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Title: Robinetta
Author: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith, 1856-1923, Findlater, Mary, 1865-1963, Findlater, Jane Helen, 1866-1946, McAulay, Allan, 1863-
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 "Robinetta" ***

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ROBINETTA



By Kate Douglas Wiggin

ROBINETTA. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.10 net. Postage, 10 cents.

REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM. Holiday Edition. Illustrated. Crown 8vo, $1.50.

SUSANNA AND SUE. Illustrated by Alice Barber Stephens. Crown 8vo, $1.50
net. Postage 15 cents.

THE OLD PEABODY PEW. With decorations and illustrations. Large crown 8vo,
$1.50.

REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM. 12mo, $1.25.

NEW CHRONICLES OF REBECCA. Illustrated by F. C. Yohn. 12mo, $1.25.

ROSE O' THE RIVER. Illustrated in color. 12mo, 1.25.

THE AFFAIR AT THE INN. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.25.

THE DIARY OF A GOOSE GIRL. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.00.

A CATHEDRAL COURTSHIP, AND PENELOPE'S ENGLISH EXPERIENCES. Illustrated.
16mo, $1.00.

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Edition. With many illustrations by Charles E. Brock. 3 vols., each 12mo,
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A CATHEDRAL COURTSHIP. Holiday Edition, enlarged. Illustrated by C. E.
Brock. 12mo, $1.50.

THE BIRDS' CHRISTMAS CAROL. Illustrated. Square 12mo, 50 cents.

THE STORY OF PATSY. Illustrated. Square 12mo, 60 cents.

A SUMMER IN A CAÑON. A California Story. Illustrated. 16mo, $1.25.

TIMOTHY'S QUEST. A Story for Anybody, Young or Old, who cares to read it.
16mo, $1.00. Holiday Edition. Illustrated. Crown 8vo, $1.50.

POLLY OLIVER'S PROBLEM. Illustrated. 16mo, $1.00. In Riverside School
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THE VILLAGE WATCH-TOWER. 16mo, $1.00.

MARM LISA. 16mo, $1.00.

NINE LOVE SONGS, AND A CAROL. Music by Mrs. Wiggin. Words by Herrick,
Sill, and others. Square 8vo, $1.25.

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

Boston and New York



[Illustration]



ROBINETTA

by

Kate Douglas Wiggin

Mary Findlater

Jane Findlater

Allan McAulay

BOSTON AND NEW YORK

Houghton Mifflin Company

The Riverside Press, Cambridge



COPYRIGHT, 1910 AND 1911, BY KATE DOUGLAS RIGGS

COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Published February 1911



CONTENTS

      I. THE PLUM TREE                                               1
     II. THE MANOR HOUSE                                             7
    III. YOUNG MRS. LORING                                          19
     IV. A CHILLY RECEPTION                                         29
      V. AT WITTISHAM                                               39
     VI. MARK LAVENDAR                                              54
    VII. A CROSS-EXAMINATION                                        69
   VIII. SUNDAY AT STOKE REVEL                                      87
     IX. POINTS OF VIEW                                             99
      X. A NEW KINSMAN                                             113
     XI. THE SANDS AT WESTON                                       127
    XII. LOVE IN THE MUD                                           151
   XIII. CARNABY TO THE RESCUE                                     170
    XIV. THE EMPTY SHRINE                                          181
     XV. "NOW LUBIN IS AWAY"                                       194
    XVI. TWO LETTERS                                               210
   XVII. MRS. DE TRACY CROSSES THE FERRY                           217
  XVIII. THE STOKE REVEL JEWELS                                    234
    XIX. LAWYER AND CLIENT                                         250
     XX. THE NEW HOME                                              260
    XXI. CARNABY CUTS THE KNOT                                     273
   XXII. CONSEQUENCES                                              284
  XXIII. DEATH AND LIFE                                            299
   XXIV. GRANDMOTHER AND GRANDSON                                  309
    XXV. THE BELLS OF STOKE REVEL                                  324



ROBINETTA

I

THE PLUM TREE


At Wittisham several of the little houses had crept down very close to
the river. Mrs. Prettyman's cottage was just like a hive made for the
habitation of some gigantic bee; its pointed roof covered with deep,
close-cut thatch the colour of a donkey's hide. There were small
windows under the overhanging eaves, a pathway of irregular flat
stones ran up to the doorway, and a bit of low wall divided the tiny
garden from the river. The Plum Tree grew just beside the wall, so
near indeed that it could look at itself on spring days when the water
was like a mirror. In autumn the branches on that side of the tree
were the first to be shaken, lest any of the fruit should fall down
and be lost. Sometimes a village child treading cautiously on bare
toes amongst the stones along the narrow margin, would pounce upon a
plum with a squeal of joy, for although the village was surrounded
with orchards, the fruit of Mrs. Prettyman's tree had a flavour all
its own.

The tree had been given to her by a nephew who was a gardener in a
great fruit orchard in the North, and her husband had planted and
tended it for years. It began life as a slender thing with two or
three rods of branches, that looked as if the first wind of winter
would blow it away, but before the storms came, it had begun to
trust itself to the new earth, and to root itself with force and
determination. There were good soil and water near it, and plenty of
sunshine, and, as is the way of Nature, it set itself to do its own
business at all seasons, unlike the distracted heart of man. The
traffic of the river came and went; around the headland the big
ships were steering in, or going out to sea; and in the village
the human life went on while the Plum Tree grew high enough to look
over the wall. Its stem by that time had a firm footing; next it took
a charming bend to the side, and then again threw out new branches
in that direction. It turned itself from the prevailing wind, throwing
a new grace into its attitude, and went on growing; returning in
blossom and leaves and fruit an hundredfold for all that it received
from the earth and the sun.

In spring it was enchanting; at first, before the blossoms came out,
with small bright leaves, and buds like pearls, heaped upon the
branches; then, later, when the whole tree was white, imaged like a
bride, in the looking-glass of the river. It only wanted a nightingale
to sing in it by moonlight. There were no nightingales there, but the
thrushes sang in the dawning, and the little birds whose voices were
sweet and thin chirruped about it in crowds, while the larks, trilling
out the ardour of mating time, sometimes rose from their nests in the
grass and soared over its topmost branches on their skyward flight.

Spring, therefore, was its merriest time, for then every passer-by
would cry, "What a beautiful tree!" or "Did ye ever see the likes of
it?"

There were a few days of inevitable sadness a little later when its
million petals fell and made a delicate carpet of snow on the ground.
There they lay in a kind of fairy ring, as if there had been a shower
of mother-of-pearl in the April night; and no human creature would
have dared set a vandal foot on that magic circle, and mar the
perfection of its beauty. All the same the Plum Tree had lost its
petals, and that was hard to bear at first. But though its Wittisham
neighbours often said to summer trippers, "I wish you could have seen
it in blossom!" the Plum Tree did not repine, because of the
secrets--the thousand, thousand secrets--it held under its leaves.
"The blossoms were but a promise," it thought, "and soon everybody
will see the meaning of them."

Then the tiny green globes began to appear on every branch and twig;
crowding, crowding, crowding till it seemed as if there could never be
room for so many to grow; but the weaker ones fell from the boughs or
were blown away when the wind was fierce, so the Plum Tree felt no
anxiety, knowing that it was built for a large family! The little
green globes grew and grew, and drank in sweet mother-juices, and
swelled, and when the summer sun touched their cheeks all day they
flushed and reddened, till when August came the tree was laden with
purpling fruit; fruit so tempting that its rosy beauty had sometimes
to be hidden under a veil of grey fishing net, lest the myriad
bird-friends it had made during the summer should love it too much for
its own good.

So the Plum Tree grew and flourished, taking its part in the pageant
of the seasons, unaware that its existence was to be interwoven with
that of men; or that creatures of another order of being were to owe
some changes in their fortunes to its silent obedience to the motive
of life.



II

THE MANOR HOUSE


The long, low drawing room of the Manor at Stoke Revel was the warmest
and most genial room in the old Georgian house. It was four-windowed
and faced south, and even on this morning of a chilly and backward
spring, the tentative sunshine of April had contrived to put out the
fire in the steel grate. One of the windows opened wide to the garden,
and let in a scent which was less of flowers than of the promise of
flowers--a scent of earth and green leaves, of the leafless daphne
still a-bloom in the shrubbery, of hyacinths and daffodils and tulips
and primroses still sheathed in their buds and awaiting a warmer air.

But this promise of spring borne into the room by the wandering breeze
from the river, was nipped, as it were, by the frigid spirit of age
and formalism in its living occupants. Mrs. de Tracy, a lady of
seventy-five, sat at her writing-table. Her companion, Miss Smeardon,
a person of indeterminate age, nursed the lap-dog Rupert during such
time as her employer was too deeply engaged to fulfil that agreeable
duty. Mrs. de Tracy, as she wrote, was surrounded by countless
photographs of her family and her wide connection, most prominent
among them two--that of her husband, Admiral de Tracy, who had died
many years ago, and that of her grandson, his successor, whose
guardian she was, and whose minority she directed. Her eldest son, the
father of this boy, who had died on his ship off the coast of Africa;
his wife, dead too these many years; her other sons as well (she had
borne four); their wives and children--grown men, fashionable women,
beautiful children, fat babies: the likenesses of them all were around
her, standing amid china and flowers and bric-a-brac on the crowded
tables and what-nots of the not inharmonious and yet shabby Victorian
room. Mrs. de Tracy, it might at a glance be seen, was no innovator,
either in furniture, in dress, or probably in ideas. As she was
dressed now, in the severely simple black of a widow, so she had been
dressed when she first mourned Admiral de Tracy. The muslin ends of
her widow's cap fell upon her shoulders, and its border rested on the
hard lines of iron-grey hair which framed a face small, pale, aquiline
in character and decidedly austere in expression.

She took one from a docketed pile of letters and held it up under her
glasses, the sun suddenly striking a dazzle of blue and green from the
diamond rings on her small, withered hands. Then she read it aloud to
her companion in an even and chilly voice. She had read it before, in
the same way, at the same hour, several times. The letter, couched in
an epistolary style largely dependent upon underlining, appeared to
contain, nevertheless, some matter of moment. It was dated from Eaton
Square, in London, some weeks before, and signed Maria Spalding. ("Her
mother was a Gallup," Mrs. de Tracy would say, if any one asked who
Maria Spalding was; and this was considered sufficient, for Mrs. de
Tracy's maiden name had been Gallup,--not euphonious but nevertheless
aristocratic.)

                  *       *       *       *       *

MY DEAR AUGUSTA (Maria Spalding wrote): I am going to ask you to
help me out of a _difficulty_. There is no _use_ beating about the
bush. You know that Cynthia's daughter Robinetta (Loring is her
_married_ name) has been with me for a month. _American_ or no
_American_, I meant to have had her for a part of the season, and to
_present_ her, if possible (so _good_ for these Americans to learn
what royalty _is_ and to breathe the atmosphere which doth hedge a
_King_ as Shakespeare says, and which they can never _have_, of
course, in a country like theirs). I know you can't _approve_, dear
Augusta, and you will blame me for sentimentality--but I never
_can_ forget what a _sweet_ creature Cynthia was before she ran away
with that odious American--and my _greatest_ friend in girlhood, too,
you must remember. So Robinette, as she is generally called, has
come to my house as a _home_, but a most _unlucky_ thing has
happened. I have had influenza so badly that it has affected my
_heart_ (an old trouble), I am ordered to Nauheim, and Robinette is
_stranded_, poor dear. She has few friends in London and certainly
none who can put her up. Tho' she _is_ a widow, she is only twenty-two
(just _imagine_!), very pretty, and really, tho' you won't believe
it, _quite_ nice. I am _desperate_, and just wondering if you
would let by-gones be by-gones, and receive her at Stoke Revel. She
has set her heart upon seeing the place, and some _picture_ she
was called after (I can't remember it, so it can't be one of the
_famous_ Stoke Revel group--a _copy_, I fancy), and on paying a
visit to Lizzie Prettyman, her mother's old nurse at Wittisham over
the river. She _promised_ her mother she would do this--and such a
promise is _sacred_, don't you think? It's such an _old_ story
now, Cynthia's American marriage, and no fault of _Robinette's_,
poor dear child. Her wish is almost a _pious_ one, don't you agree, to
pay respect to her mother's memory and the family, and is _much_ to
be encouraged in these days of radicalism, when every natural tie
is loosened and people pay no more _respect_ to their parents than if
they hadn't any, but had made themselves and brought themselves up
from the beginning. So don't you think it's a _good_ thing to
encourage the _right_ kind of feeling in Robinette, especially as
she is an _American_, you know....

                  *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. de Tracy paused, and replaced the letter in the package from
which she had withdrawn it.

"Maria Spalding's point of view," she observed, "has, I confess,
helped me to overcome the extreme reluctance I felt to receive the
child of that American here. Cynthia de Tracy's elopement nearly broke
my dear husband's heart. She was the apple of his eye before our
marriage; so much younger than himself that she was like his child
rather than his sister."

"What a shock it must have been!" murmured the companion. "What
ingratitude! Can you really receive her child? Of course you know
best, Mrs. de Tracy; but it seems a risk."

"Hardly a risk," rejoined Mrs. de Tracy with dignity. "But it is a
trial to me, and an effort that I scarcely feel called upon to make."

Miss Smeardon was so well versed in her duties that she knew she
always had to urge her employer to do exactly what she most wanted to
do, and the poor creature had developed a really wonderful ingenuity
in divining what these wishes were. Just now, however, she was, to use
a sporting phrase, "at fault" for a minute. She could not exactly
tell whether Mrs. de Tracy wanted to be urged to ask her niece to
Stoke Revel, or whether she wanted to be supplied with a really
plausible excuse for not doing so. Those of you who have seen a hound
at fault can imagine the companion at this moment: irresolute, tense,
desperately anxious to find and follow up the right scent. Compromise,
that useful refuge, came to her aid.

"It _is_ difficult to know," she faltered. Then Mrs. de Tracy gave her
the lead.

"Maria Spalding is right when she says that my husband's niece
contemplates a duty in visiting Stoke Revel," she announced. "The
young woman is the lawful daughter of Cynthia de Tracy that was: our
solicitors could never discover anything dubious in the marriage,
though we long suspected it. Therefore, though I never could have
invited her here, I admit that the Admiral's niece has a right to
come, in a way."

"Though her maiden name was Bean!" ejaculated the companion, almost
under her breath. "There are Pease in the North, as everyone knows;
perhaps there are Beans somewhere."

"There have never been Beans," said Mrs. de Tracy solemnly and totally
unconscious of a pun. "Look for yourself!"

Miss Smeardon did not need to rise from her seat and fetch Burke: it
lay always close at hand. She merely lifted it on to her knee and ran
her finger down the names beginning with B-e-a.

"Beaton, Beare, Beatty, Beale--" she read out, and she shook her head
in dismal triumph; "but never a Bean! No! we English have no such
dreadful names, thank Heavens!"

"This is the beginning of April," pursued Mrs. de Tracy, referring to
a date-card. "Maria Spalding's course at Nauheim will take three
weeks. We must allow her a week for going and coming. During that time
Mrs. David Loring can be my guest."

"A whole month!" cried the companion, as though in ecstasy at her
employer's generosity. "A whole month at Stoke Revel!"

Mrs. de Tracy took no notice. "Write in my name to Maria Spalding,
please," she commanded. "Be sure that there is no mistake about dates.
Mention the departure and arrival of trains, and say that Mrs. David
Loring will find a fly at the station. That is all, I think."

The companion bent officiously forward. "You remember, of course, that
young Mr. Lavendar comes down next week upon business?"

"Well, what if he does?" asked Mrs. de Tracy shortly.

"Mrs. David Loring is a widow," murmured the companion darkly; "a
young American widow; and they are said to be so dangerous!"

Mrs. de Tracy drew herself up. "Do you insinuate that the Admiral's
niece will lay herself out to attract Mr. Lavendar, a widow in the
house of a widow! You go rather too far, Miss Smeardon, though you are
speaking of an American. Besides, allusions of this character are
extremely distasteful to me. I have been told that the minds of
unmarried women are always running upon love affairs, but I should
hardly have thought it of you."

"I'm sure I never imagined any about myself!" murmured Miss Smeardon
with the pitiable writhe of the trodden-on worm.

"I should suppose not," rejoined Mrs. de Tracy gravely, and the
companion took up her pen obediently to write to Maria Spalding.

"Shall I send your love to the Admiral's niece?" she humbly enquired,
"or--or something of the kind?" There was irony in the last phrase,
but it was quite unconscious.

"Not my love," replied Mrs. de Tracy, "some suitable message. Make no
mistake about the dates, remember."

Thus a letter containing dates, and though not love, the substitute
described by Miss Smeardon as "something of the kind" for an unwanted
niece from an unknown aunt, left Stoke Revel by the afternoon post and
reached Robinette Loring at breakfast next morning.



III

YOUNG MRS. LORING


Young Mrs. Loring thought she had never taken so long a drive as that
from the Weston railway station to Stoke Revel. The way stretched
through narrow winding roads, always up hill, always between high
Devonshire hedges. The rain-soaked lanes were slippery and she was
unpleasantly conscious of the size and weight of the American wardrobe
trunk that reared its mighty frame in front of her almost to the
blotting-out of the driver, who steadied it with one hand as he plied
the whip with the other. It struck her humorously that the trunk was
larger than most of the cottages they were passing.

It was a late spring that year in England,--Robinette was a new-comer
and did not know that England runs to late and wet springs, believing
that they make more conversation than early, fine ones,--and the
trees were just bursting into leaf. The sun had not shone for three
days and the landscape, for all its beautiful greenness, looked gloomy
to an eye accustomed to a good deal of crude sunshine.

As the horse mounted higher and higher Robinette glanced out of the
windows at the dripping boughs and her face lost something of its
sparkle of anticipation. She had little to expect in the way of a warm
welcome, she knew that; or at least her mind knew it, but Robinette's
heart always expected surprises, although she had lived two and twenty
summers and was a widow at that.

Her mother had been a de Tracy of Stoke Revel whose connection with
that ancient family had ceased abruptly when she met an American
architect while traveling on the Continent, married him out of hand
and went to his native New England with him. The de Tracys had no
opinion of America, its government, its institutions, its customs, or
its people, and when they learned that Cynthia de Tracy had not only
allied herself with this undesirable nation, but had selected a native
by the name of Harold Bean, they regarded the incident of the marriage
as closed.

The union had been a happy one, though the de Tracys of Stoke Revel
had always regarded the unfortunately named architect more as a
vegetable than a human being; and the daughter of the marriage was the
young Mrs. Loring now driving in the station fly to the home of her
mother's people.

Her father had died when she was fifteen and her mother followed three
years after, leaving her with a respectable fortune but no relations;
the entire family (happily, Mrs. de Tracy would have said) having died
out with Harold. Robinette was unspeakably lonely, even with her
hundred friends, for there was enough English blood in her to make her
cry out inwardly for kith and kin, for family ties, for all the dear
familiar backgrounds of hearth and home. Had a welcoming hand been
stretched across the sea she would have flown at once to make
acquaintance with the de Tracys, cold and indifferent as they had
always been, but no bidding ever came, and the picture of the Manor
House of Stoke Revel on her dressing-table was the only reminder of
her connection with that ancient and honourable house.

It is not difficult to see, under the circumstances, how the
nineteen-year-old Robinette became the wife of the first man in whom
she inspired a serious passion.

It is incredible that women should confuse the passive process of
being loved with the active process of loving, but it occurs
nevertheless, and Robinette drifted into marriage with the vaguest
possible notions of what it meant; feeling and knowing that she needed
something, and supposing it must be a husband. It was better fortune,
perhaps, than she merited, and equally kind for both parties, that her
husband died before either of them realized the tragic mistake. David
Loring was too absorbed in his own emotions to note the absence of
full response on the part of his wife; Robinette was too much a child
and too inexperienced to be conscious of her own lack of feeling.

It was death, not life, that opened her eyes. When David Loring lay in
his coffin, Robinette's heart was suddenly seized with growing pains.
Her vision widened; words and promises took on a new and larger
meaning, and she became a serious woman for her years, although there
was an ineradicable gaiety of spirit in her that needed only sunshine
to make it the dominant note of her nature.

At the moment, Robinette, in the station fly on her way to Stoke
Revel, was only in the making, although she herself considered her
life as practically finished. The past and the present were moulding
her into something that only the future could determine. Sometimes
April, sometimes July, sometimes witch, sometimes woman; impetuous,
intrepid, romantic, tempestuous, illogical,--these were but the
elements of which the coming years of experience had yet to shape a
character. Young Mrs. Loring had plenty of briars, but she had good
roots and in favorable soil would be certain to bear roses.

But in the immediate present, the fly with the immense American
wardrobe trunk beside the driver, turned into the avenue of Stoke
Revel, and Mrs. David Loring bestowed upon herself those little
feminine attentions which precede arrival--pattings of the hair behind
the ears, twitches of the veil, and pullings down about the waist and
sleeves. A little toy of a purse made of golden chainwork, hanging
from her wrist, was searched for the driver's fare, and it had hardly
snapped to again when the fly drew up before the entrance to the
house. How interesting it looked! Robinette put her head out of the
carriage window and gazed up at the long row of windows, the old
weather-coloured stones, and the carved front of the building. Here
was a house where things might happen, she thought, and her young
heart gave a sudden bound of anticipation.

But the door was shut, alas! and a blank feeling came over Robinette
as she looked at it. Some one perhaps would come out and welcome
her, she thought for a brief moment, but only the butler appeared,
who, with the formal announcement of her name, ushered her into a
long, low room with a row of windows on one side and a pleasant
old-fashioned look of comfort and habitation. She caught a glimpse
of a tea-table with a steaming urn upon it, heard the furious barking
of a little dog, saw that there were two figures in the room and
moved instinctively towards the one beside the window, the figure in
weeds, neither very tall nor very imposing, yet somehow formidable.

"How do you do?" said an icy voice, and a chill hand held hers for a
moment, but did not press it. The colour in Robinette's cheeks paled
and then rushed back, as she drew herself up unconsciously.

"I am very well, thank you, Aunt de Tracy," she answered with
commendable composure.

"This is my friend and companion, Miss Smeardon," continued Mrs. de
Tracy, advancing to the tea-table where that useful personage
officiated. "Mrs. David Loring--Miss Smeardon." Miss Smeardon had the
dog upon her lap, yapping, clashing his teeth together, and obviously
thirsting for the visitor's blood. He was quieted with soothing words,
and Robinette seated herself innocently in the nearest chair, beside
the table.

"Excuse me!" the companion said with a slight cough; "Mrs. de Tracy's
chair! Do you mind taking another?" There was something disagreeable
in her voice, and in Mrs. de Tracy's deliberate scrutiny something so
nearly insulting that a childish impulse to cry then and there
suddenly seized upon Robinette. This was her mother's home--and no
kiss had welcomed her to it, no kind word! There were perfunctory
questions about her journey, references to the coldness and lateness
of the spring, enquiries after the health of Maria Spalding (whose
mother was a Gallup), but no claiming of kinship, no naming of her
mother's name nor of her native country! Robinette's ardent spirit had
felt sorrow, but it had never met rebuff nor known injustice, and the
sudden stir of revolt at her heart was painful with an almost physical
pain.

After a long drawn hour of this social torture, Mrs. de Tracy rang,
and a hard-featured elderly maid appeared.

"Show Mrs. Loring to her room, Benson," said the mistress of the
house, "and help her to unpack."

Robinette followed her conductor upstairs with a sinking heart. Oh!
but the chill of this English spring was in her bones, and the
coldness of a reception so frigid that her passionate young spirit
almost rebelled on the spot, prompting wild ideas and impulsive
impossibilities; even a flight to her mother's old nurse--to Lizzie
Prettyman, so often lovingly described, with her little thatched
cottage beyond the river! Surely she would find the welcome there that
was lacking here, and the touch of human kindness that one craved in a
foreign land. But no! Robinette called to her aid her strong American
common sense and the "grit" that her countrymen admire. Was she to
confess herself routed in the very first onset--the very first attempt
in storming the ancestral stronghold? With a characteristically quick
return of hope, the Admiral's niece exclaimed, "Certainly not!"



IV

A CHILLY RECEPTION


Mrs. Benson approached the wardrobe trunk with the air of a person who
has taken an immediate and violent dislike to an object.

"We have all looked at your box, ma'am, but I am sorry to say we are
not sure that it is set up properly. It is very different from any we
have ever seen at the Manor, and the men had some difficulty in
getting it up to the room. I fancy it is upside down, is it not? No?
We rather thought it was. I would call the boot-and-knife boy to
unlock it, but he jammed his hand in attempting to force the catches,
and I thought you would be kind enough to instruct me how to open it,
perhaps?"

"I am quite able to do it myself," said Robinette, keeping down a
hysterical laugh. "See how easily it goes when you know the secret!"
and she deftly turned her key in two locks one after the other, let
down the mysterious façade of the affair, and pulled out an
extraordinary rack on which hung so many dresses and wraps that Mrs.
Benson lost her breath in surprise.

"Would you like me to carry some of your things into another room,
ma'am?" she asked. "They will never go in the wardrobe; it is only a
plain English wardrobe, ma'am. We have never had any American
guests."

"The things needn't be moved," said Robinette, "many of them will be
quite convenient where they are;--and now you need not trouble about
me; I am well used to helping myself, if you will be kind enough to
come in just before dinner for a moment."

