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Title: Leonore Stubbs
Author: Walford, L. B.
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 "Leonore Stubbs" ***

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



                             LEONORE STUBBS

                            BY L. B. WALFORD

          AUTHOR OF "MR. SMITH," "THE BABY'S GRANDMOTHER," ETC.


LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
91 & 93 FIFTH AVENUE,
NEW YORK LONDON, BOMBAY, AND CALCUTTA
1908



CONTENTS


I. "SHE HAS NO SETTLEMENT, DAMN IT"

II. ON THE STATION PLATFORM

III. SPECULATIONS

IV. A DULL BREAKFAST-TABLE

V. OLD PLAYMATES MEET

VI. A REVELATION

VII. "I HAVE LOST SOMETHING THAT I NEVER HAD"

VIII. A CAT AND MOUSE GAME

IX. "I'D LIKE TO HAVE THINGS ON A SOUNDER BASIS"

X. THE THIRD CASE

XI. DR. CRAIG'S WISDOM

XII. THE PHOTOGRAPH AND THE ORIGINAL

XIII. "I AM TO GIVE YOU A WIDE BERTH, ALWAYS"

XIV. PAUL GOES--AND RETURNS

XV. "YOU'VE BROKEN MY HEART, I THINK"

XVI. TEMPTATION

XVII. A KNIGHT TO THE RESCUE

XVIII. "A TURN OF THE WHEEL"

XIX. EPILOGUE



CHAPTER I.

"SHE HAS NO SETTLEMENT, DAMN IT."


"She can't come."

"But, father----"

"She shan't come, then--if you like that better."

"But, father----"

"Aye, of course, it's 'But father'--I might have known it would be that.
However, you may 'But father' me to the end of my time, you don't move
me. I tell you, Sukey, you're a fool. You know no more than an unhatched
chicken--and if you think I'm going to give in to their imposition--for
it's nothing else--you are mistaken."

"I was only going to say----"

"Say what you will, say what you will; my mind's made up; and the sooner
you understand that, and Leonore understands that, the better. You can
write and tell her so."

"What am I to tell her?"

"What I say. That she has made her own bed and must lie upon it."

"But you gave your consent to her marriage, and never till now----"

"I tell you, girl, you're a fool. Consent? Of course I gave my consent.
I was cheated--swindled. I married my daughter to a rich man, and he
dies and leaves her a pauper! Never knew such a trick in my life. And
you to stand up for it!"

General Boldero and his eldest daughter were alone, as may have been
gathered, and the latter held in her hand, a black-edged letter at which
she glanced from time to time, it being obviously the apple of discord
between them.

It had come by the afternoon post; and the general, having met the
postman in the avenue, and himself relieved him of the old-fashioned
leathern postbag with which he was hastening on, and having further,
according to established precedent, unlocked the same and distributed
the contents, there had been no chance of putting off the present evil
hour.

Instead there had been an instant demand: "What says Leonore? What's the
figure, eh? She must know by this time. Eh, what? A hundred and fifty?
Two hundred? What? Two hundred thousand would be nothing out of the way
in these days. Poor Goff wasn't a millionaire, but money sticks to money
and he had no expensive tastes. He must have been quietly rolling
up,--all the better for his widow, poor child. Little Leonore will
scarcely know what to do with a princely income, and we must see
to it that she doesn't get into the hands of sharpers and
fortune-hunters----" and so on, and so on.

Then the bolt fell. The "princely income" vanished into the air. The
problematic two hundred thousand was neither here nor there, nor
anywhere. As for "Poor Goff," General Boldero was never heard to speak
of his defunct son-in-law in those terms again.

In his rage and disappointment at finding himself, as he chose to
consider it, outwitted by a man upon whom he had always secretly looked
down, the true feelings wherewith he had regarded an alliance welcomed
by his cupidity, but resented by his pride, escaped without let or
hindrance.

"What did we want with a person called Stubbs? What the deuce could we
want with him or any of his kind but their money?" demanded he, pacing
the room, black with wrath. "I never should have let the fellow set foot
within these doors if I had dreamed of this happening. I took him for
an honest man. What? What d'ye say? Humph! Don't believe a word of it;
he _must_ have known; and as for his expecting to pull things round,
that's all very fine. It's a swindle, the whole thing." Then suddenly
the speaker stopped short and his large lips shot out as he faced his
daughter: "Does Leonore say she hasn't a penny?"

"She says she will have to give up everything to the creditors. I
suppose," said Susan, hesitating, "everything may not mean--I thought
marriage settlements could not be touched by creditors?"

"No more they can, that's the deuce of it."

"Then----?" She looked inquiringly, and strange to say, the fierce
countenance before her coloured beneath the look.

If he could have evaded it, General Boldero would have let the question
remain unanswered, although it was only Sue, Sue who knew her parent as
no one else knew him--before whom he made no pretences, assumed no
disguises--who had now to learn an ugly truth;--as it was, he shot it at
her with as good an air as he could assume.

"She has no settlement, damn it."

"No settlement?" In her amazement the open letter fell from the
listener's hands. She recollected, she could never forget, the glee
with which her father had rubbed his hands over the "clinking
settlement" he had anticipated from Leonore's wealthy suitor, nor the
manner in which it had insinuated itself into every announcement of the
match. No settlement? She simply stared in silence.

"If you will have it, it was my doing," owned General Boldero
reluctantly; "and I could bite my tongue off now to think of it! But
what with four of you on my hands, and the rents going down and
everything else going up, I had nothing to settle--that is, I had
nothing I could _conveniently_ settle, and it might have been awkward,
uncommonly awkward. I could hardly have got out of it if Godfrey had
expected a _quid pro quo_. And he might--he very well might. A man of
his class can't be expected to understand how a man of ours has to live
decently and keep up appearances while yet he hasn't a brass farthing to
spare. I'll say that for Godfrey Stubbs, he seemed sensible on the point
when I tried to explain; and--and somehow I was taken in and thought:
'You may be a bounder, but you are a very worthy fellow'."

He paused, and continued. "Then he suggested--it was his own idea, I
give you my word for it--that we should have no greedy lawyers lining
their pockets out of either of our purses. What he said was--I've as
clear a recollection of it as though it were yesterday--'Oh, bother the
settlement, I'll make a will leaving everything I possess to
Leonore,'--and I, like a numskull, jumped at the notion. It never
occurred to me that the will of a business man may be so much waste
paper. His creditors can snap their fingers at any will. That's what
Leonore means. She's found it out, and flies post haste to her desk to
write that she must come back here."

"So she must."

"So she must _not_. I won't have it. The whole neighbourhood would ring
with it."

"By your own showing," said Sue quietly, "in order to free yourself from
the necessity of making any provision on your part when the marriage
took place, you precluded----" but she got no further.

"Provision on my part?" burst forth her father, who was now himself
again, and ready to browbeat anybody; "what need had the girl of any
provision on my part? She was marrying a fellow with tenfold my income.
The little I could have contrived to spare would have been a mere drop
in the bucket to him, and I should have been ashamed to mention it. I
can tell you I felt monstrous uncomfortable having to approach the
subject at all; and never was more thankful than when the young man,
like the decent fellow I took him then to be, pitchforked the whole
business overboard."

"All the same, it is quite plain," persevered she, "that it was with
your consent and approbation that Leonore had no money settled on her,
so that it could not be taken from her now;--and that being the case,
you have no choice but to provide for her in the future."

"You mean to say that it's due to me your sister's left a pauper on our
hands?"

"That's exactly what I do mean. And you must either give her enough to
enable her to live properly elsewhere, or receive her back among us, as
she herself suggests. Besides which, you must make her the same
allowance you make the rest of us," and the speaker rose, closing the
controversy.

Only she could have carried it on to such a close, indeed only General
Boldero's eldest daughter--and only daughter by his first
marriage--would have engaged in it at all. The younger girls, of whom
there were still two unmarried and living at home, never, in common
parlance, stood up to their father--though, if he had not been as blind
as such an autocrat is wont to be, he would have easily detected that
they had their own ways of rendering his tyrannical rule tolerable, and
that while he fancied himself the sole dictator of his house, he had in
fact neither part nor lot in its real existence.

What is more easily satisfied than the vanity of stupid importance
always upon its perch? The general's habits and hours were known, also
the few points upon which he was really adamant. He was proud, and he
was mean. He liked to live pompously, and fare luxuriously,--he made it
his business to cut off every expense that did not affect his own
comfort, or dignity. But that done, other matters could go on as they
chose for him.

So that while it was not to be thought of that Boldero Abbey should
exist without a full staff of retainers without and within, it was all
that his eldest daughter--the family manager--could do to get her own
and her sisters' allowances paid with any regularity--and whereas the
stables were well supplied with horses, and a new carriage was no
uncommon purchase, it was as much as any one's place was worth to hire a
fly from the station on an unexpectedly wet day.

When, exactly three years before the date on which our story opens,
there had appeared on the scene a suitor for the hand of the youngest
Miss Boldero, in the shape of a rich young Liverpool gentleman--General
Boldero always talked of young Stubbs as "a Liverpool gentleman," and
his hearers knew what he meant--he was accorded a free hand in reality,
though demur was strewn on the surface like cream on a pudding.

"I have had to give in," quoth the general with a rueful
countenance--but he spread the news right and left, and Leonore was
kissed and bidden make the "Liverpool gentleman" a good wife.

Whereupon Leonore laughed and promised. Godfrey Stubbs was her very
first admirer, and she thought him as nice as he could be. At first the
Boldero girls had been somewhat surprised at the encouragement shown a
stranger to come freely among them, but when it became clear that Mr.
Godfrey Stubbs was a privileged person, they found it wonderfully
pleasant to have a man about the place, where a pair of trousers was a
rare sight--and the inevitable happened.

The engagement concluded, Leonore trod on air. She who had never been
anywhere, who was never supposed to have a wish or thought of her own,
was all at once a queen. Godfrey assented to everything, and of himself
drew up the plan--oh, glorious! of a prolonged wedding tour. His little
bride was to go wherever she chose, see the sights she selected,
and--shop in Paris. She was actually to stay a whole fortnight in Paris
to buy clothes.

"Very right, very proper;" nodded her father to this.

He was so smiling and genial over everything at this juncture that
Leonore's tongue wagged freely in his presence, and on hearing the above
she turned to him with a saucy air, which under the circumstances he
found quite pretty and pleasant:--

"So you see, there will be no need to dive deep into _your_ pocket,
father, and my things will be ever so much smarter and more up-to-date
besides."

"Ha, ha, ha!"--laughed the general.

It all came back to him now--all that rainbow period, which had just
dissolved into the grim blackness of night. He could see the merry
little chit--(as he called her then)--rustling in her new-found state
like a puffed-out Jenny Wren; he could hear her calling to Godfrey over
the stairs, and after him across the lawn; most distinctly of all, there
rose before his mind's eye the wedding day, and the round baby face
solemnised for the occasion, with its large eyes and pursed-up lips,
whence emanated the bold "I will" which startled him by its loudness and
clearness,--and yet again his own sigh of satisfaction as the well-known
march pealed out, and the pair walked down the aisle, and the thing was
done.

The thing was done, and could not be undone--he was in spirits to play
his part gloriously.

"Terrible business this, Lady St. Emeraud. Poor little girl, to have to
be called 'Mrs. Stubbs,' eh, what? Oh, bless you, yes; it's her own
doing, entirely her own doing--quite a love match,--but, well----" and
there was a shrug of the shoulders, which, however, neither took in Lady
St. Emeraud nor any one else.

"The horrid old wretch is simply gloating, and all the other girls may
follow Leonore's example with his blessing;" was her ladyship's comment.
"Stubbs--Tubbs--or Ubbs--if there is money enough, come one, come all to
the Abbey." But the speaker turned with a more kindly air to the
white-robed figure of the youthful bride, and wished her well with a
kiss--and even that kiss added to the sting of General Boldero's present
ruminations.

He had woven it into his remarks on many subsequent occasions. He called
Leonore "Lady St. Emeraud's pet". And he would put himself in her
ladyship's way when he had news of her "Pet," and tell the news with an
air of its being of special interest. "Hang it all, her ladyship ought
to have been the child's godmother, if we had had our wits about us;" he
had exclaimed within the home circle.

What would Lady St. Emeraud say now? She was a woman of the world, and
although she might choose to take up a girl after a fashion--(even he
could not magnify the passing notice bestowed into more, since it never
led to anything further)--she certainly would not care to--"I wish we
could keep this fiasco from her knowledge," he muttered.

Had it been possible, he would have dropped the hapless young widow out
of sight and ken, like a pebble in a pond. Her name should never have
been mentioned by him or his,--and if by others, he would have replied
curtly and conclusively that she had gone to live with her husband's
people.

Confound it all, there must be _some_ people to hang on to? It had of
course been a great point at the beginning of the connection that young
Stubbs stood alone in the world, and his not having a soul belonging to
him had been emphasised as one of the assets of the match,--but with the
new change of affairs, surely some vulgar old uncle or cousin could be
unearthed to be made use of?

His auditor, however, had steadily shaken her head. She did not
repudiate the suggestion on any ground other than that of its
impossibility--but on this she took her stand with that accurate
knowledge of her father which provided her influence over him.

He had just yielded the point, and she had mooted the idea of receiving
her sister back to the home of her childhood, when we are admitted to
hear the explosive "She _can't_ come," with which our chapter opens.

We know how the battle went, and to what was due the victory, if such it
could be called, on the part of Miss Boldero. She had discovered a
secret--a shabby secret which the general had hitherto been careful to
lock tight within his own breast--and armed with this she could do as
she chose about Leonore--but her triumph cost her dear.

No one would have believed how dear. No one would have supposed that the
person who of all others knew the ill-conditioned old soldier best, who
knew him in and out and through and through, could retain for so poor a
creature a spark of feeling other than that engendered by the tie of
blood. To Maud and Sybil their father was simply "He,"--and to catch him
out, or catch him tripping on any occasion, the best fun imaginable--but
their half-sister suffered from every exposure, and when possible hid
the offence out of that charity which is love.

She was not a clever woman, she was in some respects a fool. People
would exclaim, "Oh, _that_ Miss Boldero!" on finding which of the three
it was who had been met and talked with. There was nothing worth hearing
to be got out of poor old Sue. No gossip, no chatter--not even sly
details of the general's "latest" wherewith her sisters were willing to
regale their friends. Sue was dull as ditch-water and silent as the
grave where family affairs were concerned.

She was not ill-looking, nay, she was handsome, as were all the
Bolderos; and, curiously, she was better turned-out than the younger
ones, for she had the knack of suiting herself in her clothes, which
they had not,--but with it all, with her good appearance and respectable
air, she belonged to the ranks of the uninteresting, and the weight she
carried with her father was voted unaccountable.

No one, however, disputed it; and when the two withdrew together no one
followed.

"Well, what does Leo say?" demanded Maud, who with Sybil had been lying
in wait for their half-sister while the conversation above narrated was
going on in the library. "What a time you have been! You might have
known Syb and I were on thorns to hear what was in that great fat
letter? Where is she going to live? Or is she going to travel? And is
she going to invite one of us to go with her? If she does----"

"It ought to be me," struck in Sybil eagerly. "I am nearest her age, and
Leo and I were always pals. I shouldn't at all mind going with her."

"Which of us would? It would be splendid. Can't you speak?" to Sue. "You
are such a slow coach,--and surely you might have broken loose before,
when you knew we were waiting."

"You have been nearly an hour;" Sybil glanced at the clock.

"We thought you might have called us in," added Maud.

"Anyhow, do for heaven's sake let us have it out now," continued Sybil
impetuously. She had been giving little tweaks at the letter in her
sister's hand, and a faint apprehension crept into her accents as she
found it firmly withheld; "and don't look so owl-like. There is nothing
to be owl-like about, I suppose?"

Hitherto neither had noted Sue's expression; now for the first time they
simultaneously paused long enough to enable her to open her lips.

"I am afraid you will be disappointed," she said slowly. "I am so sorry
to tell you, but--but things are not as you suppose. Poor Godfrey----"
she paused.

"Poor Godfrey, well, poor Godfrey?"

Both exclaimed at once, and each alike made a movement of impatience.

"He had been very unfortunate of late. He had--speculated. He----"

"We don't care twopence about _him_, get on."

"He has been unable to leave Leonore----"

"Never mind what he has been _un_able to do--what has he been able?"

"He was ruined," said Sue at last, in a dull, matter-of-fact tone. "It
appears he did not himself know it, for which Leonore is very
thankful--but though he died in the belief that he was going to be
richer than ever, when his affairs came to be looked into----"

"Oh, how long you are in telling it. You do love to harangue;" with a
sudden petulance Sybil shook her sister's shoulder and seized the
letter, whose perusal was the work of a minute.

"So that's how the cat jumps!" quoth she, suddenly as cool as she had
been warm before. "Poor brat! Well, it will be nice to have her here."

"Here?" ejaculated Maud. "Is she coming here? To live?"

"Even so. Isn't she, Sue? Of course she is. She can't help it. Though,
I say--no wonder you were ages in the library--how does _he_ take it?
Oh, you need not pretend, my dear, we can imagine the scene. Our revered
parent is not given to mincing matters, and to have Godfrey Stubbs, his
dear bloated son-in-law, collapse like a pricked balloon is rough on
him. He was so pleased--that's to say he took poor Goff's death so very
philosophically, that one knew perfectly how he felt. The money and not
the man--it was an ideal consummation. He would have condoled with his
poor little Leo, and petted and pampered her--and grinned whenever he
was alone. She might have come to live with us _then_----"

"A nice jumble you are making of it." It was Maud who interposed, with a
vexed face. "It is nothing but a huge joke to you--but upon my word, I
don't see a pleasant time ahead for any of us. The bare sight of Leo
will be a perpetual grievance, and we shall all reap the benefit."

By the evening's post, however, Leo was bidden to come.



CHAPTER II.

ON THE STATION PLATFORM.


"Is that the widow?"

A couple of common-looking men with their hats and greatcoats on, were
standing, notebooks in hand, in the centre of a handsomely appointed
room, and the eye of experience would have seen at once what they were
doing there. They were taking an inventory of the furniture.

Their task had been momentarily suspended by the opening of the door,
and both heads had turned to behold a slight, black-robed figure step
forward, then, at the sight of themselves, stop short, turn and
vanish--whereupon the one put the above question and the other nodded
for reply.

"Lor', she ain't but a girl!" muttered the speaker; then paused to rub
his chin, and add sententiously: "that's the way with these rich young
cock-a-doodles. They marries and lives in lugsury--gives their wives
di'monds, and motor-cars, and nothin' ain't too good for them,--then
pop! off they goes, and _we_ comes in! Sich is life!"

"Godfrey Stubbs was a very decent feller;" protested the other, biting
the top of his pencil with a meditative air. "He was misfort'nate,
that's all."

"Humph? Misfort'nate? Yes, I've heard it called that before. Stubbs
ain't the first by a long chalk whose sticks I've had to make a list of
because of his dying--or living--misfort'nate. Who's the missus?"

"Can't say. There she goes!"--suddenly; and with one accord both stepped
to the large French window which stood open, and stared across the lawn.
"Just a mere slip of a thing," murmured Joe Mills, under his breath,
"'bout my Milly's age, poor lass!"

"Lucky there's no kids," quoth his companion, bluntly; "and, 'Poor lass'
or no, we've got our work to do. Where had we got to now? Look sharp,
and let's clear out of this before she comes back,"--and spurred to
activity by the suggestion, the interlude came to an end forthwith.

They need not have hurried; Leonore was not going to interrupt again.
She had come to take a last look round, as she was not now dwelling
there; but the sight just witnessed was enough to preclude any desire
for further investigation, and she almost ran across the threshold which
she was never more to enter.

It may be wondered at that none of her own people were with the hapless
girl at such a moment--but a few words will explain this. A very few
days before Godfrey Stubbs' sudden death, an outbreak of influenza,
which was rife in the neighbourhood, had taken place at Boldero Abbey;
and to the intense vexation of the general, he found himself laid by the
heels, when it was above all things necessary and desirable that he
should appear, clad in the full panoply of woe, at the funeral of his
son-in-law.

He would go, he was sure he could go,--and he rose from his bed and
tried, only to totter, trembling, back into it again.

Then he ordered up Sue, and sent messages to the younger ones. When it
appeared that all were either sick or sickening, and that the doctor's
orders were peremptory, he was made so much worse himself by wrathful
impotence, that thereafter all was easy, and by the time the epidemic
had abated, Leonore was no longer in her own house.

She was still, however, to her father's view a personage, and as such to
be treated. Messages of affectionate condolence and sympathetic inquiry
were despatched daily. Though he did not actually write with his own
hand, he composed and dictated, and every epistle had to be submitted to
him before it was sent--while each and all conveyed the emphatic
declaration that, the very moment he was fit to travel, General Boldero
would fly to his dear girl's side, to give her the benefit of his
counsel and experience.

He had been for his first walk on the day Leonore's letter arrived which
changed the face of everything.

Thereafter his influenza and all the other influenzas assumed
astonishing proportions, and the trip to Liverpool which he had formerly
assured Sue would do him all the good in the world, was not to be
thought of. The weather was milder, but what of that? She had been
against his going all along; and now when he had given in to her, she
must needs wheel about face, and try to drive him to do what would send
him back to bed again as sure as fate.

Sue had next suggested that she herself, or Maud should go. Sybil, the
last to be attacked, was still in the doctor's hands.

The second proposition, however, met with no better fate than the first.
It was madness to think of it; sheer madness to take a long,
expensive--the speaker caught himself up and substituted
"exhaustive"--journey, when there was no end to be attained thereby.
Had he not said that Leo could come to them? Since she was coming, and
since it appeared there was nothing to prevent her coming immediately,
that settled the matter.

"You can put it civilly," conceded he; but on this occasion he sent no
message, and did not ask to see the letter.

We perceive therefore how it chanced that the solitary, pitiful little
figure came to be haunting the precincts of her former home as narrated
above; she had been housed by friends who, struck by her desolation,
were not wanting in pity and sympathy,--but confused, dazed, bewildered,
she moved about as in a dream, her one conscious desire to be alone--and
no one, she thought, would follow her on the present occasion.

No one did, but we know the sight that met her eyes on opening the
drawing-room door, and she knew in a moment who and what the two men
were, and what they were doing. And she fled down the garden path and
passed from their view; but ere she reappears, we will present our
readers with a brief glimpse of our heroine up to the present crisis in
her life.

In appearance she was small, soft, and inclined to be round-about--while
her face, what shall we say? It was a face transmitted through
generations of easy, healthy, wealthy ancestors, who have occasionally
married beauties,--and yet it had a note of its own. Her sisters were
handsome, but it was reserved for her, the youngest, to strike out a new
line in the family looks and one which did not ripen quickly. So that
whereas the three elder Miss Bolderos had high noses and high foreheads,
and long, pale, aristocratic faces, varying but little from each
other--(for somehow Sue, by resembling her father, had no separate
traits)--the funny little Leonore, with her rogue's eyes, and thick
bunch of swinging curls, her chubby cheeks and dimpled chin, was for a
time entirely overlooked. It was certain she would never be
distinguished nor imposing--consequently would never contract the great
alliance General Boldero steadily kept in view for Maud or Sybil.
[_N.B._--He never contemplated a husband for Sue--never had, though she
was the handsomest of the three. Briefly, he could not do without her.]

But although he was presently obliged to confess to himself that the
little snub-nosed schoolgirl was developing some sort of impudent looks
of her own, he held them to be of such small account that it was as much
a source of wonder as of congratulation when it fell out that they had
fixed the affections of a suitor with ten thousand a year. It was
luck--it was extraordinary luck--that Mr. Godfrey Stubbs could be
content with Leo, when really if he had demanded the hand of any one of
the three it would have been folly to hold back.

We need not, however, dwell on this period. Suffice it to say that on
each recurring occasion when the general welcomed his married daughter
beneath his roof, he was secretly surprised and even faintly annoyed to
behold her prettier than before. She glowed with life and colour. She
radiated vitality. She had a knack of throwing her sisters, with their
far superior outlines, into the shade.

Even Sybil, who had something of Leo's vivacity, had none of Leo's
charm. Even Maud, rated highest in the paternal valuation, had a heavy
look. What if he had been over-hasty after all? What if the little witch
could have done better? Once or twice he had to reason with himself very
seriously before equanimity was restored.

In mind Leonore was apt, with the intelligence, and it must be added
with much of the ignorance, of a child. She was ready to learn when
learning was easy--she would give it up when effort was needed.

As Godfrey was no reader, she only read such books as pleased her fancy
or whiled away a dull hour.

Godfrey told her what was in the newspapers, she said. It did not occur
to either that Godfrey's cursory perusal merely skimmed the surface of
events.

Again, Leonore protested that she had no accomplishments, but that her
husband could both sing and draw--and she would hasten to place his
music on the piano, and exhibit his sketches. She thought his big bass
tones the finest imaginable; she framed the sketches as presents for her
father and sisters;--and so on, and so on.

In short the poor little tendril had wound itself round a sturdy pole,
and with this support had waved and danced in the sunshine for three
years,--and now, all in a moment, with cruel suddenness and finality,
the pole had snapped, and the tender young creature must either make
shift thenceforth to stand alone, or fall to the earth also. Which will
Leonore do?

The present, in so far as she was concerned, was a grey, colourless
vacuum.

She had of course to give audiences to her solicitor, an elderly,
grizzled man, whose coat, she noted, was shockingly ill-made, and who
had a heavy cold in the head, which brought his red bandana handkerchief
much into play,--but though she dreaded his visits, and kept as far
away from him as possible, with a fastidious dislike of his husky
utterances, and heavy breathing, he relieved her of all responsibility,
and in fact earned a gratitude he did not get.

His was a thankless task. Leonore only wondered miserably what it was
all about? Of course she would do whatever was right; she would give up
anything and everything--so what need of details?

Indeed she offered to surrender cherished possessions which Mr. Jonas
assured her were not demanded and might lawfully be kept,--but this
point clear, she had no interest in the rest, and his broad back turned,
nothing else presented itself to fill up the dreary days which had to
elapse before her presence could be spared and her departure arranged
for.

"Your father will provide for you, I understand, Mrs. Stubbs?" ("And a
good job too," mentally commented the lawyer, shutting his bag with a
snap. "There's many a poor thing has no father, close-fisted or no, to
fall back upon.")

"Yes--yes," said Leonore, hurriedly. She looked so young, and vague, and
helpless, that as he held out his hand, and mumbled conventionally, his
voice was a shade more husky than before.

"Oh, yes, thank you; thank you, yes."

"Now what is she thanking me for?"--queried Jonas of himself. For very
pity he felt aggrieved and sardonic, and Leo perceiving the frown, and
unable to divine its cause, was thankful anew that release was at hand.
Every interview had been worse than the previous one. She had had to go
in to the terrible old man all by herself, and be asked this and that,
and begged to remember about things which had made no impression at the
time, and been entirely wiped from memory thereafter.

Could she tell--oh, how she came to hate that ominous "Can you tell?"
seeing that she never could, and that the confession invariably elicited
the same dry little cough of dissatisfaction, followed by a pause.

What did it--what could it all mean? "Then I think I need not trouble
you further, Mrs. Stubbs," said Mr. Jonas slowly,--and Mrs. Stubbs
almost jumped from her seat.

Nothing could ever be as bad as this again. In her own old home no one
would disparage poor Godfrey by inference and solemn silences as this
grim old Jonas did. Every statement wrung out of her, even though the
same simply amounted to a non-statement, a confession of utter ignorance
and trustfulness, had somehow damned her husband in the eyes of the man
of business--but her own people would feel differently.

Godfrey had always been treated well, indeed made rather a fuss about at
Boldero Abbey. Her father would run down the steps to meet the carriage
which brought the young couple from the station on a visit. His hearty,
"Well, here you are!" would accompany the opening of the door by his own
hand. Then there would be an embrace for herself, and the further
greeting of a pleased and affectionate host for her husband.

The pleasant bustle of welcome outside would be amply followed up within
doors, where her sisters would cluster round, making as much of Godfrey
as of herself--perhaps even a little more--remembering his tastes, his
proclivities, his love of much sugar and plenty of cream in his tea, his
partiality for warmth and the blaze of a roaring fire. "Ah, you
Liverpool gentlemen, you know what comfort is!"--the general would
jocularly exclaim, the while both hands pressed his son-in-law down into
his own armchair. "I like to stand;" he would protest,--but Leonore had
a suspicion that he did not like to stand for most people.

Godfrey was a favourite; for Godfrey there would be horses and dogcarts
at command, keepers and beaters in the shooting season, (when such
visits annually took place), and elaborate luncheons and dinners. "We
don't do much in the way of entertaining, you know," the general would
explain casually, having delivered himself on the subject to Sue,
beforehand--("Hang it all, he can't expect _that_--but he shall have
everything else, everything that we can do for him ourselves")--"We
don't go in for that sort of thing, except now and again,--but after
all, a family gathering is more agreeable to us all, I take it, eh,
Godfrey? _That's_ what you and Leo come for, not to be bothered by a
parcel of strangers you know nothing about?"

But if strangers, _i.e._, old neighbours whom Leo remembered from her
youth up, and whom she would have liked very well to meet again, if
these did accidentally cross the path of the Bolderos and their guests,
nothing could be handsomer than the way in which Godfrey Stubbs was
presented by his father-in-law. Godfrey would tell his wife about his
meeting with Lord Merivale or Sir Thomas Butts with an air of elation.
"Nice fellows; so chatty and affable." Once he let fall the latter word
in public, and nobody winced openly,--so that Leo, who had often heard
it in her married home, and never dreamed of thinking it odd, listened
and smiled in all innocence.

It must be remembered that she had barely emerged from the schoolroom
when Godfrey Stubbs carried her off as his bride, and that when the last
blow fell, and there was a sudden demand on the forlorn little creature
for qualities she either did not possess or was not conscious of
possessing, she only felt with a kind of numb misery that it was all
strange and terrible, and that if Godfrey had been there to help
her--and a burst of tears would follow.

But at least she was going home; she had never yet got quite over the
feeling that Boldero Abbey was "home," and always spoke of it as such,
even in the days when her stay there was limited to visits. How much
more then now--now, when she had no foothold anywhere else, and when the
past three years took in the retrospect the shadowy outlines of a dream.

It was odd how distinctly behind the dream stood out the days of
childhood. As the train bore her swiftly through the open country she
knew so well, on the mellow, misty October afternoon, which came at
last, Leonore's throbbing bosom was a jumble of emotions, partly, though
of this she was unaware, pleasurable. Until now she had been dwelling in
the past--the near past--the past which was all loss and sadness,--but
as one familiar scene after another unfolded itself, involuntarily they
awakened interest and a faint anticipation. Of a nature to be happy
anywhere, and to cull blossoms off the most arid soil, the necessity for
living in a villa among other villas on the outskirts of a great
manufacturing town, had never called for lament and depreciation: no one
had ever heard Boldero Abbey descanted upon,--indeed Leonore had sharply
criticised the taste of a new arrival on the scene, a girl transplanted
like herself by marriage, who was for ever telling her new associates
what was done in B--shire.

All this young lady's endeavours could not win an adherent in Mrs.
Stubbs, who simply put on a wooden face, and said, "Indeed?" when the
other threw out: "It's all so different here from what I am accustomed
to. I have never lived in any place like this before."

Leo moreover had her triumph which she kept for Godfrey's ear. "You know
how that girl brags, and what an amount of side she puts on? Would you
believe it, Godfrey, she's only a sort of stable-keeper's daughter!
Well, I don't know what else you call it; her father is a trainer of
race-horses, and that's how she knows about them; and the big people she
quotes, of course they are all about such places--and--oh, I think it's
sickening, even if it were no sham--that running down of nice James
Bilson, who never sets up to be anything, and is a hundred thousand
times too good for his wife."

"_You_ don't buck, anyway," said he.

"I'd be ashamed," said Leonore proudly.

Her father and sisters thought the villa with its luxurious, well-kept
surroundings, met her every aspiration; they liked it very well
themselves as a _pied-à-terre_,--and though of course the grounds might
have been more extensive, and the smoke of tall chimneys farther off,
the general was remarkably sensible on the point. "Land is valuable
hereabouts, and a man must live where he can keep an eye on his
business."

"And our horses can go almost any distance;" Leonore was always anxious
to impress this point. "We have lovely drives round by the Dee; you
would almost think you were in the real country there."

"Quite so, my dear," her father would respond urbanely.

In his heart he spurned the idea. Country? Up went his chin, God bless
his soul, the whole locality stank of docks and offices. The array of
dogcarts daily drawn up outside the little station, in punctual awaiting
of the five o'clock train, betrayed the business atmosphere. As Leonore
did not see it, well, well. Nay, all the better----

"Don't, for Heaven's sake, any of you unsettle her," ordered he, aside.
"She's in precious snug quarters, and has the wit to know it."

But now a strange and hitherto stifled sensation was stealing dimly into
Leo's breast. How blue the mists were, how noble that range of forest in
the distance--how broad and lonely and inviting that straight road with
only a solitary cart upon it! There was the old red-roofed homestead she
remembered so well at this point. There were the huge ricks and ample
outbuildings. There were the smoking teams being unharnessed from the
plough.

It seemed to her that she had seen them there often and often before,
doing the same--and as the thought arose, another followed; of course
they were; it was at this hour, by the self-same train, that she and
Godfrey had always passed that way.

And she had always selected the same corner seat in the train, and gazed
from the window--Godfrey being immersed in his paper, and indifferent to
the view. At the thought of Godfrey she caught her breath and
sighed,--but after a while the past drifted again into the present.

Who would come to meet her? She had half expected an escort all the
way, and been relieved when none was proposed, for to talk would have
been an effort,--but of course one or perhaps two sisters would be on
the platform when she stepped out? Or perhaps her father--she shrank
with a sudden qualm.

Not that she was precisely afraid of the general; he was too uniformly
urbane and approving towards herself for that,--but was it possible that
he was never quite natural? Had she not invariably the feeling of being
treated by him as _company_? As some one towards whom he was bound to be
agreeable and jocular? The quick, terse reply, and the occasional
frowning undertone--the family undertone--were not for her, any more
than for Godfrey; and whereas every one else in the house was liable to
be snapped up and made to understand that an opinion was of no account,
she, Leo, the youngest and presumably most insignificant of General
Boldero's offspring, might say what she chose, unchecked.

It had all been pleasant enough, only--only now--now she would as soon
not see a certain grey wide-awake upon the platform; she would hardly
know what to say; and--and there it was!

There it was, but luckily not alone, indeed surrounded by quite a crowd
of familiar faces, and the awkward moment--for the moment was awkward,
far, far more so than Leonore suspected--was tided over by its
publicity.

Every one had been told beforehand what took the general to the station
on the occasion.

In the interval which had elapsed between the present moment and his
reluctant tender of the shelter of his hearth towards his unfortunate
daughter, he had had time to think. Since he must have her and there was
no help for it, he would brave out the situation. His neighbours were
not in the least likely to have heard anything of Godfrey Stubbs'
affairs, which had never got into the papers and which he himself only
knew of by personal communication. They could still be made to believe
in the wealth of his late son-in-law; and by his continued deference
towards Godfrey's memory and Godfrey's widow, he would still be envied
and applauded for the match whose advantages he had so assiduously
vaunted. It would be intolerable to have the truth known, wherefore the
truth should not be known.

"She must understand to hold her tongue, and do you all of you hold
yours," he ordered. "No whining, and whispering; no being wheedled out
of confidences by impertinent people who make a show of sympathy, while
in reality there isn't one among 'em who wouldn't lick his lips over
our discomfiture if it were known. What? _That's_ easy enough. She comes
to live with us because she can't live alone; too young and--and
helpless. It wouldn't be a bad tip--that's to say, if people choose to
think that Leonore hasn't the head to manage her money-matters, and that
big investments require a lot of looking after, let 'em. _We_ needn't
enlighten them. Let the poor child have any prestige she can get that
way. After all, what she has or what she hasn't is nobody's business but
her own--and ours; so mind you what I say, I'll have no talk set agoing,
and if I find any of you----" and it was all about to begin again when
Sue interposed:--

"Of course we shall say nothing to vex you, father".

"_You_ won't, I daresay, but," and he threw a glance at the other two,
"those feather-brained creatures----"

"Oh, we're all right." Sybil nodded gaily. "We don't want to give the
show away any more than you do. And it will be rather fun to mystify the
neighbourhood, and have the men coming fortune-hunting after a bit----"

"What?" thundered the general, aghast.

"They will, oh, yes, they will. Leo will look uncommonly pretty and
pathetic as the rich young widow, and I don't suppose she will be
inconsolable----"

"And you mean--God bless my soul!" But though General Boldero rolled his
eyes, and kept up his high tone of indignant amazement, the speaker did
not feel snubbed as she might have done.

"We shall have all the impecunious youths----"

"That we shan't." A relapse to fierceness.

Sybil laughed. "'Trying it on,' was all I was going to say, sir. Any one
who knows _you_ wouldn't back them for a brass farthing." There was a
touch of bitterness in the last words which called forth a "Pshaw!" from
the general's lips. He knew, as they all did, to what the sneer
referred, and Sue, as usual, made haste to avert an explosion.

"I don't think we need fear that Leo will be in any hurry to marry
again; she was very fond of poor Godfrey----"

"Then she must keep up appearances for his sake," struck in her father
eagerly. "Tell her it's for _his_ sake, mind; and see that she does it.
As for that nonsense of Sybil's----" and he enlarged till he had worn
out the subject.

When he left the room, the girls looked at each other. "He doesn't know
Leo," said Maud at last. She was always the last to speak, it was the
easiest way; Syb could rattle, and sometimes rattle did well enough with
a parent who as has been said could be managed when not openly
contradicted, but she preferred silence and apparent submission. She
could, however, emit a sentiment when alone with her sisters. "He won't
find it as easy as he thinks to get Leo to pretend. She was always a
truthful little thing."

"At the same time, it is her duty to obey our father's wishes," quoth
Miss Boldero gently. "And one cannot wonder that he should dislike to
have her unfortunate circumstances known."

"Meaning that she is as poor as a rat, Madam Grandiloquence. Ah, well,
_I_ don't mind. Didn't I say it would be fun to take in everybody?--and
as _I_ am not particularly truthful," laughed Sybil, "I'll play any part
the old gentleman chooses, with all the pleasure in life. Maud, if I
catch you tripping, I'll tread on your toes till you squeak. It is
understood that our poor dear bereaved one--eh, Sue? that's the style,
isn't it?--that she only comes to us because she needs the paternal
advice for her oceans of money, and the paternal arm to prevent its
being grabbed by needy adventurers. Again I say, what fun!"

But she had not grasped, nor had any of them, what was in General
Boldero's mind.

He rather overdid his part presently on the station platform. He had
elected to go alone, and have out the big carriage. He had given orders
loudly for it and the luggage cart,--and so entirely was he engrossed in
his own view of the subject, that the sight of a pale little face, with
heavy eyes, and quivering lips, irritated him. "They'll see through her
like a shot," he muttered to himself. "Why on earth need she--by George!
I had forgotten though----" for he had actually forgotten that only a
bare three weeks had elapsed since Godfrey's death.

Instantly his countenance changed. A mournful air was _de rigueur_, he
must be tenderly and sympathetically sad, while yet respectful. He was
aware of having been a little too talkative before, and of having given
brisk and cheerful greetings to acquaintances whom he had informed of
his errand. Hang it all, he wished he had thought of that sooner; and he
now bent over the little black-gloved hand with his best air, hoping
that he was watched. If he had been accused of any lack of feeling--he
patted the hand, and tucked it within his arm.

And he noted with satisfaction the splendid furs, and handsome
travelling bag, and all the paraphernalia which still clung to poor Leo
and gave her the appearance of a princess.

Mr. Jonas had smiled grimly when asked about this,--but he had given
such a decided opinion, and that in so kind a tone, for he was pleased
and touched--that the little girl had thankfully received his word as
law, and her personal possessions were intact.

In consequence, she had to apologise for the amount of her luggage.

"The more the better, my dear," said the general, graciously,--and
everyone within hearing distance was edified by his directions freely
delivered anent portmanteaux and dress-baskets. If there were too many
for the cart, some of the smaller things could be put on the carriage
box. William could walk. They could take a few light articles inside.
Leo felt again the old feeling of being treated as _company_, but it
took off the edge of a trying moment, and she was glad of anything that
did that.

"Ahem, my dear!" The carriage door was shut, and the general opened his
lips.

"Yes, father?"

"There were several kind friends looking on just now, whom I daresay you
did not see. You did very well; there was no occasion for you to notice
them. And in your place, I may add, I should not bother about seeing
people--quite so, quite so--you were not thinking of such a thing, of
course not,--you will just keep quiet, and let us say what has to be
said. What I mean is," as he caught a bewildered look, "money matters
are not in your line, and at such a time as this less than ever. Don't
mention them. Don't know anything about them. _I_ will tell people all
they need to know----"

"But--but do they need to know at all?"

"Certainly not," said General Boldero, promptly. No answer could have
pleased him better. "They see you return, very properly, to the home of
your childhood, where in future I shall provide for you," he gulped in
his throat, and drew the rug further over his knees, but continued; "so
that it is nobody's business how you are left by--by your husband."

"Godfrey never knew," murmured she.

"Ahem!" escaped the general.

"Mr. Jonas is afraid he had some anxiety," continued Leonore, bravely;
"but he had told some one only the day before--before he died, that he
hoped things were going to pull round all right."

"They all think that. But," proceeded her father, curbing the momentary
snap, "we need not distress ourselves by entering into details about
which I am as ignorant as you. I never thought a business man
_could_--however, leave it. What we have to do is to bolster up his
memory, to prevent nasty things being said of him--in short, to keep our
neighbours in the dark as to the real state of affairs, for if they
knew, they would certainly think it disgraceful."

