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Title: Daisy's Aunt
Author: Benson, E. F. (Edward Frederic), 1867-1940
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 "Daisy's Aunt" ***

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Transcriber's note:

      See the end of the text for a list of possible misprints
      in the original that have been changed.



DAISY'S AUNT

by

E. F. BENSON



Thomas Nelson and Sons
London, Edinburgh, Dublin,
Leeds, and New York
Leipzig: 35-37 Konigstrasse.
Paris: 61 Rue des Saints Peres.

First Published May 1910.



+--------------------------------------+
|                                      |
|         _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_         |
|                                      |
|                 THE                  |
|           PRINCESS SOPHIA            |
|                                      |
|            Price 7d. net             |
|                                      |
|      In this work faithful realism   |
|  and a true vein of poetic romance   |
|  are subtly blended.                 |
|                                      |
+--------------------------------------+



CONTENTS


  Chapter     I.              7

  Chapter    II.             27

  Chapter   III.             42

  Chapter    IV.             56

  Chapter     V.             70

  Chapter    VI.             79

  Chapter   VII.             95

  Chapter  VIII.            110

  Chapter    IX.            118

  Chapter     X.            147

  Chapter    XI.            165

  Chapter   XII.            182

  Chapter  XIII.            197

  Chapter   XIV.            215

  Chapter    XV.            227

  Chapter   XVI.            240

  Chapter  XVII.            247

  Chapter XVIII.            263

  Chapter   XIX.            277

  Chapter    XX.            286

  Chapter   XXI.            293

  Chapter  XXII.            308

  Chapter XXIII.            320

  Chapter  XXIV.            333

  Chapter   XXV.            344

  Chapter  XXVI.            357

  Chapter XXVII.            365



DAISY'S AUNT.



CHAPTER I.


Daisy Hanbury poked her parasol between the bars of the cage, with the
amiable intention of scratching the tiger's back. The tiger could not be
expected to know this all by himself, and so he savagely bit the end of
it off, with diabolical snarlings. Daisy turned to her cousin with a
glow of sympathetic pleasure.

"What a darling!" she said. "He didn't understand, you see, and was
perfectly furious. And it cost pounds and pounds, and I've spent all my
allowance, and so I can't buy another, and my complexion will go to the
dogs. Let's go there, too; the dingoes are absolutely fascinating.
We'll come back to see these angels fed."

Gladys laughed.

"Daisy, you have got the most admirable temper," she said. "I should
have called that brute any names except 'darling' and 'angel.'"

"I know you would, because you don't understand either it or me. I
understand both perfectly. You see, you don't love fierce wild
things--things that are wicked and angry, and, above all, natural. I
don't mind good, sweet, gentle things, like--oh, like almost everybody,
if only they are sweet and good naturally. But generally they are not.
Their sweetness is the result of education or morality, or something
tedious, not the result of their natures, of themselves. Oh, I know all
about it! Gladys, this parasol is beyond hope. Let's conceal it in the
bushes like a corpse."

Daisy looked round with a wild and suspicious eye.

"There's a policeman," she said. "I'm sure he'll think that I have
murdered my own parasol. Oh, kind Mr. Policeman--there, that softened
him, and he's looking the other way."

Gladys gave a little shriek of dismay as Daisy thrust her parasol into a
laurustinus.

"Oh! but the handle, and the ribs!" she cried. "It only wanted a new
point, and--and to be recovered. Daisy, I never saw such extravagance.
You mustn't leave it. I'll have it done up for you."

"That's angelic of you," said Daisy; "but will you carry it for me in
the meantime? It's that that matters. I couldn't be seen going about
even at the Zoo with a parasol in that condition. I should have to
explain to everybody exactly how it happened, which would take time."

"But of course I'll carry it for you," said Gladys.

Daisy considered this noble offer.

"It's quite too wonderful of you," she said, "but I don't think I could
be seen with you if you were carrying it. No; come to the dogs. Oh,
Gladys, you are sweet and good and gentle quite, quite naturally, and I
adore you."

The dingoes were rewarding, and Daisy instantly curried favour with
their keeper, and learnt about their entrancing habits; afterwards the
two went back to see the lions fed before leaving. The tiger which had
ruined her parasol proved to have the most excellent appetite, which
much relieved Daisy's mind, as she feared that the point, which he
seemed to have completely eaten, might have spoilt his dinner. She
hurried breathlessly down the line as the huge chops of raw meat were
passed in and snatched up by the animals, absorbed and radiant. Gladys,
as always, followed where the other led, but was conscious of qualms.
These she concealed as best she could.

"Oh, I want to say grace for them all," said Daisy at the end. "I _do_
hope they are pleased with their dinners. Are the keepers fair, do you
think? There was a dreadful amount of bone in my parasol-tiger's dinner,
if you understand. Gladys, I don't believe you loved it. How stupid of
you! You don't quite understand; you don't know how nice it is to be
greedy instead of gentle. Do try. Oh, no, let's go out by this gate."

"But we shall have to walk miles before we get a cab," said Gladys.

"I know; that's why. It will make us late for Aunt Alice's tea-party. I
hate tea-parties."

"But mother asked me to be back by five," said Gladys.

"Did she? Did she really?" asked Daisy.

"Indeed she did."

"Oh, well, then of course we'll drive back, though I did want to walk.
But it can't possibly be helped. We must drive. It is such a pity not
to do as you are asked. I always do, except when Willie asks me to
marry him."

They got into their hansom and bowled silently down the dry grey road.
All June was in flower in the pink pyramids of the chestnut-trees, and
was already beginning to bleach the colour out of the long coarse grass
in the open spaces of the Park. There swarms of girls and boys rioted
ecstatically; here the more lucky, in possession of a battered bat and a
ball begrimed with much honourable usage, had set up three crooked
sticks to serve as wickets, and played with an enthusiasm that the
conditions of the game might justly have rendered difficult of
achievement. The one thing certain about the ball was that it would not
come off the baked, uneven ground at the angle at which it might be
expected. It might shoot, or on pitching might tower like a partridge,
and any ball pitched off the wicket might easily take it; the only thing
quite certain was that a straight ball (unless a full pitch) would not.
Above, the thick dusky blue of a fine summer day in London formed a
cloudless dome, where the sun still swung high on its westering course.
In front of the distances that dusky pall was visible, and the houses at
the edge of the Park were blurred in outline and made beautiful by the
inimitable dinginess of the city.

But Gladys had no eye for all this; she was burning to know what was the
latest development in the Willie affair, but her whole-hearted affection
for her cousin was a little touched by timidity, and she did not quite
like to question her. For Daisy, in spite of her charm, was a little
formidable at times; at times she would have moods of entrancing
tenderness; she could comfort or appeal, just as she could take the most
sympathetic pleasure in the fact that a fierce tiger was annoyed at her
amiable intentions, and had spoilt her best parasol. But at other times
there was something of the tiger in her--that, no doubt, was why she
understood this one so well--which made Gladys a little shy of her. She
had often, so to speak, bitten off the end of her cousin's parasol
before now, and Gladys did not appreciate that as much as Daisy had just
done. So in silence she looked a little sideways at that brilliant,
vivid face, flushed with the swift blood of its twenty-two years, that
looked so eagerly from its dark grey eyes on to the activity of the
playing children. But silences were generally short when Daisy was
present, and she proceeded to unfold herself with rapidity and all the
naturalness of which she deplored the lack in the gentle, good people.

"Oh! how they are enjoying themselves," she said, "with really no
material at all. Gladys, think what a lot of material a person like me
wants to make her enjoy herself! It really is shocking. My gracious,
what an ugly child that is! Don't look at it; you never should look at
ugly things--it's bad for the soul. Yes, I want such a lot to make me
happy--all there is, in fact--and poor darling Willie hasn't got all
there is. He's the sort of man I should like to marry when I am
forty-three. Do you know what I mean? He would be quite charming if one
were forty-three. He's quite charming now, if it comes to that, and I'm
dreadfully fond of him, but he thinks about me too much; he's too
devoted. I hear his devotion going on tick, tick, all the time, like the
best clocks. That's one reason for not marrying him."

"I don't think it's a good one, though," remarked Gladys.

"Yes, it is. Because a man always expects from his wife what he gives
her. He would be absolutely happy living with me on a desert island;
but--I know it's true--he would tacitly require that I should be
absolutely happy living with him on a desert island. Well, I
shouldn't--I shouldn't--I shouldn't. I should not! Is that clear?"

"Quite."

"Very well, then, why did you say it wasn't? Oh, yes, I know I am right.
And he would always see that I was well wrapped up, and wonder whether I
wasn't a little pale. I can't bear that sort of thing. No doubt it's
one way of love; but I must say I prefer another. I daresay the love
that is founded on esteem and respect and affection is a very excellent
thing, but it's one of those excellent things which I am quite willing
to let other people have and enjoy. It's like--like Dresden china; I am
sure it is quite beautiful, but I don't want any myself. I wish you
would marry Willie yourself, darling. Don't mind me."

They rattled out over the cobblestones of the gate into Baker Street,
and plunged into the roaring traffic. Daisy had still a great deal to
say, and she raised her voice to make it heard above the intolerable
clatter of motor 'buses and the clip-clop of horses' hoofs.

"Besides, as I said, I want such a lot of things. I'm hard and worldly
and disgusting; but so it is. I want to be right at the top of the tree,
and if I married Willie I should just be Mrs. Carton, with that decaying
old place in Somerset; very nice and intensely respectable, but that's
all. It's quite a good thing to be nice and respectable, but it's rather
a vegetable thing to be, if you are nothing else. I must be an animal at
least, and that's why I'm playing 'Animal Grab.'"

Gladys looked--as was indeed the case--as if she did not quite
understand this surprising statement.

"I'm very slow, I know," she said, "but----"

"Yes, darling, you are, but you do know what I mean, though you don't
know you know it. I've often seen you wondering about it. Oh, that motor
'bus is going to run into us! It isn't; how can you be so nervous? It
cleared us by at least a quarter of an inch. Yes, 'Animal Grab.' Now
'yes' or 'no,' do you know what I mean, or don't you?"

Gladys trembled under these direct assaults. But she thought "yes" was
more likely to be favourably received than "no," and so allowed herself
to say "yes."

But it proved to be a vain hope that Daisy would thereupon go on and
explain. That was so like Daisy; she never did what you hoped or
expected she might. Gladys on this occasion, with her pink, timorous
face and general air of discouragement, prayed that Daisy might not
trouble about her, but just go on talking. It is true that Daisy did
talk next, but, instead of expounding, she rapped out a question.

"So you do know," she said. "Then what is it?"

Gladys shut her eyes for a moment to encourage bravery.

"I suppose it means that you are thinking whether you will marry Lord
Lindfield or not," she said.

Daisy, however peremptory, was not a bully.

"How did you guess that, dear?" she asked.

"It wasn't very difficult. It couldn't have been, you see, or I
shouldn't have guessed it. But he has been--well, a good deal interested
in you, hasn't he, and you----"

"Do you mean I've encouraged him?" asked Daisy, with an inquisitorial
air.

"No, I mean just the opposite. You've rather snubbed him." Gladys made a
huge demand on her courage. "But you've snubbed him in such a way that
it comes to the same thing as if you had encouraged him," she said.

Daisy considered this.

"I think you've got a horrid mind, Gladys," she said at length. "If I
encourage somebody you tell me I am flirting, and if I discourage him
you tell me it comes to the same thing. And you do me an injustice. I
haven't snubbed or discouraged him. I've--I've remained neutral, until I
could make up my mind. Do you think he cares for me? I really don't
know whether he does or not. I can always tell with the gentle, good
people like Willie, and it is gentle, good people whom I see most. Oh!"

Daisy gave a great sigh, and leant out over the folded door of the
hansom.

"I'm not sure if I want to marry Lord Lindfield or not," she said, "but
I'm perfectly certain that I don't want him to marry anybody else. I
think I should like him always to remain wanting to marry me, while I
didn't want to marry him. I'm dreadfully glad you think that I can snub
or encourage him, because that means that you think he cares. I should
be perfectly miserable if I thought he didn't."

"I don't think you need be miserable," said Gladys.

"I'm not. Oh, there's the Prime Minister; I shall bow. That was a
failure. He looked at me like a fish. How rude the Cabinet makes
people! The Cabinet always goes about with the British Empire
pick-a-back. At least, it thinks the British Empire is pick-a-back.
The Empire doesn't. About Lord Lindfield. He's turning grey over the
temples, and I think that is so frightfully attractive. Of course,
he's awfully old; he must be nearly forty. He's dining to-night, isn't
he? Then I shall arrange the table. Yes, you needn't look like that. I
shan't make him take me in. He's supposed to be wicked, too. Oh,
Gladys, it is so nice if men go playing about, and then fall in love
with me. It's worth heaps of the other kind. Oh, don't look shocked;
it is silly to look shocked, and so easy."

The hansom waited for a moment at the junction of Orchard Street and
Oxford Street, and the innumerable company of locomotives sped by it.
Motors shot by with a whirr and a bubbling, hansoms jingled westwards,
large slow vans made deliberate progress, delaying the traffic as some
half-built dam impedes the course of flowing water till it finds a way
round it, and through the streams of wheels and horses pedestrians
scuttled in and out like bolted rabbits. The whole tide of movement was
at its height, and the little islands in mid-street were crowded with
folk who were cut off, it would seem, by the rising flood-water from all
communication with the shore, with but remote chance of escape. Then an
omnipotent policeman stepped out into the surging traffic, held up a
compelling and resistless hand, and at his gesture the tides, more
obedient to him than to Canute, ceased to flow, and the cross-movement
began, which permitted Daisy and her cousin to cross the stream. But
whether it was that the stoppage in their passage made a corresponding
halt in her thoughts, or whether, as was more likely, she had said all
that she meant to say on the subject of Lord Lindfield, she began, just
as they started to move again, on something widely different.

"And Aunt Jeannie comes to-morrow," she said, "which is quite
delightful. For I do believe I've missed her every single day since she
went away a year ago. And if I do that, you may depend upon it that she
is very nice indeed. As a rule, I like people very much when they are
there, and I get along excellently without them when they are not."

"Quite--quite true," said Gladys, with a touch of acidity.

"It's much the most sensible plan," continued Daisy, perceiving, but
completely ignoring, the tone. "It does no good to miss people, and, as
I say, I seldom do it. But I always miss Aunt Jeannie. I should like to
see her every day of my life. It would be dreadful to see most people
every day, though I like them so much when I do see them. Oh, Gladys
darling, don't look as if you were in church! You can't take things
lightly, you know."

"And you can't take them in any other way," remarked Gladys.

"Oh, but I can; it is only that I don't usually choose to. It is a great
blessing I don't take every one seriously. If I took Willie seriously, I
should find him a great bore; as it is, I think he is quite charming,
and I should certainly marry him if I were fifty."

"It was forty-three just now," said Gladys.

"Yes; but being with you has made me grow older very quickly," said
Daisy.

Gladys laughed; with Daisy it was very true that "c'est le ton qui fait
la musique," and the same words which in another tone could have wounded
her, now merely amused. It had taken her a long time to get used, so to
speak, to this brilliant, vivid friend, who turned such an engaging
smile on the world in general, and shone with supreme impartiality on
the wicked and the good, and to know her, as she knew her now, with
greater thoroughness than she knew herself. Ethically, if Gladys had
been put to the question on her oath, she would have had to give the
most unsatisfactory account of her friend, and, to sum up all questions
in one, it would have come to this--that she believed Daisy to be quite
heartless. But, humanly, there was in Daisy much to take the place of
that profound organ. She had the joy of life and the interest in life to
a supreme degree, and though she resolutely turned her back on anything
disagreeable or ugly, her peremptory dismissal of such things was more
than made up for by her unbounded welcome of all that pleased her. You
had only to please her (and she was very ready to be pleased), and she
poured sunlight on you. And Gladys, who was naturally rather shy, rather
slow to make friends, rather reticent, soon grasped this essential fact
about Daisy, and having grasped it, held tightly to it. She felt she
would not readily go to Daisy if she was in trouble, but there was no
one to whom she would hurry with such certainty of welcome if she was
happy. And though, no doubt, sympathy, to be complete, must feel for
sorrow as keenly as it feels for joy, yet a nature that feels keenly for
joy and turns its back on sorrow is perhaps quite as fine a one as that
which, though it may be an excellent comforter, is rather of the nature
of a wet blanket when a happy soul appeals to it for sympathy. And on
joy, whether her own or that of another, Daisy never turned her back.
She delighted in the happiness of others.



CHAPTER II.


Daisy's father and mother had both died when she was quite young, and
not yet half-way through the momentous teens. For seven years after that
she had lived with her mother's sister, the inimitable Aunt Jeannie,
whom she wished to see every day. But though she had passed seven years
with her, she had barely seen her aunt's husband. It was his death, a
year ago, that had sent her to the Nottinghams, for Aunt Jeannie in a
crisis of nerves had been ordered abroad for a year, and was now on the
point of return, and, having returned, was to stay with Lady Nottingham
for the indefinite period which may be taken up by the finding of a
suitable house.

Daisy knew there had been trouble at the back of all this. Uncle
Francis, Aunt Jeannie's husband, had been called an invalid, and she
gathered that his ill-health was something not to be openly alluded to.
Morphia was connected with it, a "habit" was connected with it, and
since this was somehow disagreeable, she had long ago so successfully
banished it from her thoughts that her curiosity about it was a thing
without existence. Certainly he made Aunt Jeannie very unhappy, but Aunt
Jeannie, who was such a dear, and so young still--not more than thirty,
for she was the youngest of a family of whom Daisy's mother was the
eldest--had been always sedulous to hide disquietude from her niece. And
it was entirely characteristic of Daisy to be grateful for having it all
hid from her, and not even in thought to conjecture what it was all
about. During this year of separation from Aunt Jeannie, in which, as
she had said (and Daisy, with all her faults and limitations, was a
George Washington for truth), she had missed her every day, she had
always looked forward to her return, and, though she liked being with
Lady Nottingham very much, knew that she would ultimately go back to the
unrivalled other aunt again with the intensest satisfaction.

But of late the prospect of going back, or living with any aunt at
all, had receded into at least a middle distance. There was no doubt
in her own mind (though she liked the absence of doubt to be endorsed
by her cousin) that Lord Lindfield had been extremely attentive to her
for the last month or so. He had committed dreadful social crimes,
such as throwing over an engagement already made and nearly due, when
he found that she would be at some house to which he was subsequently
invited. And somehow (that was the charm of him, or part or it),
though he upset dinner-tables right and left, nobody really minded.
Match-making London, which includes the larger part of that
marriageable city, even when they were personally affronted and
inconvenienced, smiled sympathetically when they heard what his
movements on the night he ought to have dined with them had been. He
did even worse than that; he had once, indeed, omitted to send the
excuse of a subsequent engagement, and everybody had waited a quarter
of an hour for him to put in a belated appearance. And when he did not
his hostess had remarked that he must be "picking daisies," and the
procession had gone dinner-wards with a widowed girl.

It turned out to be true, did this conjecture of the hostess. He had
dined "quietly" that night at Lady Nottingham's, and had played "old
maid" afterwards, as bridge was universally voted to be far too
intellectual. And Daisy took huge pleasure in such facts as these,
stealthily conveyed to her by one if not more of her innumerable girl
friends. For though there was no doubt that many dutiful mothers would
have liked their daughters to marry Lord Lindfield, yet when he
declared himself by signs as unmistakable as this, they neither felt nor
communicated any ill-humour.

He was picking daisies; very well, the sooner he plucked the particular
one the better. Daisy was so pleasant; no wonder, after all, that he
wished for her. And she too, quite soon, would join the ranks of the
match-makers, and be immensely kind to everybody else. Yet if only Katie
or Elsie or Nellie---- But it was no use thinking about that. Daisy,
once settled, would certainly do her best for those to whom fortune must
pay a "subsequent" visit.

Lady Nottingham purred approval over the girls on their punctual return,
before any of her guests had arrived. She was rather stout and very
comfortable. Behind her stoutness and her comfort there beat a heart of
gold, and an extremely acute brain, which was not always allowed for,
was alert and watchful. A heart of gold is considered as not
incompatible with comfort and stoutness, but nobody who had not come to
grips with her, or been her ally in some affair that called for
diplomacy or tact, knew how excessively efficient her brain was. She
had, too, the supreme gift of only sending into action as much of it as
was required to do the work, and never made elaborate plans when
something simple would do as well.

All this combined to make not only a character that was lovable, but a
friend whose wisdom might be depended on, and Daisy was eminently right
in valuing her aunt's counsel and advice. She sought it, indeed, this
evening, in the quiet half-hour that intervened between the departure of
the tea-party guests and the time when it was necessary to dress for
dinner.

Lady Nottingham was resting in her room when Daisy went to her,
ostensibly (and quite truly) to get the list of those who were coming to
dinner that night in order to arrange the table. But though she would
have gone there in any case for that reason, another and far more
essential one lay behind it. She wanted, indeed, to get her aunt's
opinion on the point she had herself talked to Gladys about that
afternoon, and sound her as to her opinion about Lord Lindfield.

The sorting of people to see who would take whom in to dinner, with
abstracted frownings over the map of the table, seemed to Daisy an
admirable accompaniment for disjointed questions, and one which would
give her an adventitious advantage, since at any moment she could be
absorbed in the task she was so kindly occupying herself with, and be
silent over it, if a reply was in any way inconvenient.

This sort of diplomacy, though not exactly habitual with Daisy, seemed
to her sufficiently acute and blinding, and she sat on the floor with a
peerage, the list of the guests, a sheet of paper and a pencil, and
began at once, while Lady Nottingham "rested" on the sofa against which
Daisy leant her back.

"Oh, what nice people!" said Daisy. "Can't they all take me in? Willie
Carton, Jimmie, Lord Lindfield, Mr. Braithwaite, and Lord Pately. Dear
Willie! I suppose he ought to take me in. Do you mind whether you sit at
the end of the table or in the middle of the middle, Aunt Alice? Middle
of the middle always works out more easily. All right. Dear Willie!"

The diplomat, who is known to be a diplomat, is at once under a heavy
handicap. Daisy was instantly detected, and Lady Nottingham, since there
was no direct question to reply to, preserved silence. Then, after a
sufficient pause, she asked,--

"Have you settled about Willie, dear?"

"Ye-es. It will be better if he takes Gladys in."

"Then he's settled for," said Lady Nottingham, turning over a page in
her book.

This did not suit Daisy; she had meant to make Aunt Alice ask leading
questions, instead of which she only gave the most prosaic answers. She
sighed.

"Poor Willie!" she said.

Aunt Alice laughed quietly and comfortably.

"Dearest Daisy," she said, "as you want to tell me about Willie, why
don't you do so? I suppose you want me to ask instead. Very well, it
makes no difference. I imagine he has proposed again to you, and that
you have refused him, and want to be quite sure I think you are wise
about it. You see, you said, 'Dear Willie' first, and 'Poor Willie'
afterwards. What other inference could a reasonable woman like me draw?
If you hadn't wanted to talk about it, you would have said neither the
one nor the other. Hadn't you better begin?"

Daisy laughed.

"I think you are a witch," she said. "Oh, one moment; the table is
coming right. Yes, and me at the end."

"And Lord Lindfield on your left," said Lady Nottingham, without looking
up.

That was the end of Daisy's diplomacy.

"You would have been burnt at the stake two hundred years ago,
darling Aunt Alice," she said. "I should have helped to pile the
faggots."

"What a good thing I wasn't born earlier," said she. Then for a
moment she thought intently; what she wanted to say next required
consideration. "Daisy dear," she said, "I wanted to talk to you
also, and if you had not been so very diplomatic I should have
begun."

"Oh, I wish I had waited," said Daisy.

"Yes. But it makes no difference. What you want is my advice to you as
to whether you should accept Lord Lindfield. I quite agree with you that
he is going to propose to you. Otherwise he has been flirting with you
disgracefully, and I have never known him flirt with a girl before."

Lady Nottingham put her book quite completely down. She wanted to
convey certain things quite clearly but without grossness.

"Now, Daisy, you are very young," she said, "but in some ways you are
extremely grown-up. I mean, I think you know your own mind very well. I
wish very much that your Aunt Jeannie had come back sooner, because she
is about nine times as wise as I, and could have advised you instead of
me. As it is, since I think you may have to settle a very important
question any day, I have got to give you the best advice I can. I think
he will propose to you, as I said, any day; indeed, I feel quite certain
of it, else it would be abominable in me to talk to you about it at all.
Therefore, do make up your mind before he does. Don't say, when he does,
that you are not sure, that you must take time to consider it. There is
no reason why a girl should not say 'yes' or 'no' at once, unless the
question comes as an entire surprise, which it does not do except in
second-rate novels like this one."

Lady Nottingham dropped the condemned volume on the floor.

"In real life," she said, "every girl sees long before a man proposes
whether he is likely to do so, and should know quite well what she is
going to say. And I think you intend to say 'yes.' You must, however, be
quite sure that, as far as you can tell, you are making a wise choice.

"Now, I am not going to shock you, but very likely I am going to make
you think you are shocked. You are not really. The fact is, you are not
in love with him, but he attracts you with an attraction that is very
often in the same relation to love as the bud is to the flower. He has
the sort of attraction for you that often contains the folded immature
petals of the full flower. You wanted to ask me some series of questions
which would lead up to that answer. And then you wanted to ask me one
further question, which was whether that was enough to say 'yes' on.
And my answer to that is 'yes.'"

The diplomacy in Daisy was quite completely dead. All this, so easy to
the mature woman, seemed a sort of conjuring-trick to her. It was
thought-reading of the most advanced kind, the reading of thoughts that
she had not consciously formulated. And the soothsayer proceeded:--

"You have seen the advantages of such a marriage clearly enough. You are
ambitious, my dear, you want to have a big position, to have big houses
and plenty of money, and to take no thought of any material morrow. That
is an advantage; it is only the stupid people, who call their stupidity
unworldly, who think otherwise. But the great point is not to keep
'to-morrow' comfortable, but to keep an everlasting 'to-day.' You must
be sure of that. Whatever the years bring--and Heaven knows what they
will bring--you should feel now, when you consider whether you will
accept him or not, that they can bring no difference to you. You must be
unable to conceive of yourself at seventy as different from yourself now
with regard to him. What is that music-hall song? 'We've been together
now for forty years.' It expresses exactly what a girl should feel forty
years before.

"And now for a thing more difficult to say. Lord Lindfield has--has
knocked about a good deal. Sooner or later you will know that, and it is
infinitely better that you should know it sooner, for it seems to me
almost criminal that girls should be left to find that sort of thing out
for themselves when it is too late. Mind, I do not say that he will
knock about again. The fact that he is quite certainly intending to
propose to you shows that he does not mean to. But he is not bringing a
boy's first love to a girl."

Lady Nottingham leant forward and stroked Daisy's head.

"My dear, how brutal this must sound," she said. "But I am the least
brutal of women. Assure yourself of that. And I have told you all there
is to tell, as far as I know, but I should have blamed myself if I had
told you less. And here is Hendon, and it is time for us to dress."

Daisy got up and kissed her aunt with a quick, trembling caress.

"I think you are a perfect darling," she said.



CHAPTER III.


The Dover boat, midday service, was on the point of starting from the
quay at Calais, and luggage was being swung on to it in square trucks,
the passengers having already embarked. The day before a midsummer storm
had vexed the soul of the silver streak, which had turned to a grey
pewter streak of a peculiarly streaky nature, with white tops to the
waves that slung themselves over the head of the pier. Cabin-boys and
stewards were making horrible dispositions of tinware, and the head
steward was on the verge of distraction, since the whole world seemed to
have chosen this particular day to return to England, and the whole
world, with an eye on the Channel, desired private cabins, which were
numerically less than the demand. At the moment he was trying to keep
calm before the infuriated questions of a Frenchwoman who believed
herself to be speaking English.

"Mais que faire?" she said. "I have ordered, and where is it? It is not,
you tell me. I cannot be seeck with the canaille on the deck. I wish
reservée. If not, I shall not go, and charge the company."

"Yes'm," said the steward. "Cabin-ticket, ma'am? Cabin No. 9. Show the
lady to cabin No. 9."

Cabin No. 9 had heard these volubilities with sympathy, and a little
secret amusement impossible to avoid if one were ever so little
humorous, and lingered a moment while her maid went on to the cabin
followed by a porter carrying small luggage.

"But I demand a cabin," continued this deeply-wronged lady. "C'est mon
droit, si je la demande. Where is the capitan? Fetch him to me. Bring
him. Oh, mon Dieu, the deck--to be seeck on the deck!"

Mrs. Halton, who was No. 9, called to her maid, and then spoke to the
Frenchwoman.

"But I will gladly let you have my cabin," she said. "I do not mind the
sea. I shall be quite happy on deck. Indeed it is no kindness. Very
likely I should not have gone into my cabin at all."

The poor lady nearly wept with joy, and would willingly have paid Mrs.
Halton ten times the amount the private cabin had cost; but that lady
refused to make a start in trading at this time in her life, and having
secured a sheltered corner watched for a little the inboarding of the
passengers, but soon lost herself in her own reflections.

Ah, but how pleasant they were! She was coming home after a year abroad
which had begun in widowhood and loneliness and misery and shattered
health, and was now returning, restored and comforted, to her friends
and all that made life so engrossingly pleasant a business. No one
deserved friends more thoroughly than she, and she was rich in that
priceless capital of human affection. Sorrows and trials she had had in
plenty in her life, but these the sweetness of her nature had
transformed, so that from being things difficult to bear, she had built
up with them her own character. Sorrow had increased her own power of
sympathy; out of trials she had learnt patience; and failure and the
gradual sinking of one she had loved into the bottomless slough of evil
habit had but left her with an added dower of pity and tolerance.

So the past had no sting left, and if iron had ever entered into her
soul it now but served to make it strong. She was still young, too; it
was not near sunset with her yet, nor even midday, and the future that,
humanly speaking, she counted to be hers was almost dazzling in its
brightness. For love had dawned for her again, and no uncertain love,
wrapped in the mists of memory, but one that had ripened through liking
and friendship and intimacy into the authentic glory. He was in
England, too; she was going back to him. And before very long she would
never go away from him again.

Her place on deck had been wisely chosen, and, defended by the row of
cabins at her back, she could watch in a dry windlessness the jovial
riot of the seas. Now the steamer would stagger to some cross-blow of
the waves; now, making a friend of them, swerved into a trough of
opalescent green, and emerged again to take, like some fine-spirited
horse, the liquid fence, flecked with bubbles, that lay in its course.
The wind that had raised this gale still blew from the westward, and on
the undefended deck great parcels of water, cut off from their seas,
fell in solid lumps that resolved themselves into hissing streams.

And Daisy--Daisy occupied no small portion of her thoughts. A year ago
she was on the threshold of womanhood, and at such critical periods Aunt
Jeannie knew well that a year may confirm existing tendencies or
completely alter them, bringing to light strands of character that had
been woven below the surface. For many reasons she had a peculiar
tenderness towards this dear niece. For seven rather dreadful years
Daisy had lived with her, and during these Jeannie had never remitted
her efforts to conceal from her that which had darkened her own life.

She believed (quietly, under her breath) that those efforts had been
successful; she hoped anyhow that Daisy did not know of, did not even
guess at, the underlying tragedy. For Daisy, all these years, had been
in the seedtime of her life, and Mrs. Halton, rightly or wrongly, quite
firmly believed that the young years of those who are to become men and
women are best spent if during them they can be brought to learn the joy
of life, while its possible tragedies are kept as far from them as may
be. For, in general, the habit of joy is the best weapon with which to
fight sorrow when sorrow comes. To expect the best of everything and
everybody, and to go on doing so, is the best antidote for
disappointments. To expect the worst, to think that disappointment is
the usual outcome, is to be already unnerved for it. Life is best
encountered with a sanguine heart.

Such, at any rate, was the creed of her who sat now on the deck of this
labouring steamer as it ploughed its passage home, where were her
friends and her lover. The tarpaulin had proved unnecessary, for she was
sheltered by the deck-buildings from spray. Her book was also
unnecessary, for she was more congenially occupied in this pleasant web
of thought, and she sat there in her big fur cloak--for the wind of
their motion made the air feel cold--with eyes that looked outwards, yet
brooded inwardly, April-eyes, that were turned towards the summer that
was coming. And all the past was poured into that, even as the squalls
and tempests of winter are transmuted into and feed the luxuriance of
June-time. The sorrow and the pain that were past had become herself;
they were over, but their passage had left her more patient, more
tolerant, more loving.

The deck was nearly empty, and but few of the more valiant walked up and
down the sheltered swaying boards; but these, as often as they passed,
looked again at her. Her mouth and chin were half lost and buried in the
furry collar of her cloak, but above them was that fine, straight nose,
just a little tip-tilted, the great brown eyes, and black hair growing
low on the brow. Had her mouth been visible, a man would have said,
"This is a woman," but without that he would very likely have said,
"This is a girl," so young and so full of expectancy was her face. Yet
had he looked twice at eyes and smooth, flushed cheeks alone, he would
have said, "This is a woman," for though the joy of life beamed so
freshly in her eyes, behind that there lurked something of its
transmuted sorrows. Her expectancy was not that of ignorance; she knew,
and still looked forward.

Under the lee of the English shore the sea abated, and she came on to
the top deck from which they would disembark, and looked eagerly along
the pier, telling herself that her expectations that she would see a
certain figure there were preposterous, and yet cherishing them with a
secret conviction. And then she knew that they were not preposterous at
all; that it could not have been otherwise. Of course he had come down
to Dover to meet her, and as she left the boat she was taken into his
charge at once.

"Oh, Victor, how nice of you," she said. "I didn't expect you would come
all the way down here a bit."

He held her hand, "but as long as all may, or so very little longer."
But there was much that passed between them in that "very little
longer."

"Nor did I expect to come," he said. "I only came."

She smiled at him.

"Ah, that's so like you," she said.

They waited with talk of commonplaces as to her journey and the crossing
till Jeannie's maid came off the boat with her attendant baggage-bearer,
and then went towards the train. They were the sort of people to whom a
railway guard always touches his cap, and this duly occurred. Victor
Braithwaite, however, had on this occasion already been in consultation
with him, and they were taken to a compartment he had caused to be
reserved. On principle Jeannie felt bound to remonstrate.

"You are so extravagant," she said. "I know exactly what that means: you
have paid for four places."

"Three," he said. "You have paid for your own. And if you say a word
more I shall get another compartment for your maid."

Jeannie laughed.

"My lips are dumb," she said. "Ah! it is good to see you."