Mrs. Benson disappeared below stairs, where she regaled the injured
boot-and-knife boy and the female servants with the first instalment
of what was destined to be the most dramatic and sensational serial
story ever told at the Manor House.

"The lid of the box don't lift up," she explained, "like all the box
lids as ever I saw, and me with Lady Chitterton for six years,
traveling constantly. The front of the thing splits in the middle and
the bottom half falls on the floor. A heathenish kind of tray lifts
off from its hinges like a door, and a clothes rack pulls out on
runners. 'T is a sight to curdle your blood; and the number of dresses
she's brought would make her out to be richer than Crusoe!--though I
have heard from a cousin of mine who was in service in America that
the ladies over there spend every penny they can rake and scrape on
their clothes. Their husbands may work their fingers to the bone, and
their parents be in the workhouse, but fine frocks they will have!"

"Rather!" said the boot-and-knife boy, nursing his injured thumb.

On the departure of Mrs. Benson from her room, Robinette gave a
stifled shriek in which laughter and tears were equally mingled. Then
she flew like a lapwing to the fire-place and lifted off a fan of
white paper from the grate.

"No possibility of help there!" she exclaimed. "Cold within, cold
without! How shall I unpack? How shall I dress? How shall I live
without a fire? Ah! here is the coal box! Empty! Empty, and it is only
the month of April! 'Oh! to be in England now that April's there!' How
could Browning write that line without his teeth chattering! How well
I understand the desire of the British to keep India and South Africa!
They must have some place to go where they can get warm! Now for
unpacking, or any sort of manual labour which will put my frozen blood
in circulation!"

Slapping her hands, beating her breast, stamping her feet, Mrs. Loring
removed a few dresses from the offending trunk to the mahogany
wardrobe, and disposed her effects neatly in the drawers of bureau and
highboy.

"I have made a mistake at the very beginning," she thought. "I
supposed nothing could be too pretty for the Manor House and now I am
afraid my worst is too fine. The Manor House of Stoke Revel! Wouldn't
that appeal to anyone's imagination? Now what for to-night? White
satin with crystal? Back you go into the trunk! Back goes the
silver grey chiffon! I'll have it re-hung over flannel! Avaunt!
heliotrope velvet with amethyst spangles, made with a view to
ensnaring the High Church clergy! I wish I had a princess dress of
moleskin with a court train of squirrel hanging from the shoulders!
Here is the thing; my black Liberty satin two years old. I will
cover part of my exposed neck and shoulders with a fichu of lace; my
black silk openwork stockings will be drawn on over a pair of
balbriggans, and the number of petticoats I shall don would discourage
a Scotch fishwife! To-morrow I'll write Mrs. Spalding's maid to buy
me two hot-water bottles, mittens, a box of quinine tablets and a
Shetland shawl.... What are these--_fans?_ Retire into the depths of
that tray and never look me in the face again!... _Parasols?_ I
wonder at your impertinence in coming here! I shall give you cod
liver oil and make you grow into umbrellas!"

Presently the dinner gong growled through the house, and Robinette,
still shivering, flung across her shoulders a shimmering scarf of
white and silver. It fell over her simple black dress in just the
right way, adding a last touch to the somewhat exotic grace which made
her a stranger in her mother's home. Then she fled down the darkening
passages, instinctively aware that unpunctuality was a crime in this
house. Yet in spite of her haste, she paused before the window of an
upper lobby, arrested by the scene it framed. Heavy rain still fell,
and the light, made greenish by the nearness of great trees just
coming into leaf, was cheerless and singularly cold. But that could
not mar the majesty of the outlook which made the Manor of Stoke
Revel, on its height, unique. Far below the house, the broad river
slipped towards the sea, between woods that rose tier upon tier above
and beyond--woods of beech and of oak, not yet green, but purplish
under the rainy mist. On the bank, woods too, and here, where the
river, in excess of strength, swirled into a creek--a shining
sand-bank where fishing nets were hung. Then the low, strong tower of
a church, with the sombreness of cypress beside it, and the thatched
roofs of cottages.

Something stirred in the heart of Robinette as she looked, that part
of her blood which her English mother had given her. This scene, so
indescribably English as hardly to be imaginable in another land, had
been painted for her again and again by her mother with all the
retrospective romance of an exile's touch. She knew it, but she did
not know if she could ever love it, beautiful though it was and
noble.

But she banished these misgivings and ran down the twisted stairway
so fast that she was almost panting when she reached the drawing-room
door.

"I will take your arm, please," said the hostess coldly, while Miss
Smeardon wore the virtuous and injured air of one who has been kept
waiting. Mrs. de Tracy laid, on the warm and smooth arm of her guest,
one of her small, dry hands, sparkling with rings, and the procession
closed with the companion and the lap-dog.

In the dining room, the shutters were closed, and the candles, in
branching candlesticks of silver, only partially lit a room long and
low like the other. The walls were darkened with pictures, and
Robinette's bright eyes searched them eagerly.

"The Sir Joshua is not here!" she thought. "And it was not in the
drawing room. Has Aunt de Tracy given, or hidden it away--my very own
name-picture?"

With all her determination, Robinette somehow could not summon courage
enough to ask where this picture was. Such a question would involve
the mention of her mother's name, and from that she shrank. Young Mrs.
Loring had never before found herself in a society where conversation
was apparently regarded as a crime, and to fit herself to her
environment, under the scrutiny of Mrs. de Tracy and the decidedly
inimical looks of the companion, took all her time. A burden of
self-consciousness lay upon her such as her light and elastic spirit
had never known. She found herself morbidly observant of minute
details; the pattern of the tablecloth; the crest upon the spoons; the
curious red knobs upon Miss Smeardon's fingers, and the odd mincing
way she held her fork; the almost athletic efforts of the butler when
he raised an enormous silver dish-cover, and the curiously frugal and
unappetizing nature of the viand it disclosed. The wizened face of the
lap-dog, too, peering over the table's edge, out of Miss Smeardon's
lap, might have acquired its distrustful expression, Robinette
thought, from habitual doubts as to whether enough to eat would ever
be his good fortune. The meal ended with the ceremonious presentation
to each lady in turn, of three wrinkled apples and two crooked bananas
in a probably priceless dish of Crown Derby. Then the procession
re-formed and returned to the drawing room.

"And the evening and the morning were the first day!" sighed Robinette
to herself in the chilly solitude of her own room. How often could she
endure the repetition?



V

AT WITTISHAM


"May I have a fire to dress by, Benson?" Robinette asked rather
timidly that night, her head just peeping above the blankets.

"_Fire_?" returned Benson, in italics, with an interrogation point.

Robinette longed to spell the word and ask Benson if it had ever come
to her notice before, but she stifled her desire and said, "I am quite
ashamed, Benson, but you see I am not used to the climate yet. If
you'll pamper me just a little at the beginning, I shall behave better
presently."

"I will give orders for a fire night and morning, certainly, ma'am,"
said Benson. "I did not offer it because our ladies never have one in
their bedrooms at this time of the year. Mrs. de Tracy is very strong
and active for her age."

"It's my opinion she's a w'eedler," remarked Benson at the housekeeper's
luncheon table. "She asks for what she wants like a child. She has a
pretty way with her, I can't deny that, but is she a w'eedler?"

Wheedler or not, Robinette got her fire to dress by, and so was able
to come down in the morning feeling tolerably warm. It was well that
she was, for the cold tea and tough toast of the de Tracy breakfast
had little in them to warm the heart. Conversation languished during
the meal, and after a walk to the stables Robinette was thankful to
return to her own room again on the pretext of writing letters. There
she piled up the fire, drew her chair close up to the hearth, and
employed herself until noon, when she took her embroidery and joined
her aunt in the drawing room. Luncheon was announced at half past one,
and immediately after it Mrs. de Tracy and Miss Smeardon went to their
respective bedrooms for rest.

"Are there indeed only twelve hours in the day?" Robinette asked
herself desperately as she heard the great, solemn-toned hall clock
strike two. It seemed quite impossible that it could be only two; the
whole afternoon had still to be accounted for, and how? Well, she
might look over her clothes again, re-arranging them in all their
dainty variety in the wardrobe and drawers; she might put tissue paper
into the sleeves of each bodice, smoothing out every crease; she might
even find that some tiny repairs were needed! There were three new
hats, and several pairs of new gloves to be tried on; her accounts
must be made up, her cheque book balanced; yet all these things would
take but a short time. Then the hall clock struck three.

"I must go out," she thought.

Coming through the hall from her room Robinette met her aunt and Miss
Smeardon descending the staircase.

"We are driving this afternoon," said Mrs. de Tracy, "would you not
like to come with us?"

The thought turned Robinette to stone: she had visited the stables,
and seen the coachman lead what seemed to her a palsied horse out into
the yard. Her sympathetic allusion to the supposed condition of the
steed had not been well received, for the man had given her to
understand that this was the one horse of the establishment, but
Robinette had vowed never to sit behind it.

"I think I'd rather walk, Aunt de Tracy," she said, "I'd like to go
and see my mother's old nurse, Mrs. Prettyman. Can I do any errands
for you?"

"None, thank you. To go to Wittisham you have to cross the ferry,
remember."

"Oh! that must be simple! you may be sure I shall not lose myself!"
said Robinette.

Both the older women looked curiously at her for a moment; then Mrs.
de Tracy said:--

"You will kindly not use the public ferry; the footman will row you
across to Wittisham at any hour you may mention to him."

"Oh, but Aunt de Tracy, I'd really prefer the public ferry."

"Nonsense, impossible; the footman shall row you," said Mrs. de Tracy
with finality.

Robinette said nothing; she hated the idea of the footman, but it
seemed inevitable. "Am I never to get away from their dullnesses?" she
thought. "A public ferry sounds quite lively in place of being rowed
by William!"

When the shore was reached, however, Robinette discovered that the
passage across the river in a leaky little boat, rowed by a painfully
inexperienced servant, was almost too much for her. To see him
fumbling with the oars, made her tingle to take them herself; she
could not abide the irritation of a return journey with such a
boatman. This determination was hastened when she saw that instead of
the three-decker steamer of her native land, the ferry at Wittisham
was just like an ordinary row-boat; that one rang a bell hanging from
a picturesque tower; that a nice young man with a sprig of wallflower
in his cap rowed one across, and that each passenger handed out a
penny to him on the farther side.

"How enchantingly quaint!" she cried. "William, you can go home; I
shall return by the public ferry."

William looked surprised but only replied, "Very good, ma'am."

On warm summer afternoons the tiny square of Mrs. Prettyman's garden
made as delightful a place to sit in as one could wish. There was
sunshine on the turf, and a thin shade was cast by the drooping boughs
of the plum tree; just enough to shelter old eyes from the glare. When
she was very tired with doing her work Mrs. Prettyman would totter out
into the garden. She was getting terribly lame now, yet afraid to
acknowledge it, knowing, with the desperate wisdom of poverty, that
once to give in, very often ended in giving up altogether. So her
lameness was 'blamed on the weather,' 'blamed on scrubbing the
floor,' blamed on anything rather than the tragic, incurable fact of
old age. This afternoon her rheumatism had been specially bad: she had
an inclination to cry out when she rose from her chair, and every step
was an effort. Yet the sunshine was tempting; it warmed old and aching
bones through and through as no fire could do; and Mrs. Prettyman
thought she must make the effort to go out.

She had just arrived at this conclusion, when a tap came to the door.

"That you, Mrs. Darke?" she called out in her piping old voice. "Come
in, me dear, I'm that stiff with me rheumatics to-day I can't scarce
rise out of me chair."

"It's not Mrs. Darke," said Robinette, stooping to enter through the
tiny doorway. "It's a stranger, Mrs. Prettyman, come all the way from
America to see you."

"Lor' now, Miss, whoever may you be?" the old woman cried, making as
if she would rise from her chair. But Robinette caught her arm and
made her sit still.

"Don't get up; please sit right there where you are, and I'll take
this chair beside you. Now, Mrs. Prettyman, look at me hard, and tell
me if you know who I am."

The old woman gazed into Robinette's face, and then a light seemed to
break over her.

"It's Miss Cynthia's daughter you are!" she cried. "My Miss Cynthia as
went and married in America!"

She caught Robinette's white ringed hands in hers, and Robinette bent
down and kissed the wrinkled old face.

"I know that mother loved you, Nurse," she said. "She used often,
often to tell me about you."

After the fashion of old people, Mrs. Prettyman was too much moved to
speak. Her face worked all over, and then slow tears began to run down
her furrowed cheeks. She got up from her chair and walked across the
uneven floor, leaning on a stick.

"I've something here, Miss, I've something here; something I never
parts with," she said. A tall chest of drawers stood against the wall,
and the old woman began to search among its contents as she spoke. At
last she found a little kid shoe, laid away in a handkerchief.

"See here, Miss! here's my Miss Cynthia's shoe! 'T was tied on to my
wedding coach the day I got married and left her. My 'usband 'e
laughed at me cruel because I'd have that shoe with me; but I've kept
it ever since."

Robinette came and stood beside her, and they both wept together over
the silly little shoe.

"I want to talk a great deal to you, Nurse; I want to tell you all
about mother and father, and how they died," said Robinette through
her tears. How strange that she should have to come to this cottage
and to this poor old woman before she found anyone to whom she could
speak of her beloved dead! Her heart was so full that she could
scarcely speak. A crowd of memories rushed into her mind; last scenes
and parting words; those innumerable unforgettable details that are
printed once for all upon the heart that loves and feels.

"I'd like to tell you about it out of doors, Nurse dear," she said
tearfully; "can you come out under the plum tree in your garden? It's
lovely there."

"Yes, dearie, yes, we'll come out under the plum tree, we will,"
echoed Mrs. Prettyman.

"See, Nursie, take my arm, I'll help you out into the warm sunshine,"
Robinette said.

They progressed very slowly, the old woman leaning with all her weight
upon the arm of her strong young helper. Then under the flickering
shade of the tree they sat down together for their talk.

So much to tell, so much to hear, the afternoon slipped away unknown
to them, and still they were sitting there hand in hand talking and
listening; sometimes crying a little, sometimes laughing; a queerly
assorted couple, these new-made friends.

But when all the recollections had been talked over and wept over,
when Mrs. Prettyman had told Robinette, with the extraordinary detail
that old people can put into their memories of long ago, all that she
remembered of Cynthia de Tracy's childhood, then Robinette began to
question the old woman about her own life. Was she comfortable? Was
she tolerably well off? Or had she difficulty in making ends meet?

To these questions Mrs. Prettyman made valiant answers: she had a fine
spirit, and no wish to let a stranger see the skeleton in the
cupboard. But Robinette's quick instinct pierced through the veil of
well-meant bravery and touched the truth.

"Nurse dear," she said, "you say you're comfortable, and well off, but
you won't mind my telling you that I just don't quite believe you."

"Oh, my dear heart, what's that you be sayin'? callin' of me a liar?"
chuckled the old woman fondly.

Robinette rose from her seat on the bench and stood back to
scrutinize the cottage. It was exquisitely picturesque, but this
very picturesqueness constituted its danger; for the place was a
perfect death trap. The crumbling cob-walls that had taken on those
wonderful patches of green colour, soaked in the damp like a sponge:
the irregularity of the thatched roof that looked so well, admitted
trickles of rain on wet nights; and the uneven mud floor of the
kitchen revealed the fact that the cottage had been built without any
proper foundation. The door did not fit, and in cold weather a
knife-like draught must run in under it. All this Robinette's
quick, practical glance took in; she gave a little nod or two,
murmuring to herself, "A new thatch roof, a new door, a new cement
floor." Then she came and sat down again.

"Tell me now, how much do you have to live on every week, Nurse?" she
asked.

"Oh, Miss Robinette--ma'am, I should say--'t is wonderful how I gets
on; and then there's the plum tree--just see the flourish on it,
Missie dear! 'T will have a crop o' plums come autumn will about drag
down the boughs! I don't know how 't would be with me without I had
the plum tree."

"Do you really make something by it?" Robinette asked.

The old woman chuckled again. "To be sure I makes; makes jam every
autumn; a sight o' jam. Come inside again, me dear, an' see me jam
cupboard and you'll know."

She hobbled into the kitchen, and opened the door of a wall press in
the corner. There, row above row stood a solid phalanx of jam pots; it
seemed as if a whole town might be supplied out of Mrs. Prettyman's
cupboard.

"'T is well thought of, me jam," the old woman said, grinning with
pleasure. "I be very careful in the preparing of 'en; gets a penny the
pound more for me jam than others, along of its being so fine."

Robinette was charmed to see that here Mrs. Prettyman had a reliable
source of income, however slender.

"How much do you reckon to get from it every year?" she asked.

"Going five pounds, dear: four pounds fifteen shillings and sixpence,
last autumn; and please the Lord there's a better crop this season, so
't will be the clear five pounds. Oh! I do be loving me plum tree like
a friend, I do."

They turned back into the sunshine again, that Robinette should admire
this wonderful tree-friend once more. She stood under its shadow with
great delight, as the Bible says, gazing up through the intricate
network of boughs and blossom to the cloudless blue above her.

"It's heavenly, Nurse, just heavenly!" she sighed as she came and sat
down beside the old woman again.

"Then there's me duck too, Missie! Lard, now I don't know how I'd be
without I had me duck. Duckie I calls 'er and Duckie she is; company
she is, too, to me mornin's, with her 'Quack, Quack,' under the
winder."

So the old woman prattled on, giving Robinette all the history of her
life, with its tiny joys and many struggles, till it seemed to the
listener that she had always known Mrs. Prettyman, the plum tree, and
her duck--known them and loved them, all three.



VI

MARK LAVENDAR


Hundreds of years ago the street of Stoke Revel village, if street it
could be called, and the tower of the ancient church, must have looked
very much the same as now.

On such a day, when the oak woods were budding, and the English birds
singing, and the spring sun was hot in a clear sky, a knight riding
down the steep lane would have taken the same turn to the left on his
way to the Manor. Were he a young man, he would probably have reined
up his horse for a moment, and looked, as Mark Lavendar did now, at
the blithe landscape before him. Only then the accessories would have
been so different: the great horse, somewhat tired by long hours of
riding, the armour that glinted in the sun, the casque pushed up to
let the fresh air play upon the rider's face; such a figure must have
often stood just at that turn where the lane wound up the little hill.
The landscape was the same, and young men in all ages are very much
the same, so--although this one had merely arrived by train, and
walked from the nearest station--Mark Lavendar stopped and leaned over
the low wall when he came to the turn of the road, and looked down at
the river.

He boasted no war horse nor armour; none of the trappings of the older
world added to his distinction, and yet he was a very pleasing figure
of a man.

The gaunt brown face was quite hard and solemn in expression; ugly,
but not commonplace, for as a friend once said of him, "His eyes seem
to belong to another person." It was not this, but only that the eyes,
blue as Saint Veronica's flower, showed suddenly a different aspect of
the man, an unexpected tenderness that flatly contradicted the hard
features of his face. He looked very nice when he laughed too, so
that most people when they had found out the trick, tried to make him
laugh as often as possible.

"What a day! Heavens! what a lovely day," he said to himself as he
leaned on the low wall. "I want to be courting Amaryllis somewhere in
these woods, and instead I've got to go and talk business with that
old woman;" and he looked ruefully towards the Manor House; for this
was not his first visit by any means, and he knew only too well the
hours of boredom that awaited him. Mrs. de Tracy, strange to say, had
a soft side towards this young man, the son of her family solicitor.
Mark was invariably sent down by his father when there was any
business to be transacted at Stoke Revel. The older man was fond of a
good dinner, and hated circumlocution about affairs, and it was only
when a death in the family, or some other crucial event, made his
presence absolutely necessary that he came down himself. Mark was
sacrificed instead, and many a wearisome hour had he spent in that
house. However on this occasion he had been glad enough to get out of
London for a while; the country was divine, and even the de Tracy
business did not occupy the whole day. There would be hours on the
river; afternoons spent riding along those green lanes through which
he had just passed, where the banks were starred with little vivid
flowers. Mark had an almost childish delight in such beauty. He had
loitered on the way along, flung himself down on a bank for a few
minutes, and burying his face amongst the flowers, listened with a
smile upon his mouth to the birds that chirruped in the branches of
the oak above him.

Now he leaned on the low wall, and gazed at the shining reaches of the
river. "What a day!" he said to himself again. "What a divine
afternoon"; then he added quite simply, "I wish I were in love;
everyone under eighty ought to be, on such a day!"

Even at the age of thirty most men of any personal attractions have
some romantic memories. Lavendar had his share, but somehow that
morning he was disconcertingly candid to himself. It may have been the
sudden change from London air and London noise; something in the clear
transparency of the April day, in the flute-like melody of the birds'
song, in the dream-like beauty of the scene before him, that made all
the moth and rust that had consumed the remembrances of the past more
apparent. There was little of the treasure of heaven there,--it had
mostly been nonsense or vanity or worse. He wanted, oh, how he wanted,
to be able just for once to surrender himself to what was absolutely
ideal; to have a memory when he was an old man, of something that had
no fault in it.

"No, I've never been really in love," he said to himself, "I may as
well confess it; and I daresay I never shall be, but marry on an
impulse like most men, make the best of it afterwards, and have a
sort of middle-class happiness in the end of the day."

"One, Two, Three," said the church clock from the ancient tower,
booming out the note, and Lavendar started, and rubbed his hands
across his dazzled eyes. "Luncheon is a late meal in that awful house,
if I remember," he said, "but it must be over by this time. I really
must go in. Let me collect my thoughts; the business is 'just things
in general,' but especially the sale of some cottage or other and the
land it stands on. Yes, yes, I remember; the papers are all right. Now
for the old ladies."

He made his entrance into the Manor drawing room a few minutes later
with a charming smile.

Mrs. de Tracy actually walked a few steps to meet him, with a greeting
less frigid than usual.

"I'm glad to see you, Mark," said she. "Bates said you preferred to
walk from the station."

Mark turned his kind eyes on Miss Smeardon, and held her knuckly hand
in his own almost tenderly. It was a very bad habit, which had led to
some mischief in the past, that when he was sorry for a thing he
wanted to be very kind to it; and this made him unusually pleasing,
and dangerous!

"Business first and pleasure afterwards; excellent maxim!" he said to
himself half an hour later, as he removed the dust of travel from his
person, preparatory to an interview with Mrs. de Tracy. "Now for it!"

He liked the drawing room at Stoke Revel and always wished it had
other occupants when he entered it. This afternoon it seemed
particularly agreeable, the open windows letting in the slanting
sunshine and a strong scent of jonquils and sweet briar.

"Well, Mrs. de Tracy," said Mark, "I am my father's spokesman, you
know, and we have serious business to discuss. But tell me first,
how's my young friend Carnaby?"

"Thank you; my grandson has a severe attack of quinsy," replied Mrs.
de Tracy. "He is to have sick-leave whenever the Endymion returns to
Portsmouth."

"Oh! Carnaby will make short work of an attack of quinsy," said
Lavendar, genially.

"It would please me better," retorted Mrs. de Tracy severely, "if my
grandson showed signs of mental improvement as well as bodily health.
His letters are ill-spelled, ill-written, and ill-expressed. They are
the letters of a school-boy."

"He is not much more than a school-boy, is he?" suggested Mark, "only
fifteen! The mental improvement will come; too soon, for my taste. I
like Carnaby as he is!"

The young man had seated himself beside his hostess in an attitude of
perfect ease. Though bored by his present environment, he was entirely
at home in it. Just because he greatly dared towards her and was never
afraid, Mrs. de Tracy liked him. With the mere flicker of an eyelid,
she dismissed the attendant Smeardon.

"There has been an offer for the land at Wittisham," Lavendar said,
when they were alone.

Mrs. de Tracy winced. "That is no matter of congratulation with me,"
she said bleakly.

"But it is with us, for it is a most excellent one!" returned the
young man hardily. "The firm has had the responsibility of advising
the sale, which we consider absolutely unavoidable in the present
financial condition of Stoke Revel. We have advertised for a year, and
advertisement is costly. Now comes an offer of a somewhat peculiar
kind, but sound enough." Lavendar here produced a bundle of documents
tied with the traditional red tape. "An artist," he continued,
"Waller, R. A.--you know the name?"

"I do not," interpolated Mrs. de Tracy grimly.

"Nevertheless, a well known painter," persisted Mark, "and one, as it
happens, of the orchard scenery of this part of England. He has known
Wittisham for a long time, and only last year he made a success with
the painting of a plum tree which grows in front of one of the
cottages. It was sold for a large sum, and, as a matter of sentiment,
I suppose, Waller wishes to buy the cottage and make it into a summer
retreat or studio for himself."

"He cannot buy it," said Mrs. de Tracy with the snort of a war horse.

"He cannot buy it apart from the land," insinuated Mark, "but he is
flush of cash and ready to buy the land too--very nearly as much as we
want to sell, and the bargain merely waits your consent. The sum that
has been agreed upon is of the kind that a man in the height of his
triumph offers for a fancy article. No such sum will ever be offered
for land at Wittisham again; old orchard land, falling into desuetude
as it is and covered with condemned cottages."

Mrs. de Tracy was sternly silent, and Mark awaited her next words with
some curiosity. He felt like a torturer drawing the tooth of a Jew in
the good old days. This sale of land was a bitter pill to the widow,
as it well might be, for it was the beginning of the end, as the de
Tracy solicitors could have told you. There had been de Tracys of
Stoke Revel since Queen Elizabeth's time, but there would not be de
Tracys of Stoke Revel much longer,--unless young Carnaby married an
heiress when he came of age--and that no de Tracy had ever done.