The word was out and he felt the better for it.

Leonore started, and held her breath.

"Aye, disgraceful," resumed her father with increasing emphasis. "I fear
I must say it, and there's not a person who if he knew all that I know,
would not join me in saying it. But Godfrey Stubbs was your husband,
and----"

"And they shan't dare to speak a word against him--oh, they shan't--they
shall not,"--with a face of fire she turned towards him, "and, father,
you can't and you mustn't, either; Godfrey----" but she could speak no
more for sobbing.

"You shall protect his memory, Leonore."

And when the carriage drew up beneath the Abbey portico, General Boldero
felt that he had accomplished the object for which he had met his
daughter, and met her alone.



CHAPTER III.

SPECULATIONS.


"I saw old Brown-boots Boldero at the station to-day," quoth Dr.
Humphrey Craig, the doctor of the neighbourhood, as he shook himself out
of his greatcoat and wiped the October mist from his beard, within the
hall of his comfortable house. "Spick and span as usual, and boots as
glossy as if there were no such things as muddy lanes in the world. To
be sure he had his carriage to-day, though."

"His carriage?" The doctor's cheerful little wife was at once all
interest; something in her husband's tone awakened interest.

"He was bringing home that poor girl of his."

"Leonore? Did you speak to them?"

"To him--not to her. We had to stand together on the platform, but I
sheered off directly the train came in. He had told me what he was there
for."

"But you saw Leonore arrive?"

"I saw her, yes,--poor black little thing. There seemed nothing of her
at all beneath her widow's trappings. Handsome trappings they were too;
the furs of a millionairess."

"Did she look----?"

"Rather miserable and frightened. Scared at seeing her father, I
daresay. Bland and civil as the old ruffian is, every one knows how the
girls quake before him. There he was, doing the polite, footman in
attendance, big carriage outside--all to be taken note of as evidence
that Mrs. Godfrey Stubbs was worth it."

"You are always down on that poor old man."

"Can't help it. I hate him."

"I do think you might give him credit for some fatherly feeling."

"I don't--not a ha'porth. Fatherly feeling? Bless my soul, I can never
forget his face at the time of the marriage; it was simply bursting with
greedy exultation, and at what? At getting rid of the poor child to such
a high bidder. Stubbs wasn't a bad fellow, but it would have been all
the same if he had been. Leonore was chucked at his head----"

"Hush--hush!"--Mrs. Craig, with a look of alarm, pointed to the green
baize door which shut off the back regions. "You really should be more
careful, dear; you can be heard in the kitchen, when you speak so
loud."

"Don't care if I am. They know all about it;" but as the doctor had by
this time divested himself of his outer garments, and extracted the
contents of their various pockets, he suffered himself to be drawn into
a side room, his own sanctum, still talking. "Marriages like that are
the very deuce, and the law should forbid them."

"Plenty of girls do marry at eighteen," demurred she.

"Plenty of follies are committed,"--but the gruff voice got no further.

"Come, come, old bear, _I_ am not the person to be growled at; _I_
wasn't eighteen when I married you; that's to say, ha--ha--ha!--that's
funny,--" and the brisk little woman, who had a sense of humour, laughed
heartily. "You don't see? It sounded as if I were younger still,--well,
never mind. You have had a horrid day, I know; comfort your poor
soul,"--and with the words the wearied man was gently pushed down into
his own armchair, that roomy bed of luxury into which he nightly sank
when the labours of the day were over. When late like this, he had dined
elsewhere, where and when he could.

And next the mistress of the house cast around her eagle eye. She was a
born housewife, and particular about all her domain, but woe betide the
servant who scamped her work in this room. Mary Craig had what might be
called a convincing demeanour when she chose.

And she had not had a moment to run in and see that all was right on the
present occasion; and the night was dark and chill, and her husband
later than usual, having been far afield on his rounds,--it was just
like Eliza to be careless--but Eliza had not been careless.

All was as it should be; a pleasant warmth was diffused throughout the
whole snug apartment by a fire which had been lit in time, and was now a
mass of glowing coals; the hearth glittered, the curtains were properly
drawn, the lamp properly trimmed, and books and papers neatly piled upon
the various tables. She had not even to fetch the favourite pipe of the
moment, as it and a couple of matchboxes lay handy at the doctor's
elbow.

"Eliza's conception of her part," nodded Eliza's mistress, pleasantly
familiar with current quotations. "As she forgot a matchbox yesterday,
she puts two to-day."

"And that with a fire big enough to roast an ox!" grunted the doctor,
scornfully ignoring the extra contribution, and tearing off a strip from
the envelope in his hand. "Wasteful hussy--like all the rest of you;"
but when he had lit up, and thrown the burning end of paper into the
fender, where it was suffered to expire without a motion on his wife's
part, he leaned back and his hand stole along the arm of the chair till
it found quite naturally another hand, and a round, warm cheek, a dear
little cheek, lay presently upon both. For a few minutes neither spoke
again.

Then Mary looked up. "Very tired to-night, Humpty?"

Oh, if the patients who thought such worlds of their grim, overbearing
Scotch doctor, and the nurses who trembled before him at the county
infirmary, could have heard him called "Humpty"!--but to do so they must
also have beheld the softening brow, the relaxing of the stern lips, the
gradual light which crept into the piercing eyes--and only one person
was ever suffered to behold these. Her tender accents unveiled what was
hidden from the world.

"Tired, darling?"

"Well, may-be." Humpty made an effort and roused himself. "Perhaps I am,
a bit. Those idiots at the infirmary let me in for a lot more trouble
than I need have had,--but I daresay it will work out all right. I'm
worried about a new case, too,--however, no shop. Let's gossip.--What
have you been about?"

To meet this invariable question was part of her daily business, and
however trifling the happenings of morning and afternoon might be, they
were taxed to yield something whereby Humpty might be beguiled from his
own thoughts.

To-night, however, was an unlucky night, she had only such very small
beer to chronicle that he soon fell back upon them, and they comprised
the return of General Boldero's widowed daughter, and her probable
future under his roof.

"She won't have a gay time of it--at least she would not, if she had
come empty-handed,--perhaps as things are, it may be different."

"You forget, Humpty, that he always made a fuss about Leonore."

"I don't forget;" the doctor shook his head; "but I remember other
things as well. It's all very well to try to whitewash that old sinner,
but you don't know human nature as I do, my bairn. For that matter, I am
not the only one to say nasty things of old Brown-boots. It is common
talk that for all his posing as the genial squire and jolly
paterfamilias, Brown-boots is as mean a skunk as breathes."

"I know he is rather a martinet at home, but----"

"But what?" He protruded his head eagerly, scenting something in her
hesitation.

"The fault is not all on his side. Sue is straight: she is perfectly
straight----"

"Oh, aye; we know old Sue, dull as ditch-water, but honest. Well?"

"The other two are just a little--sly."

"Sly? You don't say so? I hadn't thought of that. I daresay they are, I
quite believe they are. Sly? And from _you_? Bless my life, they must be
sly indeed for _you_ to say so!" And he chuckled with keen enjoyment.

"What I mean is that they have no sense of duty. They simply pretend to
give in to their father--and of course they are afraid of him--but
behind his back it is a very different story. I don't like to say so,
but it's true."

"Serves him right, the old tom-cat. I only wish they snapped their
fingers in his face."

"No, no, Humpty----"

"But I do. However, I daresay they prefer a quiet life; and as for
Leonore, I do wonder how Leonore will get on?"--and he puffed a long
breath of smoke and looked down at his wife's upturned face. "If you
should ever have a chance of doing Leonore Stubbs a good turn, do it.
She'll need it," he prophesied.

The return of Leonore was the event of the neighbourhood. Others besides
Dr. Craig had seen General Boldero's carriage, with its glittering
harness and champing horses, in waiting at the station; and it was
noticed that not merely its presence but that of the general himself on
the occasion, was designed to give the young widow importance in the
public eye. The Reverend Eustace Custance, the rector, and very much the
rector, had both seen and understood.

Eustace was one of the excellent of the earth. His spare frame, long
neck, and hanging head were to be seen year in year out entering
familiarly every door in his parish,--entering with a friend's step, and
departing with a note-book, well-worn and blessed by not a few, in his
hand.

There were some among his richer parishioners who voted their clergyman
a bore, but he was never so thought of by the poor. Their wants, their
cares, their welfare was the burden of his thoughts--and we know that
such a burden is not always a welcome guest in the seats of the mighty.
General Boldero, for instance, would raise a curt hand to his hat, and
mutter something about being in haste, if he chanced upon the rector on
the road,--if possible, he would scuffle out of the way. "I never see
that man but he has a subscription list in his hand," he would fretfully
exclaim,--and though it did not suit his dignity to ignore the list, he
would have disliked the person whose fingers thus found their way into
his pocket, if it had been possible. Since it was not possible, he
yielded a cold esteem, and secretly wondered why so worthy a recipient
for promotion did not obtain it.

On the present occasion, however, Mr. Custance did not cross his
neighbour's path; voluntarily he never did so, and he had, as it
happened, no very pressing case demanding assistance on hand at the
moment.

Wherefore, he only blinked his mild blue eyes as the handsome turn-out,
designed to edify all beholders, thundered past him on the station road,
and recalled what his sister had told him about the Bolderos that
morning at breakfast. Emily was his purveyor of news, and his fondness
for her made him often affect an interest in it which he did not feel.
It might be an effort to say "Ah! Indeed?" and follow on with a proper
question or comment when his thoughts were wandering; but he never
failed to try, and from trying faithfully for many years, he had finally
attained some measure of success.

Occasionally, also, Emily's chit-chat bore fruit; the good man had the
scent of a sleuth-hound for any event which bore, however remotely, on
his life's object; and though he might now have been secretly amused by
his sister's excitement over what to him was a very ordinary
circumstance, a single remark in connection with it arrested his
coffee-cup on its way to his lips.

"To be sure I had forgotten that," he murmured.

"Forgotten that Leonore made a wealthy marriage, my dear Eustace? Why,
it is only three years ago, and we were all full of it."

"Then I suppose she----" he paused and mused.

"You may be sure she brings back her money with her," nodded Emily
cheerfully. "Poor dear child, it's all she has left. So sad to be
widowed so young, is it not? I don't think you seem quite to take in how
sad it is, Eustace," and she cast a gentle look of reproach.

The rector put down his cup and stirred its contents thoughtfully,
debating the question within himself. He was so accustomed to sad cases
that perhaps--well, perhaps it was as she said: certainly it had not
occurred to him to bestow the same pity on a young girl, bereaved
indeed, but with a good home to come back to, as he did on Peggy, the
ploughman's wife, for instance--that valiant Peggy who, with her ten
children, was suddenly reduced from comparative affluence to naked
poverty, by the death of the bread-winner of the family.

Peggy was getting on in years, and her strength was not what it had
been. She had toiled and moiled, and brought up her boys and girls in a
way that won her pastor's heart. His smile would be its kindest, his
shake of the hand its heartiest when he entered the ploughman's hut; and
there were others;--there was the case of Widow Barnaby whose only son
had just returned upon her hands, maimed for life, after starting out
into the world a fine, strapping youngster, the best lad in the village,
only a year before! No, he had not classed the calamity which had
befallen pretty little Leonore Boldero as on a plane with these.

But perhaps he was wrong, he was growing hard-hearted? Contact with the
very poor, and with material misery, was apt to blunt sympathy with
sorrows of another nature. "I daresay you are right, Emily," he said
candidly; for once convicted, no one was swifter to acknowledge a fault.
"I had not looked upon it in that light. Yes, it is certainly very sad
about Leonore, poor thing."

"People say it is a blessing she does not come back poor and dependent;"
thus encouraged, Emily proceeded with gusto, "for we all know the
general."

"Aye, that we do. So Leonore is rich?" and he obviously pondered on the
idea.

"My dear brother," Emily laughed, but the laugh was full of affection,
"now what is to come first? The Christmas coals, or the Old Folks'
Dinner, or----?"

"Peggy Farmiloe," said he, succinctly. "Her needs at the present time
are paramount. The rest can wait."

"So you will call on Leonore?"

"I shall make a point of doing so--presently."

"You will have to get at her when she is alone, you know. It would be no
good making it a topic of general conversation."

"I shall be as wise as the serpent, Emily," the good man permitted
himself an appreciative sally. "Perhaps I shall not even introduce the
subject at all on a first call, eh? It might not be in good taste--not
that one should heed that. But if my clumsiness were to prejudice the
cause--oh, I must certainly beware of clumsiness. Let me see, to-day is
Thursday," and out came the note-book; and after due consideration
Monday was fixed upon, whereupon Mr. Custance rose briskly.

"You may depend upon it, I shall go to the Abbey on Monday. And if this
poor little widow's heart is in the right place----" a glance shot from
his eye.

He foresaw sacks of coal and piles of blankets. He fed and he clothed.
He distributed the older Farmiloe orphans hither and thither, and
gathered the little ones together under his wing, which, weak before,
would now be strong to shelter and support. The Barnaby lad should have
better nursing and an easier couch. There was the old couple at the
disused toll-gate too. It was a blissful dream; and it is sad to
think--but we will not anticipate.

At Claymount Hall, the theme was treated from another point of view.
Here dwelt a very fine old lady with a youthful grandson, of whom it may
be briefly said that the neighbourhood thought Valentine Purcell a fool,
and that Val himself was very much of its opinion.

"_She's_ clever enough for two though, ain't she?" opined he,--and on
this point it was the neighbourhood who endorsed his opinion.

The pair were an unfailing source of interest and amusement. Mrs.
Purcell's latest word and Val's latest deed invariably went the round,
and to their house as a centre every fresh topic made its way.

It was there, we may observe, that the doctor's wife had met the Boldero
girls and heard about Leonore, and it might be added that it was there
also the Reverend Eustace Custance gained the like intelligence. Let us
hear how it was taken by the Purcells themselves.

Val, as usual, grinned from ear to ear, and had nothing to say--but his
grandmother had plenty, and directly her guests had departed she
summoned the young man to her side.

"What is this I hear about the Bolderos?"

This was Mrs. Purcell's little way of finding out what others had heard.
It is true that she was slightly deaf as she was partially blind,--but
she heard a great deal more and saw a vast deal further than most of her
neighbours, and Val was never in the least taken in by a parade of
infirmities. On the present occasion he simply waited for the speaker to
proceed.

"Did those girls say their sister was coming back to live with them? I
thought they did--but you know how badly I hear, especially if there is
a hubbub going on. Were they expecting her to-day? And had their father
gone to meet her, and was that why they had to hurry off, so as to be
back at home before the carriage returned? I thought so, but those girls
gabble like ducks. Eh? I was right then? And this is the end of poor
little Leonore's great marriage? At twenty-one she is left a widow, with
too much money to know what to do with--what? What did you say?"

"Didn't say anything, ma'am."

"But it _is_ so, is it not? I am sure I heard Maud telling you----?" and
Mrs. Purcell paused and peered sharply.

"_I_ didn't, then. But I knew you would tell me afterwards if there was
anything to tell."

"Humph!" The old lady paused again, and twisted her cap strings. Val was
gazing stupidly out of the window, but whatever the expression of his
face might be no one could deny that the face itself was worthy of
notice. It was an almost perfect outline which was now cut sharp against
the light, the unusually bright light of an autumn sun, setting in a
cloudless sky.

Val was looking at the sun, and wondering if a slight haze surrounding
it portended rain. He was learned in weather lore and most of his life
was passed out of doors,--so that it was important to him to ascertain
if he could, the forecast of each day. It meant whether he might expect
a hunting, or a shooting, or a fishing day. This was infinitely more
interesting than the conversation, though he was always ready for
conversation if nothing better offered.

"Humph!" muttered his grandmother a second time, and stole a glance, a
long, furtive, appraising glance--not at the sunset, but at the profile
which it threw into such bold relief.

Apparently it satisfied her, for her own features relaxed, and her eyes
sought the floor in meditation.

("She might be caught by his looks, why not? The other two are always
glad to talk to Val, and Heaven knows it is not for anything he says. He
contrives to make them laugh--he has a kind of oddity that goes
down--but if he were an ugly fellow they would not trouble their heads
about that. Now, if Leonore----she is but a child still, and as she
could marry a man called Stubbs to begin with, she can't be particular.
Anyhow it is worth trying for.")

"Val?"--suddenly the peremptory old voice rang out.

Val yawned and turned round.

"I am so sorry for dear little Leonore, I can't get her out of my head."

"Well, I'm sorry too." With an effort Val recalled what he had to be
sorry for, but that done, he assumed a solemn air that did him
credit--and indeed we are wrong in using the word "assumed," since
directly he remembered or reflected upon the woes of others, Valentine
Purcell's kind heart was touched.

"I'm awfully sorry," he reiterated now, shaking his head.

"It is so sad for her, is it not?"

"Awfully sad; I say, do you think she'd join the hunt?" Suddenly his
eyes lit up, and he started to attention. "We do want some more
subscribers jolly badly. If Leonore----"

"Not just at present, my dear,--but, yes, certainly, by-and-by, when she
has settled down here, and left off her weeds."

"Her what?" he stared.

"Her widow's weeds, dear boy. The poor child must wear them, you know.
White collars and cuffs, and that kind of thing. Happily she need not
disfigure her sweet face by a frightful cap as _I_ had to do."

"Oh, Lor! Do you mean Leo will have to turn out in a thing like that?"

"My dear, I just said she would _not_."

"But she might, he-he-he!" he chuckled, but the next moment was again
preternaturally grave. "I had no idea. Poor Leo!"

This was better. The old lady sighed sympathetically. "Yes, indeed. Poor
Leo! You always liked Leo, Val?"

"Rather. I can't imagine her in a beastly widow's cap, he-he-he! It's a
beastly shame, but I can't help laughing."

"It does seem incongruous. I don't wonder that you can hardly picture
that bright little sunbeam of a face with those golden curls hanging
round it----"

"She's not as good-looking as Maud, you know."

"Indeed I think she is a great deal better looking," said Mrs. Purcell,
shortly.

But she knew better than to argue the point, and resorted to one more
likely to yield a favourable result.

"You were talking about Leonore's joining the hunt; and I fancy if you
are content to wait a little and approach the matter delicately, she is
quite likely to be persuaded. Every one knows that it is only stinginess
on General Boldero's part which stands in the way of his daughters'
hunting. _That_ need not affect Leonore, who will now be quite
independent, and can keep as many horses as she chooses."

"You don't say so? Yoicks! I'll be at her like a shot."

"And you can offer to pilot her, you know. She will be nervous at
first."

"Oh, I'll pilot her. But she can ride all right, for we used to have
great larks when they were out on their ponies, and Leo was always the
best of the bunch. It will be fun if I can get her to follow hounds, and
the hunt will be awfully obliged to me."

"Don't let any one else--it is your idea, and you ought to have the
benefit of it."

"Trust me for that, ma'am," looking very wise. "I've never brought them
a subscriber yet, and it would be jolly mean of any one to try to cut me
out."

"If it is suggested, you must pooh-pooh the notion."

"How can I though, when I'm thinking of it all the time myself?"

"Leonore might be prevailed upon by _you_, by an old friend for whom she
has a kindly feeling, and on whose judgment she could rely," replied
Mrs. Purcell, softly; "while at the same time she would not think nor
dream of such a thing if left to herself. And certainly she would resent
being approached on the subject by strangers. Therefore it would be
quite correct, absolutely correct, to say that no such approach would
have a chance of success. You see that, my dear boy?"

He was further instructed that, in order to prepare the ground for his
future mission, he was to take an early opportunity of calling at the
Abbey, and of being especially respectful and sympathetic in his manner
towards poor dear little Leo.

He was to show that as an old friend and playmate he felt for her; and
he might, if he saw his way to it, intimate delicately that though he
might grieve on her account at her return to dwell among them, he could
not do so on his own.

"Well, I can say that, you know," Val brightened up. He did not much
like being on the respectful and sympathetic lay, he told himself; he
was pretty sure to make a mess of it there;--but if it came to saying he
was glad----

"You can't _say_ such a thing, my dear, you can only infer it. You can
look it; look kind and--and tender."

"And jolly well show old Maud she needn't book me too sure as her man,
eh?"

At last he seemed to have caught up what she was struggling against
heavy odds to inculcate. It was up-hill work teaching Val anything,
especially anything requiring _finesse_--but occasionally he would
startle his mentor. He would emit a flash of intelligence when such was
least expected, and there was now such a humorous light in his grey eyes
that the old lady laughed in her heart. Dear, dear--how naughty he was!
So he had the vanity to suppose that Maud Boldero reckoned him an
admirer?

Whereat Val complacently knew she did.

By degrees he was led to reveal all his artless thoughts upon the
subject, and somehow found it more engrossing than he had ever done
before.

In truth, his grandmother had never encouraged mention of it before. She
had ignored the Boldero girls when she could, and bracketed them
together in faint, damning praise when to ignore was impossible. She
knew exactly how to treat Val. An incipient flame could be warmed,
cooled, or blown out by her breath--and as hitherto she had had no
intention of receiving a daughter-in-law out of Boldero Abbey, she had
simply never permitted a spark to be lit.

Here, in justice to the old lady, a solitary fact must be stated. Her
grandson was not her heir, and the Claymount estate, of which she had a
life rent, was strictly entailed; wherefore Val must be provided for
otherwise.

A woman of another sort would have attained this end by saving out of
her income, or by insuring her life--but Mrs. Purcell argued that she
had so much to keep up, and Valentine's requirements were so manifold
and costly that she could neither put by anything worth having, nor
afford the heavy premiums an Insurance Office would demand at her age.
She had not taken the matter into consideration till too late.

And the boy had been bred to no profession--indeed his grandmother
secretly doubted his ability to pursue one--and she had been only too
glad of the excuse to have him as her companion at Claymount. He had a
pittance of his own, derived from his parents who were both dead,--but
he had nothing further to look to, as his uncle, who in the course of
time would succeed to the estate, openly flouted him for a "loafer," and
made no secret of his opinion that the money spent on his hunters and
keepers would have been better bestowed upon almost anything else.

What then was to become of Val--Val, who was the apple of her eye, whose
very childishness and helplessness were dear to her, whose beauty of
face and form--stop, she had it, she laughed as she told herself she had
it. And how often she strained those dim old eyes of hers to see more
clearly when her darling's step was heard, and how fondly they rested on
the approaching figure and strove to appraise at its exact value the
curiously beautiful face, no one but herself knew.

It was a face without a soul--and she was pathetically aware of this,
but what then? Val would make a good husband--he would certainly make a
good husband. Husbands were not required to be clever; and it was quite
on the cards that even an intelligent girl might fall in love with a man
who had only a kind heart and an amiable disposition to recommend him,
provided his exterior were to her fancy.

But of course the girl must be rich; and now we come to the crux of the
whole little scene above narrated--Leonore Stubbs, the wealthy young
widow, with no ties, no drawbacks, and not too much discrimination (or
she could not have married as she did in the first instance), was the
very first person to solve the problem. In her own mind Mrs. Purcell
decided that her grandson should call at Boldero Abbey the very first
moment that decency permitted.

There is no need to multiply instances, it will now be perceived that in
no quarter was the real secret of the unfortunate Leonore's return to
the home of her childhood so much as suspected.

She was a pauper--but she was received as a princess. She had hardly a
penny of her own--but she was marked down as a benefactress. She was
bereft, denuded, bewildered, humiliated--but she was hailed with acclaim
by the shrewdest woman in the neighbourhood on the look-out for an
heiress.



CHAPTER IV.

A DULL BREAKFAST-TABLE.


To her surprise, Leonore slept soon and soundly on her first night in
the vast, gloomy bedchamber wherein it was her father's pleasure that
she should be installed.

She had not expected to do so.

The room was known as the "Blue Room"; but years had faded the blue,
which now only stood out with any clearness in creases of the curtains,
or remote patches of carpet on which the light never fell. Otherwise a
dull grey prevailed.

Nevertheless Leo had been fond of the "Blue Room" in early days;
revelling in its mysterious depths, hiding in its capacious
hiding-holes, and, finest fun of all, making hay in its huge four-poster
with some little friend of her own age. It was an apartment so seldom
used, and its furniture was so shabby and out-of-date, that Sue would
readily accede to the little girls' petition to be despatched
thither--only exacting a promise that there should be no climbing of
window-sills, which promise had been broken, and confessed
honourably--whereupon Sue, who was herself a woman of honour, never once
mentioned window-sills again. The windows, deepset and high up in the
wall, with broad sills inviting to perch upon, only existed as roofs for
the cupboards beneath, once Leo had succumbed to temptation and gone
unpunished. "No, dear, there is no need for any more punishment," Sue
had said in her kindest accents,--and when Sue spoke like that, the
little saucy upstart Leonore, whom usually nothing could repress, would
be good for days.

Consequently the apartment had its associations; and under other
circumstances its new occupant would have found it pleasant enough to
look upon it as her own. But weary and dejected, with all the world in
shadow around her, it is scarcely to be wondered at that she should
shrink into herself, and look piteously up into Sue's face, as Sue
turned the handle of the door.

"Am I--am I to be here, Sue?"

"Father says so, dear."

"But, Sue, couldn't I--some little room--?"

"Oh, I think you will be very comfortable here, Leo; you will have
plenty of space for your belongings," she glanced at the array of
trunks,--"and you can always remain in undisturbed possession," summed
up Sue cheerfully. "The other spare rooms----"

"I never thought of _them_. My own little old room----" faltered Leo.

She had settled this with herself beforehand. Although it was on the top
storey, and in a somewhat despised quarter, she had loved her small
domain because it was hers and she might pull it about as she
chose,--most girls feel the same, and Leo was a very girl, and youthful
instincts were warm within her.

Sue, however, had received her orders on the point, and though they were
distasteful, she recognised in them an element of reasonableness.

"I am sorry, dear, but that would never do. You know what father's
wishes are. That you should be given a dignified position in the family;
and--and I think he explained why. He had thought the matter carefully
out before he fixed on this room for you. He does not like to be argued
with, Leo."

Leo resigned herself. She knew the tone of old, it conveyed, "I am
sorry, but I shall be firm"--it was the formal, precise, elder sister,
the general's mouthpiece, not the good, old, motherly Sue, who spoke.
Further resistance would be useless.

And now, alone, sitting on the great square sofa, with great square
chairs and massive receptacles on every side, the forlorn little figure
gazed about her with a heart that sank lower and lower. She was to
occupy a "dignified position in the family"? Did that mean that she was
still to be treated ceremoniously as in Godfrey's life-time? That she
was still to have that uneasy sense of being _company_ which had then
haunted her? Sue alone had led the way to her new abode--Maud and Sybil
having vanished elsewhere--and this in itself forboded ill. She sat
motionless, pondering.

In childhood the gap between herself and her elders had always been too
wide to be bridged even at its nearest point, which was Sybil--but she
had looked to her marriage hopefully. Then somehow, she could never
quite tell how, but although she could manage to play the hostess to her
sisters on apparently equal terms at Deeside, the old position remained
intact at Boldero Abbey. For all her gay outward bearing, Leo was of a
sensitive nature, and the girls--to herself she always called them "the
girls"--had only to take a matter for granted, for her to follow their
lead.

So that while it would have been joy untold to perceive the barriers
withdrawn, and to have been allowed to run in and out of Maud's room
and Sybil's room--she did not covet Sue's--in dressing-gown and
slippers, to have brushed her hair of nights along with them and talked
the talk that goes with that time-honoured procedure, Mrs. Godfrey
Stubbs had no more been accorded this privilege, for which she had
hungered ever since she could remember, than the little out-cast Leonore
had been. Indeed, she was kept even more steadily at bay--and we will
for a moment lift the veil for our readers and disclose why.

"It _isn't_ unkind," quoth Maud, on one occasion. "I wouldn't be unkind
for worlds, but it simply can't be done. Leo is no longer one of us; she
belongs to the Stubby people among whom she lives,--and if we were to
begin talking about them, we couldn't help letting out what we think--at
least, perhaps I could, but you couldn't." It was to Syb she spoke, and
Syb lifted her eyebrows.

"I daresay; I can't see any harm if I did. I should rather like to hear
about the Stubby people and their queerities."

"Not from Leo's point of view. She would not see what you call their
'queerities'. She takes them all _au serieux_."

"Are you sure she does? She must see they are different from the people
here, at all events; and----"

"How is she to see?" interrupted Maud quickly. "She never went anywhere
before her marriage. She had only been to one ball, and a few cricket
matches. Actually she had never once dined at a house in the
neighbourhood."

"If she had, she might not have been so ready to take Godfrey. I
couldn't have stood Godfrey as a husband myself, though I really don't
mind him as a brother-in-law; and I think it a little hard that Leo
should be tabooed."

"I tell you she isn't tabooed. It is for her own sake that it would be a
pity her eyes should be opened. She has got to mix in inferior society,
and why make her discontented with it?"

"All right, you needn't be excited. I am only rather sorry sometimes
when the child looks disappointed.--I say, I do think father ought not
to have been in such a hurry to marry her off," cried Sybil, with sudden
energy. "I _do_ think it. What good did it do? She's rich, and that's
all--for I don't count Godfrey. I don't believe she cares for him more
than she would for any other tolerably nice man who went for her as he
did. I don't believe----"

"Bother what you believe!" Maud arrested the flow; "the thing is that
we can't talk familiarly with Leo, as Leo now is. We can't let ourselves
go. You must see this for yourself? Why, only to-night when she and
Godfrey were so elated over the civility of their new 'Chairman,' and
seemed to expect us all to be astonished and impressed, because he is
such a bigwig and it was such a terrific condescension, I didn't dare to
look at father. I knew the unutterable contempt that filled his soul.
Condescension from an absolute nobody to one of us!"

"That's it. When you are at Deeside you are breathing a weird
atmosphere, and Leo thrives in it. She knows all her neighbours, and
expects you to know them. She took me once to an enormous reception at
the opening of some building or other and it was beyond words--the most
appalling women in the most appalling clothes--I told you about
them--don't you remember the apple-green satin hat with six feathers?
Well, I could hardly contain myself, but Leo saw nothing to laugh at.
She ran about all over the place, chattering to everybody, and could
hardly be got away, she was enjoying herself so much."

"I don't blame her," said Maud indulgently. "I really don't blame her.
How should she know any better, poor child?"

At the close of the discussion Leo's doom was sealed.

True, it was now reopened, and Maud conceded that by-and-by, perhaps,
when by degrees the recalcitrant had been weaned from her ways, and
taught to tread the paths of righteousness according to Boldero ideas,
her case might be reconsidered,--but as, for decency's sake, the
teaching could not be begun just yet, it was agreed that Leo should
receive her lighted candle and good-night kiss in the hall, as before.

It was due to accident, however, not to design, that the sisters for
whose fellowship our poor little heroine yearned, permitted her to be
escorted by Sue only to take possession of her new domain. A milliner's
box had arrived from London, and been brought up with Mrs. Stubbs'
luggage. Leo could not compete with that box. It was all important that
the new assortment of hats despatched by the Maison du Cram should be
smarter and more becoming than the first batch which had been
uncompromisingly rejected; and Maud, slipping out by one door, was
quickly followed by Sybil through the other--whereupon Sue also rose,
and said, "Come, Leo".

Here then was Leo, small, white-faced, black-robed, the most pitiable
little object, almost a parody on the name of widow, dumped down in the
"Blue Room" to rattle like a pea in a pod in its capacious depths.

She was indeed accustomed to a luxurious bedchamber, but then it was a
different kind of bedchamber. At Deeside the morning sun poured in
through large, single-paned windows, lightly curtained; and its rays
were reflected by white woodwork clamped by shining brass, and wallpaper
that glistened.

Into her new abode neither sun could enter, nor would have met with any
response had it done so. She looked dolorously round and round, and
tears stood in her eyes. Poor little girl, tears were never very far off
in those days.

And she must have thus sat for some time, and perhaps dozed off for a
minute or two, for a brisk tap at the door, and the bustling entrance of
a housemaid, admitted also the sound of the dressing gong, and both
seemed to follow close upon Sue's departing heels.

Dressing was an easy matter when there was no choice of attire and
adornments, and Leo's curly hair only needed to be combed through to
look as though it had been freshly arranged--so that though she had to
open her trunks, and had a moment's flurry before she could be certain
into which of these her solitary evening robe had been packed, she was
ready and downstairs before any one else.

The evening was got through somehow, and then there was the return march
through the long dim corridor to the antiquated apartment, and the
conviction that she should never be able to sleep in it, and then--? No
sooner had the weary little figure sunk down among the pillows and drawn
up the coverlid, than the sound, sweet slumber of youth and innocence
prevailed; and the mists were off the land and melting in the blue
October sky, long before Leo unclosed her eyes. Eventually she was
roused by the stable-clock striking eight beneath her window, and woke
to find the night was gone.

Have we said that Leo had a happy disposition? She had not merely that,
but a buoyant, recuperative, physical nature, which threw off every
adverse circumstance as a foreign element.

Even an ailment could not make her ill, even misfortune could not make
her miserable.

Experiencing either the one or the other she bent before it, but there
was a fount of bubbling vitality within, which it was impossible wholly
to repress.

So that when the little girl sat up in bed, and blinked her drowsy
eyes--still drowsy for all the long hours of dreamless, healthy
slumber--and when next she yawned and caught back a yawn in sudden
recognition of a familiar object unobserved before--and when again she
shook across her shoulders the thick plaits of hair on either side, and
pulled out the crumpled lace upon her nightgown cuffs, and finally
jumped up and ran to look what the day was like, it was perhaps as well
that nobody was there to spy upon the newly-made widow.

She actually laughed the next moment. Yes, she laughed as she sprang
upon the erst forbidden window-sill, and out of pure daring sat there.
Albeit a little creature, she was tall enough to have seen out without
even rising on tip-toe,--it was the sheer pleasure of doing what no one
could now stop her doing which prompted the action.

And then again she sighed. The immediate past rose before her, frowning,
though the old past tittered. She hung her head, ashamed of her
levity--and next her reflection in an opposite mirror kindled it afresh.
How comical she looked perched aloft with bare feet hanging down, like a
small white bird upon a rail! What a nice roost she had found--and it
would be nicer still if she sat sideways, with her back to the
shutters,--so, and her feet against the opposite shutters--so! The
broad, smooth seat would be an ideal reading place for summer evenings,
when the sun crept round to that side of the house, and began to
descend, as she could remember it did, over the ridge of beech trees
which belted the park below.

She could lock her door, of course. The room was her own, and even Sue
could not expect to dominate over what went on within her own room.
Besides--besides, she had almost forgotten that she was no longer under
Sue's thrall, and that yesterday Sue had observed a gentle deference
towards her.

That might pass--she hoped it would. If only she could be on the old
terms,--and yet not on the old terms! If only she might be Leo, and yet
not Leo! She tried to puzzle out the situation.

She knew indeed what she did not want, but could not define with any
exactitude what she did. Three years of affluence and independence had
to a certain extent left their mark, and she could not but own that it
would be unpalateable to find herself again in leading-strings. At
Deeside when a matter came under discussion, as often as not, Godfrey
would say, "Please yourself, little wife,"--or, if not, the little wife
was sure to be charmed with his decision. He was so much older and
wiser, that whatever he decreed was safe to be satisfactory in the long
run.

But her father and sisters would most certainly not make her pleasure
their chief aim and object; consequently it was as well perhaps--a sigh
of relief--that she could not be ordered about and have the law laid
down to her as of yore.

And yet, even this would be better, infinitely better, than to be kept
at arm's-length, and made to feel that she had neither part nor lot in
the home life she had returned to share. For instance, if she were late
for breakfast----What? What was that? The clock below was striking the
half-hour, and precisely at nine the breakfast gong would sound--what
had she been thinking of?

"I hope, Leonore, you will be more punctual in future," said General
Boldero, as his youngest daughter took her seat at the table, and having
thus delivered himself, he did not again address her throughout the
remainder of the meal.

It might have been that he was taken up with his letters, of which he
always made the most--handling the envelope even of an advertisement as
though it were of importance--but Leo, sitting silent beside him, wished
her place were a little farther off. She was conscious of a chill, and
she had forgotten what a chill was like.

Her sisters talked among themselves, obviously indifferent to anything
but their own concerns; and since it was apparent that the present
social atmosphere was its normal one, she tried to think it had no
reference to herself, and not to draw comparisons between it and that
she had been of late accustomed to.

She and Godfrey had always enjoyed their breakfast-hour. It had often
had to be hurried through, and the good things set before them
unceremoniously bolted--but cheerfulness and good-humour made even that
drawback endurable,--and after seeing her husband drive away from the
door, Leo would return to fill her cup afresh, with a smile on her lips.
She peeped round the table now, to see if there were a smile anywhere.

Sue looked worried and prim--the worst Sue. Miss Boldero never gave way
to temper, indeed she had a creditably equable temper--but when things
were not well with her she stiffened; she remained upon an altitude; she
addressed her sisters by their full Christian names. Leo, who had been
"Leo" on the previous evening, was now "Leonore".

"The girls" also had merely nodded as the small creature, looking almost
irritatingly young and childish in her widow's garb, took her seat among
them. Neither Maud nor Sybil looked young for their years, and perhaps
unconsciously resented Leo's doing so, as accentuating a gap already
wide enough.

Further, Leo looked her best in the clear morning light, while her
sisters' complexions suffered. They would not have slept as profoundly
as she, nor risen with such a spring of elasticity in their veins. They
would not have the appetite for breakfast that made everything taste
good. They were inclined to be "Chippy" with each other.

For Leo a new-born day was a day full of pleasant possibilities, and the
less she knew about it the better. She rather preferred to have nothing
arranged for; it left so much the more margin for something nice to
happen. As for dullness, she did not know what the word meant.

For though our heroine's abilities were not of a high order, there were
plenty of things she could do, and do well; and being by nature
industrious and creative, she took much delight in small achievements.
"Busy little woman!" Godfrey would exclaim, when one of these was
submitted for his approval; and if his praise were at times lacking in
discrimination, he was humble enough to satisfy any one's vanity when
this was pointed out.

Now, though there was no longer the untrammelled freedom to fill her
days as she chose, no longer the allurement of adorning a home according
to her own unfettered fancies, no longer, alas! Godfrey to surprise and
delight--there was yet, on this first morning of her new life, a little
new pulsation throbbing within poor Leo's breast.

She had been unhappy for three whole weeks, and sorrow was unnatural to
her; so that although, as we have said, tears still lay near the
surface, and there would be the quick sigh and swell of the heart at a
chance recollection, there was also a tiny troublesome spark beginning
to flicker afresh within, of which the poor little thing, a widow, and a
pauper, and all that ought to have been crushed to earth, was
desperately ashamed.

She looked around at the long solemn faces, and strove to bring hers
into line with them. She fixed her eyes upon her plate, and was shocked
to find it empty. How fast she must have eaten! How greedy and unfeeling
she must have appeared! Her cheeks burned; and thereafter it was "No,
thank you" to everything, though she could very well have done with
another slice of toast and something sweet.

Jam and marmalade were both on the well-laden, old-fashioned board, but
though Maud was helping herself to the latter, Leo resolutely declined.
She was sure she was being watched; perhaps it was thought surprising
that she could swallow food at all? Her hand trembled, and the spoon
fell from the saucer of her cup. General Boldero looked up quickly, and
the look was like a missile flung at her.



CHAPTER V.

OLD PLAYMATES MEET.


"No, I haven't seen her yet."

Obedient to command, Valentine Purcell had called three times at Boldero
Abbey during the month succeeding Leonore's arrival. Val had quite
entered into the spirit of the thing. He was fond of making calls at all
times, and only needed the slightest hint to betake himself to any house
in the neighbourhood.

It is true that the veriest trifle would also throw him off the track; a
fieldmouse in the path was a lion,--but given no fieldmouse, he might be
trusted to reach his destination, and when reached, the only difficulty
was to get him away from it. Wherever he was, there would he take root;
and having no claims elsewhere, it did not occur to him that other
people's time was more precious than his own.

Accordingly he had spent, satisfactorily to himself, the best part of
three afternoons with the Boldero girls, and though Mrs. Stubbs had
been invisible on each occasion, he had got on quite well without
her--indeed rather chuckled at the reflection that it would in
consequence be necessary for him to turn up again ere long at the Abbey.

Mrs. Purcell was not so complacent, however. "Dear me, how
extraordinary, Val."

"Very extraordinary, ma'am." Val shook his head wisely, and looked for
more. His grandmother was so clever she would be sure to think of
something more to say, some explanation of the strangeness.

"They spoke of her, of course?"--she threw out, after a meditative
pause. "You gathered that she was there, and----"

"Oh, aye, they spoke of her. That's to say I heard old Sue say something
about 'Leonore,' and when Maud came in--she wasn't there at first--the
others asked where she had been, and she said, 'We went somewhere or
other'. 'We' couldn't have been any one else, you know; they never go
out with the general. Besides--stop a bit--why, of course, the footman
took away her tea on a tray."

"Three distinct and indisputable testimonies," observed Mrs. Purcell
drily.

She was vexed, and had it been any other narrator who pieced his
materials together in such a fashion, would have let loose a more
palpable sarcasm.

Why could he not have asked directly after Leonore, upon the mention of
her name? Why did he even wait for that? It would have been so simple,
so natural, to have hoped she was well or hoped she was not ill--hoped
something, anything, when the tea was openly sent her elsewhere. The
opportunity was obvious; and as obviously the tiresome boy had missed
it. She contented herself, however, with a grim smile.

"I expect Leo was somewhere out of sight." After a minute's reflection,
Val advanced the above as its result. "They couldn't take her her tea if
she wasn't there, you know."