She was for the moment deprived of that particular blessing, for he went
out again to get a tea-basket, and Jeannie leant back in her seat,
feeling, in spite of her remonstrance, that exquisite pleasure that
comes from being looked after, from having everything done for you, not
from a man's mere politeness, but from his right (he, the one man) to
serve the one woman. In all he did he was so intensely efficient and
reliable; the most casual trivial detail, if entrusted to him, took
place as by some immutable natural law. He would return in the shortest
possible time, yet without hurry, with the tea-basket, while half that
crowd of jostling, distracted passengers outside would have to go
without. And it was not otherwise in things that were far from trivial.
When he told her he loved her she knew that she stood on an unshakable
rock, against which nothing could prevail. There was not a woman in the
world, she felt, as safe as she. Well she knew what lay beneath his
quietness and undemonstrativeness, a trust how complete, a love how
strong.

The train started, then he leant forward to her from his seat opposite
and took both her hands.

"My dearest," he said, and kissed her.

And then there was silence for a little.

"And your plans," he said at last--"your immediate plans, I mean? You go
to Lady Nottingham's in town now, don't you?"

"Yes; and you? Will you be in town?"

A smile just smouldered in his eyes.

"Well, just possibly," he said. "I hope we may meet now and then. She
has asked me down to Bray the day after to-morrow for Whitsuntide. Shall
I go?"

Jeannie laughed.

"I won't pretend not to know what that means," she said. "It means to
ask whether I am going. What shall we do? I suppose the house will be
full, whereas we might have a sort of dear little desert island all to
ourselves if we stopped in town, as everybody will be away. I should not
object to that in the least. But, Victor, if Alice wants me, I think I
had better go down with her. There aren't really any people in the world
except you and me, but they think there are." Her brown eyes softened
again. "I think that is an ungrateful and selfish speech of mine," she
said. "I am sorry; I don't deserve my friends."

"I like the ungrateful and selfish speech," said he.

"Then I present you with it. Yes, I think we had better go down
there. I long to see Alice again, and Daisy. Dear Daisy, have you
seen her lately?"

"As one may say that one has seen a meteor. She has flashed by."

"Ah, Daisy shall not flash by me. She must flash to me, and stop there,
burning. Oh, look, it is the month of the briar-rose. See how the
hedges foam with pink blossom. And the fields, look, knee-deep in long
grasses and daisies and buttercups. I am home again, thank Heaven. I am
home. Home met me on the pier, my darling--the heart of home met me
there."

"And you did not expect it in the least?" he asked. "You said so, at
any rate."

"Did I really? What very odd things one says! It is lucky that nobody
believes them."



CHAPTER IV.


They parted at Victoria, and Mrs. Halton drove straight to Lady
Nottingham's, leaving her maid to claim and capture her luggage. She had
not known till she returned to London how true a Londoner she was at
heart, how closely the feel and sense of the great grey dirty city was
knit into her self. For it was the soil out of which had grown all the
things in her life which "counted" or were significant; it had been the
scene of all her great joys and sorrows, and to-day all those who made
up her intimate life, friends and lover, were gathered here.

There were many other places in the world to which she felt grateful:
sunny hillsides overlooking the spires of Florence; cool woods on the
Italian Riviera through which stirred the fresh breezes off the dim blue
sea below; galleries and churches of Venice, and the grey-green
stretches of its lagoons. To all these her debt of gratitude was deep,
for it was in them, and through their kindly sunny aid, that during the
last year she had recaptured peace and content.

But her gratitude to them was not of the quality of love; she felt
rather towards them as a patient feels towards the doctors and nurses to
whose ministrations he owes his return of health and the removal of the
fever which, while it lasted, came between himself and the whole world,
making all things strange and unreal. And then, just for a moment, a
little shudder passed over her as she thought of the sharp-edged,
shining streets of Paris through which she had passed with downcast,
averted eyes that morning, going straight from station to station and
hating every moment of her passage.

It was hard to forgive Paris for associations which it held for her of
a certain fortnight; it was hard to believe even now that those bitter
and miserable hours contained no more than the pain by which it was
necessary that a dear and erring soul should be taught its lessons. But
at heart she did not doubt that, though she could not forgive Paris for
being the scene of those infinitely sad and pitiful memories. Then she
shook those thoughts off; they concerned that past which was absolutely
dead in so far as it was painful and bitter, and lived only in the
greater tenderness and pity of which her own soul was so full.

There was an affectionate little note of greeting and welcome for her
from Lady Nottingham, which was at once given her, and even as she read
it somewhere overhead a door opened, and like a whirlwind Daisy
descended.

"Oh, Aunt Jeannie," she cried, "how heavenly! Oh, it is quite good
enough to be true. You darling person! I have never liked anything
nearly as much as this minute."

Daisy made a sort of Bacchante of herself as she took her aunt up to the
drawing-room, dancing round her, and ever and again rushing in upon her
for another kiss.

"And I managed everything too beautifully," she said. "Aunt Alice wasn't
sure if she wouldn't put off an engagement in order to be here when you
arrived, and I said she oughtn't to. I put it on moral grounds, and
packed her and Gladys off. And I didn't care half a row of pins for
moral grounds, I only just wanted to get the first half-hour with you
all to myself. And if you aren't pleased at my plan I shall burst into
several tears."

Aunt Jeannie took the dear face between her hands.

"I couldn't have thought of a better plan myself," she said, "and, as
you know, I am rather proud of my plans when I really give my mind to
them. Oh, Daisy, it _is_ good to see you! I don't think a day has
passed without my just longing to have a glimpse at you."

"Oh, is that all?" said Daisy. "I know a day hasn't passed without my
longing to have many glimpses."

"You dear child! You shall have such a lot. And what a lot you will have
to tell me; I shall want to know exactly what you have done, and whether
you've been wise and good and kind, and what new friends you have. I
shall want to see them all, and make friends with them all. And I shall
want to know all your plans. Just think, Daisy, it's a year since I saw
you."

"I know, but I don't believe it. Oh, Aunt Jeannie, you must come down to
Bray for Whitsuntide. Gladys and I go to-morrow just to look round and
see that everything is all right, and you and Aunt Alice are to come the
next day with all the party, and it will be such fun. Oh! I've got such
a lot to tell you."

Daisy paused a moment.

"I think I mean quite the opposite," she said. "I don't think that I've
anything whatever to tell you that's of the very smallest importance. I
only just want to babble and be glad. I am glad, oh, so frightfully
glad! You are the nicest aunt that anybody ever had."

Daisy poured out tea for her aunt, and considering her admission that
she had nothing to say, made a very substantial job of it. Yet all the
time she was talking with a reservation, having clearly made up her mind
not to mention Lord Lindfield's name. She felt sure, if she did, Aunt
Jeannie would see that she mentioned him somehow differently from the
way in which she mentioned others, and these first moments of meeting,
for all the sincerity of her joy to see her, struck her as not suitable
for confidences.

"Another reason why I wanted half an hour with you," she said, "is that
I am dining out to-night, and shan't see you. It is quite too
disgusting, but I couldn't help myself; and if one dines out one
probably dances, you know, so after this I shan't see you at all till
to-morrow. Oh, Aunt Jeannie, what a nice world it is! I am glad I
happened to be born. And you are looking so young, I can't think why
everybody doesn't want to marry you at once. They probably do."

Mrs. Halton's engagement was at present a secret, for it was still only
just a year since her husband's death, and though that had been a
release merciful both to him and her, her wisdom had rightly decided
that the event should not be announced yet. They were to be married in
the autumn, and the news need not be made public immediately. One
reservation she had made, namely, that she would tell Lady Nottingham;
but Daisy, even Daisy, must not know at present.

She laughed.

"They have a remarkable power of keeping their desires to themselves,
then," she said. "Dover pier"--and she smiled inwardly as she said
it--"was not thick with aspirants for my rather large hand. But as we
are on the subject, Daisy, what about Mr. Carton?"

Daisy looked at her imploringly.

"Oh, don't!" she said. "There is nothing more to tell you than what I
have written to you. He's so much too good for me that I should feel
uncomfortably inferior, which is never pleasant. Oh, Aunt Jeannie,
what a fraud I am! That isn't the reason a bit--and the reason is
simply that I don't want to. It sounds so easy to understand, doesn't
it, when it's stated like that, but poor darling Willie finds it so
difficult to grasp. I had to say it all over again three times last
Monday. It isn't that I feel inferior to him. If I did, it might mean
that I was in love with him, because people always say that they
aren't the least worthy when they fully intend to marry each other.
No. I don't want to, that's all; and if I am to be an old maid with a
canary--well, I shall be an old maid with a canary, which I shall
instantly sell, because they make such a row, don't they? Do you think
we might talk about something else?"

It was scarcely necessary for Daisy to add the last sentence, for
without pause she proceeded to do so. At the back of her mind Mrs.
Halton felt that there was something behind this, but since Daisy
clearly did not desire to speak of it, she would be committing the
crime--almost unpardonable between friends--of attempting to force a
confidence, if she showed the slightest eagerness to hear more or even
let her manner betray that she thought there was more to be heard.
Besides, she had her own secret from Daisy. It would be a meanness to
deny to others the liberty she claimed herself.

Lady Nottingham came in soon after this, and before long the two girls
had to go and dress for their dinner. Daisy, in the highest spirits,
rushed in again to say good-night to the aunts before starting, a
ravishing figure.

"Good-night, darling Aunt Jeannie," she cried. "Yes, my frock is nice,
isn't it?--and it cost twopence-halfpenny! Wasn't it a cheap shop?
Silver has gone down in value, you see, so much, and green was always
cheap. It's too heavenly to think that I shall come back to the house
where you are. Usually I hate coming back from balls."

A cab was waiting for them, and Daisy pulled the window down with a
jerk.

"She's a darling!" she exclaimed, "and I want to tell her everything,
Gladys, yet not one word did I say about Lord Lindfield. I have a
perfectly good reason as to why I did not in my own mind, but it doesn't
happen to be the right one. I say to myself that I wish to tell her
nothing until there is really something to tell. But that isn't the real
reason. Do you generally have a good reason _and_ a real reason? I
always do. Then you can use either and satisfy anybody. I think I must
be a hypocrite. The real reason is that I think she would see that I
wasn't in love with him. Well, I'm not--but I'm going to be. I shall
tell her then."

"Is he going to be at the Streathams to-night?" asked Gladys.

"Yes, of course. That's why I am going. If he wasn't, I should say I was
ill, and stop at home with Aunt Jeannie. Darling, if you look shocked I
shall be sick! Every girl wants to see the man she intends to marry as
often as possible. But most girls don't say so; that is why, as a sex,
we are such unutterable humbugs. Men are so much more sensible. They
say, 'She's a ripper!' or 'a clipper!'--or whatever is the word in
use--'and I shall go and call on that cad of a woman with whom she is
dining on Thursday next, in order to be asked to dinner.' That's
sensible; there's no nonsense about it. But girls pretend it happens by
accident. As if anything happened by accident! They plot and scheme in
just the same way, only they aren't frank about it. We want to marry
certain men just as much as they want to marry us, and yet we pretend
they do it all. You pretend. You try to look shocked because I don't.
Here we are! Oh, do get out! No, you needn't hurry. He's coming up the
pavement now. If you get out quick he won't see us--me, I mean!"

This slogging diplomacy was successful. Lord Lindfield got opposite the
house exactly as Daisy stepped out of the cab.

"Hullo, Miss Daisy!" he said. "What stupendous luck! Thought I was going
into the wilderness to-night like the children of Israel--and here you
are! Jove!"

He had taken off his hat, and stood bare-headed as he handed her out
of the cab, exposing that fascinating greyness above the temples
which Daisy had spoken of. A face clean-shaven and so bubblingly
good-humoured that all criticism of his features was futile
appeared below, but a reader of character might easily guess that if
once that bubbling good-humour were expunged, something rather
serious and awkward might be left. But the good-humour seemed
ineradicable; no one could picture his face without it. In other
respects, he was very broad, but of sufficient height to carry off
the breadth without giving the appearance of being short. A broken
front tooth, often exposed by laughter, completed the general
irregularity of his face. The fascinating greyness was accompanied
by a tendency to high forehead, due probably to incipient baldness
rather than to abnormal intellectual development.

"I don't know what Jove has got to do with it," said Daisy; "but if he
is responsible, I think it is delightful of him. I am glad you are here.
I thought I was going into the wilderness too. Oh, I think you have met
my cousin."

He had met Gladys about a hundred times, so Daisy was quite right, and
they shook hands gravely. That ceremony over, he turned to Daisy again
without pause.

"Dance, too, isn't there?" he said. "I shan't know a soul. I never do.
Do dance with me sometimes, out of pity's sake, Miss Daisy--just now and
then, you know."

Daisy gave an altogether excessive florin to the cabman, who held it in
the palm of his hand, and looked at it as if it were some curious
botanical specimen hitherto unknown to him.

"And one usually says 'Thank you!'" she observed.--"Yes, Lord Lindfield,
let's dance now and then."



CHAPTER V.


Their dancing now and then chiefly assumed the less violent form of
dancing, namely, sitting in as sequestered places as they could find.
There was nothing very sequestered, as the house was rather small and
the guests extremely numerous, and they sat generally in full view of
the whole world, Daisy being occasionally torn away by other partners
and being annexed again by him on the earliest possible occasion. In
such absences, though the good-humour of his face showed no sign of
abatement, he became extremely distrait, failed to recognize people he
knew quite well, and took up his stand firmly at the door of the
ballroom, where he could observe her and be at hand as soon as she was
disengaged again.

Their hostess, Mrs. Streatham, was a very rich and gloriously pushing
woman, with no nonsense about her, and but little sense. She was
engaged in pushing her way steadily upwards through what is known as
the top-crust of society, and if she wanted anybody particularly to
come to her house, gave him or her the choice of some six dinners and
ten lunches, further facilitating matters by requesting the desired
object to drop in any time. It was Lord Lindfield's first appearance
at her house, and she was already pinning him down for a further lunch
some time next week, with a grim tenacity of purpose that made it
difficult to evade her. He did not propose to leave his post of
observation at the ballroom door till this dance came to an end; and
as she had as good a right there (since it was her own house) as he,
it was likely that she would get her way. He had begun--which was a
tactical error--by saying he was not free till the end of the week,
and this gave her an advantage. She gave her invitation in a calm,
decided manner--rather in the manner of a dentist making appointments.

"Thursday, Friday, or Saturday will suit me equally well, Lord
Lindfield," she was saying. "I shall have a few people to lunch on all
those days, and you can take your choice. Shall we say Friday?"

"It's awfully kind of you," said he, "but I'm really not quite sure
about Friday. I rather think I'm already engaged."

"Saturday, then," said Mrs. Streatham, "at one-thirty."

"Very kind of you, but I'm away for the week-end, and shall probably
have to leave town in the morning."

"Then let us make it Thursday," said Mrs. Streatham. "And if two o'clock
suits you better than half-past one, it is equally convenient. That will
be delightful."

At the moment the dance came to an end, and Lindfield, to his dismay,
saw Daisy leaving by a further door.

"Very good of you," he said. "I'll be sure to remember. Excuse me."

Mrs. Streatham was quite ready to excuse him now, since she had her
hook in him, and went on to Gladys, who was just passing out.

"Miss Hinton," she said, "do lunch with me on Thursday next. Lord
Lindfield is coming, and, I hope, a few more friends. Or Friday would
suit me equally well. I hope Miss Hanbury will come too. Would you ask
her?--or perhaps it is safer that I should send her a note. Thursday,
then, at two.--Ah! Lord Quantock, I have been looking for you all
evening. Pray lunch here on Thursday next. Lord Lindfield and Miss
Hinton, and that very pretty Daisy--let me see, what is her name?--oh,
yes!--Daisy Hanbury are coming. Or, if you are engaged that day, do drop
in on Friday at the same time."

Lord Lindfield meantime had found Daisy and firmly taken her away from
her partner. Before now, as has been said, the affair was a matter of
common discussion, and her engagement believed to be only a matter of
time; to-night it looked as if the time would be short.

"And I'm coming down to Bray this week-end," he said, going on at the
point at which their conversation was interrupted. "It was so good of
Lady Nottingham to ask me. You've got such nice aunts! I expect that
accounts for a lot in you. Ever seen my aunts, Miss Daisy? They've got
whiskers, and take camomile."

"It sounds delicious, and I'm sure I should love them," said Daisy.--"So
sorry, Mr. Tracy, but I seem to have made a mistake, and I'm engaged for
the next. So very stupid of me.--I know, Lord Lindfield; isn't Aunt
Alice a darling? But, although I adore her, I think I adore Aunt Jeannie
more. Do you know her--Mrs. Halton?"

Lindfield gave a little appreciative whistle.

"Know her? By Jove! I should think I did. So she's your aunt, too! I
never heard such luck! But she's a bit young to be an aunt, isn't she?"

Daisy laughed.

"She began early. She was my mother's sister, but ever so much younger.
She was an aunt when she was eight. My eldest sister, you know----"

"Didn't know you had one."

"Very likely you wouldn't. She died some years ago, and before that she
didn't live in England. She was married to a Frenchman. But Aunt
Jeannie--isn't she an angel? And she came back from Italy, where she has
been for a whole year, only to-day. It's the nicest thing that has
happened since she went away."

"You mean that was nice?"

"Oh, don't be so silly! It is quite clear what I mean. You'll see her
next week; she is coming down to Bray."

"Wonder if she'll remember me? The people I like most hardly ever do.
Rather sad! I say, Miss Daisy, I'm looking forward to that visit to
Bray like anything. I don't know when I've looked forward to anything so
much. Are you good at guessing? I wonder if you can guess why?"

The room where they sat had somewhat emptied of its tenants, since the
next dance had just begun, and something in his tone, some sudden
tremble of his rather deep voice, some brightness in those merry grey
eyes, suddenly struck Daisy, and just for the moment it frightened her.
She put all her gaiety and lightness into her reply.

"Ah, but clearly," she said, "it is quite easy to guess. It is because
you will see Aunt Jeannie again. You have told me as much."

"Not quite right," he said, "but pretty near. Bother! Here's that woman
coming to ask me to lunch again."

The good humour quite vanished from his face as Mrs. Streatham came
rapidly towards them. She had so much to think about with all her
invitations that she very seldom remembered to smile. And it was without
a smile that she bore rapidly down upon them.

"Oh, Miss--Miss Hanbury," she said, "do come to lunch on Thursday next
at one-thirty--or is it two, Lord Lindfield? Yes, two. Lord Lindfield is
coming, and I hope one or two other friends."

"Why, that is charming of you," said Daisy. "I shall be delighted."

"And do persuade Lady Nottingham to come, will you not?" continued Mrs.
Streatham. "She is your aunt, is she not?"

Somehow the moment had passed, but Daisy, as she stood talking, felt
that something new had come to her. She had seen Tom Lindfield for a
moment in a new light: for that second she felt that she had never known
him before. He struck her differently, somehow, and it was that which
momentarily had frightened her, and caused her to make that light,
nonsensical reply. But next moment she saw that it was not he who had
altered, it was herself.

All this was very faint and undefined in her own mind. But it was
there.



CHAPTER VI.


Jeannie Halton, going up to her bedroom that night, felt very keenly
that ineffable sense of coming home which makes all the hours spent in
alien places seem dim and unreal. She could hardly believe that it was
she who had been so long away from so many friends, still less that it
was she who, a year ago, tired and weary, had gone southwards in
search of that minimum of health and peace which makes existence
tolerable. Yet that time abroad could never have become dim to her,
since it was there, in the winter spent in Rome, that her old
friendship with Victor Braithwaite had ripened into intimacy and burst
into love. Rome would always be knit into her life.

It was not only in affairs of the mind and affections that her
perception was acute. Like most highly-organized people, her body, her
fine material senses, were vivid messengers to her soul; and as she went
upstairs she contrasted with a strong sense of content her purely
physical surroundings with those in which she had lived for the last
forty-eight hours. For two days and nights she had been hurried across
Europe, over the jolt and rattle of the racing wheels; by day the
blurred landscape, wreathed in engine-smoke, had streamed by her; by
night she had seen nothing but the dull, stuffed walls of her sleeping
compartment, and it was an exquisite physical pleasure to have the firm,
unshaken floor underfoot, to be surrounded by the appointments of a
beautiful house, to be able to move of one's own volition again, and not
to be taken like a parcel in a van from one end of Europe to the other.
And how delicious also it was to be clean, to have revelled in soap and
water, instead of being coated and pelted at by dust and coal-grime! On
the surface of life this was all pleasant; it all added to her sense of
security and well-being.

She had enjoyed a charming evening, which was not nearly over yet, since
Alice was coming to her room for a talk--no little talk, no few
good-night words, but a real long talk, which should wipe off the
arrears of a twelve months' abstinence. Alice had demurred at first,
saying she knew that journeys were fatiguing things, but Mrs. Halton had
truthfully said that she had never felt less tired. For when one is
happy there is no time to be fatigued; being happy engrosses the whole
attention. It was early yet also, scarcely after ten, for two or three
old friends only, a party of women, had dined, and these had gone away
early, with the fatigue of the traveller in their minds. Mrs. Halton had
let that pass; the fact was that to-night she wanted above all things to
talk to Lady Nottingham. There was one thing--a very big one--which she
meant to tell her, and there was also a great deal she wished to learn.

Lady Nottingham followed her after a minute or two; and a maid bearing a
tray with an enormous jug of hot water and a glass followed Lady
Nottingham, for she was one of those people who seem to keep permanently
young by always doing the latest thing. Just now there was a revival of
hot-water drinking, and with avidity (as if it tasted nice) Lady
Nottingham drank hot water.

"Excellent thing, Jeannie," she said. "Can't I persuade you to try?
You dear person, I don't know that I will even attempt to. It might
have some effect on you, and I don't want anything to have any effect
on you. I prefer you exactly as you are. Now I want to make myself
quite comfortable, in order that I may enjoy myself as much as
possible, and then you shall tell me all that has happened to you this
last year.--No, Hendon, you needn't wait up. Yes; plenty of hot
water. Go to bed."

"Let me pull the blinds up and open the windows," said Jeannie; "I want
to let London in. Ah! Clip-clop! Clip-clop! Girls and boys going to
dances, and falling in love with one another, and keeping the world
young. God bless them!"

She leant out into the soft warm night a moment, and then turned back
into the room again, her face so brimming with happiness and youth that
Alice for a moment was almost startled.

"They or something else seems to have kept you young, you dear!" she
said. "And now sit down and tell me all about yourself from the crown of
your head to the sole of your foot. You are so tall, too, Jeannie; it
will take a nice long time."

Jeannie sat down.

"So it is 'me next,' is it, as the children say?" she asked. "Very well,
me. Well, once upon a time, dear, a year ago, I was an old woman. I was
twenty-nine, if you care to know, but an old woman. For the measure of
years is a very bad standard to judge by; it tells you of years only
which have practically nothing to do with being old or young. Well, the
old woman of twenty-nine went away. And to-day she came back, a year
older in respect of years, since she is thirty now, but, oh! ever so
much younger, because---- Do you guess at all?"

Lady Nottingham put down her hot water.

"Ah! my dear," she said, "of course I guess. Or rather I don't guess; I
know. There is somebody. It is only Somebody who can interfere in our
age and our happiness. Who is it?"

"No; guess again," said Jeannie.

But again it was hardly a case of guessing. Lady Nottingham knew quite
well who it was, who in those years of Jeannie's married life had been
her constant and quiet support and stand-by, and who had found his
reward in the knowledge that he helped her to bear what had to be borne.

"Victor Braithwaite," she said, without pause. "Oh, Jeannie, is it so?
You are going to marry him? Oh, my darling, I am so glad. What a happy
man, and how well he deserves it!"

Lady Nottingham was stout and comfortable; but with extraordinary
alertness she surged out of her chair to kiss Jeannie, and upset the
table on which was her glass and her boiling water, breaking the one and
deluging the carpet with the other--a perfect Niagara of scalding fluid.
She paid not the least attention to the rising clouds of steam nor to
the glass which crashed on to the floor and was reduced to shards and
exploded fragments.

"My dear, how nice!" she said. "And he has been in love with you so
long! He will have told you that now, but I insist on the credit of
having seen it also. He behaved so splendidly, and was such a good
friend to you, without ever letting you see--for I will wager that you
did not--that he loved you."

"No, I never knew until he told me," said Jeannie, simply.

"Of course you didn't, because he is a nice man and you are a nice
woman. Oh, Jeannie, don't you hate those creatures who keep a man
dangling--wives, I mean--who like knowing that a man is eating his poor
silly heart out for them, who don't intend to lead--well, double lives,
and yet keep him tied to their apron-strings? Such vampires! They put
their dreadful noses in the air the moment he says something to them
that he shouldn't, and all the time they have been encouraging him to
say it! They are flirts, who will certainly find themselves in a very
uncomfortable round of the Inferno! I should torture them if I were
Providence! I am sure Providence would prefer---- Dear me, yes."

Alice kissed her again.

"Isn't it so?" she demanded, vehemently.

"About flirts? Why, of course. A flirt is a woman who leads a man on and
leads him on, and then suddenly says, 'What do you mean?' Surely we need
not discuss them."

Lady Nottingham went over to the window-seat.

"No, I know we need not," she said. "I was led away. Darling, Victor
Braithwaite is coming to Bray on Saturday. Did you ever hear of
anything more apt? Till this moment I was not sure that you would ever
marry him, though I longed for you to do so. You shall have a punt all
to yourselves--a private particular punt--and he shall--well, he shall
punt you about. Oh, Jeannie, I too love the youth of the world."

Jeannie drew her chair a little nearer to the window-seat, in which Lady
Nottingham had taken her place after the catastrophe of the hot water.

"I know. He told me he was coming to Bray to-day."

"Oh, he met you at Victoria?" she asked.

"No, dear; a little further down the line--at Dover, in fact. Yes,
Alice, his was the first face I saw as we came alongside. And how my
heart went out to him! What a good homecoming it has been, and how
absolutely unworthy I feel of it! You have no idea how I used to rebel
and complain in--in those past years, wondering what I had done to have
my life so spoilt. Spoilt! Yes, that was the word I used to myself, and
all the time this was coming nearer."

"Tell me more, dear."

"About him?" asked Jeannie.

"About him and you."

"Well, all the autumn I was on the Italian lakes. Oh, Alice, such
dreadful months, and all the more dreadful because of the maddening
beauty of the place. I looked at it. I knew it was all there, but I
never saw it; it never went inside me, or went to make part of me. I
was very sleepless all that time, and depressed with a blackness of
despair. And as I got stronger in physical health, the depression seemed
more unbearable, because, in all probability, so many years lay before
me, and nothing in life seemed the least worth while. I often thought of
you, and often--every day--of Daisy, longing, in a way, to see you both,
but knowing that it would be no use if I did, for you would have been to
me like the corpses, the husks of what I loved once. And I did not see
any possibility of getting better or of getting out of this tomb-like
darkness. It was like being buried alive, and getting more alive from
week to week, so that I grew more and more conscious of how black the
tomb was. Every now and then the pall used to lift a little, and that, I
think, was the worst of all."

Lady Nottingham laid her plump, comfortable hand on Jeannie's.

"You poor darling!" she said. "And you would not let either Daisy or me
come to you. Why did you not?"

"Because there are certain passages, I think, which the human soul has
to go through alone. Dear Alice, you don't know all that went to make up
the gloom of those dreadful months! There was one thing in particular
that cast a blacker shadow than all the rest. I hope you will never know
it. It concerns some one who is dead, but not my husband. It was that
which made the darkness so impenetrable. I know you will not ask me
about it. But, as I said, when the pall lifted a little, that was the
worst of all, because then, for a moment it might be, or for an hour or
two, I knew that life and youth and joy were just as dominant and as
triumphant as ever in the world, and that it was I who had got on the
wrong side of things, and saw them left-handed, and could be only
conscious of this hideous nightmare of suffering."

Jeannie paused again, pushing back the thick coils of black hair from
her forehead.

"Quite little things would make the pall lift," she said. "Once it was
the sudden light of the sun shining on one of those red sails; once it
was the sight of a little Italian contadina dancing with her shadow on
the white sunny road, all by herself, for sheer exuberance of heart;
once it was a man and a maid sitting close to each other in the dusk,
and quietly singing some little love-song, so--so dreadfully unconscious
of the sorrow of the world. Oh, that was bad--that was dreadful! Just
one little verse, and then in the darkness they kissed each other. I
knew they were darlings, and I thought they were devils. And once Victor
wrote to me, saying that he was passing through on his way to Venice and
Rome, and asking if he might come to see me. I did not answer him even;
I could not.

"But during all those weeks I suppose I was getting better, and when I
went south to Rome in November, though I still could not look forward
or contemplate the future at all, I knew better how to deal with the
present hour and the present day. There was no joy in them, but there
was a sort of acquiescence in me. If life--as seemed the only possible
thing--was to be joyless for me, I could at least behave decently. Also
a certain sort of pride, I think, came to my help. I felt that it was
bad manners to appear as I felt--just as when one has a headache one
makes an effort to appear more brilliantly well than usual. One doesn't
like people to know one has a headache, and in the same way I settled
that I didn't like them to know I had a heartache.

"Victor was in Rome. The manager of the branch of their banking business
there had died suddenly, and he had gone to take his place till some one
could be sent out from England. The new man arrived there some ten days
or so after I did; but he still stayed on, for one morning I saw him in
the Forum, and another day I passed him driving. All he knew was that I
had not answered the letter which he wrote to me when I was on Como, and
he made no further attempt to see me. But he did not leave Rome. And
then one day I wrote to him, as I was bound to do, saying that I had not
answered his letter because I believed then that I could not; but that
if he would forgive that, and come to see me----

"Oh, Alice, it is being such a long story. But there is little more. He
came, and I asked him if he was stopping long in Rome, and he said his
plans were uncertain. And then--so gradually that I scarcely knew it was
happening--he began to take care of me; and gradually, also, I began to
expect him to do so. He tells me I was not tiresome; I can't believe
him.

"And then--how does it happen? Nobody knows, though it has happened so
often. One day I saw him differently. I had always been friends with
him, and in those bad years I had always relied on him; but, as I say,
one day I saw him differently. I saw the man himself--not as he struck
me, but as he was. That is just it, dear Alice. 'How he struck me' was
left out, because I was left out. And then I knew I loved him. And--and
that is all, I think."

Lady Nottingham gave a long, appreciative sigh.

"I think it is _the_ nicest story," she said--"and it's all true.
Oh, Jeannie, I am such a match-maker, and it is so pleasant to be
forestalled. I asked him down to Bray simply in order to promote
this, and now I find it has been promoted already. But the punt
will be useful all the same."

Jeannie joined her friend in the window-seat.

"Yes, just the same," she said.



CHAPTER VII.


There was silence for a little while. An hour had passed since they
began to talk, but it was still short of midnight, and the hansoms and
motors still swept about the square like a throng of sonorous fireflies.
Just opposite a big house flared with lit windows, and the sound of the
band came loudly across the open space, a little mellowed by the
distance, but with the rhythm of its music intact.

"Oh, I could get into a ball-dress and go and dance now for lightness
of heart," said Jeannie. "But I won't; I will do something much nicer,
and that is I will hear from you the news of your year. Now it is 'you
next.' Tell me all you have done and been and thought of. And then I
shall want to know all about Gladys and all about Daisy. I talked to
Daisy--or, rather, she talked to me--for half an hour this afternoon,
but I don't think she got absolutely 'home' in her talk. I had the
impression that she was showing me the dining-room and drawing-room,
so to speak. She did not sit with me in my bedroom or in hers as we
are sitting now. The only talk worth calling a talk is when you put
your feet on the fender and tuck up your skirt and put the lights
out--figuratively, that is. One must be taken into privacy. Daisy
wasn't very private. You have got to be. Now, dear Alice, about
yourself first."

Alice sighed again--not appreciatively this time.

"There's very little to say. I am rather lazier than I was, and Daisy
and Gladys--Daisy chiefly--make all arrangements. I send them out to
dances alone, because they always find a chaperon of some kind; and you
know, Jeannie, I don't like hot rooms and supper. I weave plenty of
plans still, and they mostly come off, but I don't go to superintend the
execution of them. I don't think I have any very private life; if I had
you should at once be admitted. I think a great deal about the people I
like best. I try occasionally to straighten out their affairs for them.
I want all girls to marry suitable men, and all men to marry suitable
girls. I think, indeed, that the only change in me has been that I take
a rather wider view than I used to of the word suitable. You see, I am
an optimist, and I can't help it; and I believe that most people are
kind and nice. Oh, I don't say that it is not great fun being critical
and seeing their absurdities and their faults, but I fancy that if one
wants to increase the sum of comfort and happiness in the world, it is
better to spend one's time in trying to see their charms and their
virtues. Dear me, what dreadful commonplaces I am saying! However, that
is my very truthful history for the last year: I want to make people
jolly and comfortable and happy, but, if possible, without standing
about in extremely hot rooms with the band playing into one's ear at the
distance of three inches."

Jeannie laughed.

"I don't think that is at all a bad history," she said. "That is
just the sort of history which I hope will be written of me
by-and-by. Oh, Alice, I don't want any more troubles and crises--I
don't! I don't!--even if they are good for one. Sometimes I wonder
if there is some envious power that is always on the look-out, some
Nemesis with a dreadful wooden eye that waits till we are happy and
then puts out a great bony hand and knocks us over or squeezes us
till we scream. 'Oh, Nemesis,' I feel inclined to say, 'do look the
other way for a little bit.' Yes, I just want Nemesis to leave my
friends and me alone for a little."

"Ah! but Nemesis is looking the other way with great fixedness, it
seems to me," said Lady Nottingham. "She may be dabbing away at
other people, but you must be just, Jeannie; she hasn't been
dabbing at any of us lately."

"Oh, hush! Don't say it so loud," said Jeannie. "She may hear and
turn round."

Alice laughed.

"No such thing," she said. "But Nemesis will certainly send you a
headache and a feeling of being tired to-morrow morning if I sit up
talking to you any longer."

She half rose, but Jeannie pulled her back into the window-seat again.

"Oh, no; don't go yet," she said. "I am not the least tired, and it
is so dull going to bed. I hoard pleasant hours; I make them last as
long as possible, and surely we can lengthen out this one for a little
more. Besides, you have not told me one word about Daisy yet; and, as
I said, though I had half an hour's talk with her, I feel as if she
hadn't taken me into her room. All the private history she gave me was
that Willie Carton still wanted to marry her, and she still did not
want to marry him."

Lady Nottingham considered this for a moment in silence, wondering
whether, as Daisy had not spoken to her aunt about Lord Lindfield, she
herself was under any tacit bond of secrecy. But, scrupulous though she
was, she could not see any cause for secrecy.

Jeannie interrupted her silence.

"Is there somebody else?" she said.

Again Lady Nottingham thought over it.