"The land across the river," Mrs. de Tracy said at last, "was the
first land the de Tracys held, but much of it went at the Restoration.
Well, let this go too!" she added harshly.

Mark blessed himself that indecision was no part of the lady's
character and sighed with relief. "My father would like to know," he
said, "what you propose to do with regard to the old woman who is the
present tenant of the cottage."

"Elizabeth Prettyman is not a tenant," said Mrs. de Tracy coldly.
"She is practically a pensioner, since she lives rent-free."

"True, I forgot," said Mark soothingly. "I beg your pardon."

"Do not suppose that it is by my wish," continued Mrs. de Tracy
coldly. "I have never approved of supporting the peasantry in
idleness. This woman happened to be for some years nurse to Cynthia de
Tracy, my husband's younger sister, who deeply offended her family by
marrying an American named Bean. I see no claim in that to a pension
of any kind."

"But your husband saw it, I imagine," interpolated Mark quietly, and
Mrs. de Tracy gave him a fierce look, which he met, however, without a
sign of flinching.

"My husband had a mistaken idea that Prettyman was poor when she
became a widow," said Mrs. de Tracy. "On the contrary she had
relations quite well able to support her, I believe. I never cross the
river, in these days, and the matter has escaped my memory, so that
things have been left as they were."

"No great loss," said Mark candidly, "since the cottage in its present
state is utterly unfit for any tenant. As to Prettyman, is it your
intention to give her notice to quit?"

"Unquestionably, since the cottage is needed," answered Mrs. de Tracy.
"She has occupied it too long as it is." The speaker's lips closed
like a vice over the words.

"God pity Elizabeth Prettyman!" ejaculated Lavendar to himself. "Might
is Right still, apparently, at Stoke Revel!" Aloud he merely said, "A
weak deference to public opinion was never a foible of yours, Mrs. de
Tracy; but I think I would advise you to consider some question of
compensation to Mrs. Prettyman for the loss of the cottage."

"If you can show me that the woman has any legal claim upon the
estate, I will consider the question, but not otherwise," said Mrs. de
Tracy with such an air of finality that Lavendar was inclined to let
the matter drop for the moment.

"The firm," he said, "will communicate your wishes to Mrs. Prettyman
by letter."

"Prettyman cannot read," snapped Mrs. de Tracy. "She must be told, and
the sooner the better."

"Well, Mrs. de Tracy," said the young man with a short laugh,
"provided it is not I who have to tell her, well and good. I warn you
the task would not be to my taste unless compensation were offered
her."

Mrs. de Tracy's features hardened to a degree unusual even to her.

"I am apparently less tender-hearted than you," she said sardonically.
"I shall, if I think fit, deal with Prettyman in person." The subject
was dropped, and Lavendar rose to leave the room, but Mrs. de Tracy
detained him.

"The Admiral's niece, Mrs. David Loring, is my guest at present," she
said. "It happens that she has crossed the river to Wittisham and is
paying a visit to Prettyman. I should be obliged, Mark, if you would
row across and fetch her back, as by some misunderstanding, my servant
has not waited for her. You are an oarsman, I know."

The young man consented with alacrity. "I shall kill two birds with
one stone," he said cheerfully, "I shall visit the famous plum tree
cottage and see Mrs. Prettyman for myself; and I shall have the
privilege of executing your commission as Mrs. Loring's escort. It
sounds a very agreeable one!"

"You have no time to lose," said Mrs. de Tracy with a glance at the
clock.



VII

A CROSS-EXAMINATION


Lavendar escaped from the house, where, even in the smoke-room, it
seemed unregenerate to light a cigar, and took the path to the shore.

"I wonder if one woman staying in a house full of men would find life
as depressing as I do cooped up here under precisely opposite
circumstances," he thought, as he made his way through the little
churchyard. "It cannot be the atmosphere of femininity that bores me,
however, for Mrs. de Tracy has a strongly masculine flavour and Miss
Smeardon is as nearly neuter as a person can be."

He took a couple of oars from the boat-house as he passed, and going
to the little landing stage untied the boat and started for the
farther shore.

It was good to feel the water parting under his vigorous strokes and
delightful to exert his strength after the hours of stifled irritation
at the Manor. It was a bright, calm close of day, when in the rarefied
evening air each sound began to acquire the sharpness that marks the
hour. He could hear the rush of the waters behind the boat and the
voices of the fishers farther up the stream. As he drew up to the bank
and took in his oars the stillness was so great that you could have
heard a pin fall, when suddenly from a tree above him a bird broke
into one little finished song and then was still, as if it had uttered
all it wished to say.

"What a heavenly evening!" thought Lavendar, "and what a lovely spot!
That must be the cottage just above me. Mrs. de Tracy said I should
know it by the plum tree. Ah, there it is!" Tying up the boat he
sprang up the steps and walked along the flagged path. The plum tree
these last few days had begun to look its fairest. The blossoms did
not yet conceal the leaves, but it was a very bower of beauty already.
There was a little table spread for tea under its branches, and an old
woman like thousands of old women in thousands of cottages all over
England, was sitting behind it, precisely as if she had been a
coloured illustration in a summer number of an English weekly. She was
on the typical bench in the typical attitude, but instead of the
typical old man in a clean smock frock who should have occupied the
end of the bench, there sat beside her a distinctly lovely young
woman. What struck Lavendar was the wealth of colour she brought into
the picture: goldy brown hair, brown tweed dress, with a cape of blue
cloth slipping off her shoulders, and a brown toque with a pert
upstanding quill that seemed to express spirit and pluck, and a merry
heart. His quick glance took in the little hands that held the
withered old ones. Both heads were bowed and in the brown tweed lap
was a child's shoe,--a wee, worn, fat shoe. Beside it lay an absurd
bit of crumpled, tear-soaked embroidery that had been intended to do
duty as a handkerchief but had evidently proved quite unseaworthy.

Waddling about on the flags close to the little table was a large fat
duck wearing a look of inexpressible greed. "_Quack, quack, quack_!"
it said, waddling off angrily as Lavendar approached.

At the sound of the duck's raucous voice both the women looked up.

"Is this Mrs. Prettyman's cottage, ma'am?" Lavendar asked with his
charming smile.

"Yes, sir, 't is indeed, and who may you be, if I may be so bold as to
ask?"

"I'm Mr. Lavendar, Mrs. de Tracy's lawyer, Mrs. Prettyman. I'm come to
do some business at Stoke Revel," he added, for the old face had
clouded over, and Mrs. Prettyman's whole expression changed to one of
timid mistrust. "I really was sent by Mrs. de Tracy," he went on,
turning to Robinette, "to take you home; Mrs. Loring, isn't it?"

"Yes, I am Mrs. Loring," she said, frankly holding out her hand to
him. "I knew you were expected at Stoke Revel, but I sent the footman
back myself. He spoils the scenery and the river altogether."

"I've got a boat down there; Mrs. de Tracy doesn't quite like your
taking the ferry; may I have the honour of rowing you across? My
orders were to bring you back as soon as possible."

"I'm blest if I hurry," was his unspoken comment as Robinette gaily
agreed, and, having bidden good-bye to the old woman, with a quick
caress that astonished him a good deal, she laid down the little shoe
gently upon the bench, and turned to accompany him to the boat.

The river was like a looking-glass; the air like balm. "We'll
take some time getting across, against the tide," said Lavendar
reflectively, as he resolved that the little voyage should be
prolonged to its fullest possible extent. He was not going into
the Manor a moment earlier than he could help, when this charming
person was sitting opposite to him. So this was Mrs. Loring! How
different from the stout middle-aged lady whom Mrs. de Tracy's
words had conjured up when he set out to find her!

"Old Mrs. Prettyman was my mother's nurse," Robinette remarked as
Lavendar dipped his oars gently into the stream and began to row. "I
went to see her feeling quite grown up, and she seemed to consider me
still a child; I was feeling about four years old at the moment when
you appeared and woke me to the real world again."

She had dried her eyes now and had pulled her hat down so as to shade
her face, but Lavendar could see the traces of her weeping, and the
dear little ineffectual rag of a handkerchief was still in one hand.

"What on earth was she crying about?" he thought, as with lowered eyes
he rowed very slowly across, only just keeping the boat's head
against the current, and glancing now and then at the young woman.

Was it possible that this lovely person was going to be his
fellow-guest in that dull house? "My word! but she's pretty! and what
were the tears about ... and the little shoe? Did it belong to a child
of her own? Can she be a widow, I wonder," said Lavendar to himself.

"I often think," he said suddenly, raising his head, "that when two
people meet for the first time as utter strangers to each other, they
should be encouraged, not forbidden, to ask plain questions. It may be
my legal training, but I'd like all conversation to begin in that way.
As a child I was constantly reproved for my curiosity, especially when
I once asked a touchy old gentleman, 'Which is your glass eye? The one
that moves, or the one that stands still?'"

The tears had dried, the hat was pushed back again, the young woman's
face broke into an April smile that matched the day and the weather.

"Oh, come, let us do it," she exclaimed. "I'd love to play it like a
new game: we know nothing at all about each other, any more than if we
had dropped from the moon into the boat together. Oh! do be quick!
We've so little time; the river is quite narrow; who's to open the
ball?"

"I'll begin, by right of my profession; put the witness in the box,
please.--What is your name, madam?"

"Robinette Loring," she said demurely, clasping her hands on her knee,
an almost childlike delight in the new game dimpling the corners of
her mouth from time to time.

"What is your age, madam?" Lavendar hesitated just for a moment before
putting this question.

"I refuse to answer; you must guess."

"Contempt of Court--"

"Well, go on; I'm twenty-two and six weeks."

"Thank you, you are remarkably well preserved. I can hardly
believe--those six-weeks! What nationality?"

"American, of course, or half and half; with an English mother and
American ideas."

"Thank you. Where is your present place of residence?"

"Stoke Revel Manor House."

"What is the duration of the visit?"

"Fixed at a month, but may be shortened at any time for bad
behaviour."

"Your purpose in coming to Stoke Revel?"

"A Sentimental Journey, in search of fond relations."

"Have you found these relations?"

"I've found them; but the fondness is still to seek."

"Have you left your family in America?"

"I have no one belonging to me in the world," she answered simply, and
her bright face clouded suddenly.

There was a moment's rather embarrassed silence. "It's getting to be a
sad game"; she said. "It's my turn now. I'll be the cross-examiner,
but not having had your legal training, I'll tell you a few facts
about this witness to begin with. He's a lawyer; I know that already.
Your Christian name, sir?"

"Mark."

"Mark Lavendar. 'Mark the perfect man.' Where have I heard that; in
Pope or in the Bible? Thank you; very good; your age is between thirty
and thirty-five, with a strong probability that it is thirty-three. Am
I right?"

"Approximately, madam."

"You are unmarried, for married men don't play games like this; they
are too sedate."

"You reassure me! Am I expected to acknowledge the truth of all your
observations?"

"You have only to answer my questions, sir."

"I am unmarried, madam."

"Your nationality?"

"English of course. You don't count a French grandmother, I suppose?"

Robinette clapped her hands. "Of course I do; it accounts for this
game; it just makes all the difference.--Why have you come to Stoke
Revel; couldn't you help it?"

A twinkle passed from the blue eyes to the brown ones.

"I am here on business connected with the estate."

"For how long?"

"An hour ago I thought all might be completed in a few days, but these
affairs are sometimes unaccountably prolonged!" (Was there another
twinkle? Robinette could hardly say.) They were half-way across the
river now. She leaned over and looked at herself in the water for a
moment.

Lavendar rested on his oars, and began to rub the palms of his hands,
smiling a little to himself as he bent his head.

"Yours is an odd Christian name," he said. "I've never heard it
before."

"Then you haven't visited your National Gallery faithfully enough,"
said Mrs. Loring. "Robinetta is one of the Sir Joshua pictures there,
you know, and it was a great favourite of my mother's in her girlhood.
Indeed she saved up her pin-money for nearly two years that she might
have a good copy of it made to hang in her bedroom where she could
look at it night and morning."

"Then you were named after the picture?"

"I was named from the memory of it," said Robinette, trailing her hand
through the clear water. "Mother took nothing to America with her but
my father's love (there was so much of that, it made up for all she
left behind), so the picture was thousands of miles away when I was
born. Mother told me that when I was first put into her arms she
thought suddenly, as she saw my dark head, 'Here is my own Robinetta,
in place of the one I left behind,' and fell asleep straight away,
full of joy and content."

"And they shortened the name to Robinette?"

"I was christened properly enough," she answered. "It was the world
that clipped my name's little wings; the world refuses to take me
seriously; I can't think why, I'm sure; I never regarded _it_ as a
joke."

"A joke," said Lavendar reflectively; "it's a sort of grim one at
times; and yet it's funny too," he said, suddenly raising his eyes.

"Now that's the odd thing I was thinking as I looked at you just now,"
Robinette said frankly. "You seem so deadly solemn until you look up
and laugh--and then you _do_ laugh, you know. That's the French
grandmother again! It was nice in her to marry your grandfather! It
helped a lot!"

He laughed then certainly, and so did she, and then pointed out to him
that they were being slowly drifted out of their course, and that if
he meant to get across to the landing-stage he must row a little
harder.

"I have met American women casually;" he said, bending to his oars,
"but I have never known one well."

"It's rather too bad to disturb the tranquillity of your impressions,"
returned Mrs. Loring composedly.

Lavendar looked up with another twinkle. She seemed to provoke
twinkles; he did not realize he had so many in stock.

"You mean American women are not painted in quite the right colours?"

"I suppose black _is_ a colour?"

"Oh! I see your point of view!" and Lavendar twinkled again.

"I can tell you in five sentences exactly what you have heard about
us. Will you say whether I am right? If you refuse I'll put you in the
witness box and then you'll be forced to speak!"

"Very well; proceed."

"One: We are clever, good conversationalists, and as cold as
icicles."

"Yes."

"Two: We dress beautifully and use extravagant means to compass our
ends in this direction."

"Yes."

"Three: We keep our overworked husbands under strict discipline."

"Yes! I say,--I don't like this game."

"Neither do I, but it's very much played,--"

"Four: We prefer hotels to home life and don't bring up our children
well."

"Yes."

"Five: We interfere with the proper game laws by bagging English
husbands instead of staying on our own preserves. That's about all, I
think. Were not those rumours tolerably familiar to you in the
ha'penny papers and their human counterparts?"

Lavendar was so amused by this direct storming of his opinion that he
could hardly keep his laughter within bounds. "I've heard one other
criticism," he said, "that you were all pretty and all had small feet
and hands! I am now able to declare that to be a base calumny and to
hope that all the others will prove just as false!" Then Robinette
laughed too; eyes, lips, cheeks! When Lavendar looked at her he wished
that his father would keep him at Stoke Revel for a month.

The sun was going down now, and the rising tide came swelling up from
the sea, lifting itself and silently swelling the volume of the river,
in a way that had something awful about it. The whole current of the
great stream was against it, but behind was the force of the sea and
so it filled and filled with hardly a ripple, as the heart is filled
with a new desire. Up from the mouth of the river came a faint breeze
bringing the taste of the ocean into the deeply wooded creeks. It had
freshened into a little wind, as they drew up at the boat-house, that
flapped Robinette's blue cape about her, and dyed the colour in her
cheeks to a livelier tint. As they walked up the narrow pathway to the
house a deep silence fell between them that neither attempted to
break.

At the top of the hill, she paused to take breath, and look across the
river. It was half dark already there, on the other side in the deep
shadow of the hill; and a lamp in the window of the cottage shone like
a star beside the faintly green shape of the budding plum tree.

As Robinette entered the door of the Manor House she took out her
little gold-meshed purse and handed Mark Lavendar a penny.

"It's none too much," she said, meeting his astonished gaze with a
smile. "I should have had to pay it on the public ferry, and you were
ever so much nicer than the footman!"

Lavendar put the penny in his waistcoat pocket and has never spent it
to this day. It is impossible to explain these things; one can only
state them as facts. Another fact, too, that he suddenly remembered,
when he went to his room, was, that the moment her personality touched
his he was filled with curiosity about her. He had met hundreds of
women and enjoyed their conversation, but seldom longed to know on the
instant everything that had previously happened to them.



VIII

SUNDAY AT STOKE REVEL


On Sundays, the Stoke Revel household was expected to appear at church
in full strength, visitors included.

"We meet in the hall punctually at a quarter to eleven," it was Miss
Smeardon's duty to announce to strangers. "Mrs. de Tracy always
prefers that the Stoke Revel guests should walk down together, as it
sets a good example to the villagers."

"What Nelson said about going to church with Lady Hamilton!" Lavendar
had once commented, irrepressibly, but the allusion, rather
fortunately, was lost upon Miss Smeardon. Mark began to picture the
familiar Sunday scene to himself; Miss Smeardon in the hall at a
quarter to eleven punctually, marshalling the church-goers; and Mrs.
Loring,--she would be late of course, and come fluttering downstairs
in some bewitching combination of flowery hat and floating scarf that
no one had ever seen before. What a lover's opportunity in this
lateness, thought the young man to himself; but one could enjoy a walk
to church in charming company, though something less than a lover.

It was Mrs. de Tracy's custom, on Sunday mornings, to precede her
household by half an hour in going to the sanctuary. No infirmities of
old age had invaded her iron constitution, and it was nothing to her
to walk alone to the church of Stoke Revel, steep though the hill was
which led down through the ancient village to the yet more ancient
edifice at its foot. During this solitary interval, Mrs. de Tracy
visited her husband's tomb, and no one knew, or dared, or cared to
enquire, what motive encouraged this pious action in a character so
devoid of tenderness and sentiment. Was it affection, was it duty, was
it a mere form, a tribute to the greatness of an owner of Stoke
Revel, such as a nation pays to a dead king? Who could tell?

The graveyard of Stoke Revel owned a yew tree, so very, very old that
the count of its years was lost and had become a fable or a fairy
tale. It was twisted, gnarled, and low; and its long branches, which
would have reached the ground, were upheld, like the arms of some
dying patriarch, by supports, themselves old and moss-grown. Under the
spreading of this ancient tree were graves, and from the carved,
age-eaten porch of the church, a path led among them, under the green
tunnel, out into the sunny space beyond it. The Admiral lay in a vault
of which the door was at the side of the church, for no de Tracy, of
course, could occupy a mere grave, like one of the common herd; and
here walked the funereal figure of Mrs. de Tracy, fair weather or
foul, nearly every Sunday in the year.

In justice to Mrs. de Tracy, it must be made plain that with all her
faults, small spite was not a part of her character. Yet to-day, her
anger had been stirred by an incident so small that its very
triviality annoyed her pride. It was Mark Lavendar's custom, when his
visits to Stoke Revel included a Sunday, cheerfully to evade
church-going. His Sundays in the country were few, he said, and he
preferred to enjoy them in the temple of nature, generally taking a
long walk before lunch. But to-day he had announced his intention of
coming to service, and well Mrs. de Tracy, versed in men and in human
nature, knew why. Robinette would be there, and Lavendar followed, as
the bee follows a basket of flowers on a summer day. As Mrs. de Tracy,
like the Stoic that she was, accepted all the inevitable facts of
life,--birth, death, love, hate (she had known them all in her day),
she accepted this one also. But in that atrophy of every feeling
except bitterness, that atrophy which is perhaps the only real
solitude, the only real old age, her animosity was stirred. It was as
though a dead branch upon some living tree was angry with the spring
for breathing on it. As she returned, herself unseen in the shadow of
the yew tree, she saw Lavendar and Robinette enter together under the
lych-gate, the figure of the young woman touched with sunlight and
colour, her lips moving, and Lavendar smiling in answer. In the
clashing of the bells--bells which shook the air, the earth, the
ancient stones, the very nests upon the trees--their voices were
inaudible, but in their faces was a young happiness and hope to which
the solitary woman could not blind herself.

Presently in the lukewarm air within, Robinette was finding the
church's immemorial smell of prayer-books, hassocks, decaying wood,
damp stones, matting, school-children, and altar flowers, a harmonious
and suggestive one if not pleasant. What an ancient air it was, she
thought; breathed and re-breathed by slow generations of Stoke
Revellers during their sleepy devotions! The very light that entered
through the dim stained glass seemed old and dusty, it had seen so
much during so many hundred years, seen so much, and found out so many
secrets! Soon the clashing of the bells ceased and upon the still
reverberating silence there broke the small, snoring noises of a
rather ineffectual organ, while the amiable curate, Rev. Tobias Finch,
made his appearance, and the service began.

Mrs. de Tracy had entered the pew first, naturally; Miss Smeardon sat
next, then Robinetta. Lavendar occupied the pew in front, alone, and
through her half-closed eyelids Robinetta could see the line of his
lean cheek and bony temple. He had not wished to sit there at all and
he was so unresigned as to be badly in need of the soothing influences
of Morning Prayer. Robinetta was beginning to wonder dreamily what
manner of man this really was, behind his plain face and non-committal
manner, when the muffled slam of a door behind, startled her, followed
as it was by a quick step upon the matted aisle. Then without further
warning, a big, broad-shouldered boy, in the uniform of a British
midshipman, thrust himself into the pew beside her, hot and breathless
after running hard. Mrs. Loring guessed at once that this must be
Carnaby de Tracy, the young hopeful and heir of Stoke Revel of whom
Mr. Lavendar had so often spoken, but the startling and unconventional
nature of his appearance was not at all what one expected in a member
of his family. Robinette stole more than one look at him as the
offertory went round; a robust boy with a square chin, a fair face
burnt red by the sun, a rollicking eye and an impudent nose; not
handsome certainly, indeed quite plain, but he looked honest and
strong and clean, and Robinette's frolicsome youth was drawn to his,
all ready for fun. Carnaby hitched about a good deal, dropped his
hymn-book, moved the hassock, took out his handkerchief, and on
discovering a huge hole, turned crimson.

Service over, the congregation shuffled out into the sunshine, and
Mrs. de Tracy, after a characteristically cool and disapproving
recognition of her grandson, became occupied with villagers.
Lavendar made known young Carnaby to Mrs. David Loring, but the
midshipman's light grey eyes had discovered the pretty face without
any assistance.

"This lady is your American cousin, Carnaby," said Mark. "Did you know
you had one?"

"I don't think I did," answered the boy, "but it's never too late to
mend!" He attempted a bow of finished grown-upness, failed somewhat,
and melted at once into an engaging boyishness, under which his
frank admiration of his new-found relative was not to be hidden. "I
say, are you stopping at Stoke Revel?" he asked, as though the news
were too good to be true. "Jolly! Hullo--" he broke off with
animation as the cassocked figure of the Rev. Tobias Finch fluttered
out from the porch--"here's old Toby! Watch Miss Smeardon now! She
expects to catch him, you know, but he says he's going to be a
celly--celly-what-d'you-call-'em?"

"Celibate?" suggested Lavendar, with laughing eyes.

"The very word, thank you!" said Carnaby. "Yes: a celibate. Not so
easily nicked, good old Toby--you bet!"

"Do the clergymen over here always dress like that?" inquired
Robinetta, trying to suppress a tendency to laugh at his slang.

"Cassock?" said Carnaby. "Toby wouldn't be seen without it. High, you
know! Bicycles in it. Fact! Goes to bed in it, I believe."

"Carnaby, Carnaby! Come away!" said Lavendar. "Restrain these flights
of imagination! Don't you see how they shock Mrs. Loring?"

Before the Manor was reached, Robinetta and Carnaby had sworn eternal
friendship deeper than any cousinship, they both declared. They met
upon a sort of platform of Stoke Revel, predestined to sympathy upon
all its salient characteristics; two naughty children on a holiday.

"Do you get enough to eat here?" asked Carnaby in a hollow whisper, in
the drawing-room before lunch.

"Of course I have enough, Middy," answered Robinetta with unconscious
reservation. She had rejected "Carnaby" at once as a name quite
impossible: he was "Middy" to her almost from the first moment of
their acquaintance.

"Enough?" he ejaculated, "_I_ don't! I'd never be fed if it weren't
for old Bates and Mrs. Smith and Cooky." Bates was the butler, Mrs.
Smith the housekeeper, and Cooky her satellite. "Nobody gets enough to
eat in this house!" added Carnaby darkly, "except the dog."

At the lunch-table, the antagonism natural between a hot-blooded
impetuous boy and a grandmother such as Mrs. de Tracy became rather
painfully apparent. He had already been hauled over the coals for his
arrival on Sunday and his indecorous appearance in church after
service had begun.

"It does not appear to me that you are at all in need of sick-leave,"
said Mrs. de Tracy suspiciously.

Carnaby, sensitive for all his robustness, flushed hotly, and then
became impertinent. "My pulse is twenty beats too quick still, after
quinsy. If you don't believe the doctor, ma'am, it's not my fault."

"Carnaby has committed indiscretions in the way of growing since I
last saw him," Lavendar broke in hastily. "At sixteen one may easily
outgrow one's strength!"

"Indeed!" said Mrs. de Tracy, frigidly. The situation was saved by the
behaviour of the lap-dog, which suddenly burst into a passion of
barking and convulsive struggling in Miss Smeardon's arms. His enemy
had come, and Carnaby had fifty ways of exasperating his grandmother's
favourite, secrets between him and the bewildered dog. Rupert was a
Prince Charles of pedigree as unquestioned as his mistress's and an
appearance dating back to Vandyke, but Carnaby always addressed him as
"Lord Roberts," for reasons of his own. It annoyed his grandmother and
it infuriated the dog, who took it for a deadly insult.