"It seems improbable, certainly." Mrs. Purcell's lips twitched again.

"Improbable, ma'am?" He was flustered on the instant. "Why, ma'am, where
would have been the sense of it? Unless there was some one to take tea
to--bless me, grandmother--why should Sue have sent the poor footy off
on a fool's errand? She rang for him, too," he summed up conclusively.

"Listen, Val; if you are not going to see Leonore when you call at her
father's house, if she is to be kept in the background there, you must
meet her elsewhere."

"But I don't think she goes elsewhere. Nobody's seen her, for I've
asked."

"Oh, you have asked?" She looked pleased; she had not expected so much
of him.

"Asked?--I've asked wherever I go, and not a soul has set eyes on her.
I'll tell you how I do it. I say in an easy kind of way, not as if I
cared, you know, but just like this, 'Any one seen Mrs. Stubbs yet?'--I
call her 'Mrs. Stubbs' not to seem too familiar--and, what do you think?
they laughed--Jimmy Tod and Merivale laughed--and Jimmy poked me with
his whip, and said: 'If _you_ haven't, old fellow, no one has'. Of
course they know I'm intimate with the Bolderos,"--and he drew up his
collar with an air.

"Why did you not mention this before, Val?"

Val looked foolish. For the life of him he could not think why, the
truth being that he had forgotten, but never supposed he could forget.

"Well, never mind," pursued his grandmother; "what I mean is that you
must meet your old playfellow out-of-doors, on her walks, or in the
woods, or wherever she goes. She must go out: she must take the air
somewhere,--and if you had had your wits about you, my dear boy, you
could have found out where to-day."

"You ought to have told me if you meant me to do that."

"Then you must stop her--don't let her pass without speaking--and ask
leave to join her--or them, if there are two,--but it would be better if
you could catch Leonore alone. Somehow I feel sure the poor little thing
is being kept away from us all," murmured the old lady pensively. "They
are masterful people, the Bolderos. And Leo is so sweet and gentle----"

"She's a Boldero though," struck in he. "And though she's sweet enough,
hang me if Leo can't stand up for herself! I used to die of laughing
when she tackled old Sue. Sue was afraid of her. You bet she hasn't
forgotten the time they all thought Leo lost, and she was found hiding
in a ditch."

"Leonore? Hiding in a ditch?"

"With her face blacked, and prepared to run away to the
gipsies--ha--ha--ha!"

"I never heard a word of it, Val."

"Not likely, ma'am; we were all sworn to secrecy. I believe it was even
kept dark from the general, for Sue's a good sort really, and Leo was
such a little thing. Though she tried to brave it out she couldn't; and
when she blubbed, the tears and the muck--you never saw such a little
goblin face in your life."

"And you were in her confidence? Talk about old days to her now."

"Trust me. I always wanted to talk about them, but--I say, why were we
never invited to meet the Stubbses when they came to the Abbey? We never
were. Never once."

"General Boldero was not proud of his son-in-law. No one was ever
invited to meet him."

"They say it was he who made the match, though."

It certainly was difficult to keep Val to the point. The marriage now
dissolved was nothing to him nor to any one, but since it kept Leonore
as a topic of conversation, and since by means of the past the old lady
could gradually work her way back to the present, she did not cut short
her grandson's curiosity, and upon subsequent reflection was not
displeased that he had evinced it.

A fine day coming soon after this, Val prepared for action.

First of all he prepared his mind; had he anything else he wished to do?
Was there anything tempting in the way of sport to be had? He considered
and shook his head. His grandmother's shooting was limited, and he had
strained its capacity rather fully of late. The river was too full for
fishing. The hounds were not running that day. Accordingly, hey! for the
Abbey, and for what might come of it.

Thus much decided, what should he wear? No girl in her teens, no dandy
in his first London season was more serious over the great affair of his
clothes than this country fellow when occasion warranted. Worn and
frayed and weather-stained his daily homespun might be, but he had a
bill at the best tailor's in Bond Street which he never thought of
paying, and which his grandmother never thought of grudging. She quietly
annexed the bill, and Val heard no more of it.

He was thus well provided for emergencies like the present. He had thick
and thin suits, dark and light, loose and slightly shaped--he had just
received one of the last, of a delightful tawny brown colour, which he
had not yet worn. It had arrived a few hours after his last call on the
Bolderos, and the moment his eye fell upon it now, his mind was made up.

But though so prompt and decided on this, the most important point,
there remained the question of the tie,--and how many ties were
selected, tried, and found wanting before the first, which had been
contemptuously discarded as lacking in dash and originality, was
reconsidered, and eventually decided upon, it boots not to say.

Val had taste; and left to himself was nearly sure to come forth
triumphant from an ordeal in which taste and a desire to be in the first
fashion struggled for the mastery. Crimson and green and blue were
famous colours, but a quiet beech-brown of a darker shade than the suit
finished it off so harmoniously that he sighed consent, and stuck in a
fox-head pin without further ado. Gloves, hat, and stick were below, and
equipped with these he presented himself before his grandmother.

"Any commands, ma'am?"

"Commands?" said Mrs. Purcell, absently. "Commands, my dear?"

She would not make the mistake of appearing to understand too soon; if
bothered, poor Val was so apt to tire of a subject, and turn rusty on
its reiteration.

"I thought I might as well see what turns up," rejoined he, vaguely,
"take the dogs for a run, you know; and as it's a nice morning, perhaps,
I may meet people. I have made myself decent"--and he looked down
complacently, and advanced within her line of vision.

"A new suit, Val? Turn round, and let me see you. Hum--quite nice. Are
you going to the post-office? I have run out of stamps."

"I _was_ going the other way, but--oh, I'll get them;" Val brightened.
"I'll get them at Sutley" (Sutley was the Bolderos' village)--"and if
any of those girls are about, I'll--I'll see what turns up."

"I shall know where you are if you don't come back for luncheon, then."

Now, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, an expedition planned on
such hazy outlines would have come to grief, but strange as it may seem,
no sooner did Mr. Valentine Purcell, swinging along at a high rate of
speed--for he always walked as though furies were at his heels--enter
the main street of Sutley village, than he espied a solitary, small,
black figure advancing from the other end, and almost ere he could
believe his eyes, Leonore herself was smiling into them. "Why, Val?"
exclaimed she, "I am so glad to see you, Val."

"Well, you might have seen me before now." Suddenly Val felt aggrieved;
it was a way he had; "I'm sure I've called often enough!"--and he shook
hands rather coldly; not to be won over too soon.

"I am not supposed to be at home to people at present," said Leo,
simply. "They think I ought not,--but I was sorry when I heard it was
you the other day."

"Were you in the house?"--demanded he.

"Oh, yes; in the old schoolroom. I have my tea there when we are not by
ourselves. I--I don't dislike it." But her face told another tale. Val,
who had quite a brute instinct of sympathy, knew that she did dislike it
very much.

Tea was the only really pleasant meal at the Abbey; it was relieved of
the general's presence, and often of Sue's also--and during the last
month Leo had learnt to look forward to it.

A little quiver of the lips accompanied the above assertion, for of late
callers had been rather rife, and she had been banished so often that
she had come to dread the sound of the door-bell.

"I do think I needn't be classed as 'people';" pursued her old playmate,
but without the asperity of his former accents. "I've known you ever
since you were so high,"--indicating--"and--and I'm awfully sorry about
it all, you know."

It was only Val, Val whom nobody minded, but Leo, taken aback, flushed
to her brow.

"Oh, I say, ought I not to have said that? I'm such a rotter, I blurt
out with whatever comes first," stammered he, discomfited in his turn.
"Leo, you know I didn't mean it. There now, I suppose I oughtn't to call
you 'Leo'----" floundering afresh.

"Indeed you may, Val; and I know you meant nothing but what was kind;
only I--I am so unaccustomed to hearing--they never talk about me, and I
wish they would, oh, I _wish_ they would," her voice broke, but she
continued nevertheless: "Val, you don't know how hard it is--oh, what am
I saying?"--she stopped confused and panting, terrified at what she had
been led into.

"Look here," said Val, slowly, "you don't mind me, do you? You don't
need to care what you say before me?--_I_ shan't tell, of course I
shan't. They always used to be down upon you at home, and I suppose they
go on the same? Just you get it out to me, Leo," and he nodded
encouragingly.

By the end of half-an-hour, during which the two had wandered away from
the village street and the eyes of spectators, Leo had "got it out," and
if the truth were told, pretty thoroughly. Recollect how young, and
naturally frank, and in a sense absolutely friendless she was. And then
it was only Val--she felt almost as though she were speaking to a dog.

Certainly there was, as we said before, an element of canine sympathy in
the silent, solemn, appreciative air with which her companion listened.
He never interrupted. When he spoke, it was to utter a brief ejaculation
or to put a question, a leading question, one which gently turned the
lock a little more on the opening side. Sometimes he merely said,
"Well?"--but how comforting was that "Well"!

"You see Godfrey was so very good to me, and I do miss him so," sighed
the speaker at last.

It was perhaps hardly the way in which a devoted wife would have spoken
of a husband only six weeks dead, but it exactly expressed the truth.
Godfrey Stubbs had never been idealised, but he had been readily
accepted as a lover by a barely emancipated schoolgirl who did not know
what love was; and three serene, unimaginative years had been
contentedly passed under his fostering care.

Had he lived, and had children been born to the pair, it is easy to
conjecture the sort of woman Leonore would have developed into; as it
was, she had grown more mentally and spiritually in the past six weeks
than in the whole course of her previous existence.

And then came the passionate desire for expression, the helpless sense
of an inner burden too heavy to be borne alone. It was lucky it was
Valentine Purcell who came in Leo's way: the dam must have burst
somewhere.

"You won't tell any one, Val?"

"Rather not. I should think not. I should just say not, Leo." Fervour
gathered with each assurance.

"They wouldn't understand, would they?" faltered she.

"Of course they wouldn't. People never do," asseverated he.

"And you mustn't be vexed if I am still shut up when you come to see us,
because I know Sue means this to go on for ever so long. Sue thinks it
only proper, you know. She is not in the least unkind, she believes she
is doing just what I would wish, and she would be awfully ashamed of me
if I wished anything else," continued Leo, jumping across a puddle with
a freer and lighter step than she had come out with, or indeed trod
with, since coming back to the Abbey. "Up the bank, Val. Go first, and
I'll follow. Oh, no, we won't turn back; it is only here that the water
lies; I often come along this path, and it is quite dry directly you are
round the corner."

"You often come here? When? Do you come in the mornings, or
afternoons?"--he threw over his shoulder, still leading the way.

"I don't know. Whenever it's fine. Stop a moment; I'm caught;" and she
disengaged a sprawling bramble. "It's a pity I put on this skirt,"
continued Leo ruefully, examining an ugly cross-tear. "It's too good. I
only meant to go to the village."

"Well, but if I don't know when you come, how can I meet you here?"
persevered he, pursuing his own line of thought. "I can't hang about all
the time."

"Meet me? Oh!" She pondered, for it was a new idea. "I wonder, I suppose
you might meet me; but if they knew we had agreed beforehand----"

"Of course they're not to know. Sue would put a stopper on it at once."

Leo was silent.

"That needn't prevent us," continued her companion, holding out a hand
for her to spring into the path again. "If I'm not to see you anywhere
else, it's only fair----I say, you're a married woman, you can do as you
please."

"If I did it, I should _do_ it--but I shouldn't _hide_ it. I'll never do
anything I don't mean to tell about." It was a once familiar voice which
rang the words out, and the speaker shook back a flying curl and tucked
it in with a gesture of determination so absolutely that of the old Leo
that Val burst out laughing.

"Oh, you funny little girl!"

Leo however was upon her dignity at this.

"I don't think you ought to speak to me like that," said she, "although
you are to be my friend,"--for this had been agreed upon--"you must not
call me a 'little girl,' and, Val, only the minute before, you reminded
me that I was a married woman."

"You are such a queer mixture, Leo."

"I know. I can't help it." She was off her pedestal as fast as she had
hopped on. "I do try to remember, and at Deeside it was quite easy;
nobody thought of me as 'funny' or a 'girl' there--but here I seem to be
back again just as I was when I left! All the places are the same, the
places where we had our accidents and our happenings, and I _can't_ feel
different. Only, Val----" she hesitated.

"Well?" said he.

"There's Godfrey. I would not for worlds, not for _worlds_--it would be
horrible to seem to forget Godfrey. I don't forget him, you know; I
don't really. It is just that my spirits get up on a morning like this,
what with meeting you, and talking, and all,"--she stumbled on
incoherently,--"and you are so kind, and seem just to know what it is
like. Only you mustn't take advantage, Val,"--and she shook her head at
him with an air of gentle exhortation, "you mustn't encroach. And I
don't think I can meet you out-of-doors--no I can't"--(as he emitted an
expostulatory "Oh, I say!") "I have made up my mind. You always called
me your tyrant, don't you remember? Well, it's no use fighting against
your tyrant now."

"All right." A happy idea occurred, and Val made shift to acquiesce
indifferently. "Very glad to have had the pleasure of meeting you
to-day, and so forth; and now I must go back to grandmother, and I
daresay we shan't see each other again for months."

"Not--for--months?"

"Perhaps not this winter. I may be going away from home. I daresay I
shall. It's beastly dull at our place, and there's nothing going on
anywhere hereabouts."

"But, Val?"--the shot had told; she was plainly disconcerted. "Going
away?"--she faltered.

"Very likely I shall. I haven't made up my mind where, but----"

"But you never do go. What should you go for now?"

"A fellow must have change. Many fellows go abroad regularly. I know a
fellow who is going to hunt in Spain."

"What on earth should you do hunting in Spain, Val?"

She could not help it, she laughed outright at the idea. Val in Spain?
Val, who knew no country, no sport, no language but his own? A
glimmering of the truth dawned on Leo.

"I should think Spain was a very nice place to go to," observed she,
regaining her composure, "a very nice place indeed."

But their eyes met, and the farce could be kept up no longer.

"You want to make me feel that I should miss you, and I _should_ miss
you," cried Leo, finding her tongue first. "I should be very, very
sorry, now that we've met and met as old friends, and understand each
other so well, to think that all through the long winter months you were
to be far away,--so don't think of it, Val; you can't, you simply
mustn't. And though I can't and won't do anything secret, I shall tell
them at home straight out that I met you to-day--accidentally, for it
was accidentally--and that we had a talk--they can't be angry with me
for that,--and then, whether any one looks at me or not, I'll say
boldly: 'So in future there will be no need for me to get out of Val
Purcell's way'. There, that's settled. Here's your short cut, and I'll
run home across these fields. Good-bye, and--and thank you, Val."

She was off, and though for a moment he thought of running after her, a
glance at his watch stopped him.

It was already past one o'clock and though for himself he had nothing to
fear if late for luncheon, since his grandmother was accustomed to
unpunctuality, and would be only too ready to pardon it on the present
occasion, with Leo it was different.

Luckily she was nearer home than he was. Flying along as she was doing,
she might get in by a side door before the general stalked into the
dining-room, and he sincerely hoped she would. He watched till she was
out of sight. There was no one on earth whom Val disliked and feared as
much as Leo's father.

The latter could not indeed snub him and snap at him, as when he was a
boy--but it was almost worse to be looked at as though he were an
offensive object, and to be heard in sneering silence if he ventured
upon a remark. For all his witlessness Val, poor fellow, knew when he
was happy and comfortable and when he was not, and he did not need his
grandmother to tell him that he was no favourite with General Boldero.

"I only hope the old beast doesn't bully Leo," he muttered, as at last
he turned into the short cut, and all the way home he was sunk in
thought.

But he burst into Mrs. Purcell's presence hilariously. "I've had a jolly
good time, ma'am. Sorry to be late, but I was walking with Leonore."

"With Leonore? You really did?--how odd that you should happen to meet!"
The old lady, who had begun excitedly, checked herself, and assumed a
cheerful, every-day air. "You fell in with the sisters on the road, I
suppose?"

"Not the sisters. Only Leo. I ran into her in the middle of the village,
and she was awfully nice and friendly; so then we went off for a walk
together."

"How nice! Just the morning for a pleasant walk."

"Beastly wet and dirty underfoot though. Look at my boots"--and he
looked himself. "We got into a regular bog once."

"You left the high road? You should not have done that." (Delighted that
he had.)

"Went along the lane to Prickett's Green, and got into the woods there,"
said he, helping himself to cold pheasant, and looking about for
adjuncts. "I knew you wanted me to do the civil, so I told her I had
nothing else on hand, and we might as well have a good tramp. But we
didn't really get very far, though we pottered on and on, and she had to
skurry at the last to be home in time."

"Did you--did she--does Leo seem changed? Or did you find your old
playmate what she always was?"

"Should never have known she had been away. She doesn't look a day
older."

"But altered otherwise, perhaps? Marriage does sometimes--" and she
paused suggestively.

"Oh, hang it, yes; Leo's quite the married woman," supplied he,
decidedly. He knew it was a lie, but told himself he meant to say it. "I
suppose they're always a bit pompous, aren't they?"

"Pompous? Do you mean that that dear little innocent-faced thing has
grown pompous? Impossible, Val."

"It's the correct thing, I suppose, ma'am. Once when she thought I was
rather presuming--I'm sure I meant no harm--she regularly jumped upon
me!"

"Be careful, my dear, if Leo is like that. Being left rich and
independent while yet so young, may have turned her head a little. Did
she--ahem! talk about her affairs at all?"

"Affairs?" ("Now, what the deuce does she mean by 'affairs'?" thought
he.)

"Did she speak of what she meant to do? Is she thinking of remaining in
these parts? Or has she any other plans?"

"If she has, she didn't tell them me." Val considered and shook his
head. "No, I don't believe she said a word of the kind. Besides what
plans could she have, poor little----"

"Not 'poor'". Mrs. Purcell smiled significantly. "You don't seem to
understand, my dear. Leonore Stubbs is a very rich widow, and will be
immensely sought after. It would be a great pity if she could not settle
in the neighbourhood, and--and join the hunt, as you said yourself."

"Aye, to be sure. I forgot about that; but you told me not to spring it
upon her too soon."

"True. But you might have discovered if she was--however, apparently she
has no immediate intention of flying away."

Reassured on the point, Mrs. Purcell let well alone. She had no
conception that anything could be hid from her, and thought she divined
that while all had gone well, even beyond her hopes so far, the two whom
she would fain have seen made one, had restricted their _tête-à-tête_ to
the discussion of conventional and superficial topics. Val had even
called Leonore "pompous". That meant the young lady was aware of her own
value, and if so----?

There remained however this comfort; in her present situation the
youthful widow could not go into society, and Val, being first in the
field, might, to borrow his own phraseology, catch the hare before the
other hounds were on the scent.

Val on his part chuckled likewise. Secretive as the grave could Val be
when he chose; and one thing was clear to him: Leonore was trying to
play the part required of her by her family and the world, and he alone
knew that it was a part.

He would not betray her. Not all his grandmother's wiles should draw
from him a picture of that confiding little face--sorrowful enough at
times certainly, and yet not sorrowful in the approved fashion, not
hopeless, not utterly cast down. "Just looking as if she needed some one
to be kind to her," ruminated he; "and when she laughed--" he paused and
wagged his head, "Lord, it was a good thing nobody but me heard Leo
laugh!"



CHAPTER VI.

A REVELATION.


"I think--" said Miss Boldero one day about a fortnight after this--"it
appears to me that Leonore might now be permitted to see the
rector?"--and she looked round to take the opinion of her sisters. Their
father was not present.

Perhaps the speaker had awaited such an opportunity, possibly what
appeared to be a very simple suggestion cost her an effort,--at any
rate, something of constraint in her air and accents arrested the
attention of the person most concerned, and Leo, wondering what so
formal a preamble portended, was so taken aback by the climax that she
did what she alone of the Bolderos ever did, she giggled.

"I can't help it, Sue; I really can't. Oh, dear--oh, dear!"

Permitted to see the rector? Had she not been almost daily seeing--and
dodging--the worthy Custance for weeks past? It had seemed to her that
she could not set foot outside the Abbey domain without catching a
glimpse of his long, thin figure somewhere or other on the road
outside,--and she had actually taken to spying out the land through a
chink of the park palings in order to let the figure, if there, vanish,
before venturing forth. Again she quavered apologetically, "Oh,
dear--oh, dear!"

But naturally no one joined in the mirth; Maud looked contemptuous,
Sybil indifferent--while a more than ordinary indignation suffused the
whole countenance of their half-sister. "Really, Leo!" Sue drew herself
up to her full height, and could enunciate no more.

"I mean no harm," protested Leo, stoutly. "You needn't look at me like
that, all of you,"--for now she too was vexed and bit her lip. "Why
mayn't I laugh when a thing is funny? And it is funny, Sue's saying
that."

"Indeed? We don't happen to see it so." Maud was seldom in sympathy with
jesting, and it must be owned that to a person with no sense of humour
Leo's childishness was at times incomprehensible. Leo, however, had
learned not to heed this.

"Well, I'll tell you," cried she, recovering. "Then you'll understand.
Poor dear Euty, with his long back and hanging head--what? Oh, Sue, he
_has_. He has the very longest back and thinnest neck--and his head
regularly wiggle-waggles over his shoulder,--it will drop off some fine
day,--well, I won't then, I'll to the point, as the books say. If Sue
will only look a little, little bit relenting?"

"You are wounding Sue in her tenderest point," said Sybil, at length
aroused to take part in the conversation. "Don't you know that, by now?
Sue is a pillar of the church----"

"It is absurd to make game of Mr. Custance, at any rate," interposed
Maud authoritatively. "He is a very good parish clergyman, and much more
of a _gentleman_ than any of those you were accustomed to at Deeside,"
and she threw an immeasurable contempt into her tone. "I never saw one
with either decent manners or appearance at your table."

"That's a nasty one," muttered Sybil. Then aloud: "Now we've all had our
whack at each other, and Leo has next innings; what is it you want to
say, Leo? Never mind Maud; you tell Sue and me your little joke, and let
us pronounce upon it."

"No, I think we have had enough;" Sue rose from her seat in offended
dignity. "Leo has got to learn that a friend's name should not be
bandied about, a mark for insults----"

"But I wasn't--but I didn't;" the momentary mortification Leo had
undergone was forgotten in an instant, and all haste and incoherence
she sprang after her sister's retreating figure, and caught it. "Sue,
dear Sue, you know I never thought of such a thing. Insults? Oh, Sue!"

"They sounded like insults, Leo."

"Then they had no business to. I never would insult anybody, least of
all a nice good creature like Euty--there now, you are vexed again. But
do let me just say why I laughed about being 'permitted' to see him. It
is because he regularly haunts my steps when I'm alone. He does, indeed
he does, the dear good man. No doubt he has his reasons, but when you
spoke with bated breath----"

"I don't know what you can possibly mean, Leo."

"Oh, yes, you do. You think it a blessed privilege----"

"It _is_ a privilege."

"Not to me. I am hard put to it sometimes to scuttle out of his way."

"To scuttle out of his way!"--for sheer amazement Sue paused to listen.

"It's true, it's perfectly true." Leo nodded at her with mischievous
pertinacity. "I am forever running across old Euty--Mr. Custance,
then,--because, of course, he does tramp round his parish like a gallant
old soul, and I'm sure I honour him for it,--but I have nowhere else to
go either. It has been so awfully wet of late, the woods are sopping,
so I must take to the roads, and on the roads there is Euty--Mr.
Custance. And Euty--Mr. Custance--hankers after me; and you know you
said I wasn't to hanker after him, not until you gave me leave----"

"I never said such a word."

"You said I was to have no dealings with anybody--except Val; and Val
doesn't count. But of course Euty doesn't know that, and he thinks I'm a
poor little soul, and might be glad to pass the time of day with
anybody. Whereas I--I like the dear good man very well in church; but
outside it, I don't pine and crave for his society. I can exist without
it. You needn't stretch a point to grant it me----"

"Is that child going on forever?" struck in Maud, impatiently. "Why do
you let her pour out this flood of nonsense, Sue? She simply wants to
hear her own tongue, and give no one else a chance."

Apparently, however, Sue thought otherwise. Disregarding the
interruption, she maintained a serious and puzzled air.

"Am I to understand that you suppose yourself an object of interest to
Mr. Custance, Leo?"

"If not, why does he hunt me about the roads? Why does he come galloping
after me----"

"Leo!"

"He does--he did yesterday. I was on ahead near Betty Farmiloe's
cottage, and out he popped and saw me. I walked on as fast as ever I
could, but his long legs took him over the ground like a racer, and he
would have caught me up as sure as fate----"

"You misinterpret a very ordinary civility,----" but the speaker was not
allowed to proceed.

"For goodness sake let her 'misinterpret' then," cried Sybil, diverted
by the recital, "go on, Leo. Did he catch you, or did he not?"

"A cow came along, so I pretended it was a bull, and dashed into a
field. Luckily there was a gate handy."

"'Pretended it was a bull'? How?" rejoined Sybil, still enjoying
herself. "You really are a joke, Leo."

"I threw up my arms madly--like this. Then I made furious passes with my
umbrella at the cow supposed to be bull. Finally I leaped at the gate
and clambered over, unable to see in my desperation that it would have
opened if I had only drawn back the bolt. Tableau. The baffled Euty
sadly pursues his way, while the trembling and agitated Leo flies over
the fields home."

"And never says a word about it?"--from Sybil.

"Not I. Catch me. Sue would have been cross, as she is now," with a
roguish glance; "she would have thought I wanted to rob her of her
beloved rector--oh, we know how she adores her Euty----"

"_What?_" It was a new voice that spoke. "What?" repeated General
Boldero, stepping forward into their midst. "Do my ears deceive me?
Leonore," he paused and gasped. "Wretched child!"--but pomposity
prevailed. "May I inquire in all politeness what is the meaning of that
most extraordinary, most preposterous accusation? You are silent. You
may well be. Your most disgraceful language--again I demand what is the
meaning of it?"

He seized her arm, as though she were not already nailed to the spot.
"The meaning, girl--the meaning?"

"The--the meaning?"

"I repeat, the meaning. I am coming along the passage, and I hear you
shouting at the pitch of your voice----"

"At the pitch of my voice?" echoed Leo, mechanically. Her eye was not
upon her father, and she only half heard his thunderous charge,--it was
something else which petrified her senses and made her head swim.

Sue? What had come to Sue?

White as death Sue had fallen into a chair, every feature distorted by
such a mute agony of terror that--oh, there was no mistaking it, no
concealing it, and yet,--Leo looked round.

She was between her unfortunate sister and the rest of the party, Sue
having cowered down behind her where she stood,--while Maud and Sybil,
to avoid being implicated, had precipitately retreated to a
window-recess, the former with a shrug of her shoulders, the latter with
the intention of slipping off as soon as might be.

But Sue? Was it possible?--yet nothing else was possible. Nothing else
could account for a collapse so sudden and complete. Oh, poor Sue--poor,
prim, stately Sue. At another moment,--but Leo must not stop to think
what she would have done at another moment; her one aim now must be to
shield the defenceless creature, exposed through her. So far, the parent
who made poor Sue's life a burden, and yet whom she believed in, loved,
and served to the best of her humble power, had concentrated his
attention on herself as chief delinquent, but at any moment his
infuriated eyes might turn to that shrinking, trembling form, and then?

With the air of a combatant delighted to welcome an unexpected ally, "I
_am_ so glad you came in, father," said she.

Glad? The general stepped back as though she had hit him. Glad?

"They are all so down upon me about that stupid old parson of ours,"
continued Leonore, glibly. "They won't listen to anything I say against
him, but I know _you_ will believe me. He really does follow me about
the roads, you know; and of course any one might guess what for. He's a
money-grabber, that's what he is. Not a 'money-grubber'! I know that
kind; we had it in plenty at Deeside, but a 'grabber,' and a 'grabber'
of the worst type. He thinks of nothing else but getting money out of
you for his poor people. Well, I daresay they _are_ poor, but then so am
I, and as I can't tell him so--for you know you forbade me yourself--all
I can do is to flee. Yet they laugh me to scorn when I say I flee, and
he pursues."

She paused for breath, and moved a little more in front of Sue.

"Humph!" said the general, twirling his moustache. He was arrested, but
by no means appeased. She set to work again.

"I know you would not wish me to be mulcted, father, and it _is_ so
difficult to say 'no' when a good sort like Mr. Custance----"

"You didn't call him that just now," burst forth the general.

"Oh, I always call him 'Euty' to myself," said Leo, serenely. "Girls do,
you know. We always give people nicknames,--and though he is a parson,
there's no harm in it, is there? Sue thinks it dreadful, and that there
ought to be a sort of halo round the clerical head; and that's why I was
teasing her just now----"

"You used most ridiculous, I may say most offensive terms;" he bristled
up again.

"Just to have a little rise out of Sue. For Sue was so very positive
that the saintly Euty never chased me on the road, supposing me to be
rich and generous and likely to give him oceans of money for his poor
people, that I had to go at her back. But _you_ know it's true, don't
you, father?"

"True enough." He rose to the fly at once. "Why, aye, if this is the
case, it certainly--hum, ha--certainly it alters the case. You are a
tolerably sharp little piece of goods, Leo, and have discovered what
your numskulls of sisters never could. That man would have us all in the
workhouse, if he had his way. Directly he crosses this threshold out
comes a subscription list, or note-book, or something. It's sheer
robbery, that's what it is. Often and often I have to skulk down a back
lane, or go into a door I never meant to enter, because I see him
coming. I know if once he buttonholes me, I'm done for."

"And as I simply can't be 'done for' in that way, I flee for my life.
Now do say a good word for me, father,"--and, to the general's
unspeakable amazement, the next moment a little friendly figure was
nestling against him, holding on to his coat, and looking up into his
face.

The sensation this gave General Boldero was more than novel, it was
extraordinary. He was a tolerably old man, he had been twice married,
and had always lived surrounded by the gentler sex, but it is safe to
say he had never been nestled against in his life. He looked down, he
looked up, and then he looked down again.

"Deuced pretty little rogue!" he muttered.

"They think Mr. Custance doesn't know one of us from another, and that
it is the most presumptuous cheek on my part to imagine he has ever
given me a thought," proceeded Leonore, still intent upon her task;
"they think he is far, far above all sublunary affairs----"

"Rubbish. He is no more above them than I am. I don't say Custance isn't
well enough, and I have a--a sort of regard for him. But you have the
sense to see what your sisters have not----"

"That one simply can't be mulcted at every turn." She had heard
"mulcted" on his own lips on more than one occasion; it should serve as
a weapon to shield Sue now. Sue, still mute and motionless, cringed
behind, but Leo had an intuition that she breathed relief.

"That's it; that's it exactly," cried the general, delighted, and again
he appended a mental comment: "Deuced clever little rat!" "Well, I'm
glad to find there is some explanation of what really sounded a most
outrageous statement;" he turned to depart, now in excellent humour. "I
must say, however, that you would do well to see that the dining-room
door is shut when next you are amusing yourself with that kind of
tomfoolery. Any of the servants coming along had only to step inside and
listen behind the screen, and there would have been a fine tittle-tattle
among them--aye, and it wouldn't have stopped there. It would have been
all through the village that Miss Boldero----"

"Oh, dear, how funny!" laughed Leo. She had felt Sue's fingers clutch
her dress behind. She stepped with her father's step, as he moved to
pass, and made a face at him.

"There--there--you absurd monkey!" but the monkey was pushed aside with
a gentle hand, and marching off with all the honours of the field in his
own esteem, the general never once looked at Sue.



CHAPTER VII.

"I HAVE LOST SOMETHING THAT I NEVER HAD."


Throughout the foregoing scene Leonore had evinced a quickness of
perception and a delicacy beyond what might have been expected from one
so young and volatile,--but directly she was alone a revulsion of
feeling took place.

Sue had tottered from the dining-room without so much as a glance
towards herself. That was nothing. She understood, and did not in the
least resent it--since any recognition of her protecting agency would
have openly acknowledged what the hapless spinster might still hope was
only vaguely guessed at; but it was the thing itself, the incredible,
incomprehensible thing which staggered, and, it must be owned, in a
sense revolted her.

She flew out of doors. There only, out of sight and hearing, could her
bewildered senses realise what had passed, and grasp its full
significance. There only dared she give way to the spasms of passionate
amazement and incredulity which found vent in reiterated ejaculations of
Sue's name.

Sue? _Sue?_ SUE? She found herself crying it over and over again, and
each time with a fresh intonation.

Sue? It was impossible--it was unnatural--it was horrible. Sue? She
stamped her foot, and sent a pebble flying down the path.

Sue--poor old Sue--dear old Sue--"Old" Sue, whichever way you took it,
how could she, how _could_ she?

In Leo's eyes, Sue, verging on middle age, had never been young;
earliest reminiscences pictured her the same composed and tranquil
creature, with the same detachment from life as regarded herself, the
same contented absorption in the concerns of others, that was present
now to the eyes of all.

No one ever thought of Sue in connection with love or matrimony; not
even in years gone by; not even when Leo was a child.

True, she had her own niche in the family and household, and it was by
no means an unimportant one--but it was high upon a shelf as regarded
affairs of the heart.

Her dress, her habits, her punctilio in small matters--all that she did
or said marked her the typical old maid, and had done so for years out
of mind--so that the present revelation was worse than shocking, it was
cruel.

For the best part of an hour the storm raged. She found herself
repeating her father's words "preposterous!"--"outrageous!"--and
endorsing them with throbs of scorn and anger. The sister she loved, the
woman she venerated was lowered in her eyes. She was pained, as well as
shocked....

But presently there ensued a change. After all, what had poor Sue done?
Certainly she had at no time given the faintest outward indication of
her folly, till powerless to help herself; she had endured what must
have been a painful ordeal beforehand with fortitude, and there must
have been many similar occasions when calmness and self-restraint were
needed, and had never failed.

Was it not rather wonderful of Sue? The weakness was there, but she had
had strength to hide it. Maud and Sybil knew nothing of it; no one knew;
least of all the man himself.

And apparently Sue was content to have it so,--here was another marvel;
she loved and asked for nothing in return. She could go quietly on week
after week, month after month, hugging her secret,--yet its power was
such that Leo herself trembled to recall the hour that so nearly laid
it bare. It was terrible to see Sue blanch and blench; to watch the
fluttering of her lace jabot as her bosom heaved beneath. She trembled
as she had never trembled at any emotions of her own.

She perceived that love was a strange, unknown force of which she,
happily wooed, happily wedded, and sorrowfully widowed, nevertheless
knew nothing. She had loved her husband--indeed she had loved him; he
had been uniformly kind and pleasant and indulgent towards her, and she
had honestly reciprocated his attachment,--but sometimes, sometimes she
had wondered? She had heard, she had read of--more: she had never felt
it.

And vague fancies had been put aside as disloyal; reasoned away as
disturbing elements of a very real if sober felicity. She was married;
and it was wrong and wicked to imagine how things might have been if she
had never seen Godfrey, and was going about free and unfettered like
other girls?

She did not, of course she did not, wish to be free, and was ashamed to
find the thought obtruding itself; but there had been moments--and these
recurred to her now.

How strange it must be to feel as--as Sue did, for instance? To start
at the sound of a footstep, to thrill at a voice; to be wrapt in a
golden haze--oh, she knew all that could be told about that curious,
fantastic, elusive mystery, which was yet a sealed book as regarded
herself.

And was it not a little hard that it should be so? Had something been
missed out of her nature? Was she really formed without warmth, ardour,
sensibility? A smile played upon her lips.

Was she then not inviting? Was there nothing desirable, attractive,
alluring--nothing to create in another the feeling which might have
awakened her own slumbering soul?

It might be so, and yet----

Again her thoughts reverted to Sue; to the staid, gaunt elderly
Sue,--and with a new and sharp sensation. Sue had not waited to be
sought; Sue could give without asking to receive--she envied Sue from
the bottom of her soul.

To her own small public Leo, before her widowhood, had always appeared
the gayest of the gay. It was her _rôle_ to be jocund and amusing, and
no one took her seriously. But there was another side to her character
which she had always been at pains to conceal, partly because it would
have met with but scant sympathy from others, partly because she was
afraid of it herself,--and of late she had been more and more conscious
of the existence of this undercurrent of thought and feeling.

Even had there been no cause for sadness, she would frequently have felt
sad. The influences of Nature moved her. Certain sights and sounds
oppressed her. From her dreams she often woke in tears.

And now that the first fury as regarded Sue had spent itself, this
causeless dejection of spirit took its place. She was no longer bitter
against Sue; she would have liked to take her sister to her heart and
comfort her. She would have liked--oh, how she would have liked--to
confide to her, to some one, to any one the dim confused tumult of
half-formed regrets and yearnings--"Oh, I have lost something that I
never had!"--she cried aloud.

       *       *       *       *       *

But who so bold and merry as this elfin Leo an hour afterwards?

"I have brought Mr. Custance in to tea, father. Oh, father, I want you;
I have heaps of things to ask you about. I'm always forgetting them,
because you are so seldom in at tea. I met Mr. Custance marching off in
another direction," continued Leo, looking round, "but I just marched
him up here instead,"--and she awaited applause.

It was a masterstroke, and so Sybil pronounced it afterwards. "No one
but you would have dared, you audacious imp," she shook the strategist
by the shoulder. "After that rumpus!"

"It was rather a shame dragging the poor innocent man into the rumpus,
and Sue was really hurt," quoth Leo, with a guileless air. "There was
nothing for it but to make use of her _permission_, and not only 'see
the rector' but haul him along."

She had told herself that nothing would so effectually do away with any
fear of self-betrayal on Sue's part, as this easy introduction of a
guest never less expected and perhaps never more welcome. She had
waylaid the well-known figure from whom she had formerly fled, and her
end was attained.

But the general was not to be allowed to interfere with it, and he heard
himself forthwith accosted. "Father, I wish you'd tell me; I was out in
the woods just now, and a bird was singing----"

"Very wonderful, I'm sure. A bird usually sings in a garret, or a
cellar, of course."

"Don't you laugh at me, father; you know about birds, and I don't; and I
really do want you to tell me why one should sing, and the others not,
at this time of year?"

"Tell you that? _I_ can't. They're made so." But the general did not
speak as gruffly as usual, and emboldened, she proceeded.

"Well, but what bird is it that sings--sings just as if it were summer?"

"A robin, of course, you ignorant little thing. Given a bit of sunshine,
a robin will sing all the year round."

"Oh," said Leo, profoundly attentive, "all the year round, will he? Why,
I wonder?"

"If you come to 'whys' you may 'why' for ever. Why does a swallow build
on a housetop and a lark in a meadow? Why does a stork stand on one
leg----"

"Oh, and I saw a heron to-day," cried she vivaciously. "Now where did
that heron come from?"

"From Lord St. Emeraud's heronry. They often fly over here in the
winter."

"What for, father?"

"Bless my soul, Leo, how can I tell you what for? What's all this sudden
interest in natural history about? Get a book and read it up,"--and he
was turning away, but this was just what he was not to do.

"Can't you sit down and talk to me a little?" quoth Leo, plaintively; "I
don't care for those kind of books much. And you could tell me a lot I
want to know; about seabirds, for instance. I never can understand how
some can swim and some can't. And then there are the birds that go away
in the autumn----"

"Stop--stop!"

"And there are the other kinds of birds----"

"Of course there are. What's all this hullabaloo about birds for?" He
was half disposed to be pugnacious, but even a fighting-cock could
hardly have quarrelled with Leonore in this vein. She was so unconscious
of giving offence, so friendly and sociable, had such a little smiling
way of her own, that even General Boldero was won upon, and, indeed, had
never looked so little disagreeable in his life.

Here was a chatterbox certainly, and he had all the dislike of a
suspicious, stupid man for chatterboxes. He despised them--with an
inkling that they despised him. When he did talk, he wished to lead the
talk,--and such was the feeling he inspired in the neighbourhood, that
he was gladly allowed to do so. No one cared to put him into ill-humour,
since he was only tolerable when bland; furthermore, he was not worth
argument and opposition.

Hence it was a new thing to be appealed to for information, and though
not qualified to give it, he was the last to suppose as much. About the
subject in question he knew just what he could not help knowing, and
what Leo herself knew a great deal better,--but her object was attained,
and the "hullabaloo" protested against, chained him to her side.

The tea-table was now spread, and he glanced towards it, but quick as
lightning she struck in.

"Do let us bring our tea here, father. Just you and me. The others can
amuse Mr. Custance, he can't need us too."

"Eh?" said the astonished general. Some one wanted to talk to him, and
to him alone? He hardly knew what to do with so flattering an
invitation.

But as he was obviously expected to respond to it, he followed to the
tea-table, and for a minute awaited his turn in patience. Then, as Leo,
having helped herself, returned to the sofa and he was still unattended
to, he began to frown.

"Pray, Miss Boldero, am I to have no tea? Take care, what you are
about." For, strange to say, he had been unperceived, and Sue, flurried
by the sudden demand, and in haste to meet it, contrived to catch the
handle of the cream jug in her wide lace sleeve, with the result that
her father's caution came too late; the jug overturned, and cream flowed
apace.

Had it been milk it would have spread faster and farther, but even as
it was, there was a mess displeasing to the eye, and the offender in her
endeavours to remedy it, made matters worse. The wet lace swished hither
and thither.

"Ugh!" cried the general, retreating with a glance at his trousers.
"Ring the bell--no, here"--and he produced a clean pocket-handkerchief,
and unfolded it.

"Well done, father!" piped a clear voice at his side, and a small hand
whipped the handkerchief from him, and deftly used it.

"It's you, is it?" quoth the general, actually laughing.

Do what he would, he could not escape from Leo that day. Here she was
back at his elbow, and he was not even allowed to hector Sue for her
awkwardness and abuse her sleeves, he was withdrawn so swiftly from the
scene of action.