"I can't see why I shouldn't tell you," she said, "since half London
knows, and is waiting quite sympathetically and agreeably for him to
ask her. She consulted me about it only this afternoon, and I think
when he does--I don't say if, because I feel sure he will--I think
that when he does she will accept him. I advised her to, and I think
she agreed. His name----"

"Ah, but perhaps Daisy wants to tell me his name herself," interrupted
Jeannie again. "Perhaps she wants to keep it as a surprise for me.
Don't tell me his name, Alice. Tell me all about him, though not enough
to enable me to guess. And tell me about Daisy's feelings towards him.
Somehow I don't think a girl should need advice; she should know for
herself, don't you think?"

"Not always. Sometimes, of course, a girl is definitely, even
desperately, in love with a man before she marries--but, Jeannie, how
often it is the other way! She likes him, she thinks he will be kind
to her, she wants to be married, she has all the reasons for marrying
except that of being in love. And such marriages so often turn out so
well; some even turn out ideally. My own did. But in some
circumstances I think a girl is right to ask advice."

Jeannie smiled.

"I think yours is an admirably sensible view, dear," she said, "and I
confess freely that there is heaps to be said for it. But I am afraid
I am not sensible over a thing like love. I think sense ought to be
banished."

"So do the lower classes think," remarked Lady Nottingham, rather
acutely, "and the consequence is that the gravest problem that has
ever faced the nation has arisen."

"Oh, I take it, he is not one of the unemployed?" said Jeannie.

"He is, but the top end of them."

"Oh, go on, dear; tell me all about him," said Jeannie.

"Well, he is rich--I suppose you might say very rich--he has a title;
he has an old and honoured name."

"Oh, I want something more important than all that," said Jeannie. "The
old and honoured name is all very well, but is he continuing to make it
honoured? To be honoured yourself is far more to the point than having
centuries full of honoured ancestors. Is he satisfactory? I can easily
forgive the ancestors for being unsatisfactory."

"I am sure he is a good fellow," said Lady Nottingham.

Jeannie got up and began walking up and down the room.

"Do you know, that is such an ambiguous phrase!" she said. "Every man is
a good fellow who eats a lot and laughs a lot and flirts a lot. Is he
that sort of good fellow? Oh! I hate milksops. I needn't tell you that;
but there are plenty of good fellows whom I should be sorry to see Daisy
married to."

There had started up in Jeannie's mind that memory of Paris, which had
made her hurry through and away from the town; there had started up in
her mind also that which had been so hard to get over in the autumn,
that of which she had spoken to Alice Nottingham, only to tell her that
she hoped she would never speak of it. These two were connected. They
were more than connected, for they were the same; and now a fear,
fantastic, perhaps, but definite, grew in her mind that once again
these things were to be made vivid, to pass into currency.

"Is he that sort of good fellow?" she asked.

There was trouble in her voice and anxiety, and Lady Nottingham was
startled. It was as if some ghost had come into the room, visible to
Jeannie. But her answer could not be put off or postponed.

"Something troubles you, dear," she said. "I can't guess what. Yes, he
is that sort of good fellow, I suppose; but don't you think you
generalize too much, when you class them all together? And don't you
judge harshly? Cannot a man have--to use the cant phrase--have sown his
wild oats, and have done with them? Mind, I know nothing definite about
those wild oats, but before now it has been a matter of gossip that he
has been very--very susceptible, and that women find him charming. It is
disgusting, no doubt. But I fully believe he has done with such things.
Is he not to have his chance in winning a girl like Daisy, and becoming
a model husband and father? Don't you judge harshly?"

Jeannie paused in her walk opposite her friend, and stood looking out
into the warm, soft night.

"Yes, perhaps I judge harshly," she said, "because I know what awful
harm a man of that sort can do. I am thinking of what a man of that sort
did do. He was no worse than others, I daresay, and he was most
emphatically a good fellow. But the woman concerned in it all was one I
knew and loved, and so I can't forgive him or his kind. You and I have
both known lots of men of the kind, have found them agreeable and
well-bred and all the rest of it; and, without doubt, many of them
settle down and become model husbands and model fathers. But I am
sorry--I am sorry. If only Daisy had cared for Willie Carton! And she
does not love this man, you say?"

"He attracts and interests her; she finds great pleasure in his
company; she wants to marry him. I am not what you would call a
worldly woman, Jeannie, but I think she is wise. It is an excellent
match, and in spite of what you say about so-called 'good fellows,' he
is a good fellow."

Jeannie's face had grown suddenly rather white and tired. She felt as if
Nemesis were slowly turning round in her direction again. She sat down
by her dressing-table and drummed her fingers on it.

"Yes, no doubt I judge harshly," she repeated, "and no doubt, also,
there is a particular fear in my brain, quite fantastic probably and
quite without foundation. I have a 'good fellow' in my mind whose--whose
'good-fellow proceedings' touched me very acutely. I want, therefore, to
know the name of this man. I can't help it; if Daisy wants it to be a
surprise for me, she must be disappointed. You see what my fear is, that
the two are the same. So tell me his name, Alice."

There was something so desperately serious in her tone that Lady
Nottingham did not think of reassuring her out of her fears, but
answered at once.

"Lord Lindfield," she said.

The drumming of Jeannie's fingers on the table ceased. She sat quite
still, looking out in front of her.

"Lord Lindfield?" she asked. "Tom Lindfield?"

"Yes."

Jeannie got up.

"Then thank Heaven she doesn't love him," she said. "It is quite
impossible that she should marry him. Since you began to tell me about
this man I was afraid it was Tom Lindfield, hoping, hoping desperately,
that it was not. She can never marry him, never--never! What are we to
do? What are we to do?"

"There is some reason behind this, then, that I don't know?" asked
Alice.

"Of course there is. I must tell you, I suppose. We must put our heads
together and plan and plan. Oh, Alice, I hoped so much for peace and
happiness, but it can't be yet, not until we have settled this."

"But what is it? What is it?" asked Lady Nottingham.

A hansom jingled round the corner and stopped just below at the
front door.

"The girls are back," said Jeannie. "Daisy is sure to come and see if
I am up. I wonder why they are home so early. You must go, dear Alice.
I will tell you about it to-morrow. I am so tired, so suddenly and
frightfully tired."

Lady Nottingham got up.

"Yes, I will go," she said. "Oh, Jeannie, you are not exaggerating
things in your mind? Can't you tell me now?"

"No, my dear, it would take too long. Ah, there is Daisy."

A gentle tap sounded at the door; it was softly opened, and Daisy,
seeing the light inside, came in.

"Ah, but how wicked of you, Aunt Jeannie," she said, "when you told me
you were going to bed early. Yes, we are early too, but it was stupid
and crowded, and so Gladys and I came away. Oh, you darling, it is nice
to know you are here! But how tired you look!"

"Yes, dear, I am tired," said Jeannie. "I was just sending Aunt Alice
away. And you must go away too. But it was dear of you just to look in
to say good-night."

When the two had gone Jeannie sat down again in the window, her head
resting on her hands, thinking vividly, intently.

"Thank Heaven she does not love him!" she said at length.



CHAPTER VIII.


The geography of breakfast at Lady Nottingham's was vague and
shifting. Sometimes it all happened in the dining-room, sometimes, and
rather oftener, little of it happened there, but took place, instead
of on that continent, in the scattered islands of bedrooms. Gladys,
however, was generally faithful to the continent, and often, as
happened next morning, breakfasted there alone, while trays were
carried swiftly upstairs to the bedrooms of the others. She alone of
the inmates of the house had slept well that night. But she always
slept well, even if she had the toothache.

Daisy had not slept at all well. It would be nearer the mark, indeed,
to say that she had not even lain awake at all well, but had tossed
and tumbled in a manner unprecedented. There was no wonder that it was
unprecedented, since that which caused it had not occurred before to
her. She had left the dance quite early, dragging Gladys away, because
she had got something to think about which absorbed her. She had never
been really absorbed before, though it was a chronic condition with
her to be intensely and violently interested in a superficial manner.
But this went deeper; from the springs of her nature now there came
forth something both bitter and sweet, and tinged all her thoughts and
her consciousness.

In herself, as she lay awake that night hearing the gradual diminuendo
of the noises of traffic outside, till, when she thought there would
be a hush, the crescendo of the work of the coming day began, she felt
no doubt as to what this was which absorbed her and kept sleep so far
aloof from her eyelids. It had started from as small a beginning as a
fire that devastates a city, reducing it to desolation and blackened
ash. A careless passenger has but thrown away the stump of a cigarette
or a match not entirely extinguished near some inflammable material,
and it is from no other cause than that that before long the walls of
the tallest buildings totter and sway and fall, and the night is
turned to a hell of burning flame. Not yet to her had come the
wholesale burning, there was not yet involved in it all her nature;
but something had caught fire at those few words of Lord Lindfield's;
the heat and fever had begun.

Well she knew what it was that ailed her. Hitherto love was a thing
that was a stranger to her, though she was no stranger to intense and
impulsive affection like that which she felt for Aunt Jeannie. But how
mysterious and unaccountable this was. It seemed to her that the
phenomenon known as "love at first sight," of which she had read, was
a thing far less to be wondered at. There a girl meets some one she
has not seen before whom she finds holds for her that potent spell.
That could be easily understood; the new force with which she comes in
contact instantly exercises its power on her. But she, Daisy, had come
across this man a hundred times, and now suddenly, without apparent
cause, she who thought she knew him so well, and could appraise and
weigh him and settle in her own mind, as she had done after her talk
to Lady Nottingham the afternoon before, whether she would speak a
word that for the rest of her life or his would make her fate and
destiny, and fashion the manner of her nights and days, found that in
a moment some change of vital import had come in turn on her, so that
she looked on him with eyes of other vision, and thought of him in
ways as yet undreamt of.

This was disquieting, unsettling; it was as if the house in which she
dwelt--her own mind and body--which she had thought so well-founded and
securely built--was suddenly shaken as by an earthquake shock, and she
realized with a touch of panic-fear that outside her, and yet knit into
her very soul, were forces unmanifested as yet which might prove to be
of dominant potency.

Then, suddenly, her mood changed; their power was frightening no longer,
they were wholly benignant and life-giving. It was not an earthquake
shock that had frightened her, it was but the first beam of some
new-rising sun that had struck on to the darkness of the world in which
she had lived till now. She was smitten "by the first beam from the
springing East," she who had never known before what morning was, or how
fair was the light which it pours on to the world. And this morning beam
was for her; it had not struck her fortuitously, shedding its light on
her and others without choice. It had come to shine into her window,
choosing that above all others. It was she that the first beam sought.
It came to gild and glorify her house, her body and mind, the place
where her soul dwelt.

How blind she had been! There was no difference in him; the difference
had been in her alone. She had sat with sealed eyes at her window, or,
at the most, with eyes that could but see the shadows and not the sun.
Now they saw the sun only; there were no shadows, for the shadows had
been but her own blindness.

Dawn was in the sky outside; here in the quiet, white-curtained room
another dawn had come, not quiet, but with gleam of sun alternating with
cloud and tempest, making the beholder wonder what the day would bring
forth.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aunt Jeannie, too, had lain long awake, but when sleep came it came
deeply and dreamlessly, demanding the repair of two nights in the
train and the agitation of her talk. She had given orders that she was
not to be called till she rang, and when she woke the sun was already
high, and the square outside lively with passengers and traffic. But
it was with a sense of coming trial and trouble, if not quite of
disaster, that she woke.

It was disaster she had to avert; she had to think and scheme. But had
she known of Daisy's sleepless night, and the cause of that, she would
have felt that the anchor which prevented the situation drifting into
disaster had been torn up. For the anchor was the belief, as Lady
Nottingham had told her, that Daisy was not in love with Tom Lindfield,
and by one of fate's little ironies, at the very moment when she was
comforting herself last night with that thought it was true no longer.

Her sleep had quite restored her, giving vigour to her body and the
power of cool reflection to her brain, and when Victor came, according
to promise, to see her during the morning there was no hint of trouble
in her welcome of him, nor did he guess that any disquieting news had
reached her. And his conclusion, though not actually true, was justly
drawn, for the peace and the sense of security which she felt in his
presence was of a kind that nothing else, except danger and disaster to
it itself, could disturb.

It was a very tender, a very real part of her nature that was
troubled, but the trouble did not reach down into these depths. Nor
did she mean to speak of this trouble to him at all; a promise had
been made by her to keep it as secret as could be. Hitherto the secret
had been completely kept; it had passed the lips of none of the few
who knew. But to-day she would be obliged to speak of it to Alice, for
her plan to avert disaster was already half formed, but she dared not
embark on it alone without counsel from another. For an utterly
unlooked-for stroke of fate, supreme in its irony, that Daisy should
be meditating marriage with the one man in the world whom it was
utterly impossible that she should marry, had fallen, and at all costs
the event must be averted.



CHAPTER IX.


The two girls, as had been already arranged, set off during the
morning for the river-side house at Bray, where they would be joined
next day by Lady Nottingham and the rest of her party; and Aunt
Jeannie, returning home shortly before lunch, found that Daisy and
Gladys had already gone, and that the hour for her consultation with
her friend was come. For the situation admitted of no delay: in a sky
that till yesterday had been of dazzling clearness and incomparable
serenity there had suddenly formed this thunder-cloud, so to speak,
hard, imminent, menacing. It was necessary, and immediately necessary
(such was the image under which the situation presented itself to her
mind), to put up a lightning-conductor over Daisy's room. It was the
nature of the thunder-cloud that she had now to make known to Lady
Nottingham: that done, between them they had to devise the
lightning-conductor, or approve and erect that one which she had
already designed in her mind during the sleepless hours of the night
before. It was of strange design: she hardly knew if she had the
skill to forge it. For the forging had to be done by her.

They lunched together, and immediately afterwards went to Lady
Nottingham's sitting-room, where they would be undisturbed, for she
had given orders that neither the most urgent of telephones nor the
most intimate of callers were to be admitted. They drank their
coffee in silence, and then Jeannie got up.

"I have got to tell you, Alice," she said, "about that which only
yesterday I said I hoped I should never be obliged to speak of to
anybody. I suppose the envious Fates heard me; certainly the words were
scarcely out of my mouth before the necessity arose. What I have got to
tell you about is that which all last autumn was harder for me to get
over, I think, than all that I had been through myself. Only yesterday I
believed it to be all dead; I believed it to be at most a memory from
which time had already taken the bitterness. But I was completely and
signally wrong. It is dead no longer; it is terribly alive, for it has
had a resurrection which would convert a Sadducee. It is connected with
the reason why Daisy can never marry Tom Lindfield. It is more than
connected with it; it is the reason itself."

Jeannie had begun to speak standing by the fireplace and facing the full
light of the window, but here she moved, and wheeling a chair with its
back to the light, sat down in it. She wanted to be a voice and no
more--a mere chronicle of a few hard, dry, irrevocable facts, things
that had happened, and could not be altered or softened. There was no
comment, no interpretation to be made. She had just to utter them; Alice
Nottingham had just to hear them.

"You may have to give me time, my dear," she said, "for it will be as
much as I can do, I am afraid, just to get through with the telling of
it. Yes, I am already frightening you, I know. I do that on purpose,
because I want to prepare you for a story that must shock and disturb
you very much. I wondered last night whether I could manage without
telling you, whether I could spare your hearing it all, but I find I
can't. I can't act alone in this, on my own responsibility. Perhaps you
may be able to think of some plan which will make mine unnecessary, and
I would give a great deal for that to happen. But some plan must be made
and carried out. Something has to be done."

She covered her face with her hands for a moment, then took them away,
and spoke, slowly and carefully, so that there might be no need for
further explanation of what she said.

"Of course you remember Diana, Daisy's sister," she said, "though
you would remember her more as a name than as a person, for I think
you never knew her at all well. She married very early, you know;
she married that nice Frenchman, Monsieur Dupré. After that she
lived abroad till the time of her death. The fact of that you will
certainly remember, though it is now some years since it happened.
Where are we? Yes, 1908. Then Diana died in 1903, five years ago. So
at least we were told at the time. It was in 1903 that we, all of
us, you, Daisy, and I, believed that Diana died."

Jeannie gave a long sigh.

"My story of why Daisy cannot marry Tom Lindfield has begun, dear
Alice," she said, "for Diana did not die then. She lived for four years
after that, and died last autumn only, in my arms, thank God! I thank
God, my dear, that she died, and I thank God that I was with her. There
was no one else, not her husband even."

Alice Nottingham turned on her a face that was puzzled, and was
beginning to get frightened.

"But what does it all mean?" she said. "It is very disquieting, very
strange, but what does it lead to? Daisy--Tom Lindfield."

"I am telling you as shortly as I can," said Jeannie. "Do not interrupt
me, dear. It was last autumn she died, not five years ago as we had
supposed. Five years ago she was--was found out, if you understand--she
was found to have been living with another man not her husband. He
learned that, and he forgave her, for he adored her with a tender,
unwavering devotion that is very rare. She was to him like a child who
has been naughty and must be forgiven. Then in a few weeks only after
that she fell again. Even then he did not divorce her, or make her bear
the shame and publicity of what she had done; he simply let her go."

Jeannie was still speaking slowly and quietly, as if reading out some
report which had to be mastered by her friend. But on the words "let her
go" her voice trembled a little. But then she again recaptured the
completeness of her self-control.

"Whether that was wise or not," she said, "whether it might not have
been better if he had let Diana bear the punishment that human law has
ordained for those poor things who behave as she behaved, we need not
inquire. Nor need I tell you the details of how it was all managed,
which I learned from Diana so few weeks before she died last year. It is
sufficient for me to say that they left their home near Amiens together,
ostensibly for a long foreign travel. After some weeks he sent home the
news of her sudden death; he sent the news also to us in England. You
were told, I and Daisy were told. And Diana, poor, poor Diana, went and
lived in Paris."

Again the bravely-suppressed emotion made Jeannie's voice to quiver.

"That is what I mean when I said that M. Dupré let her go," she said.
"Often I think it was a barbarous kindness. He could not live with her
any more--the fact that he loved her so much made that impossible--and
he had either to divorce her or--or let her vanish into the glittering
crowd of those who--who are made like that. He chose the latter: he
accounted for her disappearance by the news, sent to Amiens and sent to
us in England, that she had died.

"So five years ago Diana went to Paris, and for a time lived, not with
the man who had taken her from her husband, but with another. During her
married life she had lived in that beautiful country-house of his near
Amiens, seldom going to Paris, and no one apparently ever found out who
she really was. Then----"

Again Jeannie paused--paused a long time; and before she spoke she put
her hands over her eyes, as if to shut out some dreadful vision.

"Then she left that man," she said, "and lived with another. You know
him; I know him; Daisy also."

It was as if Lady Nottingham had caught sight of that which made Jeannie
cover her eyes, for she winced and drew back.

"Don't--don't!" she said; "I can't bear that, please, Jeannie!"

At the sound of the beseeching voice Jeannie recovered all her
self-control. She was wanted; Alice wanted her for comfort.

"Oh, my dear, you must not be afraid," she said. "We have to face the
facts and not be afraid of them, but do our best, and see how we can
arrest or alter the train of their consequences. It was he--Tom
Lindfield."

Again she paused, and again continued, speaking quietly.

"I knew nothing of all this till a little over a year ago," she said;
"for even as M. Dupré had wished to spare Diana shame and publicity,
so, I suppose, he wished to spare us the knowledge of what Diana had
done, and it was thus that neither you nor Daisy nor I knew anything
of it. I think perhaps he ought to have told us--told you and me,
anyhow. But he did not, and it is of no use to think what we should
have done if he had. But rather more than a year ago Diana herself
wrote to me--wrote me a pitiful, heart-breaking letter. I thought at
first it must be some grim practical joke, though I could not imagine
who had played so cruel a trick, or why the trick had been played at
all. But it was Diana's handwriting, and she enclosed a photograph of
herself, which I have now. It was impossible to mistake that: nothing
could mar her beauty; and then it was signed and dated in her own
hand. She wrote to say that she had been ill, that she was getting
rapidly worse--it was of consumption, perhaps you remember, that her
mother died--and she wanted to know if I would come to her. She wanted
to tell me everything, and, thank God, she wanted me. So it was there
that I went when I left England last year.

"I stayed with her till she died in that little gilded flat. And during
that month she told me everything. It--it was a long story, Alice, and
it was all set to one shameful tune. And I was not shocked; that would
have made my being with her quite useless, to begin with, but, also, I
did not feel inclined to be shocked. She was so like a child--a child
that has gone wrong, if you will, but still a child. Whether she was
ashamed or not I hardly know, for after she had told me of it all we
never once spoke of it again. Certainly she wished, as passionately as
she was capable in her poor dying state of wishing anything, that she
should not bring shame or sorrow on others. Of all others that she
wished to spare, most of all she wished to spare Daisy; and--a promise
to a dying person is a very solemn thing--I promised that I would do all
that lay in my power so that Daisy should not know. Till yesterday I
thought that promise would never come up. But it has. Daisy must not
conceivably marry him. Also, she must not know why. There is our crux.

"And one word more, in justice to him," she added. "I am convinced he
does not to this day know who it was with whom he lived in Paris. He
knew me, for instance, and liked me; and I am sure he would not have
lived with her knowing who she was. Oh, but, Alice, the misery, the
sorrow of it all! You don't know. You weren't with Diana at the end. And
I loved her. And I think her--her going so utterly wrong like that made
me love her more. The pity of it! The hopeless, helpless sorrow of it!
She did not want to die----"

Jeannie's voice choked for a moment.

"She wanted life, she wanted love, poor child. She was like some
beautiful wild thing, without law. She didn't think. She never loved
her husband, who adored her. She didn't think. And she died
frightened--frightened at what might be in front of her. As if the
Infinite Tenderness was not in front of her! As if Jesus Christ, the
Man of many sorrows, was not there! Oh, Alice, how can we judge?"

"Ah, my dear, we don't judge," said she. "Anyhow, no judgment of ours
has any effect. It is done with as far as she is concerned."

Jeannie's face suddenly brightened into a semblance of a smile. It was
veiled, but it was but the flesh that veiled it; at the core it was
wholly loving.

"Then we are content to leave dear Diana in the hands of the Infinite
Pity?" she said. "That must be certain before we can talk further."

"But with my whole heart," said Lady Nottingham.

Again there was silence; and in that Jeannie openly dried the tears that
were on her face. She had been crying: there was no question about that.

"I had to tell you, dear Alice," she said at length. "I could not bear
it alone. You see why it is impossible, beyond the bounds of speech,
that Daisy should marry him. You see also why I thank Heaven that she
does not love him. At all costs, also, Daisy must not know why it is
impossible. That was my promise to Diana when she was dying. I would do
anything within my power and the stretched-out limits of it to prevent
her knowing. Diana, poor darling, wished for that. It was the last
request she made. It is sacred to me, as sacred as my honour."

"Do you mean to tell him?" asked Alice.

"I hope not to. I want to keep poor Diana's secret as close as can
be. And I am not in the least certain, from what I know of him, that
it would do any good. If he wants Daisy, do you think a man like that
would let that stand in his way? No, we must do better than that.
Now, is he in love with her?"

"I can't say. It is clear, however, that he wants to marry her. He has
been in love so many times that one doubts if he has been in love at
all. There was----"

"Oh, spare me the list of his conquests. He has been in love many times.
That is sufficient."

"Sufficient for what?"

"For the plan that has occurred to me as possible. I don't say it is
easy; I don't say it is nice; but we want, above all things, to keep
poor Diana's dreadful secret, to let no one, if possible--and, above
all, Daisy--know that it was her sister who lived those years in Paris,
and in that manner."

Jeannie got up.

"Clearly the easiest way of arriving at what we want is to make Daisy
think that he has only been flirting with her," she said--"that he is
not serious. It will hurt the poor child, I know; but if she were in
love with him, which you think she is not, it would hurt her far, far
more. Therefore, we must waste no time. Any day, any moment, she may
fall in love with him. He is extremely attractive."

"Do you mean you will tell Daisy that he has only been flirting with
her?" asked Alice.

"No, that would do no good. She would not believe it. Besides, any day
also he may propose to her. No, it must be more convincing than that.
She must see that which convinces her that he is not in earnest. We must
make him, if we can, under Daisy's very nose, flirt with somebody else.
We must make him neglect her. I don't know if it can be done, but we
must try. At least, I can think of no other plan which will not involve
telling Daisy all that we want to keep from her."

"But how--who?" asked Alice.

"He is coming to Bray--Lord Lindfield, I mean?"

"Yes; he is coming to-morrow evening with the others."

Jeannie paused in front of a mirror, looked long at herself, and spoke
to her image there.

"Yes, passable yet--just passable yet," she said to herself.

Lady Nottingham got up and came across the room to her.

"Jeannie, what do you mean?" she asked. "What is it you mean?"

Jeannie turned round quickly.

"Ah! you guess," she said. "I don't say it is nice; I shan't like myself
much, I can promise you. But it is not so long since he ran after me a
good deal. Perhaps you remember the fact. He didn't receive much
encouragement then. Well, I mean that he shall do it again. This time
he shall receive much more encouragement. I will make it very easy for
him. I will help him a great deal now. I will flirt with him all the
time at Bray. Flirt--yes. Oh, it is not a nice word, and flirts are not
nice people, as we settled only yesterday. We settled they were not
worth talking about. But I am going to be one now--and a bad one,
too--under Daisy's very nose. Perhaps I shan't succeed, but I shall do
my best; and if I don't succeed, we must try to think of something else.
But I want Daisy to see how easily and readily he makes love to a woman.
I want her to see herself slighted and neglected. I want her to be
hurt--and finally to be angry, to be furious, to see that he means
nothing. Then, provided only she is not in love with him now, she will
hate and despise him."

Jeannie spoke rapidly, excitedly, her face flushing.

"Or do you think it is a forlorn hope, Alice?" she said. "Am I but
flattering myself that I am not quite _passée_ yet? Oh, it is a heavy
handicap, I know, for a woman of my age to try to cut out a brilliant
young girl, and one who is beautiful; and, as you have told me, he
never, as far as you know, flirted with a girl. Well, that proves he
likes women best."

"Ah! but you can't do it, Jeannie," broke in Lady Nottingham. "Think of
what you will appear to Daisy; think of your own self-respect; think of
Victor. What will he make of it all? It is too dangerous."

"I have thought of all those things," said Jeannie. "I have weighed and
balanced them; and they seem to me lighter than that promise I made to
Diana. I may have to tell Victor; about that I don't know, but I shall
do my utmost not to. It may not be necessary, for, Alice, I think he
trusts me as utterly as I trust him. I think that if I saw him running
after some other woman I should feel there must be some explanation,
and I hope I should not ask him for it, or think he was faithless to me.
And I believe he has that trust in me also. I don't know. If he demands
to know what it all means I shall tell him, because if you are asked
anything in the name of love it is not possible to refuse. Heaven knows,
this is a desperate measure! But show me any other that has a chance of
success and will still keep Diana's secret. This may fail; one cannot be
sure of any plan going right. But show me any other plan at all, and
from the bottom of my heart I will thank you."

Lady Nottingham shook her head.

"I can think of no other plan," she said; "but I can't approve of this
one. You are playing with serious things, Jeannie; you are playing with
love and other people's souls. Diana did not mean you to do anything
like this in order to keep your promise to her."

"No, poor child! One does not easily see the consequences of one's acts,
or how they go on long after they are committed, bringing joy or sorrow
to others. Oh, Alice, there is such a dreadful vitality about evil. Acts
that one thinks are all over and dead have an awful power of coming to
life again. What one has done never dies. It may be forgiven--Heaven
grant it may be forgiven--but it exists still in the lives of others."

"But it is not as if she were alive," said the other, "or as if she
could suffer for it."

Jeannie shook her head.

"Ah, my dear," she said, "to my mind that is a reason the more for
keeping my promise. Living people can defend themselves to some extent,
or you can appeal to them and make them see, perhaps, that such a
promise involves more than it is reasonable to demand. But the dead,
Alice! The dead are so defenceless!"

Lady Nottingham was silent, knowing that it is useless to argue over
questions of feeling; for no amount of reasoning, however admirable, can
affect a question about which the heart has taken sides. And after a
moment Jeannie went on:--

"And it is not the dead alone," she said. "There is Daisy also to
consider. Had I made no promise at all, I think I would do anything as
distasteful and odious to me as that which I am going to do, for the
sake of keeping that dreadful knowledge from her. Alice, think if you
had had a sister like that! Could you ever get rid of the poison of it?
And it is an awful thing to let a young soul be poisoned. When we grow
older, we get, I suppose, better digestions; poisons affect us less.
That is the worst of growing old."

Again she paused.

"And now, dear--as they say at the end of sermons--let us talk no
more about it. You will see me in an odious rôle down at Bray; but it
will be something to know that you are aware it is a rôle, an odious
rôle assumed for a good purpose. I shall seem detestable to Daisy,
and she will not be able to believe her eyes, until she is forced to.
I shall seem charming to him, Tom Lindfield, until at the end, when,
as we hope, Daisy is convinced, I shall turn round like the flirt and
say, 'What do you mean?' I shall seem odious to myself, but I do not
believe I shall seem odious to Victor. I think he will know there is
something he does not understand. Perhaps I shall do it all very
badly, and not succeed in detaching him at all from Daisy. It is true
I have not had much practice, for I assure you I am not a flirt by
nature. Oh, Alice, can't you think of any other plan? I can't, and I
have thought so hard. Have you got a very large party? I don't want a
full house to witness this disgusting performance. I shall have to be
so cheap. I wish Victor was not going to be there. At least, I am not
sure. I think he will see he does not understand. It is bad luck,
you know, that of all men in the world this should be the one whom
Daisy thinks about marrying. Now let us dismiss it altogether."

Lady Nottingham felt a certain sense of injustice.

"Dear Jeannie," she said, "you have done all the talking, and, having
expressed your views, you say, 'Let us dismiss it altogether.' By all
means, if you choose; but I haven't had a chance. You have prophesied
success to your scheme; I prophesy disaster. You are not fitted for your
rôle; you will break down long before you accomplish anything. You will
see Daisy looking at you with reproach; you will see Victor looking at
you with wonder; you will see Lord Lindfield looking at you with--with
admiration. You won't be able to bear any of those things, least of all
the last. You will have some involuntary shudder of horror at him, or
you will obey your heart and run to comfort Daisy, and give it all
away. Yours is one of the schemes that don't come off, because they are
unthinkable."

But Jeannie interrupted again.

"You mustn't discourage me," she said, "because I want all the spirits I
am capable of to carry it through. It has to be done with a light heart,
else it will deceive nobody. And so, my dear, to-morrow you will say
'good-bye' to me, and have a sort of wraith of me instead for a little
while. Oh, Alice, I hope it won't take very long!"

The intense heat of the afternoon had a little abated, and after tea the
two drove out for a while, returning early in order to dine and go to
the opera. It began at eight, and Jeannie, after her year's sojourn in
the country, demanded a full dose, and they arrived before the beginning
of the first act. Outside it was still not quite the hour of sunset, and
the streets and houses were gilded by the soft reddish glow of the
superb summer evening. At the porch of the opera-house were a few men
standing about, clearly waiting for friends, and for that purpose
examining the disembarking carriages. As the two got out, one of these
gently but quite firmly shouldered his way towards them.

"Looking out for an acquaintance, I find a friend, Lady Nottingham," he
said. "That's my luck all over.--Why, Mrs. Halton! Have you the smallest
remembrance of me?"

Jeannie had seen him, and for one moment of weakness and indecision had
tried to pass by without seeming to recognize him. But it was impossible
to ignore this, and though she had hoped her rôle would not begin till
to-morrow, it was clear now that she must start to-day.

"Why, but how charming to see you, Lord Lindfield," she said. "I am
delighted. I am only just home, you know--or perhaps you don't, for why
should you? Do leave your acquaintance in the lurch, now you have found
a friend--it would have been prettier of you, by the way, to have said
two friends--and join us. Alice dear, carry Lord Lindfield off under
your cloak to the box. Kidnap him."

"Jove! yes, I'll be kidnapped," said he. "Kidnap me quick, please, Lady
Nottingham, because I see Mrs. Streatham's carriage. Too late; she sees
me. May I come up for--for an hour or two, after the first act?"

"Not for an hour, for two," said Jeannie, as Mrs. Streatham waved her
hand to him, but without a smile, for she was busy wondering who Mrs.
Halton was, and whether there was a chance of getting her to dine two or
three times during the next week.

Mrs. Streatham used her friends and acquaintances much as a clematis
uses the wires or trellis put up for it. She strongly and firmly climbed
along them (without ever letting go), to find fresh friends and
acquaintances.

"Who was that charming-looking woman you were talking to, Lord
Lindfield," she said, "with Lady Nottingham? By the way, you lunch with
us on Thursday, do you not?"

"Mrs. Halton," said he.

"Really! That sweetly pretty Miss--Miss Hanbury's aunt? Are she and Lady
Nottingham in the stalls? They might like to come to my box instead. It
is so far more comfortable in a box. Will you ask them? I do know Lady
Nottingham. She dined with us last year--at least, I asked her."

"They have a box of their own," said he.

"Ah, what a pity! Let us go in. I expect a few friends this evening, but
they will find their way. It is such a pity to miss a note of 'Faust.'
Oh, I see, it is 'Lucia.' That is by Gounod too, is it not?"

Three hours later they were all standing in the vestibule waiting for
the arrival of carriages. Mrs. Streatham had been unable to arrange
anything definite with regard to Mrs. Halton lunching with her, but
had just said she would write, and hope to find her disengaged the
week after next, when her carriage was bawled out. Lord Lindfield
shut her firmly into it, with profuse thanks, and returned to the
others. Crowds of people--some of whom, apparently, Mrs. Streatham
did not know by sight--had swarmed into her box during the evening,
and he had spent most of it in Lady Nottingham's without any sense of
deserting his hostess, since it was impossible even to stand in her
box, far less sit down.

Then Lady Nottingham's carriage had come up too, and he put them into
it.

"Till to-morrow, then," said Jeannie. "I am looking forward to it
immensely. You lunch with us first, and then take me to the concert."

The motor bubbled and slid off, and she put down the window.

"It moves," she said laconically.



CHAPTER X.


Lady Nottingham's house at Bray was one of those styleless
nondescript river-side residences which, apart from the incomparable
beauty of their surroundings, have a charm of their own, elusive but
distinct. Originally it had been no more than a couple of cottages,
thatched and low-eaved, but her husband in his lifetime had dealt
with these so successfully by building out a dining-room with
bedrooms above on one side, a drawing-room and billiard-room, again
with bedrooms above, on the other, and a long row of servants' rooms
and offices, that now it was commodious enough to take in a tolerably
large party in extreme comfort.