"Lord Roberts! Bobs, old man, hi! hi!" Carnaby had but to say the
words to make the little dog convulsive. He said them now, and the
results seemed likely to be fatal to a dropsical animal so soon after
a full meal.

"You'll kill him!" whispered Robinette as they left the dining room.

"I mean to!" was the calm reply. "I'd like to wring old Smeardon's
neck too!" but the broad good humour of the rosy face, the twinkling
eyes, belied these truculent words. In spite of infinite powers of
mischief, there was not an ounce of vindictiveness in Carnaby de
Tracy, though there might be other qualities difficult to deal with.

"There's a man to be made there--or to be marred!" said Robinette to
herself.



IX

POINTS OF VIEW


Evenings at Stoke Revel were of a dullness all too deep to be sounded
and too closely hedged in by tradition and observance to be evaded or
shortened by the boldest visitor. Lavendar and the boy would have
prolonged their respite in the smoking room had they dared, but in
these later days Lavendar found he wished to be below on guard. The
thought of Robinette alone between the two women downstairs made him
uneasy. It was as though some bird of bright plumage had strayed into
a barnyard to be pecked at by hens. Not but what he realised that this
particular bird had a spirit of her own, and plenty of courage, but no
man with even a prospective interest in a pretty woman, likes to think
of the object of his admiration as thoroughly well able to look after
herself. She must needs have a protector, and the heaven-sent one is
himself.

He had to take up arms in her defense on this, the first night of his
arrival. Mrs. Loring had gone up to her room for some photographs of
her house in America, and as she flitted through the door her scarf
caught on the knob, and he had been obliged to extricate it. He had
known her exactly four hours, and although he was unconscious of it,
his heart was being pulled along the passage and up the stairway at
the tail-end of that wisp of chiffon, while he listened to her
retreating footsteps. Closing the door he came back to Mrs. de Tracy's
side.

"Her dress is indecorous for a widow," said that lady severely.

"Oh, I don't see that," replied Lavendar. "She is in reality only a
girl, and her widowhood has already lasted two years, you say."

"Once a widow always a widow," returned Mrs. de Tracy sententiously,
with a self-respecting glance at her own cap and the half-dozen dull
jet ornaments she affected. Lavendar laughed outright, but she rather
liked his laughter: it made her think herself witty. Once he had told
her she was "delicious," and she had never forgotten it.

"That's going pretty far, my dear lady," he replied. "Not all women
are so faithful to a memory as you. I understand Americans don't wear
weeds, and to me her blue cape is a delightful note in the landscape.
Her dresses are conventional and proper, and I fancy she cannot
express herself without a bit of colour."

"The object of clothing, Mark, is to cover and to protect yourself,
not to express yourself," said Mrs. de Tracy bitingly.

"The thought of wearing anything bright always makes me shrink,"
remarked Miss Smeardon, who had never apparently observed the tip of
her own nose, "but some persons are less sensitive on these points
than others."

Mrs. de Tracy bowed an approving assent to this. "A widow's only
concern should be to refrain from attracting notice," she said, as
though quoting from a private book of proverbial philosophy soon to be
published.

"Then Mrs. Loring might as well have burned herself on her husband's
funeral pyre, Hindoo fashion!" argued Lavendar. "A woman's life hasn't
ended at two and twenty. It's hardly begun, and I fear the lady in
question will arouse attention whatever she wears."

"Would she be called attractive?" asked Mrs. de Tracy with surprise.

"Oh, yes, without a doubt!"

"In gentlemen's eyes, I suppose you mean?" said Miss Smeardon.

"Yes, in gentlemen's eyes," answered Lavendar, firmly. "Those of women
are apparently furnished with different lenses. But here comes the
fair object of our discussion, so we must decide it later on."

The question of ancestors, a favourite one at Stoke Revel, came up in
the course of the next evening's conversation, and Lavendar found
Robinette a trifle flushed but smiling under a double fire of
questions from Mrs. de Tracy and her companion. Mrs. de Tracy was in
her usual chair, knitting; Miss Smeardon sat by the table with a piece
of fancy-work; Robinette had pulled a foot-stool to the hearthrug and
sat as near the flames as she conveniently could. She shielded her
face with the last copy of _Punch_, and let her shoulders bask in the
warmth of the fire, which made flickering shadows on her creamy neck.
Her white skirts swept softly round her feet, and her favourite
turquoise scarf made a note of colour in her lap. She was one of those
women who, without positive beauty, always make pictures of
themselves.

Lavendar analyzed her looks as he joined the circle, pretending to
read. "She isn't posing," he thought, "but she ought to be painted.
She ought always to be painted, each time one sees her, for
everything about her suggests a portrait. That blue ribbon in her hair
is fairly distracting! What the dickens is the reason one wants to
look at her all the time! I've seen far handsomer women!"

"Do you use Burke and Debrett in your country, Mrs. Loring?" Miss
Smeardon was enquiring politely, as she laid down one red volume after
the other, having ascertained the complete family tree of a lady who
had called that afternoon.

Robinette smiled. "I'm afraid we've nothing but telephone or business
directories, social registers, and 'Who's Who,' in America," she
said.

"You are not interested in questions of genealogy, I suppose?" asked
Mrs. de Tracy pityingly.

"I can hardly say that. But I think perhaps that we are more occupied
with the future than with the past."

"That is natural," assented the lady of the Manor, "since you have so
much more of it, haven't you? But the mixture of races in your
country," she continued condescendingly, "must have made you
indifferent to purity of strain."

"I hope we are not wholly indifferent," said Robinette, as though she
were stopping to consider. "I think every serious-minded person must
be proud to inherit fine qualities and to pass them on. Surely it
isn't enough to give _old_ blood to the next generation--it must be
_good_ blood. Yes! the right stock certainly means something to an
American."

"But if you've nothing that answers to Burke and Debrett, I don't see
how you can find out anybody's pedigree," objected Miss Smeardon. Then
with an air of innocent curiosity and a glance supposed to be arch,
"Are the Red Indians, the Negroes, and the Chinese in your so-called
directories?"

"As many of them as are in business, or have won their way to any
position among men no doubt are there, I suppose," answered Robinette
straightforwardly. "I think we just guess at people's ancestry by the
way they look, act, and speak," she continued musingly. "You can
'guess' quite well if you are clever at it. No Indians or Chinese ever
dine with me, Miss Smeardon, though I'd rather like a peaceful Indian
at dinner for a change; but I expect he'd find me very dull and
uneventful!"

"Dull!--that's a word I very often hear on American lips," broke in
Lavendar as he looked over the top of Henry Newbolt's poems. "I
believe being dull is thought a criminal offence in your country. Now,
isn't there some danger involved in this fear of dullness?"

"I shouldn't wonder," Robinette answered thoughtfully, looking into
the fire. "Yes; I dare say there is, but I'm afraid there are social
and mental dangers involved in _not_ being afraid of it, too!" Her
mischievous eyes swept the room, with Mrs. de Tracy's solemn figure
and Miss Smeardon's for its bright ornaments. "The moment a person or
a nation allows itself to be too dull, it ceases to be quite alive,
doesn't it? But as to us Americans, Mr. Lavendar, bear with us for a
few years, we are so ridiculously young! It is our growing time, and
what you want in a young plant is growth, isn't it?"

"Y-yes," Lavendar replied: then with a twinkle in his blue eyes he
added: "Only somehow we don't like to hear a plant grow! It should
manage to perform the operation quite silently, showing not processes
but results. That's a counsel of perfection, perhaps, but don't slay
me for plain-speaking, Mrs. Loring!"

Robinette laughed. "I'll never slay you for saying anything so wise
and true as that!" she said, and Lavendar, flushing under her praise,
was charmed with her good humour.

"America's a very large country, is it not?" enquired Miss Smeardon
with her usual brilliancy. "What is its area?"

"Bigger than England, but not as big as the British Empire!" suggested
Carnaby, feeling the conversation was drifting into his ken.

"It's just the size of the moon, I've heard!" said Robinette
teasingly. "Does that throw any light on the question?"

"Moonlight!" laughed Carnaby, much pleased with his own wit. "Ha! ha!
That's the first joke I've made this holidays. _Moonlight!_ Jolly
good!"

"If you'd take a joke a little more in your stride, my son," said
Lavendar, "we should be more impressed by your mental sparkles."

"Straighten the sofa-cushions, Carnaby," said his grandmother, "and
don't lounge. I missed the point of your so-called joke entirely. As
to the size of a country or anything else, I have never understood
that it affected its quality. In fruit or vegetables, for instance, it
generally means coarseness and indifferent flavour." Miss Smeardon
beamed at this palpable hit, but Mrs. Loring deprived the situation of
its point by backing up Mrs. de Tracy heartily. She had no opinion of
mere size, either, she declared.

"You don't stand up for your country half enough," objected Carnaby to
his cousin. ("Why don't you give the old cat beans?" was his
supplement, _sotto voce_.)

"Just attack some of my pet theories and convictions, Middy dear, if
you wish to see me in a rage," said Robinette lightly, "but my motto
will never be 'My country right or wrong.'"

"Nor mine," agreed Lavendar. "I'm heartily with you there."

"It's a great venture we're trying in America. I wish every one would
try to look at it in that light," said Robinette with a slight flush
of earnestness.

"What do you mean by a venture?" asked Mrs. de Tracy.

"The experiment we're making in democracy," answered Robinette. "It's
fallen to us to try it, for of course it simply had to be tried. It
is thrillingly interesting, whatever it may turn out, and I wish I
might live to see the end of it. We are creating a race, Aunt de
Tracy; think of that!"

"It's as difficult for nations as for individuals to hit the happy
medium," said Lavendar, stirring the fire. "Enterprise carried too far
becomes vulgar hustling, while stability and conservatism often pass
the coveted point of repose and degenerate into torpor."

"This part of England seems to me singularly free from faults,"
interposed Mrs. de Tracy in didactic tones. "We have a wonderful
climate; more sunshine than in any part of the island, I believe. Our
local society is singularly free from scandal. The clergy, if not
quite as eloquent or profound as in London (and in my opinion it is
the better for being neither) is strictly conscientious. We have no
burglars or locusts or gnats or even midges, as I'm told they
unfortunately have in Scotland, and our dinner-parties, though quiet
and dignified, are never dull.... What is the matter, Robinetta?"

"A sudden catch in my throat," said Robinette, struggling with some
sort of vocal difficulty and avoiding Lavendar's eye. "Thank you," as
he offered her a glass of water from the punctual and strictly
temperate evening tray. "Don't look at me," she added under her
voice.

"Not for a million of money!" he whispered. Then he said aloud: "If I
ever stand for Parliament, Mrs. Loring, I should like you to help me
with my constituency!"

The unruffled temper and sweet reasonableness of Robinette's answers
to questions by no means always devoid of malice, had struck the young
man very much, as he listened.

"She is good!" he thought to himself. "Good and sweet and generous.
Her loveliness is not only in her face; it is in her heart." And some
favorite lines began to run in his head that night, with new
conviction:--

                 He that loves a rosy cheek,
                   Or a coral lip admires,
                 Or from star-like eyes doth seek
                   Fuel to maintain his fires,--
                 As old Time makes these decay,
                   So his flames will waste away.

                 But a smooth and steadfast mind,
                   Gentle thoughts and calm desires,
                 Hearts with equal love combined--

but here Lavendar broke off with a laugh.

"It's not come to that yet!" he thought. "I wonder if it ever will?"



X

A NEW KINSMAN


Young Mrs. Loring was making her way slowly at Stoke Revel Manor, and
Mrs. de Tracy, though never affectionate, treated her with a little
less indifference as the days went on. "The Admiral's niece is a
lady," she admitted to herself privately; "not perhaps the highest
type of English lady; that, considering her mixed ancestry and
American education, would be too much to expect; but in the broad,
general meaning of the word, unmistakably a lady!"

Mrs. Benson, though not melting outwardly as yet, held more lenient
views still with regard to the American guest. Bates, the butler, was
elderly, and severely Church of England; his knowledge of widows was
confined to the type ably represented by his mistress and he regarded
young Mrs. Loring as inclined to be "flighty." The footman, who was
entirely under the butler's thumb in mundane matters, had fallen into
the habit of sharing his opinions, and while agreeing in the general
feeling of flightiness, declared boldly that the lady in question gave
a certain "style" to the dinner-table that it had lacked before her
advent.

For a helpless victim, however, a slave bound in fetters of steel, one
would have to know Cummins, the under housemaid, who lighted Mrs.
Loring's fire night and morning. She was young, shy, country bred, and
new to service. When Mrs. Benson sent her to the guest's room at eight
o'clock on the morning after her arrival she stopped outside the door
in a panic of fear.

"Come in!" called a cheerful voice. "Come in!"

Cummins entered, bearing her box with brush and cloth and kindlings.
To her further embarrassment Mrs. Loring was sitting up in bed with an
ermine coat on, over which her bright hair fell in picturesque
disorder. She had brought the coat for theatre and opera, but as these
attractions were lacking at Stoke Revel and as life there was, to her,
one prolonged Polar expedition, with dashes farthest north morning and
evening, she had diverted it to practical uses.

"Make me a quick fire please, a big fire, a hot fire," she begged, "or
I shall be late for breakfast; I never can step into that tin tub till
the ice is melted."

"There's no ice in it, ma'am," expostulated Cummins gently, with the
voice of a wood dove.

"You can't see it because you're English," said the strange lady, "but
I can see it and feel it. Oh, you make _such_ a good fire! What is
your name, please?"

"Cummins, ma'am."

"There's another Cummins downstairs, but she is tall and large. You
shall be 'Little Cummins.'"

Now every morning the shy maid palpitated outside the bedroom door,
having given her modest knock; palpitated for fear it should be all a
dream. But no, it was not! there would be a clear-voiced "Come in!"
and then, as she entered; "Good morning, Little Cummins. I've been
longing for you since daybreak!" A trifle later on it was, "Good
Little Cummins bearing coals of comfort! Kind Little Cummins," and
other strange and wonderful terms of praise, until Little Cummins felt
herself consumed by a passion to which Mrs. de Tracy's coals became as
less than naught unless they could be heaped on the altar of the
beloved.

So life went on at Stoke Revel, outwardly even and often dull, while
in reality many subtle changes were taking place below the surface;
changes slight in themselves but not without meaning.

Robinette ran up to her room directly after breakfast one morning and
pinned on her hat as she came downstairs. Mark Lavendar had gone to
London for a few days, but even the dullness of breakfast-table
conversation had not robbed her of her joy in the early sunshine, made
more cheery by the prospect of a walk with Carnaby, with whom she was
now fast friends.

Carnaby looked at her beamingly as they stood together on the steps.
"You're the best turned-out woman of my acquaintance," he said
approvingly, with a laughable struggle for the tone of a middle-aged
man of the world.

"How many ladies of fashion do you know, my child?" enquired
Robinetta, pulling on her gloves.

"I see a lot of 'em off and on," Carnaby answered somewhat huffily,
"and they don't call me a child either!"

"Don't they? Then that's because they're timid and don't dare address
a future Admiral as Infant-in-Arms! Come on, Middy dear, let's walk."

Robinette wore a white serge dress and jacket, and her hat was a rough
straw turned up saucily in two places with black owls' heads. Mrs.
Benson and Little Cummins had looked at it curiously while Robinette
was at breakfast.

"'Tis black underneath and white on top, Mrs. Benson. 'Ow can that be?
It looks as if one 'at 'ad been clapped on another!"

"That's what it is, Cummins. It's a double hat; but they'll do
anything in America. It's a double hat with two black owls' heads, and
I'll wager they charged double price for it!"

"She's a lovely beauty in anythink and everythink she wears," said
Little Cummins loyally.

"May I call you 'Cousin Robin'?" Carnaby asked as they walked along.
"Robinette is such a long name."

"Cousin Robin is very nice, I think," she answered. "As a matter
of fact I ought to be your Aunt Robin; it would be much more
appropriate."

"Aunt be blowed!" ejaculated Carnaby.

"You're very fond of making yourself out old, but it's no go! When I
first heard you were a widow I thought you would be grandmother's
age,--I say--do you think you will marry another time, Cousin Robin?"

"That's a very leading question for a gentleman to put to a lady! Were
you intending to ask me to wait for you, Middy dear?" asked Robinette,
putting her arm in the boy's laughingly, quite unconscious of his
mood.

"I'd wait quick enough if you'd let me! I'd wait a lifetime! There
never was anybody like you in the world!"

The words were said half under the boy's breath and the emotion in his
tone was a complete and disagreeable surprise. Here was something that
must be nipped in the bud, instantly and courageously. Robinette
dropped Carnaby's arm and said: "We'll talk that over at once, Middy
dear, but first you shall race me to the top of the twisting path,
down past the tulip beds, to the seat under the big ash tree.--Come
on!"

The two reached the tree in a moment, Carnaby sufficiently in advance
to preserve his self-respect and with a colour heightened by something
other than the exercise of running.

"Sit down, first cousin once removed!" said Robinette. "Do you know
the story of Sydney Smith, who wrote apologizing to somebody for not
being able to come to dinner? 'The house is full of cousins,' he said;
'would they were "once removed"!'"

"It's no good telling me literary anecdotes!--You're not treating me
fairly," said Carnaby sulkily.

"I'm treating you exactly as you should be treated, Infant-in-Arms,"
Robinette answered firmly. "Give me your two paws, and look me
straight in the eye."

Carnaby was no coward. His steel-grey eyes blazed as he met his
cousin's look. "Carnaby dear, do you know what you are to me? You are
my kinsman; my only male relation. I'm so fond of you already, don't
spoil it! Think what you can be to me if you will. I am all alone in
the world and when you grow a little older how I should like to depend
upon you! I need affection; so do you, dear boy; can't I see how you
are just starving for it? There is no reason in the world why we
shouldn't be fond of each other! Oh! how grateful I should be to think
of a strong young middy growing up to advise me and take me about! It
was that kind of care and thought of me that was in your mind just
now!"

"You'll be marrying somebody one of these days," blurted Carnaby,
wholly moved, but only half convinced. "Then you'll forget all about
your 'kinsman.'"

"I have no intention in that direction," said Robinette, "but if I
change my mind I'll consult you first; how will that do?"

"It wouldn't do any good," sighed the boy, "so I'd rather you
wouldn't! You'd have your own way spite of everything a fellow could
say against it!"

There was a moment of embarrassment; then the silence was promptly
broken by Robinette.

"Well, Middy dear, are we the best of friends?" she asked, rising from
the bench and putting out her hand.

The lad took it and said all in a glow of chivalry, "You're the
dearest, the best, and the prettiest cousin in the world! You don't
mind my thinking you're the prettiest?"

"Mind it? I delight in it! I shall come to your ship and pour out tea
for you in my most fetching frock. Your friends will say: 'Who is that
particularly agreeable lady, Carnaby?' And you, with swelling chest,
will respond, 'That's my American cousin, Mrs. Loring. She's a nice
creature; I'm glad you like her!'"

Robinette's imitation of Carnaby's possible pomposity was so amusing
and so clever that it drew a laugh from the boy in spite of himself.

"Just let anyone try to call you a 'creature'!" he exclaimed. "He'd
have me to reckon with! Oh! I am so tired of being a boy! The inside
of me is all grown up and everybody keeps on looking at the outside
and thinking I'm just the same as I always was!"

"Dear old Middy, you're quite old enough to be my protector and that
is what you shall be! Now shall we go in? I want you to stand near by
while I ask your grandmother a favor."

"She won't do it if she can help it," was Carnaby's succinct reply.

"Oh, I am not sure! Where shall we find her,--in the library?"

"Yes; come along! Get up your circulation; you'll need it!"

"Aunt de Tracy, there is something at Stoke Revel I am very anxious to
have if you will give it to me," said Robinette, as she came into the
library a few minutes later.

Mrs. de Tracy looked up from her knitting solemnly. "If it belongs to
me, I shall no doubt be willing, as I know you would not ask for
anything out of the common; but I own little here; nearly all is
Carnaby's."

"This was my mother's," said Robinette. "It is a picture hanging in
the smoking room; one that was a great favorite of hers, called
'Robinetta.' Her drawing-master found an Italian artist in London who
went to the National Gallery and made a copy of the Sir Joshua
picture, and I was named after it."

"I wish your mother could have been a little less romantic," sighed
Mrs. de Tracy. "There were such fine old family names she might have
used: Marcia and Elspeth, and Rosamond and Winifred!"

"I am sorry, Aunt de Tracy. If I had been consulted I believe I should
have agreed with you. Perhaps when my mother was in America the family
ties were not drawn as tightly as in the former years?"

"If it was so, it was only natural," said the old lady. "However, if
you ask Carnaby, and if the picture has no great value, I am sure he
will wish you to have it, especially if you know it to have been your
mother's property." Here Carnaby sauntered into the room. "That's all
right, grandmother," he said, "I heard what you were saying; only I
wish it was a real Sir Joshua we were giving Cousin Robin instead of a
copy!"

"Thank you, Carnaby dear, and thank you, too, Aunt de Tracy. You can't
think how much it is to me to have this; it is a precious link between
mother's girlhood, and mother, and me." So saying, she dropped a timid
kiss upon Mrs. de Tracy's iron-grey hair, and left the room.

"If she could live in England long enough to get over that excessive
freedom of manner, your cousin would be quite a pleasing person, but I
am afraid it goes too deep to be cured," Mrs. de Tracy remarked as she
smoothed the hairs that might have been ruffled by Robinette's kiss.

Carnaby made no reply. He was looking out into the garden and feeling
half a boy, half a man, but wholly, though not very contentedly, a
kinsman.



XI

THE SANDS AT WESTON


"Thursday morning? Is it possible that this is Thursday morning? And I
must run up to London on Saturday," said Lavendar to himself as he
finished dressing by the open window. He looked up the day of the week
in his calendar first, in order to make quite sure of the fact. Yes,
there was no doubt at all that it was Thursday. His sense of time must
have suffered some strange confusion; in one way it seemed only an
hour ago that he had arrived from the clangour and darkness of London
to the silence of the country, the cuckoos calling across the river
between the wooded hills, and the April sunshine on the orchard trees;
in another, years might have passed since the moment when he first saw
Robinette Loring sitting under Mrs. Prettyman's plum tree.

"Eight days have we spent together in this house, and yet since that
time when we first crossed in the boat, I've never been more than half
an hour alone with her," he thought. "There are only three other
people in the house after all, but they seem to have the power of
multiplying themselves like the loaves and fishes (only when they're
not wanted) so that we're eternally in a crowd. That boy particularly!
I like Carnaby, if he could get it into his thick head that his
presence isn't always necessary; it must bother Mrs. Loring too; he's
quite off his head about her if she only knew it. However, it's my
last day very likely, and if I have to outwit Machiavelli I'll manage
it somehow! Surely one lame old woman, and a torpid machine for
knitting and writing notes like Miss Smeardon, can't want to be out of
doors all day. Hang that boy, though! He'll come anywhere." Here he
stopped and sat down suddenly at the dressing-table, covering his face
with his hands in comic despair. "Mrs. Loring can't like it! She must
be doing it on purpose, avoiding being alone with me because she sees
I admire her," he sighed. "After all why should I ever suppose that I
interest her as much as she does me?"

No one could have told from Lavendar's face, when he appeared fresh
and smiling at the breakfast table half an hour later, that he was
hatching any deep-laid schemes.

Robinette entered the dining room five minutes late, as usual, pretty
as a pink, breathless with hurrying. She wore a white dress again,
with one rose stuck at her waistband, "A little tribute from the
gardener," she said, as she noticed Lavendar glance at it. She went
rapidly around the table shaking hands, and gave Carnaby's red cheeks
a pinch in passing that made Lavendar long to tweak the boy's ear.

"Good morning, all!" she said cheerily, "and how is my first cousin
once removed? Is he going to Weston with me this morning to buy
hairpins?"

"He is!" Carnaby answered joyfully, between mouthfuls of bacon and
eggs. "He has been out of hairpins for a week."

"Does he need tapes and buttons also?" asked Robinette, taking the
piece of muffin from his hand and buttering it for herself; an act
highly disapproved of by Mrs. de Tracy, who hurriedly requested Bates
to pass the bread.

"He needs everything you need," Carnaby said with heightened colour.

"My hair is giving me a good deal of trouble, lately," remarked
Lavendar, passing his hand over a thickly thatched head.

"I have an excellent American tonic that I will give you after
breakfast," said Robinette roguishly. "You need to apply it with a
brush at ten, eleven, and twelve o'clock, sitting in the sun
continuously between those hours so that the scalp may be well
invigorated. Carnaby, will you buy me butter scotch and lemonade and
oranges in Weston?"

"I will, if Grandmother'll increase my allowance," said Carnaby
malevolently, "for I need every penny I've got in hand for the
hairpins."

"I hope you are not hungry, Robinetta," said Mrs. de Tracy, "that you
have to buy food in Weston."

"No, indeed," said Robinette, "I was only longing to test Carnaby's
generosity and educate him in buying trifles for pretty ladies."

"He can probably be relied on to educate himself in that line when the
time comes," Mrs. de Tracy remarked; "and now if you have all finished
talking about hair, I will take up my breakfast again."