"We'll have this little table between us," quoth Leo, planting it handy
for him, "and we'll enjoy ourselves, and they can talk to their
rector,"--with gleeful assumption of having secured a superior
attraction.

"He is just their sort, but he isn't mine,"--and she peeped slily from
under her eyelashes.

"You mischievous puss!" But as she patted the sofa, and he finally sat
down, General Boldero felt in a curious way young, and attracted against
his will.

Could it really be his own daughter who was thus exerting herself for
his entertainment, and his alone? Hitherto, he had never given Leo a
thought in the way of desiring her company, and certainly would not have
done so now, if let alone,--but since he was not let alone, but was
plied with a perfect cross-fire of questions, comments, and what not,
while all the time the speaker gave him the whole of her attention, and
the full play of her saucy eyes, he was bound to own himself amused.

He was so well amused that he never once glanced towards the rest of the
party, nor would Leo do so, lest he should follow suit.

She was, however, nimble-witted, and could contrive for her own
purposes. She could stoop to pick up a fallen glove: she could search
the carpet for something else which was not there. By these means she
learnt that there was no longer a quartet assembled in a central part of
the room; that Maud and Sybil had resumed occupations in distant
corners, leaving the visitor to Sue; and that Sue--she longed to look at
Sue, but refrained.

Sue sat on in her large armchair, with her back to the light. Her
companion's hand rested on the back of the chair.

Seen from Leo's standpoint, the bent shoulders and thin neck were
aggressively apparent against the light--for a pale winter sunset lit up
the sky without, and the two figures were silhouetted sharply--but Sue?
what did Sue see?

Apparently what satisfied her, what transformed the world around her.

For Leo, rising at last, as all rose, and drawing near with a curiosity
which had also in it a great and passionate envy, beheld upon her
sister's face the look which she sought, the look which she was never to
forget. Again her heart cried out, and would not be silenced: "I have
lost something that I never had!"



CHAPTER VIII.

A CAT AND MOUSE GAME.


We will now pass over a period of deadly dulness and unvarying monotony
at Boldero Abbey.

Such periods were normal there to all but Leonore. Her sisters frittered
away the hours in small pursuits which led to nothing, (if we except a
certain kindly care of the poor on the estate, whose interests Sue at
least found of importance)--otherwise they existed, and that is all that
could be said for them.

But Leonore? Well, of course she had no alternative but to tread the
path prescribed for her; and the bright spring days were followed by the
longer ones of summer, and again by the crisp, dewy mornings and melting
twilights of early autumn, without any incident or event taking place to
mark one week from another.

Such a life was foreign to all the instincts of our little girl's
nature. She was quick, alert, impetuous. She was keenly alive in every
fibre of her being. She effervesced with vitality. Added to which there
was a strange sense of growth pulsing through every vein.

And of this all outward token had to be repressed beneath the iron hand
of convention. To the outward eye there was only a forlorn little black
figure stealing meekly out of view, to seek, it might be supposed, the
shades of solitude for pensive, retrospective meditation, or discharging
with docility such offices of charity as were presumed to be proper and
becoming to her widowhood,--but for the rest, no one really knew or
cared what Leo did with herself.

She was much alone--they supposed she liked to be alone. On that one day
to which she grew to look back upon as _the_ day--the day on which Sue's
heart stood revealed--it had indeed for a moment appeared as if the
bonds which held her in their grip must break, and give birth to a new
era--but the episode ended disappointingly. It was not an upheaval, it
was a mere crack on the surface--and the crack gradually closed again.

"I told you that father would not always be so amenable," said Sybil one
day, not perhaps altogether ill-pleased to see her sister's face fall,
and her cheek flush beneath a chilling response. "It is no use taking it
to heart, child. You do better with him than any of the rest of us do,
and that ought to content you."

And again it was: "Sue? What should I know about Sue? She goes her own
way, and we go ours,"--the tone conveying, "and you must go yours," as
plainly as though the words had been spoken.

But Leo had no "way" to go. She had no object on which to bend her eyes.
She had no end in view when she rose in the morning, no food for
reflection at night. She drifted. Her poor little face took a wan,
comfortless look,--and to herself she would wonder how, when she first
returned to the home of her childhood, she could have felt so different,
so foolishly hopeful and cheerful? All sorts of possibilities had seemed
to lie before her then, how could they? She often sat for hours in the
woods staring vacantly around, and thinking, thinking.

Had there been any human being in the big, dreary house to whom she
could have poured out all the workings of a young, imprisoned soul
beating against its bars, any one at this crisis to feel for and
sympathise with the hapless child, any kind arm thrown around her, or
hand in hers, things might have been different,--but as it was, alone
she had to battle with all the subtle imaginings, the dim, confused
perceptions, the fancies, the visions which haunted her.

Incredible as it may appear, she looked back upon her married life much
as an emancipated schoolgirl regards the busy, merry past, all-sufficing
at the time, but outgrown and left behind.

Leo never doubted that she had been happy,--but the thought that were it
possible for her one day to wake up and find that all she had gone
through of late was but a bad dream, brought no sense of longing, no
passionate thrill of desire. Instead, she shrank--yes, she shrank and
hung her head, wondering if any one else so placed ever felt the same?
How was it?--why was it?

And anon she knew. It was the look on Sue's face.

In lighter vein, Leonore took to beautifying her person. As Mrs. Stubbs
she had contented herself and annoyed her maid, a conscientious
creature, by fulfilling its bare requirements. She had hurried through
dressing-time, and been impatient of details. Anne's slow method of
handling her hair was a constant worry; and now that Anne no longer
existed for her, it must be owned that there was, or, to be correct,
there had been up to the present, a _curly pow_ presented to the family
on many occasions, which was hardly consistent with the dignity General
Boldero sought to preserve.

But it chanced one day that a girl came to the house whose hair, of
colour and texture similar to Leonore's own, was beautifully arranged
and generally admired. It literally shone in the sun.

And as luck would have it, our heroine was caught at her worst that same
afternoon; and conscious of frowsy locks tumbling about her ears, her
vanity was mortified. She appeared at dinner with a fairly correct
imitation of the visitor's coiffure, and every single member of the
family had something to say about it: Sue's gentle, "You have such
pretty hair, dear Leo," being the finishing touch.

Thenceforth the pretty hair was brushed and brushed; and finding it
still continued somewhat dry, Leo made almost her first purchase in the
neighbouring town. She procured a wash--only a simple, vegetable
concoction, but it answered the purpose--and there were great results.

Next, a manicure box which was among her possessions, but had lain about
unused after it ceased to be a novelty, was brought into play. To
confess the truth, Leo's hands were not her strong point, but hands and
fingers can look better or worse according to the care bestowed on
them, and there was now at least nothing to be ashamed of when she put
on her rings. She began to wear her rings regularly.

And searching about for something else to do, she unearthed some weird
implements, the sight of which made her laugh. With what zest she had
once thrown herself into the new game of physical culture which all her
friends were playing, and what fun she had thought it--for a time! Her
supple joints had enabled her to accomplish feats beyond the reach of
most, and she had attended drilling-classes and fencing-classes, and
gained glory at both. She now fixed up a hook or two in her room, and
found she could still do this and that, though she had lost the knack of
the more difficult. To regain these, ropes and pulleys were worked
vigorously,--and being once started, invention was called to aid, and
there were all sorts of varied performances. Finally she volunteered to
become a teacher; but though Maud and Sybil condescended so far as to
look on, and even make a few half-hearted efforts, they were soon
discouraged. They were not clumsy, but they were stiff; their bones were
set; beside them Leo seemed to be made of elastic.

These trifles were, as we have said, the solace of our little girl's
happier moods--at least they did something towards whiling away the
uneventful days,--but perhaps they might almost have been better left
undone, since the more healthful and beautiful she became, the more the
leaven of rebellious discontent worked within.

It seemed a shame that she should be so strong and well and winsome, and
there be nothing and no one to win. It was an injustice, a waste. And
was it to go on for ever? Was she to go on through a long, long
life--life stretches very far ahead at twenty-one--crawling on her hands
and knees, when she could have stepped out so boldly, head in air?

That was the question which chiefly presented itself to Leonore's mind,
as the first long year of her widowhood drew towards its close. She had
never once stirred from Boldero Abbey,--for it was by no means a part of
the general's programme to send her where she might meet with either
friends or strangers to whom the true state of the case might leak
out--and he sharply negatived a suggestion on Sue's part.

"Nonsense. Leo was never better in her life. You have only to look at
her. And it would not be decent for her to be going about as the rest of
you do."

Money had been wrung from him for annual trips to London and the sea,
but he had never grudged it more than now, and he had not himself moved
a foot.

"I am certainly not going to pay for what I disapprove;" he set his lips
grimly. "And I not only disapprove, but I forbid Leo to go prancing out
into the world."

Wherefore Leo saw her sisters come and go, and remained stationary. But
she could not be what she was, and not throw out a hint of what was for
ever in her mind when at long last the year was over. It was only a
little anxious word, and no one guessed how often it had hung upon the
speaker's lips before it was out, nor how she wished it back directly it
_was_ out. For it was met by a silence that stilled the very beating of
her heart.

Then, "I do not quite understand," said Sue, gently as ever, "what is
that you wish, Leo?" But Leo, who had hoped to be met half-way,
perceived the coldness underneath.

"I only wanted to know how long this was to go on, Sue. I mean--I mean,
how long I am to--to be unlike other people, and--and----" the rest
faded away.

Half an hour afterwards the young widow went out by herself very
quietly, and using a side entrance. She did not wish to meet anybody.

All along she had suspected the worst, but now that the bolt had
actually fallen, she felt numb; there was a kind of weakness in her
limbs; she trembled as she stole along the walk. For things had been
made very plain, and the vague shadows of the future had taken form and
shape. The future? There was to be no future for her. She ought not to
be thinking about a future--the present and the past only were hers. And
though of course her outward appearance could be suitably altered, and
there might be, as time passed, some relaxations and abrogations of
rigid etiquette, no actual, positive change in her lot was to be looked
for.

As a matter of fact, General Boldero had impressed thus much upon Sue,
having perceived on this occasion more than she did. He saw that Leo was
restive, he also saw that she was developing. He was not going to have
her throw herself away a second time, but he was content to wait, and he
was vaguely afraid that she would not be so. Wherefore she must be kept
under lock and key.

The situation is now perhaps plain before our readers.

"Hollo?" said a voice on one side of a woodland stile.

"Hollo?" responded another opposite. "It's you?" continued Leo, stepping
across, and giving Valentine Purcell her hand. "So you've come back,
Val? What ages you have been away! I have missed you dreadfully."

"Not you. I don't believe it." Val beamed all over. "I say, have you
though? You look uncommonly fit;" and he eyed her with a certain dubious
admiration. If she were laughing at him, he was not going to be taken
in, as he had been on several previous occasions.

"To be sure I'm fit, why shouldn't I be fit? I lead, oh, such a healthy
life," retorted she, with mocking emphasis. "I eat, and I sleep, and I'm
out all day. I do nothing but health from morning to night. Well?"

"Did you really miss me, Leo?"

"Humph!" said Leo, beginning to walk on.

"Did you know I had come back?" pursued he. "Did you think I should be
here about this time? Did you----"

"Think you'd bother me with a lot of silly questions?" Leo whose first
greeting had been simple and natural, assumed a pettish, artificial air.
"Can't you think of anything more amusing to say than, 'Did you, did
you, did you?'"

"Ha--ha--ha!"

"And then to laugh idiotically!"

"I don't believe you missed me a bit, Leo."

"Neither do I, now I come to think of it. I forget when you went."

"Two months ago to-day. Don't you remember? Don't you----"

"And now it will be, 'Don't you--don't you--don't you?' Why should I
remember? What is it to me that I should remember?"

"Anyhow you said you had missed me."

She had said it, and he had heard it, and stuck to the point like a
leech. It mattered not that he had come very near to quarrelling with
Leo before going off on his annual round of shooting visits; that she
had been capricious and disdainful, and had once gone so far as to tell
him that he bored her--(which no one had ever openly told Val
before)--he had forgotten all that; and though during his absence he had
also forgotten a good deal besides, and found other girls pretty and
attractive, no sooner was he back at home than the needle of his mental
compass flew round to its old point. He must needs hurry over to the
Abbey, and take the field-path in which he had so often walked and
talked with Leonore.

He had never made love to her; his grandmother had told him not.
Delighted as the old lady was with the turn events were taking, she had
the wit to see that undue haste might ruin all, and enjoined caution
with fervour. "Be friends, but no more--at present, Val."

Furthermore, it was at Mrs. Purcell's instigation that the shooting
visits were prolonged beyond their usual limits on the present occasion.

She got painters into the house, and made them an excuse for bidding
Valentine keep away if he could;--and her manner of placing the position
before him piqued his vanity, as she knew it would. "If you have no more
invitations, return, and I will make a shift to house you somewhere,"
she wrote;--but of course a popular young man is never short of
invitations; and the autumn so wearily dragged through by Leonore, was
full of gaiety and variety for her friend.

He had a great time, a glorious time,--and was longing to tell the tale
of it to sympathetic ears, when he set forth from his own doorstep on
the present mild October afternoon; he heard himself dilating and
explaining, introducing names which would lead to inquiries, carelessly
referring to charming girls--oh, he foresaw a delightful hour, whether
it were in the Abbey drawing-room, or better still with his favourite
auditor in a woodland solitude--and now?

Now somehow, he did not care to begin. Was Leo in one of her moods? If
so it was no use thinking of anything else; he knew by experience what
those moods were. Could he bring her round? Sometimes he could,
sometimes not.

Was she really pleased to see him back, or--? He could not endure that
"or?"

In short, the whole magnificent house of cards wherewith our young man
had so pleased himself an hour before, showed now a flimsy shanty not
worth a moment's preservation; and stripped of all importance, reduced
to insignificance, afraid of his own voice, he slunk along by Leonore's
side.

"Why don't you speak?"--she flung at him at last.

"You--you are so strange!" He faltered, then tried to rally. "What's the
matter, Leo? Something is, I'm sure. You might tell me. You know I'm
always sorry when you are, and----"

"What makes you think I am?" But she spoke more gently, and emboldened,
he proceeded:--

"You did look pleased at first, but directly I spoke, you seemed to fly
off at a tangent. I suppose I said something rotten, I often do--but you
might have known I didn't mean it."

"It was not what you _said_." She paused.

"What was it then?"

"You look--every one looks--so happy and content--so bursting with
prosperity, so supremely filled with--oh, can't you see, can't you see,
that I'm alone and miserable, and different? When you pretended to
admire me just now----"

"Pretended? I didn't pretend!" indignantly.

"You said I looked 'uncommonly fit'."

"So you did,--so you do."

"And who cares? What's the good of it? If it signified a jot to any
single human being how I looked----"

"Leo! _you know I care!_"

She had done it, she had provoked it. If she had taken a chisel in her
hand and dug out the admission by bodily force, she could not have been
more directly responsible than she now was--and yet she stopped short
startled.

It was but for a moment however. "You?" she cried, "you could hardly say
less than that, considering it was such a direct fish for a
compliment,--no,--no, Val; do be quiet and let me speak,--what I mean is
that really, _really_, you know, I am most awfully down in my luck, and
I don't see the slightest prospect of anything better. I had hoped that
somehow a way would open----"

"It would, if you would marry me."

"Marry you? Nonsense!"

"Good gracious, Leo! _Nonsense?_"

"Of course. Can't you see I'm in earnest, and talk rationally for once?"

"Hang it all, am I not talking rationally, as rationally as ever I did
in my life?"

"That's not saying much. You needn't be affronted, it's an honour for
you to have me talk to you like this."

"Is it though? I don't see it--I think you are beastly unfair. I do
think that." And he pulled out his handkerchief and blew his nose by way
of protest. "Just now you were whimpering because you had no one to care
for you,--and I believe you said it just to get me to say _I_ did."
Suddenly--"It was a shabby trick, Leo; and then to shut me up like that,
when I only meant to do my best for you!"

"Be quiet, be quiet." Despite a twinge of conscience, Leo held her own
stoutly. "No one but you would ever have thought of such a thing."

"That's all you know about it. My grandmother did. There!"

"You spoke to her, I suppose?"

"Not I. _She_ put _me_ up to it. Honour bright, she did. I daresay I
should have thought of it for myself," continued Val, quickly, "but I
hadn't, till she did. She was always praising you, and saying how pretty
you were, and what a bad business your marriage was. I mean--I
mean----"

"Don't get flustered, Val. You know we have agreed always to be straight
with each other. I can quite understand Mrs. Purcell's not approving my
marriage."

"But she was awfully sorry for you, you know when;" he nodded
significantly; "and she told me to make friends and try and cheer you
up, and then----"

"Then?"

"A fellow couldn't help seeing what she was thinking of. She had it in
her mind all the time. You trust me. I'm just about as cute as you make
'em when it comes to my gran. I know what she's driving at. All about
your being so sweet, and that. She never used to call you sweet; now,
did she? And I remember how she used to be down on you for being so
untidy and having your hair all about your ears; and she called it red
then--but it's auburn now." He chuckled self-appreciatively, and she
laughed outright; but this sobered him.

"Don't you go and laugh at me, Leo."

"I'm not laughing at you--now. Go on; tell me more; what else did your
gran say?"

"She said--but you won't let it out?"

"No--no."

"She said it would be an awfully good thing for me if I could hitch up
with--no, she didn't say that. At least," he reflected, "I don't think
it was about _you_ she said that."

"There's some one else, then?"

"Oh, bless you, yes. There are heaps of girls,--but _I_ don't care for
any of them," said Val, loftily. "Some of those I met at houses when I
was away were awfully nice, though; they were, really."

"I daresay. What do you want with me, then?"

"Why, I've always been fond of you, Leo. You know I have. And I don't
think you should call it 'nonsense'." Suddenly he reverted to his
grievance: "It makes a fool of a fellow to--to treat a proposal in that
sort of way."

"It wasn't a real proposal, Val. You just said it for something to say."

"I didn't. What an idea! I told gran this morning--she was asking who
I'd met and all that--and I just told her straight, that none of them
could hold a candle to you." He paused and continued: "Though there were
some dashers among them too; and I daresay some men would have said
Nelly Brackenbury was better looking----"

"So Nelly Brackenbury was the one?"

"Rather. Simply splendid. She would have made two of you, Leo."

"Maud's style, perhaps?"

"Aye, Maud's style; that's what I said. I told them I knew a girl who
could give her points, at my own place."

"But to Maud you would say you had met a girl who could give _her_
points!"

"Say that to Maud? No, thank you; I'm never rude to Maud."

"Only to me?"

"Well, of course. You told me to be; and if it comes to that, you were
dashed rude to me yourself just now. And I was doing my level best for
you; I was feeling most awfully sorry for you; I never supposed you were
only trying it on with me." He paused and swung his stick. "It was all
gammon then, about your being lonely and that?" He stood still and
looked at her.

Leo was silent.

"It wasn't very nice of you to take me in, and lead me on, if you meant
all the time to round on me in the end," said Val, in a voice that made
her still more uncomfortable. "I didn't think you were that sort, Leo."

An inaudible murmur, Leo's head turned the other way.

"You can't say you didn't," persisted Val. "You were almost crying; and
so then I thought, 'Hang it all, I may as well now as any time,' meaning
to--to be kind and cheer you up."

She could not help it; after one violent effort, Leo fell upon the bank,
and rocked to and fro with merriment:--"Oh, Val!--oh, Val!"

But presently she put out her hand, and caught and held his; and she sat
up and looked into his face with such brimming, dancing, and withal
affectionate eyes, that albeit somewhat puzzled and astonished, he
smiled back. "I suppose it was rather funny, but I supposed that was the
way to do."

"But you see I wasn't prepared, Val!"

"Well, I tell you I hadn't thought of it myself."

"Wait a minute, till I can speak," Leo wiped her eyes, and patted the
moss beside her. "Sit down--it's dry on this stone--and we'll have it
out. You think it was all a sham, a mere bid for pity, what I said just
now? It wasn't. But, Val, I can't exactly tell you what it was. It just
had to come out, it had been kept in so long. I'm better now. You _have_
cheered me up, only--" again laughter stirred within--"only you might
have done it cheaper. You needn't have----"

"Gone such a mucker over it?" suggested he.

Yes, that was what she meant. His sympathy, his indulgent understanding
of her troubles, above all, his renewal of good-fellowship was enough;
she did not require his heart and hand, and with tact insinuated that he
might retain them.

"You know you don't want to marry, Val."

"I've got to, though," said he.

"Why have you got to? Can't you go on as you are?"

"Gran says not. When she dies----"

"I see, you would be alone. But then, she may live long enough."

"That's what I say. There's no hurry. I've often said that, but gran
gets nervous, and she always does like to boss, you know."

"It's a good thing it was me you spoke to," said Leo, jumping up, after
a time. "You might have got caught, whereas now no one need ever know.
Come along"--and she stepped forward.

"I'm not to tell gran, then?" Already he was under a new thumb.

"Certainly not," promptly. "Old people are old, and we are young--and if
we don't want to marry, they shan't make us. Just wait a moment,"--and
with a sudden change of tone Leo sprang aside, as though the subject
were disposed of and another in its place.

A barberry tree laden with berries had come to view, and while he stood
still upon the path, she began snapping off the bending branches. On her
return, however, he was regarding her shyly with something of a new
interest.

"I never said I did not want to marry you, Leo."

Leo's lips twitched. "There's no need to _say_ things, Val. You don't."

"You bustle a fellow so, he doesn't know what he's about. I think you
might give a fellow a chance."

"That's just what I'm doing. Giving you a chance to know your own
mind--not your grandmother's."

"I like you awfully, you know."

"So do I like you. That's where we stand. We are not going to bother
about marrying. Why, Val--take care, don't push me into that puddle.
What ever should you and I do if we were solemnly tied up to each other,
and had no one to meet, and talk with, and quarrel with? As it is, you
are my only relief from the deadly life I lead at home. And if it comes
out that we have been talking like this, there will be an end of it
all--yes, there will,--so you are warned, and it would be very cruel of
you----"

"Cruel?"

"It would be cruel to take from me my only comfort."

"I wouldn't be cruel to you for the world, Leo."

It was all pleasant enough; it was even exciting in its way; and Leo, at
her wits' end for any variety, thirsting for emotions, sensations,
pleasure, pain, comedy, tragedy--found the passing hour all too short.

This was not the real thing, but it was something. There were moments
when even as a lover Val was not absurd, and one beautiful moment in
particular when he made her ashamed. He accused her of leading him on,
and her conscience echoed the reproach.

But all too soon he was pacified; betraying how ephemeral was the
mortification, and how easily healed the wound--and thereafter she
played with him at will.

Cat and mouse play, perhaps, and the mouse had no chance from the first,
but--Leo did not sigh when once more alone, and her wild spirits all
that evening rather displeased everybody.



CHAPTER IX.

"I'D LIKE TO HAVE THINGS ON A SOUNDER BASIS."


In coquetry as in other matters, the old saying about the natural and
the acquired taste holds good. Leonore, having once tasted blood, was
not to be kept from it; exasperation and despair were thrown to the
winds in the triumph of her first victory, and the ease with which she
had brought Valentine Purcell to book turned her head. Its consequence
was immediate.

"That's the jolliest little widow I have seen for ages," pronounced Mr.
George Augustus Butts, after seeing the Boldero ladies to their carriage
at the close of a prolonged call at his uncle's house. "It's all right,
Aunt Laura. If she's on, I am. Mrs. Stubbs may become Mrs. Butts--why
the very names seem to melt into each other, ha--ha--ha!"

"Really, George!" But George's aunt, who was very little older than
himself, laughed sympathetically. It was she who had summoned him to
the spot; she who had instructed him in the why and wherefore of the
visit; and had the two been alone, she would not even have exclaimed,
"Really, George!"

But Lady Butts had a daughter, and Gwendoline was listening with the
curious ears of thirteen.

"Gwenny will think you mean that," continued her ladyship, with a
warning intonation. "She takes your little jokes _au serieux_, you
know."

"Jokes?" But he perceived his mentor was in earnest, and mentally
confounded Gwenny for a nuisance. What business had that long-legged,
staring, pigtailed brat in her mother's drawing-room?

She had as a fact been brought in to make a third to match the three
visitors; but having fulfilled her end, and escorted Sybil Boldero in
one direction while Leonore was piloted by her cousin in another, round
the gardens--(Sue and her hostess meanwhile sitting in state
within)--Gwen's mission was over, and the point was to get rid of her.

It is not so easy, however, to get rid of a spoilt child. Gwen admired
George Butts very much indeed. She hung about him whenever he came to
the house, believed in him whenever he spoke, and had secret ideas of
marrying him as soon as she should be grown up. She was now bursting
with jealousy and curiosity, and meant to hold her ground by hook or by
crook.

"Hadn't you ever met Leonore before, Cousin George?"

The elders exchanged glances.

"No," said Cousin George, bluntly. (Damn it all, was he to be
cross-questioned next?)

"You seemed to like her. How you and she did talk! And you got away from
us altogether," proceeded Gwenny, stabbing her own wound as a greenhorn
will. "I suppose you think her very pretty?"

"If I do, do you think I should tell you, Tailywags?" He tossed the
thick plait of her hair up and down in returning good-humour. After all,
he might as well hear if she had anything amusing to say.

"I believe it is only because she wears black," continued Gwenny,
watching to see how this was taken. "Black, with a little white stuff
about the throat, _is_ so becoming, and Leo doesn't look a bit like a
widow now."

"So you noticed that, you observant imp? I say, Aunt Laura, when did
this young person of yours become such a prodigy? Perhaps she will tell
me what the--the lady under discussion does look like, eh?"--lighting a
cigarette,--for free and easy manners prevailed in the Butt mansion,
and every one did as they chose there.

"Just like any other girl," responded Gwen, readily. "And--and I don't
think she ought, either."

"Oh, just like any other girl. And, pray, why don't you think she
ought?"

"Because she's not; she's a married woman. She was married ever so long
ago, when I was little."

"Of course you're awfully big now. And so Mrs. Stubbs--Heavens, what a
name!--even though she has lost her husband, is to go on for ever being
'a married woman' in your eyes, is she?"

But here Gwen's mother interposed, having had enough, and burning for
more confidential intercourse.

"Of course Gwenny is right, George. But--but you don't quite understand,
darling," to her. "And Cousin George is only teasing. Suppose you run
away to Miss Whitmore now, and see what she has been about all this
time? She will wonder what has become of you."

"Oh, she won't, she's writing letters. She always writes letters when
you send for me, and she had----"

"Tell her, love, that the post goes out at----"

"She knows when the post goes out. She knows better than any one else in
the house, for she has told me lots of times."

"Go, now, Gwenny. Go, my dear, when I tell you."

"You'll have a handful to deal with when that young lady comes out,"
observed George, bringing his eyes back from the door as it slowly
closed upon the reluctant figure. "Gwen's too clever by half for you,
Aunt Laura; and, I say, we must both keep our eyes skinned if we are to
carry through this affair. She's half suspicious as it is."

"It was your own fault, George. How could you be so foolish as to blurt
out what you did before her?"

"Good Lord, I never gave her a thought. However, I'll be more careful in
future. Well, now, now she's gone, what do you say? How did it go off?
How did I do? Do you think--eh?"

"I did not exaggerate, did I, George?"

"Exaggerate? You did not come up to the mark. She's a ripper. And I
suppose the tin's all right? There's no mistake about _that_?
Because--well, I needn't tell you how things are with me."

"I know--of course. And of course I'd never have asked you to come and
meet Leonore Stubbs unless I knew she had been left well off."

"'Well off,' only? I thought you said----"

"Very well off, then. All the neighbourhood rang with the Bolderos' big
marriage, and it was big in no other sense. The poor little thing was
barely grown up and had been nowhere and seen nobody,--and when the
husband died she was received back at the Abbey with open arms."

"It's a wonder she hasn't been snapped up before."

"The Bolderos have taken care of that. They have immured her like a nun.
This is positively the first call she has made here."

"She's awfully pretty." He sighed contentedly.

"And she seemed to get on with you?"

"Famously. Flirty little thing."

"Of course there will be others after her, George. You must lose no
time."

"I haven't time to lose, my good aunt. Poor devils in Stock Exchange
offices can't call their souls their own. I must get back next week.
Luckily I only had a week in August, or I should not have been here
now."

"You poor, ill-used individual! Do you mean that you must actually and
positively return to your slavery at the risk of losing what would
emancipate you from it forever? It can't be, George. It simply must not
be. Your uncle must make up some excuse----"

"My uncle Thomas is a great man on his native heath, no doubt, Aunt
Laura--but he hardly carries the same weight on the Stock Exchange. No,
I must go when the day comes. When Duty calls Love must obey. And it's
no use casting away the substance for the shadow. And--and I could think
of a dozen other wise sayings _à propos_, but it all comes to this, I've
got eight days clear--I'm wound up now like an eight-day clock--and can
make my running steadily till these are out. Then, if----"

"You could come down again?"

"If it were worth it, yes."

He smoked thoughtfully and proceeded. "It does seem a chance, and I'm
awfully grateful to you and all that for providing it. But supposing the
widow is not to be caught, and who's to tell? She knows her own value,
you bet--I should be up a tree if I had had a row with the Koellners. I
don't want to fall between two stools, you know."

It ended in this, that he was to present himself at Boldero Abbey on the
following day, armed with an excuse; and that, as things developed,
further counsel as to further progression should be taken.

It was left to Sir Thomas to cast a damper over their hopes. He was not
told about them, but he would have been a simpleton indeed if he had not
seen for himself--neither his wife nor nephew being wary
conspirators,--and directly he was alone with the former, he spoke out
with conjugal frankness.

"You think yourself mighty clever? Look out. You have old Boldero to
deal with."

"But, my dear, Leonore is quite independent of her father."

"A child like that is never independent. The more money she has, the
sharper he will look after it."

"If she chooses to marry again----"

"Now look here, Laura, if Godfrey Stubbs' widow chooses to marry again,
she may marry anybody. _Anybody_, d'ye take me? Is it likely she'd take
George? Who's George? What's George? An eighth son, and nothing at that.
Not even clever or good-looking."

"Oh, he _is_ good-looking."

"Hanged if he is. Anyhow he's not a half nor a quarter as good-looking
as Valentine Purcell. And what's more, though he is my nephew, he is
not so much of a gentleman as poor Val is."

Lady Butts, however, stood to her guns.

"What girl in her senses would marry that creature?"

"Creature? Humph! Val isn't over sensible, and he has no backing,--but
in his own way he's quite a nice fellow, and has a wonderful appearance
when he's dressed. I don't want to see any one look better than Val
Purcell turned out for a meet."

"He's just a big boy, and no one thinks of him as anything else."

"One person does--or at any rate, pretends she does. You may take your
oath old granny yonder has an eye on your pretty widow; and the Purcells
are too close to the Bolderos not to have a dozen opportunities of
meeting, for one that you and your precious George have. I wouldn't mind
laying odds upon the rival candidate."

Of this conversation we may be sure no echo ever reached other ears, and
indeed Lady Butts soon forgot its tenor herself, in her exuberation over
George's report of his next step. He returned from the Abbey treading on
air. Even the general had been civil--though it transpired at the last
moment that the young man had been mistaken for his eldest
brother--"but he couldn't go back on me then," chuckled the narrator,
"though I'm bound to say he looked a bit blank. He doesn't yet know
there are eight of us, and Heaven forfend his looking us up in Debrett!"

"Did you get any invitation?"

"Rather. To luncheon to-morrow. Beastly things, luncheons,--but I
couldn't cadge for anything else. What I did was to say I should be
walking past, and ask if I could do anything for anybody in the town?"

"My dear George! You don't propose walking all the way to----"

"Of course I don't; but I propose being prevented by the superior
attractions of Boldero Abbey."

"Oh, I see." She laughed and considered. There were many things she
wanted to ask, but to ask was to suggest, and suggestions were horribly
dangerous.

For instance, about the Purcells? Sir Thomas had made her uneasy by his
praise of Val Purcell's looks, praise which her own heart endorsed--and
George, whose knowledge of the world was extensive, had all along been
slow to believe in his own chances of success. He knew what it meant in
London to be an eighth son. It was only her repeated assurances of the
Boldero's problematic ignorance on this head and her encouragement on
every other, which had brought him up to the scratch at all. Thus hints
which might have spurred on another man, would quite possibly daunt one
alive to his disadvantages and inclined to magnify them. She reverted to
Leonore, and he was willing to talk about Leonore to any extent.

But on thinking it over afterwards, she could not see that he had in
reality very much to say. The little widow had looked as charming as
before, but she had not been so talkative. He thought she was shy before
her family; once only, when out of their sight for a few minutes, she
had brisked up and chattered as at their first meeting; and she
certainly did look pleased when on saying "Good-bye," he had added,
"till morrow"; but otherwise--the fact was there had been no opportunity
for anything else.

The luncheon party however proved more productive. Let us see how this
came about.

"I really can't see what that man is coming for again to-day," observed
Leonore, plaintively, the next morning. "People at luncheon are a
bother, _I_ think."

"You're not often bothered by them," drily returned Maud; "it is months
and months since such a thing happened. If we lived in a more habitable
neighbourhood we should think nothing of it."

"Glad we don't then;" Leo pouted like a sullen child. "It means changing
one's frock, and----"

"There's no need of that--for _you_. _You_ are all right. One black
thing is the same as another."

This was what Leo wanted to find out. She had a pretty new coat and
skirt, eminently satisfactory to herself, but about which there had been
some demur when it first arrived. It was devoid of crape, and had a
neat, coquettish air. Sue thought it hardly decent.

"But what am I to do?" queried her sister. "I did so want something to
wear in wet weather. Even when it is only damp and misty--and you know
it nearly always is damp and misty about here in the autumn--crape gets
limp and wretched looking. However, I'll send this back if you wish,
Sue?"

Upon which Sue had relented--as Leo knew she would. "Of course if you
keep it for walking about in the woods, and do not go where you are
seen, there might be no harm. Or perhaps it might be trimmed----"

"No, no; it could _not_ be trimmed," said Leo, hastily. Trimmed?
Disgusting! The very thought of a plain tailor-made coat which was so
simple and workmanlike, yet so unspeakably chic in its simplicity, being
mauled by a village dress-maker was terrible.

"I must either wear it as it is, or not at all," she exclaimed with
decision; "but I would not wear it to vex you, dear," and the sharpness
softened; "only I can't afford to buy another," murmured Leo,--and of
course she was allowed to wear it.

Accordingly just as the door bell rang, down stepped a very smart little
figure indeed, yet wearing a demure, unconscious air that would have
deceived a Solon.

"Why, Leo! My dear!"

"Men never know," said Leo, calmly, "and that other old rag wasn't fit
to be seen. It's torn at the back, and I gave it Bessie to mend."

"But, dear, you promised,--and supposing Lady Butts----"

"She's not there. I looked from my window."

"I understood this was to be kept for out-of-doors," murmured Sue,
uneasily, "and somehow, Leo, you look altogether,"--but the door opened,
and no more could be said.

Feeling that she had got off cheap on the whole, Leo did nothing further
to merit reprobation, and beyond placing herself well within Mr. George
Butts' line of vision, took no pains to attract his notice.

But she was aware that he _felt_ her, that more than once a general
observation was designed chiefly if not entirely for her, and that she
had but to open her lips for him to be silent. Girls always know when
this is the case.

And scarcely had the party risen from the table, and the sisters
retired, ere an astonishing thing happened.

We all know there are days of happenings; days charged with vitality and
eventfulness; when nothing surprises and nothing seems out of the
way,--it seemed quite a commonplace occurrence on the present occasion,
when a motor car, full to the brim, whirled to the Abbey door.

At another time such a sight would have sent a thrill of excitement
through the whole house; as it was, Sue moved quietly forward to greet a
bevy of ladies, and Leo inwardly blessed her coat and skirt.

"We are on tour, and ought to have been here an hour ago, my dear
people," cried a gay voice, belonging to General Boldero's only sister,
who though several years older than he, seemed, and to all intents and
purposes was, at least as much younger. She then presented her friends,
and continued: "We took a wrong turning, or should have hit off your
luncheon hour, Sue; but you will still have pity on our famished state,
I'm sure,----" and the speaker put up her glasses, and inspected the
circle.

"Only yourselves, I see; and only you girls. Is your father not at home
to-day?"

"He is still in the dining-room, but----"

"In the dining-room? How lucky! We are not as late as we thought. Pray,
dear Sue, take us there at once. You know I told you I should drop in
unbeknownst some day," proceeded the voluble lady, slipping her hand
within her niece's arm, and gently urging her towards the door, "so you
probably were on the look out? No? Oh, but I said I should come."

"In the summer, Aunt Charlotte."

"Summer? But it is far pleasanter now. No dust, and the inns not half so
crowded. Well, William, here we are,"--and the amazed William, who was
peacefully sipping his coffee and smoking his cigar, and thinking that
after all even an eighth son who was nephew of a rich and powerful
neighbour was worth a luncheon and not bad company after it, found
himself startled out of his chair by an invasion as unexpected as it was
inopportune.

But he was somewhat afraid of his sister, of her fashion and
smartness--above all of her _sang froid_. There was no saying what she
might say or do.

Moreover he had a sneaking desire to show off before her. He was really
pleased to be found entertaining, if so be he must be found at all.
Altogether, after the first shock, he rose to the occasion creditably.

And now there rose on the horizon George Butts' lucky star. He had
vacated his place at table in favour of the newcomers, and was
hesitating as to whether after all he must not affect to pursue the walk
which had been given out as the _raison-d'être_ of his being where he
was, when he caught Leonore's eye. Leonore, little minx, had all her
wits about her. In five minutes the pair were stealing forth from a side
door, and were quickly out of sight of the house.

"I put him on his way," she remarked, subsequently; "you were all so
taken up with Aunt Charlotte's people that poor Mr. Butts was utterly
neglected, and could not get any one even to say 'Good-bye' to him. So I
killed two birds with one stone. Turned him civilly out of doors, and
kept myself in my objectionable get-up out of the reach of Aunt
Charlotte's scathing tongue. Do you know, I really believe she hardly
saw me. I am sure she did not take me in at all."

"She inquired where you had gone, Leo?"

"Did she? The old cat--I beg her pardon. But what business was it of
hers where I had gone? Father," continued Leo, reverting to a trick
whose value was tried and true, "you looked so dumfoundered, poor
father, and were so completely taken possession of by--by an
octopus,"--she paused to see how this was taken, and at his smile
proceeded,--"that said I to myself: 'You're not wanted here, neither is
friend George; you are both _de trop_: be off with you, and it will
clear the field'. That was all right, wasn't it?"

"Hum--I suppose so. I never saw you go."

"The octopus had you fast. She adores her William--when she does not
forget all about him."

The general grinned appreciatively. "She certainly does not favour us
with much of her company; we're not fine enough for her. It was at your
marriage, I believe, she was here last. Sue," turning to her, "wasn't it
at Leo's marriage your Aunt Charlotte was here last?"

Sue believed so--gravely. Leo experienced a qualm, despite herself, and
threw out a little flag of conciliation.

"What did you say when she asked about me, Sue?"

"What could I say? You ought not to have gone, Leonore."

"And you might have known that for yourself," appended Maud. "You really
ought not to need so much looking after. Walking about alone with a
young man!"

"I did not--we did not--walk far. I took him through the park to the
side gate----"

A general exclamation.

"Do wait," continued Leo, quickly. "At the gate we fell in with Mr.
Custance,--" involuntarily her eye rested on Sue, and Sue was silenced
on the instant,--"so then I knew we were all right. We headed him off
coming here, for which I knew you would be grateful. He would not have
assimilated with Aunt Charlotte's lot." She paused for assent, and
perceiving the shot told, proceeded with confidence: "So we took the
dear rector along with us--we could do nothing else,--and when I came
back, they went on together. I thought it was rather masterly, myself."

"Why, aye, Custance would have been a fish out of water," allowed the
general, nodding approval; "though to be sure the clergyman of the
parish is always a respectable visitor. But what of young Butts? I hope
he did not think it rather cavalier being shipped off in that fashion?"

"You see I was quite civil to him, father. I saw him looking at his
watch as if in a hurry to be off; so I suggested making his apologies to
you; and we were standing near the door, so it made no disturbance; and
my hat was in the hall, and I _was_ so glad to get out into the open
air--there was no harm in it, was there, Sue?"

No wonder the recipient of so much diplomacy went home radiant. He
really--really he,--dashed if he didn't think he had a chance. If he
could only work it up--he hummed and hawed and considered. At length:
"I'll tell you what, Aunt Laura, it's no use shilly-shallying when
there's so little time. If you can bring about one other meeting----"

"I have thought of that, George, and have secured the Merivale girls for
golf-croquet on Thursday."

"Bravo! you don't let the grass grow under your feet. Thursday? That's
the last day I have here, but I suppose--no, you could not have done
anything sooner."

"And I thought you might ride over to-morrow, with my note?"

"I say! That would look a bit pointed, wouldn't it?"

"Perhaps. But since Leonore was so nice to you to-day----"

"Oh, she was. Still----" he hesitated.

"What is it, George?--" a trifle impatiently.

"It's so beastly hard to tell. She's a dear little thing, and if she had
been any one else, I should say she was--was----" and he laughed
foolishly.

"_Épris?_"

"Look here, Aunt Laura, I'm not a fool, and it seems almost uncanny,
don't you know?"

"Your being in such luck?"

"A girl like that! If she were ugly and poor----"

"There's no accounting for tastes," quoth Lady Butts, gaily. "Mr.
Stubbs--Leonore's first husband--was nothing in particular."