It is true that he might have built something quite as commodious at far
less expense by pulling down the old and beginning again, but, on the
other hand, the amusement and employment he got out of it was cheap at
the additional price.

The house stood screened from the river by a thick-set hawthorn hedge,
inside which was a garden of a couple of acres in extent, in which was
combined the charm of antiquity with the technique of skilful modern
gardening. Unlike many English gardens, which are laid out to be active
in, this was clearly a place for the lazy and the lounger. There were no
tennis courts, no croquet lawns, no place, in fact, where any game could
be played that demanded either extent or uniformity of surface. A wavy,
irregular lawn, all bays and angles and gulfs of green, was fitted into
the headlands and promontories of garden beds, as the sea is fitted into
the land; but the voyager never got to open sea, so to speak, but was
always turning round corners into other gulfs.

It was impossible to imagine a place less formally laid out, or one,
considering the extent of it, where you could walk so short a way in the
same direction.

There were no straight lines anywhere, an omission fatal in the eyes
of a formalist, but paths, broad paths of grass, or narrower paths of
old paving-stone, meandered about in a manner that could hardly fail
to please.

On each side of such paths were garden beds, no mere ribbons, but wide,
deep spaces of well-nourished earth, where just now June made jungle.
Here you could sit and become part of the general heat and fragrance,
and lose your identity in summer, or, moving a little, find a tree, no
shrub, but a big living elm in tower of leaf and panoply of spreading
bough, to be cool under. Pigeons from the big dovecot in front of the
house afforded to a leisure mind a sufficiency of general conversation,
or formed a cooing chorus of approval if anybody wished to talk himself;
but one thing clearly prohibited in these warm, green places was to be
active. The actively inclined had to pass through the gate in the hedge,
and there, by turning to the left, they would find a back-water with a
whole village of boat-houses. There, to suit the measure of their
activity, they could equip themselves with the required materials; there
were punts at their disposal, or they could take unto themselves a
canoe, or a portly, broad-beamed ark, or risk themselves in outriggers
of extreme length and uncertain stability.

The house itself afforded no less scope for the various inclinations of
its inhabitants. There was a charming drawing-room where any one could
sit up, take notice, and be formal. There was an immense billiard-room,
with an alcove containing a couple of card tables, so far away from the
billiards that the sound of cannons reached the ear of the bridge-player
in a manner that could not disconcert; while for wet days and the more
exuberantly inclined there was a squash-racquet court where any amount
of exercise could be enjoyed with the smallest possible expenditure of
time.

The two original cottages had been run together, and a hall now
comprised the whole ground floor of both. Wooden joists of the
floors above made parallels down the ceiling, and it was still lit
through the small-paned windows of the original cottages, through
the squares of which the landscape outside climbed up and down over
the ridges of the glass. At one end was the fireplace, which had
once been a kitchen-range; but that removed, a large open hearth,
burning a wood fire when fires were necessary, was flanked by two
settles within the chimney-space.

At the other end, and facing it, the corresponding kitchen range of
the second cottage had also been cleared out, but the chimney above
it had been boarded in, and a broad, low settee ran round the three
sides of it. Above this settee, and planted into the wall, so that
the heads of those uprising should not come in contact with the
shelves, was a bookcase full of delectable volumes, all fit to be
taken down at random, and opened at random, all books that were
familiar friends to any who had friends among that entrancing
family. Tennyson was there, and all Thackeray; Omar Khayyam was
there, and Alice in Wonderland; Don Quixote rubbed covers with John
Inglesant, and Dickens found a neighbour in Stevenson.

But this was emphatically a room to sit down in, not to move about in,
for the levels of the floor were precarious, and a sudden step would
easily disconcert those who tried to make a promenade of it. It was as
inactive in tendency as the garden.

Outside the house was charmingly irregular. The billiard-room with the
bedrooms above it was so markedly Queen Anne that it was impossible to
believe it could be Queen Anne. Nor was it, for it was Queen Victoria.
Then came the cottage section, which had a thatched roof, on which grew
wallflowers and the pink pincushions of valerian, and following that was
a low, stern line of building containing kitchens and servants' rooms,
which made no pretence to be anything except that which it was.

But over pseudo-Queen Anne, genuine George I. cottages, and frankly
Edwardian kitchens, there rose a riot of delectable vegetation. White
jasmine and yellow jasmine strove together like first cousins who hate
each other, jackmanni and tropæolum were rival beauties, and rambler
roses climbed indifferently about, made friends where they could, and
when they found themselves unable, firmly stabbed their enemies and
strangled their remains.

Charming, however, as it all was, it had no mood to suggest. It but
accentuated the moods of those who came there, and by its very
vagueness and softness reflected the spirits of its visitors. It
was impossible to imagine a place more conducive to foster and
cherish a man's inclinations; to the lover it would be a place ideal
for a honeymoon, to the studious an admirable study. In the Italian
phrase the whole place was _simpatico_; it repeated and crooned over
to every one the mood in which he came to it. And if a lover would
find it an adorable setting for his beloved and himself, so, too, it
would mock and rail in sympathy with one who was cynical and bitter.
But since most people are not in any particular mood, and when they
come into the country require light and agreeable diversion, Lord
Nottingham had been quite right in providing so ample a
billiard-room, so engaging a library, so varied a fleet of
river-craft.

Daisy and Gladys had come down here the day before Lady Nottingham
and the rest of the party were to arrive, and they found plenty to
occupy them. The house had not been used since Easter, and wore
that indescribable look of uninhabitableness which results from a
thorough house-cleaning. Everything, even in the irregular hall,
looked angular and uncomfortable; chairs were set square to tables;
tables were set at mathematically precise angles; blinds were all
drawn down exactly four inches from the tops of the windows; and all
the books were in their shelves.

It was all too tidy to have been lived in, and, therefore, too tidy to
live in, and it took Daisy nearly an hour to take the chill off the
room, as she put it, though the heat here was nearly as intense as it
had been in town. Gladys, who was no good at this subtle business of
restoring life to a dead room, occupied herself with writing out the
names of the guests very neatly on cards, which she then, with equal
neatness, affixed to the doors of their rooms.

Daisy paused at the end of this hour and surveyed the room with
satisfaction. "For one who has till so lately been a corpse it isn't
bad," she said. "Don't you see the difference, Gladys? It was like a
refrigerator before. Yes, let's have tea at once, shall we, and then go
out? There's lots more to do. We must pick great boughs of laburnum and
beech for all the big vases. Gardeners are no good at that; nor are you,
dear, for that matter. You tell them to pick boughs, and they pick
button-holes."

"I hate picking flowers at all," said Gladys. "They are so much nicer
where they are."

Daisy poured out tea.

"I know you think that," she said, "and I entirely disagree. Whenever
you see flowers in a house you think what a pity they are not growing in
the garden; whereas, whenever I see flowers in a garden, it seems to me
such a pity they are not in the house. Of course, when the house is
quite, quite full, I don't mind the rest remaining in the garden."

Gladys laughed.

"I think that's like you," she said. "You want to use things on the
whole, and I on the whole want to let them enjoy themselves."

"That sounds as if you thought yourself a perfect saint of unselfishness
and me a greedy pig," remarked Daisy. "If you don't come to tea I shall
eat all the strawberries. Perhaps you wish they had never been picked,
and left to rot on their stems by way of enjoying themselves."

Gladys finished the last name on her packet of cards for guests' rooms.

"No, I don't go as far as that," she said, "because I like the taste of
them, which you can't get at unless you eat them. Now flowers look much
nicer when they are growing."

"Yes, but they are not yours so much when they are growing," said Daisy.
"I like them in my house, in my vases. Yes, I suppose I am greedy. Oh, I
am going to enjoy myself these next few days. All the people I like best
are coming, and they mostly like me best. That is such an advantage.
Wouldn't it be awful to like somebody very much and find he didn't like
you? What a degrading position! Oh dear, what a nice world!"

"More than usual?"

"Much more. I'm dreadfully happy inside. Don't you know how you can be
immensely happy outside and not really be happy at all? But when you are
happy inside you are happy altogether, and don't mind a wet day or going
to the dentist's one scrap. Isn't it funny how one gets happy inside all
in a moment? I suppose there is a cause for everything, isn't there?
Ugh! there's an earwig. Oh, it's going your way, not mine. I wonder what
the cause of earwigs is. I wish they would find it out and reason it
away."

Gladys put an empty inverted teacup over the earwig.

"What made you happy inside?" she asked.

"Well, darling Aunt Alice started it two afternoons ago when we came
back from the Zoo. I had a delightful talk, and she gave me some
excellent advice. She quite realized that I wasn't exactly what most
people would call being in love with him, but she advised me anyhow to
make up my mind whether I would say 'yes' or 'no,' and recommended
'yes.' And so I did make up my mind, and the very next day, do you know,
Gladys, when I dragged you away from the ball so early----"

"Because you had a headache," said Gladys, ruthlessly.

She had been enjoying herself, and still a little resented Daisy's
imperious order to go away.

"You needn't rub it in, darling. Well, that very night something
happened to me that frightened me at first. I began to feel quite
differently about him."

Daisy got up quickly.

"I've been so dreadfully happy ever since," she said, "although
sometimes I've felt quite miserable. Do you see the difference, or
does it sound nonsense? Let me explain. I've only felt miserable,
but I was happy. Gladys, I do believe it's It. It does make one feel
so infinitesimal, and so immense."

Gladys looked up quickly at her cousin. Whatever It was, this was
certainly a Daisy who was quite strange to her--Daisy with a strange,
shy look in her eyes, half exulting in this new feeling, half ashamed of
it.

"I hardly slept at all that night," she said, "and yet the night
didn't seem in the least long. And I don't think I wanted to sleep
except now and then when I felt miserable. And I believe it's the
same thing that makes me feel miserable which makes me so happy.
Gladys, I shall be so shy of him to-morrow when he comes here that
he will probably think I'm in the sulks. And he's coming early
probably, before any of the others--before lunch, in fact."

Gladys got up.

"Oh, Daisy, I don't think you ought to have arranged that," she said.
"Do you mean he will find just you and me here?"

Daisy laughed.

"He needn't find you unless you like," she said. "And I didn't exactly
arrange it. I told him you and I would be alone here, and he asked if he
might get down early. I couldn't exactly forbid him; besides, darling, I
didn't want to."

"Mother wouldn't like it," said Gladys.

"So please don't tell her," remarked Daisy. "I hate vexing people.
She won't find out either. We shall go on the river or something,
and come back after the rest of the people have arrived. You are so
old-fashioned, Gladys; besides, it isn't certain that he will come.
He only said he would if he could. But he is the sort of man who
usually can when he wishes."

"I ought to tell mother," said Gladys.

"I know, but you won't."

Daisy laughed again, and then suddenly, without reason, her spirits
fell.

"Oh dear, what a little beast I have been!" she said. "I did arrange
that he should come, Gladys; at least, I made it imperative that he
should ask if he might, and now it seems so calculating and
cold-blooded. Girls like whom I used to be till--till about
forty-eight hours ago are such brutes. They plot and scheme and
entrap men. Pigs! I almost hope he won't come. I do, really. And yet
that wouldn't do either, for it would look as if he had found me out
and was disgusted with me. I believe you are all wrong, both you and
Aunt Alice, and that he doesn't care for me in the least. He has
flirted with half London. It isn't his fault; women have always
encouraged him, just as I have done. What beasts we are!"

"Oh, well, come and pick boughs of laburnum," said Gladys. "Let's go and
do something. We've been indoors all the afternoon."

"But I don't want to pick boughs of laburnum," said Daisy. "Why should
we do the gardener's work? I want to cry."

"Very well, cry," said Gladys. "Oh, Daisy, I'm not a brute. I am so
sorry you feel upset. But you know you are very happy; you have told me
so. I should like to be immensely sympathetic, but you do change so
quickly, I can't quite keep up. It must be very puzzling. Do you suppose
everybody is like you when she falls in love?"

"And I wish I was dead," said Daisy, violently, having arrived at that
dismal conclusion by some unspoken train of thought. "I wish I was a
cow. I wish I was a boy."

"But you can't be a cow or a boy," said Gladys, gravely, "and you don't
really wish you were dead."

Daisy suddenly had a fit of the giggles, which before long infected her
cousin also, and they both lay back in their chairs in peals of helpless
laughter. Now and then one or other would recover a little, only to be
set off again by the temporarily hopeless case, and it was not till they
had laughed themselves tired that the fit subsided.

Daisy mopped her streaming eyes.

"L-let's pick laburnum," she said at length. "How silly you are! But it
would save such a lot of trouble to be a cow. If I laugh any more I
shall be sick."

"Come into the garden, then," said Gladys. "Oh dear! I didn't mean
_that_. Don't laugh again, Daisy; it does hurt so dreadfully."



CHAPTER XI.


Whatever might prove to be the conduct of others, it seemed clear next
morning that the weather meant to do all in its power to help Daisy to
have a happy time, and another hot and cloudless day succeeded. The
girls intended originally to lunch at one, since that gave a longer
afternoon; but at one, since nobody had appeared, it seemed wiser to put
off lunch till half-past, since that was the hour at which they lunched
in London. Eventually they sat down alone to a meal even more belated.
But at present nothing could touch or mar Daisy's happiness.

"It is much better that he shouldn't come," she said, with an air of
decision. "I daresay Aunt Alice wouldn't like it, though it couldn't
have been supposed to be my fault. Very likely his motor has broken
down; he told me it usually did."

She laughed quite naturally; there was no sting in his absence.

"In fact, he told me he usually sent it on ahead," she said, "and
started walking after it about half an hour later. In that way, by the
time he arrived his chauffeur had generally put it to rights again, and
he got in."

"Then he ought to be here in half an hour," remarked Gladys.

"Yes. Shall we have lunch kept cold for him? It would be hot by the time
he arrived if we didn't. Oh, Gladys, I believe you are laughing at me.
How horrid of you!"

"Not in the least. But I am rather glad he didn't come. I hate
concealing things from mother."

Daisy put her nose in the air.

"Oh, you needn't have worried. He would have been quite certain to have
told Aunt Alice himself."

"You didn't think of that yesterday," said Gladys.

"No. What disgusting salad! I believe it's made of turnip-tops. I'm very
glad he didn't come to lunch."

"Men are so greedy about their food," said Gladys. "I don't mind
what I eat."

"Evidently, since you can eat that. Oh, Gladys, I don't mean to be
cross, but when you say things on purpose to annoy me it would be such
bad manners in me not to appear to be annoyed. Do you think his motor
has broken down? Fancy him tramping down the Bath road on a day like
this! He hates walking unless he is going to kill something. He was
charged by a rhinoceros once. If you try to shoot them and miss, they
charge. How awfully tiresome of them! He killed it afterwards, though.
It was quite close. You never heard anything so exciting."

Gladys laughed.

"Oh, Daisy," she said, "you told me that before, and you said it was so
hard to know what to say if you didn't know a rhinoceros from a
hippopotamus. And now you find it too exciting."

"Well, what then?" said Daisy, with dignity. "I think one ought to take
an interest in all sorts of subjects. It is frightfully suburban only to
be interested in what happens in your own parish. Somebody said that the
world was his parish."

"I don't know what parish Grosvenor Square is in," said Gladys,
parenthetically.

Somehow Daisy, in this new mood, was far less formidable than the
glittering crystal which had been Daisy up till now. She seemed to have
rubbed shoulders with the world, instead of streaking the sky above it.
Her happiness, you would say, even in the moment of its birth, had
humbled and softened her. Gladys found she had not the slightest fear of
being snapped up. Several times during lunch Daisy had snapped, but she
had snapped innocuously. They had finished now, and she rose.

"I expect him in about an hour," said Daisy, rather magisterially. "Let
us finish the flowers. I love flowers in my bedroom, don't you? Do let
us put a dish of them in everybody's bedroom. It looks so welcoming.
Books, too; everybody likes a book or two in his room. It's so easy to
do little things like that, and people appreciate it enormously. There's
the whole of the afternoon before us; nobody will arrive till the five
o'clock train."

"But I thought you said you expected him----" began Gladys.

"Darling, pray don't criticize my last remark but three. Every remark
becomes obsolete as soon as another remark is made."

       *       *       *       *       *

Daisy's last conjecture was correct, and it was not till after five,
when tea had been laid on the broad, creeper-covered verandah to the
east of the house, that any one appeared. Then, however, they appeared
in large numbers, for most of Lady Nottingham's guests had chosen the
train she recommended to travel by. Every one, in fact, arrived by it
with the exception of Jeannie Halton and Lord Lindfield.

"I knew Jeannie would miss it," Lady Nottingham said, "but as she was
equally certain she would not the thing had to be put to the proof.
Daisy darling, how are you? She insisted on being taken to the symphony
concert; at least, she didn't so much insist as Lord Lindfield insisted
on taking her. They were to meet us at Paddington, and in case--Jeannie
went so far as to provide for that contingency--in case they missed it,
he was to drive her down in his motor."

Victor Braithwaite, who had come with the party, joined in.

"I know that motor," he said. "It can do any journey the second time it
tries, but no journey the first time. He took me the other day from
Baker Street to South Audley Street, and it stuck in the middle of
Oxford Street."

Jim Crowfoot helped himself largely to strawberries, and turned to
Daisy. He was a slim, rather small young man, with a voice some two
sizes too large for him. He was supposed to be rather a good person to
have in the house, because he never stopped talking. Had it been
possible to cover him over with a piece of green baize, like a canary,
when one had had enough, he would have been even more desirable.

"I suppose that's what they mean by second thoughts being the best," he
said. "It isn't usually the case; at least, I find that if ever I think
right, it's always when I don't give the matter any consideration. I
came down here without considering that I promised to dine with Mrs.
Streatham this evening, and it was an excellent plan."

Mrs. Beaumont broke in. Her plan was always to be tremendously
appreciative of everybody for two sentences, in order to enhance the
effect of the nasty things she said of everybody the moment afterwards.
It set the nasty things off better.

"I think every one is too horrid about our dear kind Mrs. Streatham,"
she said. "She is the most hospitable woman I know, and you, for
instance, Jim, go and eat her cutlets and then laugh at her. She asked
me to dine with her next Friday, but I said I couldn't, as I remembered
I was already engaged. When I looked at my book I found it was with her
that I had already promised to dine. I like being asked twice; it shows
one is really wanted."

"Oh, we're all really wanted," said Jim. "But we don't always want
the people who want us. That is the tragedy. If you'll ask me to
dinner once, Mrs. Beaumont, I will transfer two of Mrs. Streatham's
invitations to you."

"There you are again! You are not kind. It would upset her table."

"Not at all. Her husband would dine downstairs, and her daughter would
dine upstairs. That is the advantage of having a family. You can always
make things balance."

"I have a family," said she, "and that is exactly why my bank-book won't
balance. But when I overdraw I always threaten to transfer my account.
Bankers will stand anything but that, won't they, Mr. Braithwaite? Let
us go and stroll. Dear Jim always talks so loud that I can't hear myself
think. And if I don't hear myself think I don't know what I shall say
next. Do tell me, was it on purpose, do you think, that Mrs. Halton and
Lord Lindfield missed their train? I may be quite wrong, but didn't you
think that Alice said it as if she had rather expected it?"

"Surely, she said she expected it."

"How interesting! What a heavenly garden! I only have just met Mrs.
Halton. Every one says she is too fascinating."

"She is perfectly charming," said he. "Is that the same thing?"

"Oh, not at all; you may be perfectly charming without being the least
fascinating. No man ever wants to marry a perfectly charming woman; they
only think it delightful when one of their friends does so."

Daisy had heard most of this as the two left the verandah and strolled
off down the garden, and the effect that it had on her was to make her
label Mrs. Beaumont as "horrid." She was quite aware that three-quarters
of the ordinary light conversation that went on between people who were
not friends but only acquaintances was not meant to be taken literally,
and that no one of any perception took it otherwise. Tribute to Aunt
Jeannie's charms had been paid on both sides; the woman had heard of her
as "too fascinating," Victor had found her charming. Daisy herself, from
her own point of view, could find no epithet too laudatory, and she
endorsed both the "fascinating" and the "charming." But she was just
conscious that she would have preferred that Victor should have called
her fascinating, and Mrs. Beaumont charming, rather than that it should
have been the other way about.

But it was not because Mrs. Beaumont called her fascinating that Daisy
labelled that unconscious lady as horrid; it was because she had made
the suggestion that Lord Lindfield and her aunt had missed the train on
purpose, in order, so it followed, that they should drive down together
in the motor whose second thoughts were so admirable. Daisy scorned the
insinuation altogether; she felt that she degraded herself by allowing
herself to think of it. But that had been clearly implied.

The group round the tea-table had dispersed, and she easily found
herself next Aunt Alice.

"Everything is in order, dear Aunt Alice," she said, "and Gladys has
worked so hard. But I don't think I should have come down yesterday if I
had known there was a symphony concert this afternoon. What did they
have?"

"Brahms, I think," said Lady Nottingham, vaguely. "There is Brahms,
isn't there? Neither Jeannie nor Lord Lindfield quite knew. They went to
see."

"But when did they settle to go and see?" asked Daisy.

"Last night, I think. Oh, yes, at the Opera last night.--Yes, Mr.
Crowfoot, of course you may have another cup. Sugar?--He came to my
box--Lord Lindfield, I mean--and was so delighted to meet your Aunt
Jeannie again.--Yes, I put in one lump, Mr. Crowfoot. Is that right?"

Lady Nottingham certainly succeeded admirably in the lightness of touch
she gave to the little speech. She knew, as well as if Daisy had told
her in so many words, the sort of feeling that had dictated Daisy's
rather catechism-questions about the manner of Jeannie and Lindfield
settling to go to the concert, and what there was at the concert. But
the lightness of touch was not easy; she knew quite well, and did not
fail to remember, that a few days ago only she had advised Daisy to have
her answer ready when (not "if") Lord Lindfield proposed to her. He had
certainly not done so, but Daisy had evidently not expected him to go to
a concert with her aunt and miss his train and drive down with her. She
had no reason to suppose that anything that could be called jealousy was
as yet existent in Daisy's mind. She only, perhaps, wanted to know
exactly what had happened.

Jim Crowfoot had only paused like a bird on the wing, pouncing on
morsels of things to eat, and having got his second cup of tea he flew
off again instantly to Mrs. Majendie, whom he was regaling with a shrill
soliloquy. Thus for a moment Daisy and Aunt Alice were alone at the
tea-table.

Daisy dropped into a chair at Lady Nottingham's side.

"I am so glad he likes Aunt Jeannie," she said in her best and quickest
style, "and that she likes him. I suppose they do like each other, since
they go to a concert together and miss a train together. You never miss
trains with people you don't like, do you, Aunt Alice? I was rather
afraid, do you know, that Aunt Jeannie wouldn't like him. I am so glad I
was wrong. And they knew each other before, did they?"

Lady Nottingham paused a moment. She never devoted, as has been said,
more of her brain than was necessary to deal with the subject in hand,
but it appeared to her that a good deal of brain was required here.
Daisy, poor undiplomatic Daisy, had tried so hard in this rapid,
quick-witted little speech to say all the things she knew she ought to
feel, and which, as a matter of fact, she did not feel. Superficially,
it was no doubt delightful that Aunt Jeannie should like Tom Lindfield;
it was delightful also that he should like her. The speech was all quite
correct, quite sincere as far as it went, but if one took it further it
was all quite insincere. She said all that the surface felt in order to
conceal what she really felt.

And the light reply again was not easy to Lady Nottingham. She had
considered Jeannie's plan in all its bearings, and neither then nor now
could she think of a better plan. But already Daisy was watching; she
said it was so nice that the two should be friends. She meant it, as far
as it went, but no further. She would have to learn to mean it less and
less; she would have to dislike and then to hate the idea of their being
friends, if Jeannie's plan was to succeed. She would also have to hate
one, anyhow, if not both, of the two whom she liked so much. The curtain
had gone up on a tragic little farce. It was in order to avoid a
tragedy, however, that the farce had been planned. It was in order to
save Daisy that she was being sacrificed now.

Lady Nottingham took up Daisy's last question.

"Oh, yes, they have known each other for years," she said, helping
the plan forward. "They met quite like old friends. I was completely
out of it last night. We were just us three in the box, and I was
the 'shadowy third.'"

Daisy stamped, figuratively speaking, on what was in her mind, and
compelled her loyalty to triumph.

"I don't wonder at everybody simply loving Aunt Jeannie," she said.
"We all do, don't we? But I don't love Lord Lindfield's motor. I do
hope they will be in time for dinner. Otherwise the table is
absolutely upset, and I shall have to settle it all over again.
Isn't it rather inconsiderate of them, Aunt Alice? I think they
ought to have caught their train, whether it was Brahms or not."

But the loyalty was an effort. Lady Nottingham felt that, and applauded
the effort.

"Poor Daisy!" she said, speaking in these two words her unspoken
thought. "It is too bad of them to give you more trouble."

"Oh, I don't mind just arranging the table again," said Daisy, quickly.



CHAPTER XII.


A rearrangement of the table proved to be necessary, since at half-past
eight Lord Lindfield's motor had not yet been heard of. But in spite of
the absentees, it was a hilarious party that sat down. Some had been on
the river, some had strolled about the garden, and all were disposed to
enjoy themselves immensely. Jim Crowfoot had not ceased talking at all,
and showed at present not the slightest sign of doing so. He took Daisy
in to dinner.

"They are probably sitting by the roadside," he said, "singing Brahms to
each other, while the chauffeur lies underneath the car hammering it,
with his feet just sticking out, and trying to screw the throttle into
the waste-pipe of the carburetter. Why does nobody invent a motor car
without a carburetter? It is always that which is at the root of the
trouble. And the shades of evening will thicken, and they will sing
louder and louder, as night draws on, to check their rising sensations
of cold and hunger and fear, while the chauffeur swiftly and firmly
reduces the car to scrap-iron. I think it is so interesting when
somebody doesn't arrive. Their absence gives rise to so many pleasing
conjectures. What are we going to do to-morrow, Miss Daisy?"

"Oh, nothing, I hope," said she. "Why? Do you want to do anything?"

"No, but if I was expected to do anything, I wished to know the worst at
once. What I like best of all is to sit in a chair and not read. The
chair ought to be placed at some railway station, and a succession of
people should be provided to run by me with heavy bags in their hands
just missing their trains. The next best thing to doing nothing yourself
is to observe everybody else trying to do something, like catching
trains, and not succeeding. My uncle once missed eight trains in one
day, and then tried to commit suicide. But next day he caught nine
trains and a motor 'bus, which reconciled him to living, which he is
still doing."

"Are you sure he was your uncle?" asked Daisy.

"Not quite; but it is much better style to say a thing happened to your
uncle than to confess that you made it up. If you make things up people
expect you to write a novel or something, whereas nothing can be
expected from you if you say it happened to your uncle. I haven't got
any uncles. That is such a good thing; I can't be an anxiety to them.
And nobody is an anxiety to me."

The dining-room looked towards the front of the house, and Daisy turned
suddenly.

"Ah! surely that is the crunch of a motor on the gravel," she said. "I
expect it is they."

That it was a motor was at once put beyond the region of doubt by a
succession of loud hoots, and in a couple of minutes Jeannie appeared in
the doorway.

"Dear Alice," she said, "I apologize most abjectly; at least, the motor
apologizes. Lord Lindfield made it apologize just now at the top of its
voice. Didn't you hear it? Don't scold us. We missed the train by about
twenty minutes, as it is always best to do things thoroughly. Shall we
dress, or may we come into dinner just as we are?"

Jeannie looked radiantly round while chairs and places were being laid
for them, shaking hands with those nearest her, smiling at others, and
kissing her hand across the table to Daisy. The swift movement--it had
been extremely swift for the last ten miles after the car had got to
work again--and the change from the cool night air into this warm bright
room had brought the blood to her cheeks, and gave a wonderful sparkle
and youthfulness to her face, and she sat down at the top of one of the
sides of the table with Lord Lindfield between her and Alice.

"And we are so hungry," she said; "for the last half-hour we have
talked of nothing but food. I couldn't look at the pink after-glow
of the sunset because it reminded me of strawberry fool, and Lord
Lindfield nearly burst into tears because there was a cloud shaped
like a fish. And we had no tea, you see, because we were missing our
train at tea-time."

Dinner went on its usual way after this, and Daisy succeeded in giving a
less distracted attention to Jim Crowfoot, for up till their arrival she
knew that she had really been thinking about them only. She still felt a
little hurt that instead of coming down here early to-day Lord Lindfield
had been prevented from doing that only by his subsequent engagement to
take Aunt Jeannie to a concert; but very likely he had thought over his
half promise to arrive early, and seen, which was indeed the case, that
it was not quite a usual thing to do.

No doubt that was it; no doubt he would explain it to her afterwards,
and Daisy settled in her own mind that she would at once admit the
reasonableness of it, though she would let it appear that she was a
little disappointed. And she was delighted that Aunt Jeannie liked him;
she had said that before to Lady Nottingham, but it was truer now than
when she had said it. For she had been conscious then of something in
her own mind that did not agree with the speech; she had been glad that
Aunt Jeannie liked him, but she would have been quite equally glad if
she did not.

It was not quite a nice feeling; there was something in common between
it and jealousy, and it had required a certain effort, which she had
gladly made, to put it away from her. That she had done.

From where she sat she could just see him at the head of the table, side
by side with Lady Nottingham; but she let herself look at him no more
than she looked, with but casual glances, at any of the others. But it
was very often that she heard, and allowed herself to listen for, that
great boisterous laugh which contained so much enjoyment. Her rare
glances in his direction, however, told her that it was Aunt Jeannie to
whom he was talking, for after a word or two to Lady Nottingham just
after he came in they had had no further conversation together. It was
clear, then, that he liked Aunt Jeannie. That was a good thing also.

The door from the dining-room was at that end of the room at which he
was sitting, and Daisy, on her way out, had to pass close to him. He had
not finished his talk with her aunt even then, for they both stood by
their chairs, she waiting till others had passed out. But as Daisy came
up he saw her.

"Why, Miss Daisy," he said, "haven't seen or heard you all
dinner-time. Been practising for a future incarnation as a mouse or
some dumb animal? Well, this is jolly, isn't it? And Mrs. Halton's
forgiven me for having a motor that breaks down, on condition of my
getting one that doesn't."

"Daisy darling," said Aunt Jeannie, putting her arm round the girl's
waist, "how are you? You must take my side. After having stuck for
an hour on a perfectly flat road, is it unreasonable that I couple
my forgiveness with a new car?--You shall have our ultimatum
afterwards, Lord Lindfield. Daisy may make harder conditions than I,
and if she does, I shall certainly adopt them. Now, do look bored
pretty soon, and come out of the dining-room quickly. It is
barbarous this separation of the sexes after dinner. You don't stop
behind after breakfast to drink tea."

The others had passed out, and Daisy and Mrs. Halton brought up a rather
detached rearguard. The rest had gone straight out of the house into the
verandah, where they had had tea, for the night was exquisitely soft
and warm, and they followed them there.

"Ah! such a concert, Daisy," said Jeannie. "I wish you could have
been there. And such a ludicrous drive as we had. It is so pleasant
meeting Tom Lindfield again; we were great friends a year or two
ago, and I think we are great friends still. But, my dear, our
drive! We went for the first hour well inside the four-miles-an-hour
limit, and eventually stuck on a perfectly flat road. Then the
chauffeur chauffed for an hour or two, and after that we came along
a shade above the fifty-miles-an-hour limit. Our limitations were
our limits throughout. And such nonsense as we talked!"

"Oh, do tell me," said Daisy. "Nonsense is the only thing I care to
hear about."

"I couldn't. I can't remember anything. I only know I laughed quite
enormously and causelessly. Ah, here they all are.--Alice, what a divine
place, and how it has grown up? Like Daisy. I was telling her about my
ridiculous drive with Lord Lindfield."

Jeannie sat down in a big basket-chair and became suddenly silent. She
felt queerly tired; she felt also rather sick at heart, and looking at
Daisy, she could not bear the thought of the trouble and disquietude she
must bring to the girl whom she so loved. She had saddled herself with a
load that already galled her, though she had barely taken it up, and
even as she spoke of her ludicrous drive there came to her mind an
aspect of it, namely, the purpose for which she had driven down with
him, which was not ludicrous at all.

And here, in this starlit garden, with friends on all sides of her,
it seemed an incredible thing that she had got to sow suspicion and
discord. Trouble and sorrow seemed so remote, so utterly alien.
Security and serenity had here their proper home; it was a place of
pleasantness and friends and rest. She felt much inclined to yield
to its influences, to put off the execution of her scheme, saying
to herself that it was wiser to think over it again, and see if
there was not, as surely there must be, some other possibility of
detaching Daisy from the man whom it seemed certain she would
otherwise marry, and whom it was quite impossible she should marry.
Even now Daisy was standing near her, trusting her so implicitly,
loving her so well. That love and trust, so intensely dear to her,
she had to risk disturbing; indeed, it was scarcely a risk she ran,
it was a certainty she courted.

However quietly and well she did her part it was impossible that Daisy
should not see that she was encouraging Tom Lindfield, was using a
woman's power of attraction to draw him towards her. True, Daisy had not
as yet told her that she expected to marry him; officially, as far as
Daisy was concerned, she herself was ignorant of that. But supposing
Daisy confided in her? There was nothing more likely. Within the next
four-and-twenty hours Daisy would quite certainly see that her aunt was
very intimate with Lord Lindfield. That very intimacy would encourage
Daisy to tell her. Or, on the other hand, Lord Lindfield, while still
thinking that she was only a very pleasant, sympathetic woman, might
tell her his hopes with regard to Daisy. That was a very possible stage
in the process of his detachment.

Yet she knew that personally she could make no better plan than that
which she had already begun to carry out. She had thought over it, and
thought over it, and one consideration remained paramount, namely, that
Daisy must never know why this marriage was so unthinkably impossible.
If he proposed to her, it seemed certain that she would accept him. In
that case she would have to be told. Clearly, then, his proposal must be
averted. She could find no other plan to avert that than the one she was
pursuing, and already, partly to her relief, partly to an added sense of
the meanness of her own rôle, she believed that his detachment would
not be so difficult to manage. He had responded very quickly and readily
to her advances; he had come to the concert with her and was delighted
to miss the train, having told her also that he had "thought" of going
down early to Bray. He had said no more than that, and she had quite
legitimately laughed at the idea of his spending the day alone with two
girls, had professed herself as pleased to have upset so preposterous an
arrangement. Yet this, too, though she was glad to have stopped it,
added to her heart-sickness. He would not have made such an arrangement
unless Daisy had allowed it. And if Daisy permitted him to come down to
spend the day with her and Gladys, it surely implied that Daisy wanted
very much to see him. But Lady Nottingham had told her that Daisy was
not in love with him. That was still an anchor of consolation.

