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Title: Capricious Caroline
Author: Rowlands, Effie Adelaide, -1936
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 "Capricious Caroline" ***

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



scans provided by Al Haines.



CAPRICIOUS CAROLINE



BY THE SAME AUTHOR

  Susannah and One Other
  Love and Louisa
  Peter a Parasite
  The Blunder of an Innocent



CAPRICIOUS CAROLINE

BY

E. MARIA ALBANESI


  "GOD HAS A FEW OF US WHOM
  HE WHISPERS IN THE EAR"
                 BROWNING



SECOND EDITION



METHUEN & CO.

36 ESSEX STREET W.C.

LONDON



  _First Published_ . . . _September, 1904_
  _Second Edition_  . . . _May, 1905_


This story originally appeared in the Weekly Edition of _The Times_,
and is now issued in book form by arrangement with the proprietors of
that journal.



TO

THE LADY AILEEN WYNDHAM-QUIN



CAPRICIOUS CAROLINE



CHAPTER 1


As the large motor swung along with the easy velocity and assurance of
some enormous bird, Camilla Lancing nestled more cosily into the warmth
of her fur wraps.

Rupert Haverford was driving, and he looked back every now and then to
see if his guest was comfortable.

"Is this too quick for you?" he asked once; and Mrs. Lancing only shook
her head with a smile.

"It is too delightful," she answered.

The little town where they had been lunching lay far, far away in the
distance now, its ugliness softened by the mingling of sun and haze,
and the country through which they were passing was very open; in a
degree bleak. On one hand marshland and rough common ground, and on the
other the beach inland, then stretches of wet sand, and then the
restless, murmuring sea, bearing on its shimmering surface the cold
embrace of the setting November sun.

Mrs. Lancing sighed involuntarily as she looked dreamily away to where
the sky and sea seemed to meet, but her sigh was an unconscious tribute
to the graciousness of the circumstances in which she found herself.

The smooth swinging movement of the car fascinated her. As she now and
then closed her eyes, she felt as if she were being carried away from
all that constituted life to her at other times; from excitement and
pleasure and anxiety, from sordid and obtrusive care; even from the
fever of hope and the illusive charm of chance. It was a delightful
sensation.

Sometimes as the road curved the car seemed almost to approach the
water, and the white-crested waves broke within a few yards of it with
a boom; the rushing of the incoming and receding water making a musical
accompaniment to the humming sound of the motor. Then they passed from
the coastline, and the road began to wind upwards. The sea was shut
from view by a wall of chalky hillocks covered with stubbly grass, and
only the country outlook remained.

Just before, for a brief while, the world had worn a soft, an almost
rosy tint; but as the sun vanished this warmth went also, and now the
landscape stretched into the distance grey, unsympathetic, and
monotonous.

The speed of the car lessened as the ascent grew steeper; a thin mist
began to gather ahead of them. To Mrs. Lancing's imaginative eye this
mist took the form of a flock of fleecy white birds just hovering
before winging flight.

Haverford pulled up here and, relinquishing his place to the chauffeur,
climbed into the body of the car.

"Are you very cold?" he asked anxiously; "do you know, I am very much
afraid, Mrs. Lancing, that this road will put us back an hour or so. It
was foolish of me to come this way, for the country is new to me, and
the road is certainly about the worst we have struck lately."

He occupied himself in tucking the big fur rug more securely about his
guest, despite her protestations that she was quite warm enough, and
quite comfortable.

The road was certainly very bad, and though the car disposed of the
rough ground with an air of superb indifference, a certain amount of
jolting was inevitable.

Camilla Lancing only laughed, however, as she was tossed up and down
occasionally by the elastic movement of the springs.

"It is a matter of perfect indifference to me what time we arrive
home," she said. "That is the effect motoring has on me! It engenders a
heavenly sensation of irresponsibility. I simply don't care a pin what
happens. My one conscious desire is to go on, and on, and on."

Rupert Haverford sat down in the other seat and looked at her with the
sincerest pleasure; she was so delightful to look at. The tone of her
garb was a rich brown; she had on a long coat of some rough fur, but
round her throat and shoulders she wore a stole of the softest sables;
there was a small cap of sables on her brown hair, and she had tied the
brown gauze veil she wore in a cunning bow under her chin. A knot of
white flowers that Rupert Haverford had given her at luncheon was
tucked in among the fur at her breast, and was the only break in the
harmonious whole. She turned to him as she spoke lightly; she had a
bird-like trick of moving her small head that was very characteristic
and very pretty.

"But of course this sounds horribly selfish. So like me. Shall we be
very late? I am so sorry if you are sorry, otherwise I don't think it
matters. Agnes said she would expect us when she saw us.
Fortunately"--Mrs. Lancing laughed--"dinner is a movable feast at
Yelverton, or indeed anywhere where Agnes Brenton presides."

Haverford answered this very frankly.

"I am afraid I am not troubling in the very least about Mrs. Brenton or
her dinner, I am thinking entirely of you. This is the first time you
have entrusted yourself to my care, you know, and I want everything to
go smoothly."

"Can anything go crookedly with you?" asked Camilla Lancing; there was
the faintest tinge of envy in her voice.

Haverford laughed.

"Oh! I suppose so," he said. "I have certainly had more than my share
of luck up to now, but one never knows what is waiting for one round
the corner." Then he half rose and looked ahead. "What a mist!" he
said. "I hope we are not in for a sea fog. I hate fog of any sort."

They drove on in silence for a few moments, and the mist gathered
increasingly about them; the flock of birds had melted away, and the
white velvety film floated about them like smoke. Everything became
indistinct; even the broad outline of the chauffeur was veiled and
vague.

Camilla Lancing spoke first.

"Now, please don't worry about me," she said, half-petulantly,
translating his silence adroitly. "I am absolutely comfortable.
Naturally"--she added with a laugh--"I know that if I had done my duty
I should have insisted on driving back with Agnes, though she declared
she did not want me; but it is so nice _not_ to do one's duty every now
and then. Did you ever hear of the little boy who always asked to be
allowed some wickedness on Sundays, as he had to be so good all the
days of the week? I share the sentiments of that little boy, Mr.
Haverford."

The car pulled up here again, and the chauffeur got down and lit the
powerful lamps. By now they had passed completely into the embrace of
the white fog; the air was raw, and the damp cold very penetrating.

"But perhaps you mean you wanted me to go back with the others," Mrs.
Lancing murmured softly, as they moved onwards again.

Haverford just looked into her eyes, that even through the mist and her
veil shone brilliantly.

"You know perfectly well I was not likely to do that," he answered
bluntly, and yet there was a kind of restraint in his voice. Mrs.
Lancing caught that restraint, and with a sudden impatient contraction
of her brows moved almost imperceptibly nearer to him; she arranged her
veil with her small, white-gloved hand, and then left it lying for an
instant on the outside of the rug. It was very close to his; but Rupert
Haverford did not touch the hand, nor enfold it as he might so easily
have done protectingly in his large, brown, strong one.

Mrs. Lancing bit her lip.

"There is no mistake, we _are_ in for a fog," she said jerkily, and she
slipped her hand as she spoke back into the warmth of her big sable
muff. It was not the first time that this man had unconsciously
repulsed her; there were times when, in her irritation, she called him
a prig. But she misjudged him; Rupert Haverford was not a prig, he was
only a very straightforward, practical, in a sense, simple-minded man,
who, like an explorer, was advancing step by step into an unknown
world, meeting and mingling every day with elements that were not only
new to him, but that belonged to a range of things about which he had
never had occasion to think hitherto. Camilla herself was prominent
amongst these new sensations; she at once was a bewilderment and a
fascination. There had been no woman of this class in his life up to a
couple of years before; indeed, women of any kind had played but a
nominal part in the busy, uneventful, and certainly unpicturesque
existence that had been his lot since early boyhood.

Mrs. Lancing, of course, knew briefly the outlines of the story of this
working man and his sudden and unexpected accession to wealth, and
recognized clearly enough that Haverford was as far removed in thought
and social education from the various men who fluttered in and out of
her life as the sun is from the earth; but she had little
discrimination. With her it was never a question of character or
quality; fundamentally she decreed all men were alike, strong in
prejudice, weak in temptation, selfish, and even tyrannical; vain and
sentimental, uncomfortably moral at times, but amazingly loyal, and, as
a rule, sensitively moved by the potent charm of a woman of her
temperament and attractions.

She liked men very much, she had many men friends, and few women
friends, although the spontaneous effervescing sympathy, which was
perhaps her most marked characteristic, made her very attractive to
women, and accounted for her wide popularity; there was something so
disarming, so delightful about Camilla Lancing. Beauty alone would
never have given her a quarter the power she possessed; it was her
ready interest (absolutely genuine for the moment), her quickness in
associating herself with those things that were paramount with the
persons who approached her, that made her irresistible to all sorts and
kinds of people.

She had the tact of a delicately fashioned nature, and a vast amount of
endurance.

But she was not patient, and the more she saw of Rupert Haverford, the
more necessary he became to her, the less patience she had.

He puzzled her; he piqued her; he annoyed her; he made her nervous.

What were his feelings towards herself?

"He is so horribly slow," she mused now fretfully, "he ponders every
word he says. I suppose he is terribly afraid of making a mistake. I am
sure his money oppresses him. He must have been ever so much nicer when
he was working as a foreman, or drayman, or whatever he was before all
this money came to him."

She kept her eyes turned resolutely away from Haverford. For perversely
enough, though he was so slow, so silent, so dull, he was exceedingly
good to look at. Old-fashioned, or rather out of the fashion, he might
be, but his manners were irreproachable, and his speech cultured, and
he dressed very well.

It came to Camilla as an inspiration, as the car moved on cautiously
through the cold white fog, that he was only shy and perhaps stupid.

Rupert Haverford had certainly a good amount of diffidence in his
disposition, but at the present moment it was the most exquisite, and
the most real sense of hospitality that tinged even his protective
courtesy with restraint.

When their hostess had deserted the motor after luncheon, and had
insisted in making her way homeward in a hired carriage, Haverford had
been delighted because Mrs. Lancing had elected to return with him. But
this very fact--the fact that this woman, who had been charming herself
into his inmost thoughts of late, was alone with him, charged him with
a sense of responsibility, and he steeled himself carefully against
even a suggestion of the delicious intimacy with which the situation
was fraught.

"The fog is lifting," he said, after a little while; "if we can only
get off this road and turn inland, we shall drive out of it altogether."

Mrs. Lancing had her muff in front of her face; the fog made everything
damp; her veil was clinging to her face uncomfortably.

"We are going downhill now," she said indistinctly.

Haverford was really a little anxious; they were certainly on a
downward grade, and the progress was not pleasant; the road appeared to
be rougher than it had been.

He sat forward, trying to scan what lay around and ahead, but the white
gloom baffled him.

And then all at once the machine grated sharply; they shook in their
seats, and Mrs. Lancing gave a little exclamation of alarm; then the
car stood still, and the chauffeur got out hastily.

"We're done for now, sir," he said; and Rupert Haverford swallowed a
word or two.

If it had not been for Mrs. Lancing he would not have cared two pins.
Time was of no importance to him, and a breakdown rather interested
him, as he had commenced to make a study of the mechanism of his
various cars, and knew pretty well how to put them right when things
went wrong, but this accident was most inopportune and annoying under
the circumstances.

Fortunately the cold, thick mist seemed to part a little at this
moment. With a reassuring word to his guest, Mr. Haverford got out and
joined the chauffeur in his investigations.

It was very, very cold sitting in that raw, damp atmosphere, and Mrs.
Lancing began to wish heartily enough that she had done her duty and
gone back to Yelverton in the carriage with Mrs. Brenton.

She felt tired now, and even a little cross. All the pleasure vanished;
that spell of delicious forgetfulness was swept away, and the morrow,
with its wearying demands, confronted her like a phantom.

After a sharp conference with the chauffeur, Mr. Haverford approached
his guest.

He spoke as cheerily as he could.

"Something has gone wrong with the works," he said, "we can't see what
it is exactly in this gloom. I wonder if you would mind sitting here a
little while I go and find out where we are? There may be somebody on
hand who can help us to get along a bit."

Mrs. Lancing shook aside the rug.

"Do let me come with you?" she pleaded. "Really, I would much rather
go, a walk will warm me up, and I shall feel so lonely without you. I
believe I am frightened. May I come?"

Her pretty helplessness touched him, of course. And as he helped her to
alight, Rupert Haverford felt his heart stir a little. So he supposed
other men felt when they ministered to a wife or some one who had a
tender claim on them.

They set off at a brisk pace down the hill.

Decidedly the fog was less thick, the bewildering effect on the eyes
was passing, but it was still sufficiently cold and raw to make them
shiver, though they were so warmly clad. Indeed, Mrs. Lancing was
rather overweighted with her long coat, and her small feet stumbled
every now and then.

Rupert Haverford drew her arm more closely through his.

He was conscious of a very tangible sense of pleasure in the near
proximity of this pretty, womanly creature. The unconscious claim that
she made upon his strength and protection moved him to tenderness, and
her delightful affectation of indifference to any discomfort awakened
his very real admiration.

"I have not the least idea where we are, but there must be a station
somewhere near, I suppose," he said. "And if we can only borrow a trap,
perhaps we shall be able to get back to Yelverton in time for dinner,
after all. It must be somewhere about half-past four now. I am afraid
you will never come out with me again, Mrs. Lancing. You see things
_can_ go crookedly with me at times! I am certainly out of luck to-day."

"I don't call this unlucky," Camilla said softly; and she nestled a
little closer to him. She was meeting him on familiar ground at last.

They came after a while upon a kind of village, in which the lights of
the one shop--a post office and general stores combined--shone
hospitably.

The keeper of the stores, a portly, good-natured man, could suggest no
better help for the motor than to borrow a couple of horses from the
nearest farm and tow the car away from the road. He amiably consented
to lend his trap to drive Mrs. Lancing to the nearest station, distant
about three miles, and when this was arranged, Mrs. Lancing remained at
the stores, where a cup of tea was forthcoming, whilst Haverford went
back into the mist to set matters right with his chauffeur.

Divested of his heavy coat, the man had crawled under the body of the
car, from whence he emerged very red in the face and very greasy.

"Found it all right, sir," he said. "One of the nuts has sheered in the
differential shaft." He declared his ability, however, to set the whole
thing right in the course of the next few hours. Agreeing with Mr.
Haverford that it would be a good thing to get the car off the road, as
it was an obstruction, Haverford did not leave the village till he had
arranged to give his man all the assistance possible. This done, he
lifted Camilla Lancing into the tall cart that was used to dispense the
goods from the stores, and they started for the station. To exchange
the luxurious armchair of the motor for a hard, slippery seat where
balance was most difficult, over a rough country road, was not the most
delightful experience in the world; but Camilla laughed at all
discomfort. Her good nature was really marvellous. Most women would
have been tired and cross and difficult. Mrs. Lancing, however, made
the best of everything. Even when the station was reached, and they
found they would have some time to wait, and then change trains before
reaching the nearest point to Yelverton, Camilla accepted the
discomfort philosophically.

"I know you are dying to smoke. Leave me here; this is quite a cosy
place; perhaps I will go to sleep," she said, as she passed into the
waiting-room.

He obeyed her reluctantly.

She looked so pretty, so pathetic, with the pallor of fatigue robbing
her cheeks of their usual delicate bloom. He stood looking at her with
a kind of frown on his face for a moment, but he said nothing, and, to
get rid of him, she closed her eyes and leaned her head against the
hard wooden wall.

Her lips trembled as he went out and closed the door.

She was a creature who lived absolutely from moment to moment; who had
the knack of separating herself from the most tenacious trouble to bask
in the warmth and glitter of a passing gaiety. Naturally these
delightful moments were followed by spells of reaction, when her
volatile spirit would sink to such depths of depression that all
energy, all hope, would appear to be swamped. But she had the optimism
of a gambler; let chance only give her the smallest opportunity, and
she revived again.

Agnes Brenton (the woman with whom she was staying and a very old
friend) had once likened her to an indiarubber ball.

"Camilla is an enchanting creature, a dear, sweet, womanly soul, but
you can never make a lasting impression on her," she had said. "However
hardly she is flung about, however sharply she may seem dented, she is
bound to come smoothly to the surface again, and show no trace of what
has happened."

She was being sharply dented now. In this hour of fatigue and
disappointment memory forced open the door she had held closed so
resolutely all the day.

On the morrow her visit to Yelverton would end, and she must go back to
town--back to the practically impossible task of clearing her daily
path of one or two hideous obstacles.

There were some things awaiting that had to be met that sent a shiver
of dread through her now as she recalled them. She opened her eyes
after a time and sat watching Haverford's tall, long-coated figure pass
the window of the waiting-room every now and then.

"And with a scratch of a pen," she said to herself wearily, "he could
put all my difficulties straight. Why _does_ he not speak? Sometimes I
feel he cares for me more than I have ever been cared for before, then
the next moment he chills me; he almost frightens me. He is so
reserved, so deliberate. I believe he must be hard. Of course"--her lip
curled--"he is cautious, and no doubt he is mean; he is far too rich to
be generous."

She repressed her tears with difficulty. She was so truly sorry for
herself. Other women (so she pondered) had such ease in their lives;
she knew of no other woman who was so lonely as herself, so burdened,
so troubled.

She got up impatiently, and, pulling a chair forward, sat down and
stared into the fire with wet eyelashes. Her face hardened a little as
her mind drifted away from fretful generalities to the practical
outlook, to the immutable fact that two and two made four for most
people, but in her case required six to be satisfactorily disposed of.
Little by little, however, she began, as was her custom, to make a
possible pathway for herself out of the tangle of vexatious care that
awaited her.

She was amazingly skilful in this sort of thing; no matter how
hopelessly involved the future might seem, she usually found some
loophole of escape, some tiny thread which, with the ingenuous
ingenuity of a child, would be weaved, before she had done with it,
into something substantial, on which she could just stand comfortably
for a little time.

Rupert Haverford paused by the window about this time. He watched her
awhile as she sat thinking so intently, then flung away his cigar and
opened the door.

"The train is just due," he said, "and the sea fog is creeping its way
here. I shall be very glad to get you home, Mrs. Lancing; I am sure you
must be thoroughly tired out. If I might prescribe for you," he added,
as they passed out on to the platform, "I should suggest dinner in your
room to-night and early bed."

Camilla answered with quick impatience--

"Oh! I couldn't do that, I never go to bed early; and besides, we are
going to play bridge to-night. You never play," she said the next
moment. "Why, I wonder? Don't you care about the game?"

"I don't care about cards at all," he answered; "a question of habit, I
suppose. There was no time for games of any sort in my old life."

"But there is nothing to prevent you enjoying heaps of things now,"
Mrs. Lancing said restlessly, almost crossly. Then her tone changed.
"Let me teach you bridge, it would be such fun! And I don't play half
badly for a woman. You shall have your first lesson to-morrow," she
decided quite gaily.

Haverford only shook his head.

"I cannot let you waste your time. I shall never play cards."

Camilla felt the warmth and sparkle fade out of her thoughts again.

"Oh," she said, "of course, I remember now! Somebody was telling me
only the other day how good you were, that you would never speculate,
or bet, or gamble in any shape or form. Lucky man, to be able to take
so firm a stand!"

He looked at her quickly; her sneer was unmistakable; he felt
uncomfortable and pained, and he suddenly remembered how, as he had sat
apart and watched her as she had been playing cards the night before,
the expression of her delicately pretty face had given him a sense of
trouble, even of uneasiness. Now her words, or rather the tone in which
they were said, angered him a little.

They drifted into a silence till the train came, and spoke very little
during the journey to the junction, where they were to alight and pick
up the London train.

Mrs. Lancing bought a book and some papers at the bookstall. There were
any amount of papers at Yelverton, but she never could deny herself the
joy of spending.

"I believe I downright hate him," she said to herself fretfully; "he is
a real 'bourgeois.' Why does such a man come amongst us if he does not
like our ways?"

When the London train steamed in there was only one first-class
compartment, and, as Haverford opened the door for Mrs. Lancing to
enter, the only occupant, a young man, glanced up casually.

Camilla Lancing drew back imperceptibly for an instant as she caught
sight of him, but if she had intended to retreat, this intention was
frustrated, for the young man flung aside his newspaper and started to
his feet.

"Hallo, there!" he exclaimed. "Hallo! Hallo! _Hallo!_ Here's luck!
Who'd have thought of meeting you, Mrs. Lancing? I'm just home from
Yankee land, and am toddling down to Yelverton for the night. Any
chance of your being there?"

Mrs. Lancing laughingly explained the situation, and introduced the two
men.

Sir Samuel Broxbourne looked keenly at Haverford.

"So that's the factory Johnny who came into all that tin the other day,
is it? Stuck up sort of chap! Might be a parson, or an actor."

Rupert Haverford subsided into a corner and let the other two talk. He
was seeing Camilla now in another phase, and one that was not charming
to him.

Instead of resenting Broxbourne's rough, slangy jargon she seemed to
enjoy it. Her eyes grew brighter, and the colour stole back into her
cheeks.

They had so much to talk about. She even used some slang herself,
though it sounded almost pretty coming from her lips.

Having disposed of that first moment of awkwardness, even of alarm,
which the unexpected meeting with Broxbourne signified to her, she
responded instantly to the excitement of the moment; her good temper
was completely restored.

When they left the train, however, and Broxbourne had gone on ahead,
she slipped her hand confidently for a moment in Mr. Haverford's arm.

"He is such a bore, isn't he?" she whispered. "I wonder why Agnes asked
him? She said nothing to me about his coming. I have known him all my
life, we are sort of cousins," she added; and then she laughed. "Well,
after all, it is lucky Sir Samuel is here, for, do you know, we quite
forgot to wire for a carriage? I only hope they have sent a big
brougham."

"I am going to walk," Haverford said at once; but this she vetoed. In
fact, she had no desire to drive _tête-à-tête_ with the other man.

"Oh, _please_ don't," she said. "I beg you will not leave me. And you
must not forget I am in your charge to-day."

And Haverford had to yield to this argument as a matter of course.

The drive was not a pleasant one, however. They were rather crowded in
the brougham.

Camilla laughed at this discomfort as she had laughed at all the rest,
but her voice had a shrill tone; or perhaps Rupert Haverford noticed
this for the first time.

As soon as they passed into the big hall, he left Mrs. Lancing and Sir
Samuel chatting with the others and went to his room.

He suddenly felt nervous and bad tempered, and he wanted to be alone.
It was a relief not to find his man waiting.

Some letters were lying on the table, and he took them up and glanced
at them mechanically, then he threw them down and strolled to and fro
in the room in the same preoccupied way as he had paced the platform.

When his servant came hurrying in, after a while, Haverford was staring
into the fire with a rather grim look on his face.

"Have everything packed early to-morrow, Harper," he said; "I shall go
to town by the first available train in the morning."

Then he roused himself and took up his letters again. The first he
opened was written on shabby paper in handwriting that was small and
curiously formed.

It was dated the day before, and had been forwarded from town.


"Dear Sir," it ran,

"If you please, will you come and see your mother as soon as you return
from the country? There was a little accident yesterday when she was
out driving, and she was much alarmed. I am glad to say she was not
hurt, but her doctor has ordered her to keep very quiet for a day or
two.

"Yours faithfully,
    "Caroline Graniger.


"P.S. I have asked that this letter shall be forwarded to you."



CHAPTER II


When Mrs. Lancing went upstairs her hostess went with her.

"So the dear motor did go wrong, after all," observed Mrs. Brenton, a
trifle triumphantly. "I think I had the best of it in my despised
one-horse shay."

Camilla threw off her furs with a sigh.

"Dear Agnes," she said, "I hate making you conceited, but truth compels
me to admit that for once you are right. A motor is a beautiful thing
if it goes smoothly, but when it goes wrong it is just the other kind
of thing."

"Of course I am right," said Mrs. Brenton, as she stirred the fire
briskly.

She was a plain woman with a hard-riding figure and grey hair neatly
plaited, but she had a pair of handsome and kind eyes, and a delightful
voice.

"Give me horses," she said. "By-and-by, when I am in my little grave, I
have no doubt folk will be switchbacked to America and home again; but
I hate experiments--I am a little too old for them--and the best car
that is made is only a thing on trial, you know."

She helped Camilla to slip out of the big coat.

"Fortunately, you were well wrapped up," she said. "But _what_ a weight
this coat is, Camilla! How can you walk in it at all? When did you
get it? I have not seen it before!"

"Oh, haven't you?" queried Mrs. Lancing, in a tone of very real
astonishment. "Why, I have had it _ages_; got it at a Veronique sale.
It was absurdly cheap."

She told these various untruths quite glibly, and then made haste to
get away from the subject.

She was not a little afraid of Mrs. Brenton at times, although, indeed,
she would have been singularly ungrateful--and Camilla was never
ungrateful--if she had not realized that in this old friend--one who
had known her when she was a mere child--she had a staunch and a loving
ally--a friend who in sickness and in health gave her almost an anxious
affection, and whose curiosity to know what was passing with her arose
from the best motives. But Camilla always dreaded being compelled to
answer questions, or having to give an account of herself; she was so
weary of having good advice given her.

Of what use, so she argued to herself, would it be to let Agnes know
how worried she was, and into what a hopeless muddle her pretty feet
had strayed?

"Agnes cannot help me," she said to herself; "and she would only worry
and think the end of all things had come if I were to tell her how I
stand just now. And then she would scold, and talk about the future
solemnly, and oh! I know I should scream if she started the old
discussion to-night; my nerves are all on wires! If she _could_ help me
it would be another matter, but I suppose a five-pound note would be
about the utmost poor old Agnes could produce in an emergency." And
Camilla shrugged her shoulders. Just before leaving town for Yelverton
she had spent her last available five pounds at a hair-dresser's,
while, at the same time, a writ for the sables she had worn so
becomingly that day had been sent to her by registered post that
morning.

She threw off her hat and veil.

"I am rather anxious, Agnes," she said. "I have had no letter from
nurse to-day."

Mrs. Brenton took the bait instantly.

"Anxious? What about? There is no need to fuss yourself; nurse never
does write freely."

"She promised faithfully to send me word every day," said Mrs. Lancing,
half fretfully.

"Well, look here, I'll go and telephone through for you," said the
other woman; "with just a little luck I shall find the line clear. The
rush is off about this time, as a rule."

Mrs. Lancing had slipped from her outdoor clothes into a very pretty
dressing-gown by the time the telephone conversation was at an end.

"Everything is all right," Mrs. Brenton announced cheerily. "The
children are just gone to bed. They have been very good, and are quite
well."

"I miss them dreadfully," said Camilla, and her voice broke a little.
Turning, she picked up two photographs that were on the dressing-table
and kissed them passionately.

"Miss them!" said Mrs. Brenton in her brisk way, "I should think you
did! Dear little souls, I can't think why on earth you didn't bring
them with you; there is heaps of room, and children are never a bother
to me, as you know. Well, now I'll trot away again. I expect you feel
thoroughly tired out, Camilla. Dinner will be half an hour late, so you
can take it easy. Why don't you have forty winks? That is a heavenly
chair for a snooze."

Mrs. Lancing was already crouched up in the luxurious depths of the
chintz-covered chair. She yawned as she cuddled into the cushions.

"Fancy Sammy Broxbourne turning up so suddenly. Why didn't you tell me
he was coming, Agnes?" she asked, a little jerkily.

"Because I did not know it myself. He wired this morning to ask if he
could run down for a day or two, and as I was not here Dick answered
for me, saying, of course, he could come. I can't say that I think he
is much improved, and he has put on a lot of flesh. He used to be
rather a pretty boy, and now he is only a commonplace and very vulgar
young man. By the way, how did he and Rupert Haverford get on?"
inquired Mrs. Brenton, a little abruptly. She had made a move towards
the door, and now turned back again.

Camilla Lancing shrugged her shoulders.

"A very clear case of hatred at first sight! The moral Haverford sat in
a corner and scowled in silence, and, of course, Sammy used all the
swear words he knows just on purpose to make things pleasant."

Mrs. Brenton compressed her lips; there was definite disappointment in
her eyes.

She stood a moment as if she had something more she would have liked to
say; then with an imperceptible shrug of her shoulders she turned away,
and, with another command to Camilla to rest went out of the room.

Mrs. Lancing nestled herself more closely into the big chair and shut
her eyes. Just as the maid was stealing softly away she called the
woman back.

"Don't go downstairs, Dennis," she said, "but stay in the
dressing-room. I am going to try and sleep, but I may want you."

It was a relief that Agnes Brenton had gone, but she was almost afraid
of being left quite alone.

Her maid took her sewing into the dressing-room, but Mrs. Lancing had
no intention of going to sleep. She lay with closed eyes, however, and
after awhile some tears escaped from the thick lashes and rolled down
her cheeks.

"I never thought he would come back so soon," she said to herself so
wearily, so miserably; "he said he would be away for ages and ages, and
... and I had almost forgotten." She turned her face on the cushions,
and bit them as if a sudden physical pang had shot through her, and so
she lay, breathing in a sobbing fashion for some little time; then she
lifted her head and pressed her hands to her brow and to her hot eyes.

"And of _course_ this must come," she said, with fretful passion, "when
I am so worried I don't know which way to turn! Oh, how tired I am of
living, sometimes! Why didn't he write to some one, then I should have
heard he was coming, and I should have been prepared!"

She unpinned her hair, thick, short, brown hair, and lay back again on
the cushions.

"Why doesn't Rupert Haverford speak?" she asked herself in the same
fretful way, I "simply can't go on struggling and fighting in this
weary way. I was never meant to struggle and fight; and is it my fault
that I make mistakes? How _can_ I be different? I was brought up to be
what I am. When other children were given twopence a week to put into a
money-box, I was given a five-pound note to spend on dolls or make into
kites. Of course I am extravagant! Of course I get into holes! I should
be a living wonder if I didn't!"

She pushed the thick hair back from her brows, and, slipping from the
chair, bunched herself on the hearth-rug, holding her hands before her
face to shield it from the blaze.

"I won't believe he doesn't care," she said to herself, her thoughts
reverting to Haverford again. "He _does_ care, only he won't speak. And
he makes me so nervous. I feel as if he were looking at me through a
microscope. I am sure Agnes thinks he cares!" She sighed, and shut her
eyes for a moment; then her mind worked into an easier groove. "I do
believe Sammy was glad to see me!" was her next thought. "He wasn't a
bit changed. Perhaps I am worrying myself for nothing!" Her face
lightened; the lips, the eyes grew eager. As was inevitable with her,
despair began to give way slowly but surely before the invulnerable
optimism of her nature. She pinned up her hair, and sat gazing into the
fire, humming to herself softly while her mind pieced together a dozen
different possibilities, and carried her gradually but surely away from
doubt and definite fear. When the clock chimed eight she sprang to her
feet.

"My black gown, Dennis," she said. She had convinced herself that
Rupert Haverford would like his wife to wear black and sober colours.
In the same way she assured herself that he would read family prayers
every morning. If she married him she determined that she would always
breakfast in her room.

A little packet was lying on the dressing-table, and she opened it with
a smile on her lips and pleasure in her eyes.

"Look, Dennis, what Mr. Haverford bought for the children! This is for
Betty, and this for baby! Is it too late to send them to-night?...
Won't they be pleased? No," she decided; "I don't think I will send
them. Darling hearts, they will expect me to bring them something
to-morrow. Can't you see them waiting for me, Dennis?"

"They'll be in a rare state of excitement, I expect," said the maid,
with a smile.

Camilla Lancing fingered the trinkets as she sat and had her hair
dressed.

"He is really kind," she said to herself.

Contrasted with the other man, he had a new and great charm for her
to-night--a value he had not had before.

"And though he is dull, he is certainly not vulgar," she mused on; "it
is extraordinary that he should be as he is, and that Sammy should be
such a vulgarian; and yet the one is a professedly middle-class man,
and the other is connected with any amount of big people. I wish I
understood him a little better! But he puzzles me, and he worries me;"
she sighed here fretfully. "Of course I _must_ marry him if he asks me;
yet the mere thought of living all day long in such a starchy
atmosphere takes the life out of me! I thought he would have been so
easy to manage when we first met! And instead of accepting our views he
imposes his own. No wonder he is not popular! I only wish," said
Camilla, sighing again as she got up, and looked at her pretty head
critically in the mirror, "I only wish he were twenty years older, and
then I would put all my troubles before him, and ask him to help me. He
would help me now. I know that perfectly well, but I should lose him if
I told him the truth. And I don't want to lose him. I can't lose him,"
she said a little feverishly, "especially now, especially now," she
whispered.

Mrs. Lancing was one of the last down that evening--in fact, she kept
the rest of the party waiting for dinner, but when she did come she was
so charming and so apologetic and looked so fascinating that every one
forgave her.

Sir Samuel Broxbourne took her in to dinner, and she sat where she
could not see Haverford.

She could hear a little of the conversation, however, that passed at
the other end of the table, and she changed colour when she heard him
tell Mrs. Brenton that he was going to town by the first train in the
morning.

She translated this to mean a sudden retreat on his part. For there had
been a half arrangement that he should take her back to London in his
motor, and as the chauffeur had promised that the car would be at
Yelverton either late that night or very early the next morning, there
was no reason why this engagement should be broken. She ate the rest of
her dinner in a subdued manner, and as she followed the other women out
of the room she paused a moment by Haverford's side.

"So you won't motor back to-morrow?" she said hurriedly. "I am quite
disappointed.... I was looking forward to it."

His face flushed.

"I am sorry," he answered, "but I must go up quite early; my mother is
not well," he explained.

"Oh!" said Camilla; she was at once reassured "I am _so_ sorry. I hope
you are not very anxious? But you must tell me about it a little
later." And gathering her clinging black draperies in her hand she
smiled up at him and then fluttered through the doorway and vanished.

Whilst the other women were talking together, Mrs. Brenton found
herself alone with Camilla.

"I want to say something to you," she said in a low voice.

"Is it anything nice?" asked Camilla, with a faint smile.

Mrs. Brenton touched the black chiffon that bordered Camilla's
beautiful shoulders with a caressing hand.

"I don't want you to play for such heavy points to-night, darling," she
said; "it is all very well if the money comes back to you, but I am
afraid you have been losing rather heavily since you came down here,
haven't you? Sometimes I feel tempted," Mrs. Brenton went on, "to
impose a _maximum_ sum for points here, but I suppose I should get
myself well hated if I did! People would say it is a free country, and
they ought to do what they like with their own."

"That is why you are scolding me," said Camilla, with her pretty smile.

Mrs. Brenton shook her head.

"You are not other people to me, and I do hate to see you risking too
much, Camilla."

Camilla turned and just lightly kissed Mrs. Brenton's hand.

"Oh, we must risk something sometimes!" she said impatiently; then she
added, "Don't worry about me, dear old thing, I really haven't lost
very much, and I dare say I shall get it all back to-night. I feel in
luck. Look"--she held out her wrist--"isn't this a sweet thing? Sammy
has just given it to me to wear as a charm. He brought it from some
weird place in America, and declares it is a magic stone, and that I
shall have everything I want now that I wear it. I must go and show it
to Ena Bayliss," Camilla said, with a wicked smile. "She will be _so_
jealous! She rather affects Sammy, you know...."

When the men came there was no opportunity for a little chat between
Mrs. Lancing and Haverford, for the card-players seated themselves
immediately at the tables.

Mrs. Brenton, who was not a bridge fanatic, beckoned to Rupert
Haverford to come and sit with her in her pet corner.

She teased him heartily for a little while about his breakdown that
afternoon.

"You will never get _me_ in that magnificent car of yours again," she
said. "Why don't you have horses? You look just the sort of man who
would have good animals, and know how to treat them well."

"I have a few horses," Haverford answered; "you must come and see them
one day, if you will, Mrs. Brenton. I don't quite know why I took to
motoring, except that I have a leaning towards engineering, and the
mechanism of the cars interests me, and then I like rushing about. I
have not yet got used to my idle life," he said, a little restlessly.
"Old habits are very strong with me; I wake every morning of my life at
five o'clock, Mrs. Brenton, and I can't lie in bed a moment afterwards.
You see, for nearly seventeen years I was accustomed to be out and at
work by six o'clock every day."

Mrs. Brenton had taken up some knitting, and her fingers were moving
briskly, though her eyes were fixed on her companion.

"I should so like to know all about those days," she said; "I dare say
lots of people would not believe you if you were to say it, Mr.
Haverford," she added half lightly, "but I came to a conclusion about
you a long time ago, and that conclusion is, that you are the sort of
man who is only happy when he is working--working seriously, I mean,
from morning to night. But you are not always idle now, are you?"

Haverford laughed.

"I don't think I do an hour's work in a week," he said. "Very often the
old call is so strong that I turn my back on all my greatness, and I
steal away to the north, to the dirty, smoky, dull old town where I
lived so long. But"--he laughed again, this time half sadly--"there is
nothing for me to do; another man fills my old post and fills it well.
However, I am planning a different future; I have certain pet schemes
of my own which I have not yet put into working order. When I have
started them they will help at least to pass some of my time more
profitably than I pass it now."

"What sort of schemes?" asked Mrs. Brenton. He did not answer her at
once; he was looking at the card-players, at Camilla's dainty figure.
The lines of her throat and shoulders were exquisite, framed in the
black of her gown. She was laughing; he loved to hear her laugh, it was
such young laughter.

"Oh!" he said, rousing himself, "they are just some fancies that have
come to me; I will tell you about them, Mrs. Brenton, when I have them
more planned out--I am going to travel," he added a little abruptly.
"Ever since I was a boy I have longed to see the other side of the
world! I don't quite know why I have not gone long ago." He was smoking
at Mrs. Brenton's wish, and he broke off some of the cigar ash into a
silver tray.

"I got my first love of wandering when I was a very little lad," he
said in his rather abrupt way. "My father brought me up on travel books
and books of adventure. He had so longed to know other countries and
other people, but this was denied him----If he had lived----!" He broke
off sharply. Agnes Brenton looked at him; he was frowning, and he was
staring into the fire; he seemed to have drifted far, far away in his
thoughts from the light and warmth and cosy charm of his actual
surroundings.

Suddenly he turned and looked at her; his eyes were very bright.

"My father was a hero," he said--there was something in his voice that
made Mrs. Brenton bite her lip nervously--"he was a doctor--a man who
worked all day and sometimes all night in that crowded, tragically poor
factory town where I spent so many years of my life. I worshipped my
father, Mrs. Brenton; he was an enthusiast, a dreamer, a saint. He died
in harness, sacrificed to the poverty and misery of the people, who
were his first thought. There was a fearful outbreak of fever and
diphtheria, and he did superhuman work." Haverford shrugged his
shoulders; he was trying to speak evenly. "Every man's endurance has a
limit, and my father paid the natural, the inevitable penalty. That was
a great many years ago, but he lives with me almost as clearly as
though he were really in existence now! I have only one reproach
against his memory"--the young man got up restlessly. His cigar had
gone out, he found a box of matches, and lit it again. "He sent me away
to avoid the infection," he said In a low voice, "and he died before I
could get to him! That was hard! He could never have realized how hard
that was to me, or surely he would not have done it."

Mrs. Brenton's eyes were wet. It was not alone his story, the strained
tones of his voice that moved her; the man himself appealed to her
sharply, and for the first time. She marvelled as she listened, as she
looked at him now, how she could have so misunderstood him. It had
become the fashion with most people to call Rupert Haverford hard
names, to find him mean, selfish, and ungenerous; Mrs. Brenton had
never gone so far as that. She had, in truth, judged him leniently,
recognizing in his blunt fashion of speaking, in his straightforward
manner, and rather deliberate methods, only the natural influence of
his former circumstances; indeed, it had always seemed to her
remarkable that any man who had toiled as Haverford had done, whose
life had been set for so long in one narrow groove, should have taken
his new place so quietly, and have moved with such unconscious dignity
in the new world which revolved about him to-day. He was distinctly out
of the fashion, it was true, in many ways, but he was never uncouth,
and though there was at times a North Country burr in his voice, he
spoke with refinement. In physique he was refined too, and no one could
find fault with the way he dressed.

Mrs. Brenton had not gushed over him, but she had always liked him.
Nevertheless, there had been moments when he had chilled her; moments
in which the possibility of mingling Camilla Lancing's future with his
(a scheme which she cherished warmly) had seemed almost preposterous;
when he had made her both impatient and angry, and she had almost
longed to shake him out of his grave, stolid ways and practical outlook.

To-night all this was changed; he was a new man to her to-night; she
felt drawn to him very closely. She tried to say something in answer to
his last speech, but even as the words trembled on her lips Haverford
spoke on in his usual quiet way.

"When I do start on my travels I think I shall bequeath the care of my
motors to you, Mrs. Brenton. Though you hate them, I know you are too
tender-hearted to ill-treat them."

She laughed, falling in with his change of mood.

"I will take care of them if you will promise to come back. You must
come back," she said, "and marry, and go into Parliament, and generally
settle down."

"Yes, I suppose I shall marry some day," Haverford answered. He had
passed away entirely from that touch of emotion; indeed, his eyes
twinkled. "Marriage is about the one occupation that my change of
fortune has suggested to me from the very commencement. But I am not in
a hurry," he added. "Do you know why I like you, Mrs. Brenton?" he said
all at once.

She shook her head.

"I am only too glad that you do like me," she answered, with a smile.
"I don't seek to know the cause."

"Well, you appeal to me for many reasons," said Rupert Haverford, "but
particularly because you are about the only woman I know who has not
insisted on finding me a wife. It is such an absurd idea if one stops
to think about it," he said lightly; "one chooses one's own servants,
one does not go running about to one's friends to ask them if a
particular man is likely to be a good coachman or butler or gardener;
but in the matter of a wife everybody seems to consider that he or she
has a right to choose for another person."

Mrs. Brenton smiled, but only faintly.

"I believe I am just as bad at match-making as most people," she said;
"you must not endow me with unknown qualities."

They drifted into silence after this.

It was pleasant to Rupert Haverford to sit and watch Mrs. Brenton's
comely hands busying themselves with the knitting.

She wore a few good rings, but for the rest her gown was old-fashioned,
not to say shabby, and she had no other jewellery except an
insignificant brooch or two.

He was quite in earnest when he said that she was the one person out of
all his new acquaintances whom he liked the best.

There was something so thorough about her. He could quite believe the
stories of her prowess as a sportswoman and a hard rider to hounds; and
yet she was very womanly.

It gave him an extraordinary sense of pleasure to-night to realize that
she was Camilla Lancing's friend, and that she had a tender and even an
anxious interest in the woman about whom he was struggling with
himself; the woman who at once tempted and repelled him.

He smoked his cigar through, and then after a little desultory
conversation he rose and said "Good night."

"Pray tell Mrs. Lancing that my motor is at her disposal if she cares
to use it to-morrow," he said, "I don't think she need fear another
breakdown."

"You won't use it yourself?" Mrs. Brenton asked.

"No, it will take me too long to get to town. I must see my mother
before going into the City. I shall not say 'Good-bye,'" Rupert added,
as he held her hand in his, "for you are coming up to town almost
directly, are you not? And you have promised to dine with me, you know."

"I am longing to see your house," Agnes Brenton said. "I hear it is
full of beautiful things. Camilla has raved to me about it."

"It is beautiful," he agreed, and then he just smiled; "you see, I can
say that because I have had very little to do with putting it together.
I inherited nearly all my treasures."

He was gone before Mrs. Lancing, in a pause of the game, realized that
he was nowhere near. She got up from the card-table suddenly; there was
a patch of hot colour on her cheeks.

"Give me a cigarette, Agnes," she said; "now that Mr. Bogie has gone, I
can smoke in peace."

"Mr. 'Bogie,' as you call him," Mrs. Brenton said evenly, "is leaving
us very early to-morrow morning. But he wants you to use his motor if
you care about doing so."

"Thanks, no," said Mrs. Lancing; "I think I have had enough of a
motor-car for a day or two. What have you been talking about, you two?"
she asked suddenly, after a little pause. She threw away the cigarette
as she spoke; smoking with her was only a pretence.

"I don't know," said Agnes Brenton, "nothing in particular. He is the
sort of man one need never try to make conversation with. I mean to see
as much of him as I possibly can; I like him very much."

Camilla made a _moue_ at her.

"You are well matched--just two dear preachy people together," she
said. "He ought to have been a schoolmaster. I know I shock him
awfully, don't I?"

"My dear child," said Mrs. Brenton, "Mr. Haverford has not confided in
me, but if I speak the truth I don't think he troubles himself about
you much one way or the other."

Camilla Lancing was amazed and sharply hurt.

"Oh! _don't_ you?" she said. "Oh! that is quite a new idea! As a matter
of fact, I had a sort of notion he was thinking about me a great deal."

"You are a vain little person," said Mrs. Brenton, in the same even
way; "but there, trot along; they are calling for you. Sammy has
finished dealing."

No one was stirring when Rupert Haverford descended the stairs the next
morning. He breakfasted alone; but just as he was about to get into the
brougham and drive away, one of the maids brought him a little note. It
was from Camilla.


"Thank you so much," she wrote, "for wishing me to use your motor,
but I don't care to go in it without you. Do let me know how your
mother is. I hope with all my heart that you will find her better.
Don't forget you have promised to have tea with the children next week!

"Sincerely your friend,
    "C. L."


He slipped the note into his pocket-book. It was pleasant to have that
little remembrance from her.

Passing the corner of the house he bent forward unconsciously to look
at the windows of the room where she was, but the blinds were drawn; in
fact, as he took out the little note and read it again, he saw that it
was dated at three o'clock that morning. She must have scribbled it
before going to bed. He knew she had gone to her room very late, for he
had sat waiting for the sound of her voice and the swish of her gown.
Their rooms had been on the same landing.

He slipped his pocket-book back with a sigh, and as he drove rapidly
away he found himself wishing with every turn of the wheels that he was
going back again; that was the curious part of this charm which Camilla
exercised over him.

When he was near to her she vexed him, she troubled him; when he was
away he only felt the appealing claim of her beauty, of that
simplicity, that "insouciance" that was so apart from and yet, with
her, so much a part of her womanliness.

She was such a curious mixture, pre-eminently womanly, tender,
sympathetic, and, at the same time, tainted unmistakably with
pronounced worldliness. Much as he had studied her, he felt quite
unequal to gauging her character.

Once he had heard some woman declare that Camilla was "insincere." He
had felt a wholly unreasonable amount of anger against that woman. And
yet he was quite unprepared to defend her this morning against such an
accusation.

He had suffered, really suffered, when he had seen her with Broxbourne.
It was inconceivable to him that a woman so delicately fashioned as she
mentally (though not supremely intelligent, her mind had a tendency to
poetry and charm evinced unconsciously a score of times) could find
pleasure in the society of this young man with his rough voice, his
sporting look, his peculiar manners. Nevertheless, she had laughed and
sparkled and met Sir Samuel with all the ease and intimacy of a comrade.

"It is because she is alone, because she has no one to lead her," he
said to himself as he sat in the train whirling to town. But ponder as
he might, he could offer to himself nothing convincing or satisfying
where Camilla Lancing was concerned. All he knew was that no matter how
his mind might busy itself with other thoughts, it always circled back
to Camilla in some fashion or other.

As he drew nearer to the smoke and the fog of the great city he closed
his eyes and dreamed of the day before--of that wide expanse of
restless, sun-kissed sea, with the sky fading in the distance into a
glorious sweep of gold and purple and grey.

In his imagination he could hear again the break of the waves on the
wet beach mingling with the musical hum of the car, and he could feel
once again that sense of delight, almost of possessive delight, as he
had looked back ever and anon and had met the smile of Camilla's sweet
eyes and pensive lips.

She seemed to be cut away from him altogether by this darkness and
heavy atmosphere.

The yellow gloom fell like a pall on all that was bright and beautiful
and desirable.

He longed to go back to the country; above all, he longed to see her
again, and quickly.



CHAPTER III


When he reached his mother's house in Kensington, Rupert Haverford was
met with the information that Mrs. Baynhurst had left town the
preceding day.

The house was all shut up, and the servant who opened the door to him
wore no apron or cap.

He passed into the hall thoroughly vexed.

Of course by this time he ought to have been well prepared for any
startling move on the part of his mother, who never by any chance did
those things that were expected of her, or, indeed, anything that she
had announced she intended doing.

He put the parlourmaid through a cross-examination.

"I came up from the country on purpose," he said to her, naturally
irritated. "I understood from a letter that was sent on from my house
that my mother had had an accident, and that she was anything but well!"

"No more she is, sir," said the maid. "Dr. Mortlock, he was quite angry
when he come here this morning and found Mrs. Baynhurst gone; but there
was a letter come yesterday from Mr. Cuthbert, saying as he was ill in
Paris, and the mistress she fussed herself into a fever, and wouldn't
rest satisfied, so she left last night. She wasn't no more fit to
travel than this doormat, sir. You see, there was all but a smash up
with the brougham."

Rupert Haverford was frowning sharply.

"Who is with my mother?" he asked.

"She's took Stebbings, her maid that is, sir, but not Miss Graniger.
Most probable she'll have to join Mrs. Baynhurst in a day or two."

The maid rambled on loquaciously, and Rupert Haverford quickly gathered
that his mother must have had a nasty shock, as her carriage had
apparently just escaped collision with a runaway cab. She was not a
nervous or a timid woman, far from it; but of late she had been in
anything but good health, and this journey to Paris appeared to
Haverford not merely an altogether needless fatigue, but a very foolish
undertaking on her part.

In all probability his half-brother's serious illness would signify
nothing more than an ordinary cold.

It was so typical of Cuthbert Baynhurst to write in a sensational way
about himself; equally typical of their mother to take immediate alarm
when any such news reached her.

It relieved Rupert Haverford to be angry with his half-brother now. He
had made it a principle never to be angry with his mother. It was so
useless. She was a strange creature was Rupert's mother. In a sense
they were nothing more than acquaintances, for she had left his father
when he had been a baby of a few months.

Octavia Marling had married John Haverford in a hurry, and had
regretted the haste almost immediately.

Their life together had been unsupportable. It would, however, have
been a very unusual kind of man who would have found life possible with
a woman of her peculiar temperament and mental attributes, even in the
most easy-going circumstances, and when such a woman was boxed down
into the narrow limits of a struggling existence passed in a dull,
smoke-grimed, small provincial town, the result was inevitable.

Rupert's father had adored his wife, but he could not live with her.

She was a brilliant woman, a woman with the brains, the will, the
tenacious strength of a man, a woman who made rules for herself, and
quietly and firmly rebelled against the position which tradition and
nature had allotted to her sex.

When she had borne a child she had felt humiliated; motherhood was a
natural evil, she admitted so much, but there were women created
specially for the purpose, and she was assuredly not one of those
women. She put the baby away from her as she put other objectionable
things, and fell back on her work with new and deeper intentions.