"So you think she might take a 'nothing in particular' for her second?
But remember she's in a different position now. She has only to lift up
her little finger----"

"Apparently she has lifted it," Lady Butts laughed and patted his arm.
"Do try and infuse some spirit into your faint heart, George. You have
had the most wonderful encouragement----"

"It's just _that_ which frightens me. I--I don't like the look of it.
When a prospectus looks too rosy, we shy at it at Koellners. There's a
screw loose somewhere."

"But just now you were all up in the air about Leonore?"

He was silent.

"Could she have done more than she did, George?"

"Less would have put things upon a sounder basis." He shook his head
gloomily.

"A sounder basis? I don't know what you mean, I don't understand those
business phrases," cried his aunt, with very natural vexation; "what in
the world has 'a sounder basis' to do with Leonore Stubbs?"

"I'll tell you;" he roused himself, "I go about the world a good deal,
and I know girls--a little. I know this, that it isn't usual for them to
make the running so freely on their own account when they are--are--in
earnest. When they are in search of scalps, it's different."

"Scalps? Oh, I see; I know. But surely Leonore----"

"She went for me--yes; but she was as cool as a cucumber. Do you know,
once or twice to-day I felt not exactly nervous, but that way--but she?
Not a bit of her. She was all froth and foam,----"

"You are quite poetic, but you don't explain the 'sounder basis'?"

"Hang it all, aunt, I can't think that girl means anything."

"And yet when you came in just now, you told me she was so delightful
and responsive."

"I said 'delightful'--I didn't say responsive'. The truth was, it was
_I_ who had to be responsive. _She_ made the advances--if they could be
called advances. And that isn't what I call having things upon a sound
basis."

With which piece of wisdom the two separated, for though Lady Butts told
herself that her _protégé_ was simply suffering from reaction, and that
the reaction would pass, she felt that no more was to be gained by
pursuing the subject at present.

When, however, the Bolderos declined her invitation for Thursday, and
were not at home to the bearer of her note--(although George vowed he
saw faces peeping from a window, and placed himself within view for a
good many minutes thereafter)--her ladyship understood the meaning of
the "business phrase," and owned that it had been correctly applied.

She made no further effort, and the whole trivial episode came to an
end--but it had had its effect upon Leonore.



CHAPTER X.

THE THIRD CASE.


"Hollo there! Where are you off to?"--Dr. Craig hailed his young
assistant who was just setting forth from the surgery door; "I want you,
Tommy."

Tommy stood still. He had thought the doctor out for the day, and had
not heard the wheels of the returning gig. Otherwise--well, perhaps
otherwise, he would have been busy within doors, not starting out into
the sunshine of a brilliant June morning.

"Where are you off to?"--repeated his interrogator, and this time an
answer to the question was necessary.

"I was going to the Abbey, sir." An observant person might have noted
that the young man would have preferred not to say it, and a very
observant person might also have seen that he shifted the parcel in his
hand, and moved his feet uneasily.

Dr. Craig however either saw nothing or affected to do so. "To the
Abbey? Who's ill there?" he said, quickly. "Anything sudden?"

"No, sir. Mrs. Stubbs----"

"Mrs. Stubbs? What's wrong with her? I saw her on the road yesterday."

"She called here, but you were out. There's nothing much the matter, but
she wanted a tonic. I--I forgot to mention it."

"And you forgot something else, mister. No tonics go out from here that
I don't prescribe. Here, give me that bottle. What's this? Trash. If
Mrs. Stubbs wants a tonic----"

"She merely mentioned that she was not feeling quite the thing, sir; and
I--it was my suggestion----"

"A damned impudent suggestion. Now look here, young man, there must be
no more of such suggestions, or you and I must part. You taking it upon
yourself to prescribe for my patients! Bless my soul!"--but the
delinquent was a favourite, and suddenly a humorous twinkle appeared
beneath the frowning eyebrows. "You poor devil, what mischief is this?
Hey? You blush like a girl? Come in here," pushing him gently back
through the open door--"come in, and I'll prescribe for _you_, Mr.
Thomas Andrews. I had an inkling something of this sort was going on,
and--and I'm not blaming you, my boy. But it's _you_ that needs the
tonic, not that little widow-witch up yonder. Aye, you may turn red and
white and glower at me--I know what I'm talking about. I've seen what
she's after, the artful hussy,--and please God, I'll circumvent her."

"Sir--sir!"

"Haud your wheesht, Tommy. Ye're but a bairn and an ignorant fule-bairn
at that:"--the broad Scotch accent lent itself readily to a wonderful
mingling of compassion and contempt; "hark to me,--what? You're
trembling?"--for the youth's lanky frame quivered beneath the weight of
his hand. "Lord, has it gone as far as that?" muttered the speaker,
under his breath.

Then he let go the young man's shoulder, and turned and shut the door
carefully. "Sit ye down: sit, I tell ye. You are going to hear the
truth, and you'll _have_ to hear it. What? You think I've no eyes nor
ears nor sense, because _you_ have none--except for her? Tommy,--" he
paused and drew a breath, a long, deep breath--"Tommy, my man, I've that
to say to you to-day I've never said to mortal man, nor woman before.
Will ye listen--but listen ye must, only--only I would as soon ye heard
it kindly, for your own sake. Tommy, I _know what it's like_."

Tommy started, lifted his eyes, and let them fall again.

"Aye, I know;"--the big, shaggy head nodded slowly, and the words
dropped one by one from the full, protruding lips. "The world's a dream
while it lasts.... You walk among shadows, without _she's_ there....
There's no sleep at night,--there's only thinking, and tossing, and
sweating--and heugh! the next hour strikes!... And one day it's heaven,
and the next hell.... And it ends----"

There was a long silence.

"It was twenty years ago," said the doctor, simply. "Tommy lad, would
you--would you care to hear about it? You shall." He covered his eyes
with his hand and had begun to speak ere he removed it. "I was about
your age, but I was still at college; I left late. It was a custom in
Edinburgh for the professors to ask us students once a year to an
evening party; and although some of us did not care over much for that
kind of entertainment, we could not have refused if we would. I remember
I was annoyed at having to buy a dress suit, when my invitation came; I
thought it waste of money, and money was scarce in those days. Tommy,
I've got that suit now....

"You know that I am as happily married as a man can be;" the speaker
started afresh. "No husband ever had a better, a dearer, or a fonder
wife--but she has never thought of inquiring into the secret of that
locked drawer upstairs,--and though I shall tell it her some day, I
haven't yet. It sticks in my throat, and I have put off and put
off--but, anyhow, you shall hear.... I went to the party I was telling
you about, and--and _she_ was there. A colonel's daughter, and no great
lady--as I was at the pains to find out afterwards. Her family was not
much better than my own, and upon that I built my hopes--for we think
much of family in Scotland. But hopes? I don't know that they could be
called 'hopes'. I was stunned, bewildered. She was the loveliest
creature I had ever seen, and Tommy"--he leaned forward, his hands
clasping the chair arms on either side--"many women as I've seen since,
I have never yet seen her like.... Such eyes, such a brow, such a
dazzling fair skin--the curved oval of her cheek--huts! I maunder....
She was amused by my adoration, Tommy; I don't know that it even
flattered her, she was so accustomed to it--and I fear, I fear she felt
no pity.... At any rate I was permitted to come to the house--for I
fought and struggled till I obtained an entrance,--and even what I saw
there did not open my eyes. I was doing well at college, you see; oh, I
had better speak out, I did a deal better than ever _you_ did, my lad,
and carried off honours which at that time seemed high enough to promise
anything. I saw myself at the head of my profession, with money,
position, perhaps a title--and thought if she would only wait? Had she
shown, were it ever so cruelly, her real sentiments, I might have
groaned beneath the knife, but the wound would have healed swiftly, as
wounds do at that age--but she kept me dangling on through long months
of torture, worn to skin and bone,"--he broke off abruptly, paced the
room, and stood for a moment at the window with his back turned, then
resumed:--

"When my sick jealousy became too apparent, she applied an opiate. A few
kind words or looks, an enchanting smile, and the poor, infatuated fool
was as mad as ever. We used to walk in Princes Street Gardens--I can
smell the spring flowers there now."

Another pause.

"You can guess the rest, I suppose?" With an effort the speaker heaved
himself upright, and a grimmer expression overcast his features. "It was
all a delusion--all. There never had been anything on her side--never.
Oh, she was sorry, _so_ sorry, but really she could not blame herself.
My boy, I was made to feel I was the dirt of the earth beneath her
feet.... Heigho! I got over it, Tommy--in time. Not for a long, long
time; not till years had come and gone." Another pause. "Those years are
what I would fain save you from," said Dr. Craig, slowly.

He had been encouraged to proceed by the respectful attention of the
motionless form beside him. A deep sigh, or an inarticulate murmur on
the young man's part alone showed that he was following what was said,
and that it struck home,--but he remained rigid, and there might even
have been something of stubbornness in the set of his shoulders. What if
after all he refused to learn the lesson thus sternly and withal
tenderly taught? "Maybe I've wasted my breath," mentally queried the
other, frowning and biting his lip. Already he was repenting himself of
the confidence wrung out of him, when all in a moment the scene changed.

"My lad--my lad," he cried, for Tommy had flung himself across the
table, sobbing as though his heart would break.

"So, so? I should have spoken before," muttered the doctor, half-aloud.
"It's the old story of shutting the door on the empty stable.--Tommy?"

But Tommy only quivered and shrank, as again a heavy hand was laid upon
his shoulder. "Be a man," exhorted a gruff voice overhead. ("To be soft
now would be damnation. It's the hammer he needs.") "Take it like a
man--not like a whimpering bairn,"--and the speaker's grip tightened.
"What? What d'ye say? Let you be? What for then did I bare my soul to
you just now--do you think _that_ cost me nothing? Up! Fight with it.
Master it." Then more gently: "Would you have me ashamed of you, Tommy?"

"I--I--I'm ashamed of nothing," gasped the unfortunate youth, suddenly
assuming a bravado he was far from feeling. "What have I to be ashamed
of? I have never done anything, nor said anything----"

"Nor--_thought_--anything?"

Tommy's head fell upon his breast.

"Where were you going when I stopped you?" proceeded his mentor,
sternly. "You know the road, I'm thinking. And it can't be _all_ on one
side. She may have led you on, but----"

"Not a word against her." Tommy started up, inflamed. "Say what you will
of me; strike at me as you will; sneer and scoff----"

"Hoots!" said the doctor, shortly. This melodramatic attitude annoyed
him.

"Aye, it's just 'hoots!'" he repeated, bringing his big, red face close
to the pale and frenzied one before him, "and lucky for you it is. I'm
not going to take offence, my man--and that's the long and the short of
it. I know you've been bamboozled--I _know_ it,"--bearing down
interruption; "and you're still--all I've said goes for nothing, I
suppose?" he broke off sharply.

Tommy, who had tried to speak, also stopped, and the two glared at each
other.

But it was the younger who gave way first. "It does not go for nothing,
Dr. Craig, and perhaps I ought to feel grateful to you, sir, and all
that, for taking such a--a kind interest----"

"Go on," said the doctor sardonically. "'A kind interest'--aweel?"

"But you don't, you can't know. You judge every case by your own.
Because you were hardly treated, you think every woman deceitful. And
yet, Leonore----"

"Leonore?"

"I do not call her that to her face, sir; I do not indeed."

"For which the Lord be praised--though it is but a small mercy. Did not
I say it was in _thought_, my lad--but have it out, Tommy--such thoughts
are best let out, like ill birds. Keeping them pent, they breed. Loose,
they may fly away. How long has this been going on?" Suddenly the
speaker's tone changed, becoming peremptory and commonplace.

Tommy murmured inaudibly.

"Speak out," thundered Dr. Craig, losing patience, "speak out, sir, and
be damned to you. How long?"

"We met first on the last day of March."

"How? When? Where?"

"Accidentally. In the village. In the post-office. Till that day I had
never----"

"No matter about that. What happened at this precious meeting? Answer me
truly, Tommy, for----" he paused, and once more the angry tone softened.
"You have neither father nor mother, and I've got to see you through
this brash. The truth I _must have_, so out with it."

"She spoke to me," owned Tommy, reluctantly. "She knew who I was, and
asked if I would take a message to Mrs. Craig?"

"Well?"

"Afterwards she was not sure that she had got the message correctly--it
was from Miss Boldero, I believe,--and--and----"

"And you had to walk back with her to the Abbey and get it?"

Now this was precisely what had happened, but the dry tone with its
covert mockery, stung.

"Certainly I had. I don't know why you should speak to me so, Dr. Craig?
I did what every man in my case would have done. And Mrs. Stubbs----"

"That's better. 'Mrs. Stubbs.' Never let me hear 'Leonore' again."

"Dash it, I can manage my own affairs, sir. I--I don't need either your
advice or interference. You take advantage of your position, and of--of
a moment's weakness on my part. Please to let me alone in future."
White, infuriated, and shaking like a reed, the wretched lad struggled
desperately for manhood, and his companion was secretly relieved by the
outburst.

Here was something to lay hold of at last; some good, honest, fighting
blood roused; real anger melted as he assumed its mask.

"Very well--very well. Neither advice nor interference shall you have,
if it comes to that, young sir; but there is such a thing as authority.
You are in my house, and in my employment, and I'll be hanged if I stand
by and see you ruined. Unless you give me your word that you will hold
no more communication with this woman, I shall go straight to Boldero
Abbey, and speak to her--mark you--to _her_, myself."

"You?--To her?--You?"

"And if she will not hearken to me, I shall address myself to her
father."

"To her father?"--in a soundless whisper.

"That's what I shall do. You can take your choice. Hollo!" For he saw
what was going to happen, and pushed a chair beneath the nerveless limbs
just in time. "Here! take a taste of this"--the doctor hurriedly poured
from a small phial of brandy in his pocket, "take it,--or I'll pour it
down your throat, silly loon. We'll not quarrel yet, you and I. And
we'll talk no more at present; when we are both _reasonable_ again, and
can discuss this business doucely and decently, as between man and man,
we will. Meantime just bide here a bit, and think it over. And, Tommy,
ahem----?"

Tommy's moist hand stole out feebly, tremulously.

"You'll never let on to anybody about--about yon wee story of mine?"

"Poor lad--poor lad," said the doctor, going out presently wiping his
eyes. "He's safe now. But, Lord, what a time I've had of it! And one
false step--one straining of the line and it would have snapped like
silk. Aye, aye; I played my fish on a single gut, and," triumphantly,
"landed him! Landed him, by Jupiter!"

It was strictly true that chance had discovered to Leonore the
existence of her village admirer, who otherwise most certainly would
never have come within the sphere of her observation. But each was
waiting to despatch a telegram, and something had gone wrong with the
wires. It was nothing too serious to be remedied and that speedily, they
were assured, and if they could wait a few minutes, all would be well.
But the few minutes expanded into a quarter-of-an-hour, and
then--perhaps it was she or perhaps it was he, or perhaps it was both at
once who were electrified by the all-potent touch of opportunity.

On Leonore's part, here was a comely youth,--and she had seen the comely
youth in Dr. Craig's gig, and guessed at once who he might be. Three
months had passed since the collapse of Lady Butts' well-meant little
scheme, and no one had stepped into the cast-off shoes of her
philosophical nephew--and Leonore had been bored, sadly bored. True, Val
was there, but since his perfunctory declaration, Val had lost his
savour. Up till then, Leo had not been sufficiently certain of his real
sentiments to make his company uninteresting, and had decided to probe
them by way of experiment--but the excitement of the interview had
fizzled out, and his honesty did him no service in the eyes of his
charmer. She would now bring him straight in to where her sisters were
assembled, if met outside--and as he was always happy and at home among
them, he had not the wit to perceive that things had changed.

Consequently the coast was clear for George Butts, and he had his
ephemeral hour; and then?--then there rose above the dull, tame level of
the horizon a new object.

What! He was beneath her? She would never have looked at him, still less
spoken to him? Oh, my dear incredulous sir, or madam, how much or how
little do you who pronounce thus know of human nature? Have you ever
felt what it is to have an eye, blue or grey or what not, a mute,
appealing, impassioned eye, flashing into yours its secret?--and have
you cared to reckon coldly its owner's claims to your notice? You
bearded widower, with your family of big girls and boys, what about that
little lodging-house keeper at the sea-side, who welcomes your most
trivial order reverentially, who hardly ever speaks, but gives you one
long look as she leaves the room? The humble soul has no idea of
betraying herself, and as for you--you are resolved that if you marry
again, it shall be well and prudently--but you can't forget that look.

And you, great lady of the manor, what takes you so often to the hot,
stuffy, little village school-house, where the master, with awe upon his
brow, in silence hands you copy-books and samplers? He hardly emits a
syllable, but his soul flames beneath those weary eyelids--poor wretch,
poor wretch!

Leonore having uttered a few commonplaces to a companion delayed like
herself, chanced to glance directly at him. To her he was virtually a
stranger, and, to do her justice, she would have talked to any stranger,
obeying the sociable instincts which she alone of her family
possessed--but to find a pair of fine, dark, luminous orbs fastened
eagerly, almost ravenously, upon hers was?--her first emotion was one of
great surprise.

It was weeks since young Andrews had secretly elected her to be the lady
of his dreams--(when and where he had first beheld her, it boots not
here to say)--but he had been content to adore from afar, and had never
thrust himself upon her notice,--so that all the concentrated fire of
brooding, hopeless passion was not only visible, but almost
offensive--and yet it was not quite offensive.

The _lady_ within her stiffened, but the _woman_? At least she need not
be uncivil; to be haughty and supercilious, as Maud would have been
under like circumstances, went against the grain; she could keep the
young man at a distance without hurting his feelings; she--essayed a
remark.

Afterwards she laughed to think how that remark was leaped at; how it
was turned and twisted and stammered over. For very pity of his hopeless
confusion she had to rejoin kindly, and again the words were caught out
of her lips, and so on, and so on--and still the postmistress was
invisible behind the scenes.

Eventually, as we know, Leonore accepted an escort back to the Abbey
when the two errands were accomplished, and a message extracted from her
sister threw a properly respectable air over the whole proceeding.

Had things ended there, Dr. Humphrey Craig would not have returned home
unexpectedly on the present occasion. But he had heard whispers and
caught glimpses--he saw a gossip nudge her neighbour and look up a
bye-street; and looking himself, recognised two figures whose backs were
turned. Not a word said he; but he watched young Andrews narrowly that
evening, and the next, and on the third day he spoke.

He spoke, and the bubble burst.

Ignorant of any cause for the non-delivery of her prescribed tonic which
she had arranged to receive herself at one of the park lodges--since
General Boldero was not to be annoyed by the suspicion of ill-health,
and would infallibly make a fuss if medicines were handed in at the
front door--Leonore, after waiting some time in vain, returned home and
said nothing about the matter;--but she started a little when she heard
a voice in the doorway a few hours later, and found that it proceeded
from Dr. Humphrey Craig.

He had not yet rung the bell; and took the liberty of a privileged old
friend to hail her instead of doing so.

"Mrs. Stubbs? It was you I wanted to see. If no one's about, I'll step
inside for a minute. Eh? It's all right, is it? I've something here for
you; but I might have a word first, perhaps?"

She drew him into an empty room.

"This is not a professional visit," nodded he; "you haven't called me
in, and there will be no note of it in my tablets,--but I understand
from my young man that you are feeling a wee bit run down,--don't be
frightened, we'll soon put you to rights--and I thought I'd look in.
How's the appetite?"

Presently it was the sleep--then the spirits, the walking powers;--she
was completely put through her facings, her tongue looked at, her pulse
felt,--and at length the doctor sat back in his chair. "I have known you
from a child, Miss Leonore, ahem--Mrs. Stubbs. Your family has honoured
me with its friendship for fifteen years now, and as a friend," with
emphasis, "I'm going to lay down the law on this matter. If you'd prefer
me to speak to Miss Sue, I will."

"Oh, no--no."

"I thought not," said the doctor, smiling a little grimly. "But if it
should become necessary, I shall do it all the same. You must get away
from this place. Your father must be made to let you go. Only for a bit,
of course,--but that bit I do insist upon. You've been shut up here,
fretting, and brooding, for a matter of nearly two years----"

"Indeed, indeed I am quite well."

"You tell Tommy Andrews you're not. Trust me, my dear young lady, you
wouldn't have told Tommy anything if you had been. It was, ahem--a
foolish thing to do, to consult a raw young apprentice."

"I--I didn't like to trouble you."

"Trouble me? Bless my soul, what am I for? If you hadn't been a wee
thing off colour you would never have had such a ridiculous notion.
However, I take it, your father--aye, I see--and you thought if you
could quietly get a few bottles of physic, and no questions asked, it
would set all to rights. Well, now," proceeded he, on receiving a mute
assent, "I've got a tonic here worth a score of that rubbish Andrews was
for giving you. But you need something more than that. I've forbidden
that lad of mine, forbidden him _absolutely_ to have you for a patient
in future; he's a good lad, but he had mistaken his place, Miss
Leonore--Mrs. Stubbs. You understand me? Yes, I thought you would. He
will not trouble you any more. While for you, it's not physic you want
most, it's a thorough change of life and scene. You must get away--I
say, you _must_. Now," rising, "will you manage this, or shall I? It
must be done soon, mind."

Voices were heard outside at the moment, and Leonore swiftly turned and
opened the door.

"Come in, Sue, come in and find me out. I've been trying to get
doctored,"--and she ran on glibly--but directly the conference was over,
shamefaced and crestfallen she flew to be alone.

"He saw; oh, how horrible, how detestable! How could I stoop to it?" For
hours she rang the changes on this theme.

And the very next day, Sue, alarmed and repentant, herself conveyed her
young sister up to London.



CHAPTER XI.

DR. CRAIG'S WISDOM.


A friend who did not obtrude himself upon the departing travellers, but
spied from the background, rubbed his hands as the train moved off.

Then as the big Boldero omnibus turned empty homewards, Dr. Craig stood
still for a moment in thought, consulted his watch, and finally walked
briskly up the street to his own door.

"What is it?" demanded a voice from an upper window; "forgotten
anything, Humpty?"--and the attentive wife prepared to fly down.

"No, no; stay where you are." Humpty waved her back. "I have some work
to do at home this morning," and he stepped into the surgery, where on
this occasion his young assistant was dutifully busy.

"Hey, I'm going to send you for a run, Tommy; you can finish here when
you come in. Take your bicycle, and go to Mrs. Brooks--you know the
house? You don't? Well, you know Ashford Mill? It's near by. Any one
will tell you the road. Call, and say I'm not coming till to-morrow if
all's going on well. Of course, if I'm wanted, I can look in--let's
see--some time this evening. But I don't expect I shall be wanted. And
Tommy----"

"Yes, sir?"

"You needn't hurry back. Take your time, and get a breath of good air
over the downs."

"Thank you, sir,"--but the dejected countenance did not brighten, and
the rejoinder was mechanical. A few days before what a prospect would
have opened at the above words, now it mattered not to Tommy Andrews
what he did nor where he went. He continued to pound away with his back
turned.

"Come, be off!" said Dr. Craig, good-naturely. "I came back on purpose
to set you free. By the way--ahem!--you need not be afraid of meeting
any one; you won't be tempted to break your word--not that you would, of
course,--but, well, I thought I'd just mention it--the ladies are off to
London."

"The--the ladies, sir?"

"The Boldero ladies. Two of them, at least,--Miss Sue and Mrs. Stubbs. I
was at the station just now, and saw them go, with a pile of luggage
that meant a longish stay. My boy, this ought not to be ill news to
you," continued the speaker, changing his tone of assumed indifference
for one of quiet sincerity; "it's only the natural ending of what ought
never to have begun; and you will live to be glad it came so soon, and
so conclusively. Take your time upon the road, Tommy. There's nothing to
bring you in before dinner."

And at dinner Humpty was in his most genial mood. He was not as a rule
genial at the midday repast, to which as often as not he hurried in
late, only to hurry out again as soon as he had consumed abstractedly
the portion set aside for him; but on the present occasion he subsided
into his armchair at the foot of the table with a leisurely, tranquil
air that spoke of a mind at ease for the time being.

He enjoyed his roast chicken and green peas. He had himself cut the
asparagus and cut it bountifully. Mary was bidden to observe how
asparagus ought to be cut--a couple of inches, not more, below the
surface of the earth; and it should never be allowed to grow too high;
the flavour was lost when it had been long above ground; furthermore, it
should be carried straight from the bed to the pot--but here Mary
laughed outright.

"What are you laughing at?" demanded he.

"You, who never give your food a chance! Tommy knows,"--and the careful
housewife continued to laugh, looking at Tommy, "he has to put down your
plate to the fire five days out of six."

"No, no, Mary."

"And often you could not tell me what's on it if I asked! And if _we_
did not look after your digestion----"

"Well, well; I know what's good, when I have time to think about it. And
since you are so keen on my digestion, have you a mind to give Tommy and
me a treat?" nodding at her--"make us some coffee!"

"And we'll take it out-of-doors," continued the doctor, rising and
throwing his napkin aside. "Under the trees yonder. Bring your pipe,
Tommy; you and I don't often enjoy a lazy hour, but a man must break his
rule sometimes. Come along,"--and he led the way.

Of course Tommy saw, and at first Tommy was inclined to resent. So he
was to be treated like a child, a child who has had his toy taken from
him and is to be comforted with other things? He had been allowed to go
out in the sunshine--(on a bogus errand, he suspected; certainly Mrs.
Brooks had not expected a medical visit that morning)--and now his inner
man was being consoled and pampered, and the raw wound which still bled
from the knife so unsparingly applied the day before, was to be blandly
ignored. He felt both hurt and angry.

But the roast chicken was very good, and so was the currant tart with
cream--and he had covered many miles on an empty stomach, and was young,
and as a rule, ravenous. For the life of him he could not help clearing
his plate.

And next he found himself responding with alacrity to the suggestion of
coffee in the cool shade without, for the atmosphere of the little
dining-room had grown somewhat warm and odorous, pervaded by hot
dishes--while even a prospective _tête-à-tête_ with his host was not
altogether distasteful, since he was to be permitted to smoke.

And though he told himself he would not for worlds have Leonore's name
enter into the conversation, in reality he was listening for it, waiting
for it.

He had to wait however.

"It's a queer life, that of a country doctor;" the elder man laid down
his pipe musingly. "A queer life--but it has its compensations. There's
much to be given up, much to be done without,--there's struggle and
hardship to begin with--strain and anxiety always,--but taken as a
whole, it yields a satisfaction--Tommy, I often think there's no life
on earth meets with such clear recompense for the outlay, be the outlay
what it may."

"Yes, sir; I suppose so, sir;" absently.

"Human nature craves appreciation," the speaker slackened his big-limbed
frame afresh, and puffed luxuriously, "to be watched for and welcomed
and--and appreciated--there is no other word for it--wherever one goes,
_is_ something, who can deny it? One may never rise to eminence, one
may be humble and obscure, as the world has it, all one's days, and
yet----" again he paused.

"Yes, sir?" But at the second "Yes, sir," Dr. Craig roused himself.

"You aren't following me, Tommy. You think you knew all this before, and
it sounds like a dull droning in your ears. Isn't it so, my boy?"

"I'm afraid I'm very poor company, sir. But you--you know what makes me
so."

"And you would like to talk about it, and find every other subject
uninteresting? Maybe you're right. What is it then? _Her_, I suppose?"
And a faint smile, not unkindly, accompanied the last words.

"I do want you to believe that she is not to blame. I can't get over
it, your saying what you did. You seemed to infer that I had been
befooled and----"

"If you had, you are not the first--but let that pass. I own I cannot
understand how otherwise you could have presumed to think at all about a
lady so high above your head."

"I did presume, sir."

"And----?"

"And I think I showed it, sir."

"Wilfully?"

"No, unconsciously. But it was _my_ fault--not hers."

"And you acquit her, absolutely?"

Tommy was silent, colouring.

"You would like to acquit her, and you hoped I should do so, without the
need of more? You have a chivalrous soul, and you may thank God for it,
young man; it is a great possession. Respecting Leonore Stubbs, I may be
too hard upon her----"

"Indeed, sir, indeed----"

"I _may_ be, but time alone will show. When she first came back here, a
poor bit widow-creature, more child than woman, it would have touched a
heart of stone to see her and what's more, I saw they were not going the
right way to work with her. She was put into a sort of strait-jacket.
She was made to appear just what the Bolderos thought she ought to
appear. They made no account of the sort of lassie she really was. I
saw, for I was often at the house that winter. And I think Leonore was
glad to be ill sometimes--(she caught colds and chills that year)--just
for the sake of having something to think about, and even old me to talk
to. But of late--I don't know--I seem to fancy she's altered. She breaks
loose. Her face has a kind of reckless look. And it struck me she'd been
angered and fretted till she was ripe for mischief. Did she--did she let
you make love to her, Tommy?"

"Never, sir. There was never a word of the kind between us. I told you
so before."

"Aye; words aren't always needed. You and she were walking in a maze,
and a maze neither of you had the wit to look beyond. Heaven knows where
you would have found yourselves--or, rather, where _you_ would have
found yourself--if I had not brought you up sharp. But don't imagine
I think the worse of you for it, Tommy; and don't you go and fret
and gloom by yourself. The thing's done and can't be undone, and
I'll not deny I'm sorry it is so. Still--" he rubbed his chin
thoughtfully,--"perhaps you have learnt something you would have learnt
no other way, and for the rest, my advice is--forget. Forget as fast as
you can, for," a grim smile, "of one thing you may take your oath, Tommy
Andrews, however quick you may be, the little lady who's gone to London
to-day will be quicker still."

       *       *       *       *       *

And of course Leonore was. There is no need to indicate the precise
moment at which the figure of her humble village admirer faded clean out
of sight after having hovered reproachfully over a few brief penitential
musings, but certain it is that it vanished, to return no more.

London in the season was a revelation to our heroine. Hitherto her sole
experience of it was confined to passing through, and that mainly at
other periods of the year,--since it was an article of faith with her
husband that one big town was as good as another, and he had all he
wanted of town life at home.

So that all was new, strange, wonderful, glorious--and at first she was
utterly dazzled. True, a modern girl would have laughed in her sleeve
could she have heard Leo's idea of the gay world. She would have said
this unsophisticated creature went nowhere and knew nothing. She would
have marvelled--perhaps as much as Leo would have marvelled at her.

Leo did more than marvel, she was secretly shocked and disgusted on
several occasions, but with the fidelity of the young to the young she
said nothing to Sue. Sue thought the houses she took her young sister to
all that was prudent and respectable. Some of them were rather great
houses--the Bolderos, when they did seek society, moved on a high plane,
and the very fact that they seldom sought it, told in their favour.

The sisters were not overwhelmed with invitations, but they had enough
to gratify the elder and delight the younger. Leo did not dance; indeed,
she did not know how, so the one ball to which she was bidden was
declined, but the two went to a fair amount of dinner-parties, not of
the most lively order, but pictorial and majestic. They were invited to
opera boxes--generally on the grand tier. Leo was on the box seat of a
coach occasionally. As for teas, they overran every afternoon, and
concerts, bazaars, charity entertainments, Hurlingham and Ranelagh
filled up the interstices.

It was in short a giddy round, and perhaps as good a cure for the sort
of complaint from which our poor little girl was suffering as could have
been devised.

It swept her off her feet--and in another sense swept her on to her
feet.

She learned in curious ways a good deal.

Her shell was broken, and albeit the outer air was none of the purest,
it served its purpose of blowing away the cobwebs that had so long
encircled her outlook.

July, however, was passing, and soon, all too soon, fairy-land would
vanish in a myriad of shattered sparklets, and then?

"I suppose we could not go to Cowes, Sue?" A very tempting invitation
for the Cowes week had come, and there had been hints of further
house-parties, and shooting-parties,--but of these latter Leo knew at
once that she must not think. For Cowes, however, she would make a push.
"It is so near, and we could go home as easily from there as from
here,"--she murmured, wistfully. "And the Beverleys are very nice
people, Sue."

"Oh, very; but--I don't know. I am afraid it would hardly do to suggest
it. You see father has already been asked twice to let us stay on, and,
dear Leo, he has been _very_ good about it. Even Aunt Charlotte was
surprised."

"It was Aunt Charlotte who did the trick though;" Leo wagged her head
wisely. "Her sending him a card for her reception was a masterpiece. I
almost wonder he didn't come up for it. Well, what about Cowes?"

"We will think it over, dear."

"I could go by myself, you know."

"No," said Sue, decidedly.

Her orders were that Leo was to go nowhere by herself, and she had more
than once eaten humble pie in consequence--for her sister's sake hanging
on to her skirts, a neglected and undesired appendage by the rest of the
party.

Leo alone would be mindful of her, pleasant towards her. Leo was
certainly growing more affectionate and considerate than of old--but Leo
must not go to Cowes alone.

"I will try what I can do," said Sue, after a pause, during which she
absently broke open another envelope in her hand. "I will read what Maud
says of how they are getting on at home. I see she has returned from her
visit to the Fosters, so perhaps----" An exclamation, quite a violent
exclamation for the prim Miss Boldero, followed. Then she looked up, her
face, we should like to say scarlet, or crimson, but truth compels the
statement that Sue's flushes were of a deeper tint, not quite purple,
but that way. Even her brow was now suffused by this tint. "Oh, Leo!"

But Leo was absorbed in a letter of her own.

"This is really--Leo--listen, Leo!"

"Well?" said Leo, absently. "Here's another idea for Cowes. However,
your news first."

"Yes, indeed. You will say so when you hear it. Maud----"

"She's not coming here, is she?"--quickly.

"Maud writes to announce that she is engaged to be married."

"Good gracious!" The effect was electrical. Leo bounded from her seat
and almost tore the sheet from her sister's hands. "Let me see--let me
see," then reading aloud: "Major Foster--Mr. Foster's younger
brother--home from India--left the army--father pleased (that's a good
thing!)--and coming here next week!--Oh, Sue!----Stop, there's more,"
cried Leo, recovering, for the "Oh, Sue!" had been emitted with dolorous
mental reference to the Cowes scheme, now obviously knocked on the head.
"What's this over the page?" and she turned it in Sue's fingers; "only
the man's name--Paul. She doesn't say very much, does she? I thought
people usually put in something about----"

"What?" said Sue, smiling.

"About being happy, and that. Or at least about the man himself--not
merely who he is, and who his people are."

"She will tell us all when we meet. Maud is not much of a writer, and
she is the last person to--to speak of her feelings; but I do not doubt
she is happy," quoth Sue, radiantly. "Dear Maud! To think that she on
her quiet visit--and at the Fosters, the last people one would have
expected--and father pleased----"

"Oh, it's fine," cried Leo, kissing her, "it really is fine. If she had
only waited till after the Cowes week it would have been perfect.
Anyhow, we'll hie back, you and I, with something to look forward to. We
shan't leave all the sweets behind, now that Maud has done the civil by
us with her 'Paul'. I did hate the thought of going home before," she
was running on, when something stopped her, something that sent a little
cold shiver down her back. It was--yes, it was--_the look_. The look on
Sue's face.

For quite a long while now she had lost sight of the goal once set
before her eyes by this. Imagination had ceased to be fired by its
memory. The three impulsive dashes made in its direction had been so
utterly futile that she could only recall the first with mirth, the
second with contempt, the last with shame. Val Purcell was now happily
restored to his former position of friend and playmate; George
Butts?--she had come across Mr. Butts in London and found him in hot
pursuit of another lady; and though the thought of poor Tommy Andrews
with his weak, imploring mouth and burning eyes could still evoke a
twinge, it was but a passing twinge.

Tommy had certainly been found out, and Tommy's master was not a person
to find out in vain. Dr. Craig had effected what no one else dared
attempt, namely, her own escape from thraldom--and she did not see her
co-delinquent let off, albeit after another fashion.

No, she had nothing more to fear from that quarter; and in the rush and
novelty of the past few weeks, bygone follies, big and little, active
and passive, dwindled to the vanishing point. If only Sue, dear, good,
unconscious Sue, would not recall them!



CHAPTER XII.

THE PHOTOGRAPH AND THE ORIGINAL.


Families in which the daughters marry early and in due succession, can
have but little idea of the huge, volcanic shock an engagement means in
a house like Boldero Abbey.

True, it had once before gone through a like experience, but the present
happy occasion was intensified by a variety of causes.

It was satisfactory, altogether satisfactory. Like good wine it needed
not the bush which General Boldero had strewed so plentifully over
Godfrey Stubbs's antecedents and surroundings. His future son-in-law was
well-born and well-bred, and his having lately succeeded to a
considerable fortune was also well known. Accordingly--we are obliged to
add "accordingly"--it was in good taste to say nothing about it.

But he could show, and he did show, enough to raise a smile wherever he
went. However demure his air when receiving congratulations, he could
insert here and there a phrase, adroitly conceived beforehand, the
point of which could not be missed--and he was rampant at home.

There he might freely puff and blow, and turn his little world upside
down. Nothing, not the veriest trifles of every-day life escaped his
touch; and had it not been that the sympathies of all were with him,
that there was not an antagonistic member of the family or household, he
would have been found unbearable.

But the change, the stir, the commotion, the heavy posts, and constant
ringing of the door-bell were delightful to everybody. There was
occupation for everybody. They ran against each other with busy,
pre-occupied faces. They hurried, when formerly time was of no account.
The writing-tables were bargained for, and Maud, all-important, retained
one solely for her own use,--while the two who had fancied they would
have so much to tell of their London escapade, found it so completely
superseded by the new excitement, that they dismissed it from their own
minds.

In short the whole atmosphere quivered with the sensation: "Who would
have thought it?--who would have believed it?--" to which there was but
one response: "We cannot make enough of it".

The man himself, however, had yet to be seen.

"Yes, it is very unfortunate," observed Miss Boldero, in answer to
neighbourly inquiries; "Major Foster has been obliged to put off coming
again. He has had another touch of fever--his long residence in hot
climates has left him subject to these, and though it is nothing to be
anxious about, he has to be careful. We expect him next week."

A photograph was presented in lieu of the original, and no one had
anything to say against the photograph. It represented an unmistakable
soldier, even if he had not been in uniform. The face was clear-cut and
clean-shaven, and some might have thought it had rather a melancholy
expression--but such expressions in photographs are common, and not
always truthful. Leo, for one, openly admired her sister's lover.

"I do detest a smirk," she cried, gaily; "I am so glad Paul's man did
not make him smirk. Were you with him when this was taken, Maud?"

No, it had been taken in London on Paul's way through; he had promised
copies to his regiment, and Maud had assisted him to send these out.

Was he sorry to leave the service? She thought he was, a little.

"So you had to--to cheer him up?" rejoined Leo, inwardly laughing over
the remembrance of poor Val and his perfunctory proposal. "I daresay it
does cheer up people to marry them. Your knight of the lugubrious
countenance----ahem!"

"I don't know what you mean," said Maud, coldly.

"Heigho! I came near a cropper that time," muttered Leo, to herself.

When she was alone she took up the photograph again and looked at it.
She could have wished for Maud's sake that she was to be united to a
more lively-looking individual. The eyes, she could almost swear, were
sad eyes. The mouth had a droop about it.

"It would not matter if it were Sybil or me," reflected she, within
herself; "but no one can ever get a word out of Maud unless she pleases,
and how is she going to bucket along a solemn spouse?... She seems
content with him, and awfully proud of the whole affair--but I always
fancied she would end with a jolly, jovial sort of creature, who would
not care two straws whether she sulked or not. Now, something in this
face,"--she scanned it thoughtfully--"leads me to think that Paul
_would_ care. He has a tired look--as if there were a weight upon him.
Good heavens!" quickly, "Maud isn't the person to remove a weight; she's
a regular old featherbed herself, when there's nothing to stir her up.
She was all right at the Fosters, no doubt, with this going on, and
everybody tootling round her; but if they only knew--if _he_ only knew
what she can be like at home!...

"I don't mean to be nasty;" repentance presently made itself felt; "and
it may only be that Maud and I don't hit it off; that when I'm in a
merry mood, she isn't, and _vice versa_--still," she shook her head
sagaciously, "I'm not sure--not quite sure. It is more noticeable than
it used to be. Even father gets snubbed and has to put up with it. Both
Sue and Syb utterly succumb.... To think that Maud should be the
one--though of course it is her looks--and besides, she herself let slip
that the Fosters had got her there on purpose. Paul had come home at a
loose end, desperately in need of a wife, and a home, and all the rest
of it. The whole thing is clear--the only mystery,--pooh! there's no
mystery....

"But it was luck for Maud," she mused on, "and I must say she
appreciates her luck, and means to get the uttermost farthing out of it.
How she revels in the idea of a grand wedding! And of course she will be
a lovely bride--but I wonder--I hope----" once more her hand strayed
towards the photograph, and she gazed at it long and searchingly, "I do
hope she will make this poor man happy."

Leo, however, had the wit to keep such speculations to herself. She was
only too conscious that she had not managed her own affairs so well as
to give her any claim to pry into those of others, and told herself she
was a little fool to keep on looking into Paul Foster's face and
thinking of him as a poor man.

Directly she saw the real face, it would certainly tell a different
tale. Maud breathed satisfaction over her lover's letters; obviously she
had no doubts of her empire over him, and even while graciously
accepting the encomiums passed by her belongings on her choice, let it
be seen that she by no means considered all the good fortune to be on
her side.

"Paul is deeply religious;" she announced once.

"God bless my soul!" ejaculated the general;--indeed there was a
universal start, for even Sue, the good, kind Sue, could hardly be
regarded as deeply religious. Every eye was bent on Maud.

"Indeed he is," proceeded she, calmly. "He made quite a mark in his
regiment, and received no end of testimonials, the Fosters told me.
They did not speak of it before him, but Caroline warned me--I mean told
me--privately."

