down forthwith to indite a letter to his love, warning
her of the ordeal ahead in a couple of lines, and enlarging on his own
devotion for the rest of the sheet, which missive was entrusted to Guest
when he paid his daily visit to the Manor.  "I mean to put an end to
this nonsense, once for all," the Squire declared firmly.  "You must be
sick of trotting to and fro with these everlasting messages, but there
won't be any more need for them after to-day."

Guest expressed his gratification, and started forth on his return
journey profoundly depressed in spirit.  With the end of the strife
would end his daily meetings with Cornelia, which alone kept him in
Norton.  Miss Briskett's attitude on the occasion of his one call at The
Nook had not encouraged him to repeat the experiment.  He smiled to
himself whenever he recalled the picture of the heavily-furnished room,
the sharp-faced spinster, with her stiff, repellent manner, and the slim
figure of Cornelia sitting demurely in the background, drooping her eyes
to the ground whenever her aunt looked in her direction, and wrinkling
her nose at him in pert little grimaces when the good lady's back was
turned, so that he had had hard work to preserve his gravity.  Since
that evening they had met daily in the shrubbery of the Park, though
only for a few minutes at a time, for Cornelia steadily refused to sit
down, or to linger by his side in a manner which would suggest that the
assignation was on her behalf, as well as that of her friend.

Guest was always the first to arrive at the meeting-place, and was
careful to remain standing in a position from which he could watch the
girl's approach.  In these bright summer days Cornelia was invariably
dressed in white, her short skirts standing out above her feet in a
manner peculiar to herself, and the fashion plates.  She wore shady hats
which dipped over her face, and curved upward at the sides, showing the
burnished waves of her wonderful hair.  At first sight she gave the
impression of looking pale and ill, but invariably by the time she
reached his side, her cheeks were pink, and he forgot his anxiety in
delight and admiration.

To-day his manner was less buoyant than usual, as he delivered the note
into her hands.

"An ultimatum at last!  Geoffrey and Madame propose to storm the citadel
this afternoon.  Quite time, too!  I wonder he has waited so long.  I
should have come to blows on the second day. ...  Fancy hanging about a
whole week when a girl like that was waiting to see you!"

Cornelia turned the letter round and round, staring at it the while with
absent eyes.

"You used to say that he would never marry her ... that she was not a
suitable wife ... that it would be a great mistake if he did..."

"I used to say a great many foolish things," said Guest, quietly.  "I
didn't know what I was talking about, you see.  Now I do!  If she is the
woman he loves, all the little differences go for nothing.  I hope he
will marry her, and I believe that they will be happy--"

Cornelia twirled to and fro on the heels of her pointed shoes, and
tilted her chin with a pretence at indifference.

"Well!  I guess it won't help things on if I hang about gossiping here.
She ought to have this letter at once, to think out what she's going to
say.  Poor little Elma!  She'll have a rough time with those two mammas
firing away at her at the same time.  Mrs Ramsden will plump for
principle, and Madame for convention.  It doesn't seem to either of
_them_ that love is enough!  They both believe they know a heap better
what's good for the young people than they do themselves.  _And they've
been through it_!  You can't get away from that. ...  They've been
through it, and away at the other end they are going to do all they know
to prevent their own son and their own daughter from the folly of
marrying for love!..."

"People--some people--seem to keep no memory of youth in middle age!
It's a pity, for it destroys their influence.  In the end, however, it
is the young people who decide. ...  These two ought to know their own
minds, for it has not been a hurried affair.  They have known each other
for years, and have been more and more attracted.  That is a duty which
a man and a woman owe to each other in these circumstances--to make sure
that what they are offering is real and lasting!  I suppose only time
can prove this. ...  We shall see what this afternoon brings forth.  In
any case I am needed no longer.--I thought of going north to-morrow
morning to pay a couple of visits."

The hand that was playing with the letter was still for a moment, and an
almost imperceptible quiver straightened the white figure.  For a moment
Guest saw, or imagined that he saw, a shadow flit across the girl's
face, but it passed as quickly as it came.  She tilted her head, and
said calmly--

"I guess you're right!  We've done our turn, and now they've got to fend
for themselves.  I hope you'll have a real good time. ...  Mr Greville
will let you know when the wedding's fixed!"

"Oh, I shall be back at the end of three or four weeks, before there's
any talk of dates, I expect!  I shall see you again in July."  He
paused, looking at her with sudden uneasy suspicion.  "You will be here
in July?  There is no chance that you may be away paying other visits?"

Cornelia shook her head.

"I have no other relations over here.  So far as I know at present, I
shall stay on here until Poppar comes over to fetch me.  We're going to
fly round together for two or three months after that."

Guest drew a sigh of relief, but as he took Cornelia's outstretched hand
in his own to say good-bye, he added a hesitating request--

"If for any unexpected reason you should be leaving Norton during the
next three or four weeks, will you let me know?  A line to my club will
always be forwarded.  If there were any uncertainty about seeing you
again, I--" his voice lost its level tone, and became husky and
disconnected.  "These visits don't matter.--I could put them off.--I am
_making_ myself go, because..."  His fingers tightened over hers in
involuntary appeal, "Cornelia!  I wonder if you understand what is in my
mind?"

She looked into his kindled face with serious, unwavering eyes.  For a
moment it appeared as if she had some difficulty in managing her voice,
but when she spoke it was calm and self-possessed as ever.

"I understand that you've been a real true friend to me, Captain Guest,
and I'm grateful for all the good times we've had together...  That's
all we need worry about to-day.  Elma is waiting!  I mustn't keep her
longer. ...  Good-bye again!  I wish you a real pleasant time!"

She drew her hand from his, gently enough, yet with a determination
which could not be opposed.  In her voice there was the same note of
finality; the composure of her pale, fixed look checked the words on
Guest's lips, and left him chilled and wondering.

"For three weeks, then!" he murmured softly, but no echoing assurance
came in reply.

Cornelia carried the all-important message to Elma in her den, cheered
her with affectionate prophecies, and hurried back to the shelter of her
own bedroom.  Safe behind locked doors she stood before the mirror on
her dressing-table, staring at her own reflection with the implacable
air of a judge regarding a prisoner at the bar.  The slight figure was
held proudly erect, the lips set in a straight, hard line, but the
eyes--poor tell-tale woman's eyes!--the eyes wavered, and on the white
cheeks flamed two patches of rosy red.  Cornelia turned on her heel,
and, crossing the room to her writing-table, tore open a letter which
lay there already addressed to her father in America.  It was a long,
cheerfully-written epistle, containing constant references to his
coming, and to the good time which they were to enjoy together.  With
deliberate fingers she tore it in pieces and dropped the fragments into
the waste-paper basket.  The missive, which was written in its stead was
short, and to the point--

  "My old Poppar!--This is just a business note that has got to be
  attended to in a hurry.  Well-brought-up-parents do what they're told,
  and ask no questions.  There are breakers ahead over here.  They don't
  concern Aunt Soph; I've broken the back of that worry, and we get
  along a treat.  Heart trouble, daddy!  Symptoms unfavourable, and
  ultimate collapse preventable only by speedy change of scene.