She had been engaged, at the time when poor little Rupert came into the
world, on an historical work of some magnitude, a work which entailed a
considerable amount of research--indeed, which demanded that she should
move about from one country to another, untrammelled by ties of any
sort.

Perhaps the kindest letter she ever wrote to her husband was the one he
received after she had left him. She was so unutterably glad to be
free; to put the factory town, with its troops of working men and women
clattering on the rough stones past the window where she worked, far,
far behind her; to be liberated from the fretting duties and small
events in her husband's professional life; to feel that miles and miles
stretched between her and the clang of the factory bell and the
ever-whirring noise of the restless machinery....

She only saw Rupert at a few odd times during the years that stretched
between his birth and his father's death. And she was abroad when John
Haverford died.

By his father's will the boy was left to the joint care of his mother
and of a man called Matthew Woolgar.

No one knew where to find Mrs. Haverford, so the charge of the lad
passed into the hands of this Woolgar, who accepted the trust in a very
grudging spirit.

He was an ignorant, churlish man who had worked his way up from the
gutter to the command of enormous wealth; a man whose very name was a
curse in the ears of the men who served him; a man who was both feared
and hated, and credited truly with being the hardest taskmaster in the
world. It was asserted by many that the foundation of Woolgar's fortune
lay in usury--money lent to his fellow-workers at an enormous rate of
interest--but whether this was true or not no one knew. All that was
certain was that he owned more than half the town and ruled with the
hand of a tyrant.

John Haverford had written down his wishes as to his boy's education
and profession, but Matthew Woolgar sneered these wishes into thin air.

A pauper had no right to the training of a prince.

Without waiting to consult Octavia Haverford, he took matters into his
own hands, and sent the boy into the factory.

Rupert Haverford wore the common clothes as the others did, he ate the
same common food, he lived and moved and slept among these people who
adored his father, and for whose children his father had lost his life.
There was nothing outwardly to tell the difference between Rupert
Haverford and any of the others, except when Matthew Woolgar paid one
of his surprise visitations (as he was fond of doing) to the works,
when he would be certain to single out "t' poor doctor's lad" for some
sharp reproof or snarling word.

Then the mother had flashed into existence again.

She wrote from America, announcing that she was married a second time,
and peremptorily commanding Rupert to join her.

Matthew Woolgar quietly and grimly refused to permit this.

In truth, Rupert himself had no desire to go. His mother was nothing to
him, hardly a name. The passion, the intense love, of his childhood and
boyhood had been given to his father; even to live in the place where
his father had lived and died signified a sort of happiness to Rupert.
It was because he felt he was doing what John Haverford had wished him
to do that he gave his strange guardian such unquestioning obedience,
and it was certainly the loved memory of his father that sustained him,
that made life possible. Every day he toiled eight to nine hours in the
factory; every night he sat for hours studying, teaching himself. He
had dreams of his own. He would get promotion, earn more, save money,
and even yet follow that career which his father had desired for him.

It was a task of incredible difficulty, but he was his mother's child,
and the will that spurred her on to such questionable lengths ran like
a steady fire in Rupert's veins. The very work that to some would have
seemed so paralyzing, so harmful, served to urge the boy on; it gave
him grit; it taught him more than books can teach.

And he got on.

Against all odds he advanced.

He was about eighteen, a tall, raw youth with a thin resolute face,
when his mother and he met.

Mrs. Baynhurst was a widow for the second time. This was apparently not
a matter of great sorrow to her, but she was a changed woman.

For a second time also she had become a mother, a second son had been
born to her--a little, delicate, neurotic child, whose birth was not,
as Rupert's had been, merely a physical and a detestable fact, but
whose frail little existence brought to her the knowledge of those
things which neither logic, nor erudition, nor philosophy had ever
vouchsafed to her.

With the coming of this second child (the offspring of a brief, a
miserable passion), the flood of those natural yearnings which make the
sum of most women's lives had broken its barriers at last. Rupert had
been an amazement and a humiliation; Cuthbert was a delight, a
happiness so illimitable, so wondrous, that the woman trembled even at
the realization of it.

The meeting between Rupert and his mother had led to nothing. They were
as far apart as the two poles.

Mrs. Baynhurst had misunderstood the boy's attitude; she supposed that
he resented her second marriage, and in her turn she resented his right
to do this.

But Rupert was quite indifferent to anything his mother had done. Had
she had any tangible existence for him in the beginning, things, of
course, would have been different, but he had never known a mother, he
had never missed a mother; whereas even then, when at times he went to
kneel at his father's grave, his heart would contract with that old
incredulous anguish which had lived with him for so many black days
after he knew he would never see that father again.... Nevertheless,
though they parted so coldly, quietly, and indifferently, something in
the boy's bearing, in his calm submission to his fate, had struck a
reproach in the woman's heart.

She never wrote to Rupert, but she wrote very frequently to Matthew
Woolgar, who never troubled to send her a word in reply.

She began to fidget and to fret.

It was monstrous, so she declared, that her son should be working in a
factory. Such a circumstance stung her pride.

Rupert must go to a tutor's. She knew that John Haverford had left a
small sum of money, and she declared that this money should be used for
Rupert's education.

Matthew Woolgar took absolutely no notice of her wishes, and after a
time she grew tired, and left Rupert to his fate.

The care, the anxious, engrossing care that her second boy demanded of
her filled her every thought.

And so a few years rolled on, marked only for Rupert by the knowledge
that he was slowly but surely moving upwards, and sweetened by the fact
that he was following those lines which his father had laid down for
him as far as he could.

Half his wages went in books and to pay for tuition. He had put himself
into the hands of one of the masters of a school situated just outside
the town, and with this man he had worked in every spare hour he had.

His craving for knowledge amounted to greediness.

Perhaps once in a while he met Woolgar, who had grown into a surly and
suffering man; there was nothing, however, in this old man's treatment
of him to indicate even in the faintest degree the wonderful future
which awaited him.

When he was twenty-six Rupert was in a post of authority at the
factory; when he was thirty he was master of all that Matthew Woolgar
possessed--a fortune so large that no one quite knew its limits; a
young man with the world before him, and a certain section of the world
at his feet.

It was he, then, who had sought his mother.

A year or so back, when he had arrived at manhood, and had inherited
the money his father had left (which in Woolgar's hands had accumulated
to a decent sum), Rupert had made it his business to inquire into his
mother's financial position, and finding, as he had imagined, that her
circumstances were very poor, he had without hesitation immediately
passed over to her his small inheritance.

And Octavia Baynhurst had taken the money.

"Not for myself," she had written to him, "but for Cuthbert. He is so
delicate; he needs so much care, and he is so gifted! If he is properly
trained he can attain to anything, but he _must_ be in the proper
environment."

Since that bygone day when his mother had sought him with that frail,
pathetically small baby in her arms, Rupert had not met his
half-brother till the day when he reached London, after he had followed
Matthew Woolgar to the grave.

There was not the faintest possibility of sympathy or even friendship
between Octavia Baynhurst's two sons.

A portrait of Cuthbert Baynhurst was hanging over the fireplace in the
hall, and Rupert glanced up at it now as he turned to leave his
mother's house and go out into the fog again, and as he glanced he
frowned unconsciously.

There were portraits of Cuthbert all over the house. Young Baynhurst
affected the society, and in a degree the calling, of artistic life,
and was a favourite subject with most of the artists he knew; but not
one of these portraits did justice in the mother's eyes to that
strange, almost womanish beauty which the young fellow possessed. She
was blind to any defect in Cuthbert either mentally or physically.
Love, when it had come to her, had come in a wild, a primitive kind of
way; she who had carped and analyzed and sought to find the cause and
origin of all things, fell at the feet of this one creature, who
claimed her heart and accepted her destiny unquestioningly.

The fact that Cuthbert was lazy, selfish, callous, never dawned in her
comprehension. She had fashioned him out of the purest, the best of
herself. She required nothing of him, and lived merely to pour out her
love on him.

Just as he was passing out of the door Haverford looked back.

"I shall be obliged if you will ask Miss Graniger to let me have my
mother's address as soon as she gets it," he said.

He got into the cab that was waiting, and his thoughts lingered about
Cuthbert.

"Paris," he said; "I thought he was going to stay in town and work all
this winter."

Then he shrugged his shoulders.

He made it his business not to inquire too closely into anything that
Cuthbert did, in which he showed himself to be unlike the majority of
those people who give to others; and assuredly he was generous enough
to his half-brother. For Cuthbert, of course, had the major portion of
anything their mother had, and Rupert's first action (when he had
realized that he had the command of so much money) had been to put his
mother out of the reach of difficulty.

He bought her the house in which she now lived, she had her own
carriage, and a very comfortable income. He gave her, in fact, exactly
the sum equivalent to that which he spent on himself.

Matthew Woolgar had left him the money unreservedly--everything save a
legacy to his sister, an old, crippled, and humble woman, had passed
"To the son of the best man I ever knew." But Rupert himself had
certain theories. He felt convinced that this money would never have
come to him if Woolgar had not seen in him the proper medium through
which this immense wealth could be handled judiciously, and it was his
one desire, his one anxiety, that he should prove worthy of the immense
trust which had been placed in his hands.

The schemes about which he had spoken to Agnes Brenton the night before
were no paltry things; they were planned on the most generous lines.

There was scarcely a public charity to which Haverford did not already
subscribe largely, and his private expenditure of this kind was almost
without limit, but he intended to do more, much more. And his keenest,
his most living sympathy was with those people among whom he worked so
long; it was on these toilers and out of them that this great wealth
had been gleaned in the first instance, and Rupert resolved to give
back to them in full measure. Nothing was too large or too important
that dealt with their welfare and the good of their rising generation.

Already there had sprung up in that smoke-grimed factory town a
monument dedicated to the memory of the man who had enriched him and
the man who had given birth to him. It took the form of a large
institution designated for the practical education and the physical and
moral uplifting of his old comrades.

Life in the factory served to stunt the growth and stultify the
intellect of those who did not possess, like himself, that piercing,
that vitalizing determination to keep looking upwards. It was to such
as these that Haverford determined the major part of Matthew Woolgar's
money should go.

After leaving Kensington he went back to the city, where he had an
office, and it was late in the afternoon before he reached the house
that was perhaps the sole reason why he had elected to make London his
head-quarters.

Matthew Woolgar had raised up to himself a veritable palace. Money had
been lavished on this house like water. The art experts of the various
great Continental centres had been busy for months and months finding
treasures with which to garnish this lordly dwelling-place.

But Rupert Haverford's benefactor had never lived in the house. His
real home had been the shabby worker's cottage, where he had dwelt in
those far-off years before his wife and son had died, and when
greatness had not even dawned on the horizon of his future.

When first Rupert Haverford had passed through room after room of that
magnificent house which Matthew Woolgar had raised up for himself, his
feeling had been one of oppression and, in a sense, pain. Everything
was so beautiful, everything was so cold. That element of desolation,
of heart loneliness, which must have driven the wealth-burdened man to
sit and smoke in his old wooden armchair by the broken down fireplace
in that humble north-country cottage made itself felt to Rupert almost
too sharply.

That had been more than two years ago, and his influence and the
crowded, and to him wonderful, circumstances in those two years had
made a change in everything--in himself and in all that surrounded him.
Still, though the world had fluttered in and out of these rooms very
often, this wonderful house remained only a house; it was never a home.
That element of solitude, that deadness, as it were, that clings about
the atmosphere of museums and other treasure storehouses, continued to
oppress Rupert.

It was too big for one person.

And to-day, coming freshly from the cheery, sociable influence of
Yelverton, Rupert was sensibly affected by this sense of solitude, this
mockery of empty grandeur.

Happily, a vast amount of correspondence awaited him, and he set
himself at the task at once.

Letters bombarded him wherever he went--the world seemed peopled with
beggars.

It was a matter requiring great tact and discrimination, this giving to
those who asked. Naturally there were other letters. Invitations poured
in upon Rupert Haverford. There was scarcely a great house which had
not thrown open its doors to him.

Already his small dinners had taken to themselves a _cachet_. If he
had responded to all the invitations that were poured upon him he would
scarcely have had a moment to himself. As it was, he felt that he was
drifting more swiftly into the stream of society than he had any desire
or intention of doing.

Not once, but a dozen times he had told himself of late that he must
change this.

Life for him had a serious meaning. It was full of serious projects.

Sometimes when he was a guest at the table of some illustrious
personage, or sometimes when he would be standing in a ballroom
watching the dancers and listening to the strains of softest music, he
would lose himself, as it were; he would go back in his imagination to
those days when he had stood working with the humblest of the factory
hands, working and dreaming for the time when he should be free.
Working, not for this bubbling gaiety, but for those big, those noble
ambitions which his father had set before him as his ideals when he had
been a child of only a few years.

He threw aside the letters now, and leaned back in his chair.

It was perhaps the first time he had let himself challenge himself.

With one of those curious tricks that imagination plays us at times he
was suddenly wafted from the cosy warmth of his room to that cold, damp
mist of the day before. He was walking through the white fog with
Camilla Lancing nestling close to him.

If he were to turn his back on London, on society, on that life which
had been circling about him of late, he must turn his back on this
woman, for she, and she alone, was the magnet that held him so
tenaciously.

He caught his breath suddenly, like one who fights for a cold, keen
wind, and got up. It had grown to be the dominant influence of his
present life, this struggle with himself on the subject of Camilla
Lancing. How would it end?

His man came into his room at that moment, bringing a note.

It was written in pencil, and came from Camilla.

"I am waiting outside," she had scribbled. "I wonder if you would see
me? I want to see you _very_ much. I have a great favour to ask you.
Could you spare me ten minutes?"

Rupert Haverford read the note two or three times; he wanted to calm
himself and steady his voice.

"Please ask Mrs. Lancing if she will come in, Harper," he said.

She came in almost directly.

Yesterday she had been a brown fairy; to-day she seemed to be a living
violet. He never knew in detail what she wore; he was only conscious of
the exquisite effect she always made. Her near approach was heralded by
the sweetest, faintest whisper of the flowers she personified.

She had thrown back her veil. He noticed that though she was smiling
she looked pale and tired.

"How good of you to see me!" she said.

"How good of you to come!" he answered in his usual grave way--the way
she called "stodgy."

He pushed forward a chair for her near the fire, but she chose to sit
away from it in the shadows.

"Thanks. No, I won't have tea. I have had some already--two cups, and I
must not stay more than two minutes. I have some news for you," she
announced. "Agnes has come up with me; I simply refused to leave
Yelverton without her. And she only wanted an excuse to come." Camilla
laughed as she sank into a chair. "You have not an idea what a scene of
excitement there was at my house when we arrived! My children simply
adore Agnes, and she adores them. And oh, Mr. Haverford, I am charged
with all sorts of messages to you! Betty and Baby are enchanted with
your lockets and intend wearing them always, but, please, you must give
them a picture of yourself to put inside; that is what they say."

There was a little pause.

Camilla let her sables slip from her shoulders on to her arms. She had
come there with a distinct purpose, a purpose that was bound about with
the iron of most pressing fear and necessity.

True to her nature, she was not going to speak frankly.

"I can't," she said to herself; "I absolutely can't!"

Haverford was standing by the fire.

The scent of her violets, the bewildering entrancement of her presence,
made him dreamy.

How changed the room was!

The house was full of treasures--pictures, tapestries, bronzes,
inanimate things which had cost thousands--but everything was as
nothing compared with this living, breathing, beautiful woman.

How far more beautiful than all the rest she was!

"I shall be photographed on purpose," he roused himself to say; and
then he pulled himself together with a great effort. "You want me?" he
queried. "I am only too delighted to do any little thing for you, Mrs.
Lancing. Pray let me know what I can do!"

Camilla got up and moved about a little aimlessly.

"It ... it's rather a big favour, really quite an enormous one," she
said. "I ... I feel nervous...." Indeed, her voice broke a little.

"Don't be afraid," said Haverford.

She caught her breath, and then she steadied her voice.

"Well, I have come to you because a dear friend of mine is in great
trouble, Mr. Haverford," she said. "When I got home this afternoon I
found a letter waiting for me. You would not know if I were to tell you
her name. She lives in the country, and oh! she has had such a hard
life. We ... we are old, old friends, and I suppose that is why she has
turned to me now and asked me to help her.... I only wish I could..."
she broke off with a sharp sigh; "it is so hateful to feel one cannot
do things of this sort for people who really need help..." she said
half impatiently, half wearily.

He stood quietly by the fireplace looking at her; he was barely
conscious of what she was saying. The fragrance that floated about
her--her clear voice with its pretty enunciation--the realization that
she was so close, made a curious effect upon him: he felt stupid,
dazed, burningly hot one instant, strangely cold the next.

Camilla hurried on nervously.

"When I read that letter, Mr. Haverford, I thought immediately of you.
I know I have no earthly right to bother you with things that belong to
a stranger ... indeed"--she laughed faintly--"I am _quite_ prepared to
hear you say that you are surprised; that you did not think that I
should do anything of this sort I--I have come even expecting you to
refuse."

He left the fireplace and went nearer to her.

The dream dropped away from him.

"Some friend of yours is in trouble?" he asked. He smiled at her. "You
were quite right to come to me. I am only too glad to do anything for
any one in trouble, but more especially I am glad to do anything for
any one who is dear to you."

Camilla bit her lip, and moved a little away from him, approaching the
fire in her turn.

"How good you are!" she said. The words were wrung from her
involuntarily, and there were tears in her eyes and tears in her voice.
Indeed, he moved her sharply at this moment.

There was such an element of simplicity about him and yet no weakness.
He accepted her story without question. The flimsy fabrication she had
just given him was merely the truth to him, essentially so because it
was she who spoke. No other man she knew would have been deceived by
this story of a friend in the country, but Rupert was not like all
these other men. He was very far removed from being a fool, but he was
a long, long way from grasping the meaning of life as it was lived by
most of the men and women who circled about him now.

Why, he was in many things a child compared to herself!...

Haverford had set down to his writing-table.

"In any matter of this kind," he said, "I beg you will use me in every
way that may seem good to you, Mrs. Lancing. I gather that your friend
needs immediate help; pray do not let her be troubled an hour longer
than is possible."

He signed a blank cheque, and slipped it into an envelope.

As he turned and held this out to her, Camilla Lancing gave a little
shiver. She looked at him without taking the envelope.

"Oh!" she murmured, "I ... am half afraid to take this! I came ... on
... on the impulse of the moment, not because you have so much ... but
because I ... felt ... I feel you are so glad to--to help any one
but...."

"Why should there be any 'but'?" he asked, not very steadily; "by this
time I hope you know that I hold it one of my greatest pleasures, as it
is certainly an honour, to serve you whenever you will permit me to do
so. Will you remember this always?..."

Camilla bit her lip again, and then put out her hand.

Haverford bent over it and kissed it. Her hand was kissed at least once
or twice a day on the average but Rupert Haverford had never before
permitted himself this old-fashioned and gracious sign of homage. It
was with him an expression of something far, far deeper than mere
courtesy to a very delightful and very pretty woman. She divined this
instantly, and her heart began to beat nervously. As he released her
hand she pulled her sables about her and prepared to go. She wanted to
be away from him. The expression of his face troubled her. She had
chafed almost angrily at his silence, his self-repression, yet now that
she knew he would speak she dreaded to hear his words.

A thousand jarring feelings thrilled her.

Though there had been many moments recently when he had appealed to her
physically, when, indeed, she had frankly admired him, in this moment
she felt almost as though she hated him.

It was a sensation which she could not define which she would have
found practically impossible to explain to another person, but it was
very real, very oppressive.

She crushed the envelope he had given her in her hand, and hid it in
her big muff; then she began speaking gaily.

"What are you doing to-night?" she asked. "You are engaged? Oh, I am so
sorry! I thought that perhaps you would have taken Agnes and me to
dinner somewhere. We have no engagement; but never mind, we can do that
another night."

"Will you dine with me to-morrow?" he asked. He, too, was nervous. He
had not her gift of slipping into a seeming indifference. Her easy,
everyday manner separated them once again, brought back with a rush the
old uncertainty, the old unrest.

She laughed.

"Oh! delightful! And let us dine here, do, please. I simply adore this
house, and I want Agnes to see it. You know, you have always happened
to be away when she has been up in town. How enchanting everything is!
No matter where one looks one sees something that is perfect of its
kind ... and that is not what one can say of every magnificent house,
you know!" said Camilla. She had moved to the door, and he opened it.
They passed out into the wide corridor. "The fact is a man's taste is
always so much better than a woman's," she chattered on restlessly, "it
is really a most absurd idea to suppose that a house must have a woman
in it.... For the best of us will persist in filling our rooms with
rubbish. Do you know, to this day I have the greatest difficulty in
denying myself the joys of Japanese fans on the walls, and art muslin
draperies and curtains? Oh!" she said suddenly, "I quite forgot to ask
you; how is your mother? I hope she is better."

"I hope she is," said Rupert, "but I have not seen her. She has gone to
Paris. My half-brother is ill."

He went with her to the entrance door, and himself put her into the cab
that was waiting.

She stretched out her hand just before starting.

"I must _try_ and say thank you," she said nervously, "but it is not
easy to say. I shall send ... this ... on to my friend at once. You
will have the consciousness of knowing you have made one person very
happy to-night, Mr. Haverford! _A demain!_ May we dine late?... I have
such a full day to-morrow.... Good night...."

He held her hand very, very closely, and let it go reluctantly.

The light of the cab-lamp was shining on him fully. He looked very
handsome as he stood there against the dark, foggy background, a man to
make gladness to the eyes and heart of any woman. But as she rolled
away swiftly, Camilla Lancing leaned back and flung up her veil,
sighing rapidly and impatiently.

"After all, he does mean to speak ... and soon," she said to herself,
"and when he does I _must_ agree; I must say 'Yes'! How can I possibly
refuse? It would be madness. He would do everything so well there would
be no more anxiety about the children, and I should have everything I
want, no more horrible bills, no more difficulties, and an end to the
hideous dependence on Ned's father...." She pulled aside the sable
almost roughly from about her throat. The night was bitterly cold, but
she felt as if she were stifling.

"But what a life!... I don't believe I shall be able to stand it for
even a month.... I shall feel like a caged animal. My very thoughts will
not be my own.... I wanted him to love me, but not like this. He loves
me too much. He will exact too much. I shall have to give up everything
I like. No more bridge, no more freedom, no more fun. Oh, my God!" said
Camilla with fierceness, though she was crying, "I _know_ I shall never
be able to do it! I don't want that sort of man," she said, "I don't
want to stagnate and grow old, and good.... I want to live ... to
live!... And I did live before Ned left me!... How can I marry a man
like this after I have been Ned's wife? Oh, Ned, Ned, if only you had
not died!... If only I could feel you were somewhere in the world, even
though there were twenty women between us ... it ... it would be all so
different!..."

She cried unceasingly for a few moments as the cab swayed and jerked
over the greasy pavement, and then she pulled herself together.

"Oh! what an ass I am! If Agnes sees red eyes, she will want to know
all there is to know. I can imagine her expression if I were to explain
I had been crying about Ned!... that blackguard Ned!" She laughed in an
impatient stifled way. "We must go somewhere to-night," she said a
moment later; "I shall die boxed up at home. Why shouldn't we dine
somewhere and then go on to a music-hall!"

As she got out of the cab she dropped the envelope Haverford had given
her. She picked it up hurriedly, and her train of thought was changed
swiftly; a sudden sense of delicious independence thrilled her. The man
whom she feared, and the man who had shown her such chivalrous
generosity, and the man she had married and lost, passed from her
thoughts. She felt as if she were in sunshine. The cheque was blank!
She had not expected that; there were no limits to her intentions.

"I shall give Veronique something on account; that will stop the writ,"
she said as she passed into the house. "And the children shall have new
coats, dear souls; they have been looking _so_ shabby lately. Then I
shall get out my pearls and some of my rings and things first thing
to-morrow...."

In the hall there were some cards, a splendid basket of flowers, and a
square, white-coated packet. Camilla loved to find white packages and
letters and flowers waiting for her.

She shivered as she remembered the cold perfection of the hall she had
just left.

Sir Samuel's card was attached to the basket and the box of bonbons,
and he had left a note. Camilla read this and ran upstairs quickly.

"Agnes," she called gaily, putting her head in at the door of the
drawing-room, "Sammy wants us to dine with him and go afterwards to the
play. We shall just have time to change. What a bother you have to go
out to dress! Why not let me send for your things?"

Mrs. Brenton shook her head.

"Oh no. I will trot round to my rooms. As a matter of fact, I was just
going. Will you call for me, Camilla? The children are just asleep.
They tried to keep awake till you came, but they were too tired...."

Camilla threw off her furs and cloak in her room, and then stole
upstairs softly till she reached the nursery. All was still. The two
small bodies in the two small cots never stirred as she approached.

Mrs. Lancing bent over each child and lightly laid a hand as in
benediction on each little head. Then she paused a moment before
Betty's small altar. The child had arranged it carefully before going
to bed, there were white flowers in the tiny brass vases, and the red
light burning before the statue of the Virgin was the only light in the
room.

Camilla shut her eyes. She never remembered any prayers; but Betty had
just knelt there, and the child's prayers had hallowed the place; they
seemed to carry the mother's soul with them--just a little way.

As the nurse came into the room, Mrs. Lancing turned and, with her
finger on her lip, went noiselessly from the room.

She dressed for dinner in a happy mood.

Haverford's cheque was locked up in her dressing case. She had not
settled yet what sum she would inscribe on it. Certainly a small sum
would be useless. So she mused as she ordered her maid to bring her the
flowers Sir Samuel had sent, and she chose a few to wear as a
breast-knot.

"What is a thousand to him, or, for the matter of that, two?" she
queried. "And even two will not go very far. Well, that is for
to-morrow."

She pinned the flowers in her bodice and smiled at her reflection.

It was delightful not to spend a dull evening at home, and really she
was just in the mood for a good dinner!



CHAPTER IV


Though he had had short notice, Haverford managed to get together a few
interesting men for dinner the following evening.

The greater part of the large house was not open, but enough was seen
to impress and delight Mrs. Brenton.

She admired everything.

"I am full of envy," she said to him.

"So am I," said Camilla. "I want everything I see here, your servants
especially. How _do_ you bachelor people always manage to get such good
servants? That man of yours, Harper, is a perfect treasure. He is a
sort of Monte Cristo--nothing seems difficult or impossible to him. I
believe if I were to call him now and say to him, 'Harper, will you
please give me the Earth?' he would answer in that quiet way of his, 'I
have just put it in your carriage, madam.'"

She was all in white to-night, and looked languid and pensive. Rupert
Haverford asked her once if she were tired; she nodded her head.

"Just a little; but that is my own fault. I have been skating at
Prince's all the afternoon," she explained. "I wondered if you would
come there by any chance. You must promise to go with me one day. It is
really rather fun, and it gives one some exercise."

She was sitting in the place of honour. Mrs. Brenton and she were the
only ladies.

"Don't send us away," said Camilla, when coffee was brought in; "please
smoke, all of you. Agnes doesn't mind--do you, Agnes? and I love it."

As the liqueurs were being handed to him, Haverford's man addressed him
confidentially.

"Could I speak to you, sir?" he asked.

Mr. Haverford looked upwards; the request was unusual; then he just
nodded his head.

"All right, I'll come to you in a minute."

He waited a little while, and then, when the conversation was general,
and there was a movement from the dining-room, with a murmured excuse
to his two women guests, he left them.

Harper was waiting for him.

"What is the matter, Harper?" he asked impatiently enough.

"I'm sorry to bring you away, sir," said the man, "but there's a young
person that wants to see you, sir. I told her that you'd friends to
dinner, but she wouldn't be sent away. Says she must see you. She came
quite a hour ago. I put her in your study. She's come from Mrs.
Baynhurst, I think, sir," the man added. "I asked her to tell me what
she wanted, but she wouldn't do it. Insisted that she must speak to you
yourself, sir."

Rupert Haverford gave a few orders to the man about having certain
rooms lit up for Mrs. Brenton to see, and then went along the broad
passage to the room where he usually sat and smoked and worked.

The girl who awaited him was standing by the fire. She turned as the
door opened.

He had seen her once before, and recognized her as his mother's
secretary.

Naturally his thoughts flew at once to his mother.

"Is anything wrong?" he asked. "Have you news from Paris? Do you want
me?"

Caroline Graniger looked at him steadily.

She was a tall slip of a girl, with a thin, colourless face, and very
large, impressive eyes.

Her dress was shabby and meagre; she looked, indeed, as if she had
scarcely enough on for such a cold, raw night.

"I don't know whether I ought to have come to you, Mr. Haverford," she
said, "but I'm in great trouble, and as I've no one to whom I can go,
and I don't quite know what to do, I thought of you."

She spoke in a staccato kind of way. The voice was rather disagreeable
to Haverford.

"I shall be very glad to help you if I can," he said coldly; and then
he waited for her to say more.

"Mrs. Baynhurst has sent me away," the girl said; she spoke still in
that same sharp, stiff way. "A letter came from Paris this morning by a
midday post, but as I have been out all day I did not get it till late
this afternoon. I have brought it with me so that you can read it."

Mr. Haverford looked annoyed.

He objected strongly to interfere in anything which concerned his
mother.

"I am afraid it is not possible for me to go into this matter with
you," he said. "I have nothing whatever to do with Mrs. Baynhurst's
affairs."

The girl answered him sharply, authoritatively.

"Some one _must_ listen to me, and as you are her son, I consider it
your duty to do so."

At this he wheeled round.

This kind of tone was a new experience to him in these latter days,
when every one who approached him had a soft word on their lips, and a
subservient suggestion in their manner.

"I think you have made a mistake," he said, thoroughly annoyed now; "if
my mother has seen fit to dispense with your services she has, no
doubt, the very best reason for doing so. You must apply to her. As I
have just said, this is a matter in which I could not possibly
interfere at any time. And now----"

"And now," said Caroline Graniger, with a short laugh, "you want to go
back to your guests; to your dinner!" She shrugged her shoulders. "Then
go. I was a fool to come."

She left the fireplace and walked past him to the door, but before she
could get there Rupert Haverford made a move forward.

"Wait," he said. He had suddenly caught a glimpse of her face; it wore
an expression that was eloquent enough to him.

She paused, and stood biting her lip and blinking her eyes to keep back
her agitation. Young as she was, she suggested an element of strength.

"I have not very much time at my disposal," said Rupert quickly, "but
tell me exactly what has happened. If I can help you I will."

She did not answer him immediately. When she did, that sharp, almost
pert, tone had gone from her voice.

"I know quite well I have not given Mrs. Baynhurst satisfaction," she
said, "though I have tried my very best to fall in with her ways. But
she is not very easy. She does not make allowances. If it were only
that I should not complain...." She bit her lip again, "if I am not
good enough for her as a secretary she is quite right to get some one
else; but she ought to have prepared me, not dismiss me in this way. I
did not go to her of my own accord. She took me away from the school
where I have been living for so many years. I was given to understand
that she was my guardian, but I suppose that cannot be true, or she
would not write to me as she has written now," she broke off abruptly.

"What are my mother's orders?" asked Haverford very quietly.

"She says I am to go away at once, as she has no further use for me. In
her letter she writes that as she intends to remain in Paris for some
time, the house in Kensington is to be shut up immediately. In
fact"--the girl gave a shrug of her thin shoulders--"this is already
done. I find that some one has been good enough to pack my few things
in a box, and the only maid who remains informed me that she, too, had
heard from Mrs. Baynhurst, and that by her mistress's orders I was to
leave at once...."

She looked at Rupert very steadily, and there was something of contempt
in the expression of her dark eyes.

"Your mother is proverbially careless, Mr. Haverford," she said drily;
"she never troubles herself about those small things that are called
duties by other people, so I suppose it has not even dawned on her that
by cutting me adrift in this way she puts me in a very awkward
position. And yet I don't know why I should suppose her in ignorance of
this," Caroline Graniger added the next moment, "for our life together
has been so miserably uncomfortable that I dare say she is glad to have
such a good opportunity of getting rid of me. You see," she smiled
faintly, "I cannot possibly annoy her when she is so far away. She
knows, of course, that I should have not merely required, but demanded,
an explanation if she had dismissed me herself, but she hopes, no
doubt, that I shall accept the inevitable if she remains out of reach
for some time; or," with a shrug of her shoulders, "she may possibly
hope that some good chance, such as destitution, may take me out of her
way altogether. I have not a penny in the world," the girl said in that
same harsh, sharp way, "and no one to whom I can turn for advice or
help. Please understand that this is my only excuse for coming to you."

Then, before Mr. Haverford had time to speak, she went on eagerly--

"Above all things, I want to know something about myself. It is no new
thing for me to feel lonely. I have always been one by myself. Perhaps
I should have gone on accepting everything that came and asked no
questions if this had not happened, but to-night I feel so ... so lost,
so bewildered to know what to do: to understand...." She cleared her
throat and looked pleadingly at Rupert Haverford. "As you belong to
Mrs. Baynhurst, perhaps you can answer my questions, perhaps you can
tell me why she took me away from the school where I have lived ever
since I can remember, why I was told she had the right to take me away?"

Haverford had moved to the fireplace, and was standing there looking at
her with contracted brows.

He listened with a sense of the greatest discomfort, and even
uneasiness.

"Believe me," he said when he spoke, "if I could answer those questions
I would do so most gladly, but I am an absolute stranger to all that
passes in my mother's life. I know you were her secretary, but she has
had a number of secretaries, and in this, as in other things, she acts
for herself absolutely. She has never spoken to me about you." Here he
paused. "If it is true that she called herself your guardian, this is a
matter about which I know nothing. I am sorry," he finished abruptly.
"Sit down," he said all at once, "you must be tired."

She had turned very white, and she sat down in the chair. For an
instant her eyes closed, and in that spell of silence he saw how young
she was, scarcely more than a child.

He was accustomed by this time to come in contact with all sorts of
trouble, with the sordid misery of the very poor, the hopeless,
pathetic endurance of those who have to keep a brave front to the world
whilst they are literally starving. Sorrow was a well-worn study, and
there was no mistake about the story written on that young, white face.

She opened her eyes almost directly.

"I--I beg that you will not let me detain you," she said in that sharp,
proud way; then more proudly still she added, "I am sorry now that I
came."

"On the contrary," said Rupert Haverford, "I am glad that you came. You
did quite rightly. Though I have made it a principle never to mix in my
mother's affairs, this appears to me to be a matter which requires
investigation. As you have just said yourself, she acts with no
conventional basis, doubtless she does not in the least grasp the
meaning of your real position. You must permit me to charge myself with
the care of you till we have communicated with Mrs. Baynhurst."

The girl did not answer him immediately; the gaze of her dark eyes had
gone beyond him and was resting on the blaze of the fire.

"I don't want to be a trouble to anybody," she said, "I am really very
independent, and very strong. I would not have come to you to-night,"
she added, "if I had been able to go to the school where I lived for so
many years; but this is lost to me now. That is where I have been
to-day. The black fog choked me, and as I knew I was not wanted, that
there was nothing for me to do, I determined to have a little holiday.
I borrowed a few shillings from the parlourmaid, and I went down into
the country. There was no fog there. It was cold, but it was fresh and
beautiful. I walked ever so far. It was silly, but I lost my way. I did
not expect to be very warmly welcomed, for I believe I was kept out of
charity for a great number of years, but I thought perhaps _somebody_
might be glad to see me. However, when I got to the old familiar house
it was empty. There was a board saying that it was to let. It looked so
desolate!..." She sighed faintly. "It took me a long time to get back
to Kensington, and when I did arrive it was to find my box packed in
the hall, and nothing before me but the doorstep."

"Come nearer the fire," said Rupert "I am going to send you in some
dinner. I really must leave you for a little while, but I will come
back again. Won't you make yourself comfortable? You had better take
off your coat and hat...."

She got up at once and he helped her to remove the coat. She was
painfully thin. When her hat was off he saw that she had masses of dark
hair. But he scarcely realized what her appearance was, her story had
surprised and troubled him sharply. He pushed a cosy chair near the
fire, and gave her some papers to look at, and then hurried away.

His guests were scattered about the house.

On his way to join them Mr. Haverford paused to give Harper orders to
take in some food at once to Miss Graniger.

"See that she has everything that she wants," he said.

By his tone the manservant understood that the girl who had come so
unexpectedly was to be treated with the utmost courtesy.

This done, Haverford made his way up the stairs.

Mrs. Brenton was waiting for him almost impatiently.

"I shall come here every day whilst I am in town," she declared, "and
even then I am sure I shall always find something fresh to admire! I
congratulate you, Mr. Haverford; you have a beautiful home!"

"My house is beautiful," he corrected; "I sometimes feel I have no
home. All my tastes are for small and simple things. This is so large,
so much too splendid for me. It always feel so empty...."

"Oh! but you are going to change all that," Agnes Brenton said with a
little laugh.

He took her to look at the portrait of Matthew Woolgar, the work of one
of the greatest of modern painters, a _chef d'oeuvre_ in its way.

"It's a living portrait," Haverford said. "Just fancy, Mrs. Brenton, I
knew that man all my life, and I don't think he ever said a kind word
to me. There was not the slightest sign of any sort to let me feel that
he troubled himself about me one way or other." He was speaking with an
effort, for all the time his thoughts were busy with the girl whom he
had left in the study below. Naturally it was not a great astonishment
to him to hear that his mother should be careless and indifferent to
the welfare of others. The woman who could turn her back as she had
done on her own little child, could not be blessed with too much
sympathy or womanly thought; still, if this girl's story was true--and
he saw no reason to doubt it--his mother was now guilty of a definitely
cruel act, for which he failed in this moment to find any possible
explanation.

"Have you a portrait of your father?" Mrs. Brenton asked, after a
little while, as they wandered round.

"Yes, but not here," answered Rupert Haverford. "I have a few old
photographs, but those are in my bedroom, and there is a sketch of him
in water-colours in my study--that is a room downstairs," he added.

"May I see that room?" Mrs. Brenton asked.

He paused imperceptibly, and then he said in his frank way--

"I will show it to you another time. I have some one in it now."

Then all at once there flashed across him a suggestion that here was a
woman who could possibly help him out of the difficulty of the moment.

That Caroline Graniger should remain in his house was, of course,
impossible; but it was equally impossible that this young creature
could be turned outside to find some lodging for herself at this late
hour of the night. He knew Mrs. Brenton to be a practical woman, a
woman of resource, and this was essentially a matter for a woman to
deal with.

Briefly he explained to her that his mother's secretary had come to him
in trouble.

"By some curious mistake," he said, "the house has been shut up, and,
as far as I can understand, she is unable to sleep there to-night. The
question is, Where can she go? Apparently, from what she tells me, my
mother intends staying in Paris for some time. I have no news from her
of any sort, so I know nothing of her plans; but the girl has come to
me for advice, and I am not sure what to do with her. I have not a
single woman in my household. My cook is a man, and Harper has only men
under him. I suppose she had better go to an hotel."

"Oh, poor girl!" said Mrs. Brenton quickly; "she must be very much
upset" She paused an instant, and then said briskly, "The best thing
she can do is to come back with me. Dick is not coming up for a day or
two, and there is a bed in his dressing-room. We never go to an hotel,"
she explained, "we have always gone to these rooms. Practically we keep
them on during the winter. They have several advantages, the greatest
being in my eyes the fact that I am really almost next door to Camilla.
Suppose I go and speak to this young lady. What is her name?"

"Graniger," Rupert Haverford said; "but really, Mrs. Brenton," he
protested, "I hardly like to bother you to such an extent. I am almost
sorry I mentioned this. No doubt if we leave the matter to Harper he
will arrange something. You know, according to Mrs. Lancing, he is the
most marvellous man in the world."

"Oh! but this is not a case for Harper," objected Mrs. Brenton
immediately. She felt a woman's sympathy for the probably well-bred
young woman who had been so roughly treated.

"If you will tell me how I shall find my way to your study, I will go
to her at once and fix up things."

She was gone almost directly, pausing only on her way to admire the
almost priceless tapestry which lined the walls of the passage which
led to the staircase.

Harper was in the study, arranging a dainty little dinner table, and
Caroline Graniger was sitting in the chair, looking thoroughly tired
out. She turned, and then rose quickly as Mrs. Brenton advanced with
outstretched hand.

"How do you do, Miss Graniger?" said Agnes Brenton. "May I come in and
chat with you a little while? Mr. Haverford is 'on duty,' you know. I
must introduce myself," she added, as they were alone. "I am Mrs.
Brenton, a friend of Mr. Haverford's."

This kindly, warm greeting startled Caroline. It was something so new,
she hardly knew how to respond to it. She took Mrs. Brenton's hand, but
she said nothing, and the other woman was very sorry for her.

"Poor child," she thought, "she looks scared and half starved. Why, she
cannot be more than seventeen or eighteen. Fancy sending a child like
that out of the house at this time of night. It is monstrous!"

Her easy bearing made the situation almost natural.

"Now you must eat some dinner," she said, "and I will sit here, if you
will let me. Mr. Haverford has been telling me that you are alone by
yourself just now," Mrs. Brenton chattered on, "and as you don't seem
to know where to go, I have suggested that you should come home with
me, at any rate for to-night. There is a small bed in a room close to
mine. It is clean and comfortable, and that is about all that can be
said of it."

"You are very kind," said Caroline Graniger; she spoke shyly,
nervously; in the presence of this womanly sympathy she lost her
self-reliance a little; she almost felt inclined to cry. Only a long
time ago she had taught herself the futility of tears.

"I can't eat anything," she said rather abruptly the next moment; "it
is a pity to give so much trouble, for I am not a bit hungry."

"Oh! that is because you are over-tired," said Agnes Brenton. "I should
have some soup and a little fish. You won't sleep if you don't eat
something."

The girl sat down in the chair that was put for her, and as the soup
was put before her she ate it obediently.

Harper had gone, but one of his subordinates waited upon her with great
importance. Mrs. Brenton talked on pleasantly and brightly, and her
thoughts were busy.

"She looks awfully thin," she said to herself; "if she had a little
more flesh on her bones she would be rather pretty. As it is, she is
decidedly interesting. Poor little soul! She makes my heart ache, and
she is only a type after all, one of thousands who have to go out and
fight the world when they have only just left their cradle, as it were.
I should imagine she has been having a pretty rough time with Mrs.
Baynhurst. A genius is a delightful thing in its way, but not a very
comfortable thing to live with."

"Now when you have had some sweets," Mrs. Brenton announced, "I am
going to get Harper to put you in a cab, and you shall go to my rooms.
I will give you a little note to take with you." She sat down at
Haverford's writing-table and scribbled a few words, explaining that
Miss Graniger was her guest, and desiring that the dressing-room should
be made ready for her.

"Please light a fire," she wrote at the end.

"When you go in, ask for my maid, and give that to her," she said,
"then you will find everything all right." And then Mrs. Brenton stood
up and looked about her.

"This is Mr. Haverford's favourite room, I am sure," she said, "it
looks so cosy, and that must be his father." She advanced and looked up
at a portrait on the wall. "Yes, I can see a strong likeness to him,
can't you?"

"I think he is very like his mother," Caroline Graniger said, "only,"
she added, "his is a much better face. He ought to have been the
woman...."

"Oh! do you think so? I think him such a splendid man," said Mrs.
Brenton warmly, "there is not the slightest trace of effeminacy in him."

"I did not mean that," said the girl. "I mean that his mother has no
right to be a woman. Do you know her?" the girl asked abruptly.

Mrs. Brenton shook her head.

"No, I don't know her personally, but of course I know of her. As
Octavia Haverford she made a great name for herself."

"She may be a wonderful woman," said Caroline Graniger, "but she is a
very cruel one!"

"Well now," said Mrs. Brenton, "I think you had better get on your hat
and coat. I should go straight to bed. You look so tired. Ask my maid
to give you anything you want. I won't disturb you when I come home, as
you may be asleep, and I am sure to be a little late. We will have a
chat in the morning."

Harper was waiting in the passage outside, and to his care Mrs. Brenton
confided Miss Graniger.

"You are not afraid to go alone, are you?" she asked, and Caroline
Graniger only smiled as they shook hands.

"I am not afraid," she said; then she tried to say some words of
gratitude, but Agnes Brenton would not listen.

"Please don't thank me.... I am only too glad that I am able to be of
some use."

Camilla floated across one of the big rooms when Mrs. Brenton
reappeared upstairs.

"Where _have_ you been?" she asked half petulantly, as she slipped her
hand through Mrs. Brenton's arm. "Haven't you finished admiring yet? It
is all very beautiful and wonderful, and everything has cost a mint of
money, of course ... but oh! isn't it dull?... Agnes, I am ever so
tired!... All this sense of money is so oppressive. Suppose we go home."

But at this moment one of the men sat at the piano, and began to play
softly. Camilla looked round, and her eyes lit up.

"Sing something, Mr. Amherst," she commanded; and then she changed
this, "No, play a waltz." She slipped her hand from Agnes Brenton's
arm. "This will make a heavenly ballroom," she said. She paused,
looking about her, tapping the floor with her foot. Then she gathered
her white skirts in her hand, and fluttered up to Rupert Haverford.

"Listen..." she said, "this is a waltz.... I am dying to dance.... Will
you dance with me?"

Rupert looked into the laughing, radiant face, into the large blue eyes
that could be so dreamy, so full of sadness at times, but which now had
a touch of fire in them ... a look to bewilder and fascinate.

"Alas," he said, "I cannot dance, Mrs. Lancing."

Camilla struck him lightly on the arm with her fan.

"Oh! you tiresome person! You do nothing! You won't play cards ... you
can't dance; you! ... What _can_ you do?" With one of her bird-like
movements she turned to a man standing beside him. "I know _you_ can
dance," she said, "come along."

They slipped away, and Rupert Haverford stood looking after her with
his heart beating uncomfortably quickly.

He was conscious of a rush of sharp, resentful anger, and of course he
was mortified. Camilla could sting very surely when she liked.

She was laughing and chatting away to the man whom she had annexed so
calmly; he was neither young nor handsome, but he made no sort of
incongruous figure. He danced as a matter of course, as a habit.

At all times dancing as a social custom was something that startled
Rupert Haverford; now, as he saw Camilla held ever so lightly in the
arms of another man, he felt choked, hurt, almost outraged.

His face was so stern, so angry that Camilla was satisfied.

"A pity our host is so puritanical," she said to her partner; "he is
looking at us now as if he would like to annihilate us both, and all
because we are dancing! I love shocking him! He is such a nice old
maid."

"A real good sort, though, all the same," answered the man, "one of the
best...."

"I begin to hate good people, they are so wet-blankety," Camilla said
impatiently. "Isn't this a splendid floor?" she said the next moment.
"I could waltz all night. Tell me when you have had enough."

Mrs. Brenton moved across to where Rupert was standing.

"I love to see Camilla dance," she said, "she is all grace, and she
dances with the heart of a child. Indeed, to me she always remains a
child.... Sometimes when I see her with her babies I cannot realize
that she is their mother, or that she has gone through more dark
experiences as Ned Lancing's wife than happily one woman in a hundred
is called upon to endure." Mrs. Brenton was silent a moment. Then she
turned. "I think I have made things comfortable for Miss Graniger," she
said; "she looked so tired, poor child. She is an interesting-looking
child. I wonder if she is purely English?"

Rupert Haverford did not answer. He had of course warmly thanked her,
but now he scarcely heard her words. He was watching Camilla intently.

Now and then she seemed to circle so closely to him he could have
touched her floating draperies; then she was swept away from him
swiftly--far, far away. Her small white feet appeared scarcely to touch
the ground; to his jealous fancy she leaned too intimately on the arm
that embraced her.

Her blue eyes mocked him at one moment, and pleaded the next.

Sometimes she ceased laughing, and then her lips would take the pensive
expression that was so pathetic, and which moved him so.

When the music ceased, Camilla came slowly towards them--she was
panting a little.

"You must really give a ball, Mr. Haverford," she said; then,
restlessly, "Is it time to go, Agnes? I am sure it is. You look as
though you were longing to be in your little bi-bi."

They did not go immediately, however, but she kept all the men hovering
about her, and adroitly avoided being alone with Haverford for an
instant.

"Did I hear you make an assignation for to-morrow with that dear, dull
person?" she queried listlessly as Mrs. Brenton and she were swept
fleetly homewards in Haverford's electric carriage.

"Yes; he is coming to see me in the morning, or rather to see somebody
else." And then Mrs. Brenton explained further.

"I fancy his mother must be a cat," said Camilla, yawning; "they don't
seem to meet very often. I am sure I am not surprised, for he is a very
dreary person, you know, Agnes, my dear."

"Since when?" Mrs. Brenton spoke with some irritation. "I thought you
liked him so much?"

"Oh, I change my mind occasionally!" She yawned again. "The fact is, I
do like him sometimes, but then again I dislike him more often. You
see, he bores me, and life is much--much too short to be bored...."

Mrs. Brenton sat silent a moment; then she said--

"Camilla, I want to..."

"No," said Camilla, "don't! I know so exactly what you want to say. I
know it all by heart. He cares for me; he is _such_ a good man; it will
be such a _splendid_ thing for me! Don't you suppose I can hear
everybody saying this? Well, of course, it would be a splendid thing. I
am not denying that; but oh! Agnes, he depresses me so horribly. When
he talks to me I feel as though I were being prepared for confirmation,
and he has a way of sitting and looking at me that is positively
unbearable. If he only had a spice of the devil in him...."

"Like Sammy, I suppose!" said Agnes Brenton drily.

"Yes"--impatiently--"like Sammy or any other man who lives, and moves,
and is not always up in the clouds contemplating the road to Heaven. My
dear Agnes, there is no getting away from the fact that Rupert
Haverford is a bore, a distinct and definite bore!"

"Well," said Mrs. Brenton, "if that is your opinion of the man, I
should not bother about him so much."

"Now you are cross with me," said Camilla, "dear sweet old thing! Don't
you know I always speak out my thoughts with you? Oh, here we are at
your lodgings already! Look here, Agnes, you must let me help you with
this girl. Poor soul! she must feel pretty miserable, I expect. Why not
bring her in to luncheon to-morrow?"

Mrs. Brenton kissed the speaker.

"Why will you always try and make me believe you are what you are not?"
she asked, half lightly, half sadly.

"Silly Agnes," said Camilla, laughingly, "it is all your own fault; you
are so anxious to make me a saint, and all the time I am very much the
other thing. Good night, darling!"

Mrs. Lancing's maid was waiting for her mistress, and there were some
letters and a note from Sir Samuel Broxbourne.

Camilla opened the note first.

It was merely a reminder that she had promised to ride with him the
following morning if the weather was good.

Sir Samuel was, of course, lending Mrs. Lancing a horse.

"I am deadly tired, but I don't believe I shall sleep a wink, Dennis.
You had better give me some bromide," Camilla said, as she was made
ready for bed.