"Oh, Aunt de Tracy, I am so sorry if it wasn't a nice subject, but I
never thought. Anyway I only talked about hairpins; it was Mr.
Lavendar who introduced hair into the conversation; wasn't it, Middy
dear?"

Lavendar thought he could have annihilated them both for their open
comradeship, their obvious delight in each other's society. Was he to
be put on the shelf like a dry old bachelor? Not he! He would
circumvent them in some way or another, although the rôle of
gooseberry was new to him.

The two young people set off in high spirits, and Mrs. de Tracy and
Miss Smeardon watched them as they walked down the avenue on their way
to the station, their clasped hands swinging in a merry rhythm as they
hummed a bit of the last popular song.

"I hope Robinetta will not Americanize Carnaby," said Mrs. de Tracy.
"He seems so foolishly elated, so feverishly gay all at once. Her
manner is too informal; Carnaby requires constant repression."

"Perhaps his temperature has not returned to normal since his attack
of quinsy," Miss Smeardon observed, reassuringly.

Meanwhile Lavendar sat in Admiral de Tracy's old smoking room for half
an hour writing letters. Every time that he glanced up from his work,
and he did so pretty often, his eyes fell on a picture that hung upon
the opposite wall. It was the copy of Sir Joshua's "Robinetta" made
long ago and just presented to its namesake.

In the portrait the girl's hair was a still brighter gold; yet
certainly there was a likeness somewhere about it, he thought; partly
in the expression, partly in the broad low forehead, and the eyes that
looked as if they were seeing fairies.

Of course to his mind Mrs. Loring was a hundred times more lovely than
Sir Joshua's famous girl with a robin. He felt very ill-used because
Robinette and Carnaby had deliberately gone for an excursion without
him and had left him toiling over business papers when they had gone
off to enjoy themselves.

How bright it was out there in the sunshine, to be sure! And why
should it be Carnaby, not he, who was by this time walking along the
sea front of Weston, and watching the breeze flutter Robinette's scarf
and bring a brighter colour to her lips?

There! the last words were written, and taking up his bunch of
letters, watch in hand, he sought Mrs. de Tracy, and explained that he
would bicycle to Weston and catch the London post himself.

"I'll send William"--she began; but Lavendar hastily assured her that
he should enjoy the ride, and hurried off in triumph. Miss Smeardon
smiled an acid smile as she watched him go. "He has forgotten all
about poor Miss Meredith, I suppose," she murmured. "Yet it was not so
long ago that they were supposed to be all in all to each other!"

"It was a foolish engagement, Miss Smeardon," said Mrs. de Tracy in a
cold voice. "I never thought the girl was suited to Mark, and I
understand that old Mr. Lavendar was relieved when the whole thing
came to an end."

"Quite so; certainly; no doubt Miss Meredith would never have made him
happy," said Miss Smeardon at once, "though it is always more
agreeable when the lady discovers the fact first. In this case she
confessed openly that Mr. Lavendar broke her heart with his
indifference."

"She was an ill-bred young woman," said Mrs. de Tracy, as if the
subject were now closed. "However, I hope that the son of my family
solicitor would think it only proper to pay a certain amount of
attention to the Admiral's niece, were she ever so obnoxious to him."

Miss Smeardon made no audible reply, but her thoughts were to the
effect that never was an obnoxious duty performed by any man with a
better grace.

The sea front at Weston was the most prosaic scene in the world, a
long esplanade with an asphalt path running its full length, and ugly
jerrybuilt houses glaring out upon it, a gimcrack pier with a
gingerbread sort of band-stand and glass house at the end;--all that
could have been done to ruin nature had been determinedly done there.
But you cannot ruin a spring day, nor youth, nor the colour of the
sea. Along the level shore, the placid waves swept and broke, and then
gathered up their white skirts, and retreated to return with the same
musical laugh. Children and dogs played about on the wet sands. The
wind blew freshly and the sea stretched all one pure blue, till it met
on the horizon with the bluer skies.

Weston seemed to Lavendar a very fresh and delightful spot at
that moment, although had he been in a different mood its sordidness
only would have struck him. Yes, there they were in the distance;
he knew Robinette's white dress and the figure of the boy beside
her. Hang that boy! Were they really going to buy hairpins? If
so, then a hair-dresser's he must find. Lavendar turned up the
little street that led from the sea-front, scanning all the
signs--Boots--Dairies--Vegetable shops--Heavens! were there
nothing but vegetable and boot shops in Weston? Boots again. At last
a Hairdresser; Lavendar stood in the doorway until he made sure
that Robinette and the middy had turned in that direction, and
then he boldly entered the shop.

To his horror he found himself confronted by a smiling young woman,
whose own very marvellous erection of hair made him think she must be
used as an advertisement for the goods she supplied.

In another moment Robinette and the boy would be upon him, and he must
be found deep in fictitious business. He cast one agonized glance at
the mysteries of the toilet that surrounded him on every side, then
clearing his throat, he said modestly but firmly, that he wanted to
buy a pair of curling tongs for a lady.

"These are the thing if you wish a Marcel wave," was the reply, "but
just for an ordinary crimp we sell a good many of the plain ones."

"Yes, thank you. They will do; the lady--my sister, also wished--"

"A little 'addition,' was it, sir?" she moved smilingly to a drawer.
"A few pin curls are very easily adjusted, or would our guinea
switch--"

At this moment the boy and Robinette entered the shop. Lavendar was
paying for the curling tongs, and not a muscle of his face relaxed.
"Oh, here you are. I have just finished my business," he said, turning
round, "I thought we might encounter one another somewhere!"

Robinette and Carnaby exchanged knowing glances of which Lavendar was
perfectly conscious, but he stood by while Mrs. Loring bought her
hairpins, and Carnaby endeavoured to persuade her to invest in a few
"pin curls." "Not an hour before it is absolutely necessary, Middy
dear," she said; "then I shall bear it as bravely as I can. Come now,
carry the hairpins for me, and let me take Mr. Lavendar out of this
shop, or he will be tempted to buy more than he needs."

"Oh, no!" Lavendar remarked pointedly. "I have what I came for!"

"Don't forget your parcel," Carnaby exclaimed, darting after Lavendar
as they went into the street. "You've left it on the counter."

"How careless!" said Mark. "It was for my sister."

"You never told me you had a sister," said Robinette, as they walked
together, Lavendar wheeling his bicycle and Carnaby sulking behind
them.

"I am blessed with two; one married now; the other, my sister Amy,
lives at home."

"Well, you see, in spite of all our questions the first time we met,
we really know very little about each other," she went on lightly. "It
takes such a long time to get thoroughly acquainted in this country.
Do they ever count you a friend if you do not know all their aunts and
second cousins?"

Lavendar laughed. "Willingly would I introduce you to my aunts and my
uttermost cousins, and lay the map of my life before you, uneventful
as it has been, if that would further our acquaintance."

Even as he spoke a hateful memory darted into his thoughts, and he
reddened to his temples, until Mrs. Loring wondered if she had said
anything to annoy him.

Some fortunate accident at this point ordered that Carnaby should
meet a friend, another middy about his own age, and they set off
together in quest of a third boy who was supposed to be in the near
neighbourhood.

As soon as the lads were out of sight Lavendar found the jests they
had been bandying together die on his lips. "I'm going down deeper; I
shall be out of my depth very soon," he thought to himself, as he
walked in silence by Robinette's side.

"Let us come down to the beach again; we can't go to the station for
half an hour yet," she said. "I like to look out to sea, and realize
that if I sailed long enough I could step off that pier, and arrive in
America."

They stood by the sea-wall together with the fresh wind playing on
their faces. "Isn't it curious," said Robinette, "how instinctively
one always turns to look at the sea; inland may be ever so lovely, but
if the sea is there we generally look in that direction."

"Because it is unbounded, like the future," said Lavendar. He was
looking as he spoke at some children playing on the sands just
beside them. There was a gallant little boy among them with a bare
curly head, who refused help from older sisters and was toiling away
at his sand castle, his whole soul in his work; throwing up
spadefuls--tremendous ones for four years old--upon its ramparts,
as if certain they could resist the advancing tide.

"What a noble little fellow!" exclaimed Robinette, catching the
direction of Lavendar's glance. "Isn't he splendid? toiling like that;
stumping about on those fat brown legs!"

"How beautiful to have a child like that, of one's own!" thought
Lavendar as he looked. On the sands around them, there were numbers of
such children playing there in the sun. It seemed a happy world to him
at the moment.

Suddenly he saw his companion turn quickly aside; a nurse in uniform
came towards them pushing, not a happy crooning baby this time, but a
little emaciated wisp of a child lying back wearily in a wheel chair.
Something in Robinette's face, or perhaps the bit of fluttering lace
she wore upon her white dress, had attracted its notice, and it
stretched out two tiny skeleton hands towards her as it passed. With a
quick gesture, brushing tears away that in a moment had rushed to her
eyes, young Mrs. Loring stepped forward, and put her fingers into the
wasted hands that were held out to her. She hung above the child for a
moment, a radiant figure, her face shining with sympathy and a sort of
heavenly kindness; her eyes the sweeter for their tears.

"What is it, darling?" she asked. "Oh, it's the bright rose!" Then she
hurriedly unfastened the flower from her waist-belt and turned to
Lavendar. "Will you please take your penknife and scrape away all the
little thorns," she asked.

"The rose looked very charming where it was," he remarked, half
regretfully, as he did what she commanded.

"It will look better still, presently," she answered.

The child's hands were outstretched longingly to grasp the flower, its
eyes, unnaturally deep and wise with pain, were fixed upon Robinette's
face. She bent over the chair, and her voice was like a dove's voice,
Lavendar thought, as she spoke. Then the little melancholy carriage
was wheeled away. Motherhood always seemed the most sacred, the
supreme experience to Robinette; a thing high and beautiful like the
topmost blooms of Nurse Prettyman's plum tree. "If one had to choose
between that sturdy boy and this wistful wraith, it would be hard,"
she thought. "All my pride would run out to the boy, but I could die
for love and pity if this suffering baby were mine!"

Lavendar had turned, and leaned on the wall with averted face. "Sweet
woman!" he was saying to himself. "It is more than a merry heart that
is able to give such sympathy; it's a sad old world after all where
such things can be; but a woman like that can bring good out of
evil."

Robinette had seated herself on a low wall beside him. Her little
embroidered futility of a handkerchief was in her hand once more. "A
rose and a smile! that's all we could give it," she said; "and we
would either of us share some of that burden if we only could." She
watched the merry, healthy children playing beside them, and added,
"After all let us comfort ourselves that brown cheeks and fat legs are
in the majority. Rightness somehow or other must be at the root of
things, or we shouldn't be a living world at all."

"Amen," said Lavendar, "but the sight of suffering innocents like
that, sometimes makes me wish I were dead."

"Dead!" she echoed. "Why, it makes me wish for a hundred lives, a
hundred hearts and hands to feel with and help with."

"Ah, some women are made that way. My stepmother, the only mother I've
known, was like that," Lavendar went on, dropping suddenly again into
personal talk, as they had done before. He and she, it seemed, could
not keep barriers between them very long; every hour they spent
together brought them more strangely into knowledge of each other's
past.

"She was a fine woman," he went on, "with a certain comfortable
breadth about her, of mind and body; and those large, warm, capable
hands that seem so fitted to lift burdens."

Lavendar was in an absent-minded mood, and never much given to noting
details at any time. He bent over on the low wall in retrospective
silence, looking at the blue sea before them.

Robinette, who was perched beside him, spread her two small hands on
her white serge knees and regarded them fixedly for a moment.

"I wonder if it's a matter of size," she said after a moment. "I
wonder! Let's be confidential. When I was a little girl we were not at
all well-to-do, and my hands were very busy. My father's success came
to him only two or three years before his death, when his reputation
began to grow and his plans for great public buildings began to be
accepted, so I was my mother's helper. We had but one servant, and I
learned to make beds, to dust, to wipe dishes, to make tea and coffee,
and to cook simple dishes. If Admiral de Tracy's sister had to work,
Admiral de Tracy's niece was certainly going to help! Later on came my
father's illness and death. We had plenty of servants then, but my
hands had learned to be busy. I gave him his medicines, I changed his
pillows, I opened his letters and answered such of them as were within
my powers, I fanned him, I stroked his aching head. The end came, and
mother and I had hardly begun to take hold of life again when her
health failed. I wasn't enough for her; she needed father and her face
was bent towards him. My hands were busy again for months, and they
held my mother's when she died. Time went on. Then I began again to
make a home out of a house; to use my strength and time as a good wife
should, for the comfort of her husband; but oh! so faultily, for I was
all too young and inexperienced. It was only for a few months, then
death came into my life for the third time, and I was less than
twenty. For the first time since I can remember, my hands are idle,
but it will not be for long. I want them to be busy always. I want
them to be full! I want them to be tired! I want them ready to do the
tasks my head and heart suggest."

Lavendar had a strong desire to take those same hands in his and kiss
them, but instead he rose and spread out his own long brown fingers on
the edge of the wall, a man's hands, fine and supple, but meant to
work.

"I seem to have done nothing," he exclaimed. "You look so young, so
irresponsible, so like a bird on a bough, that I cannot associate dull
care with you, yet you have lived more deeply than I. Life seems to
have touched me on the shoulder and passed me by; these hands of mine
have never done a real day's work, Mrs. Loring, for they've been the
servants of an unwilling brain. I hated my own work as a younger man,
and, though I hope I did not shirk it, I certainly did nothing that I
could avoid." He paused, and went on slowly, "I've thought sometimes,
of late I mean, that if life is to be worth much, if it is to be real
life, and not mere existence, one must put one's whole heart into it,
and that two people--" He stopped; he was silent with embarrassment,
conscious of having said too much.

"Can help each other. Indeed they can," Mrs. Loring went on serenely,
"if they have the same ideals. Hardly anyone, fortunately, is so alone
as I, and so I have to help myself! Your sisters, now; don't they
help?"

"Not a great deal," Lavendar confessed. "One would, but she's married
and in India, worse luck! The other is--well, she's a candid sister."
He laughed, and looked up. "If my best friend could hear my sister
Amy's view of me, just have a little sketch of me by Amy without fear
or favour, he, or she, would never have a very high opinion of me
again, and I am not sure but that I should agree with her."

"Nonsense! my dear friend," exclaimed Robinette in a maternal tone she
sometimes affected,--a tone fairly agonizing to Mark Lavendar; "we
should never belittle the stuff that's been put into us! My equipment
isn't particularly large, but I am going to squeeze every ounce of
power from it before I die."

"Life is extraordinarily interesting to you, isn't it?"

"Interesting? It is thrilling! So will it be to you when you make up
your mind to squeeze it," said Robinette, jumping off the wall. "There
is Carnaby signalling; it is time we went to the station."

"Life would thrill me considerably more if Carnaby were not eternally
in evidence," said Lavendar, but Robinette pretended not to hear.



XII

LOVE IN THE MUD


The next day Robinette was once more sitting in the boat opposite to
Lavendar as he rowed. They were going down the river this time, not
across it. Somehow they had managed that afternoon to get out by
themselves, which sounds very simple, but is a wonderfully difficult
thing to accomplish when there is no special reason for it, and when
there are several other people in the house.

Fortunately Mrs. de Tracy did not like to be alone, so that wherever
she went Miss Smeardon had to go too, and there happened to be a sale
of work at a neighbouring vicarage that afternoon where she considered
her presence a necessity. Robinette had vanished soon after luncheon
and the middy had been dull, so after loitering around for a while, he
too had disappeared upon some errand of his own. Lavendar walked very
slowly toward the avenue gateway, then he turned and came back. He
could scarcely believe his good fortune when he saw Mrs. Loring come
out of the house, and pause at the door as if uncertain of her next
movements. She looked uncommonly lovely in a white frock with touches
of blue, while the ribbon in her hair brought out all its gold. She
wore a flowery garden hat, and a pair of dainty most un-English shoes
peeped from beneath her short skirt.

"Are you going out, or can I take you on the river?" Lavendar asked,
trying without much success to conceal the eagerness that showed in
his voice and eyes.

Robinette stood for a moment looking at him (it seemed as if she read
him like a book) and then she said frankly, "Why yes, there is nothing
I should like so much, but where is Carnaby?"

"Hang Carnaby! I mean I don't know, or care. I've had too much of his
society to-day to be pining for it now."

"Well, he does chatter like a magpie, but I feel he must have such a
dull time here with no one anywhere near his own age. Elderly as I am,
I seem a bit nearer than Aunt de Tracy or Miss Smeardon. Aunt de
Tracy, all the same, will never understand my relations with that boy,
or with anyone else for that matter. I did try so hard," she went on,
"when I first arrived, just to strike the right note with her, and
I've missed it all the time, by that very fact, no doubt. I'm so
unused to trying--at home."

"You mean in America?"

"Yes, of course; I don't try there at all, and yet my friends seem to
understand me."

"Does it seem to you that you could ever call England 'home'?"

"I could not have believed that England would so sink into my heart,"
she said, sitting down in the doorway and arranging the flowers on her
hat. "During those first dull wet days when I was still a stranger,
and when I looked out all the time at the dripping cedars, and felt
whenever I opened my lips that I said the wrong thing, it seemed to me
I should never be gay for an hour in this country; but the last
enchanting sunny days have changed all that. I remember it's my
mother's country, and if only I could have found a little affection
waiting for me, all would have been perfect."

"You may find it yet." Lavendar could not for the life of him help
saying the words, but there was nothing in the tone in which he said
them to make Robinette conscious of his meaning.

"I'm afraid not," she sighed, thinking of Mrs. de Tracy's indifference.
"I'm much more American than English, much more my father's daughter
than the Admiral's niece; perhaps my aunt feels that instinctively. Now
I must slip upstairs and change if we are going boating."

"Never!" cried Lavendar. "If I don't snatch you this moment from the
devouring crowd I shall lose you! I will keep you safe and dry, never
fear, and we shall be back well before dark."

They went down the river after leaving the little pier, passing the
orchards heaped on the hillsides above Wittisham, and Lavendar wanted
to row out to sea, but Robinette preferred the river; so he rowed
nearer to the shore, where the current was less swift, and the boat
rocked and drifted with scarcely a touch of the oars. They had talked
for some time, and then a silence had fallen, which Robinette broke by
saying, "I half wish you'd forsake the law and follow lines of lesser
resistance, Mr. Lavendar. Do you know, you seem to me to be drifting,
not rowing! I've been thinking ever since of what you said to me on
the sands at Weston."

"Ungrateful woman!" he exclaimed, trying to evade the subject, "when
these two faithful arms have been at your service every day since we
first met! Think of the pennies you would have taken from that tiny
gold purse of yours for the public ferry! However, I know what you
mean; I never met anyone so plain-spoken as you, Mrs. Robin; I haven't
forgotten, I assure you!"

"How about the candid sister? Isn't she plain-spoken?"

"Oh, she attacks the outside of the cup and platter; you question
motive power and ideals. Well, I confess I have less of the former
than I ought, and more of the latter than I've ever used." Lavendar
had rested on his oars now and was looking down, so that the twinkle
of his eyes was lost. "I suppose I shall go on as I have done
hitherto, doing my work in a sort of a way, and getting a certain
amount of pleasure out of things,--unless--"

"Oh, but that's not living!" she exclaimed; "that's only existing.
Don't you remember:--

                   It is not growing like a tree
                   In bulk doth make man better be.

It's really _living_ I mean, forgetting the things that are behind,
and going on and on to something ahead, whatever one's aim may be."

"What are you going to do with yourself, if I may ask?" said Lavendar.
"Don't be too philanthropic, will you? You're so delightfully
symmetrical now!"

"I shall have plenty to do," cried Robinette ardently. "I've told you
before, I have so much motive power that I don't know how to use it."

"How about sharing a little of it with a friend!"

Lavendar's voice was full of meaning, but Robinette refused to hear
it. She had succumbed as quickly to his charm as he to hers, but while
she still had command over her heart she did not intend parting with
it unless she could give it wholly. She knew enough of her own nature
to recognize that she longed for a rowing, not a drifting mate, and
that nothing else would content her; but her instinct urged that
Lavendar's indecisions and his uncertainties of aim were accidents
rather than temperamental weaknesses. She suspected that his
introspective moods and his occasional lack of spirits had a definite
cause unknown to her.

"I haven't a large income," she said, after a moment's silence,
changing the subject arbitrarily, and thereby reducing her companion
to a temporary state of silent rage.

"Yet no one would expect a woman like this to fall like a ripe plum
into a man's mouth," he thought presently; "she will drop only when
she has quite made up her mind, and the bough will need a good deal of
shaking!"

"I haven't a large income," repeated Robinette, while Lavendar was
silent, "only five thousand dollars a year, which is of course
microscopic from the American standpoint and cost of living; so I
can't build free libraries and swimming baths and playgrounds, or do
any big splendid things; but I can do dear little nice ones, left
undone by city governments and by the millionaires. I can sing, and
read, and study; I can travel; and there are always people needing
something wherever you are, if you have eyes to see them; one needn't
live a useless life even if one hasn't any responsibilities. But"--she
paused--"I've been talking all this time about my own plans and
ambitions, and I began by asking yours! Isn't it strange that the
moment one feels conscious of friendship, one begins to want to know
things?"

"My sister Amy would tell you I had no ambitions, except to buy as
many books as I wish, and not to have to work too hard," said Mark
smiling, "but I think that would not be quite true. I have some, of a
dull inferior kind, not beautiful ones like yours."

"Do tell me what they are."

He shook his head. "I couldn't; they're not for show; shabby things
like unsuccessful poor relations, who would rather not have too much
notice taken of them. In a few weeks I am going to drag them out of
their retreat, brighten them up, inject some poetry into their veins,
and then display them to your critical judgment."

They were almost at a standstill now and neither of them was noticing
it at all. As Mrs. Loring moved her seat the boat lurched somewhat to
one side. Mark, to steady her, placed his hand over hers as it rested
on the rail, and she did not withdraw it. Then he found the other hand
that lay upon her knee, and took it in his own, scarcely knowing what
he did. He looked into her face and found no anger there. "I wish to
tell you more about myself," he stammered, "something not altogether
creditable to me; but perhaps you will understand. Perhaps even if you
don't understand you will forgive."

She drew her hands gently away from his grasp. "I shall try to
understand, you may rely on that!" she said.

"I'm not going to trouble you with any very dreadful confessions," he
said, "only it's better to hear things directly from the people
concerned, and you are sure to hear a wrong version sooner or
later."--Then stopping suddenly he exclaimed, "Hullo! we're stuck, I
declare! look at that!"

Robinette turned and saw that their boat was now scarcely surrounded
with water at all. On every side, as if the flanks of some great whale
were upheaving from below, there appeared stretches of glistening mud.
Just in front of them, where there still was a channel of water, was
an upstanding rock. "Shall we row quickly there?" she cried. "Then
perhaps we can get out and pull the boat to the other side, where
there is more water. What has happened?"

"Oh, something not unusual," said Lavendar grimly, "that I'm a fool,
and the sea-tide has ebbed, as tides have been known to do before. I'm
afraid a man doesn't watch tides when he has a companion like you! Now
we're left high, but not at all dry, as you see, till the tide
turns."

By a swift stroke or two he managed to propel their craft as far as
the rock. They scrambled up on it, and then he tried to haul the boat
around the miniature islet; but the more he hauled, the quicker the
water seemed to run away, and the deeper the wretched thing stuck in
the mud. He jumped in again, and made an effort to push her off with
an oar; meanwhile Robinette nearly fell off the rock in her efforts to
get the head of the boat around towards the current again, and making
a frantic plunge into the ooze, sank above her ankles in an instant.
Lavendar caught hold of her and helped her to scramble back into the
boat. "It's all right; only my skirt wet, and one shoe gone!" she
panted. "Now, what are we to do?" She spread out her hands in dismay,
and looked down at her draggled mud-stained skirt, her little feet,
one shoeless and both covered with mud and slime. "What an object I
shall be to meet Aunt de Tracy's eye, when, if ever, it does light on
me again! Meanwhile it seems as if we might be here for some hours.
The boat is just settling herself into the mud bank, like a rather
tired fat old woman into an armchair, and pray, Mr. Lavendar, what do
you propose to do? as Talleyrand said to the lady who told him she
couldn't bear it."

Lavendar looked about them; the main bed of the river was fifty yards
away; between it and them was now only an expanse of mud.

"It's perfectly hopeless," he said, "the best thing we can do is to
beget some philosophy."

"Which at any moment we would exchange for a foot of water," she
interpolated.

"We must just sit here and wait for the tide. Shall it be in the boat
or on the rock?"

"I don't see much difference, do you? Except that the passing boats,
if there are any, might think it was a matter of choice to sit on a
damp rock for two hours, but no one could think we wanted to sit in a
boat in the mud."

They landed on the rock for the second time. "For my part it's no
great punishment," said Lavendar, when they settled themselves, "since
the place is big enough for two and you're one of them!"

"Wouldn't this be as good a stool of repentance from which to confess
your faults as any?" asked Robinette, as she tucked her shoeless foot
beneath her mud-stained skirt and made herself as comfortable as
possible. "I'll even offer a return of confidence upon my own
weaknesses, if I can find them, but at present only miles of virtue
stretch behind me. Ugh! How the mud smells; quite penitential! Now:--

            "What have you sought you should have shunned,
            And into what new follies run?"

"Oh, what a bad rhyme!" said Lavendar.

"It's Pythagoras, any way," she explained.