  "Sit down straight away and write a letter I can show round, summoning
  me home by the first boat!  You can call it an `urgent crisis.'  It's
  as true as taxes, though not in the way they take it.  I've got to
  run, and that's all there is to it.  Our jaunt must wait till another
  day.  You must comfort me, Poppar,--you and America!--Your lonesome,
  Cornelia."

She did not pause to read over what she had written, but, fastening it
in an envelope, pealed the bell, which brought Mary running blithely to
her service.  For once, however, the devoted slave ventured to raise a
feeble objection.

"_Now_, Miss Cornelia?  I'm in the middle of my silver.  It will go just
as soon if it's posted by half-past three!"

Cornelia glanced at her with the air of an offended goddess.

"I said now, and I _mean_ now!  This instant, before you touch another
one thing.  Post it with your own hands, and come up here to tell me
it's done!"

Mary vanished in a whirl of starched cotton skirts, rushed to the
pillar-box at the corner of the Park, and in five minutes' time was back
at the bedroom door to proclaim her obedience.  Cornelia was still
standing in the middle of the room.  It appeared to the maid that she
had not altered her position by as much as an inch since she had seen
her last.  Her expression was tense with expectation.

"It's gone, miss!  I put it in myself!"

The golden eyes regarded her strangely.

"Did you, Mury?" said Cornelia, low.  She paused a moment as though to
form some expression of acknowledgment, but it did not come.  "Some
time," she continued slowly, "some time, Mury, I believe I'm going to
thank you very much, but to-day I don't feel like gushing. ...  You can
go back to your work."



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

"I suppose I must give them tea!" was Mrs Ramsden's comment upon
hearing of the visit which had been planned for the afternoon.  Her
depression was broken by a struggling sense of elation, for it was not
every day that Madame deigned to accept hospitality from her neighbours.
She despatched a messenger to the confectioner's to purchase a pound of
plum cake, a muffin, and half a pound of macaroons, the invariable
preparations under such circumstances, and gave instructions that the
best silver and china should be brought out of their hiding-places, with
the finest tablecloth and d'oyleys.  At three o'clock Elma discovered
her removing the covers from the drawing-room cushions, and folding them
neatly away in the chiffonnier.  Something in the simple action touched
the girl, and broke down the hard wall of reserve which had risen
between her mother and herself during the past painful week.  She
stretched out impulsive arms, and stooped her head to kiss the troubled
face.

"You funny little mother!  What do cushions matter?  Geoffrey will never
notice them, and Madame"--she hesitated, unwilling to hurt her mother's
feelings by hinting at Madame's opinion of the satin splendours so
carefully preserved from sight--"Madame won't care! ...  She is not
coming to admire fancy-work!"

Mrs Ramsden lifted a flushed, tear-stained face to look at her daughter
standing before her, lovely and slender in the blue muslin gown which
had been Cornelia's gift.  The daintiness of the dress, its unaccustomed
smartness and air of fashion, seemed at the moment a presage of the
threatened separation.  At the sight, and the sound of the softened
voice, the tears streamed afresh, and she cried brokenly--

"Elma!  Elma!  My child!  I beg you at the eleventh hour--think!
consider! remember all that I have striven to teach you! ...  You have
prayed to resist temptation--what is the use of your prayers if they
don't avail you in your hour of need?  Elma, I know it will be hard!
Don't think I shall not suffer with you--but if it is right. ...  There
is no happiness, my child, if we depart from the right course!"

"I know it, mother," said Elma, calmly.  "If you or Madame can convince
me that I should be doing wrong in marrying Geoffrey I will give him up!
I promise you that, and you must promise me in return that you will try
to see things from our point of view as well as your own.  Remember,
it's my life that is at stake, and I'm so young!  I may have such a long
time to live.  Some girls have a dozen fancies before they are twenty-
three, but I have never thought of anyone else. ...  From the first time
that I met Geoffrey I knew that he was the one man for me.  You have
been happily married yourself, mother!  Could you bear to spoil our
happiness?"

Mrs Ramsden winced at the sound of that significant little pronoun,
which now, for the first time in twenty-three years, failed to include
herself.  Now she was an outsider, for her child's heart and life alike
had passed from her keeping: It is a bitter moment for all mothers;
doubly bitter when, as to Mrs Ramsden, the supplanter seems unworthy of
his trust.

"Happiness is not everything, Elma!  I hope,--I hope I am strong enough
to endure even to see you suffer for your ultimate good."

She mopped her eyes with her handkerchief, while Elma turned aside,
realising sadly that it was useless to prolong the discussion.
Presently Geoffrey and his mother would arrive and then they would all
consult together.  Elma had not rehearsed her own share in the
conversation; the all-important decision was in the last issue to be
left to herself, and she had spoken the simple truth in saying that she
wished above all things to do what was right.  Her life's training had
instilled the conviction that no happiness was possible at the cost of a
sacrifice of principle.  If she could be once convinced that it was
wrong to marry Geoffrey Greville, she would give him up as unflinchingly
as any martyr of old walked to the stake, but she must be convinced on
the ground of principle alone!  Pride, prejudice, convention, would pass
her by, leaving her unshaken in her determination to marry the man she
loved.

At four o'clock the great landau from the Manor drove up to the gate,
and from within the shrouded windows mother and daughter watched the
groom jump lightly from his seat, to shield the grey froth of Madame's
draperies as she stepped to the ground.  To Mrs Ramsden the scene was
an eloquent illustration of the world, the flesh and the devil; the
world exemplified by the carriage with its handsome trappings, its
valuable horses, and liveried attendants; the flesh by Madame--a picture
of elegance in cloudy grey draperies, her silvery locks surmounted by a
flower-wreathed toque, her cheeks faintly pink beneath the old lace
veil--the devil!--it was a hard word to apply to the handsome, resolute
young fellow who followed his mother up the gravel path, but at the
moment Geoffrey Greville appeared in Mrs Ramsden's eyes as the
destroyer of her happiness, the serpent who had brought discord into
Eden!  She was in truth an honest little Puritan in whose sight the good
things of the world were but as snares and pitfalls.  So far from
feeling any pleasure in the thought that her daughter might one day
reign as the great lady of the neighbourhood, the prospect filled her
with unaffected dread, and the needle's eye had been quoted almost as
frequently as the serpent's teeth, during the last week.  She turned
away from the window with a shudder of distress.