"Took an interest in the schools and that sort of thing, eh? Quite
right, very proper;" General Boldero made an effort to recover himself.
"In my day it was quite the thing for the commanding officer to back up
the chaplain; but--hum, ha----_that's_ what you mean, I suppose? You are
not going to foist a parsonical gentleman upon us, young lady?" Despite
the jocular tone, there was a gleam of anxiety.

"I am merely stating a fact," said Maud, stolidly.

"And I am sure we ought to be very glad," murmured Sue in her humble,
peacemaking accents--but even she looked disconcerted.

"We can have Custance to meet Paul at dinner, if that will satisfy him,"
was the general's next; he had had a few minutes for reflection, and
after rapidly weighing the pros and cons of the new development, decided
to swallow it with a good grace. "Will that satisfy him, or will he want
the curates too?"

"You may laugh if you choose, but it is as well you should know;" Maud
drew up her neck, and retorted stiffly. "Paul has been about the world,
and doesn't expect to find people all cut to the same pattern,--only I
imagine _I_ shall have to conform to his ideas after we are married,
and he has set his heart on getting a house with a private chapel
attached."

This was better; the general breathed again. A house with a private
chapel? That meant a big house, a stately house, a house he would be
proud to go to and refer to. "Oh well, a man must have his fads," quoth
he, cheerfully; "and though we have got along well enough at Boldero
Abbey without a private chapel, still if one had been here before my
day, I don't know, 'pon my word, I don't know that I should have done
away with it."

But the above conversation sent Leonore to look again at the photograph.

She was nervous, curiously nervous on behalf of this unknown Paul, of
whom every day produced fresh impressions.

As time passed, he assumed a form she had not been prepared for,--and
the first joyous flurry having worn off, she felt or fancied that he had
in reality been no more fathomed by her sister than she by him.

It will be seen by this that Leonore had herself rapidly altered of
late. She had taken to looking below the surface of things. She pondered
and prophesied within herself. She perceived the drift of casual
observations, and following in thought the byways of life, divined to
what they might lead. In fine, her own blunders and mishaps had
implanted seeds for reflection, and while less unhappy, she was
infinitely more serious than before.

And for Paul Foster's appearance on the scene she grew every day more
impatient.

Perhaps she was altogether mistaken about him, and the being of her
imagination would prove so unlike the reality that doubts and misgivings
would fly to the winds, made ridiculous by a very ordinary individual,
devoid of all the mystery, all the glamour cast over him in day-dreams?

If so, of course she would be glad; it would be the best possible thing
to happen; and yet? "I shall have to get rid of this Paul from my
thoughts somehow," she decided. "He worries me. If he would only come
and be done with it!"

It was evident that Maud attached a certain _éclat_ to her lover's
piety; she recurred to the subject more than once.

"It is all very well for father to make light of it, but I do hope he
understands that it is no joke with Paul. Paul is very sensible, and
never thrusts his opinions on other people, but no one ever thinks of
laughing at them to him."

"It is only father's way," began Sue, distressed; but her sister
continued, unheeding. When Maud had a thing to say she was not to be
defrauded of saying it, and she had now got the ear of the house in the
shape of two other attentive listeners.

"What I mean is that father always seems to think that it is only
clergymen who really care about religion. He looks upon it as their
trade,--oh, he does, Sue--and he would be the first to be down on them
if they neglected their trade,--but as for other people, particularly
other men's caring--and Paul _does_ care, that's the unfortunate part of
it."

"Why unfortunate, dear Maud?" said Sue, gently.

"Oh, I only mean lest he and father should clash," explained Maud with
perfect coolness. "I am not speaking of my own feelings. _I_ don't
mind." After a pause she subjoined: "You might give father a hint, Sue."

"And what about asking Mr. Custance to dinner?" struck in Sybil, who had
hearkened to the above uneasily, yet with a different sort of uneasiness
from that which made poor Sue breathe an unconscious sigh. "It might
create a good impression. Well?"

"It wouldn't take Paul in for a moment," said Maud. "Still," she
hesitated and looked over her shoulder as she was leaving the room, "a
third person might be of use on the first evening after dinner. Just as
you like about that," and she passed out with the air of a queen. She
felt every inch a queen in those days.

"So it wouldn't take Paul in for a moment?" The words raised a new
question in Leonore's mind. If Paul where his deeper feelings were
concerned were thus acute and clear-sighted, how came it that he was so
blind otherwise? Ah, there she was at it again! Back to her old
dilemma--to the bogie which had just been torn in tatters during a merry
feminine conclave, in which wedding preparations and wedding clothes had
formed the chief objects of discussion.

It was so obvious that no one else had any _arrière pensée_ as regarded
the bridegroom elect, that she had suppressed her own successfully for
the time being, and entered eagerly into all the details which even Maud
condescended to be sociable over.

Maud had been quite sociable and pleasant over everything that morning.
She had read bits of Paul's letter aloud; she had permitted herself to
be bantered, even rather mischievously bantered, by Leo; and altogether
was so approachable and communicative, that the reference to her lover's
religious views and her desire that these should be respected, fell out
naturally. Why then should Leo be perplexed anew?

By the time Paul actually arrived, she told herself she was sick to
death of him, and everything about him....

       *       *       *       *       *

And before the first interview was over she was jeering at herself for
her fussiness. The man was well enough, but he fell from his pedestal
the moment he approached. No, he was not like his presentment. Maud had
declared it did not do him justice--Leo thought differently. She ran him
up and down with her eye, and though she conceded his stature and
general outline to be correctly rendered, there was a disappointing lack
of effect; he had not the air of a hero; he had not the lofty,
melancholy bearing and inscrutable countenance which was to set him
apart from his fellows, a mark for furtive looks and whispers. His brow
was not worn and furrowed. His smile was not forced and fleeting.

Obviously he was a bashful man, unused to finding himself the centre of
attraction, and almost painfully desirous of acquitting himself well
when needs must. When spoken to by a fresh voice, he jerked himself in
the speaker's direction with an almost perceptible start, and flushed
beneath his tan like a boy.

The position, it must be owned, was trying; Leonore had protested
against it beforehand. But her father and Maud were against her, ruling
that all should be assembled and the arrival made an affair of state--in
fact neither would have missed it for the world.

"But Paul?" Leo had ventured doubtfully.

"You may leave Paul to me," said Maud.

It appeared that Paul had brought a dog, and to Leo it was
excruciatingly funny to see General Boldero with this dog. He would have
Lion brought in--he from whose path all the animals belonging to the
lower stratum of household society fled by instinct--and his efforts to
coax the big, gentle creature from beneath his master's chair were
continuous. Whenever conversation flagged, Lion was admired and petted.
Finally he made a joke. Leo and Lion? Ha, ha, ha! Upon which Paul raised
his eyes which were mainly bent upon the ground, and Leo saw them fully
for the first time. They were dark grey and very soft. They had an
infinite amount of expression, and although she certainly could not call
them sad at the moment, she felt that they might once have been so and
might be so again.

But she was not anxious to speak to Paul, and every one else was. By
Maud, as was natural, he was chiefly appropriated, but he listened to
every remark that was made, and without opening his lips took as it were
a leading part in the conversation.

General Boldero was eager to describe his shooting; he had planned how
to put its best side forward, and, while deprecating its merits as
superlative, to leave no doubt as to its being superior to that of his
neighbours.

He hoped Paul would not expect too much; on the other hand, such as it
was, and it was not--hum, ha--to be exactly despised, it had been
carefully saved up for him.

"You are very good, sir," said Paul, gratefully.

"I was coming home from church last Sunday morning," continued the
general--and stopped, apparently to pick up his stick which slipped, but
in reality to let the words sink in--"we walk across the fields from
church, it cuts off a mile--and I marked a covey of sixteen. That's not
a bad covey, is it?"

"It is so long since I shot in England, sir, that I am afraid I hardly
know a large covey from a small one."

"You have been tracking bigger game. I envy you that. But we poor
stay-at-homes must be content with what we can get. Valentine
Purcell--that's a young neighbour of ours--walked home from church with
me on Sunday, and he was astonished at the size of our coveys. We are to
shoot his, later on in the week."

Having thus twice brought in that he had been at church, though the
tenor of his speech was partridge-shooting, the general felt that he had
acquitted himself to admiration, and cast a glance of triumph at Maud.
Maud had been apprehensive of his manners forsooth? He hoped he knew
better than to tread on any one's toes; and a man who could afford to
give his daughter a handsome establishment and was on the look-out for a
house with a private chapel attached, had every right to his
consideration.

He had decreed that no official mention should be made of the family
party having been augmented at dinner.

"It's the custom in French houses for the abbé to appear without
invitation when he pleases. A very good custom; I wish it prevailed in
England," he alleged unblushingly. "As it doesn't, it is not our fault
if Custance only comes when he's asked; and I should certainly--Paul
would certainly, eh, Maud?--You needn't look stupid, my dear," with a
sudden touch of irritation. "You know very well what I mean."

And as she did and the rest did likewise, it was left to himself to say
easily as the party broke up: "We have only our good rector to meet you
to-night; he is quite _l'ami intime_ here, as I am sure you will agree
with me the clergyman of the parish ought to be. Squire and parson hand
in hand, eh?"

"And now I think I have settled that," quoth General Boldero to himself.

He had shot both his bolts; and though for a moment dismayed by the
reflection that he had no more in reserve, there was consolation in the
hope that no more would be required of him. Paul was evidently a
gentlemanly fellow who would avoid unpleasant subjects.

The general opinion of Paul, though it took a different form, was
equally favourable.

No sooner had the lovers disappeared in orthodox fashion, than encomiums
broke out all round. They compared him with people they knew; he was
like one man but taller--he reminded them of another but he was
handsomer. Perhaps he was not strictly handsome, but certainly he was
distinguished looking. If his nose were not a little on one side, it
would be a good nose. Sue had not noticed that it was on one side; she
thought it a very good nose as it was. Sue was even more enthusiastic
than Sybil. Sybil lamented the absence of a moustache. Let a mouth be
ever so good, a moustache was an improvement,--whereat her father
stroked his own and agreed with her.

In the midst of it all, Leonore slipped aside, and passed into the next
room where the photograph was. She was going to convince herself of its
being unlike, absolutely unlike, the original. She was going to
discover, point by point, wherein lay the contrast, and abandon for ever
the old Paul, thus replaced by the new.

The old Paul looked at her, and she started.

For the new Paul had looked, just once, for a single passing minute, the
same.



CHAPTER XIII.

"I AM TO GIVE YOU A WIDE BERTH, ALWAYS."


A formal dinner-party was of course necessary to introduce Major Foster
to the neighbourhood, and it took place a week after his arrival.

"You will wear your best white silk, I suppose, Leo," said Sue,
beforehand.

"No," said Leo, sharply.

"Won't you, dear? But we are all going to dress up a little, and you
look so well in white."

"I--never mind, I am not going to wear it."

"What shall you wear?"

"Something--anything."

"But, Leo----"

"What _does_ it matter? Why should you care? You never used to worry
about my clothes;" perceiving however that Sue looked hurt, Leo
laughed--not quite naturally. "Don't you see, stupid old darling, that
white silk--well, it makes a bride, and _I_ am not the bride."

"But you wore it in London."

"One wears in London what one never wears out of it." There was
finality in the tone, but Sue persevered; she had not the art of letting
well alone.

"Your only other is the grey voile."

"Well, it would do well enough," impatiently. "It's in rags, but it will
do. You ought to be flattered, as it was your present."

"But it really is rather the worse for wear, Leo; and the white
silk----"

Leo ran out of the room, and presently she was seen tearing down the
avenue at breakneck speed, and did not look round, though hailed loudly
from the terrace, as she swept out of sight.

"So tiresome!" exclaimed Maud, joining her eldest sister within; "I had
been hunting everywhere for Leo; she promised to show Harrison the new
way of doing the hair, and Harrison is ready now. It was Leo herself who
said it would suit me."

"She must have forgotten," said Sue; "but I daresay she has only gone
for a little run, and will be back directly. You know she often does run
out in the twilight."

"It was very inconsiderate, I think. She had the whole afternoon to go
out in, and then to take the only time when she could have been of use!"

Sue was silent, feeling both for the offender and the offended. Maud
certainly had a grievance, for Leo's good offices had been volunteered
not besought, and further Leo was aware that Harrison, good soul, was a
despot of the worst type.

All the Boldero servants were despots--all the heads of departments at
least; they had the strength of long-continued, undisputed rule--and
Harrison, who had begun by being a little schoolroom maid, taken on the
recommendation of the late vicar, while yet Sue was young and her
sisters children, now governed them with a rod of iron. It was only in
consideration of Maud's present attitude that the present concession
regarding her hair had been made, and it was felt to be so magnanimous
that she was positively aghast at Leo's delinquency.

"It is only six o'clock now," adventured Sue, soothingly. "Could you
not----?"

"How can I? If you mean send after her? No one knows where she is by
this time. I called and called, but she never looked round. You might
have reminded her, Sue."

"I should, if I had thought of it myself. But though she was here just
now, we were talking of other things."

"What other things? Everything else is settled. The dinner-table really
looks very nice," in mollified accents; "Watts has done the flowers
beautifully, and Grier has condescended to have out all the plate. Well,
I must go and break it to Harrison, I suppose--but if she is in a
temper, she won't wait, even if I suggest it."

"I don't think I should suggest it," said Sue. She had an instinct that
waiting would be of no use, and it proved to be a correct instinct.

The lower rooms were deserted when Leo hurried in; and lamps were being
lit, while a faint pale moon became momentarily more clear in the dusk
without. Servants were drawing down blinds and shutting shutters. Leo
half expected to find the garden-door bolted, but it was not so,--and
she scurried along the corridor, and prepared to mount the staircase,
when her heart gave a sudden jump. There was some one in her path. Paul
was on the next landing, looking from the great staircase window, with
his back turned.

He was contemplating the scene without, which was certainly beautiful
enough to command admiration--but Leo fancied that he was also sunk in
thought. The pose of his motionless form suggested that he had not
merely stopped to look out in passing, but had come to a halt at that
spot and withdrawn into himself.

She put her foot on the next step and hesitated--but he did not look
round. Obviously the slight noise of her entrance had fallen on deaf
ears, or been held of no consequence, as were the other openings and
shutting of doors in the distance,--and that being the case, there was
no absolute need to intrude.

She stole back into the shadows beneath.

Finally by a circuitous route she reached her own room unseen.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I say, Maud does look splendid, doesn't she?"

It was Val Purcell who voiced the general sentiment, and as he did so he
turned from Leonore to whom he had addressed himself, to gaze down the
table afresh at her resplendent sister.

Despite the contretemps of the hair, Maud was looking her best--suited
by her dress, her ornaments, and the unusual animation which coloured
her cheeks, and sparkled in her eyes. Hitherto her looks, though
universally admitted, had failed to elicit warmth on the part of any
present--since, truth to tell, she was not a favourite. She was too cold
and too grand. She never forgot that she was a Boldero, and took care
that no one else should. Even honest Val, as we know, did not choose to
be booked too surely as her admirer.

But that point being now settled, and the party having been assembled in
the lady's honour, he was free to add his mite.

"Splendid!" he repeated, settling down again with unction. "I always did
say Maud was a ripper when she chose. I hope her johnnie appreciates his
luck. Between you and me, Leo," sinking his voice for her private ear,
"I wonder how he dared? I wonder how he ever got it out? Maud can be so
awfully nasty--Oh, I say! I don't mean that, you know."

"Then you shouldn't say it," said Leo, shortly. Maud's star was high in
the heavens, while her own--where was it? nowhere. She had no star; her
little glowworm light was out, and all was darkness--yet she was loyal,
even with Val. "Every one is not such a craven as you, Val; and
apparently Major Foster----" she paused.

"He appears to have tackled her right enough. I only wonder how he
screwed himself up to the point? Bet you he had a good pint of champagne
first."

"I daresay," said Leo, absently.

"Now don't you round on me for that, Leo. I know you when you speak like
that. You mean to nab me the next minute."

"I shan't nab you this time. I know nothing about Major Foster's
proclivities, and can't be answerable for them."

"He never drinks anything but water when he's out shooting, but he
wasn't likely to face Maud upon water, was he?"

"I tell you I don't know. Ask him yourself."

"Ask him myself? That's a good one. Ask him myself? Ha--ha--ha. Well,
whatever he took, it did the trick, and she looks as proud as a cat with
a tin tail,--but between you and me, Leo----"

"Oh, don't have any more 'between you and me's,' Val----" But the next
moment Leo demanded inconsequently: "What is it you want to say? Say
it."

"He's an uncommonly nice fellow, and all that,--but----"

"But--well, but----?" impatiently.

"I should have thought he was more your sort than Maud's, that's all."

"My sort!" She was white to the lips, and there was a sudden heaving of
her bosom. "My--my sort?"

"I'll tell you what I mean. We had a long day together yesterday--no, it
was the day before. There wasn't much doing, the birds were shy and
scattered, and I took Foster into our church, as he seemed to want to
see it. I told him I generally went to yours for the sake of the walk,
but--anyhow he seemed to hanker after going inside, and it is an awfully
nice, rum, little old place, you know; lots of people come to see it.
Oh, they come from long distances. Foster was delighted; I couldn't tear
him away. He poked and poked about, and at last he said to me: 'This is
the sort of thing I've dreamed about. An English village church, with
its old worn pillars and arches----' and he raved on a bit. I said I
liked it too; of course I did; I had known it all my life, and he said
'Ah?' and was quite interested. And then--I don't know how it was--it
just seemed as if we were in the thick of it all of a sudden--he was
talking about his ideas of marriage and that. You never heard anything
so queer! But it was very nice, you know. I didn't mind it a bit, only I
thought to myself, 'Do you jolly well imagine you are going to catch old
Maud going in with those highflown ideas? Because if _you_ do, _I_
don't.'"

"What ideas?" said Leo, in a strangled voice. She had a choking
sensation in her throat.

"Eh? Well----" he considered; "they weren't exactly what you would have
expected from a fellow who's knocked about as Foster has. Sort of
romantic, you know."

As she made no reply, he continued: "I expect he had to let them out to
some one, and perhaps Maud--what do you think? Do you see Maud playing
the pious and charitable?--but I daresay she will, you know. Woa there!
I have it, I knew there was something," his tone quickened, "he called
her, that's to say he didn't call _her_, but of course he meant her, he
said he hoped his wife would be an 'Angel in the House,' or something of
that kind. He said a lot more, but I can't remember it."

"You are remembering very well. Go on."

"So then I thought of you."

"Of me? Oh, no."

"But I did, Leo. I can't help it. Anyhow I did." After a minute he
continued briskly. "Whatever made him think of Maud? She must have been
jolly different to him from what she is to us. You know what I mean,
Leo. If he thinks he is going to marry a saint----"

"Oh, Val, don't. You mustn't. You haven't said anything about this to
other people?" said Leo, in great agitation, "you haven't, have you?"

"Rather not. Give you my word. I have been bursting with it ever
since--and if my gran had known she'd have got it out of me sure as
fate--but she doesn't care twopence about Foster, and is only glad it
isn't you."

"Do leave me out of the question. I--I--why should you think of me at
all?"

"Gran keeps me up to it. She goes on praising you. You see I never told
her about _that_, Leo, and she still thinks--you know what," and he
nodded significantly. "This marriage has set her going again."

After a pause it was: "You aren't making much of a dinner, Leo. You say
'no' to everything. What's put you off your feed?"

"Too much afternoon-tea probably. No, it's not that," said Leo,
correcting the fib. "I'm not hungry, that's all."

"This venison is awfully good. Where did it come from? You generally do
have venison about this time, I know. I have eaten it here before in
October."

"Have you?"

"Where does it come from?"--reiterated he.

"From an old cousin, Anthony Boldero. We have no one else who sends us
venison."

"Respects to him. His venison is A1. Leo?"

"Well?" said Leo, in a hard, dry tone. She recognised what was coming.

"It isn't me, it isn't anything I've been saying that bothers you?"

But at the same moment Leo's neighbour on her other hand spoke to her.

She was partly glad and partly sorry for this--glad because it relieved
her from embarrassment, but sorry because it might be difficult, and
indeed it proved impossible, to lead the erratic Val back to the same
point thereafter.

He had delivered himself of all he had to say on the matter, and he had
a talkative damsel on the other side who having been already somewhat
affronted by his neglect, was resolved to endure it no longer. The two
were soon in full tide of conversation; and though Leo had her turn once
and again when Miss Merivale was attacked by her other neighbour, she
could not all in a brief moment resume a dialogue of such import as the
above. She thought Val was approaching it once, however.

"That's a fine dog of his--of Foster's."

"Lion? Yes, a delightful dog."

"It's awfully funny to see your father with him. When he can't make
anything of Foster--he makes no end of a fuss with Foster--but it
doesn't always exactly come off--then he panders to the dog. And, you
know, they take it exactly in the same way! Lion gives him a bored look,
and shakes himself. I think--he--he! his master would like to do the
same."

Leo could not but smile; she had noticed the bored look, and once or
twice it was even a disgusted one--on Paul's face. She would willingly
have caught at the opening, but a moment's hesitation proved fatal. Miss
Merivale struck in again and the opportunity was lost.

On the assembling of the ladies after dinner, Lady Butts fell to Leo's
share. There was a greater lady present, Lady St. Emeraud, once before
mentioned in these pages,--but this august personage, who had, as we
know, kissed Leo on her marriage day, took no notice of Mrs. Stubbs on
the present occasion. It was only at long intervals that she favoured
Boldero Abbey with the light of her countenance, and being a connection
of the Fosters, she had now come to see Maud and do the civil in view of
the forthcoming alliance.

Accordingly her ladyship spread herself upon the principal sofa, with
Sue on one side and Maud on the other,--while the lesser ladyship
subsided upon Leo, and Sybil, in the distance, gathered round her the
rest of the party, and chattered about wedding arrangements and
bridesmaids' dresses.

Leo rather liked Lady Butts, who was uniformly amiable and safely
unintelligent. She could be trusted not to say anything awkward. She
never went below the surface of things; and she had not had Val
Purcell's opportunities of seeing Paul Foster at close quarters. Her
"Your sister's _fiancé_ is charming. And how radiant she looks! How
pleased you must all be about it!"--with a few other appropriate
platitudes, dismissed the subject.

Then it was: "You saw my nephew in Town, he told me. Sir Thomas and I
only went up for a few weeks, and had left before you and your sister
arrived. You had a pleasant time, I hope?"

Leo thanked her, and had had a very pleasant time. She had seen Mr.
Butts about, but only to speak to on one occasion.

He had not called?

No, he had not called.

"So rushed he hardly knows what he is doing;" the fond aunt concealed
her disappointment, for her hopes had been renewed by the London visit,
and she knew nothing of a certain affair which was being conducted
independently of her leadership, (and we may add was brought to a
successful issue in consequence). "George is simply done to death in the
season. We saw next to nothing of him ourselves."

"You will soon _hear_ something of him or I'm mistaken, however,"
mentally commented Leo--and the whole conversation which ensued left but
one impression on her mind: How could she ever have chosen the long path
whereby to conduct Mr. George Butts across the park?

As for poor Tommy Andrews, her feelings about Tommy had undergone a
strange revulsion of late. Self-disgust had given way to such a sense of
pity and sorrow as made her long to do something, anything, to heal his
wound; and instead of wincing when she saw his figure in the distance,
she cried out in her heart, "Oh, I am so sorry, so sorry,"--and could
have wept for very tenderness of--fellow-feeling.

In the course of the evening Leo found Paul at her elbow; he had
returned from seeing some departing guests to their carriage, and paused
near the door where she was standing.

"It is a fine fresh night," he remarked, cheerfully.

"Has the moon come out?" said she. "It was raining a little while ago."

"The rain has stopped, and the moonlight is glorious. I saw you flitting
about in the dusk this afternoon," continued Paul, smiling. "I was
coming your way, but I turned off. I didn't feel sure that my company
would be welcome. One likes to be alone sometimes."

"Yes. I--I do. I do like it;" emphatically.

"That's flat." This time he laughed outright, seeming so much amused by
her brusquerie, that she perceived how it must have struck him.

No matter, it was as well he should be thus struck. He would know for
the future.

"Your grounds are so extensive that you have a pretty wide range for
your rambles," resumed Paul, in the same easy, friendly accents; "you
can walk all the way to Claymount without touching the road, young
Purcell tells me; and as for the paths, they seem to be legion; I should
get lost if I attempted to wander about by myself."

"Don't wander then; I advise you not. You really might get lost."

"And then if I fell in with you I should be obliged to throw myself on
your mercy, which would be a terrible catastrophe."

"Oh, I should soon get rid of you," she made an effort to retort in the
same light tone; "I should say--" she paused, "I should say, 'Maud is
there,' and you would fly."

"Is Maud then a woodland nymph also?"

Was it her own fancy or was there an almost imperceptible pause before
he spoke? And did the gay tone of the minute before undergo ever so
slight a modification? Leo made answer with rather forced jocularity.

"It would be my ruse for throwing you off, don't you see? I should not
be positive absolutely that Maud was there, or anywhere--but you could
look. You _might_ find her--or you might not. But anyhow you would not
find me if you came back."

"I am to give you a wide berth then, always?"

"Always."



CHAPTER XIV.

PAUL GOES--AND RETURNS.


"Is Paul going to stay here _all_ the time?" abruptly demanded Leonore
one day.

"That's what I want to know." Her father's voice made answer from the
depths of an easy-chair; and it was a disconcerting answer, for he had
been unobserved, indeed unseen. Had his head appeared above the back of
the chair, Leo would have left the library as suddenly as she had
entered it. She had thought Sue was alone.

"Of course if he wishes to stay, he can," proceeded the general, laying
down his paper; "but it's a monstrous long time--that's to say,
hum--ha--there are still three weeks till the twenty-fifth, and he has
been here three weeks already."

"I am sure he is the best of guests," said Sue, gently.

"Oh, the best of guests, no doubt. Bothers nobody. Still----"

"Has anything been said?"--interposed Leo. She was drawing quick,
impatient breaths, and had an air of giving battle, if not replied to as
desired.

No, nothing had been said, but Sue believed----

"If you only _believe_, that's no good. Can't you tell him to go? Can't
you say it isn't the thing for him to stay on and on?"----

"My dear Leo!"

"Highty-tighty!--" simultaneously ejaculated the general, "here's
fierceness!" But he looked amused. "If Paul were your sweetheart, young
lady, you wouldn't be in such a hurry to have him sent to the
right-about. However, there's something in it, Sue."

Sue looked distressed. "Remember what you said when he first came,
father. How repeatedly you told him to make this his headquarters,--and
there is another thing. The engagement took place so soon after he and
Maud met, that they could not have known very much of each other. Hardly
enough, perhaps. Don't you think it is as well----"

"What is there to know?" struck in Leo, vehemently. "If they are in
love, as we presume they are----" she stopped short.

"Certainly," murmured Sue.

"Why, aye, that's all that's needed, no doubt," assented the general,
with a bland expression. "Leo has hit the nail upon the head. Those two
are in love with each other----"

"I said '_if_,'" said Leo, loudly.

"'If--well 'if,' Madam Sceptic,--but I suppose you will allow they have
taken the only means in their power of showing it? Well, what more do
they want but to get married as fast as they can?"

"We could not have had the wedding sooner, father," said Sue.

"I suppose not; but another three weeks of Paul--though I'm not saying a
word against Paul, mind you;--only, the truth is, I have to be so
confoundedly careful before him, that it's--it's a strain."

He had indeed been milder and more amicable in every-day life of late,
than any one could ever remember him before.

"I like the fellow;" he now mused aloud; "he treats me as I ought to be
treated--not as that young ass Purcell does. Val licks my boots and
hates me: but Paul has a nice, cheerful, respectful way----"

"Oh, he has all the virtues, no doubt,"--but Leo's mocking interpolation
was overborne by her father's steady tones--"We talk, and he doesn't
browbeat me. You may look at each other, but I know how a gentleman
should behave among gentlemen. When people are polite to me, I am polite
to them. And as I know that Paul has his foibles, religious foibles, I
am on my guard; while as for him, he never thrusts them on my notice.
There was that day that I saw him coming across the park before
breakfast, and guessed where he had been--at the early service, of
course,--well, all I said when we met in the hall was, 'You must have
had a nice walk?' There's tact for you. From that day to this, neither
of us has ever remarked upon it."

"It was such a sneaking, shocking thing to do," said Leo, ironically.

"Eh? What? 'Pon my soul, child, that was more like Maud than you.
Sneaking? Shocking? It was the sort of thing a gentleman does _quietly_,
that's all; and it would have been in the worst possible taste to have
taken any notice of what was not meant to be known."

He resumed his paper, and his daughters left the room together.

"I am sorry, Leo, that you don't like Paul," said Sue, as the door
closed. She had felt for some time that she must say it, and if possible
fathom to what was due a sense of tension in the air. "It is strange,"
continued she, "for to me and to the rest of us he appears so very
lovable. Have you--what is it you find--you feel--you dislike in him,
dear?"

"I find--I feel--I dislike in him--nothing. He is nothing to me. Why
should my opinion be of any consequence about him?"

"You speak in such a hard voice, Leo. And you look so hard and
unsympathetic whenever Paul is mentioned. Can't you tell me--you might
surely tell _me_----?"

"I wish _you_ would tell _me_ when he departs? One gets tired of people
in the state Paul is in, that's all."

"Are you a little--envious, dear Leo? Such happiness----"

"Yes, that's it. Such happiness--Maud is welcome to it," cried Leo, with
a laugh. "Very welcome, most welcome; but it's all the parade, the
flutter--however, it will soon be over, thank Heaven!"--she subjoined
under her breath.

No more was to be got out of her, and Sue, baffled and repelled, went
her way.

She was conscious, however, of a sense of relief when the very same
afternoon Paul's departure for a season was announced. He had arranged
for this without consulting any one; but Maud was satisfied that
business demanded his presence in London, and that there were also a
few old friends to whom as a bachelor he wished to bid farewell.

It did not appear very clearly where these friends lived, and indeed an
exacting _fiancée_ might have found the brief announcement vague and
unsatisfactory, but Maud's feelings were thus conveyed to her own people
in private: "Paul has so much sense of what is proper and correct, that
it really amounts to an intuition. I daresay he has an idea that when
there is so much for me to attend to, it is better that I should be free
to give myself up to it. Certainly it is a little distracting to have to
remember he is waiting for a walk or ride, when one's head is in a whirl
with other things."

Once she had asked Leo to take the walk instead of her--she did not do
it again. Leo, with blazing eyes, declined point-blank.

"Take your man off your hands? Not I. If you're tired of him----"

"Good gracious, child, what do you mean? What things you do say? I _am_
tired, as it happens--but not of Paul. I have been standing for hours
trying on dresses, and I am not such a walker as you at any time. You
are forever going out. One would have thought you would be glad of a
companion."

"I might be glad of a companion--but not of Paul," retorted Leo,
mimicking. "He is your Paul, not mine, and I--and we----" her lips
trembled and framed no more.

"You might oblige me, I think,"--but Sue touched the speaker's arm, and
Leo vanished.

"What is it?" demanded Maud, irritably. "That child is quite spoilt of
late. It's since her London visit, I think. She never was like that
before."

"Sometimes I think, I fancy she is not quite well." Sue gathered up some
papers on the table, and proceeded. "You know what Dr. Craig said? That
she was in a morbid state, artificially excited or depressed, her mind
preying upon itself. He said she must be taken where her natural
impulses would have freer vent----"

"Well, well; we all know what he said; you told us at the time."

"I thought she was cured, but it seems not," said Sue, in a low voice.
"And your engagement has somehow----"

"If it's _that_, of course--but do you think it really is that?" said
Maud, not without a touch of complacency. "If it is that, of course I am
sorry. But at first she seemed as pleased as anybody. It was only after
she saw Paul--and one would have thought that Paul--I can't understand
why any one should dislike Paul."

Sue was silent.

"Paul has not offended her, has he? Has she ever said so?"

"Never. Oh, never. One can't fancy Paul offending anybody," said Sue,
with a smile.

"I told him all about Leo before he came here--but he made me repeat it
after he had seen her, and I know--I am sure he felt for her. Well, I
shan't ask Leo to walk with him again, that's certain;"--and only half
appeased she went to make ready herself.

Leo, however, had not always escaped a _tête-à-tête_ with the person she
was thus bent on avoiding. She had seen him one evening in the lower
garden, and hoping she was herself unseen, had escaped into the
vineries, which, however, had afforded but a poor shelter, the branches
being nearly bare of leaf. Paul had seen some one within as he passed
the window, and entered also.

It was not till he had done so, and shut the door after him, that he
discovered whose solitude it was he had invaded, and then it was too
late to retreat. He could only offer his assistance in what she was
doing--gathering the crimson vine leaves which fluttered here and
there--and with his stick hook down those out of reach. Then all of a
sudden a heavy autumn shower rattled upon the glass roof overhead, and
there was nothing for it, for the two thus caught and trapped, but to
wait till it was over.

They sat down on the low staging, and at first they hardly spoke.

But presently Leo grew frightened; the long, intimate silences startled
her. Suppose Paul--? No, of course not that,--but he might think her odd
and rude, and even seek some sort of explanation? She started talking
hurriedly, and it was nearly an hour before the sky cleared.

Thereafter Leo knew what she had to expect should she and Paul be thrown
together. She had gradually felt her defences giving way, her voice had
grown low and sweet, and much that was hidden in the depths of her inner
being, had welled up and overflowed into his listening ear. All along
she had known this would happen once the barriers were down between her
and Paul Foster; even when she sought to belittle him to herself at the
outset, she had a terrible underlying consciousness of it,--and looking
back upon the hour, feeling over again the fragrant warmth of the
atmosphere, hearing the splashing of the rain, and smelling the bitter
scent of the vines, she laid her head upon her arms and cried as if her
heart would break.

But we know how Maud's request was met, and how one person at Boldero
Abbey would fain with her own voice have bidden Maud's lover begone from
it for ever.

       *       *       *       *       *

Other voices, real voices, however, with one accord bewailed his
departure when it came.

Even the general, secretly relieved, was punctiliously regretful on the
surface.

"We shall soon see our gentleman back again," he observed in his best
manner, "and I hope we shall often have nice long visits from you both
in time to come, my dear;" addressing his bereaved daughter in accents
of gracious consolation. "For myself I can never see Paul too often.
But, hum--ha, no doubt at present he has done the right thing in
attending to business before pleasure. Has he got any more houses in
view?"

This was a subject on which he would always dilate, and it was discussed
at all points as the meal proceeded. The general was unusually cheerful,
as all remembered afterwards, and it was not till dessert was on the
table that his spirits suddenly flagged. No, he did not want any wine;
he was pettish when it was remarked that his glass was empty. Were they
going to sit on forever? Well, then, why did no one rise? He would lead
the way himself.

"I don't care to stay behind when I have no one to talk to," he pushed
back his chair, but not far enough. "Give me an arm, one of you. Steady
there--you needn't haul me along. Stop, I tell you." It was Leo's arm he
held--she was the nearest to him--and he leaned upon it heavily.

He also breathed heavily. When she tried to draw him forward he
tottered. His daughters looked at one another.

"Let me get you something, father?" said Sue, moving towards the
sideboard;--"a little brandy?"--and with a tremulous hand she poured it
out, and held it to his lips.

At the same time she gently withdrew Leo's arm, substituting her own,
and Leo made no resistance. Their father looked them dazed--but the
brandy momentarily revived him.

"I--suppose I go to bed, eh? I'm tired--that's what's the matter with
me. Isn't that what's the matter with me, Sue? I'm tired--tired,"--his
head sank upon his breast. "Tired--tired!" he muttered.

"Do not lose a moment, Maud;" said Sue, aside.

"Let me go;" said Leo, darting forward.

She was nimbler of foot than Maud--but Maud went also.

"Hey, what? Where are they all off to?" With an effort General Boldero
straightened himself and made a pitiful effort to compose a face already
distorted. "Where--are they going?"--the next minute he fell in a heap
upon the floor.

And by the time Dr. Craig, imperatively summoned, dashed through the
doorway which stood open awaiting him, all need of his presence was at
an end.

"It could not have been averted, my dear Miss Sue;" in moments such as
this the doctor invariably said "Miss Sue". "I have had my eye on
your--your poor father for a while back. I kind of opined he was
breaking. But it must have been a terrible shock for you all;"--and he
shook a sympathetic head to and fro.

"Oh, Dr. Craig!"

"Aye, aye!" He patted her shoulder. "Aye, aye!"

"We were so unprepared."

"Prepared or unprepared, my dear lady, it's all the same when it comes.
And it was a peaceful end--not a long, tormenting illness. Now then, who
have you got to come and look after you all?"

The practical accents smote almost brutally upon her ear, and she lifted
her tear-stained face to his in helpless appeal.

"You must have someone, some man, to look after things. You can't
wrestle with them alone. There's that cousin of yours, the--" it was on
the tip of his tongue to say, "tha heir"; for he was acquainted with all
the Boldero family circumstances--but he caught himself up in time. He
recalled that he had never seen the heir at the Abbey.

"Not for worlds, if you mean our cousin Anthony," said Sue, with a
decision that confirmed his prudence. "He has never--we have never been
on any but the most formal terms with him." (An exchange of venison and
pheasants once a year had indeed been their limit, and the doctor
guessed as much.)

"But he will have to come, my dear lady; and for the sake of
appearances----"

"Not yet. Oh, not yet."

("Aye, it will be a bitter pill to you, poor thing, and to all of you,
to have to bundle out neck and crop," inwardly cogitated the
doctor)--and as he hesitated what further counsel to offer, she made her
own suggestion.

"Paul would come to us, I know. He only left this morning. Oh, how
little we thought when he left--but Maud knows where he is."

"Let him be sent for, then. The telegraph-office will be shut, but I
daresay I could get them to open it if I went myself. Is Major Foster in
London? If he is in the country, we shall have to wait till morning, I
doubt."

Maud however testified that Paul was in London, and the telegram was
sent.

And next day ensued a scene familiar, alas! to many. Scared looks,
noiseless footsteps, muffled whispers--strangeness, dreariness,
everywhere. And there were questions that could not be asked, and
anxious thoughts that must not appear,--and with the future knocking at
the door, the present must be all-in-all.

The present, however, with its multifarious demands, brought the relief
of occupation to every member of the family except Leonore.

She was indeed willing, more than willing to do her part; but the elder
three had been so long habituated to thinking of her as a childish,
inconsequent creature, not yet out of leading strings, that each
severally rejected her overtures, and she could only wander aimlessly
from room to room, and gaze from the windows--from one window in
particular.

"You will catch cold, Leo, if you stand in that draught," said Maud,
passing along the corridor, where a chill current of air made itself
felt. "Go into the library, child; a good fire is wasting itself upon
nobody there."

But Leo did not go into the library. The library was snug and
comfortable--the most comfortable room in the house,--but it commanded
no view. The high trees of the shrubbery shut out the park beyond; and
the short, straight road to the village, the road by which every one was
coming and going now, was also entirely hidden.

When Maud reappeared, the watcher was still at her post,--but as she was
in the act of putting down the open window--(perhaps she had heard an
approaching step?)--remonstrance was not renewed. Instead, Maud came and
looked herself.

"It is very strange of Paul;" she mused aloud.

No word from Paul had yet come, and now we can guess why Leo stood where
she did.

"He mayn't have got the telegram;" she adventured.

"It would have been returned if he had not. Besides, Dr. Craig said it
would be delivered last night, and Paul was not likely to be out at
night."

Still the hours passed, and no answer came.

Nor did any come the next day, and the next.

"You are sure about the address, I suppose?" queried Sue, at last. She
had not liked to make the suggestion before, since Maud, correct to a
degree, was apt to resent any suspicion of carelessness or
inaccuracy,--but the outlook was growing serious. A fresh telegram had
been despatched, and Paul had also been written to,--it was inexplicable
that he should remain silent, unless a mistake had been made somewhere.

"I am quite sure;" replied Maud briefly, and no more was said.

It was the evening of the third day, and darkness was falling outside.
Leo, who had been waiting for this, had stolen outside, permitted, even
urged thereto, by Sue, touched and consoled by what she took for a
reflex of her own grief upon her young sister's face--and she had got
some way from the house, when, in the deepening shadows beyond, she saw
Paul coming.

Her first impulse was as usual to fly, but a second brought her swiftly
to his side. She must see, must hear, must know at once--a maddening
curiosity prevailed over every other feeling.

And it was immediately, if superficially met. He was eager to
explain--while looking back on it she could not see that he had
explained anything. He had received no communication, he had heard no
tidings till the same day at noon, and had started by the first train,
which he had barely had time to catch.

So far all was clear, but the how or the why was left untouched,--and he
was hurriedly asking _her_ to speak, begging for information,
ejaculating expressions of sympathy, and reiterating regrets all the way
back to the house, as if he found it impossible to take in all the sad
details, for she was asked the same questions over and over again.

It was not till Leo was alone that she had a moment wherein to ask
herself--Was she glad--was she sorry--was she relieved or bitterly
disappointed that there was no trace of that mystery secretly conjured
up during the past dreadful days? She had pondered, and fancied--oh, how
cruel she had been, forever dwelling on the possibility that she might
never need to see Paul Foster again;--yet now the joy of it--the pain of
it--the bliss of it--the misery of it,--every throb of her veins was at
once ecstasy and torture.

Paul was here--to be avoided; he must be met--and shunned; his voice
would soothe--and stab; his touch would heal--and burn.

How had she ever borne the blank without him? The dreary vacuum which
nothing could fill? The hopelessness, the emptiness of it all?