"If I could only be sure," she said to herself when the maid was gone;
"he _seems_ just the same, and yet now and then he looks at me in
rather an odd way." She caught her breath. "Sammy can be so hard! All
the world knows that."

She sat crouched up looking into the fire for a long time, then she
shrugged her shoulders.

"Well, if ever the worst were to happen, and he should turn nasty, I
have the money now." She got up, and stood looking into the fire once
again "Only if," she said slowly, "he will not be satisfied with money,
if he...."

She shivered, not once, but several times, and hurriedly taking up the
sleeping draught her maid had prepared, she swallowed it, and then got
into bed; where she lay staring at the shadows on the walls and ceiling
made by the dancing flames of the fire, till her eyes closed at last
unconsciously in the sleep she had commanded.



CHAPTER V


Another person lay in bed that night watching the fireglow light up the
room and make fantastic patterns and shadows on the walls.

Caroline had been thoroughly tired out when Mrs. Brenton's maid had
arranged everything and she had been left alone. But she was too tired
to sleep.

The strangeness of her surroundings, and the strangeness of her
position generally, filled her with a kind of excitement. She had not
very much in front of her of a pleasurable nature, and yet the morrow
had for her a certain glamour.

As the first sensation of alarm and indignation provoked naturally by
the treatment she had received, by the abruptness with which her life
of dependence had been ended, died away, Caroline became conscious that
there was an undoubted charm about her present situation. A day before,
the future (when she had thought about it) had stretched before her in
a grey, a monotonous, an almost desolate fashion. Now all things were
possible, and hope began almost immediately to shed a glow on her
thoughts.

It was an amazingly delightful sensation to feel that she owned no
master.

Indeed, she felt a little irritated now with herself that she should
have supported so much with such an unquestioning docility, or that
having given so much obedience she should never have tried to satisfy
herself why this should have been exacted.

At school, of course, it had been the outcome of rules, of a _régime_
which had existed ever since she could remember, but when the school
life had ended, and she had gone to Mrs. Baynhurst, there really had
been no occasion, so she told herself now, to have accepted the laws
laid down for her with the same old obedience.

"Only she really never gave me the chance to speak," the girl mused to
herself, "and then I was such a little idiot when I first met her that
she frightened me! I expect she will be furious because I went to Mr.
Haverford. Now that I have seen him and spoken with him, it is easy
enough to understand why his mother prefers to see him only on rare
occasions. He has a blunt, straightforward way about him which must be
an abomination to her. He was not too amiable to me. Still, I must do
him justice," Caroline admitted here readily; "he saw at once that I
had a sort of claim on him, and duty with him evidently counts for a
good deal."

She turned comfortably on the soft pillow.

It was her first experience of a really luxurious bed, for she had been
better housed and better fed at school than as a dependant in Mrs.
Baynhurst's household.

She ought really to have gone to sleep, but whenever she closed her
eyes some new thought of the morrow and of all the other morrows would
make them spring open again.

The events of the last few hours had been so new that they had left her
startled out of her usual quiet acquiescence. Mrs. Brenton's warm
sympathy seemed to Caroline a heaven-sent gift. She had never realized
the lack of this sympathy in her life till now, nor, in truth, all the
many other things that she had lacked--those trivial everyday things
which stock the lives of most young creatures. Her childish joys had
all been secondhand ones. She had never had holidays, never any
excitement; there had been no Christmas or birthday presents for her,
no books or work-baskets, lace collars or ribbons. As a matter of fact,
she did not even know on what date she had been born, and except for
her school friends, and the little children whom she had taught the
last two years, she had never been kissed. Yet for all this she had
been a happy child and a happy girl.

Her orphanhood had cast no blight upon her, and she had made pleasures
for herself out of her very unpromising surroundings, as most healthy
young creatures will do.

Perhaps her greatest trial since she had lived with Octavia Baynhurst
had been the fact that she had never once left London, and the call of
the country to her nature at times had been so pressing that she had
felt like a wild flower cribbed and confined in a world of bricks and
mortar.

There had not even been a green leaf on which she could look. Mrs.
Baynhurst did not care for flowers. Neither did she consider it
necessary that anybody required exercise or fresh air.

Caroline had been rather a plump girl when she had said "good-bye" to
her school, but she had wasted woefully in the last ten months. Though
she had called herself strong when she had been speaking to Rupert
Haverford, she possessed at this moment very little of her normal
physical strength, but she had the force of a powerful will (although
up to the present she had had scant opportunity of exercising this) and
great courage, and to this she added the blessed gift of a cheerful
spirit.

With the very smallest encouragement Caroline Graniger would be happy.
There was nothing lachrymose about her or subservient. She had gone to
Mrs. Baynhurst's primed with good intentions and eager to give of her
very best to the woman who had claimed her.

Her schoolmistress had evidently been relieved to pass on the
responsibility of Caroline to some other person, and, at the same time,
had been rather flattered that one of her pupils should have been
called upon to fill an important post with a person of such mental
eminence.

Reflecting now on the events of the day just gone, Caroline came to the
conclusion that she was rather glad there had been no opportunity of
speaking with her first guardian, the mistress of the school.

"She would have put me through a cross-examination, and then I should
have told her the truth, and then she would have been cross with me. I
wonder where she has gone to? I feel sorry I have not written all these
months. Perhaps she thinks me very ungrateful, for I firmly believe she
kept me for a long time without any money."

This brought her back to the thought of what lay in the immediate
future.

"I wish I knew a little more," she said restlessly to herself, "I am
really very ignorant. No wonder that Mrs. Baynhurst found me useless!
How she would sneer if she could know I have been trying to teach
myself a little all these months!... Having made up her mind to the
fact that I am a fool, she would strongly object to have to acknowledge
that she had made a mistake, and I am _not_ a fool," said Caroline to
herself, with half a sigh and half a smile.

Really the bed was very comfortable, and the room was so cosy and
pleasant. She would have liked the night to have lasted much, much
longer than its proper span of hours.

"No, I am not a fool," she determined firmly, "and I shall demonstrate
this by informing Mr. Haverford to-morrow that, whatever comes, I don't
intend to go back to his mother's house. If she _is_ my guardian, she
has proved that she is not fit for the post, and as she has practically
turned me out of doors, it is not likely that I shall go back and ask
for re-admittance. I should like to go to school again, but not here in
London, somewhere where I can breathe, where I can run if I feel I want
to. No doubt," she mused, half wearily, a little later, "Mr. Haverford
will have some suggestions to offer. I dare say he will want me to go
into one of his charity institutions. Perhaps he will send me to the
workhouse."

She laughed at this, and so, thinking and pondering, she grew drowsy by
degrees, and sleep came to her just as the day (a clear, bright frosty
day) began to creep into existence.

It had been arranged between Mrs. Brenton and Haverford that Caroline
Graniger should go to him early in the morning, but when her maid
brought the news that Caroline was still sleeping, Mrs. Brenton sent
him a telegram, asking him to call that afternoon instead.

It was nearly half-past nine before Caroline Graniger joined Mrs.
Brenton at breakfast. The girl was greatly upset.

"I never slept late in my life before," she said. "I am generally awake
about six, and I always get I up soon after I wake."

"You're like me, I expect," said Mrs. Brenton. "I never sleep very well
the first part of the night when I am in a strange place, and then, of
course, I am drowsy in the morning."

"I was so excited," said Caroline, "I could not go to sleep. It was so
strange and so delightful to be in such a nice room. I am not used to
luxury. I think I know now how the children feel on Christmas Eve, when
they hang up their stockings, or when they expect a birthday. I kept my
eye on the chimney, almost expecting Santa Claus to appear every other
moment."

She laughed as she warmed her hands by the fire.

"Perhaps he did come, after all," Agnes Brenton said, "and there is
something nice waiting for you to-day."

Caroline Graniger turned and looked at the speaker.

"You have already filled my stocking," she said, her thin face full of
colour. Mrs. Brenton noticed that her eyes were not black, but dark,
very dark blue. "It was your goodness to me last night that made
everything so wonderful, so delightful. I never knew that any one could
be so kind as you are. I have a much better opinion of the world this
morning...."

"Let us talk about yourself," said Mrs. Brenton, as she poured out the
coffee. "Of course, you are not going back to Mrs. Baynhurst?"

"No," said Caroline; she was silent a moment, and then she said "No" a
second time. "But," she added, "I don't quite know what I _am_ going to
do." She stirred her coffee, and coloured. When she had that colour in
her face she looked much younger, and rather attractive. "I have been
wondering if you would advise me," she said, with some hesitation. "I
don't think I have the right to ask you, especially as you are so
wonderfully kind to me; but people who are kind always have to pay some
penalty. I found out that much when I was a very tiny child."

"How old are you?" asked Mrs. Brenton.

Caroline knitted her brows.

"I believe I am about nineteen. But I don't really know. I only go by
what Miss Beamish told me. That is the woman who kept the school where
I lived for such a long time," she explained; "and she always said that
I was about four when I first went to her."

"Four years old," said Agnes Brenton quickly. She felt a sharp pang of
pity for that little forlorn four-year-old child of the past. "That was
starting life early with a vengeance."

"Yes," said Caroline Graniger, "but we all have to begin some time or
another, and as, apparently, there was no one to object, I began at
four." She spoke quite cheerfully. Then she smiled. "Miss Beamish has
often told me that I was a very difficult child. They could not get me
to eat anything. She declares that very often she had to sit up half
the night and nurse me because I would not go to sleep in a bed." The
smile rippled into laughter. "I have often tried to imagine Miss
Beamish nursing me," she said. "If you knew her you would realize how
funny it sounds."

"Funny!" said Agnes Brenton to herself.

She busied herself attending to the material comfort of her guest for a
minute or two. Then she said--

"Of course I will advise you, Miss Graniger, and I shall be only too
glad to help you if I can. Just tell me what you think you could do.
What would you like to do?" Mrs. Brenton asked, going straight to the
point in her practical way.

"It is difficult," said Caroline Graniger, "for I don't quite know what
I can do. I have no accomplishments. I adore music, but I was never
taught a note. Music was an extra, and I was a charity girl. I can read
and write, and do a little arithmetic; I can sew, and I can dig," she
finished with another smile. "I am really quite a good gardener," she
said. "Whatever I do, I want, if possible, to be somewhere where there
is a garden, or at any rate where I can see grass and some trees. The
oppression of bricks and mortar is a great sufferance to me! Mrs.
Baynhurst's house is built in by other houses; the rooms are so dreary.
There is no air, and the windows are never open, and I never got out. I
used to drive with her occasionally, but I never walked."

Agnes Brenton fretted her brows into a slight frown.

"Do you like children?" she asked, after a little pause.

The thin, sallow face lit up.

"Children, yes, I love children. I was a pupil-teacher two years before
I left school. There were some quite tiny tots with Miss Beamish. She
had a large Indian connection, and also children from all parts of the
world. When I left there were two dear little souls there from
Barbados. I cried at leaving them," she sighed, "and I don't often
cry," she said.

Mrs. Brenton went on eating her breakfast, and Caroline Graniger
relapsed into silence for a moment. Then, with a rush of colour to her
cheeks, she said--

"But please don't let me bother you in any way, Mrs. Brenton. You have
been already much too good. I dare say Mr. Haverford will arrange
something for me."

Agnes Brenton was about to answer this with some kindly words when they
were startled by a sharp rap with a stick on the door, and then the
door was opened and Camilla presented herself.

She was in a riding-habit, and looked slim and boyish and radiant, and
extraordinarily pretty and young.

"Oh, you lazy Agnes," she said, "not finished breakfast yet! Look at
the time--nearly ten minutes past ten, and I have been out since
half-past eight." She bent to kiss Mrs. Brenton, and then gave Caroline
a smile and a little nod, as Agnes Brenton hurriedly introduced them.

"Give me something to eat, for the Lord's sake! I am positively
famished," she declared. She threw off her riding-gloves and tossed
them, with her stick and her hat, on to the couch.

"Didn't you have anything before you went out?" asked Mrs. Brenton.

"Good heavens, no!" said Camilla.

She stood in front of the looking-glass and ruffled her hair becomingly.

"Sammy sent word at eight o'clock that he was coming at half-past
eight. He made Dennis wake me up. There was no time for anything except
a bath, and how I tumbled into these things _I_ don't know."

She sat down opposite to Caroline, and began to eat with real enjoyment.

"I am rather glad you are breakfasting late; it is a bit of luck for
me. You have no idea how lovely it was in the Park, Agnes," she said.
"There was not a scrap of fog. Thank goodness for that! Those two dear
chickies of mine will be able to get out to-day. And oh! Agnes, another
blow! Nurse came to me this morning, just as I was going out, with a
doleful story about her father, or her mother, or somebody being
dreadfully ill, and asking me if she might go and nurse the sick
person. Isn't it too tiresome? She had only been with me a few months,
but really she seemed quite a likely person. Those poor children! They
do get such chopping and changing. Oh, by the way!" said Camilla, "I
think I had better send the horse away; I can go home in a hansom. May
I ring the bell?"

She half rose from the table, but Caroline Graniger was quicker.

"May I take your message?" she asked. She spoke shyly. This young and
very pretty woman was a new experience to her. She felt a little out of
the atmosphere, and imagining swiftly that Mrs. Brenton and Mrs.
Lancing might have something to say to one another, she seized the
chance of leaving them together.

"Oh, thank you!" said Camilla; "you are very kind. Just say to the
groom that Mrs. Lancing will not ride any more to-day.--Poor little
soul," said Camilla, sympathetically as the door closed, "how miserably
thin she is; she looks as if she had not had enough to eat, and you are
in your proper quarter, Agnes, playing the part of the good Samaritan.
Well, now you must help _me_, my dear, because nurse is in earnest. I
quite expect to find that she has gone when I get back. Why on earth do
servants have parents and relations? I believe they exist on purpose to
have the most mysterious diseases at the most inconvenient moments. Did
you ever know a cook whose mother had not a bad leg, whatever that may
be? Oh, how I hate housekeeping! I feel half inclined to live in an
hotel."

"You ought to take the children into the country," said Mrs. Brenton in
her quiet way.

Camilla ate a very good breakfast, and then looked up at her friend
with a quizzical expression.

"Well, Agnes," she said, and paused.

Mrs. Brenton just smiled.

"Well, Camilla?" she answered.

Mrs. Lancing laughed as she spread some butter on some toast.

"When you look straight down your nose in that fashion it means the
wind is in a bad quarter for somebody, and I fancy that somebody is me
just now."

Agnes Brenton laughed, but only slightly, and, getting up, moved to the
fireplace.

"My dear child," she said, "I wish you would not do these sort of
things."

"What sort of things?" asked Camilla.

Mrs. Brenton took up the poker and stirred the fire vigorously.

"You know quite well what I mean," she said a little impatiently, "and
I confess I don't understand you, Camilla. I thought you really
disliked Sammy Broxbourne. You used to be always running him down, I
remember."

"Oh! it's Sammy you object to, is it?" said Camilla. "My dear, dear
soul, I do assure you there wasn't a creature about this morning! That
is why I enjoyed the ride. We flew through the Park as if we had been a
couple of birds."

"You have such a heap of people that you can go about with," said Mrs.
Brenton, half impatiently; "why choose the one man that is likely to do
you harm?"

"Oh, you know that is all rubbish, Agnes!" Mrs. Lancing said a little
impatiently in her turn. "Sammy is not a hero, but he is no worse than
any other man; and then we are connected, you know, and that goes a
long way."

"He is a second cousin of your late husband's," said Mrs. Brenton;
"that is no kind of relationship. However," she added, "I suppose you
know your own business best, and I have no right to interfere as long
as you are happy, my dear child. Happiness is the one great thing,
after all."

Camilla finished the toast, and then got up.

She sighed a quick, impatient sigh.

"If I sit here I shall eat all there is on the table, and I have driven
that girl away," she said; "she looks rather nice, Agnes. What is she
going to do?"

"I was just talking things over with her," said Mrs. Brenton, "though I
suppose really this is a matter for Mr. Haverford to settle. But she
interests me, and I feel so sorry for her. She will not go back to his
mother, that is very sure. I think she will try and get a place as
nursery governess or something of that sort. She seems devoted to
children."

"Perhaps she would do for me," said Camilla in her impulsive way.

Mrs. Brenton only smiled.

"We must go into matters a little bit more," she said, "before we can
come to any conclusion."

"Well, you are going to bring her to lunch, aren't you?"

At this moment a maid came in and handed a telegram to Mrs. Brenton.

It was from Rupert Haverford, announcing that he would be with her
directly, as in the afternoon he was unfortunately engaged.

Camilla picked up her hat and gloves in a great hurry.

"Oh, let me get away!" she said. "I don't think I will bother to have a
cab, it is such a short distance, and I can walk that far. Don't forget
lunch, one-thirty."

As she passed out, Camilla met Caroline Graniger on the stairs.

"Mrs. Brenton is going to bring you to lunch with me to-day," she said.
"I hear you like children, I am sure you will like mine. They are two
such sweethearts."

She nodded brightly, and ran down the staircase.

Mrs. Brenton handed Haverford's telegram to Caroline when the girl
joined her.

"Perhaps it is as well that he should come over early," she said, "then
we can have the rest of the day to ourselves." They chatted a little
more on the subject of Caroline's future. Mrs. Brenton wanted the girl
to have some definite scheme to propose to Haverford when he came.
While they talked she apprised Caroline's different points, and found
many things that she liked.

Caroline spoke very well. It was not the pretty, careless method of
speech which Camilla affected. She seemed to be chary of her words, as
a rule. When "no" sufficed, she said "no," and nothing more. She walked
well, and her manners were those of a lady.

"Such a girl," said Agnes Brenton to herself, "must have patience in
her bones. Not patience by nature, but by education. I am not at all
sure that she would not be the very person for Camilla's children. They
want a refined influence about them; education and all the rest can
wait a year or two; but Betty ought not to be so constantly with
uncultivated people. Camilla hardly seems to realize that the child is
no longer a baby."

When Haverford arrived, Mrs. Brenton left Miss Graniger and he together.

"I telegraphed to my mother first thing this morning," said Rupert
Haverford, breaking a slightly awkward pause as the door closed behind
Mrs. Brenton. "I hope to have some communication from her during the
day."

"Yes," said Caroline Graniger. She had fallen back into her stiff
attitude of the night before.

"I have asked her for an explanation. Meanwhile," Rupert added, "I want
to arrange something for you. Mrs. Brenton has been extremely kind, but
I feel sure you will not like to encroach on that kindness." He put
some bank-notes on the table. "I have brought you twenty pounds," he
said; "with that I dare say you can manage for a little while, and I
know of a place where you can stop till we have heard satisfactorily
from my mother."

"I don't think it matters very much what your mother writes," Caroline
Graniger said shortly; "she may have explanations to give you, and I
shall certainly require such explanations later, but I have determined
to cut myself adrift from Mrs. Baynhurst for good and all." She paused
an instant, and then, colouring vividly, she said, "I--I will borrow
five pounds, Mr. Haverford, it will be quite enough, and I shall be
very glad to stay at this place you speak of till I get some kind of
work."

"I advise you to take the twenty pounds," said Haverford a little
drily, "you may want to buy things. You can always repay me at some
future date. This is the address of the lady who will be very glad to
give you house room for a little while. She is a woman who does a great
deal of work for me, and, as she is in contact with all kinds and
conditions of people, she may be able to find you employment."

There was another pause, and then he addressed her rather abruptly.

"Has my mother never told you anything about yourself at all?"

She shook her head.

"And you have no recollection beyond the school where you lived?"

Again she shook her head, and then hurriedly she said--

"Sometimes a vague memory comes to me. If I shut my eyes I can imagine
myself being carried in some one's arms, hearing a voice singing to me,
and the sound of the sea in the near distance. It is none of it very
clear, but I have always imagined that I must have been on board a ship
at some time when I was a tiny child, because I recollect seeing the
dark sky with stars in it, and then some ropes and a tall, straight
piece of wood like a tree, that I know now must have been a mast. I am
rather fond of that old memory," Caroline Graniger said. She spoke
dreamily, as if to herself.

He looked at her sharply, and he pitied her.

She must have had a very unlovely existence in his mother's house.

Mrs. Brenton came back at that moment, and Haverford told her what he
had arranged.

"Well, I dare say that will be all right, but I cannot part with Miss
Graniger till to-morrow, or perhaps a day or so later," said Mrs.
Brenton in her brisk, pleasant manner. "As a matter of fact, I have
some ideas of my own which I should like to discuss with her. You won't
mind staying with me a little while longer, will you?" she said,
turning with a smile to Caroline. The girl did not answer; she bit her
lip sharply.

The tears that would never come for harshness or even for sorrow rushed
to her eyes now. She turned away and stood looking out of the window
while Mrs. Brenton chatted on lightly to Mr. Haverford, and in a few
minutes he took his leave.

"Now I must write some letters," Agnes Brenton said briskly. "My dear,
do ring that bell, and we will have that table cleared, and after that
we must go out, it is a shame to lose this bright morning. Just make
yourself cosy by the fire, and look at these papers. Camilla sent them.
She buys every newspaper going, and when she reads them is a mystery."

Caroline took the papers, but they lay in her lap untouched.

She sat looking at the roofs of the houses opposite. They were powdered
with the white of a hoar frost, and the red, red sun shone from behind
and made the frost a network of jewels.

A slight mist hung in the air like a veil. The sense of unreality, the
delightful excitement that had held Caroline as in a spell throughout
the night had sway with her again now; nothing was very tangible or
distinct. Rupert Haverford had brought her spirit to earth and hard
facts for a few moments, but as he had left the house the range of
resentful feeling he had roused had gone with him. She even passed away
from the vexation of having to be temporarily obliged to him. As she
rested back in the comfortable chair, looking at the glory of the
winter sky, she felt that she and happiness had really met for the
first time.

"There!" exclaimed Mrs. Brenton, "my letter to Dick is written. A very
long time ago I spoiled my husband," she said, looking back over her
shoulder; "whenever we were apart I promised to write to him every day,
and now he holds me to this bargain. I really do owe him a letter this
morning, however," said Agnes Brenton, "for I came away in such a hurry
with her. Mrs. Lancing insisted on bringing me up to town, and I had
scarcely time to explain things, or arrange my household affairs.
Happily, Dick is an old hand at housekeeping...." She broke off, and
turned again in her chair.

From the staircase beyond there came all at once the sound of an
important approach; there was a great stamping of feet, accompanied by
observations in clear, high-pitched little voices.

"Camilla's children!" said Mrs. Brenton.

As she put down her pen and rose the door was opened very widely, and
two small persons entered hand-in-hand.

Caroline had never seen two prettier little mortals, or two so daintily
attired.

They flung themselves on Mrs. Brenton, and hugged her with enthusiasm.

"Good morning, Auntie Brenny," said Betty, the eldest, and she settled
her ruffled plumage as she spoke. "How is you this morning, darling?
Aren't you very pleased to see us? We comed because we have brought you
this letter from mother, and because we promised to come." She advanced
to Caroline and took her little sister with her. "Good morning," she
said; "how d-ye-do? Say 'Good morning', Baby."

Baby put out a tiny hand in a white woollen glove with fingers that
were much too large.

"Dormez bien!" she said, with an angelic smile and a doubtful accent.

She cuddled up to Caroline to be kissed, and then, detaching herself
from her sister, went and seated herself at the table, while Betty
administered correction.

"'Dormez bien' is not 'good morning,' Baby; it's 'good night,'" she
said; then she looked at Caroline and shrugged her shoulders. "Baby
does say such extra-ninary things," she observed.

"I want somefing to eat," said Baby in a very determined voice.

Dennis, the maid who was in charge of the children, and was speaking to
Mrs. Brenton, advanced quickly.

"Oh no, Miss Baby, dear, you _can't_ want anything to eat, I am sure!
Please ma'am," appealing to Mrs. Brenton, "don't give her anything."

But Miss Baby had her own views on this subject.

"I want some 'oney and some 'am," she said, tearing off her pretty grey
fur cap and removing her gloves. "Nasty Dennis, go away! I'm awful
'ungry!"

Betty was making great friends with Caroline.

"I like you," she said candidly; "why have I never met you before? What
is your name?" Then she whispered, "I'm going to have a birthday in
March; but don't tell Baby, she'll want it too, and she does fuss so
when she wants things. How old are you?" Caroline knelt down the better
to study the child's brilliantly lovely little face.

Betty Lancing at six had all the charm and distinction of her mother.
Already she commanded homage.

"I was only born yesterday," Caroline answered the child, and her voice
was not quite steady.

"Oh!" said Betty. She stared at Caroline thoughtfully. "You look very
big for a baby," she said, "I've seen littler babies than you. Mrs.
Bates, that's the lady that cleans our kitchen sometimes, has a tiny,
tiddy little baby, and it is three months--that's older than you, a
lot. Your eyes are wet," said Betty pointedly; "are you crying? What
for? Has any one smacked you?"

Fortunately at this moment Betty was awakened to a sense of her
responsibilities, for she turned and saw her sister regaling herself at
the table.

"Baby!" she exclaimed. She darted forward and vigorously shook the
shoulder of the small person devouring bread and honey.

"Oh! you greedy greed. And you had such a lot of breakfast! I never
knowed such a child in all my life," commented Betty severely; then,
shrugging her shoulders, she turned to Mrs. Brenton. "I can't do
nothing with her!" she said.

This remark provoked a scene in which Baby amply demonstrated that
honey was excellent for strengthening the vocal cords.

Finally she consented to sit on Caroline's knee whilst her hands and
little person generally were made clean, and then--Betty having eaten
several biscuits meanwhile--the time for halting was declared at an end.

"If we don't go now we shall get no walk; and Miss Betty, please
promise to hold my hand," pleaded Dennis the maid. "She do play such
pranks, ma'am, she makes my heart fair jump, that she do."

But Betty and Baby were hanging on to Caroline.

"We want you to come out with us," was their cry; and Betty added
magniloquently, "We'll be most awful good if you'll come too."

Mrs. Brenton smiled into Caroline's eyes.

"Put on your things and have a good run with them," she said.

A few moments later three persons attempted to go down a very narrow
staircase abreast. It was a difficult occupation, and Caroline in the
centre was quite wedged in. Useless was the voice of remonstrance from
Dennis in the background, Betty and Baby refused to be separated from
their new companion.

"It must be managed some way," said Caroline, who had a resourceful
mind; and, picking up both small grey-coated figures, she carried them
down the stairs under her arms like parcels.

The result was most satisfactory.

"Do it again," said Baby delightedly. But Betty came to the rescue.

"No, no, Baby," she said, "it's cruel; can't you hear her blowing? And
just look how red she is!"

Outside in the street, Betty scanned Caroline closely and critically.

"Nurse has a jacket like that, but it's new, and she wears awful smart
gloves. She's a lot smarter than you...."

Dennis intervened piteously.

"Miss Betty ... my dear!"

But Caroline only laughed, and off they started down the street--a
little grey fairy hooked on to either arm--so quickly that Dennis had
almost to run to keep up with them.

Mrs. Brenton stood at the window and watched them with a smile till
they were out of sight, then sat down to her writing again.

"It might be the very thing both for the girl and the children," she
mused.

Then she opened the little note Betty had brought her from her mother.

Camilla wrote in a hurry.

"Such a fearful bore!... I have just had a telegram from Violet
Lancing, inviting herself to luncheon.... I know what this means! the
old story of prying and questioning, all done under a pretence of love
for 'poor Ned's children.' Don't, for Heaven's sake, fail to come. I
shall feel a little better if you are with me. Oh, how tired I am of
being overlooked by these Lancing people! Really, I do think I shall
have to do something that will make me free of this worry, at all
events. Don't the children look sweet in their new coats?

"Ever yours,
    "Camilla."

"P.S.--Of course nurse has gone. Honestly, I should like to try this
girl who is with you. She looks capable, and if she has had such a bad
time with that Baynhurst woman, I dare say she would manage to rub
along here. If you don't think she will do, then, darling, _do_ try and
find some one else."

Another postscript:

"I have half a mind to tell Violet that Miss Graniger is the
children's new governess; she is sure to pull a long face if she hears
that they are without a nurse. And it would not be _quite_ untrue. What
do you think?"



CHAPTER VI


Out in the Park Caroline found a land of veritable enchantment. The red
sun had mounted higher into a clear, cloudless sky, and it endowed the
earth with a ruddy suggestion of warmth, but it was merely a
suggestion; the keen cold of the air held its own, and the grey bloom
of the hoar-frost lay like a veil on the grass.

Dennis was left far behind. She had a pinched look, and her nose was
red.

"Keep on the path, please, Miss Betty," she feebly protested every now
and then.

But her voice was thin and weak; in any case Betty had no ears for her.

She danced, and she sang, and she curveted gracefully on the
frost-covered grass.

"Isn't it lovely? I want to roll in it!" she declared, as she paused at
last and panted for breath.

Baby looked up at Caroline with half-shut eyes.

"I want a bun," she said plaintively.

"A bun!" cried Caroline.... "What _is_ a bun?"

Both children exclaimed at this, and then proceeded to volunteer
explanations.

"You see," Betty said to Baby, and she stooped her flower-like face
confidentially to the smaller one, "she can't know as much as me and
you, 'cause she was only borned yesterday, and I don't suppose she's
ever eated a bun."

"Oh!" said Baby, looking at Caroline meditatively.

She had such an adorable air, standing with her little head on one
side, and her eyes black as sloes, full of mysterious thought, that
Caroline was obliged to hug her.

After that they had races, and Dennis watched them with pleasure and
some envy as she stood shivering in the cold wind.

"You're the proper sort to be with children, miss," she remarked to
Caroline, when at last they turned homewards. "Now I never do know what
to do with 'em, and Miss Betty she does ask such queer questions too."

Caroline returned from her walk flushed and dishevelled, but happy-eyed.

It was almost impossible to recognize in her the thin, white-faced,
rather defiant girl of the night before.

"What dear little loves!" she exclaimed, as she and Mrs. Brenton met.
She had accompanied the children back to their home, and was rather
late in making her appearance.

Another note had come from Camilla, in which Mrs. Brenton was urged to
be with Mrs. Lancing at least a quarter of an hour before lunch-time.

"Then we can have five minutes to ourselves," Camilla scribbled, "and I
shall feel fortified to meet all the catty things Violet means to say!"

Caroline rather drew back from the thought of accepting Mrs. Lancing's
invitation.

"She is really very, very kind," she said earnestly, "but still I don't
know that I ought to go to lunch."

Agnes Brenton answered this promptly.

"Of course, you must come with me. Camilla is the most hospitable
person in the world, and I know she will be very disappointed if you
don't go. She has taken a fancy to you."

Mrs. Brenton did not think it desirable to add more than this. She knew
Camilla so well.

It would be unkind to put false hopes into the girl's mind; in all
probability the suggestion Camilla had made about Miss Graniger would
have passed already from her thoughts.

So it was settled, and Caroline made her modest toilet. That is to say,
she arranged her hair carefully and put on her shabby hat and coat with
more consideration than she had ever worn them before.

When they reached Mrs. Lancing's small house, Camilla, who had
evidently been waiting for them, pounced on them both, and drew them
into the dining-room.

"Violet arrived at a quarter to one," she announced, "Isn't it like
her? I know she thought to have a good time alone with my
writing-table, but I was a little too sharp for her! I locked up
everything. She pretends she is very glad to meet you, Agnes. She has
got a cold," said Camilla, the next moment, "and looks more like a
poached egg than ever. By the way, you are going to have a wretched
lunch, my dear friends, so I warn you!... I did intend giving you
something nice, and Violet loves good things to eat, but she would
sniff at a sole if she saw it on my table, and faint if we had a
pheasant, and all the Lancing family would shake with horror at the
extravagance of a sweet and cheese at the same time! Never mind!"
Camilla added, with a sparkle in her eyes, "you shall have a lovely tea
to make up for everything. Agnes, do go up and speak to her, there's a
dear."

As Mrs. Brenton obediently went up the stairs, Camilla slipped her hand
through Caroline's arm.

"The children are quite mad about you, Miss Graniger," she said, "and
they have been entreating me to let you stay with them. I wish you
would! I am so tired of having ignorant and unsympathetic people about
them. Agnes was telling me this morning that you would like to be with
children. Why shouldn't you be with mine?"

Caroline did not find it very easy to speak.

Mrs. Lancing's manner charmed and yet startled her; it was so new, too,
and so pleasant to be addressed in this semi-familiar, easy fashion.

When she found her voice it was to make a protest.

"I do love children," she said, "and it would be a great happiness to
me to be with yours.... But you don't know anything about me. I am sure
you would want some one cleverer and better than I am, and
then"--Caroline paused an instant.... "Mrs. Baynhurst is sure to give
me a very bad character," she added hurriedly.

Camilla snapped her fingers.

"I am not going to trouble about Mrs. Baynhurst," she said. "Everybody
knows that she is a crank. Look here, we'll settle all sorts of things
afterwards. Now I must go upstairs, or I shall have my dear
sister-in-law crawling down to see what I am doing. Betty will come
down to lunch," Camilla added, "and it would be so sweet of you if you
would just keep an eye on her; she shall sit next to you. Would you
like to go up to the nursery and come down with her?"--this was
suggested with the air of one who has a sudden and happy inspiration.
"You can leave your hat and coat in my bedroom."

Caroline followed Mrs. Lancing up the stairs.

She was fascinated into compliance. Camilla's pretty ways won her heart
very much as the children had won it. There was something magnetic in
the sympathy that pervaded her.

Caroline felt bewildered, and moved, and excited, but only in a
pleasurable sense.

When they reached the drawing-room door, Mrs. Lancing smiled and
whispered.

"My room is on the floor above this," she said, "and the nursery is
above that again. Do, like a dear, see that Betty has her hair done,
and that her face and hands are washed. Her aunt always examines her as
if she were a curious insect or a mineral specimen. Babsy will have her
dinner with Dennis, and come down later."

Camilla gave a little sigh of contentment as Caroline Graniger passed
up the stairs, and she glanced at herself in a long mirror that was
placed at a convenient angle to make the staircase seem bigger.

Her appearance satisfied her. Dennis had picked out the oldest gown she
possessed, and she had carefully denuded herself of all the little
jewelry that she was accustomed to wear. But a shabby gown could not
dim the real radiance of her beauty.

Mrs. Horace Lancing was sitting bolt upright by the fire, talking to
Agnes Brenton; she was rather plump, with masses of yellowish hair, had
short-sighted eyes, and a dull white skin. She always used long,
blue-tinted glasses, and turned them on Camilla now.

It was evident that the drawing-room had been arranged for her coming.
Like Camilla's own charming person, the room had been swept of
innumerable little prettinesses, and it looked bare and almost shabby.

Sir Samuel's flowers had been carefully concealed.

"Dear Violet," Camilla said, "won't you really take off your hat? It
looks as if you were going to rush away so soon, dear, and, of course,
you are going to stay the afternoon."

Mrs. Horace Lancing shook her head stiffly.

"I have to meet Horace at the stores at three," she said, "we are going
back by the three-fifty train, so I must leave you early. Aren't the
children in yet, Camilla?"

"Betty is being made ready for luncheon, and Baby will come down
by-and-by. You have no idea, Agnes, how much I like Miss Graniger ...
the children's new governess," Camilla explained to her sister-in-law.

Mrs. Brenton half frowned and half smiled. She had not supposed that
matters would have gone so far in so short a time, and resented the
prevarication on Caroline's account and on her own. But she said
nothing.

"Isn't that a new photograph of you, Camilla?" asked Mrs. Lancing,
getting up and peering at a frame on the piano.

"A snapshot," said Camilla, lightly. She moved near to Mrs. Brenton for
an instant, and said in a low tone, "Don't glare at me so fiercely,
Agnes.... I have arranged everything; she is enchanted, and I know she
will be just the very girl for me...."

Mrs. Horace Lancing put down the portrait.

"Extremely well done for a snapshot," she said coldly. "I did not know
you went in motors; those furs are new to me."

Camilla laughed.

"I am a fraud," she cried, "dressed up in other people's possessions.
Ah! here is lunch at last! I hope you can eat leg of mutton, Violet? I
confess I am not very fond of it, but," with a sigh, "everything nice
is so dear. Don't you think life costs more and more every day?"

Out on the staircase Betty was standing with her arm entwined in
Caroline's. She allowed herself to be kissed with reluctance by her
aunt, but clung about her mother's neck ecstatically for a moment.

Camilla had done well to warn her guests; it was a very depressing
luncheon; the mutton was underdone, the greens were gritty, and the
potatoes full of water. Camilla made a few apologies.

"A good cook is quite beyond my means, you know," she said plaintively.

Mrs. Brenton tried hard not to laugh as she remembered the dainty fare
Camilla's cook usually provided.

She made the best of everything, but Mrs. Horace Lancing, who was very
hungry, looked annoyed.

"I never have cheap food," she observed, "it is not an economy."

At this Camilla opened her eyes.

"Do you really think that?" she asked; "and I am always trying to be so
very cheap."

Conversation lagged. Betty at the lower end of the table, had a good
deal to say to Caroline, but it was all said in whispers.

When, however, the suet pudding with treacle had made its round the
child demanded some dessert, and her mother, forgetful for the moment,
gave her permission to carry round a silver basket from the sideboard,
in which grapes and pears and other delightful fruits were clustered
together in picturesque fashion.

"She is learning to be useful, you see, Violet," Camilla observed
plaintively.

But Mrs. Horace Lancing was looking at the dessert through her
blue-tinted glasses.

"Peaches!" she said, her tone a mixture of satisfaction and hostile
criticism.

Camilla bit her lips, and was thankful that she had locked away her
tradesmen's books with her letters and intimate papers.

"Take care, Betty, my sweetheart," she said, and then she explained as
the child cautiously carried her burden from one to another. "A
present," she said, "Mr. Haverford often sends me fruit; it is so good
of him; such things are much appreciated by us."

"Mr. Haverford," repeated her sister-in-law, "who is he? I don't know
his name."

"He's a dear," Betty responded before her mother could speak. "I 'dore
Mr. Haverford! I wish he lived with us.... I tell you what," continued
Betty, her eyes glistening, her little voice clear and high, "I wish
he'd come and sleep with us, mumsy ... that would be really, really
fun! I'm sure he wouldn't snore like nurse does, and I know he'd tell
us a lot of stories. Oh, here is Baby! Come along, ducksie, and have a
bit of Betty's appy...." Betty was always maternal with her little
sister.

After luncheon the two children were ranged in front of Mrs. Horace
Lancing, who interrogated them with a nervous manner and in the
unnatural voice that some people think necessary to affect with
children. Betty resented her questions and was mute, and she in her
turn resented, as she always did, the little creatures' dainty
appearance.

They only wore overalls of brown holland, but no home scissors had cut
the holland, and, like their mother, they had already attained the art
of giving distinction to the most ordinary garments.

Mrs. Brenton had discreetly withdrawn, and Caroline would have gone
too, but a pleading look from Camilla restrained her.

She stood in the background, feeling amused rather than uncomfortable
as Mrs. Horace, failing in conversational efforts, scanned the two
small figures critically through her glasses.

"Don't you think you ought to have Marian's hair cut?" she queried. "It
is so bad for little children to have such long hair. And I think
Elizabeth is looking very thin," was her verdict on Betty. "Camilla, do
you give her maltine or anything nourishing?"

Camilla knelt down and took both her children in her arms;
surreptitiously she kissed her baby's bright curls.

"Now, darlings, kiss Aunt Violet, and run away. Miss Graniger, I think
it must be another walk, it is such a lovely day, but please come in
quite early."

The two little persons disappeared with a right good will, and as the
sisters-in-law were left alone they heard sounds of laughter and
singing, signs of joy at freedom, from the staircase beyond.

"I am very lucky to have such a nice governess," Camilla said.

Mrs. Horace said--

"Yes; but I always think these sort of persons want such a lot of
looking after. I never would have a governess. Mabel went to school
very early. I suppose you have good references with that girl? To me
she looks too young," she said the next moment; "and Elizabeth needs to
be in such careful hands. She is intelligent, of course, but her manner
is rather pert.... But then I suppose you never attempt to correct her,
Camilla?"

"I was never slapped when I was a child, so I don't know how to slap
other people," said Camilla.

She drew up a stool in front of the fire, and sat down on it.

She was perfectly well aware that something disagreeable was coming,
and she ranged herself to meet it with resignation.

"I have no doubt," she added, with a little laugh, "that it would have
been an excellent thing for me if daddy had spanked me now and then;
but, dear old soul, he couldn't hurt any living creature, much less me.
When I was naughty he gave me chocolates instead of the whip; but, on
the whole, I was a fairly good child. I have a theory, you know,
Violet, that sympathy can do far more than punishment. If Betty sees me
unhappy when she is naughty, it makes her wretched; that is just how I
was with daddy. Ah! well, if I had no slaps in those old days, I have
plenty now!"

"I don't think you have much to grumble at," said Violet Lancing.

Camilla looked up at her and frowned slightly, then she smiled.

"Let us get it over," she said. "I can see that you have come here to
scold to-day."

"Horace has been waiting to hear from you as you promised," said Mrs.
Horace, stiffly. "You had your quarter's allowance quite six weeks ago,
and you have never written."

Camilla frowned again, this time sharply; she was shielding her face
with her two hands. She had expected the usual tirade; not this. So
Horace had given her away! How mean of him! She had never supposed that
he would have confided in Violet.

"I am so sorry," she began, and then she stopped with a quick sigh. She
was so weary, so unutterably weary of this kind of thing! There came
upon her a reckless sort of feeling to speak out frankly, and send this
woman to the uttermost ends of the earth, or to perdition; the latter
for choice.

"I don't think you know what it means to us," said Violet Lancing,
getting agitated. "If Horace had told me about your letter when it came
in the summer, I should never have permitted him to lend you that
money. I only found it out by chance the other day, and I must say I am
surprised, Camilla, that you should have gone to Horace for help. You
know perfectly well that we have the hardest work to get along on what
we have. I suppose you think grandpa does a lot for us," ... here the
speaker laughed shortly. "As he almost ruined himself over Ned, you
see, he has no money to give to any of the rest of the family!"

"And naturally Ned's widow and children are eating him out of house and
home," Camilla said. She had grown pale. Except on occasions like this
she never spoke her dead husband's name.

"I am not grumbling about that, Camilla. You have a right to be
provided for, especially as Ned treated you so badly. But you ought to
manage better, and I can only repeat that you have no right to borrow
from us. Horace advanced you a hundred pounds last August, and you
promised _faithfully_ to give it back to him when grandpa sent you your
quarter's cheque. A hundred pounds is not a hundred pence," said Mrs.
Horace, sententiously; "it isn't to be picked up every day."

Camilla got up and kicked the stool away.

"I am horribly sorry, Violet. I give you my word of honour I intended
to send Horace the money, but you don't know how pressed I was in
September. I have an awfully hard time to make ends meet. Of course,
Ned's father is very good to allow me what he does, but the fact is it
is practically impossible to live on what I have."

"Yes, as you live, certainly," agreed Mrs. Horace Lancing; "but you
could manage splendidly if you did what you ought to do--cut down
expenses in every direction, and go into the country. You ought never
to have kept on this house."

Camilla moved about the room.

"Oh, that old, old story again!" she exclaimed impatiently. "Don't you
know how we threshed out all the ways and means when...?" She hurried
on, "Colonel Lancing himself decided that it was best for me to stay on
here, and so if you want to quarrel with any one, go to him, Violet; it
is no use coming to me...."

Mrs. Horace Lancing got a little red in the face. "I don't want to
interfere with you or your arrangements, Heaven knows," she said; "I
only want you to be just with us, for, whatever you may say, you know
as well as I do that you ought to have paid Horace back as you
arranged." There was a little pause. "I shall be very much obliged if
you will let me know what you are going to do about this, Camilla. We
are not in a position to wait indefinitely. I really came here to-day,"
Mrs. Horace Lancing said, firmly, "to ask you to let me have some of
the money at once."

Camilla stood by the window flicking the long curtains.

This subject, and the recrimination it provoked, made every nerve in
her body tingle; in such a moment the sordidness of this perpetual
difficulty with money, the ugliness of money itself, settled on her
spirit, crushing it down as by some actual physical effort.

The spell of ease and relief that Haverford's generosity had signified
had been very brief. After a good deal of deliberation, she had filled
in the blank cheque for a thousand pounds.

Her inclination and her necessity had both urged her to make it three
times that sum, but she had been temperate, feeling the need of
caution. The cheque had gone to her bank the day before, and already
she had drawn very largely against it. She dared not drain the money in
its entirety, otherwise she would leave herself unprotected should the
evil she feared (to meet which she had borrowed this sum) fall upon her.

In casting up her position, she had dealt only with those things that
were disagreeably prominent ... and she had absolutely forgotten her
obligation to her brother-in-law. She regretted now, impatiently
enough, that she had not drawn upon Haverford for a much larger amount.
If she were to give Violet even a portion of this debt, she would leave
herself without a penny of ready money once more.

Mrs. Horace Lancing was continuing to press the matter home in an
aggravating way; she enumerated the many necessities her life lacked,
and all that she would have done during the last few months if only her
husband had cultivated prudence instead of generosity.

It suddenly dawned upon Camilla that her brother-in-law must have
passed through an exceedingly unpleasant time.

"Poor Horace!" she said to herself. He was the only member of her
husband's family who had shown her a particle of sympathy, and she felt
honestly sorry in this moment that she should have trespassed so
heavily on that sympathy.

She let the curtain slip from her fingers.

"Look here, Violet, I can't possibly do anything now, really I can't;
but at Christmas I promise faithfully."

Mrs. Horace laughed.

"At Christmas! Oh yes! And when Christmas comes it will be, 'Violet
dear, I am so very sorry, but can't you possibly wait till Easter?' Oh,
I know ... I know!"

There were two bright patches of unbecoming colour on her cheeks; she
was adjusting her veil with hands that trembled.

"You have no right to say that sort of thing!" said Camilla, hotly; "it
is very unjust and very untrue."

"And you have no right to go behind my back and borrow from my
husband," said Violet Lancing. Her pale eyes looked very angry. "If you
wanted money so badly you might have asked grandpa, I think, or
somebody else. I consider it was awfully mean of you to go to Horace,
and not to let me know a word about it. We have all sorts of worries
ourselves, and the boys cost us no end of money; but you are just Ned
all over again, Camilla! Everything you want you must have without
considering any one or anything but yourself. I used to think all the
old trouble was Ned's fault, and I was awfully sorry when you were left
to fight for yourself, but now I know better!"

"Is all this necessary?" Camilla asked in a low voice.

But Mrs. Horace was wound up.

"I can't help it. You've brought it on yourself, and you ought to hear
the truth now and again. You're not only horribly selfish, you're as
deceitful as you can be.... You can't pretend so easily with me,
Camilla! I know perfectly well that your life isn't dull and miserable
as you try to make us believe, and I know, too, why you never want any
of us to come here unawares." She jerked her veil down over her chin
and tore it. "I am not a fool!" she finished, with a hard laugh,
"though you may think I am."

"You are very angry with me, and you are talking a lot of nonsense,"
said Camilla.

She looked away from the other woman.

"I am very sorry you are vexed simply because when I was in trouble I
turned to Ned's brother. It seemed the most natural thing to do. I know
if Horace had asked Ned ... to help him in the old days he would have
done it, and gladly, too!" She caught her breath, and for a moment she
could not speak; then in a low voice she said, "I shall send this money
back before Christmas; on that you may rely."

Mrs. Horace Lancing made a curious expression with her mouth, and rose
to go. Instantly Camilla's manner changed.

"I am sorry you won't stay to tea.... You had such a horrid lunch. Give
Horace my love, and tell him I am extremely hurt with him because he
did not come here and fetch you. Will you have a cab?"

Violet Lancing shook her head, she picked up her tweed coat and
squeezed herself into it with an effort. Her gloves took some time to
put on. To make conversation and relieve the strained atmosphere,
Camilla asked after the health of all the people she detested. She was
particularly anxious to know how matters were passing with Mrs.
Horace's own household, but she avoided all mention of her
father-in-law a fact Mrs. Horace quickly made a note of.

"I didn't tell grandpa I was coming here," she observed, as she
buttoned the last glove-button; it was evident she had more to say, and
she said it. "I think it only friendly to let you know, Camilla, that
grandpa is not very nice about you just now," she said. "Though you
never see him, he seems to know all that is going on. The other night
when you were being discussed at dinner-time, he was quite angry."

"He has always been nasty with me. That is nothing new," said Camilla,
quickly.

Mrs. Horace Lancing looked at her in a sly kind of way.

"Well, of course, it is none of my business, but I do think you are
foolish not to try and make friends with him. Have you ever thought
what would happen if he were to stop your allowance? I have heard him
threaten this more than once. And then he complains bitterly that you
never take the children to see him. It would help things a lot for you
if you were to do this now and then. He is an old man, you know, and
old people like to be remembered sometimes."

Camilla's eyes were bright.

"I am sorry, but the suburbs make me ill. If Colonel Lancing wants to
see the children he must come here...."

There was almost a frightened expression for an instant on the other
woman's face; evidently "grandpa" was no joking matter to her.

"Well, you can't say I haven't warned you," she said, and then she
laughed. "The suburbs have their uses all the same sometimes, haven't
they?" she observed. "Let me see. I think I left my umbrella
downstairs."

Camilla accompanied her departing guest to the door.

"Are you sure you won't have a cab; it is getting late, you know."

There was a package lying on the hall table beside Mrs. Lancing's
umbrella.

"Do you mind taking that to Mabel?" asked Camilla. "It is some
chocolate, it won't do her any harm; it came from Paris."

When she was alone she mounted the stairs slowly and sat down once more
on the stool in front of the fire. With a sigh, she clasped her hands
round one knee, and swayed backwards and forwards, shutting her eyes,
and Agnes Brenton, coming in rather softly, found her like this.

Mrs. Brenton paused a moment before advancing, and then she went
forward and put her hand gently on Camilla's shoulder.

"What is it, dear? Did she scratch you very badly?"

Camilla turned and laughed faintly.

"She always manages to upset me, and as she came on purpose to be
disagreeable, her visit has been most successful."

Mrs. Brenton pulled forward a chair, and sat down. She had left her
knitting on one of the small tables the day before, and she took it up
now mechanically, and began to move the needles to and fro.

Camilla watched her in a dreamy sort of way. Vaguely she wondered to
herself how many hundred pairs of socks Agnes had made in her life.

"I must be a horribly wicked woman," she said suddenly, "otherwise I
could not possibly have been given such a scourge as being compelled to
take bread from these people."

"I thought a long time ago," said Mrs. Brenton, in her calm, quiet way,
"you had realized what to expect from Violet Lancing. Dear child, it is
hardly possible that she should be sympathetic to you."

"I don't care two figs about her," said Camilla, "and, as a matter of
fact, I am rather sorry for her. Did you see the cut of her skirt? And
tea at the stores is the only gaiety she ever has, poor soul. If she
would only give me half a chance," Camilla added, "I should be awfully
kind to her."