The door opened, and Madame entered, bringing with her that faint,
delicious fragrance of violets which seemed inseparable from her person.
Contrary to her hostess's expectation, she was wreathed in smiles, and
even more gracious than of yore.  She pressed the plump little hand
extended towards her, kissed Elma on the cheek, exclaimed prettily upon
the comfort of the chair to which she was escorted, and chatted about
the weather as if her coming were an ordinary society call.  Mrs
Ramsden, being unaccustomed to the ways of fashionable warfare, was
flurried and thrown off her balance by so unexpected an opening to the
fray, and had hard work to answer connectedly.  She was, moreover,
keenly on the alert to watch the meeting between Elma and Geoffrey, whom
she had not seen in each other's company since the fatal visit to the
Manor.  They shook hands without speaking a word, but their eyes met,
and at the sight of that look, the onlooker thrilled with a memory of
long ago.  That glance, that silent hand-grasp softened her heart more
than a hundred arguments.  It was an ocular demonstration of what had
until now been merely words!

The trim maid brought in the tea-tray and proceeded to set it out on the
little table in front of her mistress.  It was a good hour earlier than
the time when the meal was served at the Manor, but the little business
of handing round cups and cake broke the embarrassment of the first few
minutes, and was therefore welcome to all.  Elma began as usual to wait
upon her guests, but Geoffrey took the plates out of her hand with an
air of gentle authority, which the elder ladies were quick to note.  It
was the air of the master, the proprietor; as significant in its way as
was Elma's blushing obedience.  Once again Mrs Ramsden felt a pang of
remembrance, but Madame arched her eyebrows, and tapped her foot on the
floor in noiseless irritation.  It was time that this nonsense came to
an end!

"Well, dear people," she began airily, "let us get to business!  It's so
much wiser to talk things over quietly, when there is any
misunderstanding.  I thought it was so clever of Geoffrey to suggest
this meeting.  Letters are quite useless.  One always forgets the most
important things, or, if one remembers, they look so horribly
disagreeable in black and white, and people bring them up against one
years afterwards.  Dear Elma, I'm afraid you think me a cruel old woman!
I am desolated to appear so unfeeling, especially as I should certainly
have fallen in love with you in Geoffrey's place, but it's not always a
question of doing what we like in this world.  I am sure your dear
mother has taught you that.  I said to Geoffrey: `Elma has such sweet,
true feelings, I shall be quite satisfied to trust to her decision when
the matter has been put fully before her!'"

"Thank you," said Elma, faintly.  She had put down her cup, and now sat
with her fingers clasped tightly together on her lap.  The two elder
ladies faced her from the opposite side of the room; Geoffrey fidgeted
about, and finally seated himself--not by her side, as had obviously
been his first impulse--but some little distance away, where he could
watch the expression of her face.  Mrs Ramsden pushed the tea-table
aside, and fidgeted with the jet trimming on her cuff.

"I--er, I think we should get on better if Mr Greville would--would
kindly leave us alone!" she said awkwardly.  "We are well acquainted
with his arguments, and as Elma is to decide, there seems no object in
his staying on.  Elma will, no doubt, feel quieter and less restrained
without his presence."

Madame's murmur of agreement was interrupted by a sharp exclamation from
her son.  He looked flushed and angry, but Elma checked him in his turn,
and answered herself, in clear, decided accents!  "No, mother!  I shall
feel much better if Geoffrey is here.  I don't want him to go.  If I am
persuaded to give him up, it is only right that he should know my
reasons.  He will promise to listen quietly to what you have to say, as
I am going to do, and not to interrupt until you have done."  She turned
towards her lover with a flickering smile.  "Won't you, Geoffrey?"

Geoffrey bit his moustache, and scowled heavily.

"I'll--do my best!" he said slowly.  "I'm not going away in any case.
It's preposterous to suppose that I could be absent while such a
discussion was going on.  Elma knows that this is a matter of life and
death to me.  If you persuade her to give me up, it will be sending me
straight to the devil!"

Mrs Ramsden's eyes flashed with anger.

"If an earthly love is the only incentive you have to follow the paths
of righteousness, Mr Greville, that is a poor inducement to me to give
my child into your care!  I have brought her up to put principle first
of all.  It is my chief objection to yourself that your character is not
worthy of the trust!"

"My dear lady, he is not a pickpocket!  You speak as if he were a
hardened criminal," cried Madame, with an irritated laugh.  "Geoffrey
may not be a saint, but I assure you that, considered as a young man of
the world, he is quite a model specimen!  He has been an excellent son.
There have been no debts; no troubles of any kind.  Absolutely, at times
I have accused him of being almost too staid. ...  One can only be young
once!..."

"I think you and Mrs Ramsden have somewhat different standards,
mother," put in Geoffrey quietly.  He turned towards the last-mentioned
lady, bending forward and speaking with deliberate emphasis.  "I quite
agree with you, Mrs Ramsden, that I am unworthy of your daughter.  I
wish I had been a better man for her sake.  With her to help me I hope I
might become a man more after your own heart.  As my mother says, I have
so far been a respectable member of society, for the things which you
condemn in me are after all matters of opinion, but at this moment I
stand at the parting of the ways.  If you give me Elma, I shall look
upon her as a sacred trust, and shall be a better man for her sake.  I
_must_ be a better man with her beside me! ...  If you refuse; if she
refuses"--he shrugged expressively--"you empty my life of all I value.
The responsibility will be upon your shoulders!"

"That is not true!  You can depute to nobody the responsibility of your
own soul," Mrs Ramsden began solemnly, but Madame interrupted with an
impatient gesture.

"I thought Geoffrey was not to interfere!  For pity's sake don't let us
waste time talking sentiment!  We are here to discuss this matter in a
sensible, business manner.  Let us begin at once, and not waste time!"

To her surprise Elma met her glance with a smile.  A happy, composed
little smile, which brought the dimples into her soft cheeks.  Really
the child was wonderful!  Her quietness and self-possession were in
delightful contrast with her mother's flustered solemnity.  Madame
returned the smile, with restored equanimity, and felt a thrill of
artistic satisfaction.

"I am afraid Geoffrey and I hardly look at our engagement from a
business point of view!" said Elma, slowly.  "It _is_ a matter of
sentiment with us, and we are not a bit ashamed of it, but I must answer
mother first. ...  Mother, dear, you are shocked because Geoffrey says
he would not be good without me, but when _you_ were young, when you
were careless, and enjoyed things which you disapprove of now, was there
no good influence in your life which helped you to be strong?  It may
have been a companion, or a book, or a sermon--one of a hundred things--
but when it came, weren't you thankful for it?  Didn't you hold close to
it and fear lest it should go?  I am Geoffrey's influence!  I'm glad and
proud that it is so.  If I can help him in one little way, I'd rather do
it than anything else in all the world!  When he feels like that about
me, I should think it very, very wrong to give him up."