All this was no effort of consecutive thought which required to be
reasoned out. It was all in front of her, spread out like a landscape,
to be grasped in a moment. There was Victor, too....

Daisy moved a step nearer her chair.

"It's three days since you got back, Aunt Jeannie," she said, "and I
haven't had a real word with you yet. May I come and talk to you this
evening when we go up to bed? I have such heaps to say."

This was too dangerous. At any cost Jeannie wanted to avoid an intimate
conversation with Daisy. She had her work to do, and she did not think
she could go through with it if Daisy told her in her own dear voice
what she already knew. She herself had to be a flirt, had to exhibit
this man to Daisy in another light, to make her disgusted with him. That
was a hard row to hoe; she did not want it made more difficult.

Luckily, even as Daisy spoke, an interruption came. The sound of men's
voices sounded from an open door.

"My darling, how I long to talk to you," she said, "or, rather, to have
you talk to me. But to-night, Daisy, I am so tired. When I can escape
and go to my bedroom, I shall just tumble into bed. You look so well,
dear, and so happy. You couldn't tell me anything nicer than that. Ah!
here are the men. Let us multiply ourselves."



CHAPTER XIII.


Lord Lindfield had carried out Jeannie's instructions to the letter, and
after the women had left the dining-room had relapsed into a state of
supreme boredom. It had not been a difficult task; his boredom was quite
genuine, for he did not in the least wish to talk to Victor Braithwaite
or to listen to Jim Crowfoot, or pass the wine to two or three other
men. He wanted to tell Daisy how impossible it had been to get down
earlier in the day; he wanted also to tell Mrs. Halton what a jolly
drive they had had together. It had been jolly; there was no question
whatever about it. She had been so delightful, too, about the breakdown
of that wretched motor car. Other women might have been annoyed, and
audibly wondered when it was going to start again. But she had not been
the least annoyed. She had said, "Oh, I hope it will take a long time to
mend! Isn't it heavenly sitting by the roadside like tramps?"

They had sat like tramps for an hour or two. She did not look
particularly like a tramp, for she had a huge fur cloak on at first,
designed originally to defeat the cold wind occasioned by the speed at
which they hoped to travel, which up till then had been about three
miles an hour. This she had taken off, and sat on a rug taken from the
disgraceful car, and treated the whole affair like a huge joke. There
never was such a good comrade; if she had been a boy, out on a motor for
the first time, she could not have adopted a franker air of amused
enjoyment at these accidents of the road. They had made periodic visits
to the car and the hammering chauffeur, and then the Great Hunger, about
which she had already spoken, had begun. She had confessed to an awful
inanition, and had suggested things to eat, till the fact that other
people were already sitting down to dine, having had tea, became
absolutely unbearable. Then suddenly she had stopped the nonsense and
said, "I am so glad that this has happened. Being left in the Bath Road
like this makes one know a man better, doesn't it? I always wanted to
know you better. Oh, the compliment is ambiguous. I haven't told you yet
whether you improve on acquaintance."

And then, just as they stopped at the door and the motor hooted its
apologies, she turned to him.

"What a pity!" she had said. "I hate nice things coming to an end."

That particular nice thing had certainly come to an end, but he was
firmly determined that there were a quantity of nice things not yet
begun. He was genuinely attached to Daisy; he fully intended to ask her
to be his wife, and contemplated, in case he was so fortunate as to
obtain a "yes" from her, many serene and happy years. And, indeed, he
was no coxcomb; he did not fancy that any girl he saw was willing to
marry him if he wished to marry her, but at the same time he did not
feel that it was in the least likely that Daisy would refuse him. And as
he came out after dinner that night, after so successfully looking bored
in the dining-room, he had not altered his mind in the least; his
intentions were still all fully there. But that was no reason why he
should not talk to Mrs. Halton. He was quite capable even of talking to
her about Daisy.

It was then that the action of the tragic little farce really began.
Daisy had heard the sound of his voice before they turned the corner of
the house, and by design moved away from her aunt's side to the far end
of the verandah, from where a path led down to the edge of the river.
The verandah was well lit; there could be no question that when he came
round the corner he would see her. There was no question, moreover, in
her own mind, that he would join her.

Jeannie was sitting at the end of the verandah near to the corner round
which they came. Victor Braithwaite stopped on one side of her chair,
Lord Lindfield stopped on the other. The latter had looked up, and,
Daisy felt sure, had seen her. Then, after a few minutes' chat, Daisy
saw her aunt get out of her chair and heard her laugh.

"But I challenge you, Lord Lindfield," Daisy heard her say; "and, apart
from all chivalrous instincts, if you don't accept my challenge it will
be because you know you will be beaten. We will have a game of pool
first, and then, when everybody else is tired, you and I will play a
serious hundred. You probably think that because I am a woman I can't
play games. Very well. I say to that, 'Let us put it to the proof.'--Mr.
Braithwaite, come and play pool first, won't you?--Dear Alice, may we go
and play pool? Is nobody else coming? Let us begin at once."

All this Daisy heard; and once again she saw Lord Lindfield look up
towards the end of the verandah where she was standing, and then call
some laughing reply after Mrs. Halton, who was already just vanishing
indoors. For a couple of steps he followed her, then turned round and
came up the verandah towards Daisy.

"Mrs. Halton has arranged a regular night of it, Miss Daisy," he said,
"and has challenged me to a game of billiards in such a way that I can't
refuse. We're going to have a game of pool first. Won't you come and
take a hand? You and I will play Mrs. Halton and Braithwaite."

"Sides at pool?" asked Daisy.

"Why shouldn't we? But probably you think it's stupid to go indoors
on such a night. So it is. I would much sooner stroll about or go on
the river, but, you see, I can't help myself. Let's go in the punt
to-morrow. Please keep a punt for you and me. Put a label on--'You
and Me.'"

Daisy smiled. She would not have allowed that she needed cheering up at
all, but it is a fact that this cheered her up.

"Yes, do let us spend all day on the river to-morrow," she said. "But
you must go and play your pool now. I don't think I shall come in; it is
so heavenly out here."

Lord Lindfield wavered; the girl looked enchantingly pretty. "Upon my
word, so it is," he said; "and you look just like a summer evening
yourself, Miss Daisy. Wonder if I could get some one to take my place
at pool before I play a single with Mrs. Halton, and stop out here
with you?"

Pleasant though the deed would have been to Daisy, his wish and his
desire were more essential. She could without struggle forgo the
pleasure of being with him, now that he had said that it was this that
he preferred.

"But indeed you mustn't do anything of the kind," she said. "Aunt
Jeannie wants you to play; she asked you. You must go in at once."

The fact that Mrs. Halton had carried off two men to the billiard-room
left the rest of the party out of the square; but Daisy, quite willing
to be the odd unit, strolled very contentedly out along the path that
led to the river. The moon had not long risen and shone very large and
low in the east, burning dimly and red through the heat haze and vapours
from the Thames. The air was very windless, and the river lay like a
sheet of grey steel at her feet, save where a little spreading feather
of black ripple showed the course of some water-rat. Bats wheeled and
dipped like some company of nocturnal swallows, pursuing their minute
prey, and uttering their little staccato cries so high in the scale that
none but the acute ear could hear them.

From the garden, as an occasional whisper of wind lifted the
down-dropping leaves of aspen and ash, the air came laden with the
scent of damp earth (for since sunset the gardeners had been busy) and
the spilt fragrance of sleeping flowers. Or occasionally a little
draught would draw from the river itself, and that to Daisy's nostril
was of even a more admirable quality, for it smelt of cool running water
and nought besides. On the far bank the mists lay in wisps and streamers
above the low-lying meadow, and the dark bulk of cattle and horses
loomed through them like rocks in a vaporous sea. But a fathom from the
ground the air was dry and clear; it was but in a shallow sea that these
rocks were submerged, and on this side of the river where Daisy walked
the banking-up of the path to form a protection to the garden against
the spring and winter floods raised her above these damp breathings of
the fruitful earth, and she moved in the clearness and austerity of
starshine and moonlight. And not her body only, but her mind and soul
walked in a light that was very romantic and wonderful, and seemed
somehow to be attuned to this pale mysterious flame of the moon that
flooded the heavens.

All the dim, intense happiness she first experienced two nights before
had blazed up within her into a conflagration, the nature of which there
was no mistaking, while the dim and almost intenser doubts and miseries
of two nights before she saw now to be but the shadows cast by the first
kindling of the other light. Now, as it blazed higher and more
triumphantly, the shadows vanished. And though her consciousness of this
was so vivid and alert, self-consciousness was almost altogether
banished. She no longer made plans for herself in the future, as she had
always done till now, seeing herself as the mistress of a great house,
and filling that position, as, indeed, she was fitted to do, so well, or
seeing herself always kind, always pleasant, always ready to smile on
her adorer. Nor did she even see herself as mother of his children. She
lost sight of herself altogether just now, and saw him only, but in
that different light in which he had appeared so suddenly, so
disconcertingly, at the ball two nights ago.

And he had wished, had preferred to come out here with her rather than
go indoors and play billiards. Daisy, in a sudden mood of that exquisite
humbleness which goes with love, blushed with pleasure that it should be
so, but told herself that it was an incredible thing. Yet so it was. He
would sooner have come out here (for he had said it) and talked to this
goose of a girl than be with anybody else, even Aunt Jeannie. Daisy
wished she had told Aunt Jeannie on the afternoon of her arrival what
was the state of things between her and Lord Lindfield, for it was
really rather too much of a good thing that Aunt Jeannie (the darling)
should all innocently monopolize him the whole afternoon, drive down
with him alone (taking hours and hours over it), and as soon as dinner
was over (at which meal she sat next him) take him away to play
billiards. But she had let that opportunity slip, and though she had
hoped to tell Jeannie about it to-night she would not be able, since her
aunt had cried off a bedroom talk on the plea of tiredness.

And then, quite suddenly, a thought occurred to Daisy of the most
disagreeable kind. Aunt Jeannie had been too tired to talk to her, had
meant to slip away and tumble into bed as soon as possible, yet within
five minutes of her having made that declaration she had engaged herself
to play pool and to follow that up by having a single with Lord
Lindfield--an odd programme for a woman who was so fatigued that she was
going to slip away and go to bed as soon as possible.

Then, almost without pause, Daisy pulled herself together again, banging
the door of her mind, so to speak, on that unpleasant thought, and
refusing to give it entrance or to hold parley with it. There were fifty
explanations, if explanations were required, but for a loyal friend
they were not, and Daisy refused to think more of the matter. But all
the time some small prying denizen of her subconscious mind was
wondering what these explanations could possibly be.

This unpleasant little moment, though she had dealt with it as loyally
and speedily as she could, had rather spoilt the moonlight saunter--or,
at any rate, Daisy was afraid of other similar intrusions, and she went
back to the house. There she found the whole party engaged, for the
bridge tables had been made up, one in the far end of the billiard-room,
one out on the verandah, while the remaining three were still at their
pool. Without more than half-conscious intention, Daisy strolled on
round the house, meaning to look in at the billiard-room.

She had meant to go into the room in the natural, ordinary way, entering
by the long French window, which gave on to the path, and would be sure
on this warm evening to be open. But she did not do that, and instead,
paused opposite the window, but at some little distance from it, so that
she herself was probably invisible to eyes looking from that bright
light inside into the dusk in which she stood. She wanted, in fact, to
see what was going on without being seen. She saw.

Aunt Jeannie and Lord Lindfield were standing together by the
marking-board, talking about some point which might or might not have
been connected with billiards. The pool apparently was over, for Victor
Braithwaite had put down his cue and had strolled over to the bridge
table. And at that moment Jeannie raised her hand and laid it, just for
a second, on the sleeve of Lindfield's shirt, for he was coatless. The
action was infinitesimal and momentary, but it looked rather intimate.

And then poor Daisy had once more to take herself in hand. Whatever
polite name might be found for her present occupation (you could call it
strolling in the garden or looking at the moon, if you chose), there
was a very straightforward and not very polite name that could be found
for it, and that was "spying." She discontinued it, and entered the
billiard-room, whistling, like a proper person.

The usual thing happened, and everybody became so stupidly and
obstinately unselfish that it looked as if there would be no more
billiards at all.

Lord Lindfield, without pause, said: "By Jove! how lucky, Miss Daisy.
You've come in the nick of time. Just finished our pool. Now you and
Mrs. Halton shall play a single and I shall mark for you."

But it appeared also that if there was a thing Mrs. Halton really
enjoyed doing it was marking for other people, and she insisted that
Daisy and Lord Lindfield should have a game. Daisy, of course, was
equally altruistic, firmly refused to interfere with their previous
arrangement, and eventually, a rubber just coming to an end, cut into
the bridge table in the far corner of the room.

The rubber was fairly rapid, but before the end of it a footman had
appeared with the bed-time tray of soda and whisky and lemons, followed
by another man with bedroom candles. Mrs. Beaumont, the only other woman
in the room besides Daisy and Mrs. Halton, and who had been yawning in a
strangled manner during the course of the last two hands, instantly took
her candle and departed, and Daisy, with more deliberation, drank some
soda-water and looked on at the game for a few minutes.

"Daisy dear," said Jeannie, "is it too dreadful and wicked and fast of
me to go on playing? I don't care if it is. I must finish the game, and
I'm going to win.--Oh, Lord Lindfield, what a fluke! Do you mean to say
you are going to count it?"

"By Jove! yes; charge three for that.--Miss Daisy, your aunt's giving me
an awful hiding! There, I've left them again!"

Jeannie, as a matter of fact, was what may be called a very decent
country-house player, quite capable of making her twenty-five break more
than once in the course of a game. She selected this moment to do it
now, and from seventy-six ran out. The other men had strolled out on to
the terrace, and Daisy, after congratulations, lit a couple of candles,
one for herself, one for her aunt.

"I say, Mrs. Halton, we might have one more game," said Lord Lindfield;
"it's only half-past ten. Couldn't sleep if I had to finish up with such
a whacking."

Jeannie's eyes were a-sparkle with enjoyment and triumph.

"Have a game with Daisy," she said. "Let me rest on my laurels."

Daisy shook her head.

"Not to-night," she said. "I really would rather not. Do play again,
Aunt Jeannie. I am going to bed; I am, really."

"Fifty, then, Lord Lindfield," said Jeannie.

Daisy went straight up to her room, still making an effort to banish
the thought that Aunt Jeannie had said she was tired, and slowly the
house grew quiet. The steps of men going to their rooms tapped along the
polished boards of the corridor outside, with now and then the rustle of
a dress. Then all was still, and she sat, half-undressed, with a book on
her lap that she was not reading, while a couple more quarters chimed
from the clock above the stables. At last came the sound of steps again
outside; the tap of a rather heavy tread, and with it the rustle of a
dress. Then came Lindfield's laugh, merry and unmistakable.

"Good-night, Mrs. Halton," he said. "I've had a perfectly ripping time!
Never enjoyed a day more."

Apparently she had gone down the passage some way, for her voice sounded
more distant.

"And I also," she said. "Good-night."

Then came the sound of two doors shutting.



CHAPTER XIV.


It was about half-past three in the afternoon of the next day, and house
and garden alike wore a rather uncomfortable air of heat fatigue and
somnolence. The blinds were down in all the windows that faced south and
west, with the object, no doubt, of keeping them cool--a most desirable
condition of things, but one, on the present occasion, but imperfectly
realized. Nor were things much better to the east of the house, where
ran the deep verandah in which they had sat and from which Daisy had
strayed the evening before; for the heat came no longer from the honest
and scorching rays of the sun, but through a thick blanket of grey
cloud, which all morning had been gradually forming over and obscuring
the sky. Southwards there was rather an ugly glare in the day, a tawny,
coppery-coloured light that spread from low on the horizon, where clouds
of thicker and more palpable texture were piled together--clouds with
hard edges and angry lights in them. It was certain there was going to
be a storm somewhere, and that would be no bad thing, for the air was
horribly sultry, and quite distinctly needed clearing.

Daisy was always susceptible to atmospheric conditions, and she had
gone upstairs after lunch to her room, on the plea, a fairly true one,
of thunder-headache. Aunt Jeannie had been eager with sympathy,
smelling-salts, and offers to read, but Daisy had quietly rejected all
these, saying that it was merely a question of thunderstorm. When the
storm broke she would be better; till then smelling-salts would not
help her.

"It's quite darling of you, Aunt Jeannie," she had forced herself to say
at the end, with a cordiality that was somewhat hard to put into her
voice; "but, really, I would sooner be alone. It isn't a bad headache
either--only just a thunder one."

There was a window-seat in her room, well lined with cushions, and
looking over the river, and it was here that Daisy was rather uneasily
reclining herself. She had first tried lying on her bed, but the room
was too airless except close by the window to be tolerable. Partly that,
partly (half an hour ago) the sound of voices outside, had made her come
over here, and it was to see what was happening to those whom she had
heard talking, as well as to get what air there was, that kept her here
now.

A breath-holding immobility lay over river and garden; no quiver moved
in the aspens or shook the leaf-clad towers of the elms and chestnuts.
It was as if, instead of being clad in soft and sensitive foliage,
they were cast in iron. No note of birds came from the bushes, no
ripple broke the metallic hardness of the river, and the reflections
of the loose-strife and tall grasses along its edges, and the clump
of chestnuts on the little promontory at the corner of the garden,
were as clear-cut and unwavering as if they had been enamelled on
steel. There was no atmosphere in the day; no mist or haze, in spite
of the heat, shrouded or melted the distances; the trees and
house-roofs of Maidenhead a mile away seemed as if a stretched-out
finger could be laid on them. They were of Noah's Ark size; it was
only minuteness that showed their remoteness.

There was a punt underneath these chestnuts at the corner of the garden,
partly concealed by the low sweep of the boughs. Half an hour ago Daisy
had heard Aunt Jeannie's voice below her window saying, "Yes, with
pleasure. But we shall be wise not to go far, as I am sure there will be
a storm." It was at that that Daisy had left her bed and come across to
the window-seat, to see with whom Aunt Jeannie was not going far. But
before she had got there another voice had told her who it was. They had
not gone far; they had gone about fifty yards from the boathouse.

She could see the lines of the punt among the leaves; there was a great
pile of crimson cushions and a woman's figure dressed in grey. In front
of it sat a man's figure in flannels, with shirt-sleeves rolled up to
the elbows. Even as Daisy looked, Aunt Jeannie passed him a couple of
cushions, and he too sat down on the floor of the punt, close to and
facing her. Daisy had said her headache was not bad, and that it was
only thunder-headache. Neither of these assertions was quite true. Her
headache was bad, and it was not, in the main, thunder-headache at all;
it was headache born of trouble and perplexity and struggle. She did not
in the least understand what was happening.

She had got up early that morning and had gone out before breakfast.
Very likely she was out of sorts, and a row on the river in the coolness
of the day was exactly the right thing to correct morbid and suspicious
impressions, which were founded, so she told herself, not on facts, but
on her own bilious interpretation of facts. And, indeed, in the fresh
dewy morning she found, when she went out, that her imagination, which
had been fairly busy most of the night fitting together, like a Chinese
puzzle, the rather disturbing events of the day before, had been riotous
and sensational. Lord Lindfield, for instance, it was true, had not come
down here early yesterday, as he had suggested, but had gone with Aunt
Jeannie to a concert. Clearly his coming down alone to spend the day
with two (especially one) girls in the country would have been highly
unconventional, and he was very wise not to. So that was disposed of.
They had missed their train and motored down instead, arriving half-way
through dinner. What of that? Unless she was prepared to aver that there
had been no breakdown, what was there to build on here? So that was
disposed of. They had played two games of billiards together last
night--the second fifty, so it appeared, had been doubled--but why not?
Before each game Daisy had been asked if she would not play, and had
refused. Then he had said, as they parted on the landing, that he had
never enjoyed a day more. And what of that? Did not Daisy herself have
"the most heavenly evening I have ever spent" about seven times a week?

Like the sensible girl she was, she took her trouble to bits in that
early morning row, as one may take the mechanism of a clock to bits, and
found there was something faulty in every individual piece of its
working. Clearly, therefore, the whole thing, when pieced together
again, could not reasonably be considered a reliable clock, since there
was something wrong with every single piece of it. But--here was the
trouble of it--it seemed to her, when reconstructed and made into one,
to keep excellent time, to be thoroughly dependable. Yet, since all its
pieces were wrong, she would not accept the whole, and, tossing it
overboard, so to speak, settled down for a spell of demon-dispersing
exercise. It was still only a little after seven. She had two clear
hours to get rid of her blues--for they already had become substantial
enough to take this depressing colour--before breakfast.

She had returned, it must be confessed, in far more equable spirits;
physical exercise had disposed her to a broader and more out-of-door
attitude, while her determined effort not to be suspicious and
maliciously constructive had done more.

Of all people in the world Aunt Jeannie was the least mean or
ignoble-minded, and Daisy told herself that she had been measuring her
actions by a standard so crooked that it would not lie straight along
them. There should be no more such attempts, and no more looking from
the dark into windows to see unseen what people were doing inside.
Flushed and exhilarated by her row, Daisy's cheeks burnt a shade
brighter that moment at the thought that it was indeed she who had
done that.

It was still half an hour to breakfast-time when she got back to the
boat-house, but already the heat of the day was begun, and the smell of
the damp coolness of the night dried up. She strolled along the outside
of the thick hedge that faced the river, and then, turning the corner,
saw in front of her, not twenty yards distant, two figures standing
alone together. The woman's two hands clasped those of the man, holding
them against her breast. She was speaking softly and eagerly, smiling
into his face.

Quick as a lizard, Daisy popped back behind the hedge before either
seemed to have seen her, and went swiftly to the house. But this was
more inexplicable yet--for the two figures she had seen were those of
Aunt Jeannie and Victor Braithwaite. There was no questioning the
intimacy of their attitude. Yet here again she had seen something she
had not been meant to see; she would be a lamentable creature if she let
her mind dwell on it, or try to construct its meaning and significance.
It was not for her. But if the man's figure had been Lord Lindfield's
she would have been less surprised.

She had earned an inactive morning by her expedition before breakfast,
and announced her set determination to go no further than the elm-trees
beyond the rose-garden, and when arrived there to do nothing whatever.
From the other side of the table Lord Lindfield rose at this.

"Jove, Miss Daisy," he said. "I've been wondering since I got up, what's
the matter with me, and now I know it's the need of sitting under a tree
and doing nothing. I'll join your party, if you'll let me. Is talking
allowed?"

"Yes, but nobody need answer. I usually shan't."

Jim Crowfoot got up.

"I'm not sure if I shall come or not," he said. "I think not. I feel
rather inclined for conversation to-day."

"Better not come then, old chap," said Lindfield. "There's not much
conversation usually when I'm with you. I never get a word in. Nor
anybody else."

It was impossible to take offence at even this, so pure and friendly was
the chaff. It may be said to Jim's credit that he did not even attempt
to do so.

"What am I to do, then?" he asked. "I can't converse alone.--Mrs.
Halton, will you talk to me?"

"No, Mrs. Halton's going to write letters all the morning," said
Lindfield. "She told me so."

Just for a second Daisy allowed herself to think "So he already knew
that," but it was but momentary. This mood of drawing inferences from
infinitesimal data in other people's conduct was altogether detestable;
she must not allow herself to do it.

"Yes, I'm going to be a virtuous woman," said Aunt Jeannie.--"Alice
dear, will you get a nice dog-chain and fasten me down to a
writing-table till I swear to you that I have written to everybody who
ever writes to me?"

"If you wish, but if I chain you down you sacrifice the fineness of your
virtue. You make a virtue of necessity."

"No," said Jeannie, "I make a necessity of virtue. I shan't be able to
get up. Or is it the same thing?"

"You're clearly going to make a morning of it," remarked Lindfield.

Jeannie sighed.

"An afternoon as well," she said, "If my recollection of the size of a
certain packet neatly labelled 'Unanswered' is at all correct."

"Shouldn't make a packet of unanswered letters," said Lindfield. "I burn
them. Then you can start afresh."



CHAPTER XV.


The next hour or two had fairly fulfilled the breakfast plans. Daisy,
after the tiger accident to her parasol at the Zoo, had fallen back, for
country use anyhow, on an immense scarlet contadina umbrella, and had
planted herself and this under the elm-tree as soon as breakfast was
over. Almost immediately after Lord Lindfield had followed her, with not
quite so rigid an interpretation of idleness as Daisy, for she had
brought absolutely nothing with her to occupy her hands or her mind,
whereas he had a daily paper.

"Not a word or a sigh or a sneeze, Miss Daisy," he said, in a whisper,
"or we shall be discovered. Not brought anything whatever with you?
That's right. Just you yourself."

"You forget my parasol," said Daisy, "and it really isn't an
insignificant affair."

"I know it isn't. I don't like it. It hides too much of you."

Daisy laughed.

"I suppose that means I have to put it down," she said.

"Well, I think it would be kind of you," he said. "You've been hiding
yourself too much lately to my mind."

Daisy could not let this pass.

"Well, I like that," she said. "You threw me over all yesterday, which
you said you were going to spend down here; you arrived with Aunt
Jeannie in the middle of dinner, and played five thousand up with her
afterwards."

"Yes, and when I do hope to catch a glimpse of you you hide yourself
under a scarlet umbrella," he said. "That's better; thanks awfully."

Daisy furled the big umbrella, and threw it down on the grass. For the
moment her mind was absolutely at peace again, and went back with a
tremulous sense of happiness to the mood of the ball, so few evenings
ago. And as she faced him, she thought again that it was a different
man from the one she had known, and again saw that the difference was
in herself.

"We had a great discussion, Mrs. Halton and I," he went on, "when we
were sitting like wayside flowers near Ealing yesterday, as to whether
people were nicer in the country or in town. I wonder which of us you
will agree with."

"Oh, with Aunt Jeannie, I expect," said Daisy, not without challenge in
her voice.

"H'm. That's a nasty one for me. Well, let's put it to the proof,
anyhow. We agreed that some people are nicer in town and others in the
country, but there we parted company."

"Ah, don't tell me," said Daisy. "Let me think."

She plucked a long grass stem and drew it through her teeth.

"The people one really likes and loves are nicer in the country," she
said at length. "The people who just amuse you are nicer in town."

"Hurrah!" said he. "That's first-rate! It's what I said myself. Mrs.
Halton wouldn't have any of that. She says that she herself is so much
nicer in town that she refused to accept such a classification. Else it
would mean that none of us liked her. But she stuck to the fact that
none of us would like her so much down here."

Daisy considered this.

"How funny of Aunt Jeannie," she said. "I wonder----"

Then a whole collection of the things that poor Daisy had tried to put
away from her mind flashed into it again, giving her a feeling of
sickness and insecurity. What did it all mean?

"I wonder what she meant?" she added, truthfully enough.

"Don't know. Here she comes. By Jove! Miss Daisy, how splendid she
looks."

Aunt Jeannie certainly was looking her very best this morning. She was
walking hatless in the blaze of the sun, and somehow the sunlight seemed
not so much to shine on her as to shine from her. Flowers, garden,
river, sky, sun, were all so much less splendid than she.

"I love this heat," she said, "and it saps my moral nature and leaves me
a happy animal with no sense of responsibility. Daisy dear, you needn't
answer. I won't invade you for long. But I sat down at my table with all
the unanswered letters, I looked them through, and determined not to
answer one. I'm going to have a holiday from being good. I've been good
too long, I think. The joy of virtue palls. But there ought to be wind;
there is sun and sky and water and all nice things, except wind. Can't
you--what's the phrase?--can't you raise the wind, Lord Lindfield?"

Tom Lindfield clicked his finger and thumb together.

"Jove! Mrs. Halton," he said, "you always think of the right thing, or
make me do so." He jumped up. "I'll order the motor at once," he said.
"You and Miss Daisy and I, let's all go out for a run. Old Puffing Billy
always goes well up to speed limit the day after he's broken down."

Daisy's effort with herself that morning on the river suddenly came to
the limits of its energy. Once again she saw everything in that light
which she had tried so hard to extinguish. And now there was more added,
there were further features in the scene. Aunt Jeannie was too clever
for her; with how natural an air she had come out and said that only
wind was necessary to make the morning perfect; and how naturally and
how unconsciously had he responded to that subtly conveyed suggestion,
the very subtlety of which made him believe that he had thought of the
plan himself. But outwardly Daisy still was mistress of herself; it was
from the inside, not the outside, that her control was beginning to give
way. She put up the red umbrella again.

"Thanks awfully, Lord Lindfield," she said, "but I can't think of
the grilling roads and the dust without putting up my neat little
parasol again. But you are too ingenious for words! Aunt Jeannie
comes out here and demands wind, and you instantly think of the only
plan of giving it her. No, for me the book of verses, or, rather,
the newspaper, underneath the bough will last till lunch-time. Has
anything happened?"

Daisy spoke in the lightest possible tone; it required a woman to hear
that beneath the light words a troubled spirit spoke. And Jeannie was
sick at heart at the success of her scheme. She had heard at breakfast
how these two meant to spend their morning; she was aware that others
knew of the situation which existed between them, and would surely avoid
the elm-tree by the rose-garden like a plague-stricken spot, and so she
had come out here on her hateful mission, interrupting and breaking up
their dangerous companionship.

She had been prepared to go further than this--to ask, if necessary,
point blank, for the use of his car, and hint at the pleasure of his
company. Part of that had been spared her; he probably had no inkling
of her design in coming out and demanding wind; indeed he thought he
had thought of it himself. But Daisy knew.

The tragic farce had to preserve the tone required of public
performances.

"Daisy dear, won't you come?" she asked. "Three is the best company
of all, I think."

Daisy turned over a leaf of the paper rather too smartly for a public
performance.

"Indeed, I think I won't, Aunt Jeannie," she said. "I had such a long
row before breakfast. I feel frightfully disinclined to move."

And she waited to hear Lord Lindfield urge her to come. But he was
already half-way towards the house. Daisy just raised her eyes, and
saw him already distant, and she felt that which she had often heard
of before, but passed over as unintelligible. Now she understood it,
for her heart swelled.

Aunt Jeannie followed after a general remark or two, to which Daisy
could scarcely reply. And after that more trials were in store, for
Willie Carton brought his patient presence out under the elm-tree
which had promised so well and performed so badly, and lay on the
grass and pretended to read a book.

It was very stupid of him to come, so Daisy thought, and rather selfish.
She had given him so firm an answer, and if he reopened the question
again she was determined to speak even more plainly. But he did nothing
of the kind, and Daisy, quieting down a little from the tumult of her
private thoughts, began to feel a little compassionate.

She knew now, in some kind of way, what was going on inside him. She
realized the nature of that which brought him out here, to pretend to
read a book. He wanted to be near her. And there was something of the
pathetic faithfulness of a dog about him--a dog that is beaten and
repulsed but never falters, or can falter, in devotion to his master.
She had begun to know what that unreasoning devotion meant.

"I know the compact of the elm-tree is not to talk or expect answers,"
said Willie quietly. "Don't let me disturb you."

Daisy looked up at him swiftly.

"But if I said that you do disturb me?" she said.

"Then I should go away," he said.

"Oh, Willie, you don't," she said.

"Right. Tell me when I do."

And then poor Daisy began to have a headache. It got worse, and before
long she rose.

"What a beastly day," she said.

"It is rather," said he. "But it's all right here."

"It isn't all right anywhere," said Daisy. "I shall go indoors. I've
got a headache."

"Wish I could take it," said he.

"Oh, don't be foolish. Thanks awfully; I know you mean it. But one can't
take other people's burdens, you know. We are all saddled separately,
and--and all we can do is to pretend we aren't saddled at all, and make
grimaces and pretend to enjoy ourselves. Do pretend--we all pretend."

"Oh, I've been pretending a long time," said he.

Daisy's headache gave her a stab that was quite unsettling.

"Men always think about themselves," she remarked. "Don't answer. It is
the elm-tree rule."

"I shall answer. Was your remark that men always think about themselves
meant to apply to me? I only want to know."

Daisy had some little sense of justice left.

"No," she said. "I don't think it was."

       *       *       *       *       *

The motorists came back very late for lunch, just as the evening before
they had come back late for dinner.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such was Daisy's morning; and she felt she had a perfect right to a
headache. And with her headache she lay in the window-seat of her
bedroom and watched the punt, with its crimson spots of cushions,
unwaveringly reflected in the surface of the Thames. Above the sky
grew darker with the approach of storm, and the light grew more
coppery with the rising of that curious cloud out of the south. But
still this dreadful clearness of air continued in spite of the
growing darkness.

Maidenhead was still close and distinct, and closer and more distinct
was the punt, where Aunt Jeannie handed Lindfield two crimson cushions.
Then in that darkness below the chestnut-tree a match was struck, and he
lit a cigarette, and dropped the still flaming vesta into the Thames.
Then he shifted his position a little, and sat nearer to that other
figure dressed in grey, whose arm was leaning over the side of the punt,
and whose hand just dabbled in the water.

And then Daisy suddenly hid her face in the cushions of the window-seat
and began to sob.



CHAPTER XVI.


Jeannie, as Daisy had heard, had advised that in view of the
approaching storm they should not go far, and it was now about an
hour since she and Tom Lindfield had, after this stipulation, gone
down to the river. They had taken a punt, and pushed out from the
hot, reeking boathouse that smelt strongly of the tar that was
growing soft and viscous on its roof beneath the heat of the day, and
slid down the backwater towards the river. The weeds here wanted
cutting, and they wrapped themselves affectionately round the
punt-pole, and dragged their green slender fingers along the bottom
of the punt as if seeking to delay its passage. Then for a moment
they had found a little coolness as they passed below the chestnut
trees that extended their long boughs three-quarters of the way
across the backwater, and Jeannie had said,--

"Lord Lindfield, you will certainly get very hot if you punt me
up-stream, and we shall probably both get very wet before we get back.
Let us stop here."

He had been by no means unwilling, and they had tied up.

"And sit down," she said; "out of these two thousand cushions I can
spare you a few. There, on the bottom of the boat."

"I didn't suggest stopping," he said. "You mustn't be sarcastic
afterwards over the immense expedition I took you."

"I promise not. I don't think I should ever be sarcastic to you, do you
know? You would only laugh. The point of sarcasm is to give pain."

"And you don't want to give me pain? Hurrah!"

"Ah, I'm not sure that a little pain would not be rather good for
you. I think you have almost too delightful a time. When did you
last not enjoy yourself? And yet I don't know; perhaps you deserve it
all. I am sure you give your friends a delightful time though you do
have one yourself. Poor Daisy! I am afraid she isn't having a good
time this afternoon; she has a headache. I offered sympathy and
companionship, but she felt like being alone. Poor Daisy!"