After a moment's pause Camilla said--

"It's the old man whom I really hate. Ned always said his father was an
old devil, and so he is! It appears he is extra furious with me because
I never take the children to see him.... How can I? If he forgets all
the horrible things he did and said to me, I have unfortunately a much
better memory!"

Agnes Brenton took this matter up quickly.

"You have never understood Colonel Lancing," she said, "just as he
could never be expected to understand you. That he is a hard man I know
well; but I am convinced he is not so hard as you imagine. He set his
face against your marriage with Ned, not because he objected to you
personally; that would have been ridiculous," interpolated Mrs. Brenton
with a smile; "but because he knew it was going to be a miserable
business for you." Agnes Brenton paused half a moment, and then said in
a low voice, "And the result justified that belief pretty surely."

Camilla spread out her two small hands to shield her face from the fire.

"Don't deceive yourself, Agnes; there is nothing good about him; he is
hard, he is cruel, he is horrid." She moved restlessly. "I wish I could
cut them all out of my life, especially the old man. What a difference
to my daddy. Oh, Agnes, if I only had daddy with me now! Dear, good,
loving heart, why did you die?"

She bent forward suddenly and rang the bell.

"I must have the room arranged again," she said. Her pretty voice
sounded a little husky. "It looks too hideous for words, and then,
dearest, you shall have something to eat. On second thoughts, I am not
sorry that Violet had a bad lunch. I hate every one who belongs to that
old wolf! Oh, Agnes, let us talk about that girl Caroline--what's her
name?"

Mrs. Brenton turned the heel of the sock, and her needles clicked
musically for a few moments. Then she said--

"Well, I don't think you ought to do anything without consulting Mr.
Haverford."

"Good Heavens! why not?" exclaimed Camilla. "Bring back the flowers,"
she ordered to the maid who appeared at the door at this moment. She
got up and began to arrange the room in a restless fashion, unlocking
drawers, and taking out all the things she had hidden. "I really don't
see what Mr. Haverford has to do with it," she said irritably, after a
while.

"Don't you?" queried Mrs. Brenton, with a smile. "You must remember
that Miss Graniger went to him last night for advice and help."

Camilla moved impatiently.

"Oh! he will take a month to deliberate. He is so slow. Really it is
very ridiculous. You know I must have some one for the children, and
Miss Graniger wants work. Why on earth should she not come to me?"

"I don't like things done in a great hurry," said Mrs. Brenton. And
then she added again, "It may annoy Mr. Haverford."

"And what do I care if it does?" exclaimed Camilla. She was nervous,
and it did her good to speak sharply. "Anyhow, I can't very well draw
back now. I have practically engaged the girl, and I settled that we
would discuss terms and other things this afternoon. I like her, Agnes.
She is a lady, and I think she is just the very person we want for
Betty."

As the flowers were brought in and placed, Mrs. Lancing ordered tea.

"Tell cook to send up all sorts of things," she said. "I am ravenous.
How much do you think I ought to give her, Agnes?" was her next
question. "Fifty pounds a year?"

"My dear child!" said Mrs. Brenton, and then she sighed. "When will you
learn the value of money?"

"Well, look here," said Camilla, sitting down on the stool, and putting
a pleading note in her voice, "will you arrange all this for me? I
don't want to let this girl slip through my fingers."

She looked over her shoulder at this juncture; the door was half open,
and they caught the sound of the children returning.

"Well, have you been good little people?" she called aloud, and she got
up briskly and went to the door. "I hope you are not tired, Miss
Graniger? Oh, my dear! What are you doing? You must not carry that big,
big, little lump!"

Baby had climbed up into Caroline's arms, and had her arms about the
girl's neck, her head was cuddled on Caroline's shoulder.

"I is so awful tired, mammy," she said plaintively. Then Betty chimed
in--

"I telled her a heap of times she was not to ask poor Caroline to carry
her, but"--with a shrug of her shoulders--"you know what Baby is. The
most onstinant creature in the world."

But Baby only smiled, and kissed Caroline.

Even when her mother tried to entice her away, she clung to the girl
affectionately. So Camilla went up to the nursery, also scolding
tenderly as she went.

She wanted to take Miss Graniger down to have tea with her, but the
children opposed this so strenuously that she had to give way.

She did not leave them till she saw them seated at the table
luxuriating in all sorts of delicacies.

"Don't let them worry you," Camilla said to Caroline. "Dennis will take
them off your hands."

However, it seemed that Caroline had no intention of calling Dennis to
the rescue, so Mrs. Lancing went downstairs, and wore a very triumphant
expression as she entered the drawing-room.

"Believe it or not, just as you like, but it is a fact that that girl
is absolutely happy with the children," she declared. "You ought to be
pleased, Agnes. You pretended you were sorry for her. Can't you imagine
the sort of existence that she has had in Mrs. Baynhurst's house. Well,
here at least she will be treated like a human being." Then abruptly
Camilla crossed the room, and sat down at her writing-table. "I am
going to write to Mr. Haverford," she said, "and then I hope you will
be satisfied, you dear old fidgety frump."

The note written, she had it despatched by a cab, and requested that an
answer might be sent back.

"I don't see what earthly objection he can have," Camilla said, "but if
he has any--well, now let him speak, or for ever hold his peace."

The cab came back in a very little while, bringing the information that
Mr. Haverford had been called to the north unexpectedly. Further, it
appeared that the butler had added that Mr. Haverford intended going to
Paris when he came down from the north.

Mrs. Brenton smiled as she sipped her tea.

"That means he intends to see his mother, and go thoroughly into this
Graniger business. There are no half measures with him."

Camilla moved petulantly.

"Oh! we all know by this time that you think him a paragon of
perfection.... He is just your pet idea of what a man should be--solid,
stodgy, prosaic. A creature as flat, and as level, and as enduring, and
as uninteresting as a Roman road."

"Well," said Mrs. Brenton, picking up her knitting again, "there is a
good deal to be said in favour of a smooth road, whether it is Roman or
otherwise."

Camilla ate a cake, then some sandwiches, and then another piece of
cake.

"The only thing worth having in life, except food when one is hungry,
is the thing that comes unexpectedly. You can keep all your smooth
roads to yourself, Agnes; give me Piccadilly when the wood pavement is
simply honeycombed with holes, and one stands the chance of being
jerked out of a cab, and perhaps out of existence, too, every other
moment. Anyhow," she determined, brightly, "this settles matters so far
as I am concerned. Miss Graniger will now stay, and if Mr. Haverford
does not like this arrangement--well, he can lump it! Have some more
tea? No? Well, then, let us go up to the children."



CHAPTER VII


For a second time Caroline Graniger lay awake late into the night,
watching the fire-glow glint the walls and throw fantastic shadows on
the ceiling.

She had been sent to bed very early.

"You look so tired, you poor thing," Camilla had said as they had sat
at dinner.

She herself was going out to a bridge party, but she had insisted on
Agnes Brenton and Caroline sharing a dainty little dinner with her.

Of course it was at her suggestion that Miss Graniger was sleeping with
the children.

"As you are going to stay with me," she had said, when she tarried a
little while in the nursery after Mrs. Brenton had gone downstairs, "I
think we had better start as we intend to go on. Agnes, I know, wants
to carry you home again with her to-night, but Betty and Babsy want
you--don't you, darlings?"

Caroline asked for nothing better, except, indeed, that she was divided
in her desire to show deference to both these women who were so
extraordinarily kind to her.

"I only hope I shall do," she said earnestly.

Camilla had laughed at this.

Her baby had climbed on her knee, and was cuddling her very tightly.

"This is not what frightens me," she said. "I am only afraid you won't
stand our ways. This is a very funny sort of household--isn't it,
Betty?"

The child nodded her head wisely. She looked so pretty with her bright
hair screwed up in curl rags.

It was Caroline who introduced the subject of Rupert Haverford.

"I fancy Mrs. Brenton thinks I ought to have referred things to Mr.
Haverford," she had said, a little hesitatingly.

"I know," Mrs. Lancing had answered quickly, "but I don't in the least
see that. Of course you went to Mr. Haverford last night because you
did not know what else to do. But surely that does not entitle him to
order all your ways? I shall be awfully disappointed if you don't stay
with me," she finished; and Caroline had laughed softly at this.

"Then you shall not be disappointed," she had answered.

And so everything had been arranged, and when Mrs. Lancing had whisked
away for a long--and a late--evening at cards, Mrs. Brenton had kissed
the girl, and told her to go to rest.

"Camilla is right; you do look very tired," she said.

"Oh, I am always pale, but I am not really tired--I am only happy. I
don't think I could explain to you exactly how I feel. Just a little
while ago I seemed to have nothing given to me, that nothing was
possible; and now I feel almost as if I had found everything that had
been lacking all these years!"

"Only because you have settled to be the governess to two children who
are bound to be naughty and tiresome sometimes, you know?"

"No, not entirely because of that," Caroline answered.

There was something familiar to her to find herself occupying a small
bed in a room with children, but this was the only element that was
familiar; all the rest was so new and so sweet.

As she lay on the pillows and looked from one little sleeping form to
the other her eyes filled, and she had a fluttering sensation at her
heart.

After so many barren years these last few hours seemed over full with
sympathy and kindness, and with that recognition from others that
almost amounted to kinship.

She found herself endowed with a personality all at once.

It was very strange to realize that she had some defined standing; now
that the oppression of dependence had been lifted she marvelled that
she could have endured the burden so long.

"But it is too good to last," she said to herself once or twice. "I
_know_ something will happen, and I shall go out into the cold again."

Of course she could not sleep; she thought of a dozen things at the
same time.

The spell of Camilla's magnetic personality, the calm strength and
womanliness of Agnes Brenton, the charm and prattle of the children,
held her in sway alternatively, and kept alive that new sense of warmth
that had been kindled in her heart.

Every now and then, too, Rupert Haverford would come into her thoughts.

A note had been sent round from Mrs. Brenton's lodgings addressed to
herself, and given to her just as she was going upstairs. In this
Haverford had written that he regretted that he was called north on
very important matters, but that he had spoken to the lady of whom he
had told her, and that a home was arranged for her until she could make
other plans.

"My absence may delay the explanation you desire from my mother,"
Rupert had written, "but in the event of your requiring any reference,
you will of course use my name."

It was a brief and very businesslike letter, but Caroline felt grateful
to him all the same.

Assuredly he must have troubled himself about her even to have made
such arrangements.

Once indeed she felt a little qualm.

"Perhaps Mrs. Brenton was right, and I ought to have asked his advice."
The next moment, however, she dismissed this. "It cannot matter to him
how I earn my bread."

"I shall send him back the greater portion of the money he lent me,"
she determined at another moment. "I must get myself a few things to
wear. I cannot go about with the children quite so shabby as I was
to-day. But I shall not require more than half the money he lent me,
and I shall pay the other off as quickly as I can get my salary."

When she remembered his mother she laughed.

"Explanation! ... It is very evident that he does not know her as well
as I do."

It was very late before Caroline's eyes closed drowsily, and then she
had slept scarcely an hour when she was awakened with a start.

Little hands were pulling her, and a little voice was whispering out of
the darkness.

"Caloline! ... Caloline! ... may I come into your bed?"

Instantly the girl was awake.... She sat up and held out her arms.

Dennis had warned her--

"If Miss Baby wants to rouse you and creep in with you, don't you let
her, miss," she had said; "you'll want all the rest you can get, and
children shouldn't never be encouraged in such goings on."

But Caroline forgot to be sensible; rules and regulations went down
before the sweetness, the delight of holding that warm little bundle in
her arms so closely.

Baby kissed her many times, whispered sleepily for a few minutes, and
then lay quite still, one little loving hand linked in Caroline's.

      *      *      *      *      *

Mrs. Brenton went back to the country the next day.

It had been arranged that her husband would follow her to town; but
instead of doing this, he managed to contract a very bad cold, and as
he was not the strongest man in the world, his wife took alarm, and
departed in a hurry for Yelverton, notwithstanding all Camilla's
entreaties.

"But remember," Mrs. Brenton said as she went, "you have promised to
come to me for Christmas; that is understood, Camilla. It will be
delightful to have the children, and we must have a Christmas-tree and
a jolly time altogether."

"I am not sure that I shall know you in the future," replied Camilla;
then she laughed. "I don't know why I want you so much, because you are
always scolding me--aren't you? But I _do_ want you, and I think it is
horrid of you to go rushing back now, just because Dick has happened to
sneeze twice. If he had come up to town, we could have all nursed him."

Caroline saw the children's mother only intermittently during the next
two or three days.

Camilla always seemed to be in a tremendous hurry. Except for
breakfast, she did not have a single meal in the house.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere was charged with a certain sort of
excitement. The telephone bell was always ringing; so was the door-bell.

Mrs. Lancing's friends seemed to employ an army of telegraph boys, and
she herself would dash home in cabs every now and then in a violent
hurry apparently. Though she might neglect or postpone other duties,
she never forgot a flying visit to the nursery at bath-time.

The clamour of the children, however, and the nonsense and the kisses,
precluded anything further than the interchange of smiles and a few
words between Mrs. Lancing and her new governess.

It was Dennis who reported that Miss Graniger had settled down to her
work admirably; that she was a decided acquisition.

"You've never had any one near so nice, ma'am," was Dennis's opinion,
given emphatically. "She doesn't give herself airs, and isn't above
doing all sorts of little things that nurse would never have dreamed of
doing; and the way she understands children--well, there, it gets over
me! Miss Betty was in one of her tantrums this morning, but Miss
Graniger, she soon set things right. I'd 'ope, ma'am," Dennis added,
"that there'll be no change this time...."

"I never want to change, you know that," Camilla's answer was to this.

She found time to scribble a few words, conveying what Dennis had told
her, to Agnes Brenton, and added--

"As the great Mogul has never taken any notice of us since you left
town, we are left conjecturing whether he is indifferent or annoyed."

Just when she was closing this letter Camilla took out the paper again
and wrote a postscript.

"Violet Lancing scratched to some purpose the other day! I have had a
letter from the old man _commanding_ me to take the children to spend
Christmas with him. I have not answered him, but I mean to tell him to
go to ..."--she made a great dash--"church on Christmas morning," she
finished. "As I am promised to you, I cannot go to the Lancings, can
I?" she wrote underneath.

Caroline was far too busy in these the first days of new occupation to
give much heed to the fact that Rupert Haverford had sent no answer to
the letter she had written to him.

Naturally the life was not so golden-hued in these after days as it had
seemed that first day.

She found the children, if not exactly spoilt, certainly not trained as
they should have been trained.

With the elder one, indeed, a good many difficulties threatened, but
Caroline was resolved to find nothing too hard or difficult, and her
long experience of school discipline came into splendid prominence now.

Her starting task was to try and put a little organization into the
life of the nursery.

She did not mind what she did herself to bring about some method to
regulate the hours, but she quickly let the servants know that they
must meet her halfway.

She found it necessary to change any number of accepted habits. When
she learned how irregular had been the nursery arrangements, she
marvelled that her little charges were so healthy or so tractable.

Dennis gave her great assistance.

"You keep things down, my dear. Don't you be afraid of having your own
way. The mistress won't interfere. She trusts every one. That's why she
gets done so often."

Another time Dennis introduces the question of expense.

"The way money is just thrown away in this house! ... There's not a
one, barrin' myself, to give a thought to the one as has to pay. Why,
many's the time I've seen nurse pitch away a bottle of special milk
what couldn't be used; and d'ye think that stopped her in the orderin'?
Not it!"

That there had been waste and extravagance to an almost criminal degree
Caroline had quickly discovered for herself. Dennis had told her that
the children possessed more feathers and frills, more lace frocks than
any other two children in the United Kingdom, and this was no
exaggeration. In all things that were practical and necessary, however,
they were as shabby and as ragged as any little beggar in the street.

Every night Caroline devoted herself to overlooking the children's
wardrobe.

She mended what could be mended, and arranged all as far as she could,
but she could not spin stockings or weave warm under garments out of
thin air.

For a day or two the girl hesitated as to whether she should approach
Mrs. Lancing on this subject. She was really unwilling to do so, but
finally decided it was better that she should go straight to the point
in this and in all other matters connected with the children and her
care of them.

And so one evening, as Camilla was dressing for an early dinner
engagement, there came a knock at her door, and Dennis asked if she
would see Miss Graniger.

Mrs. Lancing was sitting in front of her looking-glass, her short, wavy
hair was loose on her shoulders.

At sight of Caroline she took alarm, and, turning round, waved her
hair-brush protestingly.

"Don't tell me that you have come to give me notice," she said
forcibly, "because I won't take it!"

Caroline laughed.

"I am still marvelling at my good fortune at being with you," she said.
She looked admiringly at Camilla. How pretty! how very pretty this
woman was! Each time that she saw Mrs. Lancing she seemed to see her in
a more attractive way.

Now, in her white flowing gown, with her curly hair falling about her
face, she looked hardly older than little Betty herself.

There was an unconscious wistfulness in Camilla Lancing's eyes that
waked a strong rush of tenderness and protective affection in
Caroline's heart whenever she looked into them.

Brief as had been her stay in the house, she had been long enough to
know from other sources than Dennis's confidences that trouble stalked
side by side with the gaiety; long enough to have grasped with that
intuition which was one of her strongest gifts that this charming,
childlike, happy-go-lucky mistress of the house would always buy her
sunshine very dearly, with a heavy shadow threatening it.

Camilla heaved a sigh of relief.

"I breathe again," she said; "sit down and let me look at you. Well,
you are better, I think; you have a nice little bit of colour, but you
must get much, much fatter. Are the chickies asleep? Dear child, I must
congratulate you! You are a marvellous person. We have never had such
peace in the house as we have had since you have been here--have we,
Dennis? And you are such a child yourself! How is this sort of thing
done? I suppose it comes naturally to you."

"I am so glad you are satisfied with me," Caroline said. She sat down
and looked about her curiously, and yet with pleasure. The dainty
appointments, the rosebud chintz, the lace-covered bed, upon which was
spread the gown Mrs. Lancing was going to wear, the crystal-topped
toilet table with its burden of brushes, and jars, and scent-bottles,
and nicknacks, the cosy chairs, the soft carpet, all made a picture of
prettiness, luxury, and comfort such as had not even visioned itself in
her imagination, busy as that had been at times. Portraits of the
children abounded, and in the middle of the mantelshelf Caroline
noticed a large cabinet photograph of Edward Lancing. The children had
a smaller one like it in the nursery.

Betty kissed it every night after she had said her prayers, and Baby,
of course, always clamoured for daddy's picture to do the same thing.
Although, as Betty said frequently, "You never knowed him, so he isn't
properly your daddy."

Caroline brought her wandering attention to order sharply.

"I have come to bother you," she said.

Dennis had begun to comb out the brown curls and arrange them in a
loose and a graceful manner, fastening them here and there with a
sparkling pin.

"I have brought a list of the things that the children want."

"Do they want anything? They had new coats and hats the day you came,"
said Mrs. Lancing.

She took the paper that Caroline handed her, and read it aloud.

"Stockings, nightgowns, flannels, shoes. Dear child! of course they
shall have these things. But are they so badly off?"

Caroline nodded her head.

"Yes; I have put everything together for you to see," she said. "I have
only written down what is absolutely necessary."

"Now, isn't that shocking, Dennis?" said Camilla, with a note of
desperation in her voice. "Doesn't it make you want to _shake_ nurse?
... What did she do with the things? She must have eaten them."

"I've gone carefully through every drawer and every box," said
Caroline, "and I cannot find any good clothes put away."

"Let me think." Mrs. Lancing sat and puckered her brows. Dennis had put
on an expression that said as plainly as words that these things would
have been set right a long time ago if only she had been given the
authority to attend to them.

"You had better go to ... No!" said Camilla, checking herself without
mentioning the name, "you can't go there. I owe them quite a lot
already, and that other shop in Regent Street, they, too, are rather
nasty about their bill. I'll tell you what, I will give you some ready
money, and then you had better go and buy just what is actually
required. What do you suppose these will all come to? Dennis, you are
good at this sort of thing, you might help Miss Graniger. Dear
sweethearts, fancy not having a stocking, or a decent petticoat." She
caught her breath with a sigh. "I am afraid I am not a very good
mother."

"I'm sure you pay enough, ma'am," said Dennis. "Why, the money has just
been poured out for the nursery this last year."

"Well, money is not everything, we all know that," her mistress said,
as she took up her hand-glass and looked at the back of her head
critically.

Caroline for herself proposed a second time that Mrs. Lancing should
see how matters stood, but Mrs. Lancing refused.

"No, no," she said; "I don't want to see for myself. Do you think I
doubt you? I know only too well you have not exaggerated a single
thing."

Here the sound of a cab stopping reached her ears.

"Oh! my goodness," said Camilla, "that must be Sammy, and, of course, I
am late! Dennis, get me into my gown quickly ... quickly!"

Caroline moved to the door.

"Good night," she said. "I hope you are going to enjoy yourself."

Camilla called her back.

"Do one thing for me like a darling, will you?" she asked. "Just run
down and tell Sir Samuel that I shall be with him directly. I promised
faithfully to be in time, and he does so hate to be kept waiting."

Some one was being shown up into the drawing-room as Caroline left Mrs.
Lancing's bedroom.

She paused a moment, and then went down the stairs.

"It's Sir Samuel Broxbourne, miss," the parlourmaid said.

Caroline nodded her head.

"Yes; Mrs. Lancing knows. I have a message for him."

Caroline's first impression as she opened the drawing-room door was
that the young man standing with his back to the fireplace was much too
big for the room.

Sir Samuel had not troubled to remove his overcoat, and the heavy fur
collar on this coat accentuated the squareness and breadth of his
shoulders.

He always looked red, as if he had just come out of a bath, or had been
running; his hair, too, had a touch of red in it.

Caroline took all this in at one glance, and she decided right away
that he was a very ugly young man.

"Mrs. Lancing begs me to say she will be down directly," she said, but
she did not advance into the room.

Sir Samuel whipped his single eyeglass into what he called his "off"
eye, and took a step forward. As Caroline was withdrawing, and the door
was half closed, he spoke to her.

"Here, I say," he said, "can you ... I mean is there any one in the
house who can glue this button on for me?"

He pulled off one of his white gloves as he spoke, and held it out to
her.

With a little frown Caroline turned, paused an instant, and then
advanced and took the glove from him.

"It's a beastly nuisance when the buttons come off," said Sir Samuel;
"the Johnnies that sell gloves ought to do the stitching
themselves--eh?..."

He was studying Caroline attentively, wondering the while who the deuce
she was. He thought he had sampled all the inmates of Mrs. Lancing's
small house. Those he had seen he had found very unexciting; but this
girl was different.

"I think this button is quite firm, it will not come off just yet,"
said Caroline, and she gave him back the glove.

Before he could speak again she had vanished, and the door was shut
behind her.

Sir Samuel pulled the glove on with a jerk.

"D----d fine eyes," he said, "but she knows all about that, and puts
frills on in consequence."

Mrs. Lancing's door was widely open, and she herself arrayed in all her
glory as Caroline mounted the stairs and paused on the landing.

"Is he very furious?" asked Mrs. Lancing.

"May I admire you?" asked Caroline in reply. "This sort of thing is all
so new to me. I have never seen any one in evening dress before, except
once, and that was in a fashion paper." Her eyes had a glow in them as
she scanned Camilla, over whose white clinging gown Dennis was just
slipping a theatre wrap of pink chiffon and chinchilla. "How Betty
would love to see you as you are now. She imagines you go to a
fairy-world every night, and if she saw you she would believe in her
dreams."

"I feel as if I were coming to pieces," Camilla laughed. "But I simply
detest being hurried! Dennis, put a safety-pin in here, and you need
not sit up. I have my key."

As she was passing out Mrs. Lancing paused by Caroline and kissed her
lightly.

"You are a nice thing," she said affectionately, "and I wish you were
coming with me. I shall take you to the play one night." Then gathering
up her skirts, she rustled softly on to the landing and disappeared.

Sir Samuel's patience had evidently evaporated; he had emerged from the
drawing-room, and was now expostulating.

"Don't swear too audibly," Caroline heard Mrs. Lancing say, with her
rippling laugh, "or you will wake the babies, and then everybody will
call you a monster!"

The girl's delicate brows met in a frown. Even in this far-off way she
felt the arrogant familiarity of this man's manner towards Mrs.
Lancing, and resented it, just as she had resented his attempt at
impertinent familiarity with herself. She supposed, however, as Sir
Samuel seemed to be so intimate, that he must be a connection, probably
a near relative. Later on, however, when Dennis came up from her
supper, and they went together through a minute examination of the
children's belongings, Caroline learned casually, from the maid's
chatter, that Sir Samuel Broxbourne was not really a relation--only a
friend; and she found herself wondering a little why so refined and
dainty a woman as Camilla should care for friendship with such a man.

This was not the only matter that seemed strange and even inexplicable
where Mrs. Lancing was concerned. Naturally Caroline was a novice in
life as it was lived in the world in which the children's mother
occupied a prominent place; she was, indeed, to a great extent ignorant
of the ways and doings of everyday people (since at school she had
known nothing of what passed beyond the school boundaries, and in
Octavia Baynhurst's house her outlook had been even more
circumscribed), so that it was no great matter for surprise if she
found herself unable to understand all that passed about and around her
now. But what she lacked in actual experience, in definite knowledge,
was filled in by natural wit and sympathy and intuition. It needed no
deep study to grasp the best and sweetest traits of so human a being as
Camilla, nor was it necessary for worldly knowledge to open her eyes to
the glaring faults, the amazing contrasts in this woman's character.

The first time she had heard Mrs. Lancing tell a lie--quite pleasantly,
and without the slightest effort or hesitation--Caroline had winced; it
had been such a trivial, such a petty untruth; but what had given it
importance in Caroline's eyes, accentuating the unworthiness of the
act, had been the fact that both the children had been present, and
that Betty had laughed at her mother's cleverness as at an excellent
joke.

To doubt the woman's anxious, deep-rooted love for her children was to
doubt the light of the sun itself; but Caroline summed it up as a love
without discrimination or any sense of real responsibility.

Camilla Lancing would have been aghast if any one had told her this;
for there would be no sacrifice too great--of this the girl was
convinced--for the mother to undertake on behalf of her children, if
circumstances should demand it of her.

Caroline, however, was judging her by her everyday attitude, when life
was running on ordinary and not heroic lines, and she drew her
conclusions from those unconscious signs and uncounted actions that
reveal the personality far more truthfully than any deliberate or
analytical study can ever do.

Dennis, who was a garrulous person, was fond of dilating on her
mistress's little ways; but she was loyal. It was soon made evident
that she was very fond of Mrs. Lancing.

"She never had no proper chance," she said this night to Caroline as
they made notes and agreed to buy only what was absolutely necessary.
"Started out, she did, with everything that money can give. My sister
was a second housemaid in her old home. That was before her father lost
everything and they come down to next to nothing. Miss Camilla was only
a bit of a child then, and if Sir Edmund had done the proper thing by
her he would have let his sister take her. You see his wife died when
Miss Camilla was born. But he wouldn't part with her--and so they went
wandering about goodness knows where, never staying more nor a month in
any place. How I came to know so much was because I took service with
Sir Edmund's sister, Lady Settlewood, and a hard place I had with her
too; a little bit different to what I get now! Her ladyship was for
ever wantin' to have Miss Camilla to live with her, she'd no children
of her own. She declared as it was a sin and a crime that the girl
should grow up any-hows, with no chance of schooling; but there, she
just talked to deaf ears! For if even the father would have given her
up, Miss Camilla wouldn't have left him neither. There's a picture of
Sir Edmund hanging beside Mrs. Lancing's bed," said Dennis. "You look
at it when you go in her room next time, and you'll see what a nice
face he had. Many's the time he's given me a sovereign when I know he'd
none too many to spare!"

Caroline interposed here a little gently.

"Perhaps Mrs. Lancing would rather not have these things talked about,
Dennis?"

But Dennis, who was folding up the clothes and putting them away, only
shrugged her shoulders.

"She knows there'll be nothing told bad if it's told by me," she said;
"besides," added the woman, "I'm telling you this because you're the
first person as has come into this house as I'd care to see stay in,
and that's the truth. My dear," said the maid, straightening herself
for a minute, "she wants a friend awful badly. Some one different to
me. There's things she could talk to you about which she couldn't talk
to me. I'd like you to know, now you're starting out, just what she is,
and why things seem to go so crookedly. How do you expect her to keep
account of pennies when she was brought up in the way she was? I always
'oped her ladyship was going to stand by Miss Camilla, and so I think
she would have done if only there hadn't been that miserable marriage!"

Dennis was silent for a while, then she said--

"Poor Sir Edmund, he just broke his heart when Miss Camilla run off
with Captain Lancing. I'll never forget his look the day he came to her
ladyship's house and asked if we could any of us give him news of his
girl!" Dennis was running her hand into a pile of stockings all riddled
with holes. "You see he'd never taken any heed of the fact, as Miss
Camilla was a beauty." She talked on. "He'd always laughed when her
ladyship kept on as he ought to have a governess or somebody about with
Miss Camilla. He looked on her as no more nor a child. And so she was a
child," said Dennis, hotly, as if she were suddenly defending her
mistress against some accuser, and she flung the stockings on to the
table viciously. "How could _she_ know what she was doing? Wasn't he
handsome enough to turn the head of any girl? Who was to think that
he'd be such a blackguard, and he coming of such a sanctimonious
church-going lot? People as turn their noses up at everybody who hasn't
got the Lord's Prayer printed on their backs! If them sort of folk is
saints, give me sinners, I say!"

"I think four pairs of stockings each will do for the winter," Caroline
said here.

She was fascinated, even excited by this story of Camilla Lancing's
early history; at the same time, she shrank from hearing these things
unknown to Camilla. But when Dennis was started on this subject it was
hard to stop her.

"Well, she came to know the truth, poor dear, when it was too late;
when her father was in his grave, and her ladyship wouldn't hear her
name spoke. Oh, some folk is hard and no mistake. There was a woman
with a comfortable three thousand a year, and not a soul to leave it to
but Miss Camilla, and if you believe me, when she went there wasn't not
even the name of the poor child mentioned in the will! That's what's
forced her to turn round and let these Lancings do for her. Her father
had left her what he had, but, bless you, that went noway with the
captain having the handling of it! ... I think, my dear," Dennis said
here, "as we'd best put down a yard or two of blue serge. I'll run up a
couple of dark overalls for the house. That'll make a big difference in
the washing bill."

"It would be so nice of you if you would give me a few lessons in
dressmaking, Dennis," Caroline said; "it seems a pity that the children
should have such costly clothes. They only grow out of them. Look at
all these lace frocks. They must have cost any amount of money, and
they are all torn to ribbons. Perhaps we can use them up in the summer
in some way or other."

"It's thrift that's wanted here," said Dennis; "just a little thought,
just a little care. Of course, I do what I can, but I hate to go vexing
her when there's such a lot of other people ready to worrit, and, bless
you, you can't put it into the servants' heads. What is it to them when
the books run on for months; whose to check 'em? Ah, my dear. There's a
sight, of things you could do if you only would!"

The parlourmaid brought up a letter for Caroline at this moment, and
she put it on one side till she was alone.

When everything was thoroughly well arranged Dennis said "good night!"

"I'll make time to go along with you in the morning, and the children
will enjoy it. Bless you, Miss Betty she loves shoppin' and getting new
clothes just as if she was growed up."

Caroline opened her letter when she was undressed.

It was from Rupert Haverford--a tardy answer to the few lines she had
sent him. Nothing could have been colder than this letter.

Though he made no definite expression of objection, Caroline felt that
he was sharply annoyed at what she had done. This fact annoyed her in
its turn.

"So Mrs. Brenton was right," she said to herself, "and he _is_ angry.
It is very unreasonable and rather absurd! I suppose he expects
everybody to give him the obedience of slaves, that any sort of
independence is objectionable to him. Well, he is mistaken as far as I
am concerned. It is my business to be independent, to think and act for
myself, and I am assuredly not going to throw up this work just to
please Mr. Haverford."

She read the letter through twice.

"He makes no mention of his mother this time," she mused, and her look
took a smile that was half a sneer. "Perhaps it vexes him that I should
be with one of his friends," was her next thought. "After all, he is
Octavia Baynhurst's son, so there must be a good deal of objectionable
element in his composition."

She made up the fire quietly, and then sat staring into it till a late
hour.

This letter not only annoyed her, it disquieted her. She realized in
this moment that she was changing, that the innumerable new sensations
through which she was passing had taken from her altogether that kind
of sullenness, that apathy that had fallen upon her like a cloak during
her stay with Mrs. Baynhurst.

As a school-girl she had been very high-spirited, and even intolerant
of restriction; it was wonderful, all things considered, that she had
not been called upon to suffer for her strong will, her hot temper, and
her defiant spirit. She was very grateful now to the woman who had
guarded her and trained her all those years.

True, there had been no pretence of affection, softness, or gentle
thought, but equally there had been no unnecessary repression, no
hardship.

Caroline had been allowed freedom up to a certain point; her love of
fields, and trees, and flowers, and young animals had never been
curbed. In that deserted old school garden (that now gave her a pang to
remember) there would be found a plot that had belonged entirely to
herself, and where, with seeds and plants begged from the gardener, she
had reared to herself a little world of flowers, as dear to her as
human beings.

The change from this simple and health-giving life, to the unnatural
confinement, the irritating atmosphere of Mrs. Baynhurst's house, had
worked great ill to Caroline.

Unfitted and utterly unprepared to carry out the work Mrs. Baynhurst
expected of her, she had shivered like a whipped slave beneath the
bitter, biting sarcasm of her employer's tongue; she had been scourged
all the time by the sense of her own imperfections; another year of
such a life and Caroline would have broken down in mind and body.

She was nervous in these days, but only in a purely sympathetic way.

The generous affection of these little creatures, who were already as
it were dependent on her, brought from the depths of her heart a hot
flood of womanly tenderness; awakened with joy the knowledge that it
was given to her to be blessed with love, to be permitted to give
protective love in return; a wondrously beautiful gift to one who had
never known love in any degree!

Then, again, contact with Camilla's charming personality was, like her
brief intercourse with Mrs. Brenton, an awakening influence.

To have been treated as she had been treated by these two women,
sympathetically, courteously; to realize that they recognized in her an
equal, that friendship with her was not only possible, but desirable,
endowed life for her in this moment with an indescribable grace.

After Dennis had left her this night she had sat thinking over the
story she had heard; as she pondered it she felt she had drawn
perceptibly nearer to comprehension of Camilla Lancing and her complex
character, and the suggestion that it was in her power to be helpful
and comforting to the children's mother had made her heart thrill.

Haverford's cold words of annoyance came most inopportunely.

It was only natural, perhaps, that she should misunderstand him.

"Perhaps he thinks that I asked for this work," she said to herself,
and she flushed hotly with humiliation as the thought came. "I wish I
had not gone to him! And yet," was her next quick thought, "if I had
not gone I should not be here. Well! when I have paid him back the
money he lent me there will be no need to trouble about him any more."

She laughed a little shortly to herself.

"If I had refused this work that would have been wrong!"

It was growing late, so she turned the light low, and then went to bed.
There she lay thinking the matter over and over again.

"I think I will send this letter on to Mrs. Brenton," she decided, "and
I will ask her to advise me what I ought to do." As the heat died out
of her feeling and she grew calmer her mood changed a little. She began
to judge Haverford less sharply. "Certainly he was kind to me in his
own peculiar way, and there was no need really for him to have done
anything at all. I suppose I ought to have consulted him!" She sighed
several times. "I knew it was all too pleasant to last," she said
wearily, "I knew something disagreeable would happen."

It was very strange, but a decided feeling of regret came in place of
annoyance the more she thought over the situation.

She had grown accustomed to hear Rupert Haverford discussed and
denounced in the bitterest fashion by his mother. Just for this very
reason she had determined that it was probable that this man would be
rich in those qualities that were so lacking in his mother. Indeed, it
was the conviction that he was just and honest and straightforward that
had driven her towards him when she had found herself so greatly in
need of help. And he had not belied this belief in him. When he had
convinced himself that she had an undoubted claim on his mother, he had
without hesitation stepped into the breach and taken upon himself the
right to protect and to provide for her. And viewing the matter in this
quiet, practical way, it did not take Caroline very long to assure
herself that she had not done exactly what she ought to have done.

"I shall write to him to-morrow, and I shall try and let him feel that
I am sorry. Very probably he won't trouble himself any more about the
matter; still, I shall write all the same."

And soothed by this determination, Caroline nestled down into the
pillows and was soon asleep.



CHAPTER VIII


Camilla came home very late that night.

She had dined firstly with Sir Samuel and another couple at one of the
big restaurants. After that she had gone to the play, and lastly she
had gone back to supper at the house of a certain woman who affected a
great regard for her, and there she had played cards with her usual
disastrous luck.

She had driven home alone, tired, depressed, and yet conscious of an
enormous relief.

For Broxbourne had spoken that night of going out of town immediately.
This he had said when they had been alone, and the conversation had so
tended that had he been prepared to bring forward the subject she so
dreaded to hear, it would have been the easiest thing in the world for
him to have done so.

Indeed, Camilla had held her breath for a moment, preparing herself to
meet the black moment that had haunted her in anticipation ever since
she had met him so unexpectedly that evening in the railway carriage.

But Sir Samuel had said nothing. Evidently he was still unaware that he
had it in his power to make her suffer.

"And if he does go," Camilla said to herself wearily, as she alighted
at her own door and passed into the silent house, "that means that I
can breathe again. Oh, I wish he would go! I am not afraid of him as I
was in the old days, but I loathe him just as much. He is more hateful
than ever. He was always coarse and hateful, but now he is worse.
Nothing can be beautiful in life when such a man is close to one." She
smiled faintly. "If Agnes Brenton could hear me," she said to herself,
"I suppose she would think that I was a little madder than usual, since
I fought her the other day when she was trying to say this very same
thing about Sammy. But, then, I should be sorry to be obliged to let
Agnes understand why I seem to encourage this man. How Ned hated him!
To-night when we were at supper all that Ned used to say about Sammy
came back to me with a rush.... And to think that I have made it
possible for such a brute to have the whip hand over me! Oh, sometimes
I think it is a good thing to die even as Ned died! There can at least
be no chance of being a miserable fool when one is in one's little
grave."

Some letters were lying for her on the table. She gathered them
together without looking at them, turned out the light, and mounted the
stairs quietly.

It seemed an incongruous thing for this woman, so exquisitely arrayed,
to be doing little menial duties. But Camilla was very thoughtful in
lots of things. She never permitted any one of the maids to sit up for
her.

Late as it was, a bright fire was still burning in the grate, and her
room was warm and cosy.

She sat down in the big easy-chair in front of the fire.

Her thoughts still hovered about Broxbourne. When she was tired, and
there was no excitement, she was ripe for remorse, for
self-recrimination. And now it seemed to her overstrained nerves that
she was tainted with the very coarseness, the vulgarity of the man she
hated so much.

"If he will only go away," she said feverishly, "I shall feel free to
breathe again: free of one horrible burden at all events! and he spoke
very definitely of going to-night. Now I am sure," she said the next
moment, "he can know nothing. If he had, he _must_ have let me realize
this in some way or other. We have been so much together. I have wanted
to be with him as much as I could, just on purpose to watch him! And if
he does not know now, why should he ever know? If I could only set the
matter right unknown to him!" She gave a long sigh, and shut her eyes
for a moment. "What a lot of things there are to set right! What a
fearful lot!"...

She sat with her eyes closed for a little while, and then she roused
herself and began to draw off her long gloves slowly. As she did so a
little scrap of paper fell from the palm of one. She picked it up. It
had scribbled on it the amount she had lost that night at bridge.

This swept her thoughts sharply into the old, the well-worn channel.

"Forty-seven pounds!" she said to herself. "Oh, Lord, what a fool I am!
Why can't I play like other people do? I shall have to settle this
to-morrow. Ena will be round here with the milk to get her money. How I
hate losing to women."

She got up with a jerk, and her letters were scattered on the ground.
As she stooped and picked them up she glanced at the writing on each.

One was from Agnes Brenton, the others looked like bills, with the
exception of one that was addressed in a handwriting she knew and
feared only too well.

It was a letter from Colonel Lancing, her husband's father.

Camilla bit her lip sharply and trembled. She flung off her beautiful
theatre wrap, and stood deliberating with the letter unopened in her
hand. Then with a sort of grim shadow on her face she took the plunge,
and tore open the envelope.

The very look of the letter, with its straight, hard characters had an
accusing tone about it. It started without any courteous beginning.

It was a horrible letter for Camilla Lancing to read. Clearly, coldly,
uncompromisingly the writer put before her his knowledge of all those
many facts that she had worked so hard to keep concealed from him.

Her life of debt and difficulty, her extravagances, her gambling, her
friends, and her follies were denounced in hard, deliberate terms.

She was judged without mercy, without a chance of defence; and her
sentence was written in the same hard, merciless way.

Colonel Lancing announced that the allowance he had made her since his
son's death was taken from her; her independence was to cease at once.

"My son's children have been left too long in the miserable atmosphere
of the life you affect; they are no longer infants, and I claim them.
They will come to my home, and be reared in the way they should be
reared, and if you conform to my commands you may live with them. But
let us understand one another clearly. Here there will be permitted no
reckless folly, no sinful waste; none of those things that have brought
you to where you are. You will be given a place with my daughters,
because you are the children's mother, and for no other reason; your
life will be ordered entirely by me, and in accordance with what I hold
to be proper and fit for a woman in your position. Refuse this, and I
wash my hands of you; you may sink to what depth you like. But the
children shall not sink. I have been patient too long, hoped too long.
I now see that there is no good in you, and I mean to stand between
these children and the harm you would do them."

Camilla stood like one transfixed.

The letter fluttered from her hand and lay on the floor.

The strong light of the electric light that was placed above her long
mirror fell mercilessly upon her.

Her radiant charm seemed blotted out in this moment. She was like a
woman blanched with some acute physical suffering.

This blow had fallen so suddenly, so unexpectedly. She had always known
that she was an object of dislike, even of hatred, to her husband's
people, that her claim upon them was recognized grudgingly; but she had
quickly taught herself to think about them as little as possible. Her
dependence only angered her when it had seemed to demand something of
her. Even now it was not the hurt to herself that sent the blood
running like ice in her veins; it was this stern revelation of
authority, this demand for her children and the knowledge that, placed
as she was, defiance to that authority was out of the question.

She put out her hand and steadied herself by the toilette-table; but
she trembled and swayed as she stood, and once her eyes turned to the
door in a hunted way, as though she could fashion out of the shadows on
the landing the figure of the stern old man, who denounced her in words
she dared not repeat to herself, who claimed from her the dearest
possession life held for her.

The silent emptiness of the room came upon her all at once as the clock
on the mantelpiece chimed three. Four hours of solitude stretched
before her. Four hours before she could expect Dennis to knock at her
door! Four hours of heart degradation and anguish, and deadly sickening
fear! She put up one cold hand and pushed her hair back from her brow.

It seemed to her as if already she were alone; already she had been
robbed of those little lives that made everything sweet, even the
darkest hour.

"I am frightened," she said to herself, "I am frightened!
frightened!... What shall I do?"

She began to pace the room, averting her eyes from the letter that lay
on the floor. Once she said with her pale lips--

"Violet has done this!"

Another time she almost cried aloud as if with a sudden pain. Then all
at once she stood still. Her expression changed. Her face flamed with
colour, and she commenced with cold, feeble fingers to get out of her
beautiful gown.

A feverish intention born of that sudden thought began to run like
wildfire in her veins. She tore at the hooks, she had no thought for
the delicacy of the lace, or the fragility of the material. She almost
spurned the gown with her foot as it slipped from her, and she
veritably threw aside the jewelry she had worn.

On her way to the door she only paused to fold herself in her warm
dressing-gown and to shed her high-heeled satin shoes. Then softly, and
with that same curious fever urging her on, she mounted the stairs
cautiously till she stood outside the room where her children slept.

Caroline was a light sleeper. She started up in bed nervously as she
heard the door open and some one move softly into the room.

"Who is it?" she asked. "Who is there? Is it you, Dennis? Has anything
happened?"

Camilla came to the foot of the bed. She could not speak; she was
breathing hardly, with difficulty. At first the girl could not
distinguish her clearly, the light was so dim; but almost immediately
she recognized that it was not Dennis who had come, and, slipping in
haste from the bed, she went at once to the bowed figure that sat
rocking itself to and fro, breathing in that painful fashion, as if
struggling with some great suffering.

"You are ill; what can I do for you? Tell me. Oh, please tell me!"
Caroline said, her nerves all ajar.

Camilla caught at her two hands.

"I ... I have had a shock," she said, when she could speak, "and I am
frightened ... very frightened. I cannot stay alone. I want to be near
the children. I _must_ have the children with me.... I have come to
take them downstairs."

To her suffering, distorted, mental vision in this moment Caroline
looked like some spirit, tall and straight in her long, white
nightgown, with her dark hair falling in two heavy plaits from her
small, smooth head.

The girl was more than a little frightened herself, but she calmed
herself with an effort.

It was, of course, impossible for her even to guess at what had
happened; nor did she wish to, she only wanted to help, to comfort, if
possible, for she realized that she had to minister to one who was
passing through no ordinary ordeal.

Putting her finger on her lip as a gesture of silence, she drew Camilla
to her feet.

"I will go down with you," she whispered, and they passed together out
of the room, but Camilla's mind dwelt on the children.

"Don't separate me from them," she said; her voice was so changed, so
dull, so hoarse. "Don't stand between me and the children," she said
almost passionately.

"If you will go downstairs," said Caroline, quietly and gently, "I will
bring the children down. I don't think they will wake. Make the bed
ready and turn the lights low. I think we will put them into the
blankets, they will not feel the cold that way."

At first she had been on the point of suggesting that Camilla should
stay in the nursery and take her bed, but she quickly felt that it
would be a wise thing to occupy the other woman a little, for even to
her untutored eye there were unmistakable signs of acute and dangerous
mental tension about Camilla at this moment.

"If you will go and make everything ready and come up again, you might
carry Baby down," she whispered.

It made her heart ache sharply to see the pitiful eagerness with which
Camilla did her bidding.

When the mother came back again she had divested herself of her silk
underskirt, so that there should be as little noise as possible.

"Give me Betty," she whispered; then she pushed Caroline gently on one
side. "I can lift her myself," she said, "I have done it before."

She almost staggered under the burden of the sleeping child as she took
it out of the bed; but the colour came back to her face, and her eyes
lost that wild look as she held Betty to her heart.

Caroline tucked a cot blanket securely about the little feet, and went
down closely behind.

"Now I will bring Baby," she whispered.

Both journeys were accomplished satisfactorily; neither child woke,
though Baby for a moment opened her sleepy eyes as though she would
have questioned what was passing with her.

When they were both laid in Camilla's luxurious bed (and by the sound
of their breathing the two listeners had assured themselves that the
rest was unbroken) the mother went up to Caroline and kissed her, and
then she put her arms round the girl and clung to her.

"Don't think me mad," she said hoarsely; "to-morrow I will tell you
all."

"You are so cold," said Caroline, unevenly; "won't you have something?
Let me get you a little brandy?"

"It is you who ought to be cold," said Camilla; "how selfish I am,
dragging you out of your bed like this."

They spoke in hushed tones.

"I am not a bit cold," Caroline said.

Indeed, she had found time to slip on something about her shoulders,
though her feet were bare.

She insisted upon putting Mrs. Lancing in the chair in front of the
fire, and then she went down to the dining-room and brought back a
little brandy.

Camilla thanked her with a wan smile, and urged the girl a second time
to go back to her bed. But Caroline would not leave her at once.

She was a little alarmed at Mrs. Lancing's look, and she knelt down,
chafing first the cold, slender hands, and then the small, cold feet.

"It is a long time since I carried Betty," Camilla said after a little
while. "Dear heart, she has grown so much she is no longer a baby,
alas! alas!"

The stimulant had already commenced to put a little sign of warmth and
life into her; the misery in her expression was breaking a little.

"She was my first baby, you know," she said, "and her father thought
her the most wonderful thing in the world. He used to walk up and down
with her for hours at a time, and the old nurse I had was _so_ angry
with him!... She said it was such a bad habit. But I loved to see him
with that little creature in his arms; he was so gentle with it.... And
then to think that he could forget her, turn away and leave her!... It
does not seem so bad that he should have forgotten me," she said. She
spoke dreamily.

There was a long pause. Caroline still chafed the small feet.

"You wonder, perhaps, why I asked for Betty," Camilla said in a low
voice. "I love them both just the same, but Betty belonged to the
beginning. Her father never saw Baby; poor little Baby! I wonder would
he have stayed if he had seen her?"

"You are warm now," said Caroline, brightly; "do let me help you into
bed. You will feel so much better there, and the children will keep you
warm. Won't they be surprised when they wake up and find themselves in
your bed?"

The smile that came into Mrs. Lancing's eyes was very pleasant to the
girl kneeling beside her to see.

Her heart began to beat a little less nervously. The fear and the
uneasiness began to slip from her. When she would have got up Camilla
held her back a moment.

"You have been so good to me," she said in a broken way, "and you give
me such a sense of strength, of comfort. How angry nurse would have
been if I had disturbed her as I have disturbed you! Dennis is right. I
have never had any one about me like you before."

Caroline smiled. There was a great sweetness in her face.

To the woman looking at her she had still that spiritual touch about
her, and yet she was human, human in the most exquisite meaning of the
word.

"Do let me help you to undress.... I am sure you ought to be in bed,"
she urged.

She got her way, and a little later, after she had tended Camilla as if
she had been a tired child, she stood and looked at the mother nestling
down in the bed between those two small slumbering forms, and the sight
brought tears to her eyes.

"I am going to stay a little while in case you want me," she whispered.

Camilla heard her as in a dream.

The hot agony had passed from her heart and a sense of exhaustion fell
upon her; she lay with a hand touching each of her children, and
Caroline moved about the room softly, putting it tidy.

She picked up the lace gown from the floor; she laid it and the
magnificent wrap on the couch.

The fire lit up the room with a warm, ruddy glow. Caroline put some
more coals on noiselessly. By the firelight she saw the scattered
jewels and gathered them together; then she put the letters in a pile,
with Colonel Lancing's at the bottom.

When all was done she paused and listened quite a long time.

Mrs. Lancing never moved; she had fallen asleep.

"Poor creature!" said Caroline to herself.

She stole softly away, but the room upstairs had such a desolate look,
she could not stay in it; so, as sleep was impossible now, she dressed
quickly, and went back to Mrs. Lancing's room still in the same soft
way.

"I may be of some use," she said.

She sat in the chair by the fire and she watched the bed. It gave her a
sense of extraordinary gladness to see those three so closely together;
in this moment she seemed to share in their union; she ceased to be a
stranger.