He was here, but looking ill--thinner than before--with a drawn, haggard
countenance, and restless eyes. She could not but say to herself that
even a kind heart, suffering for the sufferings of others, hardly
accounted for such manifestations of grief. It was not to be supposed
that General Boldero had during a few weeks' acquaintance so endeared
himself to his future son-in-law that his death, however sudden and
unexpected, was more than a shock. Leonore was tolerably sure that if
her father had not been also Maud's father, he would not even have been
acceptable to Paul as a friend. He could not be; the two were dissimilar
throughout,--even Valentine Purcell, less intelligent than other people,
had discovered as much.

Yet in four days--for it was but four days since the departing traveller
had been gaily ushered forth from the doorstep on which he now stood, he
had changed so visibly that--Where had he been during those four days?
she found herself asking of herself anew.



CHAPTER XV.

"YOU'VE BROKEN MY HEART, I THINK."


The funeral was over, and it was now decent to talk about the marriage.
When and where could the marriage take place?

Boldero Abbey, with all the landed estate, was virtually in other hands
already, and it did not need the opening of the will to announce to the
bereaved family that with the loss of a father there followed that of a
home.

All their lives they had known that this must be so, but the subject was
so grievous that it was hardly ever alluded to, and in a manner was lost
sight of.

For his years General Boldero was a young man; he was hale, hearty, and
selfish. He took good care of his health, and prognosticated for himself
a green old age--anyhow _his_ tenure of the good things of life was
secure; and though unable to alter the law of entail, which permitted no
female heirs in the Boldero line of descent, he foresaw in his mind's
eye all his daughters married and settled, with the exception of Sue,
who had her mother's fortune, and was of course to stick to him to the
last.

Consequently the provision he had made for the rest was slight, and
there was no doubt that the sooner they now quitted the stately mansion
and broke up its large establishment, the better.

But the wedding, Maud's wedding, that was to have been so gay and
splendid, what was to be done about that? The invitations were already
out, and everything in such readiness that even Sue inwardly sighed. If
only it could have been all happily over!

It was terrible to her that an event so momentous should take place
anywhere but in the halls of her forefathers--or to speak more strictly,
in the village church where Eustace Custance officiated. To him had been
confided the great satisfaction afforded by the match; and when
consenting to tie the knot, he had spoken warmly of Paul Foster. Paul
had often sought him out, and had--but he must not say more. The
general, overhearing, had warranted Paul "mulcted ".

To other sources of distress, therefore, it was added in the breast of
poor Sue that Maud must seek her nuptial benediction elsewhere,--since
Mr. Anthony Boldero, through his lawyer, had intimated that he would be
glad to have matters arranged as soon as might be.

To each sister privately Sue had addressed herself on the point of
remaining in the neighbourhood, and each had protested against the idea.
No one of them could endure it.

But they had still a month's grace, and if Maud would consent to be
married very, very privately, with absolutely no one present but their
five selves--"Ridiculous! what are you thinking of?" cried Maud,
angrily.

Her sluggish nature was roused to positive wrath by such an insulting
proposition, but reading reproach in the colour which mounted to her
sister's cheek, she made haste to subjoin:--

"Don't you see how very undignified it would appear to be in such a
frantic hurry to secure a husband? It would almost seem as if I were
afraid of losing Paul! Of course I shall wait till things can be done
properly. I would not show any disrespect--I wonder that you should
suggest it, Sue."

But the speaker was not perhaps as truthful as she might have been. In
communing with herself, she had decided that the next best thing to
being married in state from Boldero Abbey, would be a wedding in a
fashionable London church. She had been a bridesmaid once at such, and
to it her thoughts now reverted favourably. There need be but a short
delay, and she was willing to wait. To wait would be infinitely
preferable to a hole-and-corner business, with no prestige, no
spectators, no one even to see her bridal array and Paul's necklace. Sue
had even hinted at her not wearing the dress: "You could just go down in
your travelling things, and no one need know anything about it till it
was over".

"I should not degrade myself by doing anything of the kind;" said Maud,
throwing up her head.

No, she would not consult Paul, Paul would of course let her decide for
him,--and she did beg that no one would interfere with what after all
was _her_ affair.

Presently it was, "Paul will stay on here with us at present. He has no
real claims upon him elsewhere, for as we are not to be married just
yet, he can postpone making his arrangements. Perhaps we shall now be
able to get a house first."

To this end she ordered down agents' lists, and illustrated magazines;
also Leo came upon her in odd places posing meditatively before various
articles of furniture with a paper and pencil in her hand. Leo guessed
what she was doing.

She took no notice; but she wondered if any one could help noticing
that, whereas Paul when he first appeared on the scene had been eager
and animated over the home he hoped to form, and the life he meant to
lead, he was listless and indifferent now. He assented to everything,
initiated nothing. Sometimes he barely glanced at the attractive domain
whose allurements were so cunningly set forth--sometimes he hung over
the page so long that Leo could not help suspecting it was but a screen
to hide his face.

He had lost altogether his pleasant habit of following each speaker with
his eyes as the talk went round. The eyes would be glued to the floor,
or fixed vacantly on some object. He would start when called to order
for inattention, and thereafter be abjectly attentive.

But whatever Maud said was right, and her wishes were law. She could not
make a suggestion which he was not ready to carry out; when she withdrew
from it herself he as readily withdrew. To Leo, watching from the
background, there was something unnatural, incomprehensible about it
all--something which baffled her closest scrutiny--and yet at times made
her feel as though the scrutiny itself were but foolishness, emanating
from her own disordered imagination.

She would think so for a whole day, and school herself to believe that
it was a happy day--and then something, some trifle, would occur which
made her heart leap and her hands tremble, and she found herself talking
for dear life in a meaningless jumble of words.

She would not, must not, dared not hope that Paul repented of his
choice, unless it might be that repentance were mutual, in which case?

But after a night of fitful sleep and miserable awakenings, Leo would
come down heavy-eyed and feverish, to find a prosaic, business-like
dialogue being carried on by the very individuals who had figured so
differently in the phantasms of the small hours, and her entrance would
hardly be noticed by either, so engrossed were they by each other.

Once indeed she wondered whether Paul were not a trifle too
ostentatiously engrossed? Whether it were the case that he really did
not see her slip into the vacant chair, the only vacant chair at the
table? His head was steadily turned the other way, but her sisters
addressed her and still he perceived, or affected to perceive, no
addition to the party. Was he, could he be afraid of her penetration?
Did he suspect that it went further than was convenient?

Maud was unusually animated that morning. "It really fits in
wonderfully, this plan of Aunt Charlotte's; and I must say I little
expected her to be the one to come to the rescue."

"What is the plan?" inquired Leo aside of Sybil.

"Aunt Charlotte offers us her house for the winter." Sybil also looked
excited and jubilant. "She is going abroad, and says she will leave us
everything as it stands."

"But a house in Eaton Place, and it is one of the larger houses too,"
demurred Sue, "would it not be rather expensive----?"

"Not in the least, seeing that we are to have Aunt Charlotte's servants.
It is really _most_ kind," averred Maud, with the warmest approval; "I
should not think of refusing, not for a moment. And St. Peter's close
by--" with a meaning smile to Paul--"what could be better?"

"Hi, Lion, Lion?" said he, looking under the table.

"You will close with the offer at once, Sue?" proceeded Maud, too much
elated and gratified to observe the lack of response; "don't lose a
post, in case the good lady changes her mind. How soon can we go, do you
think?"

But even the gentle Sue kindled a little beneath a note which jarred on
all, and she looked a mute reproach.

"Well? How soon?" impatiently reiterated her sister.

How soon? To leave for evermore the old familiar scenes, the peaceful
glades--every spot hallowed by memories and associations? To take a last
farewell of the only life she had ever known, to fling it aside like a
worn-out garment? Was it possible that any one, even with a bright new
existence opening before her, could be so eager to turn the page that
all she could say or think of was "How soon?"

It wounded Sue to her heart's core to hear the peremptory tone and meet
the unabashed gaze. She could not speak,--and the next minute she felt
an arm steal round her waist, and a cheek was laid on hers. It was only
Leo, but Sue never said "only Leo" from that moment. She took the little
hand and fondled it; she used it to wipe her own tears away.

"Hi, Lion, Lion?" said Paul, looking under the table again.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Is it settled? Is it decided?" Later on in the day Leo, finding Sybil
by herself, returned to the mooted point.

"About London? Why, of course. When our sovereign lady gives the word of
command, don't you know there is nothing for it but to obey? Sue wrote
by the first post."

"And when are we to go? When?"

"You are as keen as Maud, I declare. Well, _I_ am rather sorry to leave
the old place----"

"When? I only ask, when?"--cried Leo shrilly.

"Do you really not care at all, Leo? I thought at breakfast you and
Sue----"

"What's the use of caring? Will caring alter things? If it would----"
but Leo caught her breath, and her hands gripped each other; "I think
you might answer a plain question without rambling on about other
things;" she subjoined as steadily as she could. "Is the time of our
departure fixed?"

"For this day week, if we can be ready in time. Sue says we can't, but
Maud says we can. Ten to one on Maud."

"This day week!"

"After all, there's nothing more to be done here;" Sybil recovered
herself, for in reality she was like Maud, bitten with the idea of
change; "and it's doleful enough, Heaven knows. Day after day the same
howling wind and rain, and nothing to talk about but Maud's houses. Maud
doesn't care two straws what becomes of the rest of us, as long as she
gets a fine place for herself. She won't even listen if a word's said
about our affairs. Paul is too good for her, I think,"--abruptly.

Leo, who had begun to turn away, stopped short, startled.

"Oh, you don't care for him, I know," ran on Sybil at random; "but you
are the only one of us who doesn't. I often think," she lowered her
voice to caution, "I tell you what, Leo, if Paul had not fluked upon
Maud as he did, and the other Fosters had not puffed her up and prodded
him on, he never would have thought of her. She's not his style at all,
with her grandiose notions, and fondness of big people, and all that.
Just what Paul hates. Did you not see him wince when she made that
remark about Lady St. Emeraud? Maud is awfully obtuse," continued Sybil,
glad of a listener; "she never saw. But you know, Leo, even father used
to laugh at her love of swagger--though she got it from him."

"You never said this before;" muttered Leo, surprised. She had no
inclination to go away now.

"Because Maud and I--of course we have held by each other always, and I
should have gone on holding, if she had. But I am nothing to her now;"
said poor Sybil bitterly. She had a weak, shallow nature, but it was
capable of affection--and Maud's selfish withdrawal of affection, her
complete indifference to all that did not concern her own individual
interests at a time when in the natural course of things the sisters
would have been drawn together by an especially close tie, was felt as
keenly as Sybil could feel anything.

"And you think Paul----?" hesitated Leo.

"It's Paul's own look out. He may make her mend her ways. She thinks a
lot of him, of course."

"Does she--is she--is she in love with him, Syb?"

"In love with him? I suppose so--after a fashion. She's in love with
being married, and having a country house of her own, and a husband to
domineer over. And if he should come in for a title----"

"But that is not _Paul_;" said Leo, in a low voice. She had herself well
in hand, but deep down there were strange emotions at work, stirred by
the above. "Do you mean--I wish you would say what you really
mean?--I--I sometimes wonder myself----," she stopped.

"Oh, you mustn't take all this too seriously, Leo. Don't look at me as
if we were a couple of conspirators. It's no use being cross with Maud
because she is what she is. She hasn't fine feelings--no one ever
thought she had. But Paul has found that out by this time, I dare say;
and when his chance comes he can inoculate her with his. At the worst,
he has enough for both;"--and having thus summed up the situation and
relieved her feelings at the same time, Sybil turned to other matters.

"Yet even _she_ sees," cried Leo, inwardly, "she sees something, though
she does not know, does not guess what it is. And I who do, oh, how
shall I bear it,--how shall I bear it? And this is only the
beginning--they haven't yet actually begun the real thing,--they are
only looking at it, and he----?" She heard Sue's voice calling her, and
thrust aside the "he".

Sue wanted a parcel taken to the cottage of an under-gardener, who was
ill; and thought that both Henry and his wife would appreciate the
attention more if conveyed by one of themselves, than by a servant.
Would Leo go?

"And ask if Dr. Craig has been, and what he says?" further directed Miss
Boldero with a little sigh. She was thinking that perhaps this was the
last she would ever have to do with either doctor or patient, and Sue
had loved much the gentle routine of her daily life, with its easy
benefactions and ministrations,--and now all her world, all the world
of which she knew anything, lay in ruins around her.

"I'll go," said Leo, taking the parcel.

She was ready to go anywhere, and Henry's cottage was only a short way
off, one of a cluster at the edge of the lower garden,--so that even if
the rain which threatened did come on, she could find shelter--and on
this occasion safe shelter. Paul had gone for a ride, and his rides were
long; Maud explained that the exercise was good for him.

But though thus secure, there was another danger to which no thought had
been given, and Leo, whose path at this time seemed beset with pitfalls,
on emerging from one cottage room, found herself face to face with a
visitor issuing from the other. Dr. Craig had not been able to come
himself, but had sent his assistant.

The doctor had paused to rub his chin before doing so, but the summons
which stayed his own steps was imperative, and it was a hundred chances
to one against Tommy's meeting anybody. The Boldero ladies had been very
little about of late, and one of them had already visited the sick man
that day. He took the risk.

But he would not have taken it if he had guessed how great the risk was;
nor perhaps would young Andrews have gone, had he fore-seen the effect
upon himself of that beautiful, mournful, childish face, whose
expression?--A cry escaped him. A mad interpretation of it possessed
him. His promise? He threw his promise to the winds. No man could keep a
promise when confronted with--even to himself he did not say with
what,--but before Leonore could escape, or prevent it, the pent-up
torrent was loosed.

At first she was petrified,--then flared up. What was the meaning of
this? What was she to think? Was Mr. Andrews beside himself? Did he know
what he was saying?

Still he poured forth, deaf and blind. Oh, how he had longed for this
moment!--the thought of it, the hope of it, had kept him alive through
all the wretched, wretched months of separation,--and she, how had she
endured--?

"I can endure no more," cried Leonore, with almost a scream. "Be
quiet--be quiet--they will hear you,--don't you know that they will hear
you?"

"What if they do?" He was past that. "You are here. We are together.
That is enough." He seized her hand, but she fought and struggled, and
eventually wrenched herself free. "You--you _dare_?" she panted.

"Oh, I dare--now. I dare anything now."

"You dare to forget who you are? And who I am?"

"Yes, even that. It is nothing when we love each other"--and again he
laid hold of her.

"Let me go--let me go."

"But----?"

"If you have not altogether lost your senses, Mr. Andrews, you will
leave me this moment--this moment;" she stamped her foot,--"and never,
never cross my path again."

"But, Leonore--?"

"Leonore? Oh, this is too insulting--" a burst of tears. "What have I
done to be thus degraded?--" and she shook the hand torn from his grasp
as though it had been poisoned.

"What have you done? You do not understand----"

"I understand enough--too much." With an effort she changed her tone to
one of infinite disdain. "You are under some strange hallucination, Mr.
Andrews, which alone can account for this extraordinary, intolerable
behaviour. If my father had been alive--but I am still his daughter, and
you, what are _you_?"

The words in themselves might still have failed to arrest him, but the
look, the gesture, the withering emphasis on the "_you_?"--he stood
still, and after a moment, staggered a step across the pathway like a
drunken man.

"If you confess it was all a delusion," resumed Leonore, in slightly
modified accents, for she was now only eager to put an end to the scene,
and a twinge of pity made itself felt, "if you allow that you have
utterly misinterpreted a little ordinary civility--well, perhaps it was
more than civility, call it kindness if you will--I will try to
forget,--but you also must forget, and never breath a word of this
again."

"But--but----" he faltered. Then staggered afresh, unrestrainedly, it
might almost have been thought ostentatiously. It was not a pretty
spectacle.

"For Heaven's sake, pull yourself together," cried Leonore, with a sense
of repulsion. "Be ashamed of this. Own that you are ashamed of it. Own
that I never gave you cause to think--that you have been dreaming----"

"Hush. I am awake now," said the young man, slowly. And he turned his
burning eyes upon her till she shrank, but this time neither from fear
nor loathing; it was a new sensation which made itself disagreeably
felt. Was she indeed as innocent as she said? Was there not a faint
horrible suspicion of bluster in her fury of contempt and repudiation?
She was silent, struggling with herself.

"You have broken my heart, I think," said Tommy, in the same slow, dull
tone. "You have done what I was told you would do. You have played with
me, as others of your kind have played with others of mine. God forgive
you for your cruelty, but I--I am awake now,----" and again he muttered
to himself like a man in a dream.

"Mr. Andrews, can you say?--stop, I suppose you can. Wait a moment; let
me speak. I was lonely, unhappy, absorbed in myself and the empty
weariness of my life when--when I met you. I read in your face that
you--well, say it was my fault, say it was," suddenly impetuous--"at
most it was but a passing folly, and it was over almost before it had
begun. If it is any satisfaction to you now, I will say that I
am--sorry. I can do no more."

"No, you can do no more. It is much for a great lady to go so far. It is
the usual thing, I suppose;--" and again his mentor's words, "She was
sorry, _so_ sorry," echoed in the speaker's ears--"and the--the episode
is at an end. Again I say God forgive you, Mrs. Stubbs, for I never
can."

He was gone, and she rushed homewards, stumbling over every pebble in
her path.



CHAPTER XVI.

TEMPTATION.


"Is anything the matter with Leo?" said Maud, the next day. "She is in
such an odd mood; and she has scarcely left her room since morning."

"She feels the going away, I think," replied Sybil, not ill-pleased to
say it, for she was smarting beneath a fresh instance of her other
sister's callousness. "We had a talk yesterday, and I saw she was taking
it dreadfully to heart."

"Rather absurd of Leo. She was ready enough to go once; and she can't be
as much attached to the place as we are, who have never been away from
it;" and Maud looked aggrieved, as people do when others are accredited
with finer feelings than they themselves can boast of. "Paul is low
to-day, too, but I believe it is lumbago. I only hope it is, and not
another attack of fever coming on."

"That would be very inconvenient, certainly," rejoined Sybil, gravely.
It struck her that there was not much sympathy for the sufferer in
either case. "What makes you think it is lumbago?"

"He has been sitting over the fire for hours, doing nothing. When I
asked him to come and look at these plans, he said another time would
do. And you know how he is always ready to look at plans, or do anything
I wish."

"He didn't say he was unwell?"

"No, I only supposed so."

She passed on, and at the same moment Leonore appeared.

"There you are!" cried Sybil gaily. "Come along, and be sociable. You
have been a most unsociable little creature all day. Now then, aren't
you coming?"

But Leo was not coming. Obviously she was disconcerted at sight of her
sister, and shook her head as though vexed at being accosted.

"Nonsense! Don't go hiding yourself again," resumed Sybil. "What's the
use of moping? And it doesn't make it any pleasanter for the rest of us
that Paul is in the dumps in one room, and you in another. We are none
too cheerful without that."

"Where is Paul?"

"In the library. Over the fire. So Maud says, and declares he has
lumbago. I don't believe it. He simply doesn't want to be bothered with
her and her eternal 'plans'."

"You are sure he is there?"

"Go and look for yourself if you doubt Maud's word. Why? Do you want
him?"

But Leo threw her a strange look, a look of such bitter, ironical
meaning, that she appended hastily; "You are not such a little fool as
to be worrying yourself over those two and their affairs? Maud won't
thank you if you do. She is rather put out as it is, because I hinted
that you took to heart our going more than she did. I didn't _say_ so,
you know--but I should, if she had gone on much longer. However, she
went off to Paul."

"And Paul is safe, in there?"

"Paul is safe--in there. Let sleeping dogs lie. Well? Oh, Leo, you
really are too bad,--" for Leo had turned at the words, and was
remounting the staircase.

"One can't say a word to her that she doesn't vanish on the instant,"
muttered Sybil; "how I do dislike that way she has got into! And when
Maud goes, of course I shall have to take up with Leo. Hullo! Sue?"

"I was looking for Leo," said Sue.

"Did you look in the only place you were likely to find her? She has
hardly been out of her room all day."

"Has she not been out-of-doors at all? Poor child!"

"I tried to get her to come for a walk this morning, but she wouldn't."

"She seems----" said Sue, and stopped short.

"Yes, we all know what she seems, and is: in an uncommonly bad temper,
for some reason or other. There is nothing for it but to let her alone."

"I am rather anxious about her somehow, Syb."

"And now we shall have you in the blues too! For sheer pity bear up, and
don't let me be the only one--and I suppose I have feelings too. It
really is disgusting, every one giving way but me."

"I think I _must_ go and see what Leo is doing?"

"I think you _must_ do nothing of the kind. You will make nothing of
her. I've tried. She was here just now."

"And did you not notice anything? It is not only her face; but her
voice, her manner----"

"I told her she looked woebegone, and that it was no good. She frets
about things that are no business of hers, if you must know," owned
Sybil, reluctantly. "She has taken it into her head that Maud--that she
and Paul aren't suited to each other, and has let the idea run away
with her. I suppose I was stupid myself, not to put a veto upon it
flat,--but the truth is I do think they are an ill-assorted couple, and
can't make out how they ever came to take to each other."

"I once thought it was something else on Leo's part," said Sue, in
rather a low voice. "If it is only that, I think, I hope, we are all
mistaken."

"We?" cried Sybil, struck by the word.

"Because I think as you do," said Sue, quietly.

       *       *       *       *       *

The short light of a November day was beginning to fade when Leonore,
after a minute's cautious listening and watching from above, stole
downstairs equipped to go out, and safely reached the garden-door
without encountering any one. She was in the act of unlocking it, when
Paul appeared.

"You are going out?" said he, mechanically.

"No, I am not," said she--and passed out before his eyes.

For a few minutes she ran aimlessly hither and thither, crossing and
recrossing her steps, while from time to time casting furtive glances at
the windows of the house, as though to see if she were being watched or
not--but satisfied apparently upon this point, she made a sudden dart
for the woods beyond, and was almost immediately lost to view.

Yet here again she hesitated, for the paths were numerous.

There was the one she had first trodden on her return to the Abbey three
years before. She recalled the beauty, the wild freshness of that
twilight hour. It had so exhilarated her that while desirous of walking
soberly as befitted the occasion, she had longed to run! Her first very
real but transient sorrow had worn off, and there was no one to see
her--yet something restrained her. It was not kind to Godfrey's memory;
he had been so good to her, so uniformly affectionate and indulgent
towards her, that she would not seem to slight him even in solitude. As
for the dancing blood in her veins, she told herself it was purely
physical. She was so well and strong that she could not help feeling
just a little happy.

And though she had often traversed the same narrow little winding path
since, she had never perhaps felt quite the same again.

On the other hand, there lay the short cut to Claymount--that was Val's
way. She would not take Val's way, although of late Val had ceased to
frequent it. He had no object in doing so, since Leonore was never to be
met with now.

Once or twice he had adverted to this, but she had replied evasively.
Val did not interest her, did not amuse her any longer. He grew tiresome
since he had taken to making remarks upon her altered appearance, and
putting direct, awkward questions.

Things might have been worse, of course; but on the whole she would even
have preferred an open rupture and well-founded resentment, to this
persistent determination to know how things were with her,--and others?

Val had no liking for Paul Foster now, though at first he had professed
such. He had no reason to give, and an obstinate look would come over
his face if pressed. Once he had murmured something of which Leo only
caught the words, "jolly deceitful,"--and the next minute he denied
having spoken them.

To herself Leo owned that she had not behaved well to poor Val, having
made use of him for selfish ends; but the experiment had harmed neither,
and no remorse need be wasted upon it.

With George Butts it was the same; he was fair game, having come in
search of her supposititious fortune, without even the excuse of an
honest, jog-trot fidelity such as Val's. She had been scolded on
George's account, but had not scolded herself, and had archly and
triumphantly pointed out the recusant to Sue in a sly corner of a
London balcony.

But young Andrews? Ah, _that_ stung. The home truths forced from those
quivering lips, the agony of those imploring eyes--she quailed before
them. They pierced her already shame-embittered soul, they were her
dying wounds. For she had made another suffer what she herself was
suffering, and had done it wantonly. There was no excuse for her,--none.
There should be no pity, no sorrow--if it were possible, no knowledge
when--when all was over.

She crashed into the undergrowth.

But she could not go far; the mould was too soft, and the rotting leaves
too thick and plentiful. She was forced to retrace her steps.

There was the dry track of a streamlet, along which a faint trickle
oozed to the surface here and there. She tried it, but the sharp stones
hurt her feet, and again she sprang into the path.

Then the sprawling arms of a bramble caught and ripped a bad tear in her
skirt. Her new, black skirt--and just where a darn would show! How
tiresome--how vexatious! And Bessie could not darn decently. She frowned
and examined, condemning already Bessie's incapable hand, and slipshod
work.

Till--remembrance came, and the torn edge flapped unheeded.

From below, where a frequented road came near at the point, there broke
upon her ear sounds and voices,--children returning late from school,
lingering and playing by the way--laughing and singing over their game.
She crouched till they were past--then hurried forward.

At length she came to an opening in the woods; a spot whose view of the
surrounding country often attracted her thither--and from habit she
paused and gazed.

It was such an afternoon as she loved; a red sky, a misty landscape, the
near trees still ablaze with autumn tints. In the distance a flying
train threaded its way whistling; the white steam appearing and
disappearing behind wooded heights and promontories.

How often had she stood thus; how familiar was the scene!--but she could
not linger now.

There was something she was searching for which she did not find. She
had only seen it once, and then by chance,--in the present confused
whirl of her brain she could not remember landmarks, nor identify
localities.

But it was there, somewhere,--and she must look, look till she found
it.

A branch snapped behind, and she spun round, terrified. Who--what was
that?

The woods were almost silent, birds had ceased to sing, and rabbits were
in their holes. After a minute's breathless suspense, she crept on a
pace or two, and listened again,--but there was not a rustle, not a
sound. She fled onwards.

A pile of logs and a rough saw-pit,--yes, yes,--she knew the saw-pit,
she had passed the saw-pit that other day, and Val and she had sat upon
the logs. Val had kicked about the splinters at his feet, and formed
them into heaps. And it was close, close by, that--oh, it was so close
that she shivered and trembled, and clung to the edge of the pit as a
support, and at last sank upon her knees.

But she was not praying--she was not even thinking;--there was nothing
more to think about,--she rose and crept down the slope, to where lay a
deep, black pool.

And out of the pool crawled a toad. Its head came first; the ugly, flat
head that, but for its movement, might have been mistaken for a lump of
slime,--then one long-jointed, sluggish leg, and then the other,
followed by a sudden leap, and a leap, ah! the loathsome thing!--in her
direction. Involuntarily she also leaped--backwards.

Not there--not just there; she shuddered as the reptile startled in its
turn, turned and plunged again into the water, where, no doubt, were
others of its kind, many and vile....

The stem of a bulrush shook, suggestive of hideous gambols at its
roots....

The whole place looked so foul and evil that a wild desire to flee from
it did actually, and as it were involuntarily, drag Leonore's nerveless
feet a few yards from the edge--but there she halted, muttering to
herself in broken, meaningless utterances. She thought she was goading
herself back--back--back;--and she began to go back.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Caught you up at last, Leo. What a walker you are! I followed you out,
and guessed I should overtake you if I held on," continued the cheerful
voice, as Paul tumbled down the bank, slipping and sliding, and
steadying himself with his stick till he reached Leo's side. "A bit damp
here though, isn't it?"

"Go away--go away, Paul." She tried to push him aside, he was between
her and the pool.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to intrude; but, I say this is just the sort of
thing to be very pleasant at the time, but----"

"Go--go!"

"But it will find out the weak spot afterwards, and then the aches and
pains!"

"_I_ shall have no aches and pains, and you--you needn't stay. I don't
want you, I won't have you;" cried Leo, wildly. "Why did you come? Why
did you follow me? Who gave you leave to spy upon me?"

"I took my own leave," said Paul, and dropped his cheery note, fixing
his eyes steadily on hers. "You will come away--from here--with
me;"--and she felt his hand close upon her arm.

She looked at it, and at him stupidly. She made no outcry.

"Come," repeated Paul.

She shook her head.

"You are going to come. That was what brought me here. Do you understand
me, Leo?"

"No--no." She made a faint, weak effort to release herself.

"You must obey me."

"I shall not."

"You must obey a Higher Power than mine. In God's name I command you to
leave this baleful spot."

"Paul!" But she obeyed, cowering.

In silence they moved on, neither knowing which way they trod, then
suddenly: "It was you who broke that branch I heard--you who tracked me
all the way--I heard something--it was _you_ I heard? How could
you?--how could you?--?" cried Leo, sobbing aloud. "Oh, to think that it
was _you_!"

"It was I, dear Leo, sent to save you in your hour of need. You are
ill--you are not yourself--you know not what you are doing;--but there
is One who watches over His children, and in the hour of danger and
temptation----"

"But why did he send _you_? Paul, do you believe you were really sent by
Him?" she was awed, but scarcely subdued--"because _I_ don't. I cannot
think even God would be so cruel as to choose _you_----" she broke off
panting.

"He chooses His own instruments, Leo. Do not let this distress you, dear
little sister--I may call you 'sister,' mayn't I?--You can trust me, can
you not? Lean on me," he drew her hand within his arm, "and tell me you
forgive----"

"Forgive--forgive?" she sobbed afresh. "Is it I to forgive--I who have
done it all? Paul, don't you _know_? Don't you _see_?"

"I only see a poor little lamb that has lost its fold."

"But the little lamb has been straying in other folds, and it was so
dark there, Paul--so dark and cold,--oh, Paul, why did you stop me?
Why--why did you save me? You know. _You know_;"--her sobs were
heartrending.

He was silent.

"You were happy till you came here," said Leo, brokenly. "You loved
Maud--at least you thought you did, and she, she still thinks she loves
you. She----"

"Hush--no more. You must not say such things, Leo." He was calm no
longer; the sweat broke out upon his brow.

"But it is the truth. Oh, it is--it is the truth."

"There are truths that must not be spoken. You must not, you shall not
say what you would repent of all your life."

"Who is to speak if I do not? I am the only one----"

"Am I fallen so low that I would let _you_ proclaim the secrets of my
coward heart? If _my_ lips are sealed, so shall _yours_ be," he cried,
in great agitation. "If I have made a terrible mistake, it is my own
mistake, and I shall abide by it."

"Paul--Paul,--" she clung more closely to him. "Say you forgive me,
Paul."

"There is nothing to forgive. Take care. You nearly fell, Leo. Try to
look where you are going in this dim light." The accents of forced
composure fell like cold lead upon her heart. She had touched him for a
moment, and a nerve had vibrated to her touch--but he was slipping from
her again. He continued:--

"Since your penetration has discovered----"

"Say since I found out the truth, Paul."

"That, if you will." He bent his head. "I cannot, I dare not deny it. It
_is_ the truth, God help me--God help us both."

"You and me?" she whispered, faintly.

"Maud and me. I have done her a great wrong, but it shall be the aim of
my life to repair it. She shall find me a true and faithful husband----"

"You won't--you can't marry her?"

"What?" said Paul, stopping short.

"You do not love her."

"I loved her once--I shall learn to love her again."

"You will be wretched, miserable--and so will she, now that you know the
truth. I would have spared you. I meant to give my life to spare
you--oh, Paul, you know I did," she wept passionately--"but now, now
when you yourself would not let me do it----"

"Leo?"

She wept on.

"Try to hear me. Try to understand me. Leo, there is a greater thing
than Love."

"No, no, there is not--there is not."

"There is." He drew a breath, a long, deep breath. "There is Honour."

She was silent. The tears hung on her cheeks.

"I have lost all besides," said he, simply, "but I have kept that, and
will keep it." He paused, and continued: "If Maud were different, other
things might also be different, but you know your sister; to break faith
with her would be--she could not endure it. I have taught her to believe
that I am wholly hers, and she has never seen nor guessed that--that a
change has come. And however acutely Maud would feel that, if she
knew--which, so help me God, she never shall--she would be infinitely
more distressed, more humiliated--her pride--her self-respect--no, it is
not to be thought of." He was now walking on alone, and so fast that she
could scarcely keep pace with him. She could catch only broken
utterances--some perhaps not meant for her. It appeared as though he had
forgotten her presence.

"Love? Honour?

    "Love lost, much lost.
    Honour lost, all lost."

Honour is not lost--not yet. Happiness? That's nothing. Life is short,
and there's another life to look to. A coward turns his back on the
fight. A deserter falls out of the ranks. The strong should hold up the
weak"--suddenly he looked round for her--"Leo?"

Leo meekly raised her eyes, overmastered, dumb. It was the hardest
moment of Paul's life. One look, one word between them, and she would
have been dragged down into the whirlpool from which it was his part to
save her. A great convulsion shook his frame, and he set his teeth and
swore, then drew her gently to his side.

"My little sister must forget all this. It is a bad dream and it is over
and past. She must promise me----"

"What--Paul?"

"She must promise me--solemnly--before God, in Whose Presence we
are"--he looked up, the sky was clear and shining overhead--"that she
will never--mark me, Leo, _never_--as long as life lasts, allow herself
to think of cutting it short again. Before God, Leo!"

He lifted her hand, still fast in his, as though invoking the Unseen
Presence, and almost inaudibly she repeated after him the words of the
promise.

"We must hasten home now," said Paul, with a rapid transition to another
tone. "The short cut from Claymount is somewhere hereabouts," looking
round--"and we shall get back," he took out his watch, "before the house
is shut up, if we walk briskly. You can walk, can't you? I mean, of
course you will have to walk, but can you step out? If you would care to
have an arm----"

"I can walk quite well, thank you--but, oh, Paul, just this--mayn't I
say it----?"

"Better not, dear." The word slipped out; he was unconscious of it, but
she heard. They hurried home.



CHAPTER XVII.

A KNIGHT TO THE RESCUE.


"No, you don't--and don't you think it."

Somebody, and that a formidable personage, had been a witness of the
scene just narrated.

We would not for a moment call poor Val Purcell an eavesdropper _au
naturel_, but he certainly had a talent for picking up by the wayside
things which did not exactly belong to him.

Val, as we know, was not quite like other people.

It was only now and then that he showed this; in the ordinary give and
take of society he passed muster well enough, and no one would more
readily have spurned the notion of doing what others did not do--that
being the poor boy's code of conduct,--yet he is not to be hardly judged
if occasionally it failed him at a pinch. Wherefore if when passing
through the Abbey woods on the afternoon in question, he heard voices
and crept near to peep and listen, let it be believed that the feeling
which arrested his footsteps was in its way innocent. His curiosity was
roused, and he had a hearty sympathy with sylvan lovers; so if Jack and
Jill were courting, there was no reason why he should not see which Jack
and Jill it was? He would not tell tales, not he.

But when, instead of the expected rustic figures, his starting eyes
beheld Paul Foster and--not Paul's betrothed--not the girl with whom
alone he had a right to wander in that dim solitude at that mystic
hour--but Leonore, Leonore who was nothing, or should have been nothing
to her sister's lover, curiosity gave place to another feeling.

So how? He would spy if he chose.

He would jolly well discover what the devil those two were about? They
were up to no good hiding away by themselves in the woods, and,
damnation! holding each other's hands.

That beast Paul--he had always thought him a beast--no, he hadn't, but
he did now--so he was playing a double game, was he? Engaged to Maud,
and flirting with Leo under the rose?

Leo could flirt, of course; she had made a fool of himself once,--but he
had got it into his head that she rather disliked Paul;--she had never
cracked him up as the rest did,--oh, she was a cunning, crafty little
jade, and he would put a spoke in her wheel, be hanged if he didn't!

The undergrowth was so thick at the point to which Paul had half led,
half dragged his trembling companion at this juncture, that it was easy
for a third person to draw very near unperceived,--and though much that
now passed was unintelligible to one not possessed of the key of the
mystery, Val heard enough.

He did not indeed hear any love-making,--but instinct guided him
straight to the mark which another by reasoning might have failed to
reach. He was as fully convinced that Maud had been supplanted as if he
had heard the fact avowed a hundred times; and though he stole off,
afraid to linger, before Paul's final adjuration which might have
puzzled and mystified him, he had got as much as his brain could carry,
and got it in very good order.

The next day he presented himself at Boldero Abbey. His plan of
campaign, conned over and over with ever-increasing wrath and valour,
was not confided to gran. Gran had never liked Maud, and in old days he
would often affect a hopeless passion for the latter for the sake of
getting amusement out of the old lady. Then an argument would ensue, and
he very nearly felt the passion. He could not see that one Boldero was
not as good as another; and as he could not be bluntly told that Leonore
had money while her sister had not, he held to it that gran was
prejudiced to the point of injustice. Accordingly he kept his own
counsel now, and plumed himself thereon mightily.

And Fortune favoured him; for though all the ladies were at home, the
one he sought was by herself in the drawing-room, when he was ushered
in.

"I say, it's you I want," said Val, immediately. "Look here, Maud, I
want to see you alone, and without any one's knowing. Where are the
others?"

"Sue and Sybil are out----"

"But I was told they were in!"

"That's Grier's laziness. He has grown intolerably lazy of late. As he
is under notice to go, he won't put himself out of his way for any one
of us, and says 'At Home' or 'Not at Home,' just as it suits him,
without taking the trouble of finding out."

"Where are they gone?" demanded Val, as usual diverted from his course
by any chance observation. Despite the purpose with which he was big, he
could not help feeling inquisitive as to which house in the
neighbourhood was being honoured.

"Only to the rectory," said Maud, indifferently; "but they are there,
and there they will stay for ages. It is a sort of farewell visit. What
do you want to see me about?"

"Stop a bit. There's Leo. Is she--where is she?"

"In bed. She caught a chill yesterday going out in the damp."

"You are sure she is not out in the damp again, to-day?" said Val,
significantly, and gave his companion what he considered a meaning look.
"Hey? Are you sure of that, Maud?"

"As I was with her five minutes ago, I think I may be," retorted Maud,
and convinced by this preamble that Leo, not herself, was the real
object of the visit, she was less gracious than before. "I thought you
said it was me you wanted?"--she threw out, however.

"So it is. I don't want Leo--not a bit. I don't want her ever again,
that's more. You'd say the same if you'd seen what I saw. Give me time,
and I'll tell you all about it. That's what I came for."

"Really, Val, I--it's not the thing, you know, to come to one of us with
complaints of the other. If you have any fault to find with Leo, you
must say so to herself."

"You wait till you hear. You won't be so keen for me to go to Leo----"

"But I really can't," said Maud, rising. Her pride revolted at the idea
of being the confidant of some silly quarrel, which did not concern her
in the slightest. "I don't know anything about it, and I don't want to
know. Do talk of other things."

"What? When I came here on purpose----?"

"Hush,--you needn't be excited. Of course if you are determined to
speak, you had better speak and be done with it; but I warn you I shan't
take your part, or any one's part----"

"As long as you don't take Paul's part," cried he, with a flash of
inspiration, "the rest doesn't matter."

"Paul's part?" For very amazement Maud fell into her chair again, and
stared at the speaker as though he had struck her a blow. "What--what
did you say? Did you say 'Paul's part'?"

"Yes, I did--I did say just that. I told you you'd jolly well better
hear me out instead of being so infernally supercilious. Oh, I say, I'm
sorry I said that, Maud; I'm--I'm sorry for you altogether."

"You speak in enigmas, Val,"--but her laugh was a little forced; his
earnestness and persistency told; and then there was "Paul's part"?

"He is--but look here, you needn't mind what he is. Don't you take it to
heart----"

"I know what Paul is, thank you," haughtily.

"That's just what you don't----"

"Excuse me, Val----"

"Excuse me, Maud----"

"You are impertinent now, I shall listen no longer."

"Listen no longer? You haven't even _begun_ to listen. Confound it, you
shouldn't treat a fellow like this, when a fellow is doing all he can
for you, and feels for you as--as I do. You know I've always been fond
of you, Maud," softening, "and I've come to say that if you'll marry me
instead----"

"Have you gone crazy, Val?" But vanity whispered a flattering solution
of the problem, and his ear detected an opening. To the same suggestion
Leo had cried "Nonsense!" and although affronted at first, he had
ultimately accepted the "Nonsense!" with philosophy,--but he had weapons
in reserve now, and would soon show that he was not "crazy". No, damn
it, he was not "crazy". The idea!

With the rush of a torrent he told his tale.

"And you saw this--and you heard this?" said Maud, at last. "You did not
dream it? You--you are sure you did not dream it?"

"I'll take my solemn Davy I saw it all, and heard it all. Leo is a
little cat; and as for Paul, to think that he should dare--but I say,
Maud, you will checkmate him, won't you?"

"Hush;" she waved him back, for he had pressed forward. "Let me
think--let me think. If this is true--but it isn't, it can't be
true,--" and she pressed her hands upon her forehead. A thousand
trifles, insignificant in themselves, which had secretly perplexed and
chafed her spirit of late, rushed back upon her memory. Paul had lost
the air of a happy lover. He had become moody, silent, solitary in
his habits. He had, it is true, obeyed to the strictest extent the
dictates of custom, but there were moments which in the retrospect
maddeningly bore out Val's accusation. He had played--he was still
playing her false? She was, or would be, a laughing-stock? She quailed
and faltered.

"Take me," urged Val. "It's not--not only for your own sake, though of
course that's what I'm thinking of most, but----"

"I must know first. I must make sure of the truth first."

"If you do, you'll give the show away. You ought never to let out that
you know anything, and throw him over before he throws you. Then--there
you are!"

"You mean that I must not unveil Paul's treachery? That he is to go
unpunished?"

"You can't cut off your nose to spite your face, you know. Once you have
a row with Paul the fat is in the fire, and it will be all over the
place that he's jilted you."