Jeannie's voice suddenly died. She meant him to say something about
Daisy, but for herself she felt as if she could not go on talking.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I thought she wasn't looking very brilliant. She
should have come out with us for a run in the motor. Jove! it is hot
even here. I think it was an excellent plan not to go any further;
besides, I want to talk most awfully."

A week ago Jeannie had loathed the thought of this man even as, and for
the same reason, she loathed the thought of Paris when she passed
through it. But at the moment she did not loathe the thought of him at
all, nor did she loathe him. She who so loved the sunshine and joy of
life could not but like one who took so keen and boyish a pleasure in
its pleasantness, and, boylike also, turned so uncompromising a back on
all that was unpleasant or even puzzling.

He had no use for unpleasantness and no head for puzzles. From an
intellectual point of view he might have been called stupid; but
intellectual though Jeannie was, she never took her view of life or her
estimate of people from that standpoint. Affection and simplicity and
good-fellowship were things that seemed to matter to her much more.

From the human point of view, then, which does not concern itself with
one's neighbour's intellectual qualities any more than it concerns
itself with his morals, she had quickly grown to like this simple,
pleasant man, who had so good an appetite for the joys of life. And her
liking for him made her task far more difficult and far more repulsive
to her than she had anticipated.

She had thought that as far as he was concerned she would find it
perfectly easy to be ruthless, steeling herself to it by the memory of
Diana. That memory had not in the least faded, but there had come into
the foreground of her life this liking and sympathy for the man who she
hoped was to be her victim.

It made what she was doing doubly odious to her, and yet, think and
puzzle as she might, she could devise no plan but this, which, if it
succeeded, would spare Daisy the knowledge that she herself had promised
Diana to spare her.

As far as things had gone, she was fairly content with what she had
accomplished. It was all horrible to her, but the plan was working quite
well. He had scarcely seen Daisy since they had come down here, while
he had seldom been out of her own company, and it was clear to Mrs.
Halton that Daisy was certainly beginning to be puzzled, and, poor
child, was beginning to feel hurt and slighted.

But there had been as yet no more than a beginning made; Lord Lindfield
would have to be far more taken up with herself than he was now, and
Daisy, poor dear, would have to be far more deeply wounded and hurt
before the thing was accomplished. And already Mrs. Halton felt sick at
heart about it all. Yet till a better plan could be thought of she had
not to set her teeth, but to smile her best, and flirt, flirt, flirt.

There was but one bright spot in the whole affair, and that the few words
which she had had with Victor early that morning before breakfast. She
had asked him, not pointedly, but in a general way arising out of their
talk, what he would think if in some way she completely puzzled him, and
acted in a manner that was incomprehensible. And he had laughed.

"Why, my darling, what an easy question," he said. "I should know that
there was something behind I didn't understand. I should wait for you to
tell me about it."

"And if I never told you about it?" asked Jeannie.

"Then, dear, I should know you had some good reason for that. But I
should never ask you, I think, and I know I should never cease to trust
you or forget that we are--well, you and me."

That was wine to her.



CHAPTER XVII.


But she liked Lindfield; that made her task so much harder. It was
shameful to treat a man like this, and yet--and yet there was still the
memory of that dreadful gilded house in Paris and the dying voice of
Diana.

So once more, and not for the last time, she settled down to the task
that was so odious--odious because she liked him.

"We shall quarrel, then, I am afraid," she said, "because I want to talk
too. We both want to talk--I to you, you to me."

He leant over her a moment, since the punt-pole had to be grounded at
the stern of the boat, for he had tied the chain in the bow to an
unearthed root of the tree. She leant a little sideways away from him,
and this was done. It was then she gave him the few cushions out of the
two thousand.

"Have you got anything very special to say?" she asked. "Because I have,
and so I shall begin. Yet I don't know if it is special, except that
between friends everything seems to be special."

Again Jeannie could not get on for a moment, but she proceeded without
notable pause.

"The difference between friends and acquaintances is so enormous," she
said, "and yet so many people confuse the two. One may meet another
person a hundred times and be only an acquaintance; one may meet a
person once and be a friend in a minute. Perhaps it is not the same with
men. I don't think a man recognizes those who are going to be or are
capable of being his friends at the first glance, whereas a woman does.
She feels it to the end of her finger-tips."

Jeannie gave a quick glance at him, and saw that he was listening with
considerable attention. She gave a little sigh, and clasped her hands
behind her head.

"What an uneconomical world it is," she said, "and what a lot of
affection and emotion Nature allows to run to waste. A man sees in some
woman the one quality, the one character that he is for ever seeking; he
sees that she is in some way the complement of himself, and perhaps the
woman merely dislikes him. Or it may happen the other way round. What a
waste of noble stuff that means. All his affection is poured away like a
stream losing itself in the desert. It does seem a pity."

"Jove! yes, and I never thought of that," he said. "There must be a lot
of that going on. So much, perhaps, that some day the desert will get
quite damp, and then won't it cease to be a desert?"

She looked at him rather longer, letting her eyes rest on his.

"That is a much more hopeful solution," she said. "Perhaps it doesn't
all go to waste. Or shall we say that Nature never throws things away,
but puts all these odds and ends of affection in the stock-pot to make
soup. But they will make soup for other people. Ah! there was lightning
far off. The storm is beginning."

They waited in silence, till a long, drowsy peal of thunder answered.

"Oh, it is miles away yet," he said.

Jeannie arranged her cushions more comfortably. "And yet I rather like
Nature's uneconomical habits," she said, "if we settle she is a
spendthrift. There is something rather royal and large-handed about it.
She is just the same in physical affairs. I saw in some snippety paper
the other day that the amount of electricity discharged in a good
thunderstorm would be sufficient to light every house in London for five
hours, or run all the trains on all the tubes for about the same time. I
should think you are rather spendthrift, too, Lord Lindfield."

He laughed.

"I? Oh, yes. I pour out gallons of affection in all directions.
Always have."

Again Jeannie smiled at him.

"Ah, I like that," she said, softly. "And we won't think it goes to
waste. It would be too sad. Go on, tell me about your pouring it out in
all directions. I should like to hear about it."

Jeannie hated herself as she spoke; she was using all her woman's charm
to draw him on, and--a thing which he could not follow, though she knew
it well--she was using lightness of touch so that he should not see how
much she was in earnest. She had used, too, that sacred name of
friendship to encourage him to draw nearer her, for no man could listen
to what she had been saying without reading into it some directly
personal meaning; clearly the friendship she spoke of concerned him and
her, for no woman talks to a man about friendship purely in the
abstract unless she is his grandmother. And she was not; nobody could be
less like a grandmother, as she sat there, in the full beauty of her
thirty years and her ripened womanhood.

She was beautiful, and she knew it; she had charm, she was alone on this
hot thundery day with him in the punt. Also she meant to use all power
that was hers. The plan was to detach him from the girl, and the manner
of his detachment was the attachment to her. Daisy must be shown how
light were his attachments.

Indeed, the handicap of years did not seem so heavy now. She was
perfectly well aware that men looked at her as she went by, and turned
their heads after she had passed. And this hot, sweltering day, she
knew, suited her and the ripe rather Southern beauty of her face, though
in others it might only be productive of headache or fatigue. Indeed, it
was little wonder that her plan had made so promising a beginning.

He moved again a little nearer her, clasping his knees in his hands.

"You've talked about friends," he said, "and you are encouraging me to
talk about them. It's a jolly word; it means such a jolly thing. And I'm
beginning to hope I have found one in this last day or two."

There was no mistaking this, nor was there any use in her pretending not
to know what he meant; indeed, it was worse than useless, for it was for
this she had been working. There was no touch or hint of passion in his
voice; he was speaking of friends as a boy might speak. And she liked
him.

She held out her hand with a charming frankness of gesture.

"That is a very good hearing," she said. "I congratulate you. And,
Lord Lindfield, it isn't only you I congratulate; I congratulate
myself most heartily."

He unclasped his knees and took her hand in both his.

"Thanks, most awfully," he said.

"Friends don't thank each other," she said. "One only thanks people who
don't matter. Now go on. I have been doing all the talking these last
two days. It is your turn; I want to know much more about you."

"I expect you won't like it."

"I must be the judge of that. I am willing to risk it."

"Well, I told you I wanted to talk most awfully," he said, "and now
you've made it so much easier. I expect you know a certain amount about
me, as it is. I've had a tremendously good time all my life. People have
been very kind to me always. I expect they've been too kind. It's all
been so confoundedly pleasant, I have let the years go by without ever
thinking of settling down. But there's an awful lot to be said for it.
And all my life--I'm thirty-eight already--I've shirked every
responsibility under the sun."

Jeannie had a sudden sense that in spite of the promising beginning
which she had half prided herself on and half loathed herself for,
things were going quite completely wrong, and that she had as yet
accomplished nothing whatever. It was but a momentary impression, and
she had no time to reflect on or examine it, since she had to do her
part in this sealed compact of friendship. But she did it with an
uncourageous heart.

She laughed.

"I can't console you over that," she said, "or tell you that you do
yourself an injustice, because I have always regarded you as the very
type of the delectable and untrammelled life. You don't conform to the
English standard, you know, and I expect you have no more acquaintance
with your Wiltshire estates and all your people there than you have with
the House of Lords. Have you ever taken your seat, by the way? No, I
thought not. But, after all, if you don't know the House of Lords, you
know London pretty well, and--and Paris."

He did not smile now, but looked at her gravely.

"Yes, worse luck," he said.

Jeannie nodded at him.

"Well, well," she said, quietly. "Never mind that now. You were speaking
of settling down. Go on about that."

"One doesn't settle down alone," he said.

And then she knew that, so far, her plan had been a dead failure. His
attitude towards her was perfectly clear; they were friends, and as
friends should do, he was confiding in her, seeking from her the
sympathy and counsel of a friend.

"You mean to marry, then?" she asked.

"I hope to marry."

Once again the lightning flickered in the sky, and the thunder gave a
far more immediate response. That big coppery cloud which had been low
on the horizon had spread upwards over the heavens with astonishing
speed, and even as the thunder crackled a few big drops of rain splashed
on the river outside their shelter under the chestnuts. The storm was
quickly coming closer, and a big tree, as Jeannie remembered, is not a
very desirable neighbourhood under the circumstances.

"We had better get home," she said. "There is going to be a storm."

He jumped up at once, loosed the chain, and with a few swift strokes
took them back into the boathouse. There was no time just then for
further conversation, and Jeannie, at any rate, did not wish for it. But
it was as she had feared. All that she had done hitherto was nothing;
the calamity she wished to avert had not yet been averted.

One thing only she had gained at present, the footing of a friend.
Already, she was sure, he valued that, and on that she would have to
build. But it was a precarious task; she could not see her way yet. Only
she knew that such friendship as she had already formed with him was
not enough. He was not detached from Daisy yet. For the last forty-eight
hours, it is true, he had almost completely left her alone, but that was
not enough. He still intended to marry her.

Jeannie went straight to her room on gaining the house, under pretence
of changing her dress, which even in those few yards across from the
boathouse had got wet with the first rain of the storm. But she wanted
not that so much as to sit by herself and think. Matters were not so
easy as she had hoped, for she knew now that she had let herself believe
that by the mere formation of a friendship with her, she could lead him
away from Daisy. And now, for the first time, she saw how futile such a
hope had been. He could, in the pleasure of this new friendship, be
somewhat markedly inattentive to Daisy for a day or two, but it could
not permanently detach him. She must seem to offer something more than
mere friendship.

That he was seriously in love with Daisy she did not wholly believe,
but he meant to marry her; he meant, anyhow, to ask her to marry him,
and Alice, who knew better than she what Daisy felt, was sure that
Daisy would accept him. But something more than a mere flirtation was
required; matters, she saw now, had to go deeper than that. She must
make herself essential to him, and then, when he knew that she was
essential, she would have to turn her back on him. It was not a
pretty rôle.

There came a gentle tap at the door, and Daisy entered.

"Ah! you have come in, Aunt Jeannie," she said. "Did you get caught
in the storm?"

"Not to speak of. We did not go far. Lord Lindfield offered to take me
up to Maidenhead, but, as a matter of fact, we went to the corner of the
backwater. Oh, I promised not to laugh at him for the immensity of the
expedition, because it was I who proposed stopping under the chestnuts.
How charming he is, Daisy! And how is the headache?"

"Rather brilliant still, but it will get better. Aunt Jeannie, how
quickly you make friends with people."

There was something tearing to Jeannie's tender heart about this.
Daisy looked so white and tired, and so helpless, she who was usually
a perfect well-spring of high spirits and enjoyment. Jeannie longed
to take that dear head in her hands and kiss its trouble away, but it
was just that which she could not do. This trouble could not be
kissed away; it had to be burnt away--by a hand, too, that seemed
unconscious of its cruel work.

"With him, do you mean?" she asked lightly. "You can scarcely say I have
only now been making friends with him. I saw a good deal of him at one
time; in fact, he was rather devoted to me. But my eagle eye sees no
sign of a return of it. Does yours?"

The room was very dark with the blackness of the sky outside, and
Jeannie could see Daisy but indistinctly. Then with a wicked flare of
lightning it leaped into light, and the thunder rattled round the
eaves. But in that moment's flash Jeannie saw Daisy's face again,
mute, white, and appealing, and it was intolerable to her. Besides,
anything was better and less dangerous than a _tête-à-tête_ with
Daisy. At any moment she might tell her about Lord Lindfield and the
offer she expected. That would make her part infinitely worse to
play; it would make it impossible. At present, anyhow, so far as
Daisy knew, she was ignorant of it all.

She jumped at the appalling racket overhead.

"Oh, I hate thunder--I hate thunder," she said. "Let us come downstairs,
Daisy, where there are people. Besides, it is tea-time, is it not? Let
us go down. I came straight to my room, and Lord Lindfield, I think,
went to his. Alice will be anxious if she thinks we are still out.
Listen to the rain. How it will beat the flowers down! Come, dear."

"I have hardly had a word with you since you came back, Aunt Jeannie,"
said Daisy.

"I know, dear, but in a house full of people what can one expect? We
must have a great talk when we get back to London. Every moment seems
occupied here. Dear child, I hope your headache will be better soon.
Will you not go and lie down? Or shall I tell Alice you are not well,
and won't you have a little dinner quietly in your room by yourself? No?
Let us go down, then."



CHAPTER XVIII.


The storm was violent for an hour or two, but before sunset it had
moved away again, and a half-hour of sunshine, washed, clean
sunshine, preceded sunset. But somehow the storm had not done its
proper work; it had scolded and roared and wept, but it had not quite
got the trouble out of the air. There was more to come.

The same sense that there was more to come invaded the spirits of Lady
Nottingham's guests. She herself was a little distraite, Daisy's
headache had left her rather white and tired, Gladys lamented the wreck
of the garden, and there was not much life about. Then after dinner it
clouded over again, the clouds regathered, lightning began to wink
remotely and thunder to grumble, and even Mrs. Halton, whom the sultry
heat had so invigorated, according to her own account, that afternoon,
was inclined to join in the rather early move to bed. Also, the next day
was Sunday, and Sunday was not particularly wanted. The fact of it was
felt to be a little depressing, and nobody quite knew what was the
matter with everybody else.

It is a fact that in every gathering of friends and acquaintances
there is some one person who makes _la pluie et le beau temps_, and
in this party it was emphatically Jeannie Halton who arranged the
weather. The spirits of every person are, to a certain extent,
infectious, but the spirits of some few people run through a house
like influenza, and there was no doubt that she had, all the evening,
been in a rather piano mood. She had not, of course, committed the
unpardonable social crime of showing that she was depressed, but she
had been a little retrospective, and tended to "remember how" in
general conversation, rather than to "hope that."

But it must not be supposed that she had behaved in any way outside
the lines of normal social intercourse. She had, for instance, just
gone out into the garden after dinner with Lord Lindfield, and had
quoted the line, "In the darkness thick and hot." It was apt enough
and harmless enough, but it had vaguely made him feel that something
was a little wrong. Then she had made him and Daisy play billiards
together, while she marked for them. She marked with weary accuracy,
and said, "Oh, what a beautiful stroke" rather too often to make it
credible that she always meant it. And with the rest of the women she
had gone up to bed rather early.

Tom Lindfield, on the other hand, though he did not feel at all inclined
to go to bed early, felt that there was trouble somewhere. He could not
date it in the least, nor could he put his finger on the moment when
trouble began. Or could he? He asked himself that question several
times. Jeannie had been so pleasant and so good a comrade till they had
gone out in the punt. Then came the compact of friendship, and somehow
at once almost she seemed to slip away from him. He had wanted to tell
her much more, to tell her even how in Paris he had been desperately in
love, and that what he felt now for Daisy was not that. Somehow that
woman in Paris reminded him of Daisy, and yet what two women could be
more different than these! She had an apartment in the Rue Chalgrin. It
was very much gilded, and yet very simple.

That did not occupy him much. What occupied him so much more was that
till the storm had begun, till he and Jeannie had run hurriedly to the
house, he had found such an extreme content in her society. She had
been--for these last thirty hours or so--such an admirable comrade.
There was the Brahms concert, the ridiculous motor-drive, the evening
at billiards, the morning in the motor, the afternoon in the punt. Then
quite suddenly she had seemed to shut up, to enclose herself from him.
Yet some little spirit of companionship had escaped her again, when she
quoted the line, "In the darkness thick and hot." And then, after that,
she had walked back to the house, made him play billiards with Daisy,
and had gone upstairs at the earliest possible opportunity.

Nobody with the slightest prospect of winning his case could have
accused Tom Lindfield of being sensitive in his perceptions, but nobody
without the certainty of losing it could have accused him of not being
fairly sound in his conclusions. What had happened to Mrs. Halton to
make her so different to him (and, for that matter, to everybody else)
since four o'clock that afternoon he did not try to decide, since he had
no means of knowing.

But what he did know was that this was a woman of enchanting moods. At
one time she was good comrade, then she was friend, then for some reason
she was some sort of shadow of these excellent things. They were there,
but they were obscured by something else. And that obscuration rendered
her the more enchanting. He did not understand her; she was away
somewhere beyond him, and he longed to follow her.

All his life women had been to him the most delectable of riddles,
and his expressed desire to marry and settle down was perhaps only
another statement of the fact that he longed to solve one example of
the riddle, one form in which it was presented to him. He felt now
that he wished he had married years ago, that he had already become
quiet and domesticated. There was a time for youth's fiery passions,
its ecstatic uncontent, and there was also most assuredly a time when
those fevers should cease.

He had so repeatedly told himself that it was time they should cease
for him, that of late he had come to believe it. He believed it still,
and it was for that reason that he had determined to settle down, to
choose, as he had done in his own mind, this pretty and charming girl,
much younger than himself, as was right, and ask her to settle down with
him.

He was not in love with her in any absorbed or tumultuous way, but he
meant to do his best to make her happy, and looked forward to being
immensely happy himself. All that had seemed very right and reasonable
and satisfactory, but to-night, in some way, the mirror of his future
tranquillity was disturbed; it was as if little sudden puffs of wind,
like those that rustled every now and then through "the darkness thick
and hot" outside, ruffled and broke its surface, making it dim and full
of shattered images that seemed to have swum up from below.

Was it that once again he was beginning to fall in love with Daisy in
the old passionate way? But at that moment he was aware that he was not
thinking about Daisy at all.

All this passed very rapidly through his mind; it was no effort of
conscious or reasoned thought, but more as if without volition of his
own these pictures had been drawn across his brain, as he stood in the
hall while the rustling procession of women went upstairs. And with
their going, he became aware that the rest of the evening was likely to
be rather boring.

It was still not after half-past ten, an hour impossible to go to bed
at, impossible, anyhow, to go to sleep at, and he fancied that his own
company and his own thoughts were not likely to be very comfortable or
very profitable. He did not want to think; he wanted the hours to pass
as quickly and unreflectingly as possible until it was morning again. No
doubt then things would present themselves in a more normal light.
Certainly the events of the day had proved rather exciting and
unsettling, or, to be perfectly honest, Jeannie had somehow unsettled
him. How quickly their friendship had sprung up! And what had happened
then? She seemed to have left him altogether, glided away from him.

He strolled back into the billiard-room, where he would find company of
some sort, but there already the hour of yawns and fitful conversation
had begun, and first one and then another man nodded good-night and left
the room. Jim Crowfoot, however, who hated going to bed as much as he
disliked getting up, had a brilliant cargo of conversation on board,
which he proceeded to unload. The two knew each other well, and when
they were left alone conversation rapidly became intimate.

"Thunderstorms always are simultaneous with sombreness," he said, "and I
sometimes wonder whether it is our sombreness that produces the storm or
the storm that produces sombreness. Every one has been sombre to-day,
except, perhaps, you, Tom, and the merry widow."

"Are you referring to Mrs. Halton?"

"I don't know of any other. Lady Nottingham isn't merry. I can't think
how you manage to produce so much impression with so little material. I
have to talk all the time to produce an impression at all, and then it
is usually an unfortunate one."

"I think your description of Mrs. Halton as the merry widow is a
particularly unfortunate one," remarked Lindfield.

"You guessed whom I meant," said Jim.

"I know. It was characteristic of you if not of her. You always see
people in--in caricature. Besides, I thought Mrs. Halton was anything
but merry."

"You should know best."

"Why?"

"Because you have spent the entire day with her, chiefly _tête-à-tête_.
Also yesterday."

Tom Lindfield was apparently not in a very genial frame of mind
to-night. He let this remark pass in silence, and then went back to
what Jim had previously said.

"You always talk a good lot of rot, old chap," he said, "and I want to
know if you were talking rot when you said something about my producing
an impression with little material. It sounds pretty good rot, but if
you meant something by it, I wish you would tell me what it was. Does it
have any special application?"

"Yes, certainly. I referred to your 'Veni, vidi, vici' with Mrs. Halton.
You laid firm hold of her yesterday, and have not let her go since. I
don't imply that she has wanted to go."

Jim, in spite of the large quantities of outrageous nonsense which he
often talked, had a very fair allowance of brains, and when he chose to
talk sense was worth listening to. So, at any rate, Tom Lindfield
thought now.

"I wish you'd go on," he said, "and just tell me all that is in your
mind."

"By all means, if you promise not to knock me down or anything. It's
just this--that we've all been asking ourselves, 'Is it to be the aunt
or the niece?'"

"And who has been asking themselves that?" asked Lindfield.

"Oh, everybody except, perhaps, Braithwaite and poor wandering Willie.
Mrs. Beaumont and Lady Sybil were hard at it when you and Mrs. Halton
strolled out after dinner. They tore Mrs. Halton open as you tear open
a--a registered envelope. With the same greed, you understand."

"Cats!" remarked Lindfield.

"Oh, yes. But I like to hear them 'meaow.' Braithwaite didn't; he
listened to just one remark and then went away looking black."

"What has he got to do with it?" asked Tom.

"Oh, he's great friends with the M. W.," said Jim, "and he is one of
those nice old-fashioned people who never talk evil of people behind
their backs. But where are you to talk evil of people except behind
their backs? That's what I want to know. You can't do it in front of
their faces, as it would not be polite."

"Don't be epigrammatic, there's a good fellow," said Tom. "It only
confuses me."

"Well, you've confused us. You were supposed to be walking out, so to
speak, with Miss Daisy. Instead of which you leave her completely alone,
and walk out all the time with Mrs. Halton. Oh, I don't deny that she is
running after you. She is; at least, so the cats said. It's confusing,
you know; I don't think any one knows where we all are."

Lindfield took a turn or two up and down the room, took up a cue, and
slapped the red ball into a pocket.

"I'm sure I don't know where I am," he said, "but I expect we
shall all be in the deuce of a mess before long. About Mrs. Halton
running after me, that is absolutely all rot. What brutes women are
to each other! And they say, to use your expression, that I've been
walking out with Miss Daisy?"

"It has been supposed that you were going to ask her to marry you."

Lindfield sent one of the white balls after the red.

"And they weren't far wrong," he said. "Well, I shall go to bed, Jim.
Your conversation is too sensational."

"Good-night. Mind you let me know when you have made up your mind,"
said Jim.



CHAPTER XIX.


It was this certainty that he had got to make up his mind, whereas
till to-day he had believed that his mind was made up, that Lindfield
carried upstairs with his bedroom candle. But, unlike that useful
article, which could be put out at will, the question refused to be
put out, and burnt with a disconcerting and gem-like clearness. It
was perfectly true, and he confessed it to himself, that for the last
two days he had distinctly preferred to cultivate this wonderful
quick-growing friendship which had shot up between him and Jeannie,
rather than bring things to a head with Daisy.

He had meant while down here to ask her to marry him; now, if he
looked that intention in the face, he was aware that though it was
still there (even as he had begun to tell Mrs. Halton that afternoon),
it had moved away from the immediate foreground, and stood waiting at
a further distance. The cats and Jim Crowfoot, he told himself with
some impatience, were altogether at fault when they so charmingly said
that he had to make up his mind between aunt and niece. It was not
that at all; the only question with which the making up of his mind
was concerned was whether he was going to ask Daisy now, to-morrow, to
be his wife. And the moment he asked himself that question it was
already answered. But that he did not know.

As always, he was quite honest with himself, and proceeded ruthlessly
to find out what had occasioned the postponement of his intention.
That was not hard to answer; the answer had already been indirectly
given. It was the enchantment of this new friendship which had forced
itself into the foreground.

That friendship, however, was now agreed upon and ratified, and the
postponed intention should come forward again. But these last few hours
had made him feel uncertain about that friendship. There was no use in
denying it; she had been quite different since they came in from the
punt. How maddening and how intoxicating women were! How they forced you
to wonder and speculate about them, to work your brain into a fever with
guessing what was going on in theirs.

He turned over in bed with his face to the wall, and shut his eyes with
the firm and laudable intention of not bothering any more about it, but
of letting sleep bring counsel. He did intend to ask Daisy to marry him,
but he was not quite certain when he should do so. And then there
outlined itself behind the darkness of his closed lids Jeannie's face,
with its great dark eyes, its mass of hair growing low on the forehead,
the witchery of its smiling mouth.

So perhaps the cats and Jim Crowfoot, though a little "previous," were
not so wrong about the reality of the question on which he must make up
his mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jeannie announced her intention of going to church next morning at
breakfast, and Victor Braithwaite, who was sitting by her, professed
similar ecclesiastical leanings. Jeannie had apparently completely
recovered from the piano mood of the evening before, and commented
severely on the Sunday habits of this Christian country. She personally
taxed every one who had at present come down with having had no
intention whatever of going to church, and her accusations appeared
particularly well founded. In the middle of this Lord Lindfield entered.

"Good-morning, Lord Lindfield," said Alice. "We are all catching it hot
this morning from Jeannie, who has been accusing us by name and
individually of being heathens."

"Worse than heathens," said Jeannie, briskly.--"Oh, good-morning, Lord
Lindfield. I didn't see you.--Worse than heathens, because heathens
don't know any better. Alice, you must come. You are a landlady of Bray,
and should set an example."

"But it is so hot," said Alice, "and I don't take out the carriage
on Sunday. I like to give the coachman an--an opportunity of going
to church."

"You give him fifty-two every year," said Jeannie.

"The motor is eating its head off," remarked Lindfield. "I'll drive you.
Do come with me, Mrs. Halton."

"Oh, thanks, no. I'll walk," she said. "Mr. Braithwaite is coming
with me."

Jeannie rose as she spoke, and went out through the French window into
the garden.

"Half-past ten, then, Mr. Braithwaite," she said.

Lindfield helped himself to some dish on the side-table.

"Can't stand being called a heathen," he said. "I shall go to
church too."

Victor soon strolled out after Jeannie.

"Hang it all, Jeannie!" he said. "I want to go to church with you, and
now Tom Lindfield says he is coming. Considering how much--oh, well,
never mind."

Jeannie looked hastily round, found they had the garden to themselves,
and took his arm.

"How much he has seen of me, and how little you have," she said.

"Quite correct. But it wasn't a difficult guess."

"No. We will be cunning, Victor. I said half-past ten quite loud, didn't
I? Let us meet in the manner of conspirators at the garden-gate at a
quarter-past."

They turned towards the house again, and Jeannie detached her arm
from his.

"Remember your promise, dear," she said. "I am I, and I am yours.
Never doubt that."

All that day there was no possible cause for his doubting it. The
conspirator-plan succeeded to admiration, and Lord Lindfield and
Daisy, with a somewhat faint-intentioned Gladys, had waited in the
hall till a quarter to eleven. Then it was discovered that Jeannie
had not been seen in the house since ten, and Gladys, victorious
over her faint intentions, had stopped at home, while Daisy and
Lord Lindfield walked rapidly to church, arriving there in the
middle of the psalms.

Jeannie had been gaily apologetic afterwards. She had not heard at
breakfast that anybody except herself and Mr. Braithwaite meant to go to
church, and, coming home, she paired herself off with Daisy. At lunch
again there were, when she appeared, two vacant places, one between
Willie Carton and one of the cats, the other next Lord Lindfield. She
walked quietly round the table to take the first of these, instead of
going to the nearest chair.

For the afternoon there were several possibilities. Jeannie, appealed
to, said she would like to go up to Boulter's Lock and see the Ascot
Sunday crowd. That, it appeared, was very easy of management, as Lord
Lindfield would punt her up.

"That will be delightful," said Jeannie. "Daisy dear, I haven't simply
set eyes on you. Do let us go up together, and Lord Lindfield will punt
us. We will be the blest pair of sirens, of extraordinarily diverse age,
and he shall give the apple of discord to one of us. If he gives it you
I shall never speak to you again.--Lord Lindfield, will you take us up?"

"I shall have two apples," said he.

"Then Daisy and I will each of us want both."

This had been the last of the arrangements, and it was like Mrs.
Halton, such was the opinion of the cats, to manage things like
that. There could be no doubt that when the launch and the Noah's
Ark and the punt met below Boulter's, it would be found that Daisy
had another convenient headache.

The three vessels met there. But on the punt were Lord Lindfield and
Daisy all alone. Mrs. Halton, it seemed, had stopped at home. There was
no explanation; she had simply not come, preferring not to.

Nobody could understand, least of all Lord Lindfield. She had swum
further away.

But Daisy had not had a very amusing time. Punting appeared to
monopolize the attention of the punter.



CHAPTER XX.


All that day and throughout the greater part of the next Jeannie kept up
with chill politeness and composure this attitude towards Lord
Lindfield, which he, at any rate, found maddening. What made it the more
maddening was that to all the rest of the party she behaved with that
eager geniality which was so characteristic of her. Only when he was
there, and when he addressed her directly, something would come over her
manner that can only be compared to the forming of a film of ice over a
pool. To an acquaintance merely it would have been unnoticeable; even to
a friend, if it had happened only once or twice, it might have passed
undetected; as it was, he could not fail to see that it was there, nor
could he fail to puzzle his wits over what the cause of it might be.

During the day he tried to get a word with her in private, but she
seemed to anticipate his intention, and contrived that it should be
impossible for the request to be made. Once, however, just after the
return that afternoon from Boulter's Lock, he had managed to say to her:
"There is nothing the matter, is there?" and with complete politeness
she had replied: "I have just a touch of a cold. But it is nothing,
thanks." And thereupon she had taken up a newspaper, and remarked to
Lady Nottingham that the Eton and Harrow match seemed to have been
extraordinarily exciting.

Now, no man, unless he is definitely in love with and enthralled by a
woman, will, if he has anything which may be called spirit, stand this
sort of thing tamely. Lindfield honestly examined himself to see "if in
aught he had offended," could find no cause of offence in himself, and
then went through a series of conflicting and unsettling emotions.

He told himself that for some reason she had wished to get on intimate
terms with him, and then, her curiosity or whatever it was being
satisfied, she had merely opened the hand into which she had taken his
and, so to speak, wiped his hand off. This seemed to him a very mean and
heartless proceeding, but there it was. She had clearly done this, and
if a woman chose to behave like that to a man the only rejoinder
consistent with ordinary dignity and self-respect was to take no notice
at all, and dismiss her from his mind.

Clearly that was the right thing to do, but instead of doing the right
thing he first felt angry, and then sick at heart. Women--those
witches--were really rather cruel. They cast a spell over one, and
then rode away on their broomsticks, disregarding the poor wretch over
whom they had cast it. He was left to go mooning about, until in the
merciful course of Nature the spell began to lose its potency and die
out. Then, again, he would remember the dignity of man, and repeat to
himself his determination to dismiss her and her incomprehensibilities
from his mind, and challenge Daisy to some silly game. She, poor
wretch, would accept with avidity; but the game, whatever it was, soon
seemed to lose its edge and its gaiety. There was something that had
clearly gone wrong.

Daisy guessed what that was, and her guess was fairly correct. It seemed
to her that for a couple of days Aunt Jeannie had, to put it quite
bluntly, run after Lord Lindfield. She had pretty well caught him up,
too, for Daisy was fair-minded enough to see that he had not been very
agile in getting away from her. He had been quite glad to be caught up,
and was evidently charmed by her.

Then, clearly, about the time of her own headache, something had
happened; Daisy could see that. Aunt Jeannie, though positively melting
with geniality and charming warmth to everybody else, turned on him a
shoulder that was absolutely frozen. Why she had done this Daisy could
not help guessing, and her solution was that Jeannie had been
tremendously attracted by him, and then suddenly seen that somehow it
"wouldn't do." Perhaps at this point the sight that Daisy had caught of
her aunt and Victor Braithwaite together in the garden supplied a gap in
the explanation. Daisy did not like to think that that was it; for, in
truth, if it was, there was no doubt whatever that darling Aunt Jeannie
had been flirting. But, as Aunt Jeannie had quite ceased to flirt, Daisy
was more than willing to forgive her for the miseries of those two
dreadful days; she was even willing to forget.

Only Lord Lindfield, it was clear to her, did not quite forget. He was
altogether unlike himself. For a little while he would be uproariously
cheerful, then his gaiety would go out without a gutter, like a
candle suddenly taken out into a gale of wind. And then, perhaps, his
eyes would stray about till, for a moment, they fastened on Jeannie,
who was probably as entranced by the general joy of life as he had
been a minute before. Then he would look puzzled, and then angry, and
then puzzled again.

Whatever was passing in Jeannie's mind, she concealed it with supreme
success, so that nobody could possibly tell that anything was passing
there, or that she had any currents going along below the surface. But
she had--currents that were going in the direction she had willed to set
them; but for all that they flowed in so strong a tide she hated the
flowing of them, and hated herself who had set them moving. She was
playing a deep game, and one that had required all her wit to invent,
and all her tact to play; but during all this Sunday and the day that
followed she observed the effect of her moves, and, though hating them,
was well satisfied with their result.