Then suddenly changing his tone, Lavendar went on. "This is not merely
a jest, Mrs. Loring. Before you admit me really amongst the number of
your friends I should like you to know that--to put it plainly--my
own little world would tell you at the moment that I am a heartless
jilt."

"That is a very ugly expression, Mr. Lavendar, and I shall choose not
to believe it, until you give me your own version of the story."

"In one way I can give you no other; except that I was just fool
enough to drift into an engagement with a woman whom I did not really
love, and just not enough of a fool to make both of us miserable for
life when I, all too late, found out my mistake."

There passed before him at that moment other foolish blithe little
loves, like faded flowers with the sweetness gone out of them. They
had been so innocent, so fragile, so free from blame; all but the
last; and this last it was that threatened to rise like a shadow
perhaps, and defeat his winning the only woman he could ever love.

Robinette stared at the stretches of ooze, and then stole a look at
Mark Lavendar. "The idea of calling that man a jilt," she thought.
"Look at his eyes; look at his mouth; listen to his voice; there is
truth in them all. Oh for a sight of the girl he jilted! How much it
would explain! No, not altogether, because the careless making of his
engagement would have to be accounted for, as well as the breaking of
it. Unless he did it merely to oblige her--and men are such idiots
sometimes,--then he must have fancied he was in love with her. Perhaps
he is continually troubled with those fancies. Nonsense! you believe
in him, and you know you do." Then aloud she said, sympathetically,
"I'm afraid we are apt to make these little experimental journeys in
youth, when the heart is full of _wanderlust_. We start out on them so
lightly, then they lead nowhere, and the walking back alone is
wearisome and depressing."

"My return journey was depressing enough at first," said Lavendar,
"because the particular She was unkinder to me than I deserved even;
but better counsels have prevailed and I shall soon be able to meet
the reproachful gaze of stout matrons and sour spinsters more easily
than I have for a year past; you see the two families were friends and
each family had a large and interested connection!"

"If the opinion of a comparative stranger is of any use to you," said
Robinette, standing on the rock and scraping her stockinged foot free
of mud, "_I_ believe in you, personally! You don't seem a bit 'jilty'
to me! I'd let you marry my sister to-morrow and no questions asked!"

"I didn't know you had a sister," cried Lavendar.

"I haven't; that's only a figure of speech; just a phrase to show my
confidence."

"And isn't it ungrateful to be obliged to say I can't marry your
sister, after you have given me permission to ask her!"

"Not only ungrateful but unreasonable," said Robinette saucily,
turning her head to look up the river and discovering from her point
of vantage a moving object around the curve that led her to make
hazardous remarks, knowing rescue was not far away. "What have you
against my sister, pray?"

"Very little!" he said daringly, knowing well that she held him in her
hand, and could make him dumb or let him speak at any moment she
desired. "Almost nothing! only that _she_ is not offering me _her_
sister as a balm to my woes."

"She _has_ no sister; she is an only child!--There! there!" cried
Robinette, "the tide is coming up again, and the mud banks off in that
direction are all covered with water! I see somebody in a boat, rowing
towards us with superhuman energy. Oh! if I hadn't worn a white dress!
It will _not_ come smooth; and my lovely French hat is ruined by the
dampness! My one shoe shows how inappropriately I was shod, and
whoever is coming will say it is because I am an American. He will
never know you wouldn't let me go upstairs and dress properly."

"It doesn't matter anyway," rejoined Mark, "because it is only Carnaby
coming. You might know he would find us even if we were at the bottom
of the river."



XIII

CARNABY TO THE RESCUE


At Stoke Revel, in the meantime, the solemn rites of dinner had been
inaugurated as usual by the sounding of the gong at seven o'clock.
Mrs. de Tracy, Miss Smeardon, and Bates waited five minutes in silent
resignation, then Carnaby came down and was scolded for being late,
but there was no Robinette and no Lavendar.

"Carnaby," said his grandmother, "do you know where Mark intended
going this afternoon?"

"No, I don't," said Carnaby, sulkily.

"Your cousin Robinetta,"--with meaning,--"perhaps you know her
whereabouts?"

"Not I!" replied Carnaby with affected nonchalance. "I was ferreting
with Wilson." He had ferreted perhaps for fifteen minutes and then
spent the rest of the afternoon in solitary discontent, but he would
not have owned it for the world.

"Call Bates," commanded Mrs. de Tracy. Bates entered. "Do you know if
Mr. Lavendar intended going any distance to-day? Did he leave any
message?"

"Mr. Lavendar, ma'am," said Bates, "Mr. Lavendar and Mrs. Loring they
went out in the boat after tea. Mr. Lavendar asked William for the
key, and William he went down and got out the oars and rudder,
ma'am."

"Does William know where they went?" asked Mrs. de Tracy in high
displeasure. "Was it to Wittisham?"

"No, ma'am, William says they went down stream. He thinks perhaps they
were going to the Flag Rock, and he says the gentleman wouldn't have a
hard pull, as the tide was going out. But Mr. Lavendar knows the river
well, ma'am, as well as Mr. Carnaby here."

"Then I conclude there is no immediate cause for anxiety," said Mrs.
de Tracy with satire. "You can serve dinner, Bates; there seems no
reason why we should fast as yet! However, Carnaby," she continued,
"as the men cannot be spared at this hour, you had better go at once
and see what has happened to our guests."

"Right you are," cried Carnaby with the utmost alacrity. He was
hungry, but the prospect of escape was better than food. He rushed
away, and his boat was in mid-river before Mrs. de Tracy and Miss
Smeardon had finished their tepid soup.

A very slim young moon was just rising above the woods, but her tender
light cast no shadows as yet, and there were no stars in the sky, for
it was daylight still. The evening air was very fresh and cool; there
was no wind, and the edges of the river were motionless and smooth,
although in mid-stream the now in-coming tide clucked and swirled as
it met the rush. Over at Wittisham one or two lights were beginning to
twinkle, and there came drifting across the water a smell of wood
smoke that suggested evening fires. Carnaby handled a boat well, for
he had been born a sailor, as it were, and his long, powerful strokes
took him along at a fine pace. But although he was going to look for
Robinette and Mark, he was rather angry with both of them, and in no
hurry. He rested on his oars indifferently and let the tide carry him
up as it liked, while, with infinite zest, he unearthed a cigarette
case from the recesses of his person, lit a cigarette, and smoked it
coolly. Under Carnaby's apparent boyishness, there was a certain
somewhat dangerous quality of precocity, which was stimulated rather
than checked by his grandmother's repressive system. His smoking now
was less the monkey-trick of a boy, than an act of slightly cynical
defiance. He was no novice in the art, and smoked slowly and daintily,
throwing back his head and blowing the smoke sometimes through his
lips and sometimes through his nose. He looked for the moment older
than his years, and a difficult young customer at that. His present
sulky expression disappeared, however, under the influence of tobacco
and adventure.

"Where the dickens are they?" he began to wonder, pulling harder.

A bend in the river presently solved the mystery. On a wide stretch of
mud-bank, which the tide had left bare in going out, but was now
beginning to cover again, a solitary boat was stranded.

With this clue to guide him, Carnaby's bright eyes soon discovered the
two dim forms in the distance.

"Ahoy!" he shouted, and received a joyous answer. Robinette and Mark
were the two derelicts, and their rescuer skimmed towards them with
all his strength.

He could get only within a few yards of the rock to which their boat
was tied, and from that distance he surveyed them, expecting to find a
dismal, ship-wrecked pair, very much ashamed of themselves and
getting quite weary of each other. On the contrary the faces he could
just distinguish in the uncertain light, were radiant, and Robinette's
voice was as gay as ever he had heard it. He leaned upon his oars and
looked at them with wonder.

"Angel cousin!" cried Robinette. "Have you a little roast mutton about
you somewhere, we are so hungry!"

"You _are_ a pretty pair!" he remarked. "What have you been and
done?"

"We just went for a row after tea, Middy dear," said Robinette, "and
look at the result."

"You're not rowing now," observed Carnaby pointedly.

"No," said Mark, "we gave up rowing when the water left us, Carnaby.
Conversation is more interesting in the mud."

"But how did you get here? I thought you were going to the Flag Rock?"
demanded Carnaby.

"Is there a Flag Rock, Middy dear? I didn't know," said Robinette
innocently. "It shows we shouldn't go anywhere without our first
cousin once removed. We just began to talk, here in the boat, and the
water went away and left us." Then she laughed, and Mark laughed too,
and Carnaby's look of unutterable scorn seemed to have no effect upon
them. They might almost have been laughing at him, their mirth was so
senseless, viewed in any other light.

"It's nearly eight o'clock," he said solemnly. "Perhaps you can form
some idea as to what grandmother's saying, and Bates."

"Well, you're going to be our rescuer, Middy darling, so it doesn't
matter," said Robinette. "Look! the water's coming up."

But Carnaby seemed in no mood for waiting. He had taken off his boots,
and rolled up his trousers above his knees.

"I'd let Lavendar wade ashore the best way he could!" he said, "but I
s'pose I've got to save you or there'd be a howl."

"No one would howl any louder than you, dear, and you know it. Don't
step in!" shrieked Robinette, "I've confided a shoe already to the
river-mud! I just put my foot in a bit, to test it, and down the poor
foot went and came up without its shoe. Oh, Middy dear, if your young
life--"

"Blow my young life!" retorted Carnaby. He was performing gymnastics
on the edge of his boat, letting himself down and heaving himself up,
by the strength of his arms. His legs were covered with mud.

"No go!" he said. "It's as deep as the pit here; sometimes you can
find a rock or a hard bit. We must just wait."

They had not long to wait after all, for presently a rush of the tide
sent the water swirling round the stranded boat, and carried Carnaby's
craft to it.

"Now it'll be all right," said he. "You push with the boat-hook, Mark,
and I'll pull"; but it took a quarter of an hour's pushing and pulling
to get the boat free of the mud.

Except for the moon it would have been quite dark when the party
reached the pier. They mounted the hill in some silence. It was
difficult for Robinette to get along with her shoeless foot; Lavendar
wanted to help her, but she demanded Carnaby's arm. He was sulking
still. There was something he felt, but could not understand, in the
subtle atmosphere of happiness by which the truant couple seemed to be
surrounded; a something through which he could not reach; that seemed
to put Robinette at a distance from him, although her shoulder touched
his and her hand was on his arm. Growing pangs of his manhood assailed
him, the male's jealousy of the other male. For the moment he hated
Mark; Mark talking joyous nonsense in a way rather unlike himself, as
if the night air had gone to his head.

"I am glad you had the ferrets to amuse you this afternoon," said
Robinette, in a propitiatory tone. "Ferrets are such darlings, aren't
they, with their pink eyes?"

"O! _darlings_," assented Carnaby derisively. "One of the darlings
bit my finger to the bone, not that that's anything to you."

"Oh! Middy dear, I am sorry!" cried Robinette. "I'd kiss the place to
make it well, if we weren't in such a hurry!"

Carnaby began to find that a dignified reserve of manner was very
difficult to keep up. His grandmother could manage it, he reflected,
but he would need some practice. When they came to a place where there
were sharp stones strewn on the road, he became a mere boy again quite
suddenly, and proposed a "queen's chair" for Robinette. And so he and
Lavendar crossed hands, and one arm of Robinette encircled the boy's
head, while the other just touched Lavendar's neck enough to be
steadied by it. Their laughter frightened the sleepy birds that night.
The demoralized remnant of a Bank Holiday party would have been,
Lavendar observed, respectability itself in comparison with them; and
certainly no such group had ever approached Stoke Revel before. They
were to enter by a back door, and Carnaby was to introduce them to
the housekeeper's room, where he undertook that Bates would feed them.
Lavendar alone was to be ambassador to the drawing room.

"The only one of us with a boot on each foot, of course we appoint him
by a unanimous vote," said Robinette.

But the chief thing that Carnaby remembered, after all, of that
evening's adventure, was Robinette's sudden impulsive kiss as she bade
him good-night, Lavendar standing by. She had never kissed him before,
for all her cousinliness, but she just brushed his cool, round cheek
to-night as if with a swan's-down puff.

"That's a shabby thing to call a kiss!" said the embarrassed but
exhilarated youth.

"Stop growling, you young cub, and be grateful; half a loaf is better
than no bread," was Lavendar's comment as he watched the draggled and
muddy but still charming Robinette up the stairway.



XIV

THE EMPTY SHRINE


Lavendar had discovered, much to his dismay, that he must return to
London upon important business; it was even a matter of uncertainty
whether his father could spare him again or would consent to his
returning to Stoke Revel to conclude Mrs. de Tracy's arrangements
about the sale of the land.

Affairs of the heart are like thunderstorms; the atmosphere may
sometimes seem charged with electricity, and yet circumstances, like a
sudden wind that sweeps the clouds away before they break, may cause
the lovers to drift apart. Or all in a moment may come thunder,
lightning, and rain from a clear sky, and there is nothing that is apt
to precipitate matters like an unexpected parting.

When Lavendar announced that he had to leave Stoke Revel, two pairs
of eyes, Miss Smeardon's and Carnaby's, instantly looked at Robinette
to see how she received the news, but she only smiled at the moment.
She was just beginning her breakfast, and like the famous Charlotte,
"went on cutting bread and butter," without any sign of emotion.

"Hurrah!" thought the boy. "Now we can have some fun, and I'll perhaps
make her see that old Lavendar isn't the only companion in the
world."

"She minds," thought Miss Smeardon, "for she buttered that piece of
bread on the one side a minute ago, and now she's just done it on the
other--and eaten it too."

"She doesn't care a bit," thought Lavendar. "She's not even changed
colour; my going or staying is nothing to her; I needn't come back."

He had made up his mind to return just the same, if it were at all
possible, and he told Mrs. de Tracy so. She remarked graciously that
he was a welcome guest at any time, and Carnaby, hearing this,
pinched Lord Roberts till he howled like a fiend, and fled for comfort
to his mistress's lap.

"You little coward," said Carnaby, "you should be ashamed to bear the
name of a hero."

"I've mentioned to you before, Carnaby, I think, that I dislike that
jest," said his grandmother, and Carnaby advancing to the injured
beast said, "Yes, ma'am, and so does Bobs, doesn't he, Bobs?" reducing
the lap-dog to paroxysms of fury. "Would it be any better if I called
him _Kitchener_?" hissing the word into the animal's face. "Jealous,
Bobs? Eh? _Kitchener_." This last word had a rasping sound that
irritated the little creature more than ever; his teeth jibbered with
anger, and Miss Smeardon had to offer him a saucer of cream before he
could be calmed down enough for the rest of the party to hear
themselves speak.

"Had you nice letters this morning? Mine were very uninteresting,"
Robinette remarked to Lavendar as they stood together at the doorway
in the sunshine, while Carnaby chased the lap-dog round and round the
lawn.

"I had only two letters; one was from my sister Amy, the candid one!
her letters are not generally exhilarating."

"Oh, I know, home letters are usually enough to send one straight to
bed with a headache! They never sound a note of hope from first to
last; although if you had no home, but only a house, like me, with no
one but a caretaker in it, you'd be very thankful to get them, doleful
or not."

"I doubt it," Mark answered, for Amy's letter seemed to be burning a
hole in his pocket at that moment. He had skimmed it hurriedly
through, but parts of it were already only too plain.

When the others had gone into the house, he went off by himself, and
jumping the low fence that divided the lawn from the fields beyond, he
flung himself down under a tree to read it over again. Carnaby,
spying him there, came rushing from the house, and was soon pouring
out a tale of something that had happened somewhere, and throwing
stones as he talked, at the birds circling about the ivied tower of
the little church.

The field was full of buttercups up to the very churchyard walls. "I
must get away by myself for a bit," Lavendar thought. "That boy's
chatter will drive me mad." At this point Carnaby's volatile attention
was diverted by the sight of a gardener mounting a ladder to clear the
sparrows' nests from the water chutes, and he jumped up in a twinkling
to take his part in this new joy. Lavendar rose, and strolled off with
his hands in his pockets and his bare head bent. The grass he walked
in was a very Field of the Cloth of Gold. His shoes were gilded by the
pollen from the buttercups, his eyes dazzled by their colour; it was a
relief to pass through the stone archway that led into the little
churchyard. To his spirit at that moment the chill was refreshing. He
loitered about for a few minutes, and then seeing that the door was
open, he entered the church, closing the door gently behind him.

It was very quiet in there and even the chirping of the sparrows was
softened into a faint twitter. Here at last was a place set apart, a
moment of stillness when he might think things out by himself.

He took out Amy's letter, smoothing it flat on the prayer books before
him, and forced himself to read it through. The early paragraphs dealt
with some small item of family news which in his present state of mind
mattered to Lavendar no more than the distant chirruping of the birds,
out there in the sunshine. "You seem determined to stay for some time
at Stoke Revel," his sister wrote. "No doubt the pretty American is
the attraction. She sounds charming from your description, but my dear
man, that's all froth! How many times have I heard this sort of thing
from you before! Remember I know everything about your former loves."

"You _don't_, then," said Lavendar to himself. Down, down, down at the
bottom of the well of the heart where truth lies, there is always some
remembrance, generally a very little one, that can never be told to
any confidant.

"You will find out faults in Mrs. Loring presently, just like the rest
of them," continued the pitiless writer. (Amy's handwriting was
painfully distinct.) "I must tell you that at the Cowleys' the other
day, I suddenly came face to face with Gertrude Meredith _and Dolly_!
Dolly looks a good deal older already and fatter, I thought. I fear
she is losing her looks, for her colour has become fixed, and she
_will_ wear no collars still, although on a rather thick neck, it's
not at all becoming. I spoke to her for about three minutes, as it was
less awkward, when we met suddenly face to face like that. She laughed
a good deal, and asked for you rather audaciously, I thought. They
live near Winchester now, and since the Colonel's death are pretty
badly off, Gertrude says. Dolly is going to Devonshire to stay with
the Cowleys; you may meet her there any day, remember. It does seem
incredible to me that a man of your discrimination could have been won
by the obvious devotion of a girl like Dolly; but having given your
word I almost think you would better have kept it, rather than suffer
all this criticism from a host of mutual friends."

Lavendar groaned aloud. He had a good memory, and with all too great
distinctness did he now remember Dolly Meredith's laugh. How wretched
it had all been; not a word had ever passed between them that had any
value now. If he could have washed the thought of her forever from his
memory, how greatly he would have rejoiced at that moment.

Well, it was over; written down against him, that he had been what the
world called a jilt and a fool; yes, certainly a fool, but not so
great a one as to follow his folly to its ultimate conclusion, and tie
himself for life to a woman he did not love.

Lavendar was extraordinarily sensitive about the breaking of his
engagement; partly because Miss Meredith herself, in her first rage,
had avowed his responsibility for her blighted future, giving him no
chance for chivalrous behaviour; partly because in all his transient
love affairs he had easily tired of the women who inspired them. He
seemed thirsty for love, but weary of it almost as soon as the draught
reached his lips.

And now had he a chance again?--or was it all to end in disappointment
once more, in that cold disappointment of the heart that has received
stones for bread? It was not entirely his own fault; he had expected
much from life, and hitherto had received very little. But Robinette!

"Let me find all her faults now," he said to himself, "or evermore
keep silent; meantime I hope I am not concealing too many of my
own."

He tried to force himself into criticism; to look at her as a cold
observer from the outside would have done; for that curious Border
country of Love which he had entered has not an equable climate at
all. It is fire and frost alternate; and criticism is either roused
almost to a morbid pitch, or else the faculty is drugged, and nothing,
not even the enumeration of a hundred foibles will awaken it for a
time.

When the cold fit had been upon him the evening before, Lavendar had
said to himself that her manner was too free--that she had led him on
too quickly; no, that expression was dishonourable and unjust; he
repented it instantly; she had been too unself-conscious, too girlish,
too unthinking, in what she said and did. "But she's a widow after
all, though she's only two and twenty," he went on to himself. "Hang
it! I wish she were not! If her heart were in her husband's grave I
should be moaning at that; and because I see that it is not, I become
critical. There's nothing quite perfect in life!"

He had begun by noticing some little defects in her personal
appearance, but he was long past that now; what did such trifles
matter, here or there? Then he remembered all that he had heard said
about American women. Did those pretty clothes of hers mean that she
would be extravagant and selfish to obtain them? Could a young man
with no great fortune offer her the luxury that was necessary to her?
and even so, what changes come with time! He had a full realization of
what the boredom of family life can be, when passion has grown stale.

"At seventy, say, when I am palsied and she is old and fat, will
romance be alive then? Will such feeling leave anything real behind it
when it falls away, as the white blossoms on Mrs. Prettyman's plum
tree will shrink and fall a fortnight hence?"

He looked about him. On the walls of the little church were tablets
with the de Tracy names; the names of her forefathers amongst them.
Under his feet were other flags with names upon them too; and out
there in the sunshine were the grave-stones of a hundred dead. How
many of them had been happy in their loves?

Not so many, he thought, if all were told, and why should he hope to
be different? Yet surely this was a new feeling, a worthy one, at
last. It was not for her charming person that he loved her; not
because of her beauty and her gaiety only; but because he had seen in
her something that gave a promise of completion to his own nature, the
something that would satisfy not only his senses but his empty heart.

He clenched his hands on the carved top of the old pew in front of
him, which was fashioned into a laughing gnome with the body of a
duck. "And if this should be all a dream," he asked himself again, "if
this should all be false too! Good Lord!" he cried half aloud, "I
want to be honest now! I want to find the truth. My whole life is on
the throw this time!"

There was a moment's silence after he had uttered the words. He got up
and moved slowly down the aisle, opening the door, seeing again the
meadow of buttercups, yellow as gold, and listening again to the
sparrows chirruping in the sunshine outside.

"I have been in that church a quarter of an hour," he said to himself,
"and in trying to dive to the depths of myself and find out whether I
was giving a woman all I had to give, I did not get time to consider
that woman's probable answer, should I place my uninteresting life and
liberty at her disposal."



XV

"NOW LUBIN IS AWAY"


Lavendar made his adieux after luncheon and went off to London.
"Good-bye for the present, Mrs. de Tracy; I shall be back on Wednesday
probably, if I can arrange it," he said. "Good-bye, Mrs. Loring," and
here he altered the phrase to "Shall I come back on Wednesday?" for
his hostess had left the open door.

There was no hesitation, but all too little sentiment, about
Robinette's reply.

"Wednesday, at the latest, are my orders," she answered merrily, and
with the words ringing in his ears Lavendar took his departure.

"Do you remember that this is the afternoon of the garden party at
Revelsmere?" Mrs. de Tracy enquired, coming into the drawing room a
few minutes later, where Mrs. Loring stood by the open window. She
had allowed herself just five minutes of depression, staring out at
the buttercup meadow. How black the rooks looked as they flew about it
and how dreary everything was, now that Lavendar had gone! She was
woman enough to be able to feel inwardly amused at her own absurdity,
when she recognized that the ensuing three days seemed to stretch out
into a limitless expanse of dullness. "The village seemed asleep or
dead now Lubin was away!" Still, after all, it was an occasion for
wearing a pretty frock, and she knew herself well enough to feel sure
that the sight of a few of her fellow-creatures even pretending to
enjoy themselves, would make her volatile spirits rise like the
mercury in a thermometer on a hot day.

Miss Smeardon was to be her companion, as Mrs. de Tracy had a headache
that afternoon and was afraid of the heat, she said. "What heat?"
Robinette had asked innocently, for in spite of the brilliant sunlight
the wind blew from the east, keen as a knife. "I shall take a good
wrap in the carriage in spite of this tropical temperature," she
thought. Carnaby refused point blank to drive with them; he would
bicycle to the party or else not go at all, so it was alone with Miss
Smeardon that Robinette started in the heavy old landau behind the
palsied horse.

Miss Smeardon gave one glance at Mrs. Loring's dress, and Robinette
gave one glance at Miss Smeardon's, each making her own comments.

"That white cloth will go to the cleaner, I suppose, after one
wearing, and as for that thing on her head with lilac wistaria
drooping over the brim, it can't be meant as a covering, or a
protection, either from sun or wind; it's nothing but an ornament!"
Miss Smeardon commented; while to herself Robinette ejaculated,--

"A penwiper, an old, much-used penwiper, is all that Miss Smeardon
resembles in that black rag!"

Carnaby, watching the start at the door, whistled in open admiration
as Robinette came down the steps.

"Well, well! we are got up to kill this afternoon; pity old Mark has
just gone; but cheer up, Cousin Robin, there's always a curate on
hand!"

For once Robinette's ready tongue played her false, and a sense of
loneliness overcame her at the sound of Lavendar's name. She gathered
up her long white skirts and got into the carriage with as much
dignity as she could muster, while Carnaby, his eyes twinkling with
mischief, stood ready to shut the door after Miss Smeardon.

"Hope you'll enjoy your drive," he jeered. "You'll need to hold on
your hats. Bucephalus goes at such fiery speed that they'll be torn
off your heads unless you do."

"Middy dear, you're not the least amusing," said Robinette quite
crossly, and with a lurch the carriage moved off.

Miss Smeardon settled herself for conversation. "I'm afraid you will
find me but a dull companion, Mrs. Loring," she said, glancing
sideways at Robinette from under the brim of her mushroom hat.

"Oh, you will be able to tell me who everyone is," said Robinette as
cheerfully as she could.

"I am no gossip," Miss Smeardon protested.

"It isn't necessary to gossip, is it?--but I've a wholesome interest
in my fellow creatures."