CHAPTER IX


Although he had both telegraphed and written to ask for some statement
concerning Caroline Graniger from his mother, Rupert Haverford, of
course, never expected to receive a prompt answer; indeed, he was quite
prepared to have no answer at all.

He left orders that all his letters were to be forwarded to him whilst
he was in the north, and Caroline's little epistle travelled thither
with the rest of his enormous correspondence.

It would have been very difficult for Haverford to have described why
he objected to the arrangement that had been entered into between Mrs.
Lancing and Caroline Graniger. The girl's own argument to herself in
favour of what she had done was a very sound one. Indeed, under the
circumstances, most people would have regarded the matter as being both
lucky and satisfactory.

But Rupert shared Mrs. Brenton's view about things done in haste; that
for the first point; the second was that, as he had put himself out in
a certain measure to make arrangements for Miss Graniger, he considered
that he should have been consulted before she had made any definite
plans.

To find, therefore, that she had already assumed an independent
attitude, and had taken herself and her immediate future out of his
hands, annoyed him.

There are very few men who really appreciate the spirit of independence
in women, and Rupert Haverford was very much behind the times in his
views concerning the way in which women were swarming into the world as
bread-winners and wage-earners.

He made no haste to reply to Caroline's letter. As usual, he found much
to occupy him when he arrived at that dirty, smoky, northern town.

He confessed to himself that he was glad to be away from London again
even for a little while; glad to dissociate his thoughts from that
element of his life that belonged to the world in which Camilla Lancing
lived. Not that he expected to be able to put her out of his thoughts
altogether, for even in the dull, prosaic, unlovely surroundings of the
factory, remembrance of this woman haunted him in so tangible a way
that at times he could almost have imagined she was close beside him.
And on this occasion he carried with him new matter for thought where
Camilla was concerned.

A new element had crept into his heart.

If he shut his eyes he could see with painful distinctness Camilla
floating round that large room held in the arms of another man.

He knew perfectly well that this other man was no more to her than the
floor on which she danced, but that did not affect the situation as far
as he was concerned.

He winced and turned hot as he sat alone in the railway carriage
whirling away from town, just as he had winced and grown hot the other
night, when, like some graceful white leaf borne on a wayward wind, she
had lightly skimmed past him, brushing him with her soft, clinging
skirts.

Her laughing, petulant reproach when he had refused to dance because he
could not dance had left a little wound.

She had made him feel clumsy; suddenly she had seemed to recede from
him.

It was the first time that he had ever felt awkward, and at the mere
suggestion that he could look foolish in the eyes of this woman Rupert
Haverford discovered that he was very like other men, some of whom
perhaps he had judged hardly, and some contemptuously.

He had no definite intention in his mind as to how he should act.
Indeed, it seemed to him that the future was not held in restraint by
his hand or his power, and he laughed once to himself a little
bitterly, as he recalled how he had gone round and round this subject
of late, thinking entirely of his own feelings, and of how far the
bewitchment that this woman had cast upon him was to be permitted to
order his life.

In the lightest way possible Camilla had shown him that he made too
much of his own importance.

It was not exactly his fault that he had grown critical and reserved
where women were concerned.

If he had met Camilla when he had been a man struggling every hour to
work himself into independence, he would never have questioned her
right, never have sought to analyze what went to form her brilliant
personality. He would have given her unquestioning devotion, seeing in
her that spirit of grace and delicacy and beauty which had always been
placed in his dreams: a gift at once necessary and unattainable.

But the burden of his great wealth had changed in a certain measure
Rupert's nature; it had made him cautious, it had made him doubtful,
and he was so imbued with that weighty sense of responsibility that he
never took a step in any direction without great deliberation, and
forecasting as far as he could the probable results that would accrue
from any act.

Mrs. Lancing was not the only woman who fluttered in and out of his
life in these days, who charmed him momentarily and pressed upon him
eagerly sympathy and friendship and delicately insinuated homage.

He would have been blind indeed if he had not realized that his
marriage was a matter of importance and hope to many women; that any
choice indeed was possible to him.

He was a little impatient with himself at times that it should be this
one particular woman who held him; even now, when she had left him
smarting and uncomfortable, he was falling back into that old train of
anxious thought about her.

Of course, he knew her history as the world knew it. Most people were
kind about Camilla. There had been nothing subtle in the way in which
her husband had wronged her.

It was the knowledge of this wrong done to her that drew Haverford to
her so surely. He longed to give her protection, to build up barriers
between her and all those things that had been legacies of her married
life.

And, of course, there was only one way in which he could do this.

All at once he realized that he had ceased to doubt or speculate as to
the future of such a marriage; hope became deliberate intention. And
still the path was not clear. He knew his own heart, but what about
Camilla's heart?

Metaphorically, he stretched out his hands to catch that dancing,
laughing, white-robed figure, only to feel that the soft, filmy
draperies slipped from his grasp, and that Camilla was dancing away
far, far out of his reach.

When he alighted at the familiar station he almost yielded to the
temptation to put himself in the train again and go back to London.

As the doubt and uncertainty dropped out of his heart, something new
came in their place.

Now he was jealous. He wanted to be sure of her. He wanted to hold her
in his arms as that other man had held her. He wanted to lock her to
him, to feel that she belonged to him.

"I shall go back to-morrow," he settled.

But he did not go south on the morrow. He found himself plunged into a
mass of business, confronted with difficulties, some of which were as
unexpected as they were bitter.

During the past year Haverford had been making enormous improvements in
his northern property. He had introduced a quantity of new plant, the
old factories were in process of being replaced by new buildings that,
when finished, would cost a small fortune. Old Matthew Woolgar would
not have known the place could he have seen it now.

In his determination to give this world of workers every possible
chance, Rupert Haverford had left nothing undone that could militate to
the benefit of their lives, both at work and in their homes.

And yet such is the trend of human nature that, notwithstanding all
that he had done and was doing, he met with no gratitude. On the
contrary, he was most unpopular. It was a fact known to every one but
himself that these people, who occupied the first thought in his mind,
had long since begun to regard him with suspicion and jealousy; some
added contempt, and some--a great number--grudging hate.

He had been summoned urgently on this occasion because it appeared that
there had been a good deal of friction in the works, and of late
certain cases of incendiarism had occurred, culminating in a dastardly
attempt to burn down the fine building which he had built and dedicated
to the use of the factory hands as a place of mental and bodily
education and refreshment.

It went very hard with Haverford to be forced to realize that this
destruction of his property, this spirit of unrest and rebellion, found
its rise in sullen animosity to himself.

At first, indeed, when he was told that there was a strong wave of bad
feeling against himself he refused to believe it. The injustice of the
ignorant is always hard to recognize and to accept.

He had never wanted gratitude; he had only wanted comradeship. He had
wanted to share his good fortune, not to buy a kingdom.

He had been loyal to this old place, to these people, and his father
before him had been loyal, even unto death.

"They have bad memories," he said to one of his managers. "My father
gave his life working among these people; for his sake they might have
met me fairly."

The other man shrugged his shoulders.

"You have done too much, sir," he said. "These sort of folk want the
whip, not benevolence."

And Haverford said no more.

To speak further of his great hopes now lost, his numerous schemes, his
almost passionate intentions for helping the people among whom he had
worked and lived so long was to touch on a dead and sacred subject.

Yet he lingered in the north. He wanted to satisfy himself that he had
made a mistake. He wanted to grow accustomed to his disappointment, to
the humiliation of feeling that these people made a mockery of him and
his generous intentions. Once he had grasped this in its fulness, and
the matter would be closed. Henceforward they should have from him
duty, nothing more.

He knew perfectly well that the men who served him and who held posts
of importance had long since regarded him as a crank. Well, there
should be no more quixotic weakness, no more sentiment. He had bared
his heart to these people, stretched out his hand and called them his
brethren, and his reward had been a stone at his heart and an evil
word, coupled with a curse.

He did not go south till the lads who had been instrumental in trying
to burn down his property had been caught and taken before the
magistrate.

"If I am wanted, send for me," he said to his head-manager the day he
left, "and report as usual."

He had telegraphed for his motor. He felt in need of a little spell of
relief, of fresh influences, of something to divert his thoughts.

"I will go abroad for Christmas," he said to himself.

He dawdled on his way, putting up at various uninteresting places,
where the chauffeur found the hours pass pretty slowly. But as he drew
nearer to London he became nervous.

It seemed to him that he could not get on enough speed to satisfy a
certain restless excitement that urged him southward.

When he finally reached town he found news of his mother. Mrs.
Baynhurst had not written herself, but there was a letter from his
half-brother.

Cuthbert Baynhurst announced that he had brought their mother home,
and added that if Rupert had any business he wished to discuss it
would be desirable if that business should be held over for a little
while.

"I made her see a specialist in Paris, and he reported very
indifferently about her. Of course she had no business to rush across
the other day. If she will do these sort of stupid things, she is bound
to suffer for it. She is a good bit annoyed about Miss Graniger, so I
think if you don't mind it would be as well not to worry her more than
you can help."

To this letter Rupert made no direct reply, but he scribbled a few
words to his mother, saying that he would call on her the following day
if she cared to see him.

"That will give her the opportunity of shirking me if she does not want
me," he said to himself, with a faint smile.

He was obliged to give an hour or two to his secretary, and to make
appointments that would occupy him nearly the whole of the next day.
But he purposely kept the afternoon free; he wanted to see Camilla.

His cab had just pulled up at Mrs. Lancing's door when it was opened,
and the two children passed out, with Caroline Graniger in attendance.

No sooner did they see Rupert Haverford than Betty and Baby ran to him
and flung themselves upon him. They made quite a commotion in the
streets.

Miss Graniger stood in the background, smiling faintly, yet conscious
of a little awkwardness.

Mr. Haverford was so occupied with the children that he could not for
the moment address a single word to her.

When his right hand was free, however, he lifted his hat and gave her a
smile; then he stretched out his hand, and Caroline put hers into it.

"Do you wish to see Mrs. Lancing?" she asked. "She is at home, but not
very well."

"But she will see you," Betty chimed in. "Do go and see her. Poor
mummy! she is _so_ white, and her eyes look red, just like mine do when
I have been crying."

"Perhaps I had better not go in," Mr. Haverford said.

But the children were urging him towards the door. Betty gave him all
sorts of injunctions.

"Don't make too much noise," she said. "You mustn't jump about, or
scream on the stairs. Baby _always_ screams when mummy's got a bad
head."

Caroline had to come to the rescue here; behind a good firm barrier
Baby felt that she might hurl recrimination on her sister with
impunity. It took some time to pacify her.

"I really don't think I ought to go in," Haverford repeated earnestly.

But Caroline had unlocked the door with a latchkey.

"I think Mrs. Lancing would like to see you," she said. She spoke
stiffly; she did not feel quite at her ease with him. "Shall I go up
and tell her you are here?"

"Yes; go," said Betty. "Mr. Haverford will take care of us; he's a very
us-a-ful man. We'll play that he's a new nurse. Come on, Babsy!"

As she passed up the stairs Caroline said to herself--

"He did not say anything disagreeable, and he did not look very cross.
I am rather glad."

Mrs. Lancing was sitting in front of the fire leaning back in a chair;
a book lay open upon her knees. It was the day following the midnight
raid on the nursery.

She looked very ill, and was very languid, and utterly unlike herself.

Dennis and Caroline had combined to keep Mrs. Lancing in bed all the
morning, and if Dennis could have had her way she would have called a
doctor; but Camilla prohibited this.

She looked round now with a start as the door opened and Caroline
reappeared.

"I hear the children speaking to some one," she said, in a nervous sort
of way. "Who is it? Why have you left them? After all, I don't think I
will let them go out, Caroline."

"Mr. Haverford is downstairs. I told him you were not well. I think he
would like to see you."

Mrs. Lancing leaned forward suddenly. The book slipped from her knees
and fell to the floor. She had turned suddenly very hot, and her face
was scarlet for the moment.

"No," she said in a jerky sort of way, and then, just as quickly, she
changed her mind. "Yes ... yes, I _will_ see him! He may cheer me up. I
feel half dead this afternoon. I am sure I must look an object, don't
I?" She stood up for an instant and peered at herself in the glass over
the fireplace.

"That depends what an object is like," said Miss Graniger, with a
little laugh; "you are looking very pale, but extremely interesting,
and that gown is lovely."

Camilla tried to laugh.

"That is all right," she said; "are you going now? Well, don't forget
what I told you, keep both the children by the hand. I--I am so nervous
about them to-day."

Caroline promised to bring the children back with all safety, and then
she turned to go. But Mrs. Lancing called her again.

"Oh! I very nearly forgot. Will you take this letter to the post for
me? I want it sent by express messenger. Sir Samuel is leaving town
to-night, and I should like him to get it before he goes. I had a
letter from him this morning," said Camilla, she laughed faintly; "it
was very kind of him; he saw that I was upset last night when I lost so
much money at bridge, and he wrote to ask if he could be of any
assistance. This is to say, 'No, thank you,' in as pretty a fashion as
possible. So, you see, I want him to get it; if you don't know where
the post-office is, Betty will take you there. Where are the children
now, by the way?"

"Mr. Haverford is taking care of them," said Caroline.

She was conscious that Camilla was speaking very flurriedly. Indeed, it
seemed to her that Mrs. Lancing had confided the contents of her letter
to Sir Samuel Broxbourne almost unconsciously, as though she were glad
to speak for the mere sake of speaking.

Dennis had been greatly upset that morning by something her mistress
had told her, but she had not shared her trouble with Caroline as yet.
Indeed, up to the present the girl was absolutely ignorant (although
she and Camilla had been drawn so closely together in the night hours)
of the nature of the trouble that had evidently fallen so unexpectedly.

She found the children back on the doorstep; they parted with Rupert
Haverford with reluctance.

"Say you'll be stayed till we come in," pleaded Betty.

Baby kept them waiting while she solemnly unfolded a piece of crumpled
paper; from this she extracted a crushed-looking object that once had
been a chocolate drop, and before Caroline could intervene she had
pressed this upon Haverford. He accepted the gift with gratitude, and
carried it upstairs to show it with pride to Baby's mother.

"Let me tell you," said Camilla, as she gave him her hand without
rising, "that that is a sign that you are in very great favour. I
thought I was the only person with whom Babsy shared the things she was
eating. She is so fond of eating, dear little soul. Just like me. Pull
up that chair and be sociable. Do you know that it is years since I saw
you? Where _have_ you been? I begin to think there is something
mysterious about these journeys to the north."

It was an attempt at her usual pretty, light-hearted manner, but only
an attempt.

Haverford did not pull up the chair; he stood by the fire and looked
down at her. Strangely enough he felt quite at his ease with her to-day.

He had drawn off the glove that had the chocolate drop sticking to it,
and Camilla noticed, not for the first time, what a fine hand he had.
Though it was brown, and had been trained to such hard work, there was
a charm about it. A hand can be so significant. With a sudden shiver
she remembered the flat, coarse, cruel finger-tips of Samuel Broxbourne.

There was something inviting, something pleasant about the look of
Rupert Haverford's hand.

"Do sit down," she said suddenly; and there was a little nervous tone
in her voice.

Instead of obeying her he put a question to her.

"What have you been doing with yourself?" he asked.

She pretended to misunderstand him.

"I told Caroline I was sure I was not fit to be seen to-day;" then she
shrugged her shoulders. "Late hours, my dear friend. The result of all
the silly, stupid things that I know you want to denounce from the
housetop. I came home very late last night," she said, after a little
pause. "I played cards, and I lost a lot!... And then I found some
tiresome letters waiting for me, and so"--she shrugged her shoulders a
second time--"I had a bad night, and to-day, of course, I look a wreck."

"I think you ought to see a doctor," said Rupert Haverford.

Camilla moved impatiently in her chair.

"How unoriginal a man is! You are all alike," she said. "You imagine
that as soon as a doctor has scribbled something on a paper, and the
chemist has sent in a neat little white packet, and an equally neat
little bill, then everything must be all right! Shakespeare was a man,
but he knew things better than most of you do. He knew, for instance,
that all the doctors in the world cannot do any good when the mind is
ill."

There was a pause, in which Camilla made a strange discovery. She found
she could hear her own heart beat quite plainly.

Was it chance or Providence that had sent this man to her now?

"The other day," said Rupert Haverford, in his quiet, seemingly
unemotional way, "you came to me to ask me to help a friend of yours.
You know my only reason for existence just now is that I may be of some
service to other people. I cannot help feeling that perhaps I might be
of some use to you. If you won't try a doctor, suppose you try me?"

"Suppose we talk about something else," said Camilla. "I know I have
something to say to you--what is it?" She wrinkled her brows and closed
her eyes, and he looked at her almost hungrily.

Lying back with her eyes closed, it seemed to him that her face had
grown more delicate, that her general aspect was more fragile.

The very suggestion that she should be really in trouble, that care
should be fretting her, was torture to him.

"Ah, I know what it was," she said, opening her eyes and bending
forward. "I have a bone to pick with you. I hear that you are not
pleased because Miss Graniger accepted the situation I offered her. I
call that horrid of you."

"I suppose I have no right to feel anything about the matter one way or
another," Rupert answered; "but, in reality, I did feel a little
annoyed. I was not sure that it would be a good arrangement for either
of you. You see, I know practically nothing about this girl."

"And you know too much about me," finished Camilla, with a little
laugh. "Well, as it happens, it is the happiest thing for both of us.
You can see for yourself that the children have turned to Caroline just
as little ducklings turn to water; and as for myself, except for Agnes
Brenton, I think this girl is the nearest approach to what I call a
_real_ woman I have ever met; so I hope," with a flash of her old
manner, "you are not going to interfere, exert your rights as a
guardian or a parochial officer, or whatever you are, and take Caroline
away."

He only smiled. The question of Caroline Graniger was of no interest to
him.

As he remained silent Camilla felt that heart-beat sound again with
heavy thuds in her ears.

"Do sit down," she said to him, almost weakly; "you--you look so big,
so commanding as you stand there. I assure you I am not well enough to
be awed to-day. I think I must have some tea. If I have a cup of tea I
shall be stronger."

When the bell had been rung, and answered, she really had taken a grip
of herself.

"It is very nice of you to come and see me," she said. "When did you
get back?"

"I arrived just before lunch," he said; "I came down in the motor."

"Wasn't it very cold?"

He nodded his head.

"Yes; the country is rather bleak just now." Then he smiled. "Now I
will sit down," he said, "since my size is so alarming!"

Camilla's delicate fingers were picking at the lace on her sleeve a
little nervously.

"So you have only been back an hour or two, and you came to see me at
once. Now that was very sweet of you, Mr. Haverford. Some instinct must
have told you that I was dull and lonely, and dying for a pleasant
companion."

Haverford's brown face coloured a little.

"The truth is, Mrs. Lancing," he said, "I felt in need of sympathy, so
I came to you."

"Sympathy! Has something happened? Oh! do let me know!"

She spoke for the first time naturally.

He sat forward and looked into the fire for a moment, and then quietly
and in a very few words he gave her the story of what had happened, or,
rather, the story of what he had discovered up north, and Camilla
listened eagerly; her own trouble, bitter and pressing and painful as
it was, faded from her as she listened.

"I don't suppose anybody in the wide world knows what this means to
me," Haverford said slowly, when he had spoken of his disappointment,
of the breakdown of his hopes. "I was so fond of those people. I
counted so surely on their faith in me, in their real affection. Money
is a very destructive thing, Mrs. Lancing! I will stake my existence
that there is not a man or a woman who had not a good thought for me in
the old days. And now there is not one who would not enjoy flinging a
brick at me."

Camilla did not speak for a moment.

"I think I understand," softly; then she said, "But I don't believe I
can give you sympathy, Mr. Haverford. I am sure this has gone too
deeply for any words of mine to help you."

She stretched out her hand, however, as she spoke, and Rupert took it,
laying it on one broad palm and closing his other tenderly over it. He
felt the nervous thrill that ran through her. Her face was scarlet as
she took her hand away with a jerk.

"Here comes tea," she said. "You are going to wait upon me, please, Mr.
Haverford. I don't feel quite equal to lifting the teapot."

When he had done this gravely, taking any amount of care, and they were
alone, without any further interruption, he stood once more by the
fireplace, and looked at her.

"Now I have told you my trouble, won't you tell me yours?"

She winced and caught her breath, and then with a sudden irresponsible
movement she put her hands to her face, and he saw that she was crying.

His own hands moved convulsively, but almost immediately Camilla had
mastered her weakness.

"Don't ... think me quite a fool," she said, "and don't, _please_
don't, run away with the idea that I want to cry. I must be very strong
now.... I never want to cry ... tears are useless at all times, but
they are worse than useless now. I believe," she said, as she dried her
eyes hurriedly, "that it won't surprise you in the least to be told
that I have always been more or less in difficulty. Of course it is
money--hateful, horrible, _horrible_ money."

She got up and moved away from him, still drying her eyes.

"I dare say lots of people have told you all there is to know about me,
and so you may have heard that the only money I have in the world to
live upon has come to me from my husband's people. Well! then you will
understand a little bit why I am so upset to-day when I tell you that
Colonel Lancing, that is, the children's grandfather, is so angry with
me that he has stopped my money, and ... and ..." she broke off here,
and put her hands against her trembling lips. "He thinks to force my
hand, you see," she said, hoarsely; "he knows I have nothing, that
there is no one to give me anything but himself, he knows that if I am
content to starve myself I cannot let the children starve, and that is
why he says the children are to belong to him. Oh!" she turned again,
flinging out her hands with a little gesture of despair, "I am not
going to try and defend myself. I know better than anybody can tell me
how foolish I have been. What a multitude of wrong things I have done.
I have been preparing myself for some sort of punishment--people who do
wrong always do get punished, don't they? But I never, never thought of
this. Of course he cannot take them from me by law. I am their mother,
they are mine ... _mine_.... But if he cuts off the money, that gives
him law!"

She sat down on a couch the other side of the room and dabbed her eyes
with her wet handkerchief, and Rupert Haverford looked across at her
with eyes that were wet too.

The silence that was so natural to him, and so irritating to Camilla,
became oppressive now. She got up with a jerk.

"You _would_ make me tell you what the matter was with me, and now I
have bored you," she said. "Other people's troubles _are_ bores, say
what one will!"

And then he found his voice.

"Oh! don't let us play with realities," he said. "I could not speak at
first because, well! because I am not good at words. You must have
realized that by this time; and you must have realized something else,
Camilla, and that is that everything that concerns you is dear to me,
so dear that I tremble at the thought that I am still outside your
life." He left the fire and went nearer to her. "I came here to-day,"
he said, "because I found that I could not go through another
twenty-four hours without seeing you. You mean so much to me. I had no
idea whether you would care for me to come; indeed, the last time I saw
you I tormented myself by imagining that you found me tedious, and
dull, that you wanted to have no more to do with me. Still I had to
come."

Camilla gave a sharp sigh and turned round, her face was blurred with
tears, she hardly looked young or pretty.

"I know what you are going to say," she said, "I know what you are
going to ask me, but I am afraid to listen."

"Afraid?" he said, and his brows met; "afraid of what?"

"Oh, you don't know me," said Camilla, with a broken sound in her
voice; "you think me pretty, you like me. Perhaps I fascinate you, but
you don't know me. I ... I am not going to refuse to be your wife," she
said, she spoke with her teeth half closed; "but I don't want any false
pretences, I don't want you to imagine things about me that do not
exist. I am full of faults, I am not a bit good. You don't know," she
opened her eyes for a minute, and looked at him, "you don't know how
un-good I am, and you ... you are so good. You will want to make me
like yourself."

"God forbid," said Rupert Haverford.

He was so near to her now that he almost touched her. She was trembling
with excitement.

"Oh! I don't mean that you would do it unkindly, only that you look at
things differently. I am so afraid you will be disappointed in me, but
..." the tears were running down her cheeks, "I know one thing about
you. I know that you are true, and that if you give your word it will
be your bond." Her lips quivered. "The children," she said brokenly;
and then she was lying with her face pressed down on his breast, and
his arms were folded about her.

What he said she hardly heard, she was only conscious in that moment of
a great, a wonderful relief. It was as though some gnawing pain that
had fretted into her very soul had been lulled; that a beautiful rest
had followed on the pain.

She closed her eyes, and she nestled nearer to him. Then, little by
little, she came back to the reality, and her heart leapt in her
throat, she tried to free herself, but those strong arms held her
tightly. Some one was kissing her brow, and close beside her she could
feel the quick beating of a strong heart.

Once she had said to herself, "He will love me too much."

And now she had accepted this love; she had bartered her freedom for
it....

The thought of the bondage burned her, yet it had come about so
naturally.

"I did not seek him," she said to herself; "he came, he would have come
a little later, but he came now ... just when I needed some one ...
something...."

How his heart beat!... How strong he was! When he kissed her brow and
hair and eyes she could feel his lips quiver.

He would love her too much! He did not ask her to kiss him in return.
He was so good ... so generous! He had given her back her children. For
that she could have knelt at his feet. But she almost prayed that he
would not ask for her kisses ... not yet ... not yet....



CHAPTER X


On the following day the children and their governess went down to
Yelverton. There was so much excitement and bustle in getting away that
Caroline had little time to realize that she was tired. She saw nothing
of Mrs. Lancing, who was in her room.

The children were told to keep very quiet because mother had a bad
headache.

It was Dennis who had communicated the news to Caroline that she was to
take Betty and Baby down to Mrs. Brenton's delightful country house by
an early afternoon train.

It seemed to the girl that Dennis was in a great state of excitement
about something. Also it was evident that the gloom that had appeared
to settle so definitely on the little house the day before had been
lifted.

When they were ready to go, the children crept into their mother's room
to say "good-bye," but Caroline remained outside.

Betty brought out a message.

"Mother says we are to be as good as we know how, and to do everything
we are telled."

It was very delightful to be welcomed by Mrs. Brenton so cordially.

Betty had dilated with enthusiasm on the joys that awaited them at
Yelverton, and Caroline quickly realized that the child had exaggerated
nothing.

The little people were installed in a wing of the house where there
were any number of empty rooms and long passages just made to be danced
in and to echo with happy voices--a veritable playground; and Agnes
Brenton, who had studied the art of making people comfortable all her
life, took the children's governess into her first consideration.

There were no guests when they arrived, though plenty were expected for
Christmas.

The mere thought of having her house full, and of arranging all sorts
of treats for the children, made Mrs. Brenton quite happy.

"I am going to keep you tremendously busy," she said to Caroline; "we
must furbish up this old house. This is the first year that Camilla has
let me have the children with me for Christmas. But I intend to make a
bargain with her now. I shall insist that she sends them here as much
as possible. I know Rupert Haverford will join forces with me in this.
I suppose they will be married very soon."

Caroline looked so surprised that Mrs. Brenton laughed.

"Do you mean to tell me you have not heard the great news? It is known
now to everybody," she said, "therefore I am not betraying confidences.
I am so delighted about it, for I confess I have been hoping for this
for a long time past. You know how dear Camilla is to me, and I like
him immensely. Don't you?" Then Mrs. Brenton laughed. "Oh, I forgot you
don't know him! It is funny that you never came across him when you
were with his mother!"

"He used to go very seldom to see Mrs. Baynhurst," Caroline answered.
She spoke slowly, as if her thoughts were occupied.

The engagement between Mrs. Lancing and Rupert Haverford was of course
largely discussed at Yelverton, and was the favourite item of gossip
elsewhere for the moment. As Camilla had prophesied, the world gave
nearly all its congratulations to Haverford's betrothed. Mrs. Lancing
was very delightful, very pretty--in every way a most charming woman;
but there are any amount of charming and delightful and pretty women in
the world, and rich men (rich, at least, in the great way that
Haverford was) are so scarce.

Caroline was sharply startled when she heard that Mrs. Lancing was
pledged to marry Rupert Haverford.

There was a suggestion of anxiety in the way her thoughts worked about
the other woman.

Camilla had ceased utterly to be a stranger to her. If there had been
nothing else to bind them together, that scene in the silence of the
night would have put them into very close touch with one another.
Moreover, it was natural that the girl should sit and weave stories to
herself out of the material that lay to her hands.

There was everything about Camilla Lancing to excite the imagination,
to stimulate the appetite for romance.

Agnes Brenton rejoiced frankly over the enormous material satisfaction
this engagement signified, and Caroline joined with her in this; but
she was unlike Mrs. Brenton in one respect, for whereas the older woman
saw nothing but a certainty of happiness in this marriage, Caroline,
young, unworldly as she was, felt from the very first that there was in
this prospective union a doubtful element; that difficulties would most
certainly present themselves--great difficulties, every whit as great,
as black, and as heart shadowing as any that had belonged to Camilla in
the past.

She needed very little now to convince herself that Haverford would
meet those difficulties in a firm, a straightforward way. But what
about the woman?

Although she had only seen him twice, Caroline had been instantly
impressed with the restraint, even the coldness of Haverford's manner.

To her he seemed to be the very last man in the world who would be able
to assimilate himself with Camilla's effervescent nature. Surely her
fanciful inconsequence, her pretty conceits, her irresponsible ways,
would never wed with his seriousness and restraint, his peculiar
gravity?

That spell of definite heart anguish, witnessed and shared by herself,
charged all memory now of the children's mother with pathos. She could
not help associating it with what had occurred.

Knowing nothing definitely, Caroline yet knew enough to assure herself
that the engagement had been forced into existence by that very mental
maelstrom of only a few hours before. And already she felt she
understood Camilla well enough to be sure that this act, born of
expediency, the outcome of intense excitement, would have its aftermath
of judgment, perhaps of condemnation.

But for this sense of clinging anxiety about the woman she had learnt
to love so dearly the girl would have been so happy.

"I want you to run wild," Mrs. Brenton said to her. "You can always
leave the children with me when you want to be alone; they don't bother
me in the least."

So on every possible occasion Caroline was out of the house either with
the children or without them, and day by day she blossomed out a little
more into health and good looks.

"I wonder if you have Irish blood in your veins," Mrs. Brenton asked
her on one occasion when they went for a brisk walk together. "Your
eyes are distinctly Irish, you know."

Caroline had laughed.

"I may be a Hottentot for all I know about myself. Undoubtedly I must
have had some beginning, but what it was I have not the least idea."

Agnes Brenton did not answer at once, and then she said--

"You have never heard from Mrs. Baynhurst?"

The girl shook her head, and then laughed again.

"Oh no, I never expected to. I dare say Mr. Haverford has tried to make
her speak, but I shall be very much surprised if he gets anything out
of her."

"I am quite sure he will have tried," said Mrs. Brenton warmly.

"Oh!" said Caroline, "he must have so many things to think about just
now. I expect he has forgotten all about me."

On Christmas Eve Mrs. Brenton handed over the completion of the
decorations to Caroline. People were arriving all day.

Towards the afternoon Betty fell into a state of great consternation.
They had run out of gold and silver paper, and there were any amount of
other little things that had been forgotten.

Caroline rose to the occasion.

"Look here, sweetheart, I'll tell you what I will do. I will ask Mrs.
Brenton if I may go and get everything for you."

"You will be gone ages, and ages, and ages, and I want it now," said
Betty, who was like her mother in more than one thing. She pleaded to
be allowed to go into the town, too, but the wind was much too cold.

Mrs. Brenton fell in quickly with the arrangement, only suggesting that
Caroline should drive; but the walk did not frighten the girl.

Indeed, a sense of gladness radiated her as she progressed briskly
along the muddy road, and yet perhaps it was inevitable that as she
found herself alone, away from the warmth and the cosy atmosphere of
the busy household, she should drift into comparisons; that she should
awaken to the significance of how really apart she was from these happy
elements of home, and family, and festival.

Oddly enough, it was not for herself as she was this day that she felt
pity, it was for herself as that little, lonely creature left to pick
what sunshine she could out of the bleakest surroundings that her heart
ached.

The very pleasantness of her present circumstances emphasized all she
had missed.

Christmas hitherto had been to her synonymous only with the packing of
boxes and the departure of all of her schoolmates. The last winter she
had spent in that old schoolhouse had, it is true, been less lonely
than most, for two other little children had been left to share her
solitude, and she had made gallant efforts at gaiety. She smiled
faintly now as she recalled all she had done, but she sighed too.

"Yet we were really and truly happy," she said to herself. "At any
rate, it was a hundred times better than last Christmas. Shall I ever
forget that dull, long, miserable, foggy day! It seemed as if it would
never end. My food sent up as usual to my room, and not a soul to say a
kind word! Well, it is a little bit different now!"

The wind swept across the open places. It was so strong and cold that
it made her gasp for breath every now and then, but it stung the colour
into her cheeks, and made her dark eyes light up into extraordinary
beauty.

"If only this could go on for ever," she said to herself; "but somehow
I feel so afraid it can't last. She is so sweet, so affectionate"--the
"she" was Camilla--"when we are together, but even now I believe she
has forgotten my existence."

Indeed, though a daily report of the children's doings was sent to
London, Mrs. Lancing had not even scribbled a word to the girl in
reply. She wrote to Mrs. Brenton, she telegraphed, she telephoned, and
she sent all manner of things to her children, but she showed no signs
of remembrance to Caroline.

"And"--then the girl mused--"I am all very well now, but Betty will
want a real governess in a little while. It will be very hard to leave
them. I almost think," said Caroline, a little unsteadily, "that I was
better off when I had no chance of growing very attached to any one. It
cannot hurt to part when one does not know how sweet it is to care and
to be cared for."

Cheerless and yet grey as the country was in its wintry aspect, it had
always a charm and a beauty for Caroline.

Halfway to the town she marked a bush standing high above the hedge,
on which clustered some brilliant red berries.

"Those are just what Betty wants," she said to herself. But she
deferred picking them till her return.

The afternoon light was beginning to fade as she left the town; she was
laden with parcels, her arms were quite full.

She had just passed into the long road that led to Yelverton, when a
cab overtook her. It was an open fly, and a man sat in it alone, with
some luggage piled in front of him.

Caroline just glanced round, and then to her surprise she recognized
Rupert Haverford, who quickly stopped the cab as he in his turn
recognized her.

"Are you walking?" he asked. "But it is getting quite dark, you will
lose your way!"

She laughed.

"Oh, impossible! It is a straight road, one could not go astray."

"Give me some of those things," said Haverford, and he began to unload
her arms. "This looks like Christmas." Then he said, "You will let me
give you a lift?"

Caroline hesitated a moment, and then said, "Thank you. But I must stop
a little way down," she said, "because I want to get some berries for
Betty. I will tell you when we get to the place."

As he sat beside her in the cab, Rupert Haverford put a question to her
rather eagerly.

"Do you know what train Mrs. Lancing came by?"

"Mrs. Lancing? She had not arrived when I left," Caroline answered. "I
think she was expected just before dinner. At least, I heard Mrs.
Brenton arranging that the carriage should go to meet the quick train
down from London. I believe she expected that you would come together."

"It was arranged we were to come together," said Haverford. But that
was all he said; he began immediately to talk about Caroline herself.

"No doubt you will have been expecting to hear from me, Miss Graniger?"

Caroline said "No," in a quiet way.

He looked at her.

"Surely yes. You must have expected to hear from me?"

"Well," said Caroline frankly, "I thought it possible that you might
forget to write, or that you were so annoyed with me you might not care
to bother about me any more."

"I was not annoyed with you," said Haverford quickly.

"Oh! weren't you? I thought you were!"

They drove on for a little while in silence, and then Caroline bent
forward.

"Oh, will you ask the man to stop, please? I must really have those
berries."

Haverford got out with her.

"They are much too high for you to reach," was his observation.

"They are rather high," Caroline agreed, "but I am sure I can reach
them if I give a jump."

He laughed.

"I can get them without a jump."

He mounted the rough ground and reached up to the bush that stood high
above the hedge.

Caroline thanked him.

"Betty will be delighted," she said; "we have been looking everywhere
for those red berries, and somehow we never thought of coming down this
road."

When they were back in the cab and jolting on again Haverford said to
her--

"Although you pretend that you did not expect me to write, I suppose
you will be a little interested in hearing that I have some odds and
ends of intelligence to give you about yourself. I should have written
to you days ago," he went on quickly, "but my mother is rather a
difficult person to handle, as you know, and it was only yesterday that
I managed to corner her on this subject. She knew what was coming, and
shirked me accordingly."

Caroline said nothing. She waited for him to continue. Nevertheless,
her heart began to beat a little nervously.

"It is quite true," Haverford said after that little pause, "my mother
is your guardian, or rather was, for in future I intend to relieve her
of that office. You are her niece by marriage. Your mother was Gerald
Baynhurst's only sister. From what I can gather, this sister must have
been very dear to him. I am really as much a stranger to my mother's
life as yourself, Miss Graniger. Beyond knowing that she married Mr.
Baynhurst after my father's death, I have never been informed, I may
add that I have never cared to inform myself, about anything connected
with this marriage. So I can only give you the bare outline of your
story."

He paused again, and this time Caroline spoke, her voice sounding very
low in her own ears.

"Of course, my mother and my father are dead?"

"Yes; your father died before your uncle," Haverford answered. "Your
mother, apparently a very delicate woman, was left in the charge of her
brother Gerald, and he was also appointed your guardian. When he died
suddenly this charge passed on to my mother."

He ceased speaking abruptly. It would have been difficult to have
grasped from his tone whether he judged his mother harshly or not.

"I hope to get you more details," Mr. Haverford said when he spoke
again. "As a matter of fact, I have brought down with me a quantity of
old letters and other papers which I dare say will throw some light on
your early history. You seem to have been quite a baby when your mother
died, and you came to England when you were a little child between
three and four."

"Then I must have gone immediately to Miss Beamish, my old
schoolmistress," said Caroline.

"Yes; my mother tells me you were placed in a school. She explains this
rather strange proceeding by telling me that Cuthbert was at that time
such a delicate child that her whole thought and care had to be given
to him, and she herself was in such a poor state of health that she was
not in a condition to charge herself with too much responsibility."

Caroline laughed. It was not an unkind laugh.

"No, I am sure Mrs. Baynhurst never did care about responsibilities,"
she said.

She stooped forward to push some of the parcels more securely on the
opposite seat, and the colour rushed to her face as she asked him
another question.

"There is one thing I _should_ like to know," she said, "and that is if
I have been kept by charity all this time. Did you find out anything
about that?"

They were close to the gates of Yelverton now, and Rupert Haverford
answered her hurriedly.

"You touch on a rather important phase of this matter, Miss Graniger,"
he said, "and I have more to communicate to you; but we cannot go into
this properly now. As I shall be here for a day or so I hope you will
afford me an opportunity for speaking quietly with you."

"Of course," said Caroline. Then she thanked him, and, indeed, she did
feel grateful to him. It sent a warm sensation through her heart to
realize that all this time, when she had imagined herself forgotten
(when, indeed, it might have been excusable if he had put her out of
his thoughts), he had been working on her behalf.

Just before they rolled up to the big door she turned to him.

"I want to ask you something. Please let me know that you are no longer
vexed with me for having agreed to stay with Mrs. Lancing. I believe I
am going to answer very well, and you can't think how glad I am to be
with the children. I do see now," Caroline said quickly, "that I ought
to have referred the matter to you, but the circumstances were against
me. It seemed such a wonderful chance for me to find work in such a
moment."

"Of course I am not angry," Haverford said.

He helped her to alight, and carried all her parcels into the house,
and as Mrs. Brenton came forward to greet him, Caroline ran quickly
upstairs to her own room.

She was conscious of a great desire to be alone for a few moments, for
there was a pressure on her heart, and she hardly felt prepared to meet
the children's searching eyes. Betty could ask the most pointed
questions at times.

As she put down her packages in a heap on the table she found she had
carried up with her a large brown glove. It was warm still with the
imprint of the man's strong hand; he had drawn it off to pay the
driver, and it must have fallen among her parcels.

Caroline picked it up and stood a little while holding it; she derived,
quite unconsciously, a definite sense of pleasure from the touch of
this glove; it recalled the owner so clearly.

"I am so glad he did not forget," she said to herself; "it is so nice
to be remembered."



CHAPTER XI


Caroline did not go down to dinner that night. When bedtime came Baby
was restless and seemed inclined to cough. Caroline was anxious.

Mrs. Brenton came upstairs, however, and reassured the girl. She
administered homely remedies, and prophesied that all would be well in
the morning.

Then she tried to persuade Miss Graniger to go down to dinner, but she
failed.

"If you won't mind, I would so much rather stay here," the girl said;
"Baby likes to hold my hand, dear little soul, and I should not be a
bit happy if I went downstairs."

"Well, do as you like, my dear," Mrs. Brenton said; then she added, "I
am so glad you had a lift home this afternoon. Now my party is all
complete except for Camilla. I am very vexed with her."

Caroline looked at her quickly.

"Why?"

"Well, she ought to have come down this evening as she promised," Agnes
Brenton answered impatiently, "she arranged to meet Rupert at a certain
time, kept him waiting about for an hour and a half at the station, and
then, when he supposed she had come on here by some mistake, he follows
her only to find a telegram saying she has gone to Lea Abbey and will
not be here till to-morrow in time for luncheon. I cannot think what
has induced her to go to the Bardolphs," Mrs. Brenton added irritably.
"She says it is because Lady Pamela is ill, and sent for her; but to my
certain knowledge Camilla and Pamela Bardolph have not been seeing one
another for months past."

Caroline followed Mrs. Brenton out on to the landing. She felt subdued,
even saddened, as she listened.

"Of course I am disappointed, but I am not thinking entirely about
myself. I am sure Rupert is far more upset and annoyed than his manner
shows. Ah well! by this time I suppose I ought to know Camilla too well
to be surprised at anything she does! See that you have all you want,
my dear, and if you should be at all anxious about the child, don't
hesitate to send for me."

As she was passing on to the staircase Mrs. Brenton paused.

"Mr. Haverford has brought down a number of things for the children. He
said he was going to send them up to you. I hope they will learn to
grow very fond of him," said Agnes Brenton earnestly. "Do you know that
he has made them two little rich people? He has settled quite a fortune
on Camilla, and on her children. Nothing can touch this money; it is
hers and theirs, whatever may happen. He has asked me to be one of the
trustees for the children."

Once again Mrs. Brenton turned back as she was going, and kissed
Caroline.

"For all reasons," she said, "I deeply regret that Camilla has not come
to us to-night."

It was a long time before Baby would be wooed into slumber, and even
then Caroline did not like to leave her; not until she had assured
herself that the child was sleeping deeply and tranquilly did she go
into the other room.

She only snatched a few moments to eat some supper. There was really so
very much to do.

An enormous parcel of costly things had been sent down by Camilla for
the children, and every one in the house had brought a little offering.
All these had to be ticketed and tied up. No ordinary sized stocking
would hold what awaited the children, so large baskets had been made
ready to put at the foot of each bed.

On inquiring, Caroline found that Mr. Haverford had sent nothing up to
the nursery as yet.

After a while she dismissed the maid to go down to the servant's
supper, and was busy scribbling and tying, when there came a knock at
the door.

"Come in," she called.

As the door opened Rupert Haverford appeared. His arms were full of
parcels as hers had been in the early afternoon. He was smiling, but
Caroline quickly noticed that he looked tired, as if he were worried.

"Mrs. Brenton said I might come up. I hope I am in time."

"Oh yes," said Caroline with a laugh. "I am only just beginning to
arrange things. Won't there be a scene to-morrow morning?"

"Can't I help?" asked Mr. Haverford; "this seems far too much for one
pair of hands to manage."

As he disembarrassed himself of his burden he said, "And I particularly
desire to have my share in making the children's Christmas a happy one
this year, for they belong to me now in a sense."

Caroline coloured.

"Yes, I know;" it was almost unconsciously that she added, "and I am so
glad."

His eyes lit up and his lips took an eager expression.

"Are you?'" he asked; "well, then I ought to be content, for do you
know, Miss Graniger, I have been hearing nothing but delightful things
about you. Mrs. Lancing cannot say enough in praise of you."

"It is very good of her," said Caroline, and her voice was not very
steady; "but she has to test me yet. She really knows so little about
me."

Haverford sat down to the table, and began to help her.

They had to untie some of his packages to see which were the presents
for the respective children.

"I think some of these things will have to disappear after to-morrow,"
said Caroline; "already these little people have enough toys to stock a
shop."

It amused her to watch Rupert Haverford pack up and tie and direct as
she commanded. He was so deliberate in all he did. Camilla would have
lost her patience very quickly, but Caroline liked his slow ways. His
parcels were so neat.

Every now and then he stole into the bedroom to see if Baby was still
sleeping.

"I was rather anxious about her," she said to Haverford, "for Dennis
has told me that she gets very heavy colds at times, and she seemed
really rather feverish to-night."

As he remembered the interview with his mother the day before, he found
himself looking every now and then with real interest at Caroline.

"I can't think why you want to bother about Caroline Graniger. I gave
her a fair trial," Mrs. Baynhurst had said fretfully; "but she is a
fool, and I hate fools. Give me a knave any day in preference to a
fool!"

There seemed to be nothing foolish, or weak, or hesitating about
Caroline as he saw her, but in the hours that had followed on his visit
to his mother, he had been able to fill in the empty spaces that she
had left, and he seemed to understand all at once why it was that
Octavia Baynhurst had set herself so resolutely against Caroline, both
as a little child and a growing girl.

Undoubtedly there had been an old and bitter feeling rankling in her
heart for Gerald Baynhurst's sister.

It was inevitable that the love the man had evidently lavished on his
sister had been a source of resentment and misery to such a woman as
his wife.

On Caroline, the helpless child, therefore, had the accumulation of
this bitter anger and jealousy been poured out.

He broke the silence after a long and busily filled pause.

"My mother has a new secretary," he said, and as their eyes met they
both smiled. Caroline found his face very attractive when he smiled.

"I saw her. She is middle-aged and very alarming looking. It is my
impression that my mother is going to be managed for the first time in
her existence. You will be well avenged, Miss Graniger."

When all the little parcels were made ready, and they filled the table,
he got up.

"Well, I suppose I ought to go downstairs again. You are very cosy
here. I am so glad the children are not in London this dismal weather."

Before going he asked permission to look at Betty and Baby as they
slept. When he rejoined Caroline he said--there was a very tender look
in his eyes--

"I feel quite important to-night, for now I have three wards; those two
tiny souls and yourself, and if one can go by tradition, the life of a
guardian is not entirely free from anxiety."

"I don't require a guardian," said Caroline. But she said it shyly, not
sharply. "I have always taken care of myself, and I am sure I can do it
now."

"I am afraid that argument does not move me," he answered, and with a
smile he held out his hand and said, "Good night."

When he was gone Caroline sat down and thought about him. She felt
sorry for him.

"I do wish she had come," she mused to herself. "I wonder why she did
not? He looks miserable when he is not talking. I should like him to
have a happy Christmas; he certainly has helped to give me one, and I
expect I am only one of hundreds.... I remember last year how his
mother grumbled at all his charities; I little thought then that he and
I should be together for this Christmas! So everything is coming with a
rush," Caroline mused on. "To-night I discover that I actually had a
mother and a father, and now I have a guardian," and then she laughed
outright, "and of course Cuthbert Baynhurst is my cousin! That sounds
funny! How pleased he will be!" She reverted again to the subject of
Camilla later on. "Will she come to-morrow? Oh, surely yes!... She
_could_ not let Christmas go without seeing the children!"

And on the morrow, when every one was at church, except Caroline and
Baby, who certainly was not quite her usual brisk little self, Mrs.
Lancing arrived.

She went up at once to the nursery, flung off her furs, and sat down
and took her Baby in her arms.

"She is not really ill, is she?" she queried anxiously.

"Oh, she is ever so much better this morning," said Caroline. "You see,
it has been so damp the last few days, and yesterday the wind was very
keen."

"And she always gets cold in the nasty wind, don't you Boodles, my
precious?"

The mother hugged the little figure in her arms, then stretched out her
hand to Caroline.

"A happy Christmas!" she said, and then in the same breath, "how well
you look, and how nice! And oh, what a wonderful lot of toys! Why,
Babsy, Santa Claus must have nearly broken his back bringing all these
things."

With the child nestling in her arms, she leaned back and closed her
eyes.

"I've got a most awful headache," she said wearily. "We were up till
any hour this morning.... Have you some strong smelling-salts,
Caroline? Chris Bardolph brought me over here in the motor." She
sniffed the salts, and lay aback with closed eyes for awhile. Then she
said, "I thought the air would do me good, but I feel quite cracked up.
Where is everybody?" she asked the next moment languidly; and she
smiled when she heard that the whole party had migrated to church.

"Has he gone?" she asked, and then she answered the question herself;
"but of course. I am sure he must sing hymns most beautifully."

"I don't think Mr. Haverford went with the others," Caroline said; "he
said he would take Betty and the maid who has gone with her to mass."

"But he is not a Catholic," Mrs. Lancing observed quickly; "there is
another duty for me! I shall have to try and make a convert of him. Oh
dear, my head!... It feels as if it would come in two! Babsy darling,
mummy must go down and rest in her own room...."

But Babsy clung to her mother, refusing to be separated, and of course
got her way.

Left to herself, Caroline Graniger stood and looked out of the window
thoughtfully. A shadow had gathered on her face.

She felt both pained and irritated, and found herself hoping almost
eagerly that Mrs. Lancing would not speak of Rupert Haverford to others
in that slighting, half-mocking manner.

From where she stood she could see right down almost to the entrance
gates, for the trees were leafless, and the window where she stood was
set high.

Rupert Haverford was walking up the broad drive briskly, and Betty was
dancing beside him.

Caroline studied him attentively for a time, then turned away from the
window and laughed.

"How ridiculous I am!" she said to herself; "why on earth should I mind
if she sneers at him or praises him? Assuredly it is no affair of mine."

Of course Betty went straight to her mother's room on entering the
house, and after a while Miss Graniger went down to fetch both children.

She found Mrs. Lancing on the sofa with one little daughter crouched up
beside her, and the other engaged in softly rubbing her brows.

"I wish I could go to bed," Camilla said. "I do hate these kind of
family functions. And Agnes loves them."

There was a fretful tone in her voice.

"Poor mummy," said Betty, and stooping, she laid her pretty little lips
on her mother's face.

Both children were so happy to be with her.

"Sit down and tell me all you have been doing since I saw you,"
commanded Mrs. Lancing. "How long have you been down here? It seems
like a century to me."

"Have you wanted us very much, sweetie?" asked Betty, and Camilla
turned to kiss the dear little face.

"So much--oh, so much!" and then she moved a little impatiently on the
couch. "Some one is knocking," she said; "it must be Aunty Brenny. Open
the door and bring her in, Betty."

She just flashed a look at Caroline and gave a little laugh.

"Now for my scolding," she said in a low voice.

But Mrs. Brenton did not scold. She greeted Camilla most gently and
affectionately, and was greatly concerned to hear about the bad
headache.