"Elma, my dear, these are specious arguments!  You are deceiving
yourself, and preparing a bitter awakening!  Mr Greville does not even
understand what he is promising.  His ideas and yours are different as
night from day; the same words convey different meanings to you and him.
You would find as you talked together that there was a gulf between you
on every serious subject."

"No, mother, dear, there is no gulf.  We agree--we always agree!  I am
amazed to find how marvellously we agree," said Elma, simply.
Geoffrey's eyes flashed a look at her; a look of adoring triumph.
Madame screwed her lips on one side, and stared markedly at a corner of
the ceiling.  Mrs Ramsden wrung her hands in despair.

"Elma, you pray every night to be delivered from temptation--consider
what your position would be if you married Mr Greville!  Ask yourself
if you are strong enough to resist pride and selfishness, and absorption
in the things of this world.  Many would say that it was a great match
for you, but I would rather see you settled in a cottage with enough
money for your daily needs.  It is easier for a camel--"

Elma interrupted quickly.

"I don't think you need be afraid, mother.  I love beautiful things, but
truly and honestly I believe they are good for me!  It is a little
difficult to explain, but ugly things--inartistic things, _jar_!  They
make me feel cross and discontented, while beauty is a joy!  I need not
become proud and self-engrossed because the things around me are
beautiful and rich with associations.  On the contrary, they ought to do
me good.  I'd _love_ them so, and be so thankful, that I should want
other people to enjoy them, too.  It isn't riches themselves that one
cares for--it is the things that riches can give!"

Madame had been watching the girl's face as she spoke, her own
expression kindling in sympathy with views so entirely in accordance
with her own, but at the last sentence her brows knitted.

"It's not a case of riches, my dear!" she said quickly.  "I don't think
you understand the position.  Geoffrey is a poor man.  The estate brings
in little more than half what it did in his father's time, and the
expense of keeping it up increases rather than diminishes, as the
buildings grow older.  He ought to marry money.  All these years we have
lived in the expectation of a marriage which would pay up old scores,
and put things on a better basis for the future.  If he marries a girl
without money he will have to face constant anxiety and trouble."

Elma turned to her mother, her delicate brow puckered in anxiety.

"I shall have _some_ money, shan't I, mother?  You told me that father
left some provision for me on my marriage!"

"You are to have three thousand pounds paid down if you marry with my
consent.  My income is largely derived from an annuity, Mrs Greville,
but there will be about another five thousand to come to Elma after
death."

Madame bowed her head in gracious patronage.

"Very nice, I'm sure!  A very nice little sum for pin money, but quite
useless for our purposes.  Don't hate me, Elma--I am the most
unmercenary of women--Geoffrey will tell you that I am always getting
into debt!--but when a man is the owner of a property--which has
descended to him from generations of ancestors, his first duty is to it.
_Noblesse oblige_!  It is not right to allow it to fall into disrepair
for a matter of sentiment!"

Elma sat with downcast looks considering the point, while Geoffrey
devoured her face with hungry eyes.  Mrs Ramsden's face had flushed to
a painful red, and she passed her handkerchief nervously round her lips.
She could bear to torture her child herself, but not to sit by and hear
another woman follow in her own footsteps.

The silence lasted for a long minute before Elma replied by asking a
question on her own behalf.

"Can it be right for a man to marry one woman for money, when he has
given his heart to another?"

Mrs Greville tossed her head with another impatient little laugh.

"His heart!  Ah, my dear, a man's heart is an adaptable commodity!  He
`gives it,' as you say, many times over in the course of his life.  He
is far more likely to love a wife whose money brings him ease and
comfort, than one for whose pretty face he has sacrificed his peace!"

Elma turned to her lover and looked deep into his eyes.  With a strong
effort he had resisted breaking into the conversation before now, but
his face was more eloquent than words.  She smiled at him, a tender
little smile of encouragement.

"I am very economical.  I would help Geoffrey to save.  I have not been
accustomed to luxuries, so it would cost me nothing to do without them,
and he says he doesn't care.  Don't think I am selfish, Mrs Greville,
please!  I am thinking of Geoffrey first, but I believe he would be
happier living quietly with me, and looking after the estate himself,
instead of paying an agent to do it, than if he sold himself for money
and ease.  We love each other very much.  We need nothing more than just
to be together."

Geoffrey turned aside and stared out of the window.  The two mothers
exchanged helpless glances.

"Elma!" said Mrs Ramsden, sharply, "have you no pride?  It is hard
enough for me to sit by and listen.  Are you not ashamed to force
yourself upon a family where you are not wanted?  When I have looked
forward to your marriage, I have always imagined that you would be
welcomed with open arms.  For your own position you are well dowered.  I
have been proud of you all your life--too proud, perhaps--it would be a
bitter blow to me to see you married on sufferance.  If you have no
other feeling in the matter, does not your pride come to your aid?"

"Mother, I'm going to marry Geoffrey, not his family!  He can take care
of his wife!"

"The child is right!" said Madame, quickly.  "Geoffrey's wife, whoever
she may be, will be treated with every respect.  It is not the judgment
of others which she need dread, but the judgment of her own heart.
Listen to me, child!  You are a sweet thing, and I love you for your
devotion to my boy.  As I told you before, I should be in love with you
in his place, but I'm an old woman, and I know the world!  Geoffrey is
not used to work and economy; for a little time, while the first glamour
lasted, he might be contented enough, but he would weary in the end.  He
would surely weary, and then--how would you feel?  When you saw him
restless and discontented; longing to leave you and fly back to his old
life, would you feel no remorse?  Love's young dream does not last for
ever, my pretty child."

"No," said Elma, quietly; "dreams don't last, but sometimes the
awakening is better!  You have known Geoffrey all his life, Mrs
Greville, and it seems presumptuous to pretend that I know him even
better, but I can--_feel_!  You believe he would tire of me, and long to
get back to his old luxurious life.  You think he would love me very
much for a little time and then be indifferent and careless, and that I
should feel it was my own fault; but you are wrong.  Indeed, indeed, you
are wrong!  He is your son--has he ever failed you?  You say yourself
that he has been good and true.  You would trust him for your own
future.  Do you think he would be less loyal to his own wife?  I am not
at all afraid.  I am like you--I trust Geoffrey!"

As she finished speaking she turned towards her lover and held out her
hand towards him, and in two strides Geoffrey was by her side; was on
his knees beside her, holding that little hand pressed between both his
own, turning to look at his mother with triumphant eyes; with eyes
ashine with something deeper than triumph.