"And for my own sister;" said she, bitterly.

She longed to rush to Leo, to Paul, to both severally or together, and
denounce them. She could scarce restrain herself from proclaiming her
wrongs upon the housetops, but--she paused and looked thoughtfully at
Val. There was no doubt about Val's integrity. Up to his lights he was
universally accounted "straight," and she need never fear being tricked
and cheated a second time. He had acted well by her at this crisis, and
to reward him? The idea grew in favour.

On the other hand, how terrible would be her position if she
refused--and Position was a god she worshipped. She would be talked
about, pointed at, and worst of all, pitied. Her ignominy--she could not
face it.

"I say, Maud, you know I am fond of you?"

Yes, poor boy, he was fond of her; she had always felt complacently
secure of his fondness, though occasionally nettled of late by
misgivings as to his having transferred his first allegiance elsewhere.
Leo had been bidden to Claymount oftener than she; and gran had made
much of the younger sister, whereas she had always been cool and
distant to the elder.

Maud, in her slow way, had resented this, and given herself considerable
airs towards the old lady after her engagement. To triumph over
her--over everybody--vindicate her own charms, and prove to the world
the unswerving devotion of her old admirer would be something, would at
any rate be better than nothing.

She sighed gently, and emboldened, he pressed his suit. A long interview
closed with this decision. If satisfied as to the truth of his
statements--but satisfied she must be--she would send for him next day,
and--and do whatever he asked her.

"That's right, that's all I want;" his face shone with satisfaction. "Of
course you wouldn't have wanted me if you had had Paul--not that Paul is
any shakes now, (and whatever he is, he's not for you," in parenthesis,)
"and--and I'm your man. I'll see you through, Maud; trust me."

"You will make all the arrangements?--that is, if I send for you?"

"Won't I? I had the whole thing in my head when I came here, and I'll
work it out again going home. I'm a bit flustered just now, but you'll
see if I don't do the square thing. We'll be off by the first train for
London town and a registry office--but don't I just wish it was Gretna
Green, and a gallop through the night! I have often thought what a jolly
skidaddle one might have behind four horses to Gretna Green."

"Go, now;" said Maud, authoritatively. "But if I send word to come,
Come."

And the message went, "Come".

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Anthony Boldero and Mr. John Purcell were putting their heads
together in the window of a Pall Mall club. The two gentlemen had a
subject in common to discuss; and as old acquaintances, who had recently
become new neighbours, they had a great deal to say and said it freely.

"A most disgraceful business;" the one bald head wagged, and the other
responded. "'Pon my soul," asserted Mr. Purcell, vivaciously, "it is no
wonder it killed the old lady. She might have hung on long enough, but
for that. Although she was seventy-seven. Seventy-seven. A ripe age,
Boldero."

He was only a little over sixty himself, and had often wondered how long
his step-mother was going to keep him out of the property? It had for
years been a secret grievance that a second wife should have had its
tenancy for life, and made her descendant, a poor creature like Val,
its master in appearance if not in fact. He could not therefore affect
to be inconsolable.

Was it possible that the "disgraceful business" had had anything to do
with General Boldero's demise?--he queried next. Could he have known, or
suspected anything?

Mr. Anthony Boldero thought not. The general had been as cock-a-hoop as
possible over his daughter's engagement; as insufferably patronising and
condescending as over the first affair.

"And _it_ turned out a fiasco, of course," observed his friend. "While
he lived, Boldero contrived to keep going his own version, I'm told; and
they sealed up the girl as tight as wax to prevent her telling
tales--but every one knows now. So you think he was crowing over Maud's
marriage too? Well, well, what would he have said to this?"

They then talked of Major Foster. Major Foster had behaved like a
gentleman, taken himself quietly out of the way, and made no fuss. Mr.
Anthony Boldero thought he was probably well out of the connection; the
Boldero girls were too big for their boots, and Maud was the worst of
them. All the same, no man likes to be jilted.

"Is it the case that your nephew has had nothing left him by his
grandmother?--" he suddenly demanded, having disposed of Paul.

"He's not my full nephew, you know; he's only my half-brother's son.
And, fact is, the old lady had nothing, or next to nothing to leave. Her
money was all jointure, and reverts to the estate."

"And you have come in for Claymount free and unencumbered, as I have for
the Boldero property? Ah!" said his companion, thoughtfully.

Presently he looked up. "Suppose between us we do something for those
two lunatics, Purcell? We can't let them starve, eh? Suppose we make a
bit of a purse, and ship them off to the colonies? British Columbia, eh?
That's the only place for them and their sort; and if they can be put on
a decent footing there, they won't be in a hurry to come back again. Eh?
What d'ye say? I'm willing, if you are. I have no great affection for
these relatives of mine, but after all, they _are_ relatives, and blood
is thicker than water."

"Well--yes;" said Mr. Purcell, dubiously. He had been mentally putting
off this evil day, uneasily conscious that it was bound to come.

"The general was the worst of the lot," proceeded his companion; "the
most arrogant, conceited, humbugging, old swelled-head I ever came
across. But he's gone, and the poor girls--well, I'm sorry for them. Sue
is a good creature. I hardly know the younger ones,--but none of them
have given me any trouble since I had to deal with them. Except for this
scandal of Maud's of course--and anyhow that doesn't affect _me_. Well,
what about her and her precious husband? You are bound to do something
for him, I suppose?"

And it ended in Mr. Purcell's doing it.

Before Maud sailed, it was necessary for her to take leave of her
sisters, and this was Leonore's worst time. Till then she had been
shielded from the outer world by the illness which was impending when
Maud described it as a chill contracted by going out in the damp, and
the event which followed was generally accredited with developing the
chill into something more serious,--but although Sue was obliged to ask
a month's grace from Mr. Anthony Boldero, in order that her sister might
be sufficiently recovered to run no risk from moving--(a request which
he had sufficient goodness of heart to ignore when alleging that he had
had no trouble about family arrangements)--Leo was now well enough to
have no excuse for evading a farewell scene.

In respect to Maud she knew not what to think. Had any hint or rumour of
the truth ever reached her, or could it have been mere coincidence that
caused her flight to follow Paul's confession almost on the instant?

Had Paul's vaunted inflexibility broken down? Had he reconsidered his
resolution?

Yet, if so, this must have become known; it was impossible that it
should have been kept secret; and he, not Maud would have been accounted
guilty.

"Where is Paul? What is Paul doing?" The faint bleat of a weak and
wounded creature came incessantly from Leonore's pillow, all through the
first long day that followed the _esclandre_. They hid it from her that
Paul had gone.

Sue and Sybil would fain have kept him, yearning to breathe forth
contrition and sympathy every hour, every moment--but he could not be
prevailed upon. They thought he was too deeply hurt, too cruelly
affronted,--and they thought they would not tell Leo.

It was all so inexplicable that even the very servants who know us,
their masters and mistresses, better than we know each other, could draw
no conclusions, and the prevailing amazement downstairs found vent in
ejaculations of "Miss Maud! Miss Maud of all people! Now if it had been
Leonore"--but the speaker, a pert young thing, was sharply called to
order for impudence--"'Mrs. Stubbs' then,--the name ain't so pretty she
need have it always tagged on to her"--with a giggle--"she's got it in
her to run away with any number of 'em, _she_ has. And Val was her one,
Mary and me thought. But, Lor, it's looks that tells: and pretty as she
is, Leonore--Mrs. Stubbs," giggling again, "can't stand up to her that's
Mrs. Val now. See her in her weddin' dress--my! We little thought she
wasn't never to put it on in earnest, when we was let to have a sight of
her that day it come home. A real treat it was!"

Maud's first letter was a triumph of equivocal diplomacy. She did not
utter a single verbal falsehood, and without such contrived to blindfold
every one. Her feelings towards her affianced husband had changed of
late--("of late" is an elastic term)--she had "learnt to value the
lifelong devotion of her dear Val,"--(when learned was again left to the
imagination)--and "seeing no course left but to break with Paul before
it was too late," she had fled to avoid a scene which would have only
given him pain, and not altered her resolution.

"Had you any sort of premonition of this, Paul?" Sue inquired in
tremulous accents, an hour having elapsed since the letter came.

"She put one or two rather strange questions to me yesterday;" hesitated
he.

"Might I ask--could you tell me what they were?"

"I think I would rather not. It can do no good now." He spoke gently,
but she could not press the point.

"She knows;" said Paul, to himself. "How she knows I cannot fathom; but
all this about the change in her feelings is only a blind. _She knows_;
and though she has given me my release, I can never avail myself of it."

He left the Abbey within the hour.

       *       *       *       *       *

And this was now a story three months old, and Maud was coming to say
"Good-bye" before beginning a new life in another land.

Heretofore she had obstinately rejected the olive branch held out by
Sue. Sue, acting as mouthpiece for the three, had written time and
again, begging that for all their sakes no estrangement should take
place; entreating the delinquents to believe that they would only meet
with kindness and affection in Eaton Place, where the sisters were
established, and where room was plentiful. Would not Val and Maud come
and make their home also there for the present?

But though the offer, delicately worded, might have been presumed
tempting enough to two almost penniless people, it was coldly declined.

"And she seems as if _she_ were angry with _us_!" cried Sybil, "she who
dragged the whole family through the mud, and left us to bear the
brunt!"

"Certainly she does write as if she bore us a grudge," owned Sue, "and
yet, how can she? What have we done? What has any one of us done that
Maud should refuse to be one with us again? I am sorry, but of course if
that is the spirit in which poor Maud receives overtures of peace, I
really--really I do not think I can go on thrusting them upon her." For
Sue also had her pride, though it was a poor, weak, back-boneless pride,
which would have melted at the first soft word from her sister.

The emigration concocted in the club window, however, effected what all
besides had failed to do. By the time the final arrangements were
complete and the tickets taken, Maud, on the eve of departure, was won
upon to come to Eaton Place, though she still declined to take up her
abode there.

Nor would she come alone.

"Val's with her," announced Sybil, having peeped from the balcony; "she
might have left him behind, I think. I did want to find out if I could,
what Maud really means by all this? Why _we_ are in disgrace, because
_she_ has behaved like an idiot?"

"We shall never discover that now;" said Sue,--and the event proved her
right.

Maud had taken the best and surest precaution against conversation of an
intimate nature. She had put on one of the smartest dresses of her
elaborate trousseau--having left it unpacked on purpose,--and her step
as she entered was that of a stranger on a foreign soil. She was
studiously polite; she inquired with a becoming air of solicitude after
their healths, and she looked kindly at Sue:--but a jest of Sybil's fell
flat, and Leo was conscious that her sister's lips never actually
touched her cheek.

Leo herself was trembling from head to foot.

"We have been rather anxious about dear Leo," said Sue, with a tender
glance towards the shrinking figure in the background.

"Indeed? There is a good deal of influenza about;" replied Maud
carelessly. Before anyone could rejoin she changed the subject. "They
tell us the weather look-out is favourable, and we ought to have a good
passage." She never once looked at Leo, nor spoke to her.

And she rose to go as soon as decency permitted. But though a good deal
was said about future home-comings, and Val declared that he for one
would never rest till he was back in Old England again, there was a
general feeling that the impending separation would prove if not
absolutely final, at least of long duration. Maud was evidently longing
to be off. Her voice as she hurried to the door was sharp and impatient.
She could scarcely wait for Val to make his adieux properly, and sprang
into the hansom while he was still in the hall.

Then she leaned forward and beckoned, and Leo ran out. Leo was yearning
for one little word, one kind look to prove her dreadful fears
unfounded, but, "It was not you I wanted," said Maud, rearing her chin;
"send my husband to me."

She turned her face aside, and Leonore, like Paul, cried within herself,
"_She knows_".



CHAPTER XVIII.

"A TURN OF THE WHEEL."


"Hoots, it's in the blood," said Dr. Craig, briefly.

An old friend had come to visit him, and started the topic which had
ceased to be a nine days' wonder in the neighbourhood.

"There's a wild strain in the Bolderos somewhere," continued the doctor,
crossing his legs, and settling down for a chat. "Those lassies have had
a gay lady among their forebears at some time or other, for they didn't
get their pranks from old Brown-boots. To do Brown-boots justice, he was
respectable--I'm thinking it was his one virtue. Proud as Lucifer, and
vain as a peacock--they say you can't be both, but he _was_--and so was
Maud--and it was just her vanity that got the whip hand of her pride at
the last. It must have been," musing; "nothing else could account for
her throwing over a nice fellow like Foster, and a good match too, for
poor loony Val without a sixpence. She didn't know he hadn't a sixpence,
mind you; she meant to come back and queen it at Claymount,--where I
doubt not she would soon have ruled the roost, if she hadn't had the
ill-luck to kill the old lady instead. She wanted to show she had two
strings to her bow, d'ye see?" He smoked and nodded, then started
afresh:--

"Aye, aye, and there was Leonore--Leonore Stubbs--the widow. Her that
played the mischief with that poor lad of mine, Tommy Andrews, and lost
me the best assistant I ever had. I tried to get Tommy back after the
Bolderos left, but no; he scunnered the place; she had just eaten the
heart out of him, Leonore had. My word, she was a jaunty bit creature. I
fair weakened to her myself, when she would stand by the road-side
looking up at me in the gig, with those big, laughing eyes of hers--and
her wee bit moothie, it was the prettiest bit thing--though mind you, I
ran her down to Tommy. Poor Tommy!"

"He wouldn't take a telling," resumed the speaker, after a pause. "They
never will, you know--those dour, close, machine-like lads; they'll make
no resistance; they'll let you talk and talk and think you've convinced
them--and it just rolls like water off a duck's back. Tommy garred me
believe it was all over and done with. He went about his work, and kept
out of little pussycat's way, and then, phew! all at once the murder
was out! It was simply bottled up; and one fine day--I don't know what
happened, for cart-ropes wouldn't drag it out of him--but _something_
did, and he came in, looking battle and murder and sudden death. He was
off at crack of dawn,--and that was just a few days before Maud's fine
elopement took place. We had never had such an excitement before in
these humdrum parts, and we never shall again."

To all of this the friend, also a Scot, hearkened without emitting a
syllable.

When, however, his ear detected the accents of finality, he shook the
ashes from his pipe and opened his lips: "I fell in with the rejected
gentleman the other day".

"Foster? No? Did you? Did you really? How was that?" In an instant the
doctor was on the alert.

"I was on my holiday, doing a bit of fishing in an out-of-the-way part
of Sutherland, and there were only two or three of us in the hotel.
Foster was one."

"A tall, thin man, with a lantern-jawed face?"

"That's him. One of the others had got wind of this tale, and told me.
We were talking of you, I fancy; and he had been down here a whiley ago,
when the affair was fresh."

"What was Foster doing there?"

"Fishing like the rest of us--but always by himself. He wasn't uncivil,
only unsociable. I had a walk with him one day, and he talked about
India. A good part of his life had been spent in India, and he could
tell a lot about it, but when the talk came round home, he shut up like
a knife, and I kind of jaloused there was something wrong. That was
before I knew what it was."

"He looked--how did he look?"

"How? I can't tell you how. He just _looked_. That was enough for me."

"Well, you saw the sort of chap he was, just the one to take a woman's
fancy,--and to think that Maud Boldero could be so blind daft as to
throw him over for that poor Val, whom she could have picked up at any
time!"

"What has become of the others? Do you ever hear anything of them?"

"Sybil has married. She married pretty quickly after they left. A London
man; a barrister, I think. Sybil is good-looking enough, they are all
good-looking; though Maud's the pick of the bunch. Stop a bit, I'm not
sure that the little rascal Leonore--but no, no; she hadn't the air, the
style; it was just a way she had,--eh, she was a bit beguiling thing.
There's that new boy of mine, he has twice the go that poor Tommy had,
though nothing like the brains--but he's all over the place among the
lasses, and when I hear him whistling here and whistling there, with his
nose in at every open door, thinks I to myself, 'Thank the Lord, Leonore
Stubbs is out of Jock's way'."

Leonore was out of everybody's way, it seemed,--or it might have been
that she had ceased to be beguiling. People who met her during the next
year of her life, found a quiet young girl--she still looked very
young--with rather an interesting countenance; but if drawn thereby to
prosecute her acquaintance, they tried to engage her in their pursuits
and pleasures, they were disappointed. She did not respond to buoyant
propositions; games and pastimes did not attract her; they thought she
did not know how to flirt.

In short she was dull, and rather tiresomely devoted to her half-sister,
whom no one thought of inviting to join in youthful escapades--so after
a time Leo was not invited either.

This was a trouble to Sue, and one day she made a suggestion. Was there
any use in remaining in London, if the life there was not in accordance
with either of their tastes? If Leo no longer cared for society--though
she owned she thought that a pity at her age--and here the speaker
paused.

"I don't--at present," owned Leo, frankly. "I may again--some
time,"--but to herself she wondered, would that some time ever come?

Then news came from America, sad news, which put all other thoughts
aside for the moment. A child had been born, but its birth had cost the
mother her life, and the next cable announced that poor Val had lost his
little son also. He was begged to return home, and assured of welcome
and maintenance there,--but to the surprise of all replied evasively. He
would see how matters were by-and-by; he could not bring himself to move
just yet.

The next letter expatiated on the wonderful beauty and climate of
California, and the kindness and hospitality of friends, who had carried
him off for a trip, to distract his thoughts.

Again another letter was full of nothing but these friends. Poor simple
Val had not the art of concealment, and long before he knew himself, the
sisters knew what to expect. He had been "most awfully sad and lonely,"
and he "would never forget Maud,"--but he had found a dear girl who
reminded him of her, and (here the pen had raced) by the time dear Sue
and Leo received the letter, he would be married to the richest heiress
in California. A newspaper followed, announcing that the ceremony had
actually taken place.

"So we need not go out to Val," said Leo, with a smile.

She and Sue were wandering hither and thither with no particular reason
for being anywhere, and it had been in contemplation to cross the
Atlantic. Sue's investments had prospered of late, and there would have
been no difficulty about funds--yet each sister was conscious of a sense
of relief when the expedition was abandoned. Sue was timorous and a bad
traveller,--while Leo, from whom the suggestion had emanated, no sooner
found it taking shape than she repented. What was she going for? What
could the new country yield that the old could not? Could it heal her
sore heart? Could it banish remembrance? Could it give her news of Paul?
Paul, who had vanished from the face of the earth?

Rather she would be turning her back upon any possibility of either
hearing of or seeing him again; and though, of course, she could not
wish that they should meet, and in the natural sequence of events, they
were most unlikely to meet, it would be something only to--oh, anything
would be better than that bitter blank, that desolation of ignorance
which was so impenetrable, so insurmountable.

Sue knew now about Paul. When Maud died there was no further reason for
concealment, and albeit the shock was great, it was a consolation to
both sisters to drop the veil between them.

"But you do understand, don't you, that he never--never even when I
almost forced it from him, said that it was _I_?" murmured Leo. "I knew
it; I felt it; but he did not, he would not say it. Oh, I did so long
for him to say it just once--but he never did. Sue, you know that little
old jug I have upstairs?" suddenly she broke off, as it appeared
inconsequently.

"Little old jug?" Sue reflected, but could not remember. And she
wondered somewhat. What could "a little old jug" have to do with the
present conversation?

"The one with the French soldier's motto. It used to be on the anteroom
mantelpiece at Boldero. Oh, you must remember it, Sue."

"We had so much china, dear----"

"But this was the one I asked you to give me for my own--however,
listen. The motto was:--

    "Mon âme â Dieu,
    Ma vie au Roi,
    Mon coeur aux Dames,
    L'honneur pour moi."

"Paul noticed it one day, and turned round and said, 'That's
splendid,'--and read it again. That was when he first came. And
afterwards, when things were getting very bad, I came upon him standing
in front of the mantelpiece, staring at the jug. I rather liked it
myself, but I didn't see it as he did, for on that dreadful day," she
looked down, even when it was only Sue, she looked down--"when Paul
saved me from myself----"

"When you were too ill to know what you were doing, darling."

"He looked at me and said with a sort of smile, '_L'honneur pour moi_.'
Sue?"

Sue looked attention.

"You know how poor Maud bored us--I mean how she insisted on Paul's
religion as if it were something which gave him a sort of
_cachet_--something quite over _our_ heads?--and how father--oh, Sue, I
must say it--do you remember how father once shut her up by declaring
that Paul was too much of a gentleman to introduce unpleasant subjects?
It was only father's way, you know. He didn't mean any harm, and I do
think, don't you, that father was changed a little, that he was
different those last few weeks? He said to me once: 'There's more in it
than you think'. Anyway, Sue, he did like and admire Paul."

"Yes--yes, he did."

"Now I want to say something," Leo changed the subject, which each felt
to be a sad one. "Sue, what really--what I shall never forget, is, that
when the worst moment of all came, when Paul and I were together, all
alone, and I was ready--oh, I _was_ ready to fall into his arms if he
had held out his little finger--he didn't hold it. He stood there like a
statue. And I know, I _know_ what held him back. If all the world had
called Paul a good man, and he had preached goodness from morning to
night, it wouldn't have had the least effect, but when he said
'_L'honneur pour moi_'"--her tears overflowed, and Sue wept likewise....

They often wondered how much and how little had been suspected by Maud,
inducing her own line of action. In the light of her subsequent attitude
it seemed more than probable that she had either learnt or divined that
all was not as it appeared, but so cleverly had she kept up a show of
being in good spirits up to the close of the day which was to Leo like
the day of judgment, that nothing could be certain.

Sue could recall that after Leo had been seen to bed, obviously ill, on
her return to the house before dinner, Maud had expressed a sort of
satisfaction, pointing out that this accounted for the peculiarities of
her sister's behaviour throughout the day. "Really one is glad to know
it was _that_," she had exclaimed more than once.

She had also rallied Paul for his indifference on the subject. It
appeared he had been out with Leo, and on such a raw evening he might
have seen that it was rash and foolish of her not to keep within doors.
"But I suppose you thought as it wasn't _me_----?" she had wound up; and
Sue, conscious that Sybil was watching also, owned that the triumphant
smile by which the words were accompanied, made her strangely
uncomfortable.

"And the next morning she pored over a new set of illustrated papers,"
continued she; "it is odd that I should remember it all so clearly, but
I do. What happened afterwards stamped it on my memory, no doubt. I
racked my brains to think if Paul could have offended her in any way,
and if a sudden angry impulse--you know poor Maud was apt to get angry,
and to be very implacable too--but they seemed quite as friendly as
usual. We had grown to think, Sybil and I, that Paul had not--not
perhaps found Maud _all_ that he expected, and that sometimes he looked
a little grave after they had been together. Sybil spoke to me about it,
but we kept it to ourselves, as we fancied you saw nothing."

"Well?" said Leo, slowly. "Well?" She was drinking in every word.

"The next evening--the evening you were in bed--stop, let me consider:
no, I don't think there was any palpable difference; nothing to attract
attention, of _that_ I am sure. Maud had great command over herself. She
told us as if it were an ordinary piece of news, that she had had a long
visit from Val--but whether she intended Paul to take any notice of
that, or not, I cannot tell. I cannot tell anything about that evening,
because my own thoughts were rather taken up with you, and I was up in
your room a good deal, you may remember?"

Yes, Leo remembered. Remembered also how she tried every means to get
rid of the kindly, patient intruder, who tortured her by her presence
and anxiety. "I never thought I should be able to tell you the truth,
Sue. And oh, I was so miserable, I was in hell----"

"Darling Leo, don't; don't say that. It is not quite right, you know."

"Yet we talk of being in heaven, why is the other place worse?"

Sue however could not tell why, and only shook her head gently.

"Well, then, I was, you know where," resumed Leo, with a nod; "and
what's more, I had been there for ages. I was wicked for quite a long
time before that, you know;" and she leaned her elbows on Sue's lap, and
looked up into her face. "It began soon after I came home. I did so hate
being a widow--oh, poor Godfrey! Sue, it had nothing to do with Godfrey;
it was the awful clothes, and the being shut up in dark corners----"

"Dark corners, Leo?"

"That was what it seemed like to me. I was hustled out of the way when
people came, and whatever happened, it didn't happen for _me_. Sometimes
I could hardly believe it _was_ me; I used to pinch myself and say 'You
horrid little black thing, who are you? Are you "Leonore," or "Leonore
Stubbs"?--because they are two quite different people. Leonore is a
harmless little tom-fool--but Leonore Stubbs is an odious, artificial
creature, a sham all round.' And then, Sue, something, never mind what,
started a new idea, I felt that I had never really been _in love_, nor
had any one really been _in love_ with me. Godfrey and I had just been
fond of each other, and I couldn't help--yes, I could have helped, but I
didn't--trying to get up the real thing. I longed for it, I craved for
it--and I made several shots for it. Oh, I am ashamed,"--and she hid her
face.

"My poor little Leo!"

"Your poor little Leo is a mighty bad lot. However, it wasn't till Paul
came that she was--no, I don't think that she really was to blame, I
don't _indeed_;" said Leo, earnestly. "Because directly she suspected--I
mean directly she began to feel--_it_, she was frightened to death. She
was in a vile temper all the time, but she kept her secret, and Paul
does not know it yet. Oh, Sue, do you think, do you think he does?" she
broke off suddenly.

"No, dear, how should he?"

"I hoped perhaps he might. Of course I don't want him to, but still if
he did----"

"You yourself said he never gave you to understand he had any feeling
for you."

"But I didn't say he might not have--understood that I had any feeling
for him."

"Would you wish it, Leo?"

"No."

But after a long pause the face was turned up again. "Yes."

       *       *       *       *       *

Still nothing was heard of Paul, and the sisters grew to talk of him
less and less. They laid plans for their future irrespective of his
existence, they visited Sybil, who had now a home on the south coast,
her husband having become a County Court judge; and they flitted
quietly up and down the various highways and byeways of rural England.

One April they found themselves in a land of hills, and lakes, and
green, leafy foregrounds.

"Let us stay here for a while," said Sue.

Beautiful scenery always appealed to Sue, and a good hotel was not to be
despised. The lapping of the waters of the lake beneath her window was
pleasant, even when the wind sent tiny wavelets running along the shore
in a sort of mock animosity--and when the surface was calm as a mirror,
she thought it was Paradise.

"It really is very nice," said Leo. "I have been out exploring. There is
a lovely glen about a mile off, with woods and a stream--a little
splashing stream--and the banks are simply covered with blue-bells. I
should have picked some, but the path looked suspiciously well cared
for, and there were little gates, as if it belonged to some big place;
to tell the truth, I had an inkling I was trespassing, though there were
no boards up. It would have been awkward to have been met by the owner,
with my hands full of blue-bells. However, I mean to go again to-morrow,
and spy out the land. If it's safe, you shall come."

"Could I walk so far?"

"You can have a little carriage, and leave it at the gate. You could not
get it up the valley, as there is only a footpath, but I think you could
walk that part. I can't tell you how delightful it was,--the sunlight
speckling through the trees, and the cuckoos answering each other across
the brook;--I could have stayed forever, but I remembered you and flew
home."

She flew back, however, the following evening. It was an equally calm,
bright evening, after a day of heat and growth,--and buds that had been
fast closed at dawn, had burst on every side. Tassels hung from the
larches, giving forth their resinous fragrance; and the pink buds of
young oaks, and sprays of waving yellow broom mingled with the many
shades of green above and beneath.

"What a heavenly spot!" sighed Leonore, enraptured. She could not resist
wandering on and on; the woods at Boldero were nothing to this fairy
dell, and at every tinkling waterfall, she was down the thymy bank
overhanging it.

But she noted anew that she was neither preceded nor followed by other
invaders. She also experienced a little thrill of dismay at seeing
through a vista--a long vista, it is true--a country house towards which
a byepath led direct. Oh, well, she must risk it; if met--? She started
and the courage of a moment before began to ebb, for something certainly
moved behind the trees, and now she distinctly saw a figure on the path
in front.

To put a bold face upon it when no one challenged the face was easy, but
it was another matter to--her pulses beat a little faster.

Conning an apology, and prepared to offer it with the best grace she
could muster, she walked slowly forward, with downcast eyes,--then, oh,
what?--oh, who was this? She stood face to face with--Paul.

Often and often afterwards she wondered how she felt, how she looked and
what she did at that supreme moment? In the retrospect it was all a
mist--a blurred canvas--a confused phantasm.

"_Paul!_"

"_Leonore!_"

An outcry--then a terrible silence; agitation on his part, trepidation
on hers--each alike stupefied, breathless.

And Leonore's heart sank, and her eyelids fell.

Was this _all_? Was this the end? Oh, misery, misery.

Was it amazement alone which had first forced her name from his lips,
and then shut them fast? Was he shocked, perhaps sore that a thing had
happened which he had resolved should never happen? Was it pain,
disgust, horror, she heard in that single involuntary utterance?

Ah, then, she knew what she must do.

Sick disappointment sent a shiver through her frame, and all at once she
felt her limbs totter.

But to fall? To betray emotions which were not _his_ emotions? To be
weak where he was bold and strong? No, a thousand times, no; she drew
herself upright and made a passionate effort.

"Paul, I am--so sorry. I did not know, I never dreamt--of this. Indeed,
indeed I never did. Believe me, oh, do believe me, Paul."

"Believe you, Leo? I do not understand?" He gazed at her, bewildered,
then took a step forward, and she felt him trying to take her hand. She
drew it back hurriedly.

"Wait. Wait a moment. Let me speak. We did not know you were here, we
did not indeed. We have not known anything of you, for a long, long
time. It was only yesterday we, Sue and I, came to this place; and we
can go away again to-morrow--or to-night. We would not trouble you,
Paul."

"Trouble me?" He laughed, a curious laugh, bitter and sweet, scornful
and surpassingly tender. It might have enlightened her, but she was past
listening.

"You will believe, Paul, that we--that to annoy you, to distress
you,--oh, not for worlds, not for worlds. We will go to-night." And she
turned as though to fly on the spot, but he caught her arm.

"Leo?"

She was faintly trying to free herself. The arm went further and held
her fast.

"Can you think," said a voice in her ear, "can you suppose that the
sight of _you_, you who have been with me night and day in dreams, and
thoughts, and hopes, and fears, that this could--what did you call
it?--'annoy' me? Leo, my own, my beloved, don't you, can't you
see--_now_?"

"Paul!"

"You whom I might not love, and yet could not but love? Listen. You say
you had lost sight of me--that was because I dared not come to you. I
dared not trust myself--perhaps, may I say it?--I could not trust either
of us. We had once--and that must never happen again. You are listening?
My darling, how you tremble, why do you tremble so, Leo? There is
nothing to fear now. Let me go on, and you will see. It was only the
other day I learned the tidings that set me free. You see I had no
means of knowing; and then when I did hear, I could not--it would have
been horrible to be in haste to take advantage of it. So, though life
opened anew, I meant to wait quietly till the time came when perhaps I
might hope to prevail--but, oh, to think of _this_!"

And then at last she ventured to raise her eyes, and what did those eyes
behold? It was the look--_the look_--on the face of Paul!

       *       *       *       *       *

And now her head was on his breast, and his kisses on her cheek. "Cruel
doubts tortured me often," he whispered, "for how could I tell what
changes time might not have wrought? It had left _my_ love untouched,
but what right had I to expect that you might not have lost the feeling
you had--yes, I did know you once had for me? Leo, darling, can you
think how terrible it was to know that, and have to affect ignorance? To
have every beat of my heart go out towards you, and to feign
indifference? To meet your poor, piteous eyes, and keep the answer to
their appeal out of mine? Not that you meant to show, dear; oh, no, you
never dreamed your secret was revealed--and it was _not_, to
others,--but to me----"

"Oh, Paul! Oh, Paul!"

"Hush, you were not to blame. It was no fault of yours, you poor, brave,
little thing. You played your part nobly----"

"Oh, no--oh, no."

"You may think not, but I know you did. I know, for I shared the
struggle. There was once," he paused and considered, "there was that day
when we were together in the green-house. You were cold and careful at
first, but gradually the mask wore off and--and mine too slipped. We
were happy, too happy. I think we both knew it. We did not look at each
other as we came away, but I gave you a red vine leaf, and I saw that
you did not put it with the others, even with those I had picked for you
before."

"I have it now, Paul."

"After that, I began to suspect myself. I had hardly done so before, for
there was only a vague sense of disappointment, and dissatisfaction with
things as they were. Your sister was not--but no matter. I reasoned
myself out of this over and over again. I argued that I was not well,
was not fully recovered from my late attack of fever--in short, that I
was hipped, and would certainly take a more cheerful view of things as
my strength came back. I really had been rather bad, you know--and was
low and easily depressed. But what might have opened my eyes to the
truth was that all depression vanished, and all inertia ceased, directly
_you_ appeared,--and _that_ was after I had ceased to hear your gay
little laugh and merry voice. For though you soon grew grave as myself,
my heart would jump when you came into the room, or when I came upon you
in some distant corner, not knowing you were there."

"Paul, Paul, my heart jumped too."

He drew her closer--ah, she was very close now. "I scarcely ever spoke
to you, do you remember? We avoided each other; and I cannot even now
imagine how I came to know you so well,"--and so on, and so on....

Presently Leo had a question to ask. Where had he been during those
three blank days when no communications from Boldero Abbey reached him?
He had disposed of them in a fashion that satisfied others, but not her.

"No, you were too clear-sighted. I knew that," said he. "But what could
I do? I could not tell the truth, which was that I never went near the
place whose address I gave Maud! My one desire was to be out of range of
her letters; for Leonore--I had--I cannot tell how, a sort of dreadful
certainty that she would recall me. For those three days I wandered
about,--I went down to a wild, little, sea place, and fought the demon
within. Then because I simply felt weaker, I fancied soul as well as
body brought into subjection. You all told me I looked bad when I
returned--now you know why."

But though they thus skirted round and round one dread remembrance which
was--how could it help being?--in both their minds, each shrank from
approaching a subject avoided by the other; until at length Leonore,
tremulous but resolute, realised that it was for her, not him, to speak.

"Paul, dear Paul, I don't want to leave _anything_ unsaid. Paul, on that
worst day of all," she hesitated, and his hand pressed the little hand
within it. "Dear Paul," she whispered, "I did not know what I was doing;
indeed, indeed I did not. Something in my head seemed to have snapped,
and I felt so strange--I never felt like it before. And it was not only
about you that I was so unutterably wretched, there was--there
was--something else."

"Something else?"

"A man told me the day before that I had broken his heart,--oh, Paul,
don't start. He was not a man I could ever have given a thought to. He
was not one I should ever have spoken to--in that way. Only our village
doctor's assistant, and the rest of us hardly knew that he existed,--but
I, I was so unhappy, even before you came to Boldero, that I let myself
go,--that is, I let the poor silly creature run up a kind of friendship
with me. That was all, Paul; truthfully it was--on my part. I amused
myself with him--a little; and then--and then----"

"What was fun to you was death to him?"

"It had no right to be," said Leo, with dignity. "It never went any
length; we only just met each other once or twice, and----"

"Flirted?"

"Not even that. I let him adore," she laughed, but shamefacedly--"and he
mistook."

"I see."

"Paul, dear, I am not excusing myself; only I do not think, I do not
think that wretched Tommy Andrews ought ever to have presumed--it was
frightful, it was untrue what he said. I did _not_ break his disgusting
heart----"

"Oh, Leo!" Paul tried not to laugh.

"But he made me think I had. He accused me of it, and I was in such a
state at the time that I believed him, and it drove me wild. It was the
last straw, the finishing touch. I seemed not only to have made a mess
of my own poor life, but of another's--and while I was very angry and
contemptuous, I was enraged with myself for being so. I stormed and
raved when I was alone, and vowed to end it all,--but I know now that
I--Sue says I was not accountable, Paul,--" wistfully.

"Sue is right, dearest. Your nerves were altogether unstrung. You were
overstrained and off your balance for the time being."

"Had--had you noticed anything, Paul?"

"Everything. It was that which made me fear--and follow you."

"At night I hardly slept at all. And, I couldn't eat; I loathed food. I
may tell you all this, mayn't I? It just kills me to keep things to
myself; doing _that_ was what, I think, began it all."

"You shall tell me everything," said he.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, but Paul," after an interlude, "there is still a mystery; what
are you doing here? And was it not the strangest thing our meeting
here?"

He smiled. "Not so very strange, seeing that this is my usual walk about
this hour."

"Your--what did you say?--your 'usual' walk?"

"Look, Leo." He drew her along to the opening of the vista she had
passed before, and pointed to the mansion beyond, now glistening in the
setting sun. "That is my home--and yours."

"Oh, Paul!"

"I bought it a year ago, but have been busy with alterations and
improvements, so only came to live here within the last few weeks. I was
so tired of a wandering life, Leo; and though I had only the vaguest
hope that you--but somehow hope never quite deserted me."

"Then the strangeness is on our part. That _we_ should come to where
_you_ were!"

"You had really no suspicion, Leo?" He looked at her with laughter in
his eyes. "Sue kept her own counsel well;" added Paul demurely.

He and Sue had been in communication from--from precisely the date at
which he took up his residence at Mere Hall. He had left for Mere Hall
the day after he last saw Sue in London.

"You saw Sue in London?" She could scarcely speak for astonishment.

"Several times. The Fosters, my brother and his wife, put me up to it.
Your sister is good and kind and sensible--mine is both the first, but
not exactly the last, bless her for it! Her very lack of what is
commonly admired, proved my salvation. She first extracted the truth
from me, and then went straight for Sue, and hammered it into her that
there was no earthly reason why we two should not be made happy now. She
could not endure to see my long face, she said;--and though I gathered
that Sue was somewhat startled by her abruptness--for Charlotte is not
famed for tact--eventually the two understood each other, and I was
brought on to the stage."

"Was that," cried Leo, with a sudden flash of memory, "was that one day,
oh, it must have been that day!--Sue was so odd and unlike herself. I
wondered what could have excited her in a private view of rather stupid
water-colours, and why she began all at once to say she longed for the
country? Were you in the water-colour gallery?"

He was, and all was explained.

"Coo-coo," came the plaintive note of a dove from the leafy shades close
by--but it cooed unheard. The streamlet splashed on unheeded. The sun
went slowly down behind the mountain-tops unseen. And still they sat
on....



CHAPTER XIX.

EPILOGUE.


About a year after Paul and Leonore were married, they received a visit
from Mr. and Mrs. Valentine Purcell, travelling in all the state that
money could buy and ingenuity devise.

Val was glorious: even prouder of his new wife's cleverness than he had
been of her predecessor's beauty. Marietta was superb: there never was
such a woman; managed everything--ran the entire show. He was allowed a
tailor's bill though,--and he looked down at a new suit with all his old
complacency.

He was perfectly easy, happy, and friendly. He had not an awkward
remembrance, nor an uncomfortable sensation.

It was splendid to be among his dear old friends again, and to find them
all so fit; Mere Hall was a delightful place, and he was awfully glad
that it was Sue's home too.

He did wish that he could get them all out to California. Sue ought
really to see California. If she would hop across the pond, he would
meet her himself in New York, and take her across the Rockies in his own
car. He and his wife always travelled in their own car.

As for Paul and Leo, of course _they_ were coming, but Sue--he had a sly
whisper for Leo's ear anent Sue. "What about Salt Lake City? That would
be Sue's chance: those Mormons are awful jossers for wives. I never let
Marietta within a hundred miles of 'em. You send old Sue out to me,
Leo."

Paul he speedily pronounced the best fellow in the world--taking him as
an entirely new personage. Paul's alterations in the house were a
triumph of architecture, and the steeple he was adding to the church a
masterpiece.

"Quite right to look after the church," said Val, seriously. "I always
take care that Marietta goes to church, and she's come rather to like
it. Now that she has been here, she says she's going to be more
religious, and I daresay I shall too. It's so awfully jolly to live as
you and Paul do, you know."

Another day he was alone with his old playmate, and raised his head
after a reverie.

"So you and Paul got each other after all, Leo?"

Leo, who was dressing a bowl with roses, dropped one, and looked
attentively at the speaker.

"Got each other after all, Val?"

"Oh, don't you come the innocent over me, Mrs. Stubbs--Mrs. Foster, I
mean. I know you and your tricks. You are just the same little wag you
always were--but I know you. And I know about you and Paul too."

"Know about us? What about us?"--quickly.

"Tell you if you like. I was in the woods that day. I was going home
from shooting and heard a row,--so then I crept along to see what was
up, and hid behind some big hollies; and there you were, you and Paul,
holding each other's hands, and shouting into each other's faces!"

"Did you--did you hear what we said, Val?"

"Lord, no--though I tried all I could. And what the dickens made you
speak so loud--you, especially--I could not imagine. If I hadn't had to
keep dark behind the beastly bushes, I could have heard every word.
Anyhow I heard enough--and saw enough--to know what you were up to."

He paused.

"And I was mad with you both, Leo. Because, you see, it wasn't
Queensberry--however it's all right now."

"And it was you who told Maud?"

"Why, of course," said Val, simply.



BY THE SAME AUTHOR


    ONE OF OURSELVES.

    THE ENLIGHTENMENT OF OLIVIA.

    STAY-AT-HOMES.

    MR. SMITH: A PART OF HIS LIFE.

    THE BABY'S GRANDMOTHER.

    COUSINS.

    TROUBLESOME DAUGHTERS.

    PAULINE.

    DICK NETHERBY.

    THE HISTORY OF A WEEK.

    A STIFF-NECKED GENERATION.

    CHARLOTTE.

    THE INTRUDERS.

    LEDDY MARGET.

    IVA KILDARE: A MATRIMONIAL PROBLEM.

    NAN, AND OTHER STORIES.

    THE MISCHIEF OF MONICA.

    THE ONE GOOD GUEST.

    "PLOUGHED," AND OTHER STORIES.

    THE MATCHMAKER.





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