The mere fact, however, that she ignored all mention of the truant act
of the night before stung Camilla into a little show of bad temper.

"Don't for goodness' sake follow Rupert's lead," she said, "and adopt a
martyr-like expression. I know perfectly well, Agnes, that you were
furious with me because I did not turn up last night, now, weren't you?"

"I was not furious exactly," said Mrs. Brenton, "but disappointed, and
rather surprised."

"I couldn't help it," said Camilla, in the same impatient way; and then
the colour flooded her face and her eyes lit up for an instant as she
smiled.

"Don't grudge me my few remaining holidays; I shall not have too many
in the future. Yes, darlings"--this to Betty--"you must go. Caroline
wants to make you ready for lunch. You are going to put on those pretty
new frocks that I sent down and make yourselves ever so smart. Of
course you shall sit next me at luncheon. What an idea! Where else
would you sit? I shall have one of you on each side of me."

Mrs. Brenton was speaking as the children were going out of the room
with Caroline.

"So it was an excuse," Caroline heard her say, in a strained voice;
"and Pamela Bardolph is not ill?"

"An excuse, of course," Mrs. Lancing answered, with a laugh. "I knew
they were going to have a really lovely time, and when Pamela pressed
me to go just for one night, I really could not resist the temptation.
We had such fun, Agnes, and finished up with...."

Caroline hurried the children out of the room. She always dreaded what
Betty would repeat. The child was very sharp, and her memory was
extremely retentive.

It was difficult to chat lightly with the children as she dressed them
and made them pretty for the big Christmas Day luncheon.

Caroline had said "Good-bye" to all her former isolation.

Though she still stood alone, and had no one on whom she could make a
real claim, her life all at once seemed charged with ties and
privileges; already she had commenced to expand, to weave the tendrils
of her affections, her sympathy, and her tender thought in and about
these people among whom she now lived and moved.

She recognized a great debt of gratitude to Agnes Brenton, but for
Camilla she felt something deeper than gratitude.

In this phase of awakened emotions she would naturally have turned to
some outlet for her feelings, even if she had drifted into touch with
the most ordinary, the most commonplace of individuals; but thrust, as
she had been, suddenly into the stirring atmosphere of life as it was
lived in Camilla Lancing's household, and hemmed about by the beguiling
influences of an absolutely fascinating personality, Caroline at once
lost her heart.

But just because this heart was stirred so strongly, so deeply, she
could not deny herself the right to judge Camilla; and it was an easy
task to judge now.

"Why marry him if she despises him so much?" asked Caroline of herself.
"There is surely no law to make her do this?"

Dennis came up to give her a helping hand, and told her that Mrs.
Lancing wanted to go downstairs with the children.

"She's not fit to stand, that she isn't," said the maid; "but she'll go
through the lunch somehow, and then she'll have to rest." Here Dennis
exhibited, with great pride and excitement, the beautiful watch that
Mr. Haverford had given her.

"There hasn't no one been forgotten," she said; "he is a proper sort of
man! This is a happy Christmas for us, my dear."

Indeed, Dennis's aspect was entirely changed. She seemed to have grown
a little fat, and Betty quickly discovered that she had on a new gown,
apparently an amazing event.

Miss Graniger followed the children and their mother downstairs.

It made her heart thrill to see the way Haverford turned to greet
Camilla. He was evidently sharply concerned about Mrs. Lancing's
indisposition, but he did not fuss her, and she stood with both
children clinging to her as she exchanged a few words with him.

At lunch-time Caroline found herself seated next to him. Betty was on
his other side.

"Look after Miss Graniger, please, Rupert," Mrs. Brenton had said to
him, and he took up the duty in a literal sense.

"This is a typical English Christmas dinner," he said to her once. He
tried to make her smile and talk, but Caroline had no command of words.
She felt dazed with the myriad sensations that encircled her about.

When the plum-pudding, all afire, was brought in with cheers, and every
one stood up to sing "Should auld acquaintance be forgot," Caroline
broke down for a moment. But only Haverford knew this. Almost at once
she had conquered herself, and as he asked her to clink glasses with
him she smiled. Her face moved him sharply; it was quivering with
emotion; her eyes were most beautiful.

She had lost her white, careworn look, and though she was still thin
there was a pinkish glow in her skin; no one would have called her
plain in this moment.

"Suppose you change places with me," he said; "Betty wants to have you
near her."

They effected the change quite quietly, and with the need of looking
after the child, that oppression of emotion slipped gradually away from
the girl's heart.

Long afterwards, when all that was new and strange had grown into a
calm and natural background, Caroline remembered that Christmas
luncheon at Yelverton as one of the pleasantest experiences ever
granted to her.

Mrs. Lancing ate nothing, but she did her best to be bright; that she
was suffering all the time was, however, clear to both Caroline and
Haverford.

It was a long time before she could escape from the festivities, but
when everybody had trooped to the Christmas tree, she managed to slip
away, and she drew Caroline aside with her.

"Come and help me," she said. "This is one of Dennis's rare holidays,
and I don't believe I can get upstairs by myself."

It was on Caroline's lips to ask if she should call Mr. Haverford; but
glancing back, she saw that he had been summoned by Mrs. Brenton to
officiate at the huge tree, so they passed out together.

"It is a shame to bother you," said Camilla when she got up to her
room. She was trembling as with cold, and her brows and eyes were
contracted with the sharpness of the pain.

"You know I am glad to come," said Caroline in her quietest way.

"I know you are very comforting; just the sort of person one wants
about one when one is ill. Don't go away for a little while."

Caroline made up the fire, and then sat down in an armchair beside it,
just as she had sat on another memorable occasion. She looked ever and
again at Mrs. Lancing, who had crouched on the sofa, both her hands
pressed to her head.

In a little while the tension seemed to relax, and Camilla opened her
eyes.

"Has Rupert told you your own story?" she asked.

"A little bit; not all."

"He says it is my duty to let you leave me if you want to go," said
Camilla, after another little pause.

Caroline looked at her with a little start.

"Why should I want to leave you?"

"Well"--it was a very weak little laugh that Camilla gave--"of course,
now that you are an independent young person, you may not care to
stop." Her brows came together again sharply for a minute, and she held
her hand pressed tightly to her eyes, "Fancy that odious mother of his
cheating you out of your money all this time," she said feebly when she
spoke.

Caroline felt hot, and yet there was a blank sensation about her at the
same time.

"Money?" she said.

"Oh, hasn't he told you? How like him! I suppose it will be a month
before he will let you know everything."

"I think Mr. Haverford meant to speak to me this afternoon," Caroline
said very hurriedly, "but we have had no chance as yet of any private
conversation. He did tell me that I was right in supposing that I had a
claim upon Mrs. Baynhurst, and he told me also a little about my
mother, but that was all."

"Well, there doesn't seem very much to tell," said Mrs. Lancing, after
a pause, "except that you have a certain small income of your own,
which his mother, it appears, has kept entirely for herself all these
years. I don't know that I ought to say very much about that sort of
thing," said Camilla, with her half bitter laugh. "I am not so
wonderfully straight and honest myself, and I hate throwing stones at
anybody else. Still, I don't know that I should defraud a child, and
that is what Mrs. Baynhurst did, and would have continued doing if she
had not been in a bad temper one day, and turned you out of her house."

Caroline sat with her hands locked round one of her knees.

"I expect she did it because of Cuthbert," she said.

This remark seemed to rouse Mrs. Lancing.

"Oh, by the way, he is staying with the Bardolphs," she said; "it is
the first time I have met him. You know he is a very handsome fellow,
Caroline, and how clever! He sings enchantingly. Pam Bardolph is raving
about him. He is painting her portrait. Did you ever know two men more
unlike than he and Rupert?"

"Yes, they are very unlike," said Caroline.

Mrs. Lancing lay still a minute or two, and then she opened her eyes
again and smiled at Caroline.

There was no light in the room, except the strong glow from the flames
which shot up the chimney. From below they could hear the murmur of
voices, and sometimes the excited laughter of the children.

"But you won't leave me just yet, will you?"

"I am afraid you will have to turn me out when you want to get rid of
me," said Caroline. A moment later, in a low and moved voice, she said,
"Do you imagine it would be so easy for me to separate myself from you
and the children?"

The woman on the couch stretched out her hand, and Caroline stooped
forward and took it in hers.

"I should like to think that you would stick to me, that you would
never turn against me," she said, and her lips quivered.

Caroline's only answer was to tighten her hold on that slender hand.
Then she rose and put a warmer wrap over Mrs. Lancing.

"Don't you think if I were to leave you now you would sleep? Perhaps I
had better go downstairs again, and see what the children are doing.
They may be getting into mischief and I am sure Babsy, dear little
heart, must be nearly worn out."

And with some persuasion Mrs. Lancing assented to this. As she reached
the big hall, Caroline met Rupert Haverford.

"Mrs. Lancing is resting. I have persuaded her to lie down. She wants
to be well for dinner."

Rupert thanked her.

"I was just coming to look for you. The children are clamouring to know
why 'Caroline' has vanished? So I volunteered to find her. Are you
having a happy Christmas?" he asked, with a smile.

"I am happy altogether," Caroline answered him; "it is so wonderful to
find that after all I have a little place of my own in the world, and
that there are people who actually care to know what is passing with
me."

They moved together through the big, comfortable hall to the room from
whence issued a babel of voices and music and laughter.

"I want you to give me five minutes either to-day or to-morrow," said
Haverford, in answer to this; and Caroline coloured hotly.

"Mrs. Lancing has just been telling me a little more about myself," she
said nervously.

The warm colour in her cheeks was reflected in Rupert Haverford's face.
His manner was rather abrupt, and his voice hard, as he said--

"I am sorry Camilla has spoken of this subject, for I particularly
wished to broach it to you myself."

At that moment Betty caught sight of her, and Caroline had no
opportunity of replying. The child rushed towards them; her cheeks were
flaming, and her beautiful little head was crowned with a tinsel cap.

"Oh, you have found her!" she cried. "We have been wanting you ever
such a lot, Caroline. Where have you been congregating to? Baby's
beginning to make a nice noise. She's sitting on Aunty Brenny's knee
now, saying that she feels like to cry." Then eagerly, "Caroline, I
needn't go to bed yet, need I.... Say I needn't?"

Mrs. Brenton looked relieved to see Caroline. In her lap sat a very
tired, a very cross, and much tumbled, lace-trimmed small person.

Caroline held out her arms.

"Come along, sweetheart, and Caroline will tell you a lovely story all
to yourself."

"Shall I carry her?" Haverford asked.

Caroline shook her head.

"Oh no; she isn't a bit heavy!"

She closed her arms round her little charge. Baby rested her flushed
cheek against the girl's pale one, and her tiny arms were tightly
pressed round Caroline's neck.

As Haverford opened the door for her, Caroline gave him a bright little
nod as she passed out.

"I think I shall say 'good night'" she said, "for I shall not come down
again this evening. Baby wants to say 'good night' too, darling, don't
you?"

Rupert Haverford stooped, and the child turned and kissed him fondly.
His head was very close to Caroline; she noticed how crisply his brown
hair curled just at the sides, and what fine brows he had. Baby refused
to let him go--refused to be taken from Caroline's arms, and so, as the
girl walked slowly up the stairs, Rupert Haverford followed close
behind. He had hold of the child's small fingers over Caroline's
shoulder; every now and then she felt the warm touch of his hand and
wrist rest on her shoulder.

When the long corridor was reached, with babyish inconsequence,
Caroline's small burden elected to go to his strong arms, and he
carried her right into the nursery.

"Can you manage quite alone?" he asked, as this haven was reached, so
cosy and quiet and warm. "Won't you have a maid or some one to help
you?"

But Caroline shook her head, and so, with a parting kiss to the child,
he turned away.

At the door he paused.

"If you see Camilla, will you say that I entreat her not to come down
unless she is much better? I understand she sat up nearly all night
with Lady Pamela, and she is not strong enough to do these sort of
things. She wants nursing herself."

Caroline frowned sharply, and made no reply; indeed, she was so silent
during the preparations for the bath that Baby made loud complaint; she
wanted her story and her usual lullaby songs. It was long before the
girl's composure returned to her.

As she sat rocking the sleepy child in front of the fire, she took
herself to task a second time that day.

"This should be nothing to me; it _can_ be nothing," she said. But she
knew they were empty words, even as she whispered them to herself.
Where these two people were concerned, she had passed far beyond the
range of indifference.



CHAPTER XII


With the new year the damp, wet weather set in again, and it was
generally conceded that it was much better that the children should be
kept in the country.

"That is such a little poky house in town," Agnes Brenton declared.

Nevertheless, Camilla clung to the poky little house, although
Haverford urged her all the time to fix a definite date for their
marriage.

"Why should we wait?" he asked, very reasonably; "we have really no one
to consult or consider. I am just longing for you to come into my great
empty house and turn it into a home."

Camilla chose to treat the matter flippantly.

"Oh, is that all you want me for? Well, my dear Rupert, if you want a
nice, comfortable, domesticated, housekeepery sort of a woman, I know
the very person for you. I am ornamental, you know--exceedingly
ornamental, but I am not the least bit of good to look after the linen,
or to mend your socks, and I couldn't boil an egg to save my life."

Another time he said to her--

"I want to get you away from this house. I want to take you out of all
that belonged to old times and sorrows. Have you forgotten that we are
to go to Italy? To all the places where you were so happy with your
father? Let us be married and start at once."

But Camilla always pleaded for time.

"I tell you why," she said to him once. "I want you--us--to get
thoroughly well used to one another. Of course, you have known me a
long time--it is nearly two years since we met--but there are such
heaps of things we ought to realize before we make our great start
together. I have made a little promise to myself," Camilla said
weightily, "that I will not marry you till I have taught myself to be a
little worthy of you."

"I wish you would not talk such rubbish," the man answered, with a very
natural touch of bad temper.

"Now, you see," said Camilla, and she laughed--"you see I have done
something to annoy you, and I am sure I don't know what it is. I shall
be perpetually making these mistakes if we marry in haste." Then she
changed her tone. "Surely, dear Rupert, we should be much wiser to wait
another month or two. I--I am not really well enough to go abroad just
yet. After Easter it will be delightful. We will do Paris first, and
then go on to the south of Italy. Naples is enchanting in May." She
gave a quick sigh. "And then I am making up my mind to be separated
from the children," she said, "and, as Sammy Broxbourne would put it,
'it takes a little doing!' Oh, by the way, did I tell you that I had
quite a charming letter from Sir Samuel, congratulating me on my
engagement to you? Poor fellow! he has had an accident at Monte Carlo,
and has injured his leg. He tells me he will not be able to walk for
another month or so, and cannot get back to England just yet."

"The longer he stays away the better for England," said Haverford; "he
is a very objectionable man."

"Oh, I see," answered Camilla, almost impatiently. "Agnes has been
prejudicing you."

But Haverford made no reply to this, and the subject was dropped.

This was but a specimen of the conversation which passed between them
whenever they met. But, as a matter of fact, they saw very little of
one another.

Camilla got into the habit of running away from town to stay with one
friend or another; the greater part of her time, however, was spent at
Yelverton.

When she said she was not well in these days she stated the actual
truth.

Mrs. Brenton was a little anxious about her, and tried to coddle her,
and make her take care of herself--a difficult operation. It was
strange to see Camilla listless and bored. She could not be roused to
take an interest in anything except what concerned the children.

"I know I am deadly dull," she said on one occasion, "but you must put
it all down to money. I don't owe a penny in the world, and you can't
_think_ how lonely I feel! I am simply rusticating for the want of
excitement. When I am in town, and the door-bell rings at
breakfast-time, I am perfectly unmoved; the postman's knock doesn't
give me a single thrill. I can walk into Véronique's without troubling
to invent a harrowing story about delayed remittances or unfortunate
speculations. I can buy what I like and pay for it ... consequently I
don't want to buy anything. And I was becoming such an excellent
diplomatist. That is the polite word, is it not, for one who fights by
subtlety and fabricates untruths? Also I am growing mean, Agnes. Do you
know, now that I have got a fat banking account, and all the world is
bowing down to me, I hesitate before I give away a shilling. I even
went in an omnibus the other day."

She laughed as she said this; she would have loved to have explained to
Mrs. Brenton that she had sought refuge in this useful conveyance to
escape from meeting Haverford whom she had caught sight of in the
distance. But she curbed the desire.

"Poor Agnes, she shivers and turns cold when she hears me say those
sort of things. She is so afraid I am going to lose everything just as
I have got it, and oh dear me, I wish I could lose him! If I had not
been in such a hurry, perhaps I should have been able to patch things
up, and have struggled on a bit longer; but now I am bound hand and
foot. His unparalleled generosity"--there was a sneer in her
thoughts--"prevents all chance of escape. If a woman lets a man settle
any amount of money on her and her children, she cannot very easily
back out and tell him that she is going to keep the money and say
'good-bye' to him."

On this same occasion Mrs. Brenton spoke for the first time on the
subject of the Lancing people.

"You have never told me what they said about your engagement."

Camilla yawned a little.

"The old man cursed me, I suppose, but he had the decency to keep the
curses off paper. Violet wrote, of course." She laughed languidly.
"Violet is always ready to hold a candle to the devil, and Horace sent
me a few kind words. Horace is not really a bad sort."

Camilla was silent a moment, and then she said--

"You know Rupert wanted to go down and interview Colonel Lancing, but I
stopped that and made him write instead. I am not sure that it would
not have been a good thing for him if he had gone; he would have heard
some nice home-truths about me, wouldn't he? It would have been a kind
of preparation for what is to come."

Agnes Brenton had taught herself already not to encourage this kind of
conversation. Like Rupert Haverford, she was very anxious indeed for
the marriage to take place, but she did not urge it openly as he did.
Where she attacked the subject was on the practical side.

"Why not marry very quietly, and go abroad for two months? You really
want rest and a thorough change; it would do you all the good in the
world."

"Oh, I am too lazy!" Camilla said. "I hate travelling when I am not
well, and, you see, Rupert is still so new. I must get a little more
used to him before I go rushing off to the other side of the world with
him. And then I must have a trousseau. Besides, we have settled to wait
till Easter. Rupert is so busy. He is throwing himself into the _rôle_
of the ready-made father with the greatest zest. You should see all the
arrangements he is making for the children. He bought Betty a pony the
other day. I wish he would buy Caroline for me. I am so afraid one of
these days she will fly away and leave us."

She had fallen into the trick of sitting a great deal in the little
room that was called Caroline's sitting-room; her one interest at this
moment was in putting together a charming wardrobe for the girl, and no
one knew how to buy prettier clothes better than Mrs. Lancing.

That same day, after she had been chatting with Mrs. Brenton, she
climbed slowly up the stairs to the children's floor, but she found it
empty.

No place is lonely, however, that is dedicated to the use of children,
and she walked through the large rooms (that no amount of tidiness
would keep tidy) smiling sometimes, and sometimes standing and looking
wistfully about her.

As she passed through the night nursery she paused in front of the
portrait of Betty's father.

"What is there about Cuthbert Baynhurst that reminds me of Ned?" she
said to herself. "The resemblance between them is very marked.
Sometimes when Cuthbert is talking I could almost imagine Ned was in
the room."

She put the portrait down abruptly, and biting her lip she went through
to the sitting-room again.

"How lovely it would be if I could go abroad with Caroline and the
children! I wonder if he would let us do that?" This thought brought a
frown. The more she realized that Rupert Haverford had the right to
dominate her the more she chafed at her position.

In truth, at times it seemed to her as if she had passed merely from
one bondage--from one form of dependence to another. This bondage was
splendid enough--she was surrounded with every possible thing she
wanted or fancied; the magnificence of Haverford's settlement and gifts
to her was still the theme for comment and amazement--but, splendid as
it all was, it was still a bondage to Camilla. And he had no idea of
this.

It gave him such wonderful happiness to share his wealth with this
woman.

In the days following immediately on their betrothal he had seemed
to walk on air. It was absolutely the first time that the fact of his
enormous wealth had given him a sense of enjoyment or satisfaction.

He yearned over Camilla just as if she had been a child. He diverted
his interest, the purpose of his life, from all former channels;
henceforward it should be planned to run as she would have it run. He
had no longer doubt as to her judgment; he imagined that he was
beginning to understand her now.

Just because she had shown a desire to be at Yelverton, and to turn
away from all the people whom he had regarded as being so injurious to
her, he told himself that all those little things (about which he had
troubled so sharply) had merely been the outcome of circumstances, and
that she was now drifting into her proper, her natural mental
condition. It sometimes angered Camilla that he should suppose she was
so malleable, but for the most part she regarded his satisfaction as
being satisfactory for herself also.

"As long as he is pleased, what does anything else matter?" she said
now and then to herself. "He has paid a long price for me, so it would
be rank hard luck if he felt he had made a bad bargain."

She stood now a little while at the window of the sitting-room, and
then roused herself.

"A walk will do me good," she said; "I will go and meet them." She put
on her furs, and went slowly downstairs to the large, cosy hall,
stopping on her way out to chat a few minutes with Mr. Brenton, a tall,
thin, careworn-looking man, who lived for the most part in the clouds,
and was never so happy as when he and his wife were at Yelverton alone.

He was known all over the country as a collector of old and rare books,
and also as an enthusiastic rather than a judicious purchaser. There
were tons of useless volumes lumbering the upper storeys of the house,
and still they continued to come. But dreamer and bookworm as he was,
Dick Brenton had a place in his heart for all those who were dear to
his wife, and he was very fond of Camilla Lancing. He always said her
beauty was so helpful, so illuminating; and he adored her children.

As she passed into the damp and rather dismal grounds, Camilla's
thoughts turned as usual to the coming future. The nearer the time
approached the more she longed to postpone the marriage.

"Surely I ought to be able to invent something to give me a little more
time," she said to herself; and just for an instant it crossed her mind
how helpful it would be if the children could have some slight ailment;
but she immediately took herself to task for this.

"God forgive me!" she said. And she shivered at the bare thought of
what an illness to either of these loved little creatures would mean to
her. Still, she craved to keep her freedom. At the same time, she
realized that an indefinite engagement was out of the question. The
man's very goodness and generosity forced upon her a duty to him.

"The worst is," she said to herself restlessly now, "he has no idea of
the truth. Of course, he knows I don't love him in the way he cares for
me, but I am sure he thinks I do care for him. I suppose I could never
let anybody understand, even myself, how I feel about him ... how
strangely I am drawn to him at one moment, and how I almost hate him
the next...."

The butler had told her that he thought she would find the children on
the road to the village.

And she moved in that direction. Her fretting, troubled mood broke and
vanished as Betty's lithe, small figure came running round a corner of
the road, and a cry of real joy hailed her.

It was the height of bliss to Betty and Baby to have their mother with
them for a walk.

"Caroline's coming. I runned on because I wanted to hide ... and oh,
such fun, mummy! we saw the hounds and a lot of the field running and
jumping in the distance. They looked so 'cited.'"

Camilla slipped her arm through Caroline's as the girl and Babsy joined
her.

"I missed you," she said; "I didn't know you were out." Then a little
abruptly she added, "I think I shall have you back to town with me when
I go this week. I have had the nurseries done up, and the children have
been here so long, really I feel ashamed of trespassing too much on
Agnes's hospitality."

Betty clapped her hands. She wanted to see the big, new house that was
going to be her future home.

Rupert had told her that she should choose her own furniture, and her
own little bed, and that her room should be done up entirely as she
liked. But she had to talk about this in mysterious whispers so that
Baby should not hear.

"You see I shall have to begin to get my clothes," Camilla said; "I
don't want any really, but I must spend money; it is expected of me.
Oh, I wish I were you, Caroline! If I had a hundred and fifty a year of
my own I'd be the happiest creature in the world."

Caroline looked at her wistfully.

"I wish I could give you all I have," she said.

"Rupert declares," said Camilla, in her irrelevant way, "that I must
make some arrangements to relieve you. What do you say to having a
French maid for the nursery? Betty ought to begin to speak French now.
She picked up the language very quickly when I had Hortense to maid me,
but she was picking up other things too; that was why I sent Hortense
packing."

"There's a man coming," announced Betty; "he's been tumbling in the
mud, and his horse is all lame. Oh, do look, mummy!"

They paused and looked backwards. The picture Betty had described was
very accurate.

Evidently the man, who was advancing rather slowly, limping a little as
he moved, had come a cropper. He was splashed with mud from head to
foot. Betty suddenly gave an exclamation.

"Why, mummy," she said, "it's Sammy!"

Caroline felt Mrs. Lancing start violently, and press closer to her as
if unconsciously seeking protection. Instantly, however, she rallied
herself.

Betty ran forward, of course, to greet Sir Samuel; and her mother,
loosing her hand from Caroline's arm, followed the child.

"No need to ask you where you come from," she said, half gaily. She
held out her hand to Broxbourne, but he shook his head, and showed his
own mud-stained one by way of explanation.

He was not agreeable to look at. There was a grim, ugly expression on
his face--the look of a man who knew how impotent anger was, and yet
who could not help being angry.

Camilla was full of sympathy.

"I hope you have not hurt yourself," she said; "but," remembering
quickly, "how came you to be hunting? I thought you were an invalid?"
Then with a fugitive smile, "Indeed, I supposed you were still abroad."

"Came back three days ago," the man answered rather shortly. "I suppose
Brenton will not mind putting this animal up for me? He can't go much
further."

"Where are you staying?" asked Camilla.

They all moved on together slowly. He mentioned a house that had been
taken for the hunting season by some friends of hers.

At this juncture Caroline and the children walked briskly on ahead.

"It is tea-time, you know," the girl explained. As a matter of fact,
she was anxious to get away.

Sir Samuel had a trick of staring at any woman he thought worth looking
at in a very embarrassing fashion, and Caroline was certainly pleasing
to the eye.

The note of her appearance was simplicity itself beside the costly
elegance of Mrs. Lancing, but she was slim, and straight, and fresh,
and young, and with such a pair of eyes any woman must have been
attractive.

"So you are rusticating," Broxbourne said, as he and Camilla were left
to themselves; "not much in your line, is it? But I suppose now that
you are going to settle down you have turned over a new leaf entirely.
Is the lucky man down here?"

"No, he has gone to build a hospital, or buy up a whole county, as a
thanksgiving for our approaching wedding," Camilla laughed. "Don't you
think a hospital is a very good idea? I expect he imagines he may want
it before I have finished with him."

She spoke as lightly as ever, and laughed with the same ease, but
within the warm embrace of her furs she seemed to wither, to shrink a
little. Not half an hour before she had been longing, praying almost,
for some barrier to stand in the pathway of her marriage. Now she knew
with the unerring sense of intuition that what she had dreaded so much
just before Christmas, and which of late she had managed to forget
almost entirely, was coming upon her--that her future was definitely
threatened.

She had been so protected of late, so wrapped about with the tenderest,
the most chivalrous care, that she felt this sudden translation into
the old atmosphere more keenly than she had ever felt any of her former
troubles and anxieties. It was as though she had been stripped of every
warm garment, and thrust shivering and helpless into the aching cold of
a black frost.

Yet she tried to play her part.

"You wrote me a very nice letter, Sammy," she said.

He laughed.

"Yes, didn't I? Too good by half."

Fate had played Camilla a nasty trick by bringing her face to face with
this man just at this particular moment.

When he had been thrown, his first act on picking himself up had been
to thrash his horse unmercifully. That had relieved him a little, but
the poison of his anger had not worked off completely. He had always
promised himself the pleasure of dealing very straightly with Mrs.
Lancing. He was not likely to deny himself the satisfaction of doing
this when he felt so much in need of a vent for his feelings; when,
too, he knew that he had the situation in the hollow of his hand.

"I must say," he said, with that same sneering tone in his voice, "that
I was taken all aback when I heard what had happened. Always thought
you were a model of fidelity, that your heart was buried in Ned's
grave, and that sort of thing, don't you know? But money makes a great
difference, and there has never been quite enough money for you, has
there, Camilla?"

She shivered. There was a leer on his face as he turned and looked at
her. She answered him half lightly, half wearily.

"Oh, I don't know! I think one can have too much of anything, even of
money."

At this Sir Samuel laughed loudly.

"Well, I must say you are a clever woman. Yes, by Jove! you are. I used
to think in the old days, when Ned was on the scene, that you were a
fool and a saint combined. I know a little bit better now."

Camilla's lips quivered. She turned to him. There was an unconscious
entreaty in her voice.

"Dear Sammy," she said, "why are you so cross with me?"

But he only answered with another laugh.

"Yes, in the old days," he went on, "you played the part of the prude
to perfection. Kept a fellow at arm's length, and pretended all sorts
of things."

"Why go back to those old times?" asked Mrs. Lancing, in a very low
voice.

"Because I choose to do so; because there is something that has to be
settled between us, and you know that! I suppose you think I was taken
in by the sweet way you treated me when we met down here in November.
But it was the other way about. I took you in, didn't I?"

It was very cold in this damp country road; all the world seemed grey;
the trees with their bare, seemingly withered branches stood like
spectres against the dull sky.

Camilla's colour had faded. She looked haggard.

"Please speak a little more plainly," she said.

And Broxbourne answered her.

"Not I. There is nothing to be gained by telling the truth to a woman,
especially to a woman like you."

She caught her breath sharply, almost as if she had been struck. Her
mind, trained to work with almost incredible swiftness, fathomed the
significance of these words.

She put out her hand and gripped his arm.

"What has to be said must be said to me, and to me only." Then suddenly
she broke down. "Oh, Sammy!" she said, "I know. Don't you believe I
know I did you a great wrong? There is nothing to excuse it, except
that you don't know what a corner I was in!... What an awful temptation
it was! It has all been so easy for you. You have never had to face
hard times and black, killing difficulties. You can't be expected to
understand what these things mean."

"Why didn't you ask me?" the man said surlily; and she answered in that
same broken way--

"I ... I could not. First of all, you had gone away, and then I was
afraid...."

She broke off abruptly; he looked at her sharply, and again he laughed.

"You thought I would want payment," he said. "Well, you're right there.
I have a good business instinct. I always like to get full value for
what I spend, or what is taken from me."

At this juncture they had reached the gates of Yelverton Park, and Sir
Samuel caught sight of a gardener. He hailed the man, gave the horse
into his charge, and burdened him with all sorts of commands to the
head-groom.

"I'll be round at the stables very shortly," he said.

Camilla had walked on, but he overtook her. Her white, drawn face
seemed to give him a great deal of satisfaction.

"You don't offer to give me back the money, but I suppose that is what
is in your mind," he said.

His half-bantering tone stung her like the lash of a whip; she was
silent only because she could not speak.

"Well, my dear, you may as well put that out of your mind once and for
all; that little piece of paper which you worked at so carefully is not
to be redeemed by money."

He searched in his pockets, found his cigarette case, paused to strike
a match on his heel, and began smoking without any pretence of courtesy.

"This is a funny world, and no mistake! I was very fond of you when I
came upon you first," he said; "I was prepared to make no end of a fool
of myself about you. And you snubbed me up and down dale; wouldn't have
anything to do with me. You were quite able to get along without my
friendship, thank you. There are some things that stick, you know,
Camilla, and the way you shut down on me in those old days is one of
those things. I must say you have a rummy notion of morality! I wasn't
good enough to come near you, yet you had no hesitation whatever about
robbing me when the time came along."

An exclamation like a sob escaped Camilla. He laughed.

"It is an ugly way of putting it," he said; "but it is the only way,
and I fancy that with his peculiarly straightforward views, his working
man's propensity for calling a spade a spade, Mr. Haverford will regard
the matter in the same light."

The woman turned at this half passionately.

"You are not going to tell him! Oh, you cannot. You _shall_ not!"

"It lies with you to decide whether I tell him or not."

He puffed out some smoke on to the damp air, and Camilla watched it
wreathe and separate and finally fade into the mist that was gathering
about the trees; watched it with eyes dry and hot with misery and shame
and fear.

Suddenly Broxbourne turned to her.

"You must break with this man," he said; "I have a prior claim. I don't
intend to let you marry him."

She stood still and looked at him with dilated eyes.

"Break my engagement? Impossible.... _Impossible_!"

Her heart was throbbing in her breast, her lips were white.

"Nothing is impossible," answered the man; "after all, I am not
treating you badly. If I did the right thing, I should go straight to
Haverford. What do you think he'd say, if he heard my pretty little
story? How you begged a cheque out of me for a charity bazaar, and how,
by chance having got hold of a blank cheque of mine, you filled it in
for a nice large sum, and signed my name, by Gad! as bold as brass! I
remember," said Broxbourne, shaking the ash from his cigarette, "I was
in a tearing hurry when I answered your letter--it was the very day I
left for America, in fact. I just scribbled the small cheque anyhow,
and never noticed that as I tore it out of my cheque-book I tore a
blank one with it. But you found that out in double quick time, didn't
you?..."

Camilla turned to him. The hard, dry look had gone from her eyes; they
were dim with tears.

"Sammy!" she said brokenly, "don't rub it in so hard. I know.... I
_know_ how horrible this thing is! When you came back last November, I
nearly died when I saw you. I prepared myself for everything, and when
you were so friendly, when you said nothing, I began to hope, even to
believe, you did not know. Why did you not speak then? Don't you see
how much worse it is for me now?"

Sir Samuel smiled at her.

"Of course it is," he said, his cigarette between his teeth; "I know
that.... I tumbled to your little game with this man the very moment I
came back, and I promised myself some fun. It tickled me to death to
have you running after me just as if you liked me, pretending to want
me, and imagining you were throwing dust in my eyes! I settled then I
would wait awhile. Worse for you! Well, do you want me to say 'I am
sorry?'"

"I ... I want you to be merciful ... I am in your hands, I know it--but
you--you won't be cruel to me, Sammy," said Camilla, in that same moved
voice. She caught her breath. "If Rupert Haverford must be told ... I
will tell him...." She turned to Broxbourne abruptly. "Do you know why
I have promised to marry him? It is for my children's sake. Ned's
father suddenly stopped the money he had been giving me, and demanded
the children. If I had not done this thing, made them, myself,
independent, he would have taken them from me. It is the truth I am
telling you, Sammy--the truth. The children are more to me than
life...."

Broxbourne answered her coolly; he was unmoved by her broken voice and
her stained face.

"I have only been back a day or two, but from what I can gather," he
said easily, "I believe you are now a fairly wealthy woman. I must say
he has behaved extraordinarily well, but of course that was a little
bit more of your cleverness. Anyhow, as you have just told me you have
only promised to marry him because of the children, you see the man
himself doesn't count. You've got the money, and he can't take that
away from you--I don't suppose he would if he could--so all you've got
to do is to slide out of things as quickly as you can. I'll give you a
month to do it in," Broxbourne said magnanimously.

Camilla brushed her eyes with her pocket-handkerchief; she was utterly
unable to answer him, and at that moment they heard the voice of Betty
calling to them. The child was evidently running back to join them.

"Go on," said Camilla, hoarsely; "go on ... and meet ... her.... For
God's sake, go ... don't let her come ... I ... I will follow...."

"I'll take her along with me to the stables," Broxbourne said, and he
limped onwards with a smile, as Camilla turned, and half wildly, half
blindly, walked sharply away from the house.



CHAPTER XIII


The year was speeding into spring. Easter had come and gone.

Down in the country, in the old-fashioned gardens that stretched at the
back of Yelverton, the sun was busy bringing out the leaves, and even
the blossoms, almost visibly.

The children had found a delightfully warm, sheltered spot, and here
they sat with Caroline basking in the sunshine, protected from the
chilliness of the spring wind by the tall, sunburnt wall on which
spread pear trees and peach trees, the pink flowers and the white
flowers mingling together where the long arms of the branches met and
touched.

Betty was supposed to be having lessons, but she was not a very
diligent pupil; not that any one urged her to learn.

Mrs. Brenton's theory was that children should run wild till they were
seven or eight, provided they were properly influenced, and it was
really Agnes Brenton who superintended with Caroline the care of the
children now.

Mrs. Lancing had gone back to town just before Easter rather hurriedly,
and she had not taken the children with her.

Her plans had been changed. Instead of staying in London she went to
the south of England on a visit. From there she wrote announcing that
she had felt impelled to postpone the marriage.

"I don't quite know what is wrong, but my heart is playing me tricks,
and I really want to feel much better before I rush into my new
responsibilities.... I have a sort of idea the Devonshire air will do
me no end of good."

The children rejoiced openly when they found they were not going away
from Yelverton.

Rupert Haverford came frequently down to see them all. His manner with
Caroline always amused her. He seemed to regard it as a duty that he
should put her through a sort of cross-examination.

"I wish you would understand," she said to him, half impatiently, once,
"that I really and truly want to be with the children. What should I do
with myself if I went away from them?"

"You might travel. You might study. Your income is not a very large
one, but still it would give you the opportunity of coming in contact
with a lot of things about which you know nothing now."

Caroline laughed at this.

"Well, that is true. I am woefully ignorant," she said. "It is rather
impertinent of me to call myself a governess, but I am studying all the
time. Mr. Brenton is educating me. I shall be quite learned in a little
while."

"I only feel that it is my duty to put before you certain
possibilities," Haverford said.

And Caroline answered--

"I am very much obliged to you, but I prefer the certainty that I have
to all the possibilities in the world."

Then there had been a rather brisk passage of arms between them on the
subject of Caroline's money.

"I wish you would not pretend things to me," the girl had said, when
they had first discussed the matter. "I can't help feeling that this is
all your doing, that you consider it your duty to make some provision
for me; in fact," Caroline had added defiantly, "I don't believe my
mother had anything to leave me." After a little pause she said, "And I
assure you I don't care in the least to take money from other people,
even from you, except, of course, when I earn it...."

She was astonished to see how cross he looked.

"Evidently," he said, "you have not read those old letters and papers I
gave you."

And Caroline was obliged to confess she had not done so.

"I advise you," Haverford had remarked, "to acquaint yourself with your
mother's story, then you will see I have invented nothing."

Caroline could be obstinate at times.

"Well," was all she had remarked in answer to this, "there may have
been something; but I am convinced, Mr. Haverford, you are giving me
more than I ought to have."

To this, a little stiffly, he said--

"If you are not satisfied with what has been arranged, you can instruct
a lawyer to go into the matter. I will give you the address of a very
good man."

And Caroline had frowned, and then smiled.

"You know perfectly well I am not grumbling at you. The idea is
ridiculous!"

"Are you not?" he had queried, with a smile. "Well, it sounded
uncommonly like it."

On the whole, however, they were on the best of terms, though they
never progressed to intimacy.

April was well advanced when the children's mother arrived unexpectedly
at Yelverton.

She had travelled up from Devonshire without pausing for rest in town,
and declared that she was perfectly well; but Agnes Brenton was shocked
at her appearance--shocked, too, and pained by the change in her manner.

That quiet, apathetic langour was gone; Camilla was all jerks and
nerves. She seemed strung up to the highest pitch of excitement. She
talked incessantly, and smoked nearly all the time. This was a new
habit.

It appeared she had not come to stay at Yelverton. She was due at Lea
Abbey.

"I want to leave Dennis here," she said to Mrs. Brenton. "She is seedy,
poor soul, and I told her she had better take a holiday. I can manage
without her for a day or two."

They strolled out-of-doors to join the children. Caroline was dreaming.

It was so delicious out in the garden, sitting looking at the country
that stretched away in the distance, veiled in that tender, velvety
bloom which is the first embrace of spring; so delicious to hear the
irresistible and varied notes of the thrush from the boughs of the old
apple tree, chanting to the buzz of the bees humming in and out of the
adjacent currant bushes.

The children were playing about her. Baby was picking flowers; every
now and then she would over-balance herself and topple over, and then
would sit solemnly contemplating the earth with a resigned expression
till Betty came and pulled her up. Her treasures were always brought
and laid on Caroline's lap.

The girl closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them it
seemed as if a fresh bunch of snowy pear blossom on the wall beside her
had been whispered into life. Beyond in the paddock little lambs were
bleating.

Betty had made a great discovery that morning. The robin's eggs in the
nest hidden so cunningly (just at the entrance into the fruit gardens)
had vanished, and in their place some little feathered morsels, with
wide-open beaks and glittering eyes, were treasured in the warm, dark
depths. Life was full of indescribable delights.

The coming of Camilla was like the falling of a curtain. The time for
dreams was ended; the quiet garden seemed to quiver with another kind
of life.

She spent the few hours she was at Yelverton with the children. They
carried her everywhere--through the rough meadows, over the marshes to
the woods that were carpeted with primroses, with here and there a
patch of wild violets, and anon a streak of budding bluebells. A great
weight seemed to have gathered about Caroline's heart. For the first
time she lagged as she walked, and quite forgot to look for plovers'
eggs. Once, as they paused to listen to a lark piping out its soul in
the clear sky, and then watched it drop to earth, Camilla pinched the
arm she held.

"Naughty Caroline," she said; "you are not a bit glad to see me!"

Caroline's eyes filled with tears.

"I am not a bit glad to see you looking as you look now," she answered.

"How do I look?"

"Ill and ... miserable...."

Camilla laughed.

"Ill and miserable, my _dear_ child; do you know what you are
saying?... I may be a bit seedy--I don't deny that--but how can I be
miserable when I have everything in the world to make me happy?"

"I don't know why you should be. I only know you are," Caroline said,
in her quiet way. They had to carry Baby across the dykes; the exertion
brought the colour flashing into her mother's cheeks for awhile.

"I shall get you a donkey to ride, Boodles," she said, as they turned
homewards, their arms full, and their hats wreathed with the wood
flowers. "You are such a lot too heavy to carry. That reminds me,
Betty," Camilla added, "you are going to have a dog, a real beauty.
Sammy is sending it to you."

"I don't want it, thank you very much," said Betty, in her clear
treble. "Rupert's going to gived me a dog. I don't like Sammy." A
little pause, then the child said thoughtfully, "I'm glad I'm not a
dog, mummy--special Sammy's dog--because I've not gotten to eat my
din-din out of his plate. And he can't kick me. I've saw him kick his
horse in the stable that day he was throwed. I think he's a horrid man."

Camilla had turned white.

"You only care for the things Rupert gives you," she said, in a
strangled voice; then, "Oh dear, how tired I am, and there is a
dance-to-night! Why _did_ I walk so far?"

Indeed, she was a long time getting back to the gardens, and when they
were reached, she asked that the carriage might be made ready at once
to take her over to Lea Abbey.

"When do you want us to go to London?" Caroline asked her as they went
indoors together.

"Next week.... I don't know.... I will write. It seems a sin to take
the chicks away from here. How well they look!"

A little later, when she was getting into the carriage, Mrs. Lancing
drew the girl towards her.

"Don't let them forget me...." Her voice had an odd, dry sound. "Don't
let them suppose I am forgetting because they do not see me. Children
can forget so easily." She pressed Caroline's hand. "It is funny," she
said, in an unsteady way. "I never left them before without yearning to
be back the moment they were out of sight; but I leave them with you,
almost happily, you funny little cross-patch Caroline."

Caroline looked at her. Once again there were tears in her eyes.

"Come back soon," she said. "Come back and let us make you well. We all
want you."

Their hands unclasped, the door was shut, and the carriage rolled away.

At the bend of the drive Mrs. Lancing leaned forward and waved her hand
out of the window.

Caroline stood a minute or two and watched the carriage roll out of
sight. The air was fragrant with the scent of spring, laden with the
whispers of a thousand unseen blossoms.

From where she stood she could see nothing save the lawn and the mass
of newly garmented trees. Only a little while before it had been easy
to see the entrance gate; now all was blocked out by that fresh shutter
of golden-green foliage.

Turning at last, she walked slowly through the hall. Mr. Brenton had
discarded his usual corner, and had taken his books out into the
sunshine. She could hear the children laughing and singing beyond.
Their mother had given each a little parcel as she had gone away. It
seemed to Caroline as if she had shirked taking farewell of them.

The girl was glad to be alone for a little while.

Dennis was with the children. Mrs. Brenton had vanished.

Caroline walked to and fro slowly in the afternoon sunshine. She wore
no hat, but her head was well protected from any chilly breeze by the
splendid thickness of her hair.

A curious longing possessed her in this moment to follow Camilla, and
urge her to come back to Yelverton. She could not quite understand the
reason for this protracted separation.

"There seems to be something more, something new," she said to herself.
By that she meant that there was something more than that lack of
sympathy with the man she had promised to marry that was actuating Mrs.
Lancing in all her movements now.

"What is the use of my being happy?" Caroline asked herself suddenly,
"if I cannot assure happiness to others?--to these two in particular?"
And half impatiently she asked herself, "Why is she so obstinate? Why
cannot she see that the longer she stands alone the farther she must be
away from all that she needs? Surely she ought to trust him. I can't
understand why she should doubt or hesitate for an instant."

The children came running up to her to show her their latest
possessions, and then she had to greet Dennis, who seemed to be
delighted to be where she was.

"It's a real joy to be here, miss," she said to Caroline; "but didn't I
tell you what it was going to be when you first came? Just look at them
two little angels! They ain't the same children; I declare they ain't."

"I'm sorry to hear you have not been very well, Dennis," Caroline
remarked, as she collected the children and their toys and took them
towards the house, for, as the sun began to drop, the air was cold.

"Me ill?" said Dennis, in surprise. "Why, there's nothing the matter
with me! Who said I was ill?"

"Oh, I had a sort of idea you were not well," said Caroline. "Now, come
along, chicks; we'll go upstairs and have a lovely game."

"And Dennis shall tell us a story," said Betty, to whom the last comer
was always the most welcome.

Caroline walked behind the others laden with their treasures; and the
stairs seemed long, and her limbs were strangely tired this day. There
was, too, a curious ache when her heart beat.

The bath-time was over, and two little people were tucked up in bed
when Mrs. Brenton beckoned Caroline out of the room.

"I hope you won't mind if we leave you this evening, but there is that
concert and entertainment in the village. You said you did not care to
go to it, but I think we must go. We always have supported the vicar,
and he would never forgive if we did not turn up. Will you change your
mind and come?"

Caroline shook her head.

"As a matter of fact, I have a good deal of work to do for Mr. Brenton.
I have not translated my last lesson. The children are so pleased to
have Dennis that she is going to sit with them."

"You will dine at the same hour," said Mrs. Brenton, and with a smile
she passed on.

It was a significant fact she said nothing about Camilla.

Caroline went into her sitting-room, brought out pen and ink and
foolscap, dictionaries and Latin grammar; but when she sat down to
work, her usual pleasure and eagerness had flown.

She could hear Dennis whispering in the next room and one or the other
child putting a pertinent remark in a very unsleepy voice; but she knew
them well now. By the time she had changed her dress and had gone
downstairs, both little voices would be hushed in sleep.

Camilla's few words to her just as they parted haunted her, but instead
of that glow of satisfaction which would surely have come had they been
spoken under other circumstances, they brought a renewed touch of
heartache.

After a while she put away her books and writing.

"Assuredly," she said to herself, "love goes hand-in-hand with sorrow.
When I had no one to love, nothing to care for, nobody to make me
anxious, I never had tears in my eyes as I have them now. If only tears
would do some good! But how _can_ I help her? what can I do? I have the
sort of feeling that I ought to do something, but what--what?"

She was still standing by the window, looking at the beautiful evening
sky, when a maid came into the room softly.

"If you please, miss," she said, "would you come downstairs and see Mr.
Haverford? He says he would like to speak to you."

Caroline whipped round from the window.

"Mr. Haverford! He was not expected, and both Mr. and Mrs. Brenton are
out."

"Yes, miss, I told him so; but he said he wanted to see you. He hasn't
got any luggage; I don't think he means to stay. He's come in his
motor, miss."

Caroline paused only an instant. Her brows had met with a frown--a
sign that she was moved and nervous.

"Please say I will be down directly."

She went towards her bedroom with the intention of changing her dress,
and then she checked herself.

Stealing into the children's room, she whispered to Dennis that she was
going downstairs. The maid nodded her head; the children were quite
quiet, and Dennis herself looked half asleep.

As she went slowly down the broad staircase Caroline saw him. He was
standing in front of the fire in the hall warming his hands.

"Both Mr. and Mrs. Brenton are out--a rare occurrence," she said; "but
it is a village festival...."

She gave him her hand, and as he took it she coloured very faintly.

"Yes, so I hear. I am rather glad to see you alone." His tone was
terse. As Caroline moved forward to the fire he said, "I have come down
to ask for news of Camilla. Can you give me any?"

The girl looked at him for an instant.

"She was here to-day," she said.

"Here?... What time?"

"She came in the morning. I understand she had travelled straight
through from Devonshire, only changing stations in town."

He caught his breath in a way that was very like a sigh, and sat down,
half shutting his eyes.

"Then she wished to avoid me," he said. "Where has she gone?"

When Caroline told him, he just nodded his head and said--

"Yes...." He paused a moment, and then he said, "I am very troubled
about her, Caroline." Indeed, his voice sounded very heavy with trouble.

Caroline waited for him to go on.

"She seems to be slipping out of my hands," said Haverford; "try as I
will, I cannot satisfy her, or keep pace with her. I assure you these
last few weeks I have been like a creature on wires. I have not known
from one moment to the next what she wished me to do. Perhaps I am too
exacting. I don't know. I only know that I am wretched, that I cannot
sleep for thinking about her; thinking, not in a selfish fashion, ... I
give you my word it is not that, but troubling about her...." He sat
forward, and stared into the fire. "The last time we were together we
quarrelled rather badly," he said then.

Still Caroline said nothing.

There was nothing to say. It was a moment in which silence was more
helpful than words.

"We quarrelled about Cuthbert," the man said, rising, and standing by
the fireplace. "She has been sitting to him for her portrait. That I
don't object to; but what I do object to most emphatically--what seems
so wrong, so unmanly on his part, so weak, so foolish on hers--is the
fact that he has been getting money out of her. I taxed him with it....
He could not deny it. And when I brought the matter to her, and
insisted on giving her back the money, she said very bitter things to
me."

He drew in his breath sharply; then, as if to himself, he said--

"What is there, who is there, that can help me to give this woman
happiness? I hoped I was going to do it, but I have failed, failed
right through!"

"How do you know that you have failed?" asked Caroline, speaking for
the first time. "She is not an easy person to deal with, yet it is just
her very elusiveness which gives her her hold on us. And I know one
thing. I can affirm this, that if there is a creature on this earth
whom she honestly respects and values, you are that person."

"Respect!" said Haverford. The fire-glow lit up his face, and she saw
that he was smiling faintly. He was silent for a time, and then he
said--

"I don't regard the question of Cuthbert as a serious one,
notwithstanding that she has taken this peculiar attitude, ranging
herself with him against me, and declaring my resolution to let him
work up to fortune and fame as a cruel, an almost unnatural, thing;
there are other points far more serious, unfortunately, which make the
situation so difficult just now. I have repeatedly asked her not to go
to Lea Abbey, yet, you see, she has gone there. And I have felt myself
compelled to absolutely forbid her to have any sort of intercourse with
Sir Samuel Broxbourne. To-day I learned quite by chance that he has
been staying in Devonshire the greater part of the time she has been
there. The man is her shadow. Wherever she goes he appears, and when we
meet there is a look about him as though he would pick a quarrel with
me."