Geoffrey on his knees!  Tears in Geoffrey's eyes!  Madame stared in
amaze, then broke into a sudden excited laugh.

"Bravo, Elma!  Bravo, Geoffrey!  Congratulations, my dears.  Thank
heaven you have a mother who knows when she is well beaten!"

She rose from her seat and crossed the room to where the girl sat.
"Bravo, little Elma!  I like to see a good fighting spirit.  You will
make Geoffrey a charming wife, and I shall be proud of my daughter."
She took Elma's disengaged hand and pressed it between her own, and the
girl smiled a happy response, but Geoffrey was oblivious of her
presence, his eyes fixed upon his love's face, with the rapt, adoring
gaze with which a knight of old may have gazed upon the vision of the
grail.  His mother looked at him, and her lips quivered.  Artificial and
frivolous though she was, her only son was dear to her heart.  Since the
hour of his birth he had been to her as a pivot round which the world
revolved.  Her son--the last of the Grevilles who had owned the Manor
since the days of the Tudors.  To be alienated from him would be the
bitterest grief which life could bring.

Her grip tightened on the girl's hand.

"Elma!" she cried urgently.  "I am Geoffrey's mother.  He is yours now,
and will be swayed by you, but he has been mine for thirty-three years.
If I have taken part against you, it has been because I believed it was
best for him.  I have lost, and you have won.  You will be his wife, the
mistress of the Manor.  I don't grudge you your success, but don't--
don't bear me a grudge!  Don't turn my boy against me!"

"Mrs Greville!" gasped Elma, breathlessly.  "Mrs Greville!"  She
pulled her hand from Geoffrey's grasp, and rose swiftly to her feet.
"Oh, please don't think that I could be so mean!  I want him to love you
more, not less.  I want to be a _real_ daughter!  You must not think
that I am going to drive you from your place.  You must stay on at the
Manor, and let me learn from you.  There is so much that I shall have to
learn.  I shall be quite satisfied to be allowed to help!"

"Silly child!" said Madame, smiling.  She lifted her delicate, ringed
hand and stroked the girl's cheeks with kindly patronage.  "You don't
know what you are talking about, my dear, but I _do_--fortunately for us
all!  Geoffrey's wife must have no divided rule.  You need not trouble
your pretty head about me.  Norton palls at times even to a Greville,
and I shall enjoy my liberty.  I'll go out and spend a cold weather with
Carol; I'll have a cosy little flat in town, and do the theatres.  I'll
enjoy myself gadding about, and come down upon you now and then when I
want a rest, but I'll never _live_ with you, my dear; be sure of that!"

"It's rather early to make plans, mater.  Things will arrange
themselves.  Elma and I will always try to make you happy," said
Geoffrey, bluntly.

He, too, had risen, and stood by his mother's side; flushed, triumphant,
a little shamefaced at the remembrance of his late emotion; but
transparently and most radiantly happy.  "I'll do all in my power to be
a good son to you, and to Mrs Ramsden also if she will allow me!"

He was the first of the three to remember the existence of the little
woman in the background; the little woman who was sobbing into her
handkerchief, shedding bitter tears because, forsooth, her daughter had
secured the biggest match in the country-side, and was about to become a
Greville of Norton Manor!



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

The parental summons arrived ten days after the date of Elma's formal
engagement, and at the expiration of the seventh week of Cornelia's
sojourn in England.  There it was for all the world to see;--short,
authoritative, and to the point.  Circumstances had altered Poppar's
plan.  His visit to Europe must be postponed, he desired his daughter to
return home by the first possible boat.  Useless to exclaim, to argue,
to condemn.  The command had gone forth; implicit obedience must ensue.

"Will you feel badly when I'm gone, Aunt Soph?"  Cornelia asked after
the news had been broken.  She looked wistfully into the spinster's
face, and felt herself answered as she noted the involuntary momentary
hesitation which preceded the reply.

"It will naturally be a disappointment to me to miss seeing my brother,
but I hope the pleasure is only deferred.  I am glad to have had an
opportunity of making your acquaintance, my dear, though the time is so
curtailed."

"Yes, I guess we've fixed-up an acquaintance right enough!" said
Cornelia, quietly.  Seven weeks, or seven years--what did it matter?
She and this woman could never become friends.  Time counts for nothing
in the intercourse of souls.  An hour may reveal a kindred spirit; no
years can bridge some gaps.  Elma would remain a life-long friend, Guest
a life-long memory, but her kinswoman, the nearest on earth with the one
exception of her father, must for ever be a stranger.

Cornelia was sad at heart that day, and Elma was sad, too; opening wide,
startled eyes, and clasping her friend in jealous arms.

"Cornelia, it isn't true!  It _can't_ be true!  I can't spare you, dear.
Is it really impossible to stay on a little longer?  Geoffrey and I
counted on you for our wedding.  It is fixed for October, and I wanted
you for a bridesmaid.  I wanted you to pay me a visit in my own house!
You have been such a friend to us both, that we _need_ you, Cornelia!  I
shall miss you badly!"

"Shucks!" returned Cornelia, lightly.  "You'll forget there is such a
creature in existence.  _I_ should, in your place, and I don't mind if
you do, for I know you'll remember again another day.  This is
Geoffrey's hour, and I won't interfere.  If I live, I'll pay you that
visit right enough, and maybe you'll come over to see me.  I'd give you
a roaring time.  Tell Geoffrey he is bound to bring you over to see
America.  I'll think about you on your marriage-day, but I don't know as
I'm sorry to do the thinking at a distance.  Wedding-days aren't the
liveliest occasions in the world for the looker-on.  I guess I'd feel
pretty `_left_,' when you drove off from the gates, and I found myself
all by my lonesome with the two old girls. ...  I've wired to Liverpool
about berths, and may have to start off at a day's notice, so we've got
to make the most of the time.  Aunt Soph don't care!  She's polite, of
course, but right at the back of her mind I can see she's planning to
clean out my room, and thinking how good it will be to have the mats
laid aside, and the shroudings over the tables!  If it wasn't for you,
Moss Rose, I should feel I'd done a fool-trick coming over at all!  When
all's said and done it amounts to nothing but disappointment and heart-
break."

"You mean," began Elma, "you mean--" and then suddenly paused.  Why
should Cornelia's heart break?  Disappointment and disillusion would be
natural enough in one who had experienced both coldness and deception
within the last few weeks, but heart-break was too strong a term.  To
Elma, with her mind full to overflowing of that beloved Geoffrey, it
seemed as if nothing but love could count so seriously in life.  Her
thoughts flew to Guest, recalling all she had heard of his knight-
errantry in London; of the long hours which the two had spent alone
together; and later on, of the daily meetings in the Park, planned for
her own benefit, but none the less opportunities for fuller knowledge.
She fixed her blue eyes on Cornelia's face, and asked a sudden
question--

"Does Captain Guest know that you are going?"