With the tail of her eye, or with half an ear, even while she was in
full swing of some preposterous discussion, punctuated with laughter,
with Jim Crowfoot, she could observe Lord Lindfield, could see his
perplexity and his anger, could hear his attempts to talk and laugh, as
if there was nothing to trouble him; could note, before long, the sudden
change in his tone, the short monosyllables of answers, the quenched
laugh. He was much with Daisy, but Mrs. Halton did not mind that;
indeed, it was as she would have had it, for it was clear how little
Daisy had the power to hold him, and it was just that which he was
beginning now to perceive. She wanted him to understand that very
completely, to have it sink down into his nature till it became a part
of him.

Yes, her diplomacy was prospering well; already the fruit of it was
swelling on the tree. It might be salutary; it was certainly bitter.



CHAPTER XXI.


Jeannie went that night to Lady Nottingham's room to talk to her. She
herself was feeling very tired, not with the sound and wholesome
tiredness that is the precursor of long sleep and refreshed awakening,
but with the restless fatigue of frayed nerves and disquiet mind that
leads to intolerable tossings and turnings, and long vigils through the
varying greys of dawn and the first chirrupings of birds.

"I have not come for long, dear," she said, "but I had to tell somebody
about--about what is happening. It's going so well, too."

Alice saw the trouble in Jeannie's face, and, as a matter of fact, had
seen trouble in other faces.

"I haven't had a word with you," she said, "and I don't know what is
happening. You seem to have had nothing to say to Lord Lindfield all
day. I thought, perhaps, you had given it up. It was too hard for you,
dear. I don't wonder you found you could not compass it."

Jeannie gave a little impatient sound; her nerves were sharply on edge.

"Dear Alice," she said, "that is not very clever of you. I thought you
would see. However, I am quite glad you don't, for if you don't I am
sure Daisy doesn't. I am getting a respite from Daisy's--well, Daisy's
loathing of me and my methods. She, like you, probably thinks I have
given him back to her."

Jeannie was prowling up and down the room rather in the manner of some
restless caged thing. In spite of her tiredness and her disquietude, it
seemed to Lady Nottingham that she had never seen her look so beautiful.
She looked neither kind nor genial nor sympathetic, but for sheer
beauty, though rather formidable, there were no two words to it.

"Sit down, Jeannie," said Alice quietly. "You are only exciting
yourself. And tell me about it all. I understand nothing, it seems."

Jeannie paused a moment in her walk, and then fell to pacing the
room again.

"No, I'm not exciting myself," she said, "but it is exciting me. I
don't stir myself up by walking; I am merely attempting, not very
successfully, to walk my excitement off. Oh, Alice, what wild beasts
we are at bottom! Prey! Prey! Prey! It is one of the instincts that
we--you and I, nice women--are rarely conscious of; but I doubt
whether it is ever quite dormant. Yes, that comes later; I will
explain from the beginning.

"The beginning of it all was easy," she said. "It is perfectly easy for
any woman to capture the attention of a man like that, even when he is
seriously thinking of getting married to a girl. There was no difficulty
in making him take me to the concert, in making him neglect Daisy those
first two days. He liked me immensely, and, oh! Alice, here was the
first extra difficulty, I liked him. We became friends. We mentioned the
word friend openly as applied to us. And I felt like--like a man who
gets a wild bird to sit on his hand and eat out of it, in order to grab
it, and if not to wring its neck, to put it into a cage. I meant to put
him into a cage, shut the door, and go away. And then yesterday
afternoon in the punt, just after we had made our discovery that we were
friends, he confided in me. He told me he was going to settle down and
marry! Judge of my rage, my disappointment! I saw that all my efforts up
till then had been quite useless. He was still meaning to marry, and, as
was right, poor dear, he told the news to his friend. Daisy's name did
not come in. Something made us break off--a flash of lightning, I
think, and the beginning of the storm. I should have found something to
divert the conversation otherwise. It was much better, in view of what I
have to do, that I should not officially know to whom he hoped to be
married."

Already the calming effect of telling a trouble to a friend was being
felt by Jeannie, and she sat down on the sofa near the window, clasping
her hands behind her head, and looking not at Alice, but into the dark
soft night. A little rain was falling, hissing among the bushes.

"I saw then," she said, "that I had made a stupid mistake. I had thought
that by mere friendliness and sympathy and making myself agreeable, and
making him admire me (which he did and does), I could get him away from
Daisy. I see now how impossible that was. If it is I who am going to
take him away, he must feel more than that. He will not leave the girl
he intended to marry unless he falls in love in his own manner with
some one else. Alice, I believe he is doing so."

Jeannie paused a moment.

"I hate it all," she said, "but I can't help being immensely interested.
Now for the part you don't understand, the part that made you think that
I had given it all up. It was a bold game, and, I believe, a correct
one. I dropped him--d-r-o-p, drop. Why? Simply in order that he might
miss me. Of course, I risked failure. He might have shrugged his
shoulders, and wondered why I had taken so much trouble to flirt with
him, and gone straight away and resumed operations with Daisy. He did go
straight back to Daisy, but do you think they are getting on very
nicely? I don't. The more he sees of her now, the more he thinks about
me. I don't say he has kind thoughts of me; he is puzzled, _but_ he
doesn't dismiss me. He is angry instead, and hurt. That shows he wants
me. He will never propose to Daisy while he feels like that."

There was a short silence. Then Lady Nottingham said,--

"Do you mean you want to make him propose to you?"

"Yes."

The monosyllable came very dryly and unimportantly, as if to a perfectly
commonplace inquiry. Then Lady Nottingham, in her turn, got up.
Jeannie's restlessness and disquiet seemed to have transferred
themselves to her.

"But it is an intolerable rôle," she said. "You cannot play with love
like that. It is playing heads and tails with a man's life, or worse.
You are playing with his very soul."

"And a month afterwards it will be he who will be playing with another
woman's soul," said Jeannie quietly. "You cannot call it love with that
sort of man. How many times has he been in love, and what has happened
to it all? I am only making myself the chance woman with whom he happens
to think himself in love at the time when he proposes to settle down and
marry. He shall propose marriage, therefore, to me."

Lady Nottingham's air of comfort had quite left her. Her plump,
contented face was puckered into unusual wrinkles.

"No, no, no," she said. "I can't imagine you act like that, Jeannie.
It isn't you."

Jeannie's eyes grew suddenly sombre.

"Oh, my dear, it is me," she said, "though I am glad it is a me which
is a stranger to you. I hope, as a rule, I don't play pitch-and-toss
with other men's souls; but there are circumstances--and those have
now arisen--in which I see no other way. At all costs to him I will
fulfil my promise to Diana. I will do my best that Daisy shall never
know. I do not care what it costs him. And yet that is not quite
true. I do care, because I like him. But I cannot measure his
possible suffering against Daisy's. It is through him that the need
of doing this has come. He has got to suffer for it; and I assure you
it isn't he alone who pays, it is I also."

Jeannie rose.

"And I do not yet know if I shall succeed," she said. "He may look with
a scornful wonder on my--my somewhat mature charms. He may--though I do
not really expect it--still intend to settle down and marry--Daisy. She
will accept him, if he does--I have seen enough to know that--and we
shall then have to tell her. But I hope that may not happen."

She took up her candle.

"I must go to bed," she said, "for I am dog-tired. But I don't feel so
fretted now I have told you. I wish I did not like him. I should not
care if I did not. Good-night, dear Alice."

       *       *       *       *       *

All next day until evening Jeannie continued these tactics. Genial,
eager, sympathetic with others, she treated Lord Lindfield, whenever it
was necessary to speak to him at all, with the unsmiling civility which
a well-bred woman accords to a man she scarcely knows, and does not wish
to know better. And all day she saw the growing effect of her policy,
for all day he grew more perplexed and more preoccupied with her. She
gave him no opportunity of speaking with her alone, for she had planned
her day and occupations so that she was all the time in the company of
others, and hour by hour his trouble increased. Nor did the trouble
spare Daisy. Nothing could be clearer to her eye, with such absolute
naturalness did Jeannie manage the situation, than that she now, at any
rate, was standing quite aloof from Lord Lindfield.

A few days ago Daisy had told herself that she was glad her aunt liked
him, but it should be added that to-day she was equally glad that
Jeannie apparently did not. Yet the trouble did not spare Daisy, for if
Aunt Jeannie was utterly changed to Lindfield, he seemed to be utterly
changed too. He was grave, anxious, preoccupied, and the meaning of it
escaped the girl, even as it had escaped Lady Nottingham.

The party had been gradually gathering in the verandah before it was
time to dress for dinner that night, and Jeannie, _à propos_ of the
dressing-bell, had just announced that a quarter of an hour was enough
for any nimble woman, with a competent maid.

"She throws things at me, and I catch them and put them on," she said.
"If I don't like them I drop them, and the floor of the room looks
rather like Carnival-time until she clears up."

But the sense of the meeting was against Jeannie; nobody else could
"manage," it appeared, under twenty minutes, and Jim Crowfoot stuck out
for half an hour.

"You've got soft things to put on," he said; "but imagine a stiff
shirt-cuff hitting you in the eye when your maid threw it. The floor of
my room would look not so much like Carnival-time as a shambles."

Lord Lindfield, indeed, alone supported Jeannie.

"I want ten minutes," he said; "neither more nor less. Jim, it's time
for you to go, else you will keep us waiting for dinner. I see that Mrs.
Halton and I will be left alone at ten minutes past eight, and I at a
quarter past."

Jeannie heard this perfectly, but she turned quickly to Lady Nottingham.

"Alice, is it true that you have a post out after dinner?" she said.
"Yes? I must go and write a letter, then, before dressing; I
particularly want it to get to town to-morrow."

She rose and went in. And at that Lindfield deliberately got up too and
followed her. She walked straight through the drawing-room, he a pace or
two behind, and out into the hall. And then he spoke to her by name.

She turned round at that. There was no way to avoid giving a reply, and,
indeed, she did not wish to, for she believed that the policy of the
last two days had ripened.

"Yes, Lord Lindfield?" she said.

"Am I ever going to have a word with you again?" he asked.

Jeannie leant over the banisters; she had already gone up some six
stairs.

"But by all means," she said. "I--I too have missed our talks. Things
have gone wrong a little? Let us try after dinner to put them straight.
We shall find an opportunity."

"Thanks," he said; and it was not only the word that thanked her.

Jeannie's maid must have been a first-rate hand at throwing, if by that
simple process she produced in a quarter of an hour that exquisite and
finished piece of apparelling which appeared at half-past eight. True,
it was Jeannie who wore the jewels and the dress, and her hair it was
that rose in those black billows above her shapely head; and the dress,
it may be said, was worthy of the wearer. Still, if this was to be
arrived at by throwing things, the maid, it was generally felt, must be
a competent hurler.

It so happened that everybody was extremely punctual that night, and
Jeannie, though quite sufficiently so, the last to appear. Lady
Nottingham was even just beginning to allude to the necessary quarter of
an hour when she came in.

Lord Lindfield saw her first; he was talking to Daisy. But he turned
from her in the middle of a sentence, and said,--

"By Gad!"

It might have been by Gad, but it was by Worth. Four shades of grey, and
pearls. Mrs. Beaumont distinctly thought that this was not the sort of
dress to dash into the faces of a quiet country party. It was like
letting off rockets at a five o'clock tea. Only a woman could dissect
the enormity of it; men just stared.

"I know I am not more than one minute late," she said. "Lord Lindfield,
Alice has told me to lead you to your doom, which is to take me
in.--Alice, they have told us, haven't they?"



CHAPTER XXII.


It seemed to Lord Lindfield that dinner was over that night with unusual
swiftness, and that they had scarcely sat down when they rose again for
the women to leave the room. Yet, short though it seemed, it had been a
momentous hour, for in that hour all the perplexity and the anger that
had made his very blood so bitter to him during these last two days had
been charmed away from him, and instead, love, like some splendid fever
of the spirit, burned there.

Until Jeannie had been friendly, been herself with him again, he had not
known, bad as the last two days had been, how deeply and intimately he
missed her friendship. That, even that, merely her frank and friendly
intercourse, had become wine to him; he thirsted and longed for it, and
even it, now that it was restored to him, mounted to his head with a
sort of psychic intoxication. Yet that was but the gift she had for the
whole world of her friends; what if there was something for him behind
all that, which should be his alone, and not the world's--something to
which this wine was but as water?

At dinner this had been but the side she showed to all the world, but
there was better coming. She had promised him a talk that night, and by
that he knew well she did not mean just the intercourse of dinner-talk,
which all the table might share in, but a talk like those they had had
before by the roadside when the motor broke down, or in the punt while
the thunderstorm mounted in hard-edged, coppery clouds up the sky. The
last thing they had spoken of then was friendship, and he had told her,
he remembered, how he hoped to settle down and marry. He hoped that she
would of her own accord speak of friendship again; that would be a
thing of good omen, for again, as before, he would speak of his hope of
settling down and marrying. Only he would speak of it differently now.

For him the hour had struck; there was no choice of deliberation
possible any more to him. He did not look on the picture of quiet
domesticity any more, and find it pleasing; he did not look on himself,
count up his years, and settle, with a content that had just one grain
of resignation in it, that it was time for him to make what is called a
home. He looked at Jeannie, and from the ocean of love a billow came,
bore him off his feet, and took him seawards. She, the beauty of her
face, the soft curves of her neck, the grace and suppleness of her body,
were no longer, as had been the case till now, the whole of the woman
whom he loved. Now they were but the material part of her; he believed
and knew that he loved something that was more essentially Jeannie than
these--he loved her soul and spirit.

Late this love had come to him, for all his life he had stifled its
possibility of growth by being content with what was more material; but
at last it had dawned on him, and he stood now on the threshold of a
world that was as new as it was bewildering. Yet, for all its
bewilderment, he saw at a glance how real it was, and how true. It was
the light of the sun that shone there which made those shadows which
till now he had thought to be in themselves so radiant.

It was about half-past ten when Jeannie and Lord Lindfield cut out of a
bridge-table simultaneously. They had been playing in the billiard-room,
and strolled out together, talking. In the hall outside, that pleasant
place of books and shadows and corners, Jeannie paused and held out her
hand to him.

"Lord Lindfield," she said, "I have been a most utter beast to you these
last two days, and I am sorry--I am indeed. You have got a perfect
right to ask for explanations, and--and there aren't any. That is the
best explanation of all; you can't get behind it. Will you, then, be
generous and shake hands, and let us go on where we left off?"

He took her hand.

"That is exactly the condition I should have made," he said.

"What?"

"That we should go on where we left off. Do you remember what you
were talking about?"

She had sat down in a low chair by the empty fireplace, and he drew
another close up to hers, and at right angles to it. Just above was a
pair of shaded candles, so that he, sitting a little further off, was in
shadow, whereas the soft light fell full on to her. Had she seen his
face more clearly, she might have known that her task was already over,
that Daisy had become but a shadow to him, and that he was eager and
burning to put the coping-stone on to what she had accomplished. But
she remembered the scene in the punt; she remembered that immediately
after she had spoken of friendship, he, like a friend, had confided to
her his intention of settling down and marrying. This time, therefore,
she would speak in a more unmistakable way.

"Yes, yes, I remember indeed," she said; "and it was the last good hour
I have had between that and this. But I am not blaming you, Lord
Lindfield, except, perhaps, just a little bit."

He leant forward, and his voice trembled.

"Why do you blame me," he asked, "even a little bit?"

Jeannie laughed.

"No, I don't think I can tell you," she said. "I should get scarlet.
Yet, I don't know; I think it would make you laugh, too, and it is
always a good thing to laugh. So turn away, and don't look at me when I
am scarlet, since it is unbecoming. Well, I blame you a little bit,
because you were a little bit tactless. A charming woman--one, anyhow,
who was trying to be charming--had just been talking to you about
friendship, and you sighed a smile in a yawn, as it were--do you know
Browning?--he is a dear--and said: 'I am going to settle down and
marry.' Now, not a word. I am going to scold you. Had we been two girls
talking together, and had just made vows of friendship, it would have
been utterly tactless for the one to choose that exact moment for saying
she was going to be married; and I am sure no two boys in similar
conditions would ever have done such a thing."

Again Jeannie laughed.

"It sounds so funny now," she said. "But it was such a snub. I suppose
you thought we were getting on too nicely. Oh, how funny! I have never
had such a thing happen to me before. So I blame you just a little
bit. I was rather depressed already. A thunderstorm was coming, and it
was going to be Sunday, and so I wanted everybody to be particularly
nice to me."

He gave a little odd awkward sort of laugh, and jerked himself a little
more forward in his chair.

"Mayn't I look?" he said. "I don't believe you are scarlet. Besides, I
have to say I am sorry. I can't say I am sorry to the carpet."

Jeannie paused for a moment before she replied; something in his voice,
though still she could not see his face clearly, startled her. It
sounded changed, somehow, full of something suppressed, something
serious. But she could not risk a second fiasco; she had to play her
high cards out, and hope for their triumph.

"You needn't say it," she said. "And so let us pass to what I
suggested, and what you would have made, you told me, a condition of
your forgiving me. Friendship! What a beautiful word in itself, and
what a big one! And how little most people mean by it. A man says he
is a woman's friend because he lunches with her once a month; a woman
says she is a man's friend because they have taken a drive round Hyde
Park in the middle of the afternoon!"

Jeannie sat more upright in her chair, leaning forward towards him. Then
she saw him more clearly, and the hunger of his face, the bright shining
of his eyes, endorsed what she had heard in his voice. Yet she was not
certain--not quite certain.

"Oh, I don't believe we most of us understand friendship at all," she
said. "It is not characteristic of our race to let ourselves feel. Most
English people neither hate nor love, nor make friends in earnest. I
think one has to go South--South and East--to find hate and love and
friends, just as one has to go South to find the sun. Do you know the
Persian poet and what he says of his friend:

    'A book of verses underneath the bough,
    A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou
    Beside me singing in the wilderness,
    The wilderness were paradise enow.'

Ah, that is more my notion of friendship, of the ideal of friendship,
the thing that makes Paradise of the desert."

He got up quickly and stood before her, speaking hoarsely and quickly.

"It does not matter what you call it," he said. "I know what you mean. I
call it love, that is all--Jeannie, Jeannie----"

He seized both her hands in his roughly, brutally almost, and covered
them with kisses.

"Ah, it is done!" said Jeannie quickly, and half to herself. Then she
rose too, and wrenched her hands from him.

"Have you gone mad?" she said. "Stand out of my way, please."

But she had not reckoned on the strength of the passion she had raised.
For one moment he looked at her in blank astonishment, but he did not
move. She could not get by him without violence. Then he advanced a step
again towards her, as if he would have caught her to him. Jeannie put
both her arms in front of her; she had turned pale to the lips.

"Not till you have told me----"

"I have nothing to tell you, except that I thought you were a gentleman
and a friend. There is some one coming out of the billiard-room."

Daisy appeared in the doorway at the moment.

"The rubber's over already," she said, "just two hands. Won't you and
Lord Lindfield----"

She stopped suddenly. It was clear he had not heard her, for, with arms
still held out, he faced Jeannie, unconscious of any one but her.

"Jeannie----" he began again.

Jeannie did not look at him.

"Please let me pass," she said.--"No, Daisy, I think I have played
enough. I am going upstairs. It is late. I am tired."



CHAPTER XXIII.


Jeannie went straight to her room. It was done, even as she had said,
and her heart bled for her triumph. Yet she did not for a moment repent
it. Had it been necessary to do it again, she would again have gone
through the same hateful scene, and her scorn of herself weighed light
even now with the keeping of the promise she had made by the bedside of
Diana. But the thing had been worse than she had anticipated; it was no
superficial desire she had aroused in him, but the authentic fire. But
that made Daisy the safer: a man was not often in earnest like that.

But still the future was unplanned for; she had made her scene, scored
her point, and the curtain, dramatically speaking, should have
descended. But in real life the curtain did not descend; life insisted
that there were no such things as curtains; it made one go on. She
knew, too, that Lindfield would not take this as final; she had to
think of something which should make it final. In any case she could
not contemplate stopping in the house, with him there, and decided to
go back to town to-morrow, cutting her stay here short by a day. She
would go early, before any one was down; Alice would invent and
explain for her.

A note, hastily scribbled, settled this. "It is done, Alice," she wrote,
"and I feel satisfied and utterly miserable. Daisy does not exist for
him. I shall go back to town early to-morrow, dear. Will you make some
excuse? I know you will understand."

But the more important matter was not settled so easily. She had to show
poor Lindfield unmistakably that her rejection of him was quite
irrevocable. What interpretation he put on her conduct mattered but
little, as long as he clearly understood that. And then a means occurred
to her which was quite simple and quite sufficient. She wrote a couple
of lines to Victor.

"My dearest," she said, "I must go to town early to-morrow, and shall
not see you till you come up the day after. And I want you to announce
our engagement at once. I should like it to be in the evening papers
to-morrow. Tell them yourself down here. I write this in great haste.
All love."

Jeannie rang for her maid to get these delivered, dismissed her for the
night, and sat down to think over what she had done. She was still
tremulous from it. To a man she really liked, and to a girl whom she
tenderly loved, she had made herself vile, but it was still her sincere
hope that neither would ever know the reason for what she had done. They
must write her down a flirt; they had every reason for doing so.

She rose and looked at herself a moment in the long mirror beside the
dressing-table. "You beast!" she said to herself. But there was another
thought as well. "Diana, my dear," she said, as if comforting her.

       *       *       *       *       *

It had been settled that Jeannie was to live with Lady Nottingham till
the end of the season, and the latter had given her two charming rooms
in the Grosvenor Square house, so that she could make things home-like
about her for the few weeks before she would go down to her own house in
the country. Little household gods had arrived and been unpacked while
she was in the country, and she occupied herself during this solitary
day in London with the arrangement of them. There were not many, for she
did not tend to buy, but there were a few "bits of things" which she had
got in Rome, a Cinque-cento bas-relief, a couple of Florentine copies of
the Della Robbia heads, and some few pieces of Italian needlework. All
these took some little time to dispose satisfactorily in the room, and
that done, she proceeded to the arrangement of her writing-table. She
liked to have photographs there: there was one of Daisy and Diana, two
mites of ten years old and four years old, lovingly entwined, Daisy's
head resting on her sister's shoulder; there was one of Victor as he was
now, and another as he had been when an Eton boy; there were half a
dozen others, and among them one of Diana, signed and dated, which Diana
had given her hardly more than a year ago in Paris.

All this arranging took up the greater part of the day, and she kept
herself to her work, forcing her mind away from those things which
really occupied it, and making it attend to the manual business of
putting books in shelves and pictures on the walls; but about tea-time
there was nothing more to occupy her here, and by degrees her thoughts
drifted back to Bray and her friends--or were they enemies?--there. It
was no use thinking of it or them, for there was nothing more to be
contrived or planned or acted, no problem for her to dig at, no crisis
to avert.

She had finished everything, and there was nothing left for her to do
except be silent, and hope perhaps by degrees to win Daisy back again.
How Daisy reconstructed things in her own mind Jeannie did not know,
and, indeed, the details of such reconstruction she did not particularly
want to know. She had taken Lord Lindfield away from the girl, for a
mere caprice, apparently, for the love of annexation characteristic of
flirts, while all the time she was engaged to Victor Braithwaite. And
having made mischief like this, she had run away. It was like a child
who, having from sheer wantonness set fire to something, runs to a safe
distance and watches it burn.

Jeannie had ordered the carriage to come round at six to take her for a
drive, and a few minutes before, though it was barely six yet, she had
heard something drive up and stop at the door, and supposed that before
long her maid would tell her that it was round. Even as she thought this
she heard steps come along the passage outside, then her door opened.

Daisy entered. She was very pale, but in each cheek there flamed one
high spot of colour. She stood quite still by the door for a moment,
looking at her aunt, then closed it and advanced into the room.

"It is true, then, Aunt Jeannie," she said, "that you are engaged to
Victor Braithwaite? I came up from Bray to ask you that, to know it from
your own lips."

Jeannie did not move, nor did she give Daisy any word of conventional
greeting.

"It is quite true," she said.

Daisy began pulling off her gloves.

"I congratulate you," she said. "It came as rather a surprise to me.
Aunt Alice told me. I think she understood why it was a surprise to me.
I wonder if you do?"

Daisy appeared to be keeping a very firm hand on herself. There was no
question that she was speaking under some tremendous stress of emotion,
but her voice was quite quiet. It trembled a little, but that was all,
and it seemed to Jeannie that that tremor was of anger more than of
self-pity or sorrow. She was glad--in so far as she was glad of
anything--that this was so.

"I see you don't answer me," said Daisy, "and, indeed, there is no need.
But I want an answer to this question, Aunt Jeannie. Why did you do it?
Don't you think I have a right to know that?"

For one moment it occurred to Jeannie to profess and to persist in
professing that she did not know what Daisy meant. But that would have
been useless, and worse than useless--unworthy. In her utter perplexity
she tried another tack.

"Is it my fault that he fell in love with me?" she said.

"Did you not mean him to?" asked Daisy. "And all the time, while you
meant him to, you were engaged to Mr. Braithwaite."

There was still anger in Daisy's voice. Jeannie felt she could bear
that; what she felt she could not bear would be if Daisy broke down. So
she encouraged that.

"I do not see by what right you question me," she said. "Lord
Lindfield fell in love with me; last night he proposed to me. Ask
him why he did that."

"He did that because you fascinated and dazzled him," said Daisy;
"because you meant him to fall in love with you."

"Then I wonder you have not more spirit," said Jeannie. "You see how
easily he turned from you to me. Can you then believe he was ever in
love with you? You may have wanted to marry him; at least----"

And then she paused, knowing she had made the most ghastly mistake, and
not knowing how to remedy it. Daisy saw her mistake.

"Then you did know that it was possible he would ask me to marry him,"
she said. "I wondered if you knew that. It makes it complete now I know
that you did. So it comes to this, that you cut me out just in order to
flirt with him. Thank you, Aunt Jeannie, thank you."

And then there came into Daisy's voice what Jeannie dreaded to hear; the
hard tone of anger died out of it, it became gentle, and it became
miserable. She sat down at Jeannie's writing-table, covering her face
with her hands.

"Oh, I beseech you," she said, "cannot you undo the spell that you cast
so easily? Oh, Aunt Jeannie, do, do; and I will forget all that has
happened, and--and love you again. I want to do that. But I loved him;
it was only quite lately I knew that, but it is so. Have you not enough?
Isn't it enough that you will marry the man you love? I did not think
you could be so cruel. Do you hate me, or what is it?"

Jeannie made a little hopeless gesture with her hands.

"Oh, Daisy, I didn't know that you loved him," she said. "Indeed, I did
not. But, my dear, he did not love you. How could he have if he behaved
as he has behaved?"

"You made him," said Daisy. "You----" Then once again anger flamed into
her voice. "Ah, what a true friend you have been to me!" she said. "Were
you as true a friend to Diana too?"

She had taken up one of the photographs, that which represented her and
Diana together.

"Here we are together," she said, "and we thank you. Here is Diana
by herself----"

And then she stopped abruptly. Her eye had fallen on the photograph
of Diana which she had given only last year to Jeannie. It was
signed "Diana, 1907." She drew it out of its frame.

"Aunt Jeannie," she said, quickly, "in what year did Diana die?"

Jeannie turned to her suddenly at this most unexpected question, and saw
what it was that Daisy held in her hand. She made a desperate effort to
turn Daisy's attention away at any cost.

"Daisy, we were talking about Lord Lindfield," she said. "What reason
had he ever given you to make you think he loved you? And has he not
given you a strong reason for showing he did not?"

Daisy looked at her for a moment, and then back to the photograph.

"She died five years ago," she said. "But this is signed 1907, last
year."

Once again Jeannie tried to turn Daisy's attention.

"And if he did fall in love with me, what then?" she said. "You assume
it is all my fault."

Daisy looked at her steadily a moment, and then back at the photograph.

"Yes, yes," she said. "But you were with Diana when she died, were you
not? When did she die?"

Jeannie covered her face with her hands a moment, thinking intently, and
then Daisy spoke again.

"Why was I told she died five years ago?" she asked. "You told me so
yourself. Were you hiding anything?"

Again Daisy paused.

"Her husband came to England after her death," she said. "He stopped
with you, I remember, when I was living with you."

Once again she paused.

"Was there something dreadful, something disgraceful?" she asked. "Aunt
Jeannie, I must know. I must!"



CHAPTER XXIV.


Jeannie got up out of her chair, where she had been sitting ever since
Daisy entered. Daisy as she spoke had risen also from the writing-table,
and, still holding the photograph of Diana in her hand, stood by her.

"You must give me a moment, Daisy," she said. "I have got to think. And,
my dear, while I am thinking do not try to guess. I can't bear that you
should guess. I would sooner tell you than that."

Daisy was very white, and the bright spot of anger that burnt in her
cheeks when she entered the room had smouldered away. She nodded without
spoken reply.

Jeannie moved away from Daisy, and sat down in the window-seat at the
far end of the room. Already Daisy had guessed that there was something
disgraceful. Daisy remembered, too, that after Diana's supposed death
her husband had come to England. And then for one moment Jeannie's
spirit rose in impotent revolt against the bitter cruelty of this chance
by which Daisy had seen Diana's photograph. She herself, perhaps, had
been careless and culpable, in putting it on her table; but she had been
so preoccupied with all the perplexities of this last week that the
danger had not ever so faintly occurred to her. But now by this fatal
oversight Daisy had already guessed perilously near the truth.

She herself could invent no story to account for these things, and if
Daisy was told the whole truth, of which she guessed so much, that other
bitterness, the sense that Jeannie had cruelly betrayed her, would be
removed. She could comfort Daisy again, and (this was sweet to herself
also) show her how she loved her. She had done her very best to keep her
promise to Diana, and she had not spared herself in doing so; and now,
in spite of her efforts, so hard to make and so ungrudgingly made, half
the truth was known to Daisy. It seemed to her that the other half would
heal rather than hurt.

She went back, and, standing in front of the girl, held out her hands to
her. But Daisy made no response to the gesture, and, indeed, moved a
little away. That, again, cut Jeannie like a lash, but she knew the pain
of it would be only temporary. In a few minutes now Daisy would
understand.

"I am going to tell you," she said, "and as I tell you, my dear, I
want you to keep on thinking to yourself that Diana was your sister,
your only sister, and--and that you used to play together and love
each other when you were children. And, dear Daisy, you must try to
be--not to be a girl only when I tell you this. You are a girl, but
you are a woman also, and you must bear this like a woman who is
hearing about her sister."

Once again Jeannie longed to take Daisy in her arms and tell her,
holding that dear head close to her bosom. But it was not time for
that yet.

"You were told five years ago," she said, "that your sister was dead.
She was not, Daisy; she died last year only, soon after I went abroad.
And she died in my arms, dear, thank Heaven, because I loved her. And
she loved me, Daisy. Oh, darling, you must bear this. I tried to spare
you the knowledge, for I promised Diana that, but by ill-chance you have
guessed so much that I think it better to tell you all. And you mustn't
judge Diana, poor dear, or condemn her. The time has quite gone by for
that, and, besides, she was your sister, and at the end the thing she
wanted most in all the world was that you should not know. Remember
that. Women have a hard time in this world, Daisy. Some are married
unhappily, and though Diana's husband loved her very truly and tenderly
it was not a happy marriage. At the time when you were told she was dead
she was not, but she had left her husband. For the love he bore her he
did not divorce her. Yes, dear, it was that."

Again Jeannie paused. As the moment came near it was all she could do to
get the words out. Yet when Daisy knew all, out of the hurt would come
some healing. Jeannie could make her feel how she loved her.

"She lived in Paris after she left her husband," she continued. "She
lived for a time with the man for whom she deserted him. She wanted
love--women do--you and I do. She--she got love. After a while there was
another man. Yes, my dear, it was he. We needn't name him any more than
we did just now when we spoke of him."

Daisy sat quite still for a moment; for all that her face expressed she
might never have heard. Then a sudden little tremor shook her, and she
tore the photograph of Diana which she held across and across, and threw
the fragments on the floor.

"Ah, Daisy, you are cruel," said Jeannie.

Daisy did not reply, and then suddenly her mouth began to tremble, and
tears ready to fall gathered in her eyes. It had hurt her cruelly, and
it was but the instinctive rebellion of one in sudden and incontrollable
pain that had made her tear the photograph. But, as Jeannie had
foreseen, with the hurt came healing.

It was not necessary to say any more, for she saw that already Daisy was
beginning to understand all that she had thought so incomprehensible,
and so vile when it was comprehended, in her, and the comprehension
brought with it the knowledge of the love and tenderness from which
these things sprang. And this time it was Daisy who held out her hands
to Jeannie, but falteringly, as if doubtful whether she dared. But she
need not have been afraid; next moment she was clasped close, and with
the sense of love surrounding and encompassing her the tears came, and
she sobbed her heart out. And even when the tumult of her weeping had
abated, it was but disjointedly that the words came.

"And so it was because of that, Aunt Jeannie," she whispered, "because
you had promised Diana that you would do your best to keep it from me?"

"Yes, my darling, but I have failed," said Jeannie.

"But how splendidly," whispered Daisy. "I should like to have f-failed
like that. And you were content that I should think you a b-beast, and
that he should?"

"No, dear, not content quite. But it was the best I could think of."

"And Mr. Braithwaite?" said Daisy. "Could you be content that he should
think so?"

Jeannie paused a moment before she replied. What she must say, if
she answered this, would hurt Daisy again, but again there was
healing there.

"I knew he would never think me a beast," she said at length. "I
knew he trusted me absolutely."

"And I didn't," said Daisy.

"No, dear, you didn't. But never mind that."

"I can't help minding that. I thought--I thought everything disgusting
about you. Oh, Aunt Jeannie, but I did try so much not to! I did try to
behave well, to realize that you and he had fallen in love with each
other, and that it was neither your fault nor his. But when Aunt Alice
told me that you were engaged to Mr. Braithwaite, then I broke down. And
when you told me you had known that I hoped to marry Lord Lindfield,
then it was complete to my mind. I thought--oh! I have spoilt it all. It
can never be the same again. And I did so long for you to come home a
week ago. I did love you."

Jeannie stroked Daisy's hair gently for a moment or two.

"You speak of spoiling love," she said. "That is not easy to do. In
fact, it can't be done. So don't have any fears on that point, my
darling."

Daisy was silent for a while.

"And if he asks you why you did it?" she said.

Jeannie considered this.

"I may have to tell him," she said. "It all depends. Probably you don't
understand that."

"No; tell me," said Daisy.

"If he appeals to me in the name of his love for me, I think I shall
have to tell him," said Jeannie. "I don't want to; I shall do my best
not to. But there is a claim, that of love, which is dominant. I did not
mean him to fall in love with me, dear; I meant him only to be detached
from you. But bigger issues, I am afraid, have come in. You must trust
me to do the best I can. I think you will trust me, will you not?"