Then Haverford pulled himself up suddenly.

"I really beg your pardon," he said. "I am pouring out my troubles just
like an old woman. How pleasant it is here," he added abruptly, "so
quiet, and cosy, and home-like." He paused again, then he asked
hurriedly. "How was she looking?"

"Ill," Caroline answered, and added, "very ill!"

Then her eyes flashed. "Why don't you assert yourself? Why don't you
insist on getting married? She belongs to you. When once she is your
wife, all this nonsense will end. I think you are as much to blame as
she is. After all, she has promised you; you ought to exact the
fulfilment of her promise."

He turned and looked at her.

"That is how you spoke the first night you came to my house," he said,
and his tone had a faint touch of amusement in it. "You are a little
bit of a mystery, Caroline. How any one so sharp and impatient as you
are can handle children as you do is a marvel."

Caroline was trembling with nervousness, and with a strange sick
sensation of pain, but she laughed.

"Oh! I don't believe in fussing," she said; "if I had only had a little
bit more spirit when I was with your mother, it would have been a
better thing for me." She moved away from him, and then she came back
to him, and looked straight into his face. "Do you know what you ought
to do? You ought to go over now to Lea Abbey, and bring her back here.
You ought to keep her here, and marry her down here. If you want a
witness, I'll be one."

"I cannot do that to-night," said Haverford. "I have brought nothing
with me, and I really must go back to town."

She understood him. It was not the first time she had realized how
supremely delicate was his attitude towards Camilla. To follow her now
might be to suggest to Camilla a desire to know what she was doing; to
demonstrate to others his right to do this.

For all this thought and tact Caroline gave him keenest appreciation;
at the same time she felt in her impatient way that it was the moment
for action.

"Suppose I take the children to town to-morrow? I know she will come if
I let her suppose she is wanted," she suggested.

"But they are so happy here, and so well."

"Oh!" said Caroline, almost sharply, "we are not considering the
children now; they don't count. And besides, they can always come back
here."

She sat down on the broad fender stool, and pondered a moment staring
into the fire.

"Really and truly I believe if you pull her up sharply, let her know
you are tired of being played with, all will go well. Mrs. Lancing is a
bundle of nerves--she has had so much to try her, that she is really
not able at this moment of taking matters into her own hands. I think
it is so natural that she should be doubtful and nervous," said
Caroline; "but one thing is sure, that the longer she delays, the more
difficult it will seem to her to take any definite step. She wants some
one else to show her the way. That is your duty."

She looked up at him; and Haverford smiled as he looked down at her.

"Practical little person," he said; "you would have made a splendid
man, Caroline."

"I mean to be a working woman," the girl answered, "and that can be
just as good as being a man."

Haverford did not answer her. He stood looking into the fire for a long
time in silence.

"I wish I could feel that all would work out as you say," he said,
rousing himself at last; "but----" Then he said, "I know she is ill;
she seems to me to be on the eve of a nervous breakdown, but any remedy
I suggest seems to have no healing power for her. You cannot think how
I brood over her! She is so dear to me. The first living creature that
has belonged to me since I was a boy. Mrs. Brenton gave me very much
the same advice as yours," he said next. "The last time I was here, she
urged me strongly to take Camilla abroad at once. I have pleaded with
her a dozen times to do this: in vain!"

From a long, pregnant silence he roused himself.

"Sometimes I ask myself if she would not be happier without me."

"No!" said Caroline, sharply. "What ... what an absurd idea!" Then she
turned on him again. "Oh! I wish I were in your place! I would not
talk, or think, or sit down and worry. I would simply say I am going to
have such and such a thing done, and I would see that it _was_ done!"

She was trembling so much she had to get up and move away from him, and
was thankful that the lights had not been lit in the hall, and that it
was too dark for him to see her face distinctly.

A moment later she said--

"You would like dinner as soon as we can have it, I suppose?"

This roused him.

"Oh, thank you very much, but I want to get back! I will have some
supper in town. I have a morning full of engagements to-morrow." He
went to slip on his big motoring coat again. "Don't let Mrs. Brenton
imagine all sorts of things because I ran down in this hurried way."

"Of course not," said Caroline.

He held her hand, and pressed it warmly.

"Thank you so much," he said, "you have cheered me up a great deal. A
man is always a clumsy creature in these sort of things, and I am quite
sure that everything that is happening is my own fault. Good-bye."

"We shall meet soon," said Caroline, as steadily as she could. "I shall
telegraph to Mrs. Lancing in the morning, and tell her I find it
necessary to take the children to town. I shall invent a great many
things for her to do. I dare say she will find me very tiresome; but I
must risk that."

He laughed and released her hand, and then he moved back again and
looked at her in his characteristically keen way.

"I have not asked you how you are yourself?" he said.

"It is such an unnecessary question," retorted Caroline, "when you see
that I am in robust health."

"Are you? I thought you were looking anything but robust as you came
downstairs."

"Now please," said Caroline, "don't begin to go through the usual
catechism!"

"I won't," he answered, "except I want to know--have you got the maid
you were going to have?"

"All the servants in this house wait upon me and the nursery," said
Caroline. "I have only to command and I have what I want. Will that
satisfy you?" But he still paused.

"If I could only get her abroad," he said, with a thrill of eagerness
in his voice, "I should keep her there, and then send for you and the
children. A month or two in Switzerland, and then through Italy by easy
stages. Doesn't it sound delightful? Well! Good-bye once more, and I
think I shall take your advice." He laughed almost cheerily. "If I
could only manage to elope with Camilla without her knowledge or
consent, how she would enjoy it."

Caroline clapped her hands.

"At last," she said, "you are beginning to see your road."

He would not let her go outside, nor would he let her summon the
butler. He passed out and shut the door behind him, and for a moment
Caroline leaned against that door, and shut her eyes whilst she fought
down the wild tumult of passion and heart suffering that rushed upon
her.

There was a humiliation, too, in the suffering, a proud shame that she
should confess even to herself, that this man who had just gone from
her was so capable of moving her, that the touch of his hand, the sound
of his voice, meant joy, in its most exquisite meaning, and that as he
passed away from her, taking with him the spell of his presence, the
light and the warmth of life itself went with him. And still a very
lifetime of self-condemnation would not alter what had come. Love to
some natures is borne as lightly, has as little value as a thistledown
floating on the wind; it has the sparkle of a new jewel, the passing
radiance of a summer day, to fade with the setting sun, and to come
again when another day is born. But with other natures love comes but
once, and comes to stay; pain, sorrow, age, separation, even death
itself, have no power to dispossess such a love of its dwelling-place
in natures such as these.

And it was in this fashion that love had come by stealth as it were
into the heart of Caroline Graniger.



CHAPTER XIV


To sit and eat dinner alone in the large dining-room was beyond
Caroline this evening. She went upstairs resolutely determining to work
again, but she had reckoned without Dennis.

The maid was ripe for a good long chat. She insisted, too, on bringing
up some dinner and waiting on Caroline.

Dennis found the girl looking very tired and depressed. But when she
pressed this point Miss Graniger promptly declared that she had never
felt better in her life.

"Tell me all that you have been doing, Dennis," she said.

Really it was a rest for her to sit and say nothing, a rest not to vex
her brain with futile questioning for a while.

It amused her to hear the maid's views of things in general. Dennis's
admiration for a beautiful country largely depended on how the servants
were lodged and cared for in any particular house.

"This ere's a kind of paradise," she said; "down with them rich folk in
Devonshire we was that crowded we didn't know how to turn round. Some
of them slept in huts, but I was a bit better off than most, because
Miss Camilla wanted me with her most all the time. What do you think of
her, miss?" Dennis asked abruptly, "don't you find her looking simply
awful? She's that shaky, I do declare, at times I can hardly get her
into a frock, and for all she swears it isn't so; I'm certain sure
she's got something worritin' her."

Dennis was silent a moment, then she went on: "I wouldn't say it to a
soul but you, but I can't help thinking as it's that fellow
Broxbourne's as is vexing her."

Caroline sat with her elbow on the table, her face shadowed by her hand.

"But isn't that rather ridiculous, Dennis?" she asked. "Why should Sir
Samuel vex her?"

"Ah! my dear," said Dennis, "that's a question I'd like to answer. I
wish to the Lord she'd marry and settle down; for there's no getting
away from the fact that Sir Samuel's been buzzing about her ever so
much of late, and it does her no sort of good." A note of exasperation
came here into Dennis's voice. "Just to think of all she's got now, all
what's been done for her. How she's been took out of all her
difficulties, and stands on her own feet! Didn't she ought to be lively
and well? I can't make it out! Why don't they marry, miss?"

"Oh, I think they will now very shortly," Caroline said. "Now, run down
and have your own supper, Dennis ... it is getting late."

When the maid had gone, Caroline sat in the same attitude. She was not
thinking of what Dennis had just told her, she was thinking of that
deep, tender note in Haverford's voice when he had been speaking of
Camilla. How he loved her! The one creature who had brought to him all
that had been lacking in his life till now! How many years he must have
hungered for such love. Surely now that it had come it would have its
real value! Surely a love such as his could not be born only to be
wasted!

"She is so dear to me," the words haunted Caroline, and when her mind
jerked back and she recalled the earlier hours of this day, and the
veritable anguish which she had experienced when she had looked at
Camilla's changed, almost worn face, her eagerness to stand and to help
him, to put an end to this indecision, this dangerous and futile
waiting, seemed to burn in her veins, and quicken the beat of her heart.

"I will certainly go to London to-morrow," she said; "I feel almost
inclined to pretend that I am overtaxed, that the children try me, that
I want attention. She is always urging me to let her know if that
should happen, and that is where she is so sweet, everything else
stands on one side when she thinks there is a claim on her."

Here a sound from the nursery drew Caroline into the children's room.

It was only Baby talking in her sleep, but she sat down a little while,
and in the tranquillity of the children's room some tranquillity fell
on her own nerves too.

"At least I have one great joy," she said to herself as she sat there;
"they all trust me. She could not give me greater proof of this than in
the words she spoke to me about these dear little souls to-day."

Just then she heard some one moving in the other room, and rising, she
went softly to the door. It was the maid who usually waited on her.

"I have brought you a letter, miss. It's just come. Sent over from Lea
Abbey."

"Thank you," said Caroline.

She waited until the maid had made up the fire and gone out of the
room, and then when she was alone she still waited.

It was very ridiculous of her, but she felt suddenly frightened.

There was nothing unusual in Camilla sending a letter at this hour. Her
letters and messages arrived at any time.

"What _is_ the matter with me?" asked Caroline of herself impatiently.
"I am all upside down to-day!" And then she opened the letter.

It was written in pencil; written in haste.

"I did intend not to have sent a word to any of you, but just as I am
starting for London I feel I must scribble a message to you, dear
little Caroline. Ask Agnes to forgive me. The fact is I cannot bring
myself to write to her, and you--you little bit of a thing as you are,
draw me as I have never been drawn before. I am taking a big step
to-night, Caroline. It is ridiculous to suppose that you will any of
you regard what I am doing as anything but madness, but I cannot help
myself. Everything forces me away from what you all think the best for
me; but then, you see, you none of you have known just exactly what has
been passing with me. I had a great temptation to open my heart to you
when we were together out on the marshes to-day, but I could not do it.
Remember what I told you about the children. They won't see me for some
little while, but as soon as possible they will come to me, and you,
too ... if you _will_ come. Tell Agnes I will write to her in a day or
two, and that I am always hers lovingly, that is if she cares any
longer for my love."

The initials "C. L." were scribbled under this.

Caroline put down the letter, and stood staring ahead of her, seeing
nothing.

At first the full significance of what Camilla had written did not come
to her. She was only conscious of that almost hopeless feeling of
irresistance, of surrender to emotion, which any acutely pathetic
element produces.

But this dazed, only half-conscious sensation, passed from her quickly,
and then her mind began to act nervously, feverishly. She spun threads
together, and with hideous clearness she remembered now the words
Dennis had spoken only just a little while before.

She took up the letter again, and she read it this time deliberately.

"She is gone to London," she said to herself; "that means that she will
sleep there--that she will not leave till to-morrow, wherever she is
going. It has all been planned out. She got rid of Dennis because
Dennis might have asked questions. Lea Abbey was only one of the
details, and now she is in London. Well, I shall go there, too!"

She crumpled the letter, and went quickly into the corridor. The
nursery-maid was in a room a little further along.

"Please stay with the children," said Caroline; "I am going downstairs."

She ran down to the hall, and sought and found a railway guide. All at
once she remembered that a guest who had once been summoned away very
hurriedly from Yelverton at night had caught a train at some junction a
little distance away. By so doing he had reached London at a very early
hour.

Caroline decided to follow his course. The express paused at Swaile
Junction somewhere before four o'clock, but she would start off now.

To have to sit there and wait till the Brentons came back, and to go
into explanations was utterly beyond her. Besides, she felt half afraid
that Mrs. Brenton might try to dissuade her from going, and Caroline
could not endure that. It was not only the woman who called to her, it
was the man who loved this woman--the man whom she loved herself--who
seemed to clamour to her to stand between Camilla and what she intended
to do.

She scribbled an explanation to Agnes Brenton, and slipped Camilla's
letter inside.

"It may be only a chance," she wrote; "but I cannot help feeling that I
shall find her in London. She will never dream that one of us would
follow her, and if human hands can drag her back from this miserable
mistake, I want mine to be the hands to do it."

She intended to keep Dennis in ignorance of her going, but she took one
of the other maids into her confidence.

"Don't let there be any fuss," she said, "but I must get up to London
as quickly as I can. I am sorry not to wait for Mrs. Brenton, but you
will give her that letter. Can you manage to keep Dennis downstairs
while I run up and slip on my hat and coat?"

"Yes, miss, of course. But where are you going from, there's no trains
now, miss?"

"There is a train that stops at Swaile Junction somewhere between three
and four, I am going to catch that."

"Swaile," said the maid; "but that's miles away, miss. How will you go?"

"Quite easily," said Caroline. "I am going to walk."

"But you'll never do it, miss. It's much too far."

"Don't talk rubbish," said Caroline, quickly. "I can walk ten, fifteen,
twenty, twenty-five, or even thirty miles, if needs be. Walking does
not hurt me."

As she ran down again she glanced at the clock. It was a quarter to
eleven. There was ample time, although she would have to keep to the
roads, because she did not know any short cut. The idea that she should
be frightened amused her in a way.

"If anybody hits me, I shall hit back," she said to herself, as she
gripped her umbrella and started forth.

It was not a dark night, though there was no moon.

At first the mere physical satisfaction of moving, of walking swiftly,
carried Caroline along pleasurably. The fresh, sweet cold in the air
was like an embrace.

She skirted the village, and ventured across one field which she knew
would cut off a considerable corner. This field was studded with sheep
and lambs.

The foolish creatures got up with a jerk, and ran away, complaining and
fearful, as she passed swiftly beside them. In the faint, misty light
the lambs looked prettier than ever.

Once on the high-road Caroline pushed on vigorously, but by degrees
that unconscious sense of exhilaration which had possessed her when she
had first started fell away, and she felt heart-weary and indescribably
sad as she realized the purport of this solitary excursion.

How far she walked she never knew, but her feet were getting stiff and
tired when at last she saw the lights of the junction in the distance.
Nevertheless, she could not rest when she was in the station. She spent
the time waiting for the train to come in restlessly pacing the
platform.

It was about half-past six when she reached London, and put herself
into a cab. The horse seemed as tired as herself, and the journey from
the station interminable, but at last she had alighted at the familiar
little house.

Her heart was in her throat as she rang the bell.

"Perhaps I shall have to wait a little while," she said to herself.
"They never get up very early."

But, strangely enough, the door was opened to her almost immediately by
the cook, whose face lit up when she saw Caroline.

"Oh, miss, I am glad to see you!" she said. "I've had such a start.
He's upstairs in the drawing-room. If you'll believe me, he's been here
since a quarter to six. Wouldn't be said no! But how tired you look,
miss! Come in and sit down."

Caroline could not get her voice for a moment. Vaguely she remarked a
strapped portmanteau standing on one of the chairs. Then she asked--

"Mrs. Lancing, is she here?"

The servant shook her head.

"No, miss, she's not here. That's what I've been telling Sir Samuel. He
won't believe me. He says she's coming."

"Not here?" said Caroline.

She stepped back, and rested against the hall wall. All her strength
went from her for a moment, but she rallied herself quickly, and turned
into the dining-room.

"Who did you say was upstairs?" she asked.

"Sir Samuel, miss. Come here at a quarter to six, as I told you. Said
as the mistress had fixed him to come. There's only me and Annie
sleeping here. He rang the bell like mad; hardly gave me time to put my
clothes on. Of course, the missus isn't here; she ain't expected,
leastways, not by us. Did you come to meet her?"

"Yes," said Caroline; but her tone was weary, and she closed her eyes.

"Well, I've no news of her, miss. Most like she's coming. She don't
always give us notice. But there, I'll go and get you a cup of tea."

At that very moment they heard the stamp of a heavy foot, and the
drawing-room door was opened with a jerk.

"Now he's coming to swear at me again!"

Caroline got up, stood a moment with her eyes shut, then opened them
with a jerk, and walked out of the room straight up the stairs. She
took off her hat as she went. Sir Samuel Broxbourne was standing on the
top stair; he frowned as he saw her. He was dressed as for travelling,
in a rough tweed suit.

It was the girl who spoke first.

"What are you doing here?" she asked. "By what right do you come to the
house at this time? Will you please be so good as to go at once?"

He stared at her, and, as she advanced, he moved mechanically on one
side and let her pass, but he followed her into the drawing-room.

"I am here by appointment," he said; his tone was sullen, his manner
rude. "Mrs. Lancing desires to see me."

"No person would give you an appointment for six o'clock in the
morning," said Caroline.

"Ordinary people might not," he answered with a smile that was a sneer,
"but this is not an ordinary house."

Caroline walked into the dismantled drawing-room.

"As Mrs. Lancing is not here," she said, "it is undesirable that you
should remain."

"I shall go when I choose," was Broxbourne's answer.

Caroline shrugged her shoulders, and turned at once to leave the room,
but he stood in the way.

"No," he said, "since you give orders you must know what is going on
here. If Mrs. Lancing is not here, why are you here?"

"I recognize no right on your part to question me," said Caroline.

She was swayed about by the most extraordinary feelings, prominent
amongst which was a sense of acute relief that almost amounted to joy.
Whatever Camilla had done, wherever she was, this man at least was not
with her. It was impossible for Caroline to try and piece out what
probable step the other woman had taken, but at least the degradation
of close association with this man was not part of her movements.

Sir Samuel eyed her with suspicion, and yet her quietness, her tired
pale face, and that wonderful dignity which sat upon her so naturally,
impressed him.

"I don't want to question you," he said surlily, "I only want to see
her."

"She is not here," said Caroline.

"Then, where is she? You think I'm lying when I tell you that I came
here by appointment; but I tell you that she fixed the hour herself. If
you don't believe me, here's her note."

He held out a crumpled piece of paper. Caroline put it on one side, but
she could not help seeing the writing, and she knew it only too well.

"If Mrs. Lancing has told you to come here to meet her, then I can say
no more."

She moved away to the door, and once again he stood on one side and let
her pass.

At that moment they heard the sound of a cab approaching in the street;
it pulled up; a moment later the bell rang.

Some colour flickered into Caroline's face. She put out her hand and
rested it against the door, and with that support she passed on to the
landing, holding her breath to catch the first sound of the pretty
voice she knew so well.

"Will she be angry with me? How will she look? What will she say?"

Thought chased thought through her brain wildly. The door was opened,
but no one entered. There was a buzzing in her ears; she could not
catch what passed. But as she stood there, trembling now in every limb,
the cook ran up the stairs with a letter.

"For Sir Samuel, miss," she said.

Broxbourne was just behind, and he snatched the letter out of the
woman's hand.

"Won't you come down, miss?" said the servant, in a hurried way. "Do
come. I've made some tea for you."

But Caroline looked backwards at that moment. She had caught the sound
of a muttered exclamation. She hardly knew what prompted her to send
the woman away, but she did so, and she turned and went back into the
drawing-room, shutting the door behind her.

Broxbourne was standing biting his moustache. His red face had turned
white. He looked ugly and alarming.

"You have news from Mrs. Lancing?" Caroline said.

He looked at her, but made no answer.

The tension of her nerves gave. Caroline groped her way to a chair, sat
down, and hid her face in her hands for an instant; then she looked up.

"I _entreat_ you to tell me what has happened," she said brokenly. "I
care for her so much. I came here because I care so much ... because I
thought I could help her." Her voice was husky. "I only heard from her
late last night, but I had to come, and I prayed I might not be too
late. Where is----"

Broxbourne looked at her as her words died away.

"Take my word for it, she isn't worth fretting over. She can take care
of herself."

There was an indescribable amount of bitterness in his voice. Something
about Caroline's look had checked his rage.

"She's all right," he said roughly.

"Yes, but where is she?"

Sir Samuel laughed, and then he scowled.

"You say you heard from her, so I suppose you know all there is to
know."

Caroline brushed back her hair from her tired aching brow.

"I know only this much--that she contemplated something rash and
foolish.... She told me nothing, but I fancied I should find her here.
That was why I came.... I wanted so much to be with her."

"You mean you've just come up from Yelverton; but how did you manage
that?"

She told him, and he frowned almost unbelievingly; then he said, in
that surly, bitter way--

"Well, I tell you she isn't worth it. She wouldn't care if you broke
yourself up into little bits to help her. She----" There was a hard,
ugly word on his lips. He stifled it, but not easily; then he said,
"Mrs. Lancing is married. In this note she informs me she was married
yesterday morning early to Cuthbert Baynhurst."

Caroline cried out sharply.

"It isn't true!... Oh, it isn't true!"

"I think you'll find it is," said Broxbourne shortly.

He avoided looking at Caroline. He was not over sensitive, but
something about this girl made him uncomfortable.

"And if you want to know why she has done this, I am the person to tell
you. She wanted to show me that she's a bit cleverer than I took her to
be, and, by God! she's about done it! She's tricked me fairly; but if
she thinks it ends at this she'll live to know her mistake. No one
scores off me more than once in their life."

His blustering return to anger made no effect on the girl sitting
rigidly in the chair.

"It can't be true," she was saying to herself wildly, over and over
again. "It can't be true!"

A timid knock sounded at the door. It was the cook with a cup of tea.
Sir Samuel took the tea and sent the woman away. She went unwillingly.

"I advise you to drink this," he said, advancing awkwardly enough.

But Caroline refused the tea, whilst thanking him.

"Why should you care so much?" asked Broxbourne; in that sullen way.
"She's tricked you as well as me, and everybody else. I tell you, you
don't know her. She's the sort of woman who looks like an angel, and
has no more heart or conscience than--than my boot has. She's clever,
though; I'll give her that much. By Gad! to think she should have had
me like this! But if she thinks she's settled with me, she's a lot out.
I wish her joy of Mr. Baynhurst. They're a good match. After sponging
all he knew on the other chap, he walks off with the woman and the
money. Well, I'll take pretty good care the beautiful Camilla don't
show her face here again very soon. She may trick me; but she isn't out
of the wood, for all that." He was getting excited now. "If I've held
my tongue all this while, there's nothing to prevent my speakin'
now.... And I think it's on the cards that our dear friends may have
their honeymoon excursion brought to an end a little sooner than they
expect. Forgery is a nasty offence, Miss Graniger.... It means seven
years."

Caroline looked at him with strained, incredulous, and miserable eyes.

"What do you mean?" she whispered.

"I mean that your dear friend Camilla is nothing better than a common
thief; that she robbed me of four hundred pounds a year and a half ago."

Caroline's lips turned white.

"I will not believe you," she said; but the man hardly heard her.

He was wound up; the whole venom of his wrath was let loose. Stamping
to and fro, he laid bare the history of the last few weeks; coarsely,
brutally he told the truth, ending with the part that had brought him
to the house this morning.

Caroline's very soul went out in an agony of pity for the woman who had
been tortured by this man. If only she had known! If only Camilla had
turned for help to her!

Once started, Broxbourne seemed to have no end to his vituperation.

"She thinks I'll never do it, but she might know me a little bit
better. I'll soon show her! I tell you straight, when I leave this
house I go to my lawyer, and give him orders to start proceedings right
away."

Caroline got up; her hat, her gloves rolled to the ground. She was
breathing hardly. Scarcely realizing what she was doing, she moved
awkwardly, almost stiffly, to the door and stood against it. Her
movement, her attitude drew his attention; he turned and looked at her.
His face was swollen now with the force of his increasing rage. He was
almost shouting out his words. As he paused, his chest heaved as though
he had just been through some violent exertion.

Caroline looked at him steadily.

"Please do not make so much noise; the servants will think you are
killing me, and--and I have done nothing to deserve that."

Broxbourne frowned, stood for a moment looking at her in an uncertain
way, and then sat down heavily.

"I beg your pardon," he said. He wiped his brow. "I'll do it," he said,
hardly conscious that he was speaking. "A little prison life will teach
her a lot of things she ought to know."

The girl standing at the door, shaking in every limb, could have cried
aloud her passionate abhorrence for him; but something stronger than
anger and hate dominated her; it was fear. Strung up as he was, he was
ripe for some quick and terrible revenge. Even now she could see his
purpose was strengthening; in a few hours' time the world would be
blazoned with this sorry, this miserable story. Camilla's pathetic
face--Rupert--Agnes Brenton--the children limned themselves in turn
before Caroline's eyes.

Though she would have given her life to have denied his accusation, she
knew it was true. So much was explained now--so much--so much!

As Broxbourne made a move as if to get up, she commenced speaking
indistinctly, half wildly.

"You have said a most terrible thing. You have accused this--my friend
of a great crime, and you mean to have her punished. Why? Not for any
honourable or upright reason, but because you are so angry with her
that you are like a madman, and want to strike at her somehow, you
don't care how. That seems to me to be very paltry."

Broxbourne wiped his brow again.

"Oh, indeed; I never asked for your opinion!" he said.

"I never asked you to go into a frenzy of rage," Caroline answered;
"one good turn deserves another. If you try to frighten me out of my
life, I am at liberty to tell you what I think of you; and what I think
is not pleasant."

Sir Samuel sat down again, and looked at her steadily. She had a
defiant--a picturesque air, standing against the door.

"I don't care what any one thinks," he said. "I'm the best judge of my
own actions."

"Are you?" Caroline laughed. "Well, then, there must be something very
wrong with you, even a schoolboy knows it is only a coward who hits a
woman." She caught her breath. "I should not have taken you to be a
coward, Sir Samuel."

He put his eyeglass into his eye, and looked at her again.

His anger began to subside. As he fixed Caroline with a steady gaze, he
unconsciously settled his collar, and fingered his tie.

"You're an odd sort of girl. Always thought you couldn't say 'Boo' to a
goose, and here you are going at me as if you were made of fire."

Caroline laughed, such a tired, miserable laugh.

"You have never spoken to me before," she said.

"No, by Jove! but I've wanted to, many a time. I'm sure I've looked at
you hard enough. First time I saw you, that night you threw my glove
back at me, do you remember? I took a fancy to you."

"Really!" said Caroline.

Her heart was quaking. She was horribly afraid of him, but this fear
was as nothing compared to that withering, awful one of a few moments
before. She moved away from the door, turning the handle, and pulling
it open as she went.

"Yes, really; but you know it; every pretty woman knows her own power."

He made her change colour; she was very interesting.

He was not sure that her head was not prettier than Camilla's; and her
eyes were glorious. His critical glance travelled over her body; the
lines were perfect; she stood so well. When he arrived at her feet, and
saw her mud-stained boots, he frowned.

"You're not only pretty, but you're a good sort, though you do call me
a coward," he said jerkily. "I tell you what. I like grit, and you've
got plenty of it. It isn't every woman, let me tell you, that would
walk nine miles through the country in the dead of the night, just to
stand by another woman! I didn't take it in at first, but, by Jove! I
do now. I'll shake hands with you, Miss Graniger."

He got up. Caroline seemed to grow suddenly very small.

"I--I cannot shake hands with you, Sir Samuel," she said, hoping her
voice would not desert her altogether.

"Why?"

"Because I am afraid of you."

"Afraid?" he laughed almost good-humouredly. "Oh, come, I won't believe
that, I don't believe you could be afraid of anything or anybody!"

Caroline looked at him, and looked away.

"You are very strong and fierce, and I think you can be cruel."

He laughed again.

"All granted; but I shan't hurt _you_. I give you my word I won't."

Caroline bit her lip.

"If you hurt Camilla, you will hurt me horribly."

He frowned sharply.

"That's another matter," he said.

"No, it is all one; I love her. I love her children." Caroline's voice
broke.

"Don't cry," said Broxbourne, drawing a little nearer.

She shrank away from him, but not visibly. Her heart was beating in her
throat.

The last remnant of anger had gone from his expression, his eyes were
softer, his hands moved restlessly. Her white quivering face had more
significance to him than mere prettiness in this moment. He had
measured her will already in many an abortive attempt to attract her.

There had been an element of contempt in her indifference, in her cold
rejection of his admiration, that had given her a lasting place in his
thoughts. It gratified him strangely now to feel that he could move
her, that he had beaten down that barrier of indifference. To a
considerable degree, this surrender as it were to his power helped to
reinstate him.

He was not likely to forget for many a day that he had been outwitted,
made a fool of by a woman whom he imagined he had under his thumb, but
there was more than a passing sensation of satisfaction and even
pleasure in the realization that he could wring tears from such a girl
as Caroline, that he had broken down such a proud spirit as hers.

He approached her a step nearer, but an interruption came to this
little scene at this moment.

As Caroline had opened the door the cook, who had been hovering outside
on the staircase (really nervous as to what was passing) made her
appearance.

"Don't you think as you ought to have some breakfast, miss, and rest a
bit? There'll be a message perhaps from Mrs. Lancing by-and-by."

Caroline picked up her hat and her gloves.

"Thank you, I will come," she said.

"Look here," said Broxbourne, following her quickly and scowling at the
servant, "I'd like to say something more to you about this. When can I
see you?"

She leaned against the doorway and rested with her eyes shut for half a
moment, then she looked at him.

"I am going back to Yelverton now, directly."

He paused a moment, and then he said, in a dogged sort of way--

"Then I'll go to Yelverton, too. Now I'll take myself off."

As he passed her, Caroline put out her hand and caught his arm feebly.

"Sir Samuel, you will not----" words failed her.

There was a pompous air about him as he answered that broken sentence.

"I will do nothing till I have seen you again. Will that please you?"

She could only bend her head. As he went heavily down the stairs her
eyes closed again.

Like a blind, broken-down creature, she turned into the drawing-room
once more, and as she fell into a chair she lay there inert, too
prostrate to move or even to think consciously for a little while at
least.



CHAPTER XV


The dark green blind flapped lazily to and fro against the lower part
of the open window, letting in occasional streaks of golden light, and
stirring the delicate fronds of the fern that, with a pot of heliotrope
and some bowls of flowers, stood on the table at the foot of the bed.

Caroline lay and watched for those fugitive glimpses of sunshine and
sun-bathed trees.

It must be very lovely out in the garden, so she mused, dreamily; only
it was such a long, long way to get there, and here it was so
pleasantly restful, so calm, so conducive to dreams.

A great many birds had congregated on the big beech tree close to her
windows; there was a swallow's nest just under the eaves of the roof,
and a great twittering went on every now and then. Caroline could
picture the cluster of yellow, wide-open beaks, and the industrious
mother voyaging backwards and forwards, always with some toothsome
morsel for one of those hungry mouths in her own beak.

"I think tiny swallows are very greedy," she said to herself, sleepily.
"They are never satisfied."

And some one answered her--a small voice, from the floor, apparently.

"Caloline ... Caloline ... is you going to wake up.... Oh, _do_ wake
up, Caloline!"

The voice was plaintive almost to tears.

Caroline opened her eyes, paused, and then, with an effort, pushed
herself forward, resting on her elbow.

"Is there somebody there?" she asked, in such a funny, wavering voice.

For answer a very hot and a very small hand came creeping over the
white sheet like a little mouse.

"It's me ... Babsy.... They've sented me away all the time, nasty
unkind peoples. But I crawled in, and I _do_ want you, Caloline."

"Climb up," said Caroline, faintly.

It was a stupendous undertaking, entailing much slipping and dragging
at the bed-clothes, but at last a small, hot, dishevelled little person
had crawled close to the pillow and was kissing the white face lying
there and cuddling a weak hand and arm as if it were a doll.

And then confidences followed.

"Betty's dog has comed; he's a awful duck, but she won't let me have
nothing of him. Isn't she selfish?"

"I will give you a dog, sweetheart."

"A really one?"

"A real one."

"Nice, _dear_ Caloline!"

The little soft face pressed close to the white one.

"But not a wool-fur dog?"

"No, a real one."

Baby lay and stared dreamily about the room.

"I'll give him jam," she said.

Caroline laughed.

"Fancy a real dog eating jam!"

"Fancy a real growned-up thing going to sleep for all the days."

"I am very sorry," said Caroline, humbly.

The door was pushed open here in the softest way possible, and a voice
whispered cautiously from the aperture----

"Baby.... Baby...."

Baby giggled, and put her finger up in a warning fashion, but Betty was
not deceived.

"I know you're here," she said, "and you didn't ought to come. You know
what Aunty Brenny said. You was to leave Caroline alone."

"Nasty thing!" said Baby, suddenly, in abusive fashion.

Caroline said, "Hush!" but this brought Betty straight to the bed. It
took her just a minute to climb and nestle down on the other side.

"How long has she been here, little pickle?" she demanded.

The wooliness had gone from Caroline's brain.

"Don't tease her, darling," she urged, and she smoothed Baby's downy
cheek soothingly as she spoke.

"She _is_ a pickle," retorted Betty. "A horrid pickle."

Caroline made haste to avert a battle.

"Watch the blind," she said, "and you will see the sunbeam fairy sail
into the room."

But Betty had no use for fairies this afternoon.

"My dog's got a silver collar. He's called Box."

"Who brought him?" asked Caroline, in a low voice.

"Oh, Rupert, of course!"

The girl's heart gave a bang. She tried to remember when it was that
she had staggered into this cool, restful bed with that aching torture
in her brow and eyes.

"He will bite," said Betty.

And Baby whispered eagerly----

"Mine will, too, won't he?"

"I think I will get up," said Caroline; but Betty at once assumed a
sitting posture.

"You can't," she said, "you're clothes have all been took away."

"Then I'll wear yours," said Caroline.

She was trembling all over! How stupid of her to have been ill. How
long had she been shut up in this room?

The children began with bursts of laughter to dress her up in
imagination in their garments.

She listened to them, hearing nothing; then she began to question
again----

"You're the grown-up young lady, Betty," she said. "What has been going
on downstairs? Did ... did ... Rupert really come?"

"Really and truly," said Betty. "He said he was awful sorry you was
ill. Aunty Brenny's been 'plaining, too. Oh, Caroline, you _must_ get
well by Saturday! Cook's sister Flo is going to be married. Cook's
making a cake. You will let me and Baby go, won't you? We want to carry
her train."

"Is that all the news?" asked Caroline.

The child puckered her brow and nodded her head, and then said----

"Oh no. Somethin' else. Mummy sent us each a watch; a real living
watch, Caroline; and she's gone to some mountains, and she's very well,
and she's got a new name, and it isn't Rupert's and she wants us to say
our prayers for her every night."

The little voice on Caroline's right began to murmur these devotional
offices, but she stopped sharply halfway, because Betty exclaimed----

"Rupert's going to send my pony down here, and a donkey for Baby. Do
you want your letters?" suddenly asked Betty. "There's a 'eap waiting."

The heap turned out to be two. One with a foreign postmark, and one
with the address of a London club stamped on the envelope.

"I know who that's from," said Betty, with a laugh, "that's Sammy. Oh,
he's been down here, too! And what do you think? Baby asked him for a
shilling!"

A voice from the staircase called both children to attention.

They slid off the bed like two culprits.

"Please ask Dennis if she will come to me," Caroline said, and Betty
paused to shrug her shoulders.

"Can't! Dennis is went to mummy." Then she said--"When did she go,
Baby? I don't remember 'xactly."

"I think it was the day after this day," said Baby, after some
reflection.

"Well, please," said Caroline, "I should like my clothes."

The moment she was alone she sat forward, and with trembling fingers
tore open Broxbourne's letter, the other she slipped under her pillow;
she was not strong enough to read what Camilla had written just yet.

Sir Samuel was not skilful with his pen; his letter was brief.


"Dear Miss Graniger,

"I ran down as I said I should, and was awfully sorry to hear you were
knocked over. I'll be down again soon, but I thought I would scribble
you a word to say I shall keep my promise till I see you again."


Caroline's hand closed over the letter, and she lay back and let the
nervous beat steady down in her heart and pulses.

The blind still flapped to and fro, but the golden streak had moved. A
blackbird was piping in the clear air; she could hear the children's
voices from the garden. The room had the same tranquil air as before,
but the soft reposeful element had passed away; Caroline's eyes were
closed, but she neither slept nor dreamed.

Remembrance was with her again, and with remembrance, heartache,
yearning, and regret.



CHAPTER XVI


In June, when the gardens at Yelverton were glorious with roses (and
Caroline's one task seemed to be hunting the children out of the
strawberry-beds), Cuthbert Baynhurst and his wife returned to town.

They did not do this voluntarily; it was literally to see his mother
die that Cuthbert was summoned back to England.

Rupert Haverford himself wrote the message that brought his
half-brother home.

He himself was on the eve of sailing for the United States when his
mother's condition became so serious.

He had promised Mrs. Brenton to spend one night at Yelverton before
leaving for America, but of course all his arrangements were upset.

"It is impossible to describe to you the suffering my poor mother is
enduring just now," he wrote. "She is amazingly brave, and her brain is
as active as ever. It sounds cruel to say it, but I almost regret this,
for she persists in fatiguing herself. Only yesterday she worked for
three hours."

Another time he wrote--

"She has been very ill for some time, how ill no one but she herself
has known; but undoubtedly she has hastened matters to the present
crisis by her unhappiness about Cuthbert's marriage. It was a great
shock to her; she craves for him, and seems to torture herself with
vain and unreasonable jealousy. I am most unhappy about her.... It is a
bitter thing to feel that I have not the gift of ministering to her!"

All these letters passed into Caroline's hands.

Usually she read them out in the garden, and when she was alone.

She was well again, but very restless in these days. After that nervous
breakdown Mrs. Brenton endeavoured to treat her as a kind of invalid,
but she quickly abandoned this as a hopeless undertaking, and indeed
the girl very speedily picked up her colour and her strength. But she
was changed; her calm, determined, practical mood was gone altogether.

There were times when Mrs. Brenton was puzzled by her manner, and
nothing was more difficult for her to understand than the friendship
which appeared to have sprung up between Caroline and Sir Samuel
Broxbourne.

Sir Samuel was always turning up at Yelverton at unexpected moments.

As the Brentons had known him since he was a boy he was outside the
category of guests; but though Mrs. Brenton was hospitality itself, she
really chafed a little at his constant visits, and if she could only
have imagined that he was indirectly or directly connected with what
she in her plain-spoken way called Camilla's "wickedness," he would
have found himself shut out of Yelverton in particularly quick time.

As it was, very little of what went on in Broxbourne's world found its
way to Mrs. Brenton's ears, and she was in happy ignorance of the fact
that when Camilla had broken her traces in that startling fashion,
Broxbourne had been as much an object of curiosity to a certain section
of society as Rupert Haverford himself.

Nevertheless she gave him very little encouragement to come so often;
but Sir Samuel was, happily for himself, thick-skinned.

"What _do_ you find to talk about, you two?" she asked Caroline on one
occasion, almost irritably; and the girl had shrugged her shoulders.

"I listen," she said; and then, with an effort, she had added, "Sir
Samuel amuses the children. He is always inventing some marvellous
games."

"Yes," said Mrs. Brenton, thoughtfully; "but it is not a bit like Sammy
Broxbourne to spend his time inventing games to amuse children."

Caroline's eyes had flashed, and she had laughed for a moment.

"I expect he finds the country air refreshing after town."

"Is it possible," Mrs. Brenton said to her husband after this little
conversation, "is it possible that Sammy has fallen in love with
Caroline?"

Mr. Brenton closed his book with his finger in it to keep the place.

"It does not seem improbable," he said; and then he added, "Caroline is
a very sweet girl."

To which his wife retorted--

"Do you think I don't know that? She is much too sweet for a man like
Sammy."

In a vague sort of way this question of Broxbourne seemed to divide
Caroline and Mrs. Brenton. The older woman resented, not unnaturally,
the fact that the girl should not confide in her.

"Of course if he is in love, and he wants to marry her, it might be
foolish to do anything to prevent it. Though he is not very nice
himself, he has a very nice position, and his people are the kindest
creatures in the world. It would be what the world would call a
wonderful marriage for Caroline, I suppose. But _does_ he want to marry
her? And would she have him?" Here Mrs. Brenton had to shrug her
shoulders hopelessly. "I should have thought he would have been the
last man on earth to attract her."

And Caroline was perfectly well aware of what was passing in the other
woman's mind. It was one of the many little prickly burdens which she
carried in her heart in these days.

If it could have been possible to have shared this trouble with Agnes
Brenton, she would have done it gladly; but she knew that Camilla's
disloyalty had worked far deeper into the heart of this woman, who had
loved her with the anxious love of a mother for so many years, than
even Agnes Brenton herself realized.

Mrs. Brenton had never set Camilla on a pedestal; she had never
proclaimed her faultless, but she had never ceased to find reasonable
excuses for all the mistakes that the younger woman had made.

Her love had always been tempered by her judgment. She had forgiven
more in Camilla than she would have been able to forgive in other
people; but she could not easily pardon that act of betrayal, that
deliberate renunciation of right, of honour, and of duty.

Caroline was by no means sure that if she were to have lain before Mrs.
Brenton the facts which Sir Samuel had disclosed to her that sad and
strange morning, she would have received any suggestion of help. On the
contrary, it seemed to her that Camilla's old friend might have been
more definitely estranged, as assuredly she would have been made more
miserable were she to have listened to that story of temptation and
weakness and dishonour.

Caroline herself, though she pitied, also condemned.

Undoubtedly the woman had been sorely tried; she must have endured a
veritable torture at Broxbourne's hands, but surely (Caroline argued
now), surely she owed the man who had loved her so wonderfully, too big
a debt of gratitude to have exposed him so needlessly to the heart
suffering and humiliation she had brought upon him?

"What she ought to have done," Caroline said over and over again to
herself, "was, firstly, to have broken her engagement, then if he had
pressed her for an explanation, she could have told him the truth. I
know this must have seemed too hard for her to do, but I know, too,
that such love as he had for her can work miracles. If she had only
thrown herself on his hands for protection, I am convinced he would
have stood by her. As it is, she has lost him, she has lost Agnes
Brenton, and she has sold herself into a worse bondage than any she
ever had in the past!"

And still though she judged, and even condemned, Caroline could not
detach herself from this woman. In her turn she owed a heavy debt to
Camilla, a debt that was sweet to pay, that claimed from her the best
she had to give.

The same spirit that had sent her out into the night, eagerly defiant
of fatigue, loneliness, or any possible danger, merely to stand beside
this helpless, lovable woman, animated her still. She could not shut
out of her remembrance the pleading patheticness of Camilla's look the
last time they had met, and though they were now parted by an
irrevocable barrier, she remained still acutely sensitive to the spell
exercised by that creature of wayward moods and tenderest influences.

      *      *      *      *      *

When Mrs. Cuthbert Baynhurst reached London, she at once wired to
Yelverton, announcing her arrival, and desired that the children might
be taken to town the following day to meet her.

To Caroline she sent a little pleading note, in which she asked the
girl to bring the children herself.

"She has at least the grace not to suggest coming here," said Mrs.
Brenton, with a laugh that had the sound of tears in it.

Then she looked at Caroline.

"You will go?" she said in a low voice; and Caroline said--

"Yes."

The Cuthbert Baynhursts were installed naturally in one of the best
suites of one of the largest and most sumptuous hotels.

It was so strange, so natural, and yet so unreal to see Camilla again!

She looked marvellously well; that fretted, excited, nervous air had
gone entirely.

As Betty phrased it--

"You look _so_ pretty, mummy darling, just like a new, young girl."

The presence of the children relieved the situation to a great extent,
yet both Caroline and Cuthbert Baynhurst's wife felt the strain of this
meeting sharply.

"You're going to stay with me a day or two?" said Camilla,
entreatingly. "It will be sweet to have you." Then with a flash of her
old merriment, "remember we are cousins now."

Caroline shook her head.

"I am afraid I must go back this evening; but the children will be all
right with Dennis."

And Camilla bit her lip.

"Of course, if you must go, you must go." Then she added, restlessly,
"I hope we shall not stay here more than a few days ourselves. It was
horrible coming at all. And then I am so afraid this illness will upset
Cuthbert. He is so sensitive. I have entreated him not to stay longer
than a few minutes in his mother's room. I wish he need not go in at
all. Cancer is such an awful thing."

Then she shuddered.

Caroline said nothing. She had no reason to care one way or another
about Mrs. Baynhurst, but it was impossible for her to withhold her
pity in such an hour as this; because she knew, none better, the
hopelessness of the mother's passionate love for her second child, and
because it had been a creed with Octavia Baynhurst to sneer at womanly
weakness, and suffering; to deny almost scornfully the terrors of death.

And now death had come upon her--and what a death!

There was a tragedy to Caroline in the thought of that fine intellect,
that strong nature, surrendering itself to the ravages of the most
appalling disease the human frame can know.

As the children danced off to another room to find Dennis, and they
were alone, Camilla turned and stretched out both her hands to the girl.

"Have I lost you, Caroline?" she said; "you look at me so strangely,
your eyes hurt me. I have always clung to the hope that you would never
change, that you would always love me."

Caroline paused a moment, and then took the hands for an instant.

"Are you happy?" she asked in a low voice.

The look that flashed into the other woman's face was a revelation to
her.

"So happy," she said. "Oh, Caroline, it is all the beginning over
again, only better, truer, and, please God, more lasting! Caroline, I
love him. He is so young, so beautiful, so full of poetry, he makes
life quite different! Oh, I love him, and I never thought I should love
any one again after Ned."

Caroline turned away; her lips quivered.

"Then we who care for you must be content," she said. There was a
bitter and yet a sad note in her voice.

Cuthbert Baynhurst's wife stood and looked at her.

"Of course," she said a little hardly, "I know you think I did a
dreadful thing, and I will tell you one thing, Caroline, that I wish
from the bottom of my heart that I could have come by this happiness in
a different way. I don't want to excuse myself, for I have no excuse,
but equally I don't want you or anybody else to make up things that
don't exist. Don't for instance, run away with the idea that Rupert is
breaking his heart about me. He is much too prosaic, too stolid, too
commonplace. You saw for yourself how calmly he took the whole thing.
If he had been another sort of man, well!" she laughed, "there might
have been four inches of steel for Cuthbert, and perhaps a bullet
through my brain."

Caroline turned and looked at her coldly.

"How can you speak so foolishly. What do you know of his heart? You
have never understood him; even when you had the life of his life in
your hands you sneered at him as poor and paltry. Make a mockery of him
to others if you will, but not to those who know what sort of man he
is. It is pitiful; it makes your wrong so much, much worse."

Camilla looked almost frightened. Her lip quivered, and tears gathered
in her eyes.

"Oh, don't speak to me like that," she said brokenly. "Do you think I
don't know how good he is--how more than good; his generosity won't
bear talking about; but you don't know all, Caroline. If you did,
perhaps you would judge me more mercifully."

There was a little pause.

Caroline made no answer; she turned aside sharply, and walked to one of
the long windows. Though she had spoken so quietly, so coldly, a wild
sort of passion swirled about her; her heart beat so violently she felt
almost suffocated.

Camilla moved across to her.

"Caroline, darling," she said pleadingly. She put her hand on
Caroline's shoulder, and as the girl still said nothing she gave a
quick sigh.

"Well," she said, letting her hand slip down, "whatever any one else
may think, Rupert himself ought not to reproach me. For I was
absolutely honest with him. I always told him I was not half good
enough for him. There was no deception, my dear Caroline, and he chose
to do what he did with his eyes open. I don't mind betting you anything
you like that he is ever so much happier now that I am off his hands,"
Camilla declared. "Our marriage would have been the most awful failure
of modern times."

She came back to the girl by the window, and gave her a little shake.

"You know you love me, and you shan't be angry with me, Caroline."

There was a mist in Caroline's eyes. She turned, and would have spoken,
but at that moment Dennis looked in at the door and called to her
mistress.

"If you please, ma'am, I think you'd better come to Mr. Baynhurst. He's
in the other room. I'm afraid something bad has happened."

Camilla stumbled in her haste to get out of the room, and almost
immediately she was back again.

"I'm sorry," she said indistinctly, nervously; "but I think the
children had better not stop. Cuthbert's mother is dead. She died an
hour ago. Try not to let them be disappointed, Caroline. Tell them they
shall see me very soon, perhaps to-morrow. It seems awfully unkind to
send them away, poor little souls, but he is in a terrible state. I
must be with him. It would be so miserable for the children here."

Indeed the children seemed glad to go. They kissed their mother, who
held them to her in a passionate, nervous kind of way, and then let
Dennis put on their hats, and went away with Caroline, dancing as they
went.

Outside in the hot sunshine they clamoured for food.

"I can smell beef," said Betty, wrinkling up her pretty nose. "I
thought we was going to have a lovely dinner, and we didn't have none.
Oh, Caroline, I am so hungry."

And Baby chimed in with the same remark.

Caroline hoisted them both into a cab, and they drove to the station.
There she regaled them with lunch, and by the middle of the afternoon
they were back at Yelverton.



CHAPTER XVII


It was of course impossible for Haverford to leave London immediately
after his mother's funeral. He had to charge himself with the
arrangements of her affairs, a matter in which his half-brother should
have taken his share. But Cuthbert Baynhurst had hastened away as
quickly as he could go.

He seemed to be haunted by the dread of infection if he set foot again
in the house where his mother had suffered and died. More than this, he
had put into his mind the morbid fear that he had in him already the
seeds of this complaint which his mother had endured in silence for so
long. He was not even present at the funeral.

At the time the coffin was being lowered into the ground Camilla and he
were travelling in hot haste away from London, from England, from the
mere possibility of breathing the air the poor dead woman had breathed.

"This will be the beginning of the end," Caroline said to herself. "Her
eyes may be blinded for a little while, and he may attempt to tyrannize
through this power he has over her now, but Camilla is not his mother.
She will tire so soon, and his selfishness has no limits."