"How should he?" returned Cornelia, lightly.  Eyes and lips were
unflinching, but all the will in the world could not keep the blood from
her cheeks.  "He's visiting somewhere at the other end of the country,
with old friends who belong to his own world, and feel the same way
about the same things.  Let him stay and be happy!  I don't want him to
come worrying down here for the fun of saying good-bye.  Guess he's had
trouble enough about my affairs.  Mind now, Elma, you are not to tell
him!  This is my affair, and I won't have you interfere."

Elma meekly disavowed any intention of communicating with Captain Guest,
but like many other meek people she harboured a quiet reservation which
annulled the promise.  She would not write, but--Geoffrey could!
Geoffrey _should_!  That flame in Cornelia's cheek satisfied her that
the girl's interest was deeper than she would admit, and if Guest
returned the feeling, what joy, what rapture to have Cornelia settled in
England; to look forward to a life of constant intercourse!  Cornelia
had helped her; according to her lights Elma was determined to help
Cornelia also.

With disconcerting swiftness a return telegram arrived from Liverpool
stating that owing to illness a passenger had been suddenly obliged to
resign a state-room on the boat sailing on the following Saturday, and
that the accommodation would be reserved pending Miss Briskett's
confirmation.  An immediate reply was requested.

Cornelia gasped and hesitated.  Four days!  _Only_ four days, and then
farewell to England and English friends.  She had not expected anything
so speedy as this.  During these summer months berths were engaged so
long ahead that it was generally a most difficult thing to arrange for a
speedy passage.  She had been told of this over and over again; had
known of her friends' difficulties in such matters; in the background of
her mind had counted on a similar delay in her own case.  In a week or a
fortnight much might happen, but in four days!  She stood battling with
temptation, while Mary watched her with anxious eyes.  No one but
herself knew the purport of the message; no one need know if the answer
were a refusal.  Two or three scribbled words would give her a reprieve.
...  Poor Cornelia!  She realised afresh how easy it was to be brave in
anticipation, how bitterly hard in actual fact.  She was silent so long
that Mary summoned up courage to ask a question--

"Is it bad news, miss?"

Cornelia stared at her blankly for a moment, and valiantly forced a
smile.

"I guess there's two sides to it, as there are to most things in this
world.  My Poppar'll think it splendid, but you'll hate it badly enough.
I'm going pretty quick, Mury!  You won't have me but four days more!"

The truth was out.  She had burned her boats, and made retreat
impossible.  While Mary wept and lamented, Cornelia wrote the
confirmatory wire, and sent it out to the waiting messenger.  Then Mary
returned to continue her lamentations.

"I wish I could marry him, and be done with it!  I can't seem to face
staying on here with no one but her in the house, nagging at us all the
day.  I'll have to make another move!" she proclaimed dismally.  In
Mary's converse the singular pronoun, when masculine, always applied to
her friend; when feminine, to her mistress.  Cornelia had grasped this
fact, and had therefore no difficulty in understanding her meaning.  She
sat down in a chair by the window, and stared at the maid with serious
eyes.

"Do you love him, Mury?  Enough to marry him, and live beside him every
one day to the end of your life?  You think you would not get--_tired_?"

Mary hesitated, unwilling to commit herself.  "I wouldn't like to go so
far as that," she announced judicially.  "He aggravates me at times
something cruel, but I'd sooner be aggravated by him nor anyone else.
They talk a lot of rubbish about love, Miss Cornelia, but that's about
the size of it when all's said and done.  Some people suit you and
others don't, and all the lovey-doveying in the world won't make 'em--"

"Why, Mury, you are a philosopher!  It's the dead truth, Mury, but I
guess you needn't rub it in.--If you've made up your mind, why need you
wait?"

"Furniture, miss!  I've told him I won't marry to go into rooms, not if
it's ever so.  I'll wait till I get a 'ome of me own.  He'd put by a
goodish bit, and so had I, but things have been agen us.  He was out of
work four months last winter, and mother's legs are a awful drain--
liniments, and bandages, and what-not.  You can't see your own mother
suffer, and not pay out.  We've got to wait till we save up again."

"How much money does it take to furnish a cottage over here, Mury?"

"That depends on how it's done.  You can do it 'an'some for forty
pounds.  I lived with a girl who did hers for twenty, but I wouldn't
like to be as close as that.  I reckon about thirty."

"Thirty pounds!  One hundred and fifty dollars!"  Cornelia gasped in
astonishment at the smallness of the sum.  "You can't mean that that
includes everything--chairs and tables, and carpets, and dishes, and
beds, and bureaus, and brooms, and tins, and curtains, and fire-irons--
and all the fixing to put 'em up!  It isn't possible you can get them
all for a hundred and fifty dollars!"

"You can, miss.  There's a shop in the Fore Street where they do you
everything complete for three rooms for thirty pounds, with a velvet
suite for the parlour.  Lady's chair, gent's chair, sofa, and four
uprights, with chiffonnier, and overmantel, and all.  You couldn't wish
for anything better.  The girl I lived with had only a few odd bits--I'd
be ashamed to have such a poor sort of parlour.--In the kitchen they
give you a dresser, and a flap-table, and linoleum on the floor.  Jim
and me went to the shop one day to have a look round. ...  That was when
he had a bit put by!"  Mary sighed, and flicked away a tear.  "And now
you're going next!  I'm getting a bit sick of bad luck, I am!"

Cornelia was bending forward in her seat, her chin supported in the
palms of her hands.  Her expression was very grave and wistful, but in
her eyes shone the light of awakened interest.

"Mury!--you've been real good and attentive to me.  I guess I've given
you quite a heap of trouble.  I want to make you a present before I go.
Would you like it if I fixed-up that house so's you could get married
right away?  If you say so, you can go to that store and make your own
bargains, and I'll leave thirty pounds with Miss Ramsden to pay the
bills.  I'd like to feel I'd helped you to a home of your own, Mury!"

Mary clutched the back of a chair near to which she was standing; her
eyes protruded, her chin dropped, speech failed her in the excess of
emotion.  She could only stare, and gasp, and stare again.