Daisy clung closer for a moment, and then she sat up.

"Yes. And I haven't even said I am sorry, and I am sure I need not. Aunt
Jeannie, I think I want to go away alone for a little. I want, yes, I
want to cry a little more, but by myself. Do you understand?"

"Yes, my dear. But will you not stop here to-night? You could
telegraph to Alice, and you might add that we were friends. She
would like to know that."

Daisy mopped her eyes.

"I like to know it," she said.

She got up. Just in front of her were the fragments of the torn
photograph. She saw them and half shuddered at them. And Jeannie, all
tenderness, knew that things were not right with Daisy yet. There was
still another wound which must be healed.

"Oh, Daisy!" she said. "You must never let yourself be black and bitter
like that. You tore the photograph up; it lies there still."

"Oh, I can't touch it," said Daisy.

Jeannie looked at her quietly, patiently.

"Your sister," she said. "Diana. Have you forgotten what she made me
promise? She was so sorry, too; I think she would have given all the
world if what she had done could be undone. Not a day passed without her
being sorry. Daisy!"

Daisy stood quite still for a moment, then she suddenly knelt down on
the floor and picked the fragments up, kissing them as she did so.

"Oh, poor Di," she said--"poor, poor Di!"



CHAPTER XXV.


The carriage had waited long before this, but when Daisy left her
Jeannie went out for a breath of evening air. London, to her eyes, was
looking very hot and tired, a purplish heat-haze hung in the sky, and
the grass of the Park was yellow with the scorching of the last week,
and grey with dust.

Yet somehow it all brought a sense of extraordinary peace and
refreshment to Jeannie. She, too, felt mentally hot and tired, but she
knew that whatever scene it might be necessary to go through with Tom
Lindfield, the worst was over. For, all unwittingly indeed, his had been
the fault, and though Jeannie liked him and hated the idea both of his
suffering and his possible bitterness and anger against her, all that
was in the nature of justice; acts have always their consequences, and
those who have committed them must bear what follows. But poor Daisy had
done nothing; it was for the fault of others that her soul had been in
the grip of resentment, jealousy, and anger, which had embittered and
poisoned her days and nights.

But that, all at any rate that was bitter in it, had now passed. She saw
the meaning of her suffering; it was no longer a blind and wicked force.
And though one love had to be left to wither and die in her heart,
Jeannie knew well that the love between Daisy and her, which all this
week had been blighted, was full of fresh-springing shoots again, which
would help to cover over the bare place.

Then, for herself, more precious than all was that sense of that great
love which, she believed, had never suffered the dimness of a moment's
doubt. Victor had seen her acting in a way that was impossible for him
to understand, but he had quite refused, so Jeannie believed, to let his
mind even ask a why or wherefore, still less conjecture any answer. His
own love for her and the absolute certainty of her love for him were
things so huge that nothing else could be compared with them. They stood
like great mountains, based on the earth but reaching into the heavens,
firm and imperishable, and if anything could come between his vision and
them, it could be no more than a mist-wreath which would presently pass,
and could no more shake or invalidate their stability than the grasses
and flowers that waved in the pleasant meadow beneath them.

And had Jeannie but known it she would have found more comfort yet in
the thought of Daisy, for at this moment Daisy, alone in her room,
though weeping a little now and then, was thinking not of herself at
all, not even of Lindfield, but of Jeannie. Daisy was generous and
warm-hearted to the core, and passionate had been her self-reproach at
her complete misunderstanding of her aunt, at her utter failure even to
ask herself whether there was not something about it all that she did
not understand.

How nobly different Victor Braithwaite had been, who, so it seemed, had
assumed there must be some undercurrent of which he knew nothing, and
was quite content to leave it at that. Jeannie had said she loved him;
he wanted nothing more. But Daisy knew also that Jeannie loved her; what
she did not know then, but was beginning to know now, was what love
meant; how it can bear even to be completely misunderstood by those it
loves, if only, in spite of their ignorance and misjudgment, it can help
them. To Daisy, hitherto, love had been something assertive; to-day she
was learning that it is based on a self-surrender made with the same
passionateness as are its conquests.

The rest of the party were coming up next day, and it did not surprise
Jeannie to find a telegram waiting for her when she came in from Tom
Lindfield. He asked if he might call and see her next morning, saying
that he would come at twelve unless she put him off.

It needed but a moment's reflection to make her decide that in bare
justice she could not refuse. She shrank from it; she dreaded the
thought of seeing him again, of listening to his just and passionate
reproaches; she dreaded also the possibility that she might once again
have to give up Diana's secret. But, since he wished it, she must see
him.

Next morning she told Daisy she expected him, so that there should be no
possibility of their meeting by chance on the stairs or in Jeannie's
room, and sat waiting for him alone. She could not prepare herself in
any way for the interview, since she could not tell in the least what
form it would take. She tried not to be afraid, but--but she had treated
him abominably. So, at least, he must think, and with perfect justice.

He was announced, and came in. As with Daisy yesterday, they did not
greet one another. She was sitting at her writing-table, but did not
rise, and for a moment he stood opposite her, just looking at her with
those blue, boyish eyes which she knew could be so merry, but did not
know could be so dumbly, hopelessly sad.

Then he spoke, quite quietly.

"You ran away unexpectedly, Mrs. Halton," he said.

"Yes; I thought it was best."

"Miss Daisy also left yesterday. I suppose you have seen her?" he said.

"Yes, she spent the night here."

"Are you friends?"

"Yes."

Tom Lindfield sat down on the arm of the low chair opposite the
writing-table.

"That's the cleverest thing I've ever heard," he said. "I think you
owe me something, and I think you ought to tell me how you managed
it. If she has forgiven you, perhaps I might."

"No. I can't tell you how I managed it," said Jeannie.

"You quite refuse?"

"Quite."

He paused a moment.

"I suppose she asked you a certain question," he said, "which I also
want to ask you. Is it true you are engaged to that nice
fellow--Braithwaite, I mean?"

"Quite true."

Still quite quietly he got up, took out a cigarette, and looked about
for matches. He found some on the chimney-piece, lit his cigarette, and
came back to her.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I didn't ask if I might smoke here?
Thanks. Mrs. Halton, I don't know if you have ever fallen in love. I
have, once."

His voice rose a little over this, as if with suppressed anger. Jeannie
longed almost that he should get angry. This quietness was intolerable.
And she tried to sting him into anger.

"I should have thought you had fallen in love more than once," she said.

This was no good.

"You would have been wrong, then," he said. "I should have thought so
too till just lately. But I have just found out that I never loved
before. I--I did everything else, but I did not love."

"You loved Daisy, do you mean?" she asked.

He flamed up for a moment.

"Ah, there is no good in saying that," he said, sharply. "What can be
the use of it? I met the woman--there is only one--and she led me to
believe that she cared for me. And when I told her that I loved her she
said she had thought I was a gentleman and a friend."

Jeannie felt her heart melt within her.

"Yes, yes, I am sorry," she said.

"That is no good, I am afraid," said he. "You have got to tell me
why you did it. We are man and woman, you and I. I cannot believe
you did it out of sheer wantonness, from the desire to make me
miserable, and, I am afraid, to some extent, to make Miss Daisy
miserable. I don't see what you were to gain by it. Also you risked
something since you were engaged all the time to Braithwaite. And
the only thing I can think of is that for some reason you wished to
get between Miss Daisy and myself. I suppose you thought I had been
a bad lot--I daresay I had--and did not want me to marry her. But
wasn't that an infernally cruel way of doing it?"

Jeannie said nothing, but after a long silence she looked at him.

"Have you finished?" she asked. "I have nothing to say to you, no
explanation to give."

Once again, and more violently, his anger, his resentment at the cruelty
of it, boiled over.

"No, I have not finished," he said. "I am here to tell you that you have
done an infernally cruel thing, for I take it that it was to separate
Miss Daisy and me that you did it. You have been completely successful,
but--but for me it has been rather expensive. I gave you my heart, I
tell you. And you stamped on it. I can't mend it."

Then that died out and his voice trembled.

"It's broken," he said--"just broken."

Jeannie put out her hands towards him in supplication.

"I am sorry," she said.

"I tell you that is no good," he said, and on the words his voice broke
again. "Oh, Jeannie, is it final? Is it really true? For Heaven's sake
tell me that you have been playing this jest, trick--what you like--on
me, to test me, to see if I really loved you. You made me love you--you
taught me what love meant. I have seen and judged the manner of my past
life, and--and I laid it all down, and I laid myself down at your feet,
so that you and love should re-make me."

Jeannie leant forward over the table, hiding her face in her hands.

"Oh, stop--for pity's sake stop," she said. "I have had a good deal to
bear. I never guessed you would love me like that; I only meant you, at
first, to be attracted by me, as you have been by other women. It is
true that I was determined that you should not marry Daisy, and I knew
that if you really got to love her nothing would stand in your way. I
had to make it impossible for you to fall in love with her. It was to
save you and her."

Jeannie felt she was losing her head; the sight of this man in his anger
and his misery confused and bewildered her. She got up suddenly.

"I don't know what I am saying," she said.

"You said it was to save her and me," he said, quietly. "To save us
from what?"

She shook her head.

"I don't know," she said. "I was talking nonsense."

"I am very sure you were not. And it is only just that I should know. By
my love for you--for I can think of nothing more sacred to me than
that--I bid you tell me. It is my right. Considering what you have done
to me, it is no more than my right."

It had happened as Jeannie feared it might. She felt her throat go
suddenly dry, and once she tried to speak without being able. Then she
commanded her voice again.

"You were in Paris two years ago," she said. "There was a woman there
who lived in the Rue Chalgrin. She called herself Madame Rougierre."

"Well?" said he.

"Daisy's sister," said Jeannie, with a sob.

       *       *       *       *       *

She turned away from him as she spoke, and leant against the bookcase
behind her table. It was a long time before he moved, and then, still
with back turned, she heard him approach her, and he took her hand and
kissed it.

"I love and I honour you," he said.

Jeannie gave one immense sigh.

"Oh, Tom," she said, "you are a man!"

"It is of your making, then," said he.



CHAPTER XXVI.


Easter fell late next year, but spring had come early, and had behaved
with unusual sweetness and constancy, for from the middle of March to
mid-April there had been a series of days from which winter had
definitely departed. In most years April produces two or three west-wind
days of enervating and languorous heat, but then recollects itself and
peppers the confiding Englishman with hail and snow, blown as out of a
pea-shooter from the northeast, just to remind him that if he thinks
that summer is going to begin just yet he is woefully mistaken. But this
year the succession of warm days had been so uninterrupted that Lady
Nottingham had made the prodigious experiment of asking a few people
down to Bray for a week-end party at Easter itself.

She was conscious of her amazing temerity, for she knew well that
anything might happen; that the river, instead of being at the
bottom of the garden, might so change its mind about their relative
positions that in a few hours the garden would be at the bottom of
the river, or, again, this bungalow of a house might be riddled and
pierced with arctic blasts.

But, in spite of these depressing possibilities, she particularly
wanted to have a few, a very few, people down for that Sunday. They
had all a special connection with Bray. Things had happened there
before, and it was a party of healed memories that was to gather
there. If, after all, the weather turned out to be hopelessly
unpropitious, they could all sit in a ring round the fire, holding
each other's hands. She felt sure they would like to do that.
Probably there would be a great many _tête-à-têtes_ in various
corners, or, if it were warm, in various punts. But she felt sure
that they would all hold hands in the intervals of these.

Jeannie and Victor had been married in the autumn, and since then
they had practically disappeared, surrounded by a glow of their own
happiness. They had sunk below the horizon, but from the horizon
there had, so to speak, come up a brilliant illumination like an
aurora borealis.

But Lady Nottingham considered that they had aurora-ed quite long
enough. They had no right to keep all their happiness to themselves;
it was their duty to diffuse it, and let other people warm their
hands and hearts at it. She had written what is diplomatically known
as a "strong note" to say so, and she had mentioned that she was not
alone in considering that they were being rather selfish. Tom
Lindfield thought so too. He openly averred that he was still
head-over-ears in love with Jeannie, and he wished to gratify his
passion by seeing her again, and having copious opportunities given
him of solitary talks with her. He did not object (this was all part
of the message that Lady Nottingham sent Jeannie from him) to
Victor's coming with her, but he would be obliged if Victor would
kindly make up his mind to efface himself a good deal. Otherwise he
had better stop away.

Tom proposed to come down to Bray for Easter, and would be much obliged
if Jeannie would come too. He did not ask her to set aside any other
engagements she might have, because he was perfectly well aware that she
had no other engagement than that tiresome and apparently permanent one
of burying herself in the country with Victor.

Jeannie received this letter at breakfast down at their house in
Hampshire. She read it aloud to her husband.

"What a darling he is," she said. "Victor, I shall go. I love that man."

"I know you do. He isn't a bad sort. Do you want me to come too?"

"Oh, I shan't go unless you do," said Jeannie, quickly.

"Right. It's a confounded nuisance, though, but I suppose you must. How
many days do you want to stop there?"

"Oh, till Tuesday or Wednesday, I suppose. Perhaps Tom would come back
with us here after that."

Victor got up and moved round the table, till he stood by his wife's
chair.

"No, I don't think he will," he said. "Fact is, Jeannie, I asked him
to come here a week or two ago, and he wrote me an awfully nice
letter back, but said he thought he wouldn't. I didn't tell you
before, for there was no use in it. But after that I don't think I
should ask him if I were you."

Jeannie was silent a moment.

"But he wants to see me now," she said.

"I know. But I don't think he wants to be with us alone. You understand
that, I expect."

Jeannie sighed.

"Poor Tom!" she said. "Yet I don't know why I say 'poor.' I think he
likes life."

"I don't think he loves it as you and I do."

Jeannie's eyes suddenly filled with tears.

"I am awfully sorry for that," she said. "Sometimes I feel frightfully
guilty, and then suddenly on the top of that I feel innocent. Oh, to be
plain, I feel more than innocent. I feel dreadfully laudable. And then,
to do me justice, I put up a little prayer that I may not become a prig
or a donkey."

He laughed.

"Please, don't," he said. "I should not know you. But you made a man of
him."

"Ah, yes; he has told you that. It is not the case. He made a man of
himself."

Victor held up his hand.

"I don't want to know what happened," he said. "I am quite content to
leave it. He became a man, and you were always my beloved."

Some backward surge of memory stirred in Jeannie.

"Quite always?" she said. "You never wanted to ask me about it?"

"No, dear, never," he said. "Not because I was complacent or anything of
that kind, but simply because we loved each other."

This, then, was the foundation of Lady Nottingham's Easter party.
Jeannie and her husband would come, and so, as a corollary, Lord
Lindfield would come. Then there would be the newly-engaged couple,
namely, Daisy and Willie Carton. Either of them would go, as steel
filings go to the magnet, wherever the other was, and without the least
sense of compunction Lady Nottingham told each of them separately that
the other was coming to her. She had been rather late in doing this,
and, as a matter of fact, Willie, no longer hoping for it, had made
another engagement. But he did not even frown or consider that. He wrote
a cheerful, scarcely apologetic note to Mrs. Beaumont, merely saying he
found he could not come. Nature and art alike--and Mrs. Beaumont was a
subtle compound of the two--allow much latitude to lovers, and she did
not scold him.

At this stage in her proceedings Lady Nottingham suddenly abandoned the
idea of a party at all. There was Victor and Jeannie, and their
corollary, Tom Lindfield; there was Daisy and her corollary, Willie;
there was herself. Gladys would be there too, and--and it was necessary
to provide light conversation in case everybody was too much taken up
with everybody else, and Jim Crowfoot would, no doubt, supply it. A very
short telephonic pause was succeeded by the assurance that he would.



CHAPTER XXVII.


Two days before this little gathering of friends was to assemble Jeannie
left Itchen Abbas for town. Victor did not go with her, for the
unpunctual May-fly was already on the river, and, since subsequent days
had to be abandoned, he preferred to use these. He thought it (and said
so) very selfish of Jeannie to go, since who cared what gowns she wore?
But it seemed that Jeannie thought this nonsense, and went. Also a
tooth, though it did not ache, said that it thought it might, and she
arranged an appointment in Old Burlington Street for Saturday afternoon.
She would meet Victor down at Bray.

The tooth proved a false alarm. It was tapped and probed and mirrored,
and she was assured that she need feel no anxiety. So in the elation of
a visit to the dentist over, she emerged into the street. There was a
willing but unable motor there that puffed and snorted, and did not do
anything. And immediately she heard a familiar voice.

"Why, Jeannie," it said, "what confounded and stupendous luck! Never
thought to meet you here. Going to Bray, aren't you? And so am I.
Old Puffing Billy is having his fit here this time. Or do you think
he'll have another on the road? I'll go down by train with you, or
I'll take you down in Puffing Billy. But we'll go together. By Jove,
you look ripping!"

Jeannie gave him both her hands.

"Oh, Tom," she said, "what fun! Let's go down in Puffing Billy. I've
been to the dentist, and there isn't anything."

Puffing Billy gave out a volume of blue smoke.

"Good old chap," said Tom sympathetically. "Hope he'll stick again on
the level.--Is it all right for the present, Stanton?--Get in, Jeannie.
Never saw such luck! Who would expect Puffing Billy to break down
opposite a dentist's, when you needn't have gone there at all. Jove! it
is good to see you."

The incredible happened. Once again the car broke down on the level, and
once again Stanton had to go upon his belly, like the snake, while his
passengers sat on a rug by the wayside.

"We shall be late again," said Tom. "Do you know, it is nearly six
months since I saw you last?"

Jeannie remembered the invitation he had received and refused.

"That's your fault," she said.

"I know. Your man asked me. Awfully good of him."

"Why didn't you come, then?"

The inimitable Stanton ceased to be a snake, and, becoming erect,
touched his cap.

"Car's all right, my lord," he said.

"Oh, is it? Get in, then.--I didn't know if you wanted me to come,
Jeannie. I'm not sure if I wanted to either. But I expect the two are
one. It's funny, isn't it? Try me again."

"Well, come back with Victor and me after Bray," she said.

"Rather. It's Bray first, though. We shan't be late for dinner after
all. What a bore; I like being uniform and consistent. Look here, do
promise me a morning or an afternoon or something down there. Just half
a day alone with you."

She got into the car, he following.

"Yes, you dear," she said. "Of course you shall have it. A whole day if
you like, morning and afternoon."

"Jove! I'm on in that piece. Sure you won't be bored?"

"I'll try not."

"H'm. You think it will need an effort."

Jeannie laughed.

"Once upon a time a man went out fishing for compliments--" she began.

"And he didn't catch any," said Tom.

"Not one. And now we've chattered enough, and you shall tell me all
about yourself."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a very quiet and simple history that she heard, and all told it
amounted to the fact that he had settled down as he told her nearly a
year ago he was thinking of doing, but without marrying. There was
little to say, and in that little he was characteristically modest. For
the greater part of the year he had been down at his place in Wiltshire,
of which he had been so studiously absentee a landlord, and for the
first time had taken his place as a big landowner, and that which, with
rather a wry face, he alluded to as a "county magnate."

It was from other sources that Jeannie knew how modest this account was,
and at the end--

"Tom, you're a brick!" she said.

He laughed.

"Didn't know it," he said. "But the man who went fishing caught
something after all, in that case."

       *       *       *       *       *

Daisy came into her aunt's room when the women went upstairs that
night for a talk. She was radiantly in love, but it was a different
Daisy from her who had made so many plans and known her own mind so
well a year ago.

"I know Willie has a cold," she said, "but men are so tiresome. They
won't take reasonable care of themselves. Don't you think he looked
rather run down, Aunt Jeannie?"

"Not the very slightest, I am afraid."

"How horrid of you! Oh, Aunt Jeannie, what a nice world!"

Daisy settled herself on the floor by her aunt's chair, and possessed
herself of her hand.

"And to think that till less than a year ago I was quite, quite blind,"
she said. "I always loved you, I think, but I am so different now. What
has happened, do you think?"

"I think you have grown up, my dear," said Jeannie.

"I suppose it may be that. I wonder how it happens. Do you think one
grows up from inside, or does something come from outside to make one?"

"Surely it is a combination of the two. It is with us as it is with
plants. From outside comes the rain and the sun, which make them grow,
but all the same it is from within that this growth comes, so that they
put forth leaves and flowers."

Daisy sighed.

"What a lot of time I wasted," she said. "To think that Willie was
waiting so long before I could see him as he was. Yes, I know what the
sun and the rain were in my case. They were you, you darling, when for
my sake and poor Diana's you did what you did."

"Ah, my dear," said Jeannie, "we need not speak of that."

"But I want to just once--just to tell you that it was you who opened my
eyes. And it wasn't my eyes alone you opened. It was his too--Tom's, I
mean. He knows that, and he told me so."

"That is quite enough about me," said Jeannie, with decision. "Daisy, I
wish Tom would marry. Can't we find some nice girl for him?"

"Oh, we can find a hundred nice girls for him," said Daisy, "and he will
respectfully reject them all. He doesn't want any nice girl. Oh, Aunt
Jeannie, why shouldn't I say it? He's in love with you. I think he
always will be. Some people might call it sad, but I don't think it is
at all. The thought of you makes him so tremendously happy."

Daisy plaited Jeannie's long white fingers in with her own.

"I think it's one of the nicest things that ever happened," she said.
"It's like some old legend of a man who has--well, racketed about all
his life, and then suddenly finds his ideal, which, though she is quite
out of reach, entirely satisfies him. He is so fond of Uncle Victor too.
That's so nice of him, and so natural, since Uncle Victor is your
husband. It's just what the man in the legend would do."

Jeannie gave a long, happy sigh.

"Oh, I thank Heaven for my friends," she said.

"They thank Heaven for you," said Daisy softly.

       *       *       *       *       *

April continued to behave with incredible amiability, and superb and
sunny weather blessed Lady Nottingham's rash experiment. Everywhere the
spring triumphed; on the chestnut trees below which Jeannie and Lord
Lindfield had sat on the afternoon of the thunderstorm last year a
million glutinous buds swelled and burst into delicate five-fingered
hands of milky green; and on the beech-trunks was spread the soft green
powder of minute mosses. The new grass of the year was shooting up
between the older spikes, making a soft and short-piled velvet, on which
the clumps of yellow crocuses broke like the dancing reflection of sun
on water. Daffodils danced, too, in shady places, a company of nymphs,
and the celandines were like the burnished gold of some illuminated
manuscript of spring.

And all these tokens of the renewed and triumphant life of the world
were but the setting to that company of happy hearts assembled by the
Thames' side. The time of the singing bird had come, and their hearts
were in tune with it.

The little party, so it had been originally planned, were to disperse on
the Wednesday after Easter, but on the Tuesday various secret
conferences were held, and with much formality a round-robin was signed
and presented to Lady Nottingham, stating that her guests were so much
pleased with their quarters that they unanimously wished to stop an
extra day.

So they stopped an extra day, another day of burgeoning spring, and were
very content. Tom was content also next morning, for he went with
Jeannie to her home.


THE END.



       *       *       *       *       *



                           ESTABLISHED 1798

                            [Illustration]

                              T. NELSON
                               AND SONS

                             PRINTERS AND
                              PUBLISHERS



  Notes on
  Nelson's New Novels.

  _No work of unwholesome character or of second-rate quality
  will be included in this Series._


    The novel is to-day _the_ popular form of literary art. This is
    proved by the number of novels published, and by the enormous sales
    of fiction at popular prices.

    While _Reprints_ of fiction may be purchased for a few pence, _New
    Fiction_ is still a luxury.

    The author of a New Novel loses his larger audience, the public are
    denied the privilege of enjoying his latest work, because of the
    prohibitive price of 4s. 6d. demanded for the ordinary "six
    shilling" novel.

    In another way both author and public are badly served under the
    present publishing system. At certain seasons a flood of new novels
    pours from the press. Selection becomes almost impossible. The good
    novels are lost among the indifferent and the bad. Good service can
    be done to literature not only by reducing the price of fiction, but
    by sifting its quality.

    The number of publishers issuing new fiction is so great, that the
    entrance of another firm into the field demands almost an
    apology--at least, a word of explanation.

    Messrs. Nelson have been pioneers in the issue of reprints of
    fiction in Library Edition at Sevenpence. The success of _Nelson's
    Library_ has been due to the careful selection of books, regular
    publication throughout the whole year, and excellence of manufacture
    at a low cost, due to perfection of machinery.

    Nelson's Sevenpenny Library represents the best that can be given to
    the public in the way of _Reprints_ under present manufacturing
    conditions.

    Nelson's New Novels (of which this book is one of the first volumes)
    represents the same standard of careful selection, excellence of
    production, and lowest possible price applied to _New Fiction_.

    The list of authors of Nelson's New Novels for 1910 includes Anthony
    Hope, E. F. Benson, H. A. Vachell, H. G. Wells, "Q," G. A.
    Birmingham, John Masefield, Mrs. W. K. Clifford, J. C. Snaith, John
    Buchan, and Agnes and Egerton Castle. Arrangements for subsequent
    volumes have been made with other authors of equally high standing.

    Nelson's New Novels are of the ordinary "six shilling" size, but are
    produced with greater care than most of their competitors. They are
    printed in large, clear type, on a fine white paper. They are
    strongly bound in green cloth with a white and gold design. They are
    decorated with a pretty end-paper and a coloured frontispiece. All
    the volumes are issued in bright wrappers. The books are a happy
    combination of substantial and artistic qualities.

    A new volume is issued regularly every month.

    The price is the very lowest at which a large New Novel with good
    material and workmanship, and with an adequate return to author,
    bookseller, and publisher, can be offered to the public at the
    present time.

       *       *       *       *       *

  _Descriptive Notes
  on the Volumes for 1910_:--


  SECOND STRING.                                       _Anthony Hope._

    This brilliant social comedy contains all the qualities which have
    given Anthony Hope his unique reputation as a historian of modern
    life. He introduces us to the society of the little country town of
    Meriton, the tradespeople, the loungers in the inn parlour, the
    neighbouring farmers and squires, and especially to Harry Belfield,
    the mirror of fashion in the county and candidate for its
    representation in Parliament. We see also his former school friend,
    Andy Hayes, who has returned from lumbering in Canada to make a
    living at home. The _motif_ of the tale is the unconscious
    competition of the two friends, of whom Andy is very willing to play
    "second fiddle," did not character and brains force him to the
    front. The young squire of Halton is too selfish and capricious to
    succeed, and in spite of his loyalty to friendship, Andy finds
    himself driven to take his place both in love and in politics. A
    host of characters cross the stage, and the scene flits between
    Meriton and London. The book is so light in touch, so shrewd in its
    observation, so robust and yet so kindly in its humour, that it must
    be accorded the highest rank among Anthony Hope's works--which is to
    say, the first place among modern social comedies.


  FORTUNE.                                             _J. C. Snaith._

    Mr. J. C. Snaith is already known to fame by his historical
    novels, his admirable cricketing story, his essay in Meredithan
    subtlety "Brooke of Covenden," and his most successful Victorian
    comedy "Araminta." In his new novel he breaks ground which has
    never before been touched by an English novelist. He follows no
    less a leader than Cervantes. His hero, Sir Richard Pendragon, is
    Sir John Falstaff grown athletic and courageous, with his
    imagination fired by much adventure in far countries and some
    converse with the knight of La Mancha. The doings of this
    monstrous Englishman are narrated by a young and scandalized
    Spanish squire, full of all the pedantry of chivalry. Sir Richard
    is a new type in literature--the Rabelaisian Paladin, whose foes
    flee not only from his sword but from his Gargantuan laughter. In
    Mr. Snaith's romance there are many delightful characters--a
    Spanish lady who dictates to armies, a French prince of the blood
    who has forsaken his birthright for the highroad. But all are
    dominated by the immense Sir Richard, who rights wrongs like an
    unruly Providence, and then rides away.


  THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY.                             _H. G. Wells._

    If the true aim of romance is to find beauty and laughter and
    heroism in odd places, then Mr. Wells is a great romantic. His
    heroes are not knights and adventurers, not even members of the
    quasi-romantic professions, but the ordinary small tradesmen, whom
    the world has hitherto neglected. The hero of the new book, Mr.
    Alfred Polly, is of the same school, but he is nearer Hoopdriver
    than Kipps. He is in the last resort the master of his fate, and
    squares himself defiantly against the Destinies. Unlike the others,
    he has a literary sense, and has a strange fantastic culture of his
    own. Mr. Wells has never written anything more human or more truly
    humorous than the adventures of Mr. Polly as haberdasher's
    apprentice, haberdasher, incendiary, and tramp. Mr. Polly discovers
    the great truth that, however black things may be, there is always a
    way out for a man if he is bold enough to take it, even though that
    way leads through fire and revolution. The last part of the book,
    where the hero discovers his courage, is a kind of saga. We leave
    him in the end at peace with his own soul, wondering dimly about the
    hereafter, having proved his manhood, and found his niche in life.


  THE OTHER SIDE.                                     _H. A. Vachell._

    In this remarkable book Mr. Vachell leaves the beaten highway of
    romance, and grapples with the deepest problems of human
    personality and the unseen. It is a story of a musical genius,
    in whose soul worldliness conquers spirituality. When he is at
    the height of his apparent success, there comes an accident, and
    for a little soul and body seem to separate. On his return to
    ordinary life he sees the world with other eyes, but his
    clearness of vision has come too late to save his art. He pays
    for his earlier folly in artistic impotence. The book is a
    profound moral allegory, and none the less a brilliant romance.


  SIR GEORGE'S OBJECTION.                       _Mrs. W. K. Clifford._

    Mrs. Clifford raises the old problem of heredity, and gives it a
    very modern and scientific answer. It is the story of a woman
    who, after her husband's disgrace and death, settles with her
    only daughter upon the shore of one of the Italian lakes. The
    girl grows up in ignorance of her family history, but when the
    inevitable young man appears complications begin. As it happens,
    Sir George, the father of the lover, holds the old-fashioned
    cast-iron doctrine of heredity, and the story shows the conflict
    between his pedantry and the compulsion of fact. It is a book
    full of serious interest for all readers, and gives us in
    addition a charming love story. Mrs. Clifford has drawn many
    delightful women, but Kitty and her mother must stand first in
    her gallery.


  PRESTER JOHN.                                         _John Buchan._

    This is a story which, in opposition to all accepted canons of
    romance, possesses no kind of heroine. There is no woman from
    beginning to end in the book, unless we include a little Kaffir
    serving-girl. The hero is a Scottish lad, who goes as assistant
    to a store in the far north of the Transvaal. By a series of
    accidents he discovers a plot for a great Kaffir rising, and by
    a combination of luck and courage manages to frustrate it. From
    beginning to end it is a book of stark adventure. The leader of
    the rising is a black missionary, who believes himself the
    incarnation of the mediæval Abyssinian emperor Prester John. By
    means of a perverted Christianity, and the possession of the
    ruby collar which for centuries has been the Kaffir fetish, he
    organizes the natives of Southern Africa into a great army. But
    a revolution depends upon small things, and by frustrating the
    leader in these small things, the young storekeeper wins his way
    to fame and fortune. It is a book for all who are young enough
    in heart to enjoy a record of straightforward adventure.


  LADY GOOD-FOR-NOTHING.                                        _"Q."_

    Sir Oliver Vyell, a descendant of Oliver Cromwell, is the British
    Collector of Customs at the port of Boston in the days before the
    American Revolution. While there he runs his head against New
    England Puritanism, rescues a poor girl who has been put in the
    stocks for Sabbath-breaking, carries her off, and has her educated.
    The story deals with the development of Ruth Josselin from a
    half-starved castaway to a beautiful and subtle woman. Sir Oliver
    falls in love with his ward, and she becomes my Lady and the
    mistress of a great house; but to the New Englanders she remains a
    Sabbath-breaker and "Lady-Good-for-Nothing." The scene moves to
    Lisbon, whither Sir Oliver goes on Government service, and there is
    a wonderful picture of the famous earthquake. The book is a story of
    an act of folly, and its heavy penalties, and also the record of the
    growth of two characters--one from atheism to reverence, and the
    other from a bitter revolt against the world to a wiser philosophy.
    The tale is original in scheme and setting, and the atmosphere and
    thought of another age are brilliantly reproduced. No better
    historical romance has been written in our times.


  PANTHER'S CUB.                           _Agnes and Egerton Castle._

    This is the story of a world-famed _prima donna_, whose only
    daughter has been brought up in a very different world from that in
    which her mother lives. When the child grows to womanhood she joins
    her mother, and the problem of the book is the conflict of the two
    temperaments--the one sophisticated and undisciplined, and the other
    simple and sincere. The scenes are laid in Vienna and London, amid
    all types of society--smart, artistic, and diplomatic. Against the
    Bohemian background the authors have worked out a very beautiful
    love story of a young diplomatist and the singer's daughter. The
    book is full of brilliant character-sketches and dramatic moments.


  TREPANNED.                                         _John Masefield._

    Mr. Masefield has already won high reputation as poet and dramatist,
    and his novel "Captain Margaret" showed him to be a romancer of a
    higher order. "Trepanned" is a story of adventure in Virginia and
    the Spanish Main. A Kentish boy is trepanned and carried off to sea,
    and finds his fill of adventure among Indians and buccaneers. The
    central episode of the book is a quest for the sacred Aztec temple.
    The swift drama of the narrative, and the poetry and imagination of
    the style, make the book in the highest sense literature. It should
    appeal not only to all lovers of good writing, but to all who care
    for the record of stirring deeds.


  THE SIMPKINS PLOT.                           _George A. Birmingham._

    "Spanish Gold" has been the most mirth-provoking of Irish novels
    published in the last few years, and Mr. Birmingham's new book is
    a worthy successor. Once more the admirable red-haired curate, "J.
    J.," appears, and his wild energy turns a peaceful neighbourhood
    into a hotbed of intrigue and suspicion. The story tells how he
    discovers in a harmless lady novelist, seeking quiet for her work,
    a murderess whose trial had been a _cause célèbre_. He forms a
    scheme of marrying the lady to the local bore, in the hope that
    she may end his career. Once started on the wrong tack, he works
    out his evidence with convincing logic, and ties up the whole
    neighbourhood in the toils of his misconception. The book is full
    of the wittiest dialogue and the most farcical situations. It will
    be as certain to please all lovers of Irish humour as the immortal
    "Experiences of an Irish R. M."



                       THOMAS NELSON AND SONS,
               London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and New York.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's Note:

Inconsistent hyphenation has been retained as it appears in the
book. The following changes have been made:

Page 143 she must start to-day."
         Unexpected closing quote removed

Page 203 you musn't do anything
         musn't changed to mustn't

Page 235 "Indeed, I think I won't, Aunt Jeannie,'
         Single close quote changed to double quotes]





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