She was sitting out in the garden alone. There was a moon, and the
world was wrapped about in the hush of the summer night.

The children were asleep. They had been in a great excitement all day
because it had suddenly been decided that there was to be a departure
from the country to the sea.

Mrs. Brenton had expected to have relinquished her little charges to
the care of their mother, but this was now postponed indefinitely.

The note Camilla had scribbled just before leaving London had touched
Agnes Brenton almost in the old way.

She wrote so lovingly. One could see that her heart yearned for her
children, and yet that she could not separate herself from this new tie.

She burdened both Mrs. Brenton and Caroline with all sorts of charges
for her two little ones; above all, she entreated them pathetically to
keep her always vividly in front of her children's eyes.

"If I did not know that they were so safe with you, that they were put
completely out of the reach of Ned's people, I should never be able to
leave them."

At once Mrs. Brenton decided that they would go away from Yelverton.

"A change will be good for all of us," she declared, with something of
her old briskness. "You have never been to Normandy, have you,
Caroline? Well, prepare yourself for a delightful experience!"

On the morrow the packing would commence, and Caroline smiled half
faintly to herself as she conjured up the importance of this occasion
to Betty and Baby. How busy they would be, and what a muddle they would
make!

Caroline leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes.

It was deliciously cool and quiet. This was the moment that she loved
to be alone, when the gardens had greater beauty for her and the
healing tranquillity of the country spoke to her eloquently.

She was glad to go away, and yet it would be a wrench to leave this
place, which now seemed sown with the most precious of her thoughts,
watered with her heart's tears, and warmed with that joy which, though
it had come in secret, had remained to illumine her whole life.

She had written him a few words of sympathy. They were not framed in
the usual conventional formula; she wrote from her heart. She seemed to
know that his mother's death would have a far greater significance to
him now than at any other time; that, as he had stood and looked on his
mother, dead, there must have come a new and a deeper rush of
bitterness.

The grave Camilla had dug had been the burial-ground of all those sweet
hopes and dreams which had clustered about him like children of late.
His heart must have been barren as he had stood by his mother's grave.

She had not seen him since that most memorable evening; it did not seem
likely or probable that they should see him again before they went away.

Betty had been writing him a number of epistles. It appeared that she
required a great many things to go abroad with, and she had already
learned to turn to Rupert for the fulfilment of all her wishes. Nothing
touched Caroline so much as his attitude to the children; he was, if
possible, more tender than before. He adopted a little more serious
air, and in every sort of way made it known to all that he was their
guardian.

"I was afraid," Mrs. Brenton had said once to the girl--"I was afraid
that he might have changed in this, but I ought to have known him
better!" Another time she said, "Did I tell you he had refused to take
back a single thing he had given her? She told me all this in the first
letter she wrote from Italy, and yet even now," Mrs. Brenton added, in
a low tone, "I don't believe she grasps the full meaning of his
generosity. After telling me all this, she added that, of course, if it
had been any other man than Cuthbert she could not have kept the
jewels; but that, as Cuthbert was his brother, he had a right to share
in so much wealth."

"That was not her own suggestion," Caroline had said quickly.

Her thoughts hovered pityingly about Camilla this night, and about the
memory of the woman who was just dead.

That year in his mother's house had taught her to know Cuthbert
Baynhurst through and through.

His desertion now of his duty, his cowardice and exacting selfishness
were made doubly contemptible, when she remembered his mother's
clinging love, her heart-whole devotion, her pride in him.

"He is not worthy to be walked on by Rupert," Caroline determined
hotly. And at that very moment some one spoke her name, and, starting
violently, she turned to find Rupert himself standing just behind her
chair.

"Do forgive me," he said quickly, realizing how much he had startled
her. "Mrs. Brenton sent me to find you. She told me you are always out
here at this time."

"I fancied I was quite alone," said Caroline nervously; then she added,
"Have you been here long? Did you motor down?"

He said "Yes."

Their hands had clasped and unclasped.

"I felt I must come down and see you all before you fly away. In
particular, I want to speak to you."

"Yes," said Caroline.

"Are you tired?" Haverford asked rather abruptly. "Shall we walk?"

She got up at once.

"It is so delightful out here at this time. I will take you to
Betty's garden. There is a rose waiting for you, Mr. Haverford. It
was going to be sent by post in a box to-morrow. I don't know that I
dare pick it, but you may look at it."

As they passed under the interlacing branches of the trees, he said--

"I thought you would like to know that my mother spoke of you several
times. She has bequeathed to you some odds and ends of jewellery which
I fancy must have belonged to your mother. I cannot say that she spoke
kindly," he said, with half a sigh; "but at least she remembered."

"It grieved me," said Caroline, in a low voice, "to know that she
suffered so much."

He sighed.

"At times it was terrible. What stuff some of you women are made of!
She had her faults, my poor mother, but she had marvellous qualities.
In some ways you remind me of her, only you are not in the least
masculine."

When they reached Betty's garden he knelt down and put his lips to the
rose.

"Tell her I have been here, that I have left a kiss for her. I won't
pick it. Dear little creature, let her send it on, if she wants to."

"But are you going back to-night?" Caroline asked.

In her white muslin gown she looked wraith-like, part of the mist which
hovered like a white veil over the ground.

"I think so. I have a sort of fever in my bones.... I want to be moving
all the time." Then quite abruptly he turned, and put his hand on her
shoulder. "There is something else I want to say to you."

She trembled and drew back, and he at once removed his hand.

"Yes?"

"I am told that Sir Samuel Broxbourne has been coming here very often
of late, coming apparently for the purpose of seeing you."

"Who has told you this?" Caroline asked very coldly.

"It has been told me by a friend, and from the very best of reasons."

"I know Mrs. Brenton is everything that is kind and good," said the
girl, in a hard and cold tone; "yet I fail to see why she should
approach you on such a matter as this."

"Do you?" said Haverford. "She does it because she knows that I have
the right to know what is passing with you, the right to enter into all
that is important in your life. You are in my charge, subject to my
command for the next two years."

Caroline laughed half bitterly and half weakly.

"Oh, don't let us talk such nonsense!" she exclaimed, and she moved
away, but he followed her.

"It is not nonsense," he spoke irritably. "I have established myself as
your guardian, and by my mother's will you are bequeathed to my care,
therefore I have a right to put questions to you which might seem
impertinent if asked by anybody else."

"I think Mrs. Brenton makes a mistake," said Caroline, still walking on.

"In what way?"

"Sir Samuel is an old friend of the house, he has been in the habit of
coming here freely, I understand; why, therefore, should it be supposed
that he comes now only because of me?"

"I don't know why, but I hope to God he does not come for that reason!"
His voice grew harder. "You know what I think of this man; I have
spoken to you freely about him, and, better than that, your own
instinct, which has carried you to such rare judgments, must tell you
that he is no fit associate for a girl. I was going to say for any
decent woman."

Caroline was silent for a long time. Suddenly she said--

"All women are unreasonable, you know; that is a tradition, and
sometimes they see things in a light that is hidden to you men. I don't
suppose Sir Samuel is a paragon of perfection, but, at the same time, I
don't think he is half so bad as he has been painted. At least he is
very harmless, and rather amusing."

Rupert Haverford looked at her, and a great amazement which bordered on
pain took possession of him.

"You like him?" he said, going to the point in his peculiarly direct
way.

Caroline shrugged her shoulders.

"I really think I do, but I am not sure; at any rate, I don't bother
myself about it very much." Her tone was flippant. "How you _do_ love
catechising!" she said. It might have been Camilla speaking.

They passed up the garden again in silence; beyond the wide expanse of
lawn the house stood hospitably open. Lights gleamed everywhere, Mr.
Brenton's tall figure with stooping shoulders was coming slowly towards
them.

"Well," Haverford said, in a cold, dry way, "if you regard him in this
uncertain way it is easier for me to act."

Caroline looked round sharply. There was indignation in her tone.

"How do you mean ... act?"

"I mean I shall take steps to prevent this acquaintance from becoming
an intimate one. However much it may annoy you, the fact remains that I
am your guardian, and that until you are twenty-one you are not free to
do anything of which I do not approve, and I assuredly do _not_ approve
of your friendship with this man."

Caroline paused and caught her breath.

"This surveillance," she said coldly, "is not only very ridiculous, it
is very objectionable. You may arrogate to yourself a certain authority
where my money is concerned, but in the matter of choosing my friends I
demand absolute liberty. Please understand I can recognize no law you
may make in this." She stood a few seconds, then she said "Good night"
abruptly, and she walked away from him quickly. Indeed, halfway across
the lawn she broke into a run, and had gained the house almost before
he realized she was gone.

Mr. Brenton called out something to her as she passed him so fleetly,
but she made no answer.

"What's wrong with Caroline?" he asked as he reached Rupert Haverford.

The young man sat down, and did not reply for a moment; then he said
shortly--

"I have been speaking to her about Broxbourne."

"Oh!" said Mr. Brenton. He stretched himself comfortably in another
chair. "That's what my wife has been putting you up to, I suppose?
Aggie has worked herself into a rare state over this business of Sammy.
You know, my dear fellow," Dick Brenton said, in his pleasant, tranquil
voice, "I don't quite go with you both. I know Sammy is a bit wild, his
father was before him, but he will settle down. He's got the nicest old
mother in the world. Seems to me he is in earnest."

"The thing is preposterous," said Rupert Haverford, in his decisive
way. "I am not speaking of his position, his title, or his family; it
is the man himself I abhor. I should be sorry to see any woman I care
about married to him."

"Well, my experience teaches me," said Mr. Brenton, after a little
silence, "that these things right themselves. I don't suppose Caroline
gives Sammy two thoughts, but, on the other hand, she may. I am rather
sorry you spoke."

"I am not," said Haverford shortly. A moment later he said, "I thought
she was unusually sensible, and able to take care of herself; but I see
now I have made a mistake."

He was extraordinarily disturbed. If he had not questioned her himself
he would not have believed this thing. There had been something so
fresh and clear to him about Caroline, she had matched himself in
straightforwardness; her word had been charged with truth, and over and
again she had given evidence of such unusual qualities that he had
unconsciously endowed her with wisdom beyond her years, and regarded
her mental outlook as peculiarly well balanced. Not even the great
overthrow of his life's sweetest task had moved him more sharply than
he was moved now. Indeed, then he had been partially prepared. As he
had put it himself to Caroline, he had felt that the creature he loved
was slipping gradually but surely out of his grasp; he had been
conscious that the butterfly he had caught and chained was fluttering
restlessly (albeit the chain was a glittering one), and he had nerved
himself for the pronouncement that his love was wearying, his devotion
exacting. And when all this had come, he had met it quietly, as
something that was inevitable. But he had suffered none the less.

All things he had expected from Camilla except the thing she had done.
And the astounding conviction of her disloyalty had been hardly more
startling than this curious phase of her nature which Caroline had
revealed this night.

He had, like Agnes Brenton, found it possible to pardon in Camilla
many, many things that would have been unforgivable in others, because
he took her mental construction into consideration first of all;
because he regarded her as a child, a headstrong, foolish, sweet,
irresponsible child, with all the innocence that belongs to extreme
youth, and because he knew she had been from the beginning surrounded
by the most disastrous influences. And Camilla had shown him how
mistaken he had been to treat her with such tender thought.

So now with Caroline. He had placed her apart; he realized now that he
had thought of her as something fragrant and beautifying, and with her
own lips she had confessed herself capable of a sympathy for a man who
was brutal, vulgar, coarse in heart and mind.

Were all women so framed? Or was it merely his destiny to be denied
knowledge of woman in her true personification? The woman of sweetest
compassion and bravest comradeship; that figure of nobility and modesty
of whom poets had sung from ages uncounted and for whose purity and
honour men had died in centuries gone. His mother had shown him one
side of the picture, Camilla the reverse; now Caroline added her touch.

He sat a long time after Mr. Brenton had smoked his cigar and gone
indoors. He was both angry and miserable. His feeling, as he had
approached Yelverton that evening, had been one nearly akin to
pleasure. He was glad to meet Agnes Brenton, glad to see Caroline
again; and after the first greeting Mrs. Brenton had swept him into a
fresh element for trouble and regret. "The fault is in myself," he
mused, "it must be so. I am in my wrong groove; that's what is at the
bottom of it all."

He delivered himself up wholly in this moment to that old yearning to
shake off the trammels of his present existence, to be stripped of all
that made the world envy him.

For a brief while he had sunned himself in the glory of a false
paradise, and for that brief while the clamour of his old ambitions had
been silenced, the weighty responsibility of his money had been changed
into satisfaction. But once that glory had been darkened his spirit had
gone back with a rush to the old habits, the old desires.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that he should turn against this
environment of wealth and luxury, of soft raiment and cultivated
beauty, since he had been taught the hollowness of this social life,
since trickery and selfishness, lies and banalities, had swept so
destructively across his path. Not that he condemned wholesale; he made
distinctions. There was good everywhere. These very people whose guest
he was this night were in themselves the surest testimony to that.
Brought in contact now with all sorts and conditions of people, he was
quick to recognize that there were hearts as honest and as simple in
the ranks of the moneyed class as in any other walk of life.
Nevertheless, Haverford's real sympathies were with those who worked;
it seemed to him there must always be more possibility for finding gold
in the natures of those who toiled and suffered and even died together
in their grind to put bread into the mouths of their children, than
could be possible to the idlers and the well-cared-for.

Back in the old days he had seen many an evidence of this golden nature
packed away in a rough frame, an uncouth personality.

And the women of those old days, was not their history such as to place
them apart for honour and admiration? Why, he could bring back memories
now of fidelity, and courage, and dogged endurance among those working
women that made his eyes wet and his heart thrill as he recalled them.

And he remembered, too, that till this night there had always been
something about Caroline Graniger to remind him of those people who had
been once so dear to him, to whom his heart still turned, despite their
recent churlish treatment of him; who made such a close bond between
his boyhood and his present self.

Yes, Caroline had surely possessed something of the simplicity, that
quiet, reticent strength of those North Country people. He was
conscious now of how much he had relied on her. He got up with a sigh
at last, and before he went indoors he made his way to Betty's little
garden again. He stooped and touched the rose once more with his lips,
but it seemed as if the fragrance had gone from the flower, as if the
soft beauty of the garden had lost something. Certain it was that as he
slowly moved under the trees he had a sense of loss heavily upon him,
as if in the flitting away of that girl's white-robed figure, not
merely the little world about him was robbed of a potent charm, but
that there had gone with her a sympathy, an influence that all
unconsciously had suggested to him consolation.



CHAPTER XVIII


The sea had gone out a long way, and between the tiny digue and the
beach there stretched a large expanse of rich wet sand, broken here and
there by large smooth pools which reflected as in a mirror the wondrous
opalescent colouring of the sky, made inexpressibly glorious by the
sinking of the hot, tired sun.

At least Caroline felt that it ought to be tired, it had been shining
so fiercely for so many hours.

She sat in a low canvas chair on the sands, and watched her two small
people scampering here and there absolutely regardless of fatigue. They
had their dainty clothes pinned up carefully, and their pretty little
legs were burnt dark brown. Betty looked quite tall, especially with
her sunny hair bunched on her head.

Every now and then Caroline would call--

"Bed-time, chicks."

But she said it dreamily, and no one took any notice.

She was spellbound by the marvellous beauty of the sea and sky. As the
sun descended slowly and reluctantly the world was alive with colour.
Fiery streaks of orange, mingled with the tenderest rose-pink flung
themselves upwards in the sky, forming a diadem for the departing
monarch; and hovering near (creeping every instant closer like
ministering spirits) clustered the clouds, some deepest purple, and
some misty grey. Below, the sea murmured its evening hymn, whilst its
surface caught the reflected pageantry, shifting from one wondrous
scheme of colour to another. Caroline's heart contracted with emotion
as she watched the golden glory melt into a sea of red, then the red
fade into a wondrous mauve, that in its turn glided into turquoise
blue; and lastly into the melancholy green that heralded the dark
shades of night.

It was really growing late; Caroline got up with an effort and called
the children.

Baby nestled in her arms at once, a flushed and sandy little
individual. It was only a few steps fortunately to the annex of the
hotel. Betty was taking farewell of an admirer. There was not a
masculine heart, even of the tenderest age, that had not succumbed to
Betty's fascinations.

At the children's ball every week at the Casino the little "Anglaise"
was the acknowledged beauty. Just before they left the sands Caroline
turned and looked at the sea; it was growing cold and grey now, the
pale moon gave it a touch of sadness.

Somewhere over where the sea and the night sky met lay the land where
he was. If only her spirit could wing itself through these thousands of
miles and look upon him!

He seemed lost. It was not only distance that divided him.

Since that June night in the old garden there had been silence between
them--a silence that was fraught with the most hurtful significance to
Caroline.

She turned away and cuddled baby closer.

"News from Camilla," said Mrs. Brenton, as the little cavalcade turned
into the hotel gardens. "She is in Dieppe. We shall see her to-morrow.
She writes in a great hurry, but seems in the best of spirits. It is
useless," added Mrs. Brenton, with a faint smile, "to pretend that I
can keep up a defensive attitude with Camilla. She writes for all the
world as if she had never given me an hour's uneasiness in all her
life!"

Caroline dressed for dinner an hour later with a nervous feeling, that
was almost apprehension, weighting her.

"Why has she come to Dieppe?" she asked herself. "Can she know that he
is there? I wish I could be more sure of him. It is just because he
never speaks of her now that he makes me so anxious."

As luck would have it, that night when they went for their usual stroll
after dinner Agnes Brenton introduced Broxbourne's name.

It was her husband who had urged her to let the matter stand all this
time. She would not have spoken now only that she really was perplexed
by Caroline's manner, and could not rid herself of the suggestion that
though the girl was so bright, and her spirit seemed so unflagging, she
was in reality not at all happy. From this it was a very short step to
imagine that the man who was undoubtedly hovering about Caroline was
the cause of this unhappiness.

They stood a long time in silence watching the moonlit sea; then Mrs.
Brenton said, with a sigh--

"I shall be sorry to go away from here;" and Caroline said--

"So shall I." A moment later she said, "I wish I knew what my future is
going to be."

Mrs. Brenton looked at her.

"What do you mean, dear child?"

"I mean," said Caroline, "that everything before me is uncertain.
Undoubtedly the children's mother will make an attempt to have them
with her; but this cannot possibly be a lasting arrangement, because I
know something about Cuthbert Baynhurst, and I can hardly picture him
living in the same house, however large, with children. And," said
Caroline, with a little catch in her voice, "assuredly in that house
there would be no place for me."

Mrs. Brenton was silent a minute, and then she said--

"Camilla knows there is always room at Yelverton for the children, and
I should be happy if I could hope that you would be with them for a
long time to come. But this is unreasonable. So too is _our_ desire to
keep you with us. Indeed, I have been preparing myself to hear that you
were thinking of having a home of your own." Then Agnes Brenton slipped
her arms round the girl's shoulder. "I _must_ know!" she said.
"Caroline, are you going to marry Sammy?"

She was almost amazed by the emphatic way in which Caroline denied this.

"But he wants to marry you? That is patent to all the world. Is it so
hard for you to speak to me, Caroline?"

"I know so well what you have had in your mind all this time," the girl
answered. "I know you think it most extraordinary that I should
encourage Sir Samuel, and I know that a lot of people would think it
very wrong of me to seem to encourage him. He has asked me four times
already if I will marry him, and if he asked me four hundred times I
should answer the same thing."

"Then, ..." said Mrs. Brenton, and she stopped and all at once she drew
Caroline round and looked at her almostly sternly. "I think I begin to
understand.... There is something you are hiding, Caroline...."

And Caroline made no attempt to deny it.

"There is something that I have tried to deal with singlehanded, but it
is growing too difficult for me," she said, and she spoke almost
wearily. "It is not my secret, and I cannot share it even with you."

"What an ass I have been!" said Agnes Brenton, suddenly. Then she bent
forward and kissed Caroline. "Now," she said, "we stand together. I
don't ask you to tell me what this trouble is. I only want you to
answer two questions. Does it affect Camilla?"

Caroline said "Yes."

"Does it affect others besides Camilla?"

Again Caroline said "Yes." And then the words broke from her
involuntarily, "It might do lasting harm to the children.... It might
spoil their future. I don't believe," the girl said half passionately,
"that she for one instant realizes this. I don't believe she has
grasped for a single instant the danger that has threatened her."

Mrs. Brenton sighed.

"Oh, to put some depth into Camilla!" she said. Then, "And you have
managed to stand between her and this danger; but how, my dear, dear
child?"

"How?" said Caroline, she laughed, but it was a wretched laugh.
"Indeed, I scarcely know. I think I have attracted him just because I
have been truthful with him. I have never once pretended that I liked
him. I have given him more home-thrusts than I fancy he has had from
anybody else. And he only wants me because he thinks I am not easy to
get. At the same time," Caroline said, "I must do him this justice. He
gave me a promise, it was not a little thing, indeed, remembering what
he is, it was a big thing; and up to now he has kept this promise. I am
only afraid he won't keep it much longer. He is getting tired,"
Caroline said, with a break in her voice. "I saw a difference in his
manner when he was here the other day. If I lose my power of
attraction," the girl's voice was bitter, "I am afraid all I have tried
to do will be so much wasted work."

They paced to and fro and were silent a long time. Then Agnes Brenton
said--

"I must enter into this. I have every right to do so. I am glad now
that Sammy is so near. I shall send and ask him to come and see me
without further delay." Then she reproached Caroline. "Why did you not
bring this trouble to me at once?"

Caroline caught her breath with a sigh.

"I suppose we all try to do clever things once in our life." Then she
took Mrs. Brenton's hand and carried it to her lips. "I did not want
you to have more to bear, dear friend. You were so unhappy, and I
believed I should be able to keep this away from you always."

In a low voice a moment later, Caroline said--

"When she comes to-morrow, you will say nothing to her?" and Agnes
Brenton promised this.

Later, when she was alone with her husband, she surprised him by
observing with some vehemence.

"Dick, I give you full permission to call me a fool whenever you feel
inclined to do so."

Mr. Brenton looked up from his latest treasure, an old French book
which he had picked up in a day's excursion to Rouen.

"I will start at once, if it will give you any satisfaction, my dear,"
he said, in his gentle way.



CHAPTER XIX


The children were in the wildest state of excitement at the prospect of
seeing "mother." They quarrelled when they were having their hair
brushed as to the time she would arrive, and what she would come in.

Baby declared Mummy would arrive in a boat, at which Betty scoffed
openly.

"A boat doesn't go on the road. She'll come in a motor."

And Betty was right.

Camilla arrived in the smartest and latest of automobiles; she was
exquisitely dressed in white, and caused a flutter in the little toy
watering-place, which, with so many of its kind, stud the coast of
Normandy. She came not alone. There were two men and another woman with
her.

Mrs. Brenton and Caroline and the children were down on the digue when
she arrived, and as the children caught sight of their pretty mother
and rushed to greet her, Agnes Brenton caught Caroline by the wrist.

"There is no occasion to send for Sammy," she said; "Camilla has
brought him."

And when a little mist had cleared away from Caroline's eyes she saw
that Mrs. Brenton had made no mistake.

It was Broxbourne himself. He looked sheepish and uncomfortable as he
caught Caroline's eyes, and he made no attempt to approach her.

There was never any one so gay as Camilla. The moment she arrived she
seemed to radiate the whole place. The little crowded digue
concentrated its whole attention on her. She provoked universal
admiration.

When the whole party made a move towards the hotel for luncheon, she
caught Caroline by the hand.

"I want you, Caroline--I want to ask you something," she said. She sent
the children on ahead; then, when there was no one near, she said, "Can
you give me news of Rupert?"

"No," said Caroline, "but I have no doubt Mrs. Brenton can."

Camilla threw back her long gauze veil.

"Oh dear, how hot it is here!" she said; "there is absolutely no air.
The place lies in such a hole, but the chicks look splendid." Then, in
her restless way, "Well, if you know nothing, I must ask Agnes, for we
have heard the most extraordinary rumour about him"--she meant
Haverford. "I thought perhaps you could tell me if it was true; I mean
about his having gone to America because he has found some relations of
Matthew Woolgar, and that he intends to give them all the money."

Caroline answered almost impatiently.

"I assure you I know nothing whatever about Mr. Haverford, or what he
is doing. How should I?"

"Well, I hope to goodness there is no truth in this report," said Mrs.
Cuthbert Baynhurst. "If there is, it is a very bad look-out for all of
us."

Caroline crimsoned.

"Have you not enough already?"

This made Camilla look at her; then she stood still and gave Caroline a
little pull.

"Now, don't be cross with me," she said, and, just like Betty, she
added, "Nasty, unkind Caroline!" Then, becoming serious again, "You
know it is not at all impossible that he might do this. He is so
extraordinary about some things. I wonder who put the idea into his
mind? I always understood that old Woolgar had no relations."

They walked on, and then, with a little laugh, Camilla said--

"If you want to know the truth, we have not got _half_ enough. I find
Cuthbert is every bit as extravagant as I am. I wanted him to come with
me to-day, but do you think I could get him away from the 'petits
chevaux'? Not I! And let me tell you one can lose a fair amount of
money at that game, silly as it is."

Caroline stood still; there were tears in her eyes.

"Oh, dearest!" she said, "is ... is it always to be the same? Is...."

Camilla whipped her round, and they walked sharply back towards the
sands.

"You shan't cry for me," she said; "I'm a beast. I'm not worth it. You
don't know how little I deserve your tears."

"Yes, I do," said Caroline; "but I can't help crying; because I love
you, because you are the first person, you and the children, who have
belonged to me, who have made life real, and because I want the
children to have a proper mother. Not just a pretty doll dressed up
every time they see her in something new. You had it in your power once
to turn your back deliberately on all this worthlessness; but I won't
go into that now.... Only I must speak, I must try to let you
realize...." Once again her voice broke; then, with an effort, Caroline
said, "Though you have lost so much, there is still so much left.... I
know it will be a little bit harder for you now, but still you can do
it if you like. Everybody can rise...." The words ended abruptly.

"Don't!" said Camilla, and then she added, "When I am with you I want
to be as you want me to be, but when I am away I have not the strength
to change, and it all seems so useless; the trying, I mean...." There
was real depth in her voice as she said, "Do you think I don't know
what I have lost? I have known it more and more every day. I expect I
shall know it a good deal more surely before I come to the end of my
life. It's only this excitement that makes me want to go on at all."

"I thought you were happy," Caroline said in a low, moved voice.

The other woman shrugged her shoulders and said nothing. Then, quite
abruptly, she began speaking about Broxbourne.

"Do you know that ever so many people assured me you were going to
marry him. I wouldn't believe it, and when I saw him in Dieppe
yesterday I determined all at once that I would speak to him myself. I
don't mind telling you, Caroline, that I have been deadly afraid of
Sammy all this time; he ... I mean ... I did something to make an enemy
of him, and he can be horribly nasty when he likes.... But yesterday,
the moment I saw him, I was no longer afraid."

Caroline was staring at the white-flecked sea. Her heart was throbbing
in her throat; to speak was beyond her.

"Yes," said Camilla, "I saw at once that the worst of his anger had
burned out, and so I took my courage in both hands and went straight up
to him, and I asked him boldly if I had to congratulate him. I think I
rather startled him," Camilla said composedly; "anyhow, he would not
speak at first, and then, when he had thawed, he told me that he had
proposed to you half a dozen times, but that you would not have
anything to do with him. He said something more; that you were the best
sort he had ever come across, and that if there was anybody in the
world who could pull him up and make a decent fellow of him, he thought
you were the person who could do it, and I could see he was in earnest.
Fancy you and Sammy being such friends. You funny, quiet Caroline!
Perhaps it is you who have made him so amiable to me!" But Camilla
rejected this idea even as she said it. "No, I expect he knows I have
done for myself this time, and as I am going to be paid out for all my
sins, he feels, perhaps, he can afford to be a little generous. Anyhow,
I am glad you won't have anything to do with him. I have a good mind to
make up a match between him and this girl who is with us to-day. She
would jump at him, if only for his title. Funny," Camilla mused. "That
was never one of my weaknesses."

At this moment Betty came flying after them, announcing that _déjeûner_
was ready, and that everybody was waiting.

It was a merry meal, thanks entirely to Camilla and the children, and
very shortly afterwards the motor-party started again from Dieppe. When
they were gone, Mrs. Brenton said to Caroline--

"I don't fancy Sammy will come here any more. I tried to get five
minutes alone with him, but he avoided me."

Betty pushed a letter into Caroline's hands.

"You're to read that when you're quite alone. Sammy gived it to me,"
she said mysteriously; then she danced off, and Mrs. Brenton, with one
quick glance at the girl, turned and went into the hotel.

Caroline walked into the garden. She crossed the bridge under which the
clear white water of the mountain spring ran down to the sea, and
opened Broxbourne's letter. Inside the envelope there was a sheet of
paper on which nothing was written. Inside this paper there was a
cheque.

She just glanced at it and then crushed it in her hand.



CHAPTER XX


Rupert Haverford came back from America about the beginning of October.
He went down immediately to Yelverton.

The children were still with Mrs. Brenton--that is to say, they had
gone for a brief while to stay with their mother; but the visit had not
been a success, and Camilla herself proposed that she should make some
arrangement to let the little folk stay for a few months longer under
Mrs. Brenton's care.

"You see, we haven't got a house yet," she said; "nothing would induce
Cuthbert to live in the house his mother left him. We must get that off
our hands before we settle ourselves in another, and then I think we
shall go to the Riviera this winter. He has several portraits that he
wants to paint there."

Once, with a laugh, she had said--

"I have two minds to ask Rupert to lend us that big house of his. It is
absurd to shut it up for months at a time when we are homeless."

It was, therefore, as much on the children's account as anything else
that Haverford went to Yelverton.

Nevertheless, he found himself travelling down to Mrs. Brenton's
comfortable house with a sense of eagerness that was half pleasure.

The reason for his visit to the States had not been wrongly reported;
chance had brought to his knowledge the fact that there were some
connections of Matthew Woolgar settled in America--humble, struggling
people to whom money would be a godsend.

He spent at least a couple of months before he came across a trace of
these people, and then, to his disappointment, found that the family
had dwindled to two old people, who were quite unfit to take the voyage
to England, and for whom little was possible except placing them in
comfortable circumstances.

So he said to Agnes Brenton when he told her of all this.

"You see, I can't get rid of my money."

"It seems to me," said Mrs. Brenton, "you have made a very good attempt
at it." Then, with a little colour in her face, she added, "I go back
to my old theory about you. I want to see you well married. I should
like you to take a prominent part in the life of the day."

He made no remark for a little while, then he said--

"Yes, I shall marry; I hope soon."

To herself Mrs. Brenton confessed a great disappointment.

"An American woman!" she said to herself. "I did hope he would have
married somebody over here."

The welcome the children gave him was a royal one; but Caroline barely
touched his hand, and expressed no pleasure at seeing him again. It
seemed however, that he had something to say to her.

"I want to talk to you about the children," he said. "Will you come out
into the garden?"

"I thought everything was settled for the time being," Caroline said.

"There are various things I should like to discuss with you."

She stole a little glance at him as they walked into the
well-remembered path, where now the rose-bushes were barren of bloom
and the ground was carpeted with faded leaves.

He was looking wonderfully well, with that bronzed look in his skin,
which made his teeth so white, and his eyes so delightful. She noticed
that he seemed altogether brisker, and his first speech touched on this.

"Do you know that my trip to America has done me a lot of good? It has
shaken me up--hustled me out of my old groove. The Americans are a
wonderful nation! There are no rich idle men there, they have given me
enough hints to keep me employed for the rest of my existence."

He looked at her with half a smile.

"I am glad," said Caroline.

"Are you? Well say it a little more as if you meant it."

Against herself she laughed.

Then he stretched out his hand.

"You don't bear me any grudge, Caroline?"

"Why should I?"

She did not take his hand, and with a quick frown he let it drop to his
side.

"Well, you know you have not written me a line since I have been away."

She looked at him with open eyes at this.

"Did you expect me to write?"

"Of course," he said, with a smile. "It would have been the proper
thing for a ward to do. And that brings me to the question I put to you
just now. Are you still angry with me because I tried to enforce my
authority when last I saw you?"

"No," she said, "I am not angry."

"Then look more pleasant."

Again she had to laugh, but it was a very transitory laugh.

"I thought you wanted to talk about the children."

"You are one of the children," he answered.

As she made an impatient movement he changed his tone.

"I want to talk to you about myself. I'm not exactly a child, but I
find I want some one to give me just a little of the attention that you
give Betty and Baby."

She grew very hot, and found it rather difficult to breathe.

"I am not satisfied with you only as a ward," Haverford said, and there
was an indescribable note of tenderness in his voice, "because there
are such difficulties in the way of seeing you. I want you for
something closer, better, more helpful. Caroline, will you be my wife?"

She stopped dead, and looked at him with eyes ablaze, then, in a choked
voice, she said--

"No!" and then again, "No!" and then she walked on very quickly. He
followed her.

"You can't mean that," he said, his tone one of absolute astonishment.

She answered him over her shoulders.

"I do most emphatically." He looked quite dismayed, and the girl broke
in hurriedly, "Of course it is very astonishing, I suppose; but call it
a caprice, if you like, I have an objection to marry a very rich man. I
have an objection," she said, with quivering lips, "to be chosen for a
wife just as somebody would choose a carpet, or a piece of furniture."

"Good God!" said Haverford. "Do you suppose that I want to buy you?"

"I don't suppose anything," said Caroline, "except that I thank you
very much for your offer; and I decline it."

He let her walk on, and stood looking after her bewildered and pained.
She had grown so closely into his thoughts of late, she had become so
individualized with all his new schemes for the future, she was so
necessary, so dear, so precious (especially since he had learned how he
had misjudged her, and Mrs. Brenton had lost very little time in making
him acquainted with this) that he could hardly realize that she had
turned so deliberately away from him.

He made no effort to follow her, however; there had been something
authoritative in her voice and in her manner--something that stung him
almost reproachfully. But his chief sensation was a rueful realization
of failure.

"I am a vain, clumsy fool!" he said to himself, with a vast amount of
irritation.

And after he had walked about for some considerable time, and had
pondered the situation carefully, this unflattering estimate of himself
strengthened.

If he could have comfortably taken himself away from Yelverton he would
have done so; but as he had proposed himself for this visit it would
have been difficult to have found a tangible reason for ending it in so
abrupt a fashion.

The quiet, comfortable influence of the house, and particularly the
presence of the children, worked pleasantly on his troubled mood,
however, and at dinner-time he sat chatting briskly away over his
American experiences, and noting with some satisfaction (and a good
deal more vexation) that the girl in the white gown on the opposite
side of the table matched himself in ease of manner and flow of spirit.

"I find him wonderfully improved," said Mrs. Brenton, as she and
Caroline sat having their coffee in the hall.

"Oh, he was always fairly good looking," said the girl, carelessly.

She had let Betty decorate her for dinner, and there was a large red
flower tucked in among the masses of her dark hair just behind one
small ear. She had grown taller, but was just as slim as ever; although
Mrs. Brenton invented all sorts of fattening dishes entirely for
Caroline's consumption, she refused to grow fat.

"Oh, I don't mean his looks, I mean his manner! Don't you find him ever
so much brighter and brisker? He seems quite happy too. I am glad of
that!"

Caroline put down her coffee-cup. She heard the dining-room door open.

"I am just going to run upstairs to see if Betty has dropped off. She
looked very wakeful."

Her white gown whisked out of sight as Mr. Brenton and his guest came
out of the dining-room, and though they sat a long time chatting and
smoking, Miss Graniger never came back.

"I am trying to divide her a little from this devotion to the children,
but it is not very successful," Mrs. Brenton said to Rupert, "and yet
she cannot remain with them all her life."

"I am afraid she is rather obstinate," Haverford remarked, a trifle
grimly.

The next morning he left Yelverton early--so early that the children
were only half dressed when he went.

Betty lamenting, recalled a score of promises unfulfilled, and wept
bitterly; and Caroline, as she listened to the child, felt almost
ashamed.

"Although," she argued with herself, "he need not have gone away if he
had not wanted to go."

Mrs. Brenton at luncheon gave it as her opinion that the change she had
remarked in Rupert Haverford denoted more than a surface alteration.

"I am convinced," she said, "he is going to marry an American. Isn't it
too abominable? I am so disappointed."

"When I marry," observed Betty, "I'm going to keep hens, speckley
yellow ones. You know the sort, Baby, same as the one you chooced out
of Aunt Brenny's garden."

"Chased," corrected Caroline.

"Chased," said Betty, then, in a different tone, "How _red_ you are,
Caroline, quite like as if you was boiled."

"Well," said Mr. Brenton in his quiet way, "you were saying the other
day you wanted him to marry, you know."

"So I do," agreed Agnes Brenton, "but I did not suppose he would care
about an American wife."

They discussed the probable union for some time.

It struck Caroline as so strange that both these people should regard
it as natural and certain that he should marry, and not from a mere
sense of duty, but from inclination, even from affection.

"Do they forget so easily?" she asked herself.



CHAPTER XXI


At Christmas-time Mrs. Cuthbert Baynhurst joined the Yelverton party
unexpectedly. She wore her beautiful sables, and looked quite radiant
when she arrived. As usual, she seemed to charge the atmosphere with
excitement of a pleasant nature.

"It is _so_ nice to be here!" she declared. "You can't think how tired
I am of foreign beds and cooking. Agnes, I hope you are going to give
me beef and plum-pudding every day."

Mrs. Brenton received her beautiful guest warmly; nevertheless, it was
quickly evident to Camilla that there was something on the older
woman's mind.

"Don't hesitate to send me away if you don't want me," she said easily.
"I can easily go back to town, or to Lea Abbey, or--well, anywhere, you
know."

"Of course I shan't turn you away," said Agnes Brenton. Then she added,
colouring a little, "Only I must wire to Rupert; we expected him for
Christmas."

Camilla laughed ever so prettily.

"Dear soul, why should you? We have met already several times. You
see," she added, quite seriously, "when things went so horribly bad
with Cuthbert and me two months ago, I was obliged to send and ask
Rupert to come and help me. And he was _so_ kind. He arranged
everything. You know, don't you, that Cuthbert and I have agreed to
separate--at any rate, for a little while? Perhaps when he does not
find life quite so easy he may alter. His temper, my dear Agnes, is
something beyond description; and he is so lazy, and _so_ difficult!
And then there are the children. My duty is really to them first of
all; and I have neglected them terribly. Rupert suggests I should go
back to my own little house, and have a chaperone to live with me. I
supposed that Caroline would be quite enough, but from something Rupert
said, I fancied, perhaps, she had some new plans in her mind."

"I have heard nothing," said Mrs. Brenton.

She had listened to this speech with a confusion of feeling. Camilla's
easy acceptance of a most difficult position was not, perhaps, so very
extraordinary, but other people worked a little more slowly.

"I don't quite approve of the little house. Why not stay here?" Mrs.
Brenton added.

"My dear Agnes! Have I not already outraged your friendship? Do you
realize that you have been burdened with my children over a year?"

"What is a year! Besides, you know perfectly well there has been no
burden. Haven't I been clamouring to have the children with me for
ages? It has given both Dick and me a new spell of life to have these
little souls about us, and if you will only make up your mind to stay
on indefinitely, it will be a real happiness."

"Thank you, darling," said Camilla; "it sounds delightful. I will talk
it over with Rupert when he comes."

She said this in the most natural way possible.

But Haverford was not at Yelverton for Christmas. He wired from the
north that he was ill--had caught a violent cold, and was unable to
travel.

He was not too ill, however, to forget his Christmas remembrances.

Packages kept arriving by every post, and the children were in a
ferment of excitement. They rushed to their mother as each new gift
arrived, and Camilla confessed to Caroline that she was frantically
jealous of the attachment between Rupert and the little creatures.

"Of course, it is the best thing that could happen, I know that; but,
after all, they are my children, and I ought to come first. As it is, I
believe I am not even placed now. Rupert comes first--before any one;
you are second; and Agnes a good third."

"You are talking nonsense," said Caroline, in her calmest way; "the
children love you more and more every day."

Camilla smiled, frowned, and sighed.

"Well, it may be so; at all events, I don't mind Rupert, or you, or
Agnes. It would have killed me if the old man had taken them, and
turned them against me, as he certainly would have done. Oh, Caroline,
that reminds me; has Betty chosen something for Violet Lancing's girl?
If not, let her send this bangle. I mean to be kind to that girl for
Horace's sake."

A moment or two later Camilla said with a laugh--

"I wonder if Rupert will send me a Christmas present.... I suppose I
must not expect it."

But she got one--a very lovely and unique necklace, composed of pieces
of jade strung on a fine chain, alternated with emeralds.

Caroline's gift was a writing-table, and when the heavily laden
post-bag was opened on Christmas morning there was a letter also.

She kept it for several hours unopened, and then stole out into the
cold garden to read it. It was not very long. He had the trick of going
straight to the point. But it was a letter that moved her deeply--that
made her heart beat and her eyes dim. He called her "dearest," and once
he wrote "dear capricious Caroline."

He did not claim her boldly this time, nor did he plead too much. There
was a directness in his simplicity that almost made her waver. But she
delayed answering till the morrow; and all that evening, as she felt
the old irresistible fascination of Camilla's beautiful presence hold
her in sway, she felt equally her heart grow steady and that strange
rush of joy die down.

"It is impossible ... impossible," she said to herself; and though she
put her words as gently as she knew how, she wrote and for a second
time refused to be his wife.



CHAPTER XXII


When the question of a return to that little town house was mooted in
earnest, Caroline joined issue with Mrs. Brenton in pronouncing the
suggestion impracticable.

She was honest enough to confess that her objection was to a large
degree based on sentiment.

"Oh, don't go back there; you had so many, many dark days there," she
urged. "Besides, the house is let till March. Why not let us go to
Paris for a few months? Don't you think that is a good idea?"

"Oh!" said Camilla, delightedly; "then you _are_ coming with me?"

It was Caroline who looked surprised.

"Of course. I should love to stay six months in Paris. I want to pick
up French if I can, and it would be so good for the children."

Camilla agreed.

"And if Cuthbert should pass through Paris we need not see him," she
mused. "Happily he would not be able to stay for more than a few days;
he owes too much. Caroline, we _will_ do this!"

So it was settled, despite Mrs. Brenton's protestations; but, as usual,
Camilla upset the arrangement. She was happy at Yelverton for a week or
two, but all at once she got restless, and went up to town for a few
days. From thence she announced that she was going to pay one or two
country visits.

Caroline was still making preparations for the migration to Paris, when
the children's mother wrote announcing that their plans would be
changed.

"I have some news for you," she scribbled; "Sammy is going to be
married! My little matrimonial scheme has 'panned out' successfully. I
can't say that Sammy is exactly my idea of a husband; but this girl is
apparently wildly in love, and thinks herself ever so lucky. They are
both staying here. It seems that old Lady Broxbourne is delighted, and
the wedding is to be in a few weeks' time. For my sins I have promised
to do all I can for the bride this season; she is quite provincial, you
know, and has everything to learn, and she clings to me almost
pathetically. So I am afraid our little jaunt abroad will be knocked on
the head till the summer, at all events; and then I think we ought to
coax a yacht out of Rupert, and have a real good time. What do you
think?"

Yelverton was very quiet without Camilla, and the children fretted for
her a good deal.

Caroline herself was actually conscious of a sensation of void and
loneliness. She could never pass the room where Camilla had been
without a sort of pang.

Long ago she had ceased to question or to speculate on the
extraordinary power of this other woman; to ask herself why or why not
certain things should be! She simply recognized that, despite all that
had gone and all that might come, she loved Camilla with a deep, and an
anxious love, and would always give homage to the caressing, the
bewitching influence of this beautiful, this most unreliable of women.

Sometimes, indeed, Caroline confessed to herself that even with her
eyes widely opened as they now were, she would still do what she had
done in the past, and if protection were needed, exert every effort of
wit and courage to stand beside Camilla and keep trouble away.

And this although she had sacrificed her own feelings so vainly,
although she knew Camilla would have been totally unable of
comprehending what that apparent friendship with Broxbourne had cost
her, and what real suffering had come to her through it.

On the day the letter came containing the news of the approaching
Broxbourne marriage, Caroline left the children playing hide-and-seek
in the hall, and went out for a little walk.

The day was bleak, and she felt the cold penetrate her heart.

She pushed on quickly till she left the house well behind her, and then
she sat down and closed her eyes. Of late there had been many moments
when she had felt tired out in spirit, when life would seem empty and
unprofitable; such a mood fell upon her now. She was not sure if it was
disappointment or a sense of relief that followed on the realization
that she was not to be uprooted from the life of the last six months.
All she knew was that she had become so nervous that she winced when
the children screamed either in play or temper, and that she had a
strong desire to scream herself sometimes.

"I think I will go off somewhere all by myself for a week or two," she
mused now. "I know I must be horrid to live with just now. When I
banged my books down on the table last night, I saw Mr. Brenton look at
me as if he thought I had gone mad. I believe I ought to have taken Mr.
Haverford's advice, and have travelled a little last year. I should
hate to leave the children now, but I am not at all sure it would not
be a good thing for them. Perhaps I will talk it over with Mrs.
Brenton." A moment later she said, "No, I don't think I will. If I do
she will only question, and if she wants to know what is wrong, and why
I want to go away, what on earth am I to say to her? If I cannot
satisfy myself I am not likely to satisfy her."

With a sharp sigh she relinquished this train of thought, and leaning
back, she closed her eyes, and remained with them closed for a little
while. Then all at once she was conscious that some one was watching
her, and she opened her eyes quickly. In reality, Rupert was not
looking at her, but was pacing to and fro in front of the bench.

As she sat forward with a jerk, he turned and came hurriedly towards
her.

"What madness brought you out here to sleep?" he queried, almost
sharply.

Caroline knit her brows.

"I don't think I have been asleep," she answered. Then confusedly, "How
long have you been here?"

"Ten minutes--a quarter of an hour?"

He continued to look at her fixedly.

"You are ill," he said; "you look very white. Mrs. Brenton wrote me she
was anxious about you; that is what brought me down to-day."

This brought the colour flaming to her cheeks.

"I am perfectly well. I am always well!"

He bent forward, took both her cold hands, and drew her to her feet.
For an instant he chafed her hands almost unconsciously. Then they
walked on a little, Caroline as in a dream.

Suddenly he paused, and catching her hands again more closely, faced
her. There were tears in her eyes just ready to run down her cheeks.

"If you are well, why are you crying?" he asked abruptly. Then
tenderly, "Come, Caroline, be honest with me. Something is wrong, and I
must know what that something is. Don't you realize that I would give
my life itself to be sure that you were happy? Have you the least idea
what you are to me--how much I love you?"

She shook her head; and then she looked up, and her lips smiled for an
instant.

"How should I know these things? You have never told them to me."

"Surely yes," he said.

"Surely no," she answered. "That day you spoke to me just after you
came back from America, you simply dictated to me the fact that you
found you required a wife, and that you considered me a suitable person
for the situation; and your letter at Christmas was just the same
thing."

"I knew I had done some clumsy thing," he said remorsefully. "But
dearest, sweetest heart, you must have known that I love you!"

He unloosened her hands as he spoke, meaning to gather her into his
arms, but she placed those two little hands in protecting fashion
against his heart.

"No. Wait," she said. "It can't be true. Remember what she was to you.
If you are the man I imagine you to be, then you are not one to easily
forget. You--you can't love me if you loved her."

He smiled, but he answered her gravely.

"Since you have apparently studied me and my nature so well, the whole
situation should be clear to you. Other people might doubt, but not
you, Caroline. You were so closely mingled in with that episode, and
you must have realized that when she took herself out of my life
everything appertaining to her faded absolutely into the background.
The way had been prepared for this so thoroughly. You know that evening
I came down here that I was clinging to a last hope, even though I knew
how poor it was. I confess," he said, with a faint smile, "that had we
separated differently, some sentiment might have lingered. It was the
way she did this that swept my heart clean. And yet," he added, "I am
wrong to deny all sentiment. I am her friend--I am glad to be her
friend--and I shall never cease trying to help her to the happiness she
craves for; but I shall never succeed. No one can help her. It is her
destiny to be a disappointment to herself, and to all who have her
interest at heart."

Caroline shivered a little. Her hands had dropped. They were standing
apart now.

"And still she holds one. There is a sort of spell about her," she
said, in a low voice--"you must recognize that. I, too, have suffered
through her, and yet----" Then she bit her lip, flushed crimson, and
said passionately, "I could never share! Don't think I am only
sensible, and practical, and quiet ... I ... I know myself better, I am
capable of horrid feelings, and my temper can be quite savage.... I
don't want to fill a gap.... I want all for myself. Why, even when I
realize what she was to you, I feel as if I could suffocate...."

She was turning away, but he caught her by the shoulder and wheeled her
round.

"Do you know what that means?" he said, in a curious voice; "that means
that you love me. And do you suppose I am going to let you slip out of
my life now that I know this? Caroline, you _shall_ not deny me my
right! I have stood by all these months I even came here to-day with
the intention of saying nothing more to you on this subject, because I
said to myself, 'I have no right to force myself upon her; if she cared
a toss of a button about me she would not play with me;' but the
temptation to speak was too strong, and now that you have confessed
that I am indeed so much to you ... you will never get rid of me!"

He was holding her so tightly that he almost hurt her.

The colour waned in her face, and came back with a rush as she tried to
look at him and could not meet his eyes.

"When will you marry me?" he asked.

She gasped.

"Oh, please," she said, "I don't think I said anything to ... to ...
but if ... suppose that I should care for you a little, that does not
mean that ..." she broke off.... "Really, I cannot marry you," she said
then, with a note of desperation in her voice.

Haverford laughed.

"Why? Give me one good reason, and I will let you go."

She had to laugh too, but she would not yield easily.

She enumerated many reasons.

"The children need me ... it is so soon. I have ever so many things I
want to do this year...." Then finally and a little weakly, "I don't
want to marry at all."

Rupert looked at her intently.

"There is not one honest reason in all these, and the last is the
weakest of the lot," he said coolly. "I really cannot listen to it.
You must think of something else...."

"I can hear the children," Caroline said, in a hurry. "Listen! don't
you hear them calling for me? I am convinced they will have forgotten
their coats, and this wind is so cold."

Rupert's eyes glistened.

"Let them come.... I will refer the matter to Betty.... She will soon
settle everything."

Caroline turned crimson, and then she put out her hand.

"Perhaps ... I will marry you ... but it must be ever so far off....
Wait ... will you wait?" she asked half wistfully.

He stooped, and despite the fact that the children were so very near
now, he kissed her hands and then her lips.

"You know I will ... all my life, if you insist," he answered.

But Caroline did not keep him waiting quite so long.



PRINTED BY

WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,

LONDON AND BECCLES.





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