"Poor Mury!" said Cornelia, softly.  "Are you so pleased?  I want you
should be pleased.  If I ken make someone happy to-day--right-down,
tearing happy, it's going to help me more'n you know. ...  Won't you
enjoy going shopping with your friend, Mury, bossing round in that
store, choosing the things you want, and putting on airs as if you owned
the bank?  Mind you put on airs, Mury!  Make 'em hop round, and get
things to your taste.  They'll think the more of you, and it's not every
day one furnishes a house. ...  I'll send you my picture to stand on the
mantelpiece in that parlour, and when you dust it in the mornings, you
can send me a kind thought 'way over all those miles of ocean, and I'll
think of you sitting in the lady's chair. ...  For the land's sake,
girl, don't have a fit!  You don't need to have a thing unless you say
so!"

"Oh, Miss Cornelia!" sobbed Mary, brokenly.  "You're too--I'm so--you're
an _angel_, Miss Cornelia, that's what you are! ...  Jim will go off his
head when he hears this.--It's a sort of thing you can't seem to
believe.--I loved to wait on you, miss; if you'd never given me a thing
I'd have loved it all the same--you talked so kind, and took such an
interest, and was always so lively and laughing.  It wasn't for what I
could get--but the house! ...  To have a house thrown at you, as you may
say, at a moment's notice--it--takes away my breath!  I can't seem to
take it in."

"But you are happy, Mury?  You feel happy to think of it?"

"I should think I do just.  Clean dazed with happiness!"

"Poor Mury!" said Cornelia, again.  She looked across the room at the
flushed, ecstatic face of the prospective bride, and smiled with tender
sympathy.

"I'm real glad you're pleased.  To-night, just as soon as dinner's over,
you must go out and tell your friend.  I'll fix it up with Aunt Soph.
You'll have a fine time, won't you?  He won't believe it's true, but
you'll _make_ him believe, and be as happy as grigs walking round and
planning out that parlour.  Come into my room when you get back and tell
me what he says.  I shan't be asleep!"

There seemed no time for sleep during the next few days.  The mornings
were devoted to packing, and to long confidential interviews with Elma;
the afternoons to a succession of tea-parties, to which every old lady
in Norton was bidden in turns, to say the same things, and breathe the
same pious good wishes; the evenings to decorous cribbage matches with
her aunt; the nights--the nights were Cornelia's own secret, but they
left a wan, heavy-eyed damsel to yawn at the breakfast-table each
morning.

When the last hour arrived, the very last, Cornelia's friends assembled
at the station to bid her good-bye; Miss Briskett, tall and angular in
her new grey costume; Mrs Ramsden with the black feather fiercely erect
in the front of her bonnet; lovely, blooming Elma attended by her swain,
and in the background the faithful Mary, holding on to the dressing-bag,
and sniffing dolorously.  Cornelia had refused to be escorted farther on
the journey, and now that the hour had arrived, her one longing was to
say her farewells and be left to herself.

She was eager to be off, yet, when the train steamed slowly out of the
station, she was gripped by a strange, swift spasm of anguish.  Not on
her friends' behalf.  Aunt Soph had made no pretence of anything beyond
polite regret.  Elma and Mary shared a personal happiness so deep, that,
for the time at least, the departure of a friend held no lasting sting.
Cornelia could wave adieu to each, rejoicing in their joy, in the
remembrance that she had had some small share in bringing it about; yet
the torturing pain continued, the desolating ache of disappointment.

What was it for which she had waited?  What hope had lived persistent at
the back of her mind, while she had pretended that she had no hope?  She
knew now that, hour by hour, she had lived in the expectation of Guest's
return; had felt an unreassuring conviction that he must come before she
left!  That she had done her utmost to prevent his coming had nothing to
do with the case.  Surely, when she had so sternly followed the dictates
of reason, there was all the more need for some good fairy to weave a
miracle which should upset her plans.  Something must happen!
Something!  At sweet-and-twenty it is so difficult to believe in the
irrevocable!

The journey to London was alive with memories.  In this corner she had
sat watching Guest's face, listening to his voice as he told the story
of his life.  At this landscape they had looked together, admiring, and
comparing tastes and impressions.  At Paddington, Mrs Moffatt had stood
in waiting upon the platform.  Cornelia was thankful to be safe inside
the boat-mail, away from the pressing memories.  Here the atmosphere was
of home.  Eye and ear caught on every side the familiar accent, the
familiar phraseology; the familiar tilt of the hat, and squaring of
shoulder.  The passenger list included more than one well-known name,
and once afloat she was sure of companionship.  She settled down in her
corner, with a sigh of relief, as of one who has reached a haven after
struggling in deep waters.  This was a foretaste of home!  These people
were her own kindred; their ways were her ways, their thoughts her
thoughts.  For the first time since her arrival on English soil she felt
the rest of being in perfect accord with her surroundings.  With
Cornelia America was a passion; life away from her native land was only
half a life.

Aboard the great steamer the passengers were rushing to and fro,
searching for their state-rooms, and, when found, depositing their
impedimenta on the tops of the narrow white bunks.

Cornelia walked to the quietest corner of the deck, dropped her bag on a
seat, and leant idly over the rail.  She was in no hurry to go below,
and held instinctively aloof from the groups of fellow-passengers and
their friends.  She was alone, and her heart was sad.

Someone walking quickly along the deck caught sight of the solitary
figure in the trim, dark-blue dress, and recognised its outline before a
turn of the head revealed the glorious, flaming hair.  Someone with a
grim face, pale beneath his tan, with haggard lines about the eyes and
mouth; a man whose looks betrayed the fact that he had been awake all
night, face to face with calamity.  He walked straight to the girl's
side, and laid his hand upon her arm.

"Cornelia!"

Cornelia turned swiftly, and a light leapt into her eyes; a light of
joy, so pure and involuntary that, at sight of it, the man's face lost
something of its grim tension.  He turned his back so as to screen the
girl from the passers-by, and his hand tightened on her arm.

"Cornelia, are you running away from me?"

She did not answer, but her silence gave assent--her silence, and a
quiet bend of the head.

"Why?"

"I was--afraid!" breathed Cornelia, low.

Beneath the close-fitting cap Guest could see her lips tremble.  The
little face looked white and tense.  She twisted her fingers nervously.

"Afraid of me, and my love?  Afraid that I should come back to trouble
you?  Afraid of my selfishness, Cornelia?"

The curling lips breathed a faint dissent.

"Of what, then?  We have only a few minutes left.  You must tell me the
truth now!"

She raised her eyes to his; brave, pitiful eyes, mutely imploring for
mercy.

"Of myself!  Of my own weakness!  Afraid lest I might give way, and ruin
two lives!"

"You knew that I loved you; that I had gone away to prove my love, to
see if it would stand the test of absence?  It was a serious matter for
us both, and I would not let myself act on the spur of an impulse.  If I
had, Cornelia, you know that I should have spoken long ago!--that night
on the river.  You knew it at the time.  I saw it in your eyes.--I made
you promise to let me know if you left Norton during my absence.  It was
not fair to run away."