"And it is well to know about people a little; when one comes among
strangers as you do, Mrs. Loring; one can't be too careful--an
American, particularly."

Miss Smeardon's voice trailed off upon a note of insinuation; but
Robinette took no notice of the remark. She did not seem to have
anything to say, so Miss Smeardon took up another subject.

"What a pity that Mr. Lavendar had to leave before this afternoon; he
would have been such an addition to our party!"

"Yes, wouldn't he?" Robinette agreed, though she carefully kept out of
her voice the real passion of assent that was in her heart.

"Mr. Lavendar is so agreeable, I always think," Miss Smeardon went on.
"Everyone likes him; he almost carries his pleasant ways too far. I
suppose that was how--" She paused, and added again, "Oh, but as I
said, I never talk scandal!"

"Do you think it's possible to be too pleasant?" Robinette remarked,
stupidly enough, scarcely caring what she said.

"Well, when it leads a poor girl to imagine that she is loved! I hear
that Dolly Meredith is just heart-broken. The engagement kept on for
quite a year, I believe, and then to break it off so heartlessly!--I
was reminded of it all by coming here. Miss Meredith is a cousin of
our hostess, and they met first at Revelsmere when they were quite
young."

"There is always a certain amount of talk when an engagement has to
be broken off," said Robinette in a cold voice.

"They seemed quite devoted at first," Miss Smeardon began; but
Robinette interrupted her.

"The sooner such things are forgotten the better, I think," she said.
"No one, except the two people concerned, ever knows the real
truth.--Tell me, Miss Smeardon, whom we are likely to meet at
Revelsmere? Who is our hostess? What sort of parties does she give?"

Being so firmly switched off from the affairs of Mr. Lavendar and Miss
Meredith, it was impossible for Miss Smeardon to talk about them any
more, and she had to turn to a less congenial theme.

"We shall meet the neighbours," she told Robinette, "but I am afraid
they may not interest you very much. I understand that in America you
are accustomed to a great deal of the society of gentlemen. Here there
are so few, and all of them are married."

"All?" laughed Robinette.

"Well, there is Mr. Finch, the curate, but he is a celibate; and young
Mr. Tait of Strewe, but he is slightly paralysed."

"Why, Carnaby must be quite an eligible bachelor in these parts," said
Robinette; but Miss Smeardon was so deadly literal that she accepted
the remark as a serious one.

"Not quite yet; in a few years' time we shall need to be very careful,
there are so many girls here, but not all of them desirable, of
course."

"There are? What a dull time they must have with the Married Men, the
Celibate, the Paralytic, and Carnaby! I'm glad my girlhood wasn't
spent in Devonshire."

Conversation ended here, for the carriage rumbled up the avenue, and
Robinette looked about her eagerly. Revelsmere was a nice old house,
surrounded by fine sloping lawns and a background of sombre
beechwoods. The lawns to-day were dotted with groups of people, mainly
women, and elderly at that. As Robinette and Miss Smeardon alighted
at the door an elderly hostess welcomed them, and an elderly host led
them across the lawn and straightly they fell into the clutches of
more and more elderlies.

"It is fairly bewildering!" Robinette cried in her heart; then she saw
a bevy of girls approaching; such nice-looking girls, happy, well
dressed, but all unattended by their suitable complement of young
men.

"For whom do they dress, here? They've a deal of self-respect, I
think, to go on getting themselves up so nicely for themselves and the
Celibate, the Paralytic, and Carnaby," thought Robinette, as she
watched them.

Presently another couple came across the lawn; the young woman was by
no means a girl, rather heavily built, with a high fixed colour. She
was attended by a man. "Not the Celibate certainly," thought Mrs.
Loring with a glance at his bullock-like figure, his thick neck, and
glossy black hair, "nor the Paralytic; and it's not Carnaby. It must
be a new arrival!"

At that moment it began to rain, but nothing daunted, their hostess
approached her, and saying pleasantly that she wished to introduce her
to Miss Meredith, she left Robinette and the young woman standing
together under a spreading tree, and took the gentleman away with
her.

The moment that she heard the name, Robinette realized who Miss
Meredith was. They seated themselves side by side on a garden bench,
and Miss Meredith remarked upon the heat, planting a rather fat hand
upon the arm of the garden seat, and surveying it complacently,
especially the very bright diamond ring upon the third finger.

After a few preliminary remarks, she asked Mrs. Loring if she were
stopping in the neighbourhood.

"Yes, I am staying at Stoke Revel for a short time," Robinette
replied; "Mrs. de Tracy is my aunt, or at least I am Admiral de
Tracy's niece."

Her companion did not seem to take the least interest in this part of
the information, only when Stoke Revel was mentioned she looked around
suddenly as if surprised.

They talked upon indifferent subjects, while Robinette, as she watched
Miss Meredith, was saying a good deal to herself, although she only
spoke aloud about the weather and the Devonshire scenery.

"I will be just, if I can't be generous," she thought. "She has (or
she must once have had) a fine complexion. I dare say she is sincere
enough; she may be sensible; she might be good-humoured,--when
pleased."

"There is going to be a shower," said Miss Meredith, "but I've nothing
on to spoil," she added, glancing at Robinette's hat.

Sitting there on the bench, hearing the spitting rain upon the water
below them and watching the leaden mists that slowly gathered over the
landscape, Robinette fell upon a moment of soul sickness very unusual
to her. Miss Meredith too was silent, absorbed in her own thoughts.

"If she had looked even a little different it would have been so much
easier to explain," thought Robinette. Then suddenly she glanced up.
She saw that her companion's face had softened, and changed. There was
a look,--Robinette caught it just for one moment,--such as a proud
angry child might have worn: sulky, hurt to the heart, but determined
not to cry. Instantly a chord was struck in Robinette's soul. "She has
suffered, anyway," she thought. "May I be forgiven for my harsh
judgment!"

With a shiver she drew her wrap about her shoulders, and Miss Meredith
turned towards her. The expression Robinette had noticed passed from
the high-coloured face and left it as before, self-complacent and
slightly patronizing. "You seem to feel cold," she said. "I never do;
which is rather unfortunate, as I'm just going out to India!"

"Indeed? How soon are you going?"

"In about six weeks. I'm just going to be married, and we sail
directly afterwards," said Miss Meredith. "You saw Mr. Joyce, I think,
when we came up together a few minutes ago?"

A weight as if of a ton of lead was lifted from Robinette's heart as
she spoke. She could scarcely refrain from jumping up to throw her
arms about Dolly Meredith's neck and kiss her. As it was, she bubbled
over with a kind of sympathetic interest that astonished the other
woman. It is only too easy to lead an approaching bride to talk about
her own affairs, for she can seldom take in the existence of even her
nearest and dearest at such a time, and in a few minutes the two young
women were deep in conversation. When a quarter of an hour later Miss
Smeardon appeared to tell Robinette that they must be going, she
looked up with a start at the sound of footsteps on the gravel path.
"Oh, you are here, Mrs. Loring; we couldn't think where you had
gone," said Miss Smeardon, acidly.

"And here is Miss Meredith of all people!" she continued, "I thought
you were sure to be on the tennis court, Miss Meredith; Mr. Joyce is
playing now."

"Oh, we have had such a delightful talk," said Dolly, so flushed with
pleasure that Miss Smeardon gazed at her in astonishment.

"If only I knew her well enough to send her a munificent wedding
present! How I should love to do so; just to register my own joy,"
said Robinette to herself. As it was she shook hands very warmly with
Miss Meredith before they parted, and when half way across the lawn,
looked back again, and waved her hand gaily. Miss Meredith was pacing
the grass, and treading heavily beside her, with a very gallant air,
was her bullock-like young man.

"Mr. Joyce is quite wealthy," said Miss Smeardon. "I understand that
he is an only son too, and will some day inherit a fine property.
Miss Meredith is most fortunate, at her age and with her history."

Robinette said nothing. She looked out at the glistening reaches of
the river, now shining through the silver mist; at the fields yellow
with buttercups, and the folds of the distant hills. As they drove up
the lane to the house, the birds, refreshed by the rain, were singing
like angels. In her heart too, something was singing as blithely as
any bird amongst them all.

"Sometimes, sometimes our mistakes do not come home to roost!" she
thought, "but fly away and make nests elsewhere--rich nests in India
too!"

"How did you enjoy the party, Cousin Robin?" said Carnaby, who
was waiting for them in the doorway. "I had a good tuck-in of
strawberries. The ladies were a little young for my taste; just
immature girls; no one under sixty, and rather frisky, don't you
think? By the way did you see Number One and her millionaire?"

"I don't know what you mean by Number One," said Robinette, haughtily,
as she passed in at the door.

"You will, when you're Number Two!" rejoined Carnaby, stooping to
pinch Lord Roberts' tail till the hero yelped aloud.



XVI

TWO LETTERS


Lavendar tore up his fourth sheet of paper and began afresh. "Dear
Mrs. Loring." No, that would not do; he took another sheet, and began
again:--

"My dear Mrs. Loring,--Your commission for old Mrs. Prettyman has
taken some little time to execute, for I had to go to two or three
shops before finding a chair 'with green cushions, and a wide seat, so
comfortable that it would almost act as an anæsthetic if her
rheumatism happened to be bad, and yet quite suitable for a cottage
room.' These were my orders, I think, and like all your orders they
demand something better than the mere perfunctory observance. My own
proportions differing a good deal from those of the old lady, it is
still an open question whether what seemed comfortable to me will be
quite the same to her. I can but hope so, and the chair will be
dispatched at once.

"London is noisy and dusty, and grimy and stuffy, and, to one man at
least, very, very dull. A boat on Greenshaw ferry seems the only spot
in the world where any gaiety is to be found. You can hear the cuckoos
calling across the river as you read this, no doubt, and Carnaby is
rendered happier than he deserves by being allowed to row you down to
tell Mrs. Prettyman about the chair. I feel as if, like the Japanese,
I could journey a hundred miles to worship that wonderful tree.--Don't
let the blossoms fall until I come!

"There seems a good deal of business to be done. My father unfortunately
is no better, so he cannot come down to Stoke Revel, and I shall
probably return upon Wednesday morning. A poem of Browning's runs in my
head--something about three days--I can't quote exactly.

"If my sister were writing this letter, she would say that I have been
very hard to please, and uninterested in everything since I came home.
Indeed it seems as if I were. London in this part of it, in hot
weather, makes a man weary for green woods, a sliding river, and a
Book of Verses underneath a Bough. Well, perhaps I shall have all of
them by Wednesday afternoon. You will think I can do nothing but
grumble. All the same, into what was the mere dull routine of
uncongenial work before, your influence has come with a current of new
energy; like the tide from the sea swelling up into the inland
river.--I'm at it again! Rivers on the brain evidently.

"I hope meanwhile that Carnaby behaves himself, and is not too much of
a bore, and that England,--England in spring at least, is gaining a
corner in your heart? Your mother called it home, remember. Yes, do
try to remember that!

"Did you go to the garden party? Did you walk? Did you drive? Did you
like it? Who was there? Were you dull?"

                  *       *       *       *       *

There was a postscript:--

"I have found the verse from Browning, 'So I shall see her in three
days.'

                                                               "M. L."

                  *       *       *       *       *

                                                       "Tuesday, 19th.

"Dear Mr. Lavendar: First, many thanks for Nurse's armchair, which
arrived in perfect order, and is a shining monument to your good
taste. She does nothing but look at it, shrouding it when she retires
to bed with an old table-cover, to protect it from the night air.

"Whether she will ever make its acquaintance thoroughly enough to sit
in it I do not know, but it will give her an enormous amount of
pleasure. Perhaps her glow of pride in its possession does her as much
good as the comfort she might take in its use.

"Her 'rheumatics' are very painful just now, and I have a good deal to
do with Duckie. You remember Duckie? I call her Mrs. Mackenzie, after
that lady in The Newcomes who talked the Colonel to death. Mrs.
Mackenzie is heavy, elderly, and strong-willed. I am acquainted with
every bone, tendon, and sinew in her body, having to lift her into a
coop behind the cottage where she will not wake Nurse at dawn with her
eternal quacking. She has heretofore slept under Nurse's bedroom
window and dislikes change of any kind. So lucky she has no offspring!
I tremble to think of what maternal example might do in such a
talkative family!

"Stoke Revel is as it was and ever will be, world without end; only
Aunt de Tracy is crosser than when you are here and life is not as
gay, although Carnaby does his dear, cubbish best. If ever you
desire your mental jewels to shine at their brightest; if ever you
wish a tolerably good disposition to seem like that of an angel; if
ever, in a fit of vanity, you would like to appear as a blend of
Apollo, Lancelot, Demosthenes, Prince Charlie, Ajax, and Solomon,
just fly to Stoke Revel and become part of the household. Assume
nothing; simply appear, and the surroundings will do the rest; like
the penny-in-the-slot arrangements. Seen upon a background of Bates,
William, Benson, Big Cummins, the Curate, Miss Smeardon, and may I
dare to add, the lady of the Manor herself,--any living breathing
man takes on an Olympian majesty. I shouldn't miss you in Boston
nor in London; perhaps even in Weston I might find a wretched
substitute, but here you are priceless!

"I have some news for you. On Saturday Miss Smeardon and I went to a
garden party. That was what it was called. The thermometer was only
slightly below zero when we started, and that luminary masquerading as
the sun was pretending to shine. Soon after we arrived at the festive
scene, there were gusts of wind and rain. I sought the shelter of a
spreading tree, the kitchen fire not being available, and I was joined
there by the hostess, who presented her niece, your Miss Meredith.

"Dear Mr. Lavendar, this is a subject we cannot write about, you and
I. I am loyal to my sex, and what Miss Meredith said, and looked, and
did, are all as sacred to me as they ought to be. I only want to tell
you that she is happy; that she has this very week become engaged, and
is going to India with her husband in a month. Now that little
cankerworm, that has been gnawing at your roots of life for the last
year or two, has done its worst, and you are perfectly free to go and
make other mistakes. I only hope you'll get 'scot free' from those,
too, for I don't like to see nice men burn their fingers. We became
such good friends huddled up in that boat when we were stuck in the
mud--Ugh! I can smell it now!--that I am glad to be the first to send
you pleasant news.

                                             "Sincerely yours,
                                                 "ROBINETTA LORING."



XVII

MRS. DE TRACY CROSSES THE FERRY


Lavendar's blunt refusal, except under certain conditions, to
announce to Mrs. Prettyman her coming ejection from the cottage at
Wittisham, was unprofessional enough, as he himself felt; but it
was final and categorical. Conveying as it did a sort of tacit
remonstrance, this refusal had an unfortunate effect, for it only
served to rouse Mrs. de Tracy's formidable obstinacy. She had
seized upon one point only in their numberless and wearisome
discussions of the matter: Mrs. Prettyman had no legal claim upon
Stoke Revel. To give her compensation for the plum tree would be to
allow that she had; to create a precedent highly dangerous under the
circumstances. How could one refuse to other old women or old men
leaving their cottages what one had weakly granted to her? The
demands would be unceasing, the trouble endless. So arguing, Mrs. de
Tracy soon brought herself to a state of determination bordering on a
sort of mania. She was old, and in exaggerated harshness her life was
retreating as it were into its last stronghold, at bay.

As good as her word, for she had vowed she would warn Mrs. Prettyman
herself, and she was never one to procrastinate, the lady of the Manor
proceeded to plan her visit to Wittisham. She had not crossed the
river for years. Wittisham, one of the loveliest villages in England,
perhaps, though little known, was a thorn in her side, as it would
have been in that of any other landlord with empty pockets.

What you could not deal with to your own advantage, it was better to
ignore, and on this autocratic principle, Mrs. de Tracy had left
Wittisham to itself.

But now the boat carried her there, alone and fierce--_thrawn_, as
the Scotch say--bent upon a course of conduct that she knew would
hold her up to the hatred of every right-thinking person of her
acquaintance, and bitterly triumphant in the knowledge. The
meanness of her errand never struck her. On the contrary, she would
have argued it was one well worthy of her, a part of the scheme in
the consummation of which she had spent her married life and her whole
indomitable energy, losing actually her own identity in the process,
and becoming an inexorable machine. That scheme was the holding
together of Stoke Revel for the de Tracys, the maintenance of family
dignity and power, the pre-eminence of a race that had always ruled.
The river beneath her, carrying her to the fulfilment of her duty,
the noble river, widening to the sea, subject to its tides and made
turbulent by its storms, typified to Mrs. de Tracy only the
greatness of Stoke Revel. From its banks the de Tracys had sent out,
generation after generation, men who had commanded fleets, who
had upheld the national honour upon the farthest seas, very often at
the cost of life. There was no sacrifice of herself at which Mrs.
de Tracy would have hesitated in upholding this ideal, no sacrifice
of others, either. What was Lizzie Prettyman in comparison? A bag
of old bones, fit for nothing but the workhouse!

"A little faster, William," said the widow, sitting upright in the
stern, and William the footman bent to his oars, the beads of
perspiration standing on his brow. When Mrs. de Tracy stepped out upon
the pier, she had to be reminded where the Prettyman cottage was.

"You'll know it by the plum tree, ma'am," said William respectfully,
"everybody does."

It was not far off on the river side. The tide had ebbed and left a
stretch of muddy foreshore in front of it, where the rotting poles for
hanging the fishing nets out to dry stood gauntly up. Mrs. de Tracy
approached the steps, which merged into the flagged path before the
door, and paused to survey the property she intended to part with. She
had no eye for the picturesque. A few white petals from the blossoming
plum tree, scattered by the breeze, fell upon her black bonnet and
shoulders. A faint scent of honey came from it and the hum of bees,
for the day was warm. The tumble-down condition of the cottage engaged
Mrs. de Tracy's attention.

"And for this," she thought scornfully, "a man will give hundreds of
pounds! There's truth in the adage that a fool and his money are soon
parted!"

She mounted the steps that led up to the patch of garden, her keen,
cold eyes everywhere at once. "A cat can't sneeze without she 'ears
'im!" her villagers at Stoke Revel were wont to say, disappearing into
their houses as rabbits into their burrows at sight of a terrier.

Old Elizabeth Prettyman stood at her door, and it took some time to
make her realize who her august visitor was. She was getting blind;
she had never been a favourite with Mrs. de Tracy, nor had she entered
Stoke Revel Manor since her nursling disgraced it by marrying a Bean.
She curtseyed humbly to the great lady.

"There now, ma'am," she said, "it's not often we have seen you across
the river. Will you please to come inside and sit down, ma'am? 'T is
very warm this afternoon, it is." She was a good deal fluttered in her
welcome, for there was that in Mrs. de Tracy's air that seemed to bode
misfortune.

"I shall sit down for a few minutes, Elizabeth," was the reply, "while
I explain my visit to you."

Mrs. Prettyman stood aside respectfully, and Mrs. de Tracy swept past
her into the cottage and seated herself there. It never occurred to
her to ask the old woman to sit down in her own house; she expected
her to stand throughout the interview. Without further preamble,
then, Mrs. de Tracy came to the point:--

"Elizabeth," she said, "I have come to tell you that I am going to
sell the land on which this cottage stands, and that you will have to
find some other home."

The old woman did not understand for a minute. "You be going to sell
the land, ma'am?" she repeated stupidly.

"Yes, I am. A gentleman from London wishes to buy it; you will need to
go."

"A gentleman from London! Lor, ma'am, no gentleman from London
wouldn't live 'ere!" Elizabeth cried, perfectly dazed by the
statement.

Mrs. de Tracy repeated: "It is not your business, Elizabeth, what he
intends to do with the place; all you have to do is to remove from the
house."

The old woman sank down on the nearest chair and covered her face with
her hands. She was so old and so tired that she had no heart to face
life under new conditions, even should they be better than those she
left. A younger woman would have snapped her fingers in Mrs. de
Tracy's face, so to speak, and wished her joy of her old rattletrap of
a house, but Elizabeth Prettyman, after a lifetime of struggles, had
not vitality enough for such an action. She had never dreamed of
leaving the cottage, and where was she to go? Her furrowed face wore
an expression of absolute terror now when she looked up.

"But where be I to live, ma'am?" she cried.

"I do not know, Elizabeth; you must arrange that with your relations,"
said Mrs. de Tracy.

"I don't 'ave but only me niece--'er as married down Exeter way."

"Well, you should write to her then."

"She don't want to keep me, Nettie don't,--she's but a poor man's
wife, and five chillen she 'as; it's not like as if she were me
daughter, ma'am."

"You have some small sum of money of your own every year, have you
not?" Mrs. de Tracy asked.

"Ten pound a year, ma'am; the same that me 'usband left me; two
'undred pounds 'e 'ad saved and 't is in an annuity; that's all I
'ave--that and me plum tree."

"The plum tree is not yours, either, Elizabeth; that belongs to the
land," said Mrs. de Tracy curtly.

"'T was me 'usband planted it, ma'am, years ago. We watched 'en and
pruned 'en and tended 'en like a child we did--an' now to be told 'er
ain't mine!"

"You're forgetting yourself, Elizabeth, I think," said Mrs. de Tracy.
It was simply impossible for her to see with the old woman's eyes; all
she remembered was the legal fact that any tree planted in Stoke Revel
ground belonged to the owner of the ground.

"But ma'am, 't is a big part of me living is the plum tree; only
yesterday I says to the young lady--Miss Cynthia's young lady--I
says, 'Dear knows how 't would be with me without I had the plum
tree.'"

"I cannot help that, Elizabeth: the plum tree is not yours, it belongs
to Stoke Revel."

"Then ma'am, you'll be 'lowing me something for it surely?"

"No," said Mrs. de Tracy obstinately, "you have no legal claim to
compensation, Elizabeth. I cannot undertake to allow you anything for
what is not yours. If I did it in your case you know quite well I
should have to do it in many others."

There was a long and heavy silence. Elizabeth Prettyman was taking in
her sentence of banishment from her old home; Mrs. de Tracy was merely
wondering how long it would take her to walk down that nasty steep bit
of path to the ferry. At last the old woman looked up.

"When must I be goin' then, ma'am?" she asked meekly.

Mrs. de Tracy considered. "The transfer of land from one person to
another generally takes some time: you will have several weeks here
still; I shall send you notice later which day to quit."

"Thank you, ma'am," said Elizabeth simply, and added, "The plum tree
blossoms 'ul be over by that time."

"I don't see what that has to do with it," said Mrs. de Tracy, in
whose heart there was room for no sentiment.

"'T would have been 'arder leavin' it in blossom time," the old woman
explained; but her hearer could not see the point. She rose slowly
from her chair and looked around the cottage.

"I am glad to see that you keep your place clean and respectable,
Elizabeth," she said. "I wish you good afternoon."

Elizabeth never rose from her chair to see her visitor to the door--(an
omission which Mrs. de Tracy was not likely to overlook)--she just sat
there gazing stupidly around the tiny kitchen and muttering a word or
two now and then. At last she got up and tottered to the garden.

"I'll 'ave to leave it all--leave the old bench as me William did put
for me with his own 'ands, and leave Duckie, Duckie can't never go to
Exeter if I goes there,--and leave the plum tree." She limped across
the little bit of sunny turf, and stood under the white canopy of the
blossoming tree, leaning against its slender trunk. "Pity 't is we
ain't rooted in the ground same as the trees are," she mused. "Then no
one couldn't turn us out; only the Lord Almighty cut us down when our
time came; Lord knows I'm about ready for that now--grave-ripe as you
may say." She leaned her poor weary old head against the tree stem and
wept, ready, ah! how ready, at that moment, to lay down the burden of
her long and toilsome life.

"Good afternoon, Nursie dear!" a clear voice called out in her ear,
and Elizabeth started to find that Robinette had tip-toed across the
grass and was standing close beside her. She lifted her tear-stained
face up to Robinette's as a child might have done.

"I've to quit, Missie," she sobbed, "to leave me 'ome and Duckie and
the plum tree, an' I've no place to go to, and naught but my ten
pounds to live on--and 't won't keep me without I've the plum tree,
not when I've rent to pay from it; not if I don't eat nothing but tea
an' bread never again!"

In a moment Robinette's arms were about her: her soft young cheeks
pressed against the withered old face.

"What's this you're saying, Nurse?" she cried. "Leaving your cottage?
Who said so?"

"It's true, dear, quite true; 'asn't the lady 'erself been here to
tell me so?"

"Was that what Aunt de Tracy was here about? I met her on the road
five minutes ago; she said she had been here on business! But tell me,
Nurse, why does she want you to leave? Are you going to get a better
cottage? Does she think this one isn't healthy for you?"

"No, no, dear, 't isn't that, she 've sold the cottage over me 'ead,
that's what 't is, or she's going to sell it, to a gentleman from
London--Lord knows what a gentleman from London wants wi' 'en--and
I've to quit."

Robinette tried to be a peacemaker.

"Then you'll get a much more comfortable house, that's quite certain.
You know, though this one is lovely on fine days like this, that the
thatch is all coming off, and I'm sure it's damp inside! Just wait a
bit, and see if you don't get some nice cosy little place, with a
sound roof and quite dry, that will cure this rheumatism of yours."

But Mrs. Prettyman shook her head.

"No, no, there won't be no cosy place given to me; I'm no more worth
than an old shoe now, Missie, and I'm to be turned out, the lady said
so 'erself; said as I must go to Exeter to live with me niece Nettie,
and 'er don't want us--Nettie don't--and whatever shall I do without I
'ave Duckie and the plum tree?"

"Oh, but"--Robinette began, quite incredulously, and the old woman
took up her lament again.