"I never promised!  I never did!  You asked me, but I didn't promise.  I
felt at the time that I must leave."

The words came in quick, gasping breaths, as a child might speak who
tried to justify himself to his taskmaster.  Guest's face softened at
the sound, and his grasp of the girl's arm turned into a caress.

"Darling, don't you see what that means?  You love me, or you would not
be afraid.  Geoffrey wrote to me giving me warning, but the letter only
reached me late yesterday night.  I have been travelling ever since.  I
just managed to be here in time.  If I had missed the boat I should have
come after you.  Do you think a few thousand miles are going to keep us
apart, Cornelia?"

She shook her head sadly.  "No!--no distance in space, just the distance
between our two selves; the distance that can't be bridged!  We belong
to different worlds, you and I; we could never be happy together.  You
love forms and ceremonies, and conventions; all the things that worry me
most, and make me feel ugly.  It's the height of your ambition to settle
down in your old home, and to keep things rolling along in the same old
ruts that they've run in for centuries.  I want change and excitement,
and the newest there is.  Your quiet English life would get on my
nerves.  Poppar and I have had lots of ups and downs, and I've never
lost grit.  I ken bear a good big blow, but to stodge along every day
the same dull round would drive me crazed!  We live quickly over with
us, and you're so slow.  I don't say that the advantage is all on our
side.  I used to laugh at English girls, but I don't any longer, since
I've known Elma Ramsden.  If I were a man, Elma's the sort I'd want for
my wife.  You'll find another like her some day, and be thankful you are
free.  You love me now, but your love would not stand the strain of
pulling separate ways all our lives--"

Guest gazed at her with gloomy eyes.

"You don't love me, or you would not think of anything else.  Whatever
may be the differences between us, you are the one woman I have ever
wanted for my wife.  I can't bear to let you go. ...  Don't trifle with
me for the few minutes that are left.  Tell me honestly how we stand.
...  Do you love me, Cornelia?"

"I--_could_!" answered Cornelia, slowly.  Her cheeks flushed beneath his
gaze, and the white lids drooped over the honest eyes.  "It was just
finding out how easy it would be, that sent me running home.  The people
at Norton think it was Poppar's doing, but I'll tell you straight that I
asked him to send for me. ...  Life's a big chance.  We've got to make
the best we know out of it, for ourselves and other people.  I don't
mean to spoil things for us both. ...  You didn't _want_ to love me!
Right at the back of your mind you've felt all the time that I was not
your mate.  You went away to think it out; perhaps, if the truth's
known, you were still undecided when the news of my sailing brought you
up with a run.  When I am gone and you have had time to cool down,
you'll be glad!"

Guest repeated the word with bitter emphasis.

"_Glad_!  I shall be glad, shall I?  At the present moment, in any case,
I am the most miserable man on earth.  Have you no pity, Cornelia?  Will
nothing move you?  Think how happy we have been together!  If we loved
each other, surely we could outlive the differences?  Can you bear to go
away like this and leave me for ever?  Is it nothing to you how I
suffer?  Don't you _care_, Cornelia?"

"Yes, I care," she answered simply.  "It _hurts_, but it's going to hurt
a lot more if I stay behind.  If we lived together it would be like
trying to piece together the bits of two different puzzles.  We don't
fit!"

The simple words expressed the truth with paralysing force.  Even at
that bitter moment Guest recognised their truth, and was dumb before it.
He turned aside, his strong jaw working with emotion, powerless to
fight any longer against the rock of Cornelia's will.

Behind him lay the grey city wrapped in its veil of smoke, the tall
spire of the old church rising in picturesque isolation above the line
of the surrounding buildings.  It seemed at that moment to stand as a
symbol of the life of the Mother Country, a life fenced in by
convention, by forms and ceremonies sanctified to every Englishman by
centuries of association; forms at which he may at times smile or scoff,
but which he would no sooner demolish than he would tear away the
clustering ivy which clothes his walls.  Before him lay the broad river,
its mouth widening to the sea: to that free, untrammelled waste of
waters, which were a fit symbol of that land of the West, whose daughter
could place her liberty even before her love!

There came a sudden stir and movement.  A second time the bell clanged
its warning, and the visitors began to stream towards the gangway.
Guest heard the sound of a strangled sob, and felt his own heart beat
with suffocating quickness.

"I--I can't face it," he cried desperately, "I won't take this as an
answer.  If I had time I could _make_ you listen to me.  I could make
you agree.  I shall come after you to New York."

She turned aside, but not so quickly that he did not catch the sudden
light in her eyes, the same involuntary gleam of joy which had greeted
his coming a few minutes before.  The sight of that tell-tale signal
made his heart leap, but Cornelia shook her head, and her voice broke in
a low-breathed "Ho!  It would be a mistake.  Wait here.  Wait quietly!
At first it will hurt, but after a while you'll be glad.  You'll find
that other things come first.  You think now that you will come after
me, but I know you better!  You will never come.  You'll not want me any
more."

Guest laughed a strained little laugh of excitement and exultation.
Cornelia might preach prudence, and hold fast to her own ideas, but at
least she had not forbidden his coming; had not said in so many words,
"I will not see you!"  For the moment, at least, he had triumphed; he
was confident that the future also would be his own.

"We will discuss that question on our next meeting," he cried
breathlessly.  "I will wait as long as you like; undergo any test you
like to decree, but I will come!  _Au revoir_, Cornelia!"

"Good-bye!" breathed Cornelia, low.  She raised her eyes to his, but now
there was no light in the golden depths, but only a deep and
immeasurable sadness.

Guest wrung her hand, and turned aside.  There was no time left to
reason further.  The future alone could prove the depth and stability of
his love.  He made his way to the gangway, his heart wrung with the
sense of loss, of wounded love and pride.  By his side men and women
sobbed and cried, while others laughed and exchanged merry banter with
their friends on board.  To some this meant a parting for life; to
others a pleasure excursion across the ocean ferry.  Among them all, was
there one whose loss was as his own?

A wild impulse seized him to push his way back and remain on the boat
for the first stage of the journey, but the steady stream bore him
onward, and, as in a dream, he found himself standing on the stage, and
saw the gangway descend.  He stood in the crowd and heard a woman sob by
his side.  She was waving her handkerchief to a sad-faced man, who stood
on the spot which Cornelia had vacated but a minute before.  Now she had
disappeared.  Guest's eyes searched for her hungrily, but in vain.  It
was only as the vessel slowly moved from the stage that she came into
sight; a small dark figure standing alone on the upper deck, with the
sunlight shining on ruddy locks, and on a white face turned outwards
towards the sea.





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