"And I asked the lady, wouldn't I 'ave something allowed me for the
plum tree--that 'ave about clothed me for years back? And 'No,' she
says, ''t ain't your plum tree, Elizabeth, 't is mine; I can't 'low
nothing on me own plum tree.'"

Robinette still refused to believe the story.

"Nurse, dear," she said, "you're a tiny bit deaf now, you know, and
perhaps you misunderstood about leaving. Suppose you keep your dear
old heart easy for to-night, and I'll come down bright and early
to-morrow and tell you what it really is! If you have to leave the
plum tree you'll get a fine price put on it that may last you for
years; it's such a splendid tree, anyone can see it's worth a good
deal."

"That it be, Missie, the finest tree in Wittisham," the old woman
said, drying her eyes, a little comforted by the assurance in
Robinette's voice and manner.

"There now, we won't have any more tears: I've brought a new canister
of tea I sent for to London. I'm just dying to taste if it's good;
we'll brew it together, Nursie; I shall carry out the little table
from the kitchen and we'll drink our tea under the plum tree,"
Robinette cried.

She was carrying a great parcel under her arm, and when Mrs. Prettyman
opened it, she could scarcely believe that this lovely red tin
canister, filled with pounds of fragrant tea, could really be hers!
The sight of such riches almost drove away her former fears. Robinette
whisked into the kitchen and came out carrying the little round table
which she set down under the white canopy of the plum tree. Then
together they brought out the rest of the tea things, and what a merry
meal they had!

"It's just nonsense and a bit of deafness on your part, Nurse, so we
won't remember anything about leaving the house, we are only going to
think of enjoyment," Robinette announced. Then the old woman was
comforted, as old people are wont to be by the brave assurances of
those younger and stronger than themselves, forgot the spectre that
seemed to have risen suddenly across her path, and laughed and talked
as she sipped the fragrant London tea.



XVIII

THE STOKE REVEL JEWELS


"Hullo! Cousin Robin, hurry up, you'll need all your time!" It was
Carnaby of course who saluted Robinette thus, as she came towards the
house on her return from Wittisham.

"I'm not late, am I?" she said, consulting her watch.

"I thought you'd be making a tremendous toilette; one of your killing
ones to-night," Carnaby said. "Do! I love to see you all dressed up
till old Smeardon's eyes look as if they would drop out when you come
into the room."

"I'll wear my black dress, and her eyes may remain in her head,"
Robinette laughed.

"And what about Mark's eyes? Wouldn't you like them to drop out?" the
boy asked mischievously. "He's come back by the afternoon train while
you were away at Wittisham."

"Oh, has he?" Robinette said, and Carnaby stared so hard at her, that
to her intense annoyance she blushed hotly.

"Horrid lynx-eyed boy," she said to herself as she ran upstairs, "He's
growing up far too quickly. He needs to be snubbed." She dashed to the
wardrobe, pulled out the black garment, and gave it a vindictive shake.
"Old, dowdy, unbecoming, deaconess-district-visitor-bible-woman,
great-grand-auntly thing!" she cried.

Then her eye lighted on a cherished lavender satin. She stood for a
moment deliberating, the black dress over her arm, her eyes fixed upon
the lavender one that hung in the wardrobe.

"I don't care," she cried suddenly: "I'll wear the lavender, so here
goes! Men are all colour blind, so he'll merely notice that I look
nice. I must conceal from myself and everybody else how depressed I am
over the interview with Nurse, and how I dread discussing the cottage
with Aunt de Tracy. That must be done the first thing after dinner, or
I shall lose what little courage I have."

Lavendar thought he had never seen her look so lovely as when he met
her in the drawing room a quarter of an hour later. There was nothing
extraordinary about the dress but its exquisite tint and the sheen of
the soft satin. The suggestion that lay in the colour was entirely
lost upon him, however: if asked to name it he would doubtless have
said "purplish." How he wished that he might have escorted her into
the dining room, but Mrs. de Tracy was his portion as usual, and
Robinette was waiting for Carnaby, who seemed unaccountably slow.

"Your arm, Middy, when you are quite ready," she said to him at last.
Carnaby's extraordinary unreadiness seemed to arise from his trying to
smuggle some object up his sleeve. This proved, a few moments later,
to be a bundle of lavender sticks tied with violet ribbon that he had
discovered in his bureau drawer. He laid it by Robinette's plate with
a whispered "My compliments."

"What does your cousin want that bunch of lavender for, at the table?"
Mrs. de Tracy enquired.

"She likes lavender anywhere, ma'am," Carnaby said with a wink on the
side not visible by his grandmother. "It's a favourite of hers."

Robinette could only be thankful that Lavendar was occupied in a
_sotto voce_ discussion of wine with Bates, and she was able to
conceal the bundle of herbs before his eyes met hers, for the fury she
felt against her precious young kinsman at that moment she could have
expressed only by blows.

Dinner seemed interminably long. Robinette, for more reasons than one,
was preoccupied; Lavendar made few remarks, and Carnaby was possessed
by a spirit of perfectly fiendish mischief, saying and doing
everything that could most exasperate his grandmother, put her guests
to the blush, and shock Miss Smeardon.

But at last Mrs. de Tracy rose from the table, and the ladies followed
her from the room, leaving Lavendar to cope alone with Carnaby.

"My fair American cousin is more than usually lovely to-night, eh, Mr.
Lavendar?" the boy said, with his laughable assumption of a man of the
world.

"There, my young friend; that will do! you're talking altogether too
much," said Lavendar, as he poured himself out a glass of wine and sat
down by the open window to drink it. Carnaby, perhaps not unreasonably
offended, lounged out of the room, and left the older man to his own
meditations.

Robinette in the meantime went into the drawing room with her aunt,
and they sat down together in the dim light while Miss Smeardon went
upstairs to write a letter.

"Aunt de Tracy," Robinette began, "I was calling on Mrs. Prettyman
just after you had been with her this afternoon, and do you know the
dear old soul had taken the strangest idea into her head! She says you
are going to ask her to leave the cottage."

"The land on which her cottage stands is about to be sold," said Mrs.
de Tracy. "It is necessary that she should move."

"Yes, she quite understood that; but she thinks she is not going to
get another house; that was what was distressing her, naturally. Of
course she hates to leave the old place, but I believe if she gets
another nicer cottage, that will quite console her," said Robinette
quickly.

"I have no vacant cottage on the estate just now," said Mrs. de Tracy
quietly.

"Then what is she to do? Isn't it impossible that she should move
until another place is made ready for her?" Robinette rose and stood
beside the table, leaning the tips of her fingers on it in an attitude
of intense earnestness. She was trying to conceal the anger and dismay
she felt at her aunt's reply.

"Mrs. Prettyman has relatives at Exeter," said Mrs. de Tracy without
the quiver of an eyelid.

"Yes; but they are poor. They aren't very near relations, and they
don't want her. O Aunt de Tracy, is it necessary to make her leave?
She depends upon the plum tree so! She makes twenty-five dollars a
year from the jam!"

"Dollars have no significance for me," said Mrs. de Tracy with an icy
smile.

"Well, pounds then: five pounds she makes. How is she ever going to
live without that, unless you give her the equivalent? It's half her
livelihood! I promised you would consider it? Was I wrong?"

Old bitternesses rose in Mrs. de Tracy's heart, the prejudices and the
grudges of a lifetime. Everything connected with Robinette's mother
had been wrong in her eyes, and now everything connected with
Robinette was wrong too, and becoming more so with startling
rapidity.

"You had no right whatsoever to make any promises on my behalf," she
now said harshly. "You have acted foolishly and officiously. This is
no business of yours."

"I'll gladly make it my business if you'll let me, Aunt de Tracy!"
pleaded Robinette. "If you don't feel inclined to provide for Mrs.
Prettyman, mayn't I? She is my mother's old nurse and she shan't want
for anything as long as I have a penny to call my own!" Robinette's
eyes filled with tears, but Mrs. de Tracy was not a whit moved by this
show of emotion, which appeared to her unnecessary and theatrical.

"You are forgetting yourself a good deal in your way of speaking to me
on this subject," she said coldly. "When I behaved unbecomingly in my
youth, my mother always recommended me to go upstairs, shut myself up
alone in my room, and collect my thoughts. The process had invariably
a calming effect. I advise you to try it."

Robinette did not need to be proffered the hint twice. She rushed out
of the room like a whirlwind, not looking where she went. In the hall,
she came face to face with Lavendar, who had just left the dining
room.

"Mr. Lavendar!" she cried. "Do go into the drawing room and speak to
my aunt. Preach to her! Argue with her! Convince her that she can't
and mustn't act in this way; can't go and turn Mrs. Prettyman out, and
rob her of the plum tree, and leave her with hardly a penny in the
world or a roof over her head!"

"It's not a very pretty or a very pleasant business, Mrs. Loring, I
admit," said Lavendar quietly.

"Is it English law?" cried Robinette with indignation. "If it is, I
call it mean and unjust!"

"Sometimes the laws seem very hard," said Lavendar. "I'd like to
discuss this affair with you quietly another time."

As he spoke, Carnaby appeared and wanted to be told what the matter
was, but Robinette discovered that it is not very easy to criticise a
grandmother to her youthful grandson, more especially when the lady in
question is your hostess.

"Aunt de Tracy and I have had a little difference of opinion about
Mrs. Prettyman and her cottage, and the plum tree," she said to the
boy quietly, and Lavendar nodded approval.

"Prettyman's got the sack, hasn't she?" Carnaby enquired with a boy's
carelessness.

Robinette looked very grave. "My dear old nurse is to leave her
cottage," she said with a quiver in her voice. "She's to lose her plum
tree--"

"But of course she'll get compensation," cried Carnaby.

"No, Middy; she's to get no compensation," said Robinette in a low
voice.

"Well, I call that jolly hard! It's a beastly shame," said Carnaby,
evidently pricking up his ears and with a sudden frown that changed
his face. "I say, Mark--" But Lavendar did not think the moment
suitable for a discussion of Mrs. Prettyman's wrongs. Besides, he did
not wish Robinette to be banished from the drawing room for a whole
interminable evening. He contrived to silence Carnaby for the time
being.

"Let's bury the hatchet for a little while," he suggested. "Have you
forgotten, Mrs. Loring, that I made Mrs. de Tracy promise to show off
the Stoke Revel jewels for your benefit this very night?"

"O! but now I'm in disgrace, she won't!" said Robinette.

"Yes, she will!" said Carnaby. "Nothing puts the old lady in such a
heavenly temper as showing off the jewels. Don't you miss it, Cousin
Robin! It's like the Tower of London and Madam Tussaud's rolled into
one, this show, I can assure you. Come on! Come back into the drawing
room. Needn't be afraid when Mark's there!"

Robinette found that a black look or two was all that she had to fear
from Mrs. de Tracy at present, and even these became less severe
under the alchemy of Lavendar's tact. A reminder that an exhibition of
the jewelry had been promised was graciously received. Bates and
Benson were summoned, and armed with innumerable keys, they descended
to subterranean regions where safes were unlocked and jewel-boxes
solemnly brought into the drawing room. Mrs. de Tracy wore an air
almost devotional, as she unlocked the final receptacles with keys
never allowed to leave her own hands.

"If the proceedings had begun with prayer and ended with a hymn, it
wouldn't have surprised me in the least!" Robinette said to herself,
looking silently on. Her silence, luckily for her, was taken for the
speechlessness of awe, and did a good deal to make up, in the eyes of
her august relative, for her late indiscretions. As a matter of fact,
her irreverent thoughts were mostly to the effect that all but the
historical pieces of the Stoke Revel _corbeille_ would be the better
of re-setting by Tiffany or Cartier.

Mrs. de Tracy opened an old shagreen case and the firelight flickered
on the diamonds of a small tiara.

"This is a part of the famous Montmorency set," she announced proudly,
with the tone of a Keeper of Regalia. Then she took out a rope of
pearls ending in tassels. "These belonged to Marie Antoinette," she
said.

An emerald set was next produced, and the emeralds, it was explained,
had once adorned a crown. Deep green they were, encrusted in their
diamond setting; costly, unique; but they left Robinette cold, though
like most American women, she loved precious stones as an adornment.
One of those emeralds, she was thinking, was worth fifty times more
than old Lizzie Prettyman's cottage: the sale of one of them would
have averted that other sale which was to cause so much distress to a
poor harmless old woman.

"When do you wear your jewels, Aunt de Tracy?" she asked gravely.

"I have not worn them since the Admiral's death," was the virtuous
reply, "and I have never called or considered them mine, Robinetta.
They are the de Tracy jewels. When Carnaby takes his place as the head
of the house, they will be his. He will see that his wife wears them
on the proper occasions."

"Carnaby's wife!" thought Robinette. "Why! she mayn't be born! He may
never have a wife! And to think of all those precious stones hiding
their brightness in these boxes like prisoners in a dungeon for years
and years, only to be let out now and then by Bates and Benson,
jingling their keys like jailers! And this house is a prison too!" she
said to herself; "a prison for souls!" and the thought of its hoarded
wealth made her indignant; all this hidden treasure in a house where
there was never enough to eat, where guests shivered in fireless
bedrooms, where servants would not stay because they were starved! And
Carnaby, too, whose youth was being embittered by unnecessary
economies: Carnaby, who had so little pocket-money that he was a
laughing-stock among his fellows--it was for Carnaby these sacrifices
were being made! Strange traditions! Fetiches of family pride almost
as grotesque to her thinking as those of any savages under the sun.

"My poor dear Middy!" she thought. "What chance has he, brought up in
an atmosphere like this?" But she happened to raise her eyes at the
moment, and to see the actual Carnaby of the moment, not the Carnaby
her gloomy imagination was evoking from the future with the "petty
hoard of maxims preaching down" his heart. He had contrived to get
hold of the Marie Antoinette pearls without his grandmother's
knowledge and to hang them around his neck; he had poised the
Montmorency tiara on his own sleek head; he had forced a heavy
bracelet by way of collar round Rupert's throat, and now with that
choking and goggling unfortunate held partner-wise in his arms, he was
waltzing on tiptoe about the farther drawing room behind the
unconscious backs of Mrs. de Tracy and Miss Smeardon.

"He's only a careless boy," thought Robinette, "a happy-go-lucky,
devil-may-care, hare-brained youngster. They can't have poisoned his
nature yet, and I'm sure he has a good heart. If he were at the head
of affairs at Stoke Revel instead of his grandmother, I wonder what
would be done in the matter of my poor old nurse?" Robinette stood in
the doorway for a moment before going up to her room. Her whole
attitude spoke depression as Carnaby stole up behind her.

"See here, Cousin Robin, I can't bear to have you go on like this.
Don't take Prettyman's trouble so to heart. We'll do something! I'll
do something myself! I have a happy thought."



XIX

LAWYER AND CLIENT


Robinette had a bad night after the jewel exhibition, and a heavy head
and aching eyes prompted her to ask Little Cummins to bring her
breakfast to her bedroom.

It was touching to see that small person hovering over Robinette:
stirring the fire, sweeping the hearth, looping back the curtains,
tucking the slippers out of sight, and moving about the room like a
mother ministering to an ailing child. Finally she staggered in with
the heavy breakfast tray that she had carried through long halls and
up the stairs, and put it on the table by the bed.

"There's a new-laid egg, ma'am, that cook 'ad for the mistress, but I
thought you needed it more; an' I brewed the tea meself, to be sure,"
she cooed; "an' I've spread the loaf same as you like, an' cut the
bread thin, an' 'ere's one o' the roses you allers wears to breakfast;
an' wouldn't your erming coat be a comfort, ma'am?"

"Dear Little Cummins! How did you know I needed comfort? How did you
guess I was homesick?"

Robinette leaned her head against the housemaid's rough hand, always
stained with black spots that would give way to no scrubbing. From
morning to night she was in the coal scuttle or the grate or the
saucer of black lead, for she did nothing but lay fires, light fires,
feed fires, and tidy up after fires, for eight or nine months of the
year.

"You mustn't touch me, ma'am; I ain't fit; there's smut on me, an'
hashes, this time o' day," said Little Cummins.

"I don't care. I like you better with ashes than lots of people
without. You mustn't stay in the coal scuttle all your life, Little
Cummins; you must be my chambermaid some of these days when we can get
a good substitute for Mrs. de Tracy. Would you like that, if the
mistress will let you go?"

Little Cummins put her apron up to her eyes, and from its depths came
inarticulate bursts of gratitude and joy. Then peeping from it just
enough to see the way to the door, she ran out like a hare and
secluded herself in the empty linen-room until she was sufficiently
herself to join the other servants.

Robinette finished her breakfast and dressed. She had lacked courage
to meet the family party, although she longed for a talk with Mark
Lavendar. It was entirely normal, feminine, and according to all law,
human and divine, but it appealed also to her sense of humour, that
she should feel that this new man-friend could straighten out all the
difficulties in the path. She waited patiently at her window until she
saw him walk around the corner of the house, under the cedars, and up
the twisting path, his head bent and bare, his hands in his pockets.
Then she flung her blue cape over her shoulders and followed him.

"Mr. Lavendar," she called, as she caught up with his slow step, "you
said you would advise me a little. Let us sit on this bench a moment
and find out how we can untangle all the knots into which Aunt de
Tracy tied us yesterday. I am so afraid of her that I am sure I spoke
timidly and respectfully to her at first; but perhaps I showed more
feeling at the end than I should. I am willing to apologize to her for
any lack of courtesy, but I don't see how I can retract anything I
said."

"It is hard for you," Lavendar replied, "because you have a natural
affection for your mother's old nurse; and Mrs. de Tracy, I begin to
believe, is more than indifferent to her. She has some active dislike,
perhaps, the source of which is unknown to us."

"But she is so unjust!" cried Robinette. "I never heard of an Irish
landlord in a novel who would practice such a piece of eviction. If I
must stand by and see it done, then I shall assert my right to provide
for Nurse and move her into a new dwelling. After you left the drawing
room last night, I begged as tactfully as I could that Aunt de Tracy
would sell me some of the jewels, so that she need not part with the
land at Wittisham. She was very angry, and wouldn't hear of it. Then I
proposed buying the plum-tree cottage, that it might be kept in the
family, and she was furious at my audacity. Perhaps the Admiral's
niece is _not_ in the family."

"She cannot endure anything like patronage, or even an assumption of
equality," said Lavendar. "You must be careful there."

"Should I be likely to patronize?" asked Robinette reproachfully.

"No; but your acquaintance with your aunt is a very brief one, and she
is an extraordinary character; hard to understand. You may easily
stumble on a prejudice of hers at every step."

"I shouldn't like to understand her any better than I do now," and
Robinette pushed back her hair rebelliously.

"Will you be my client for about five minutes?" asked Lavendar.

"Yes, willingly enough, for I see nothing before me but to take Nurse
Prettyman and depart in the first steamer for America."

Mrs. Loring looked as if she were quite capable of this rather radical
proceeding, and very much, too, as if any growing love for Lavendar
that she might have, would easily give way under this new pressure of
circumstances.

"This is the situation in a nutshell," said Lavendar, filling his
pipe. "Mrs. de Tracy is entirely within her legal rights when she asks
Mrs. Prettyman to leave the cottage; legally right also when she
declines to give compensation for the plum tree that has been a source
of income; financially right moreover in selling cottage and land at a
fancy price to find money for needed improvements on the estate."

"None of this can be denied, I allow."

"All these legal rights could have been softened if Mrs. de Tracy had
been willing to soften them, but unfortunately she has been put on the
defensive. She did not like it when I opposed her in the first place.
She did not like it when my father advised her to make some small
settlement, as he did, several days ago. She resented Mrs. Prettyman's
assumption of owning the plum tree; she was outraged at your valiant
espousing of your nurse's cause."

"I see; we have simply made her more determined in her injustice."

"Now it is all very well for you to show your mettle," Lavendar went
on, "for you to endure your aunt's displeasure rather than give up a
cause you know to be just; but look where it lands us."

Robinette raised her troubled eyes to Lavendar's, giving a sigh to
show she realized that her landing-place would be wherever the lawyer
fixed it, not where she wished it.

"Go on," she sighed patiently.

"Your legal adviser regards it as impossible that you should come over
from America and quarrel with your mother's family;--your only family,
in point of fact. If this affair is fought to a finish you will feel
like leaving your aunt's house."

"I shouldn't have to wait for that feeling," said Robinette
irrepressibly. "Aunt de Tracy would have it first!"

"In such an event I could and would stand by you, naturally."

"_Would_ you?" cried Robinette glowing instantly like a jewel.

Lavendar looked at her in amazement. "Pray what do you take me for? On
whose side could I, should I be, my dear--my dear Mrs. Loring? But to
keep to business. In the event stated above, neither my father nor I
could very well continue to have charge of the estate. That is a small
matter, but increases the difficulties, owing to a long friendship
dating back to the Admiral's time. Then we have Carnaby. Carnaby, my
dear Mrs. Loring, belongs to you. Do you want to give him up? He
adores you and you will have an unbounded influence on him, if you
choose to exercise it."

"How can I influence Carnaby--in America?"

This was a blow, but Lavendar made no sign. "You may not always be in
America," he said. "Now why not let Mrs. de Tracy sell the land and
cottage and plum tree in the ordinary course of things? Oh, how I wish
_I_ could buy the blessed thing!" he exclaimed, parenthetically.

"Oh! how I wish _I_ could buy the plum tree, and keep it, always
blossoming, in my morning-room!" sighed Robinette.

"But unfortunately, Waller R. A. will buy the plum tree, confound him!
Now, just after Mrs. de Tracy has definitely sold the premises and all
their appurtenances, suppose you, in your prettiest and most docile
way (docility not being your strong point!) ask your aunt if she has
any objection to your taking care of Mrs. Prettyman during the few
years remaining to her. Meantime keep her from irritating Mrs. de
Tracy, and make the poor old dear happy with plans for her future. If
you are short on docility you are long on making people happy!"

"Never did I hear such an argument! It would make Macduff fall into
the arms of Macbeth; it would tranquillize the Kilkenny cats
themselves! I'll run in and apologize abjectly to my thrice guilty
aunt, then I'll reward myself by going over to Wittisham."

"If you'll take the ferry over, I'd like to come and fetch you if I
may. That shall be my reward."

"Reward for what?"

"For giving you advice very much against my personal inclinations.
Courses of action founded entirely on policy do not appeal to me very
strongly."



XX

THE NEW HOME


It was in rather a chastened spirit that Robinette set off to see Mrs.
Prettyman. "I've been foolish, I've been imprudent; oh! dear me! I've
still so much to learn!" she sighed to herself. "No good is ever done
by losing one's temper; it only puts everything wrong. I shall have to
try and take Mr. Lavendar's advice. I must be very prudent with Nurse
this morning--never show her that I think Aunt de Tracy is in the
wrong; just persuade her ever so gently to move to another home, and
arrange with her where it is to be."

It is always difficult for an impetuous nature like Robinette's to
hold back about anything. She would have liked to run straight into
Mrs. Prettyman's room, and, flinging her arms round the old woman's
neck, cry out to her that everything was settled. And instead she
must come to the point gently, prudently, wisely, "like other people"
as she said to herself.

The cottage seemed very still that afternoon, and Robinette knocked
twice before she heard the piping old voice cry out to her to come
in.

"Why, Nurse dear, where are you? Were you asleep?" Robinette said as
she entered, for Mrs. Prettyman was not sitting in the fine new chair.
Then she found that the voice answered from the little bedroom off the
kitchen, and that the old woman was in bed.

"I ain't ill, so to speak, dear, just weary in me bones," she
explained, as Robinette sat down beside her. "And Mrs. Darke, me
neighbour, she sez to me, 'You do take the day in bed, Mrs. Prettyman,
me dear, an' I'll do your bit of work for 'ee'--so 'ere I be, Missie,
right enough."

"I'm afraid you were worried yesterday," said Robinette; "worried
about leaving the house."

"I were, Missie, I were," she confessed.

"That's why I came to-day; you must stop worrying, for I've settled
all about it. I spoke to my aunt last night, and it's true that you
have to leave this house; but now I've come to make arrangements with
you about a new one."

The old woman covered her face with her hands and gave a little cry
that went straight to Robinette's heart.

"Lor' now, Miss, 'ow am I ever to leave this place where I've been all
these years? I thought yesterday as you said 'twas a mistake I'd
made."

"But alas, it wasn't altogether a mistake," Robinette had to confess
sadly, her eyes filling with tears as she realized how she had only
doubled her old friend's disappointment. Then she sat forward and took
Mrs. Prettyman's hand in hers.

"Nursie dear," she said, "I don't want you to grieve about leaving
the old home, for it isn't an awfully good one; the new one is going
to be ever so much better!"

"That's so, I'm sure, dearie, only 'tis _new_," faltered Mrs.
Prettyman. "If you're spared to my age, Missie, you'll find as new
things scare you."

"Ah, but not a new house, Nursie! Wait till I describe it! Everything
strong and firm about it, not shaking in the storms as this one
does; nice bright windows to let in all the sunshine; so no more
'rheumatics' and no more tears of pain in your dear old eyes!"

Robinette's voice failed suddenly, for it struck her all in a moment
that her glowing description of the new home seemed to have in it
something prophetic. That bent little figure beside her, these shaking
limbs and dim old eyes,--all this house of life, once so carefully
builded, was crumbling again into the dust, and its tenant indeed
wanted a new one, quite, quite different! A sob rose in Robinette's
throat, but she swallowed it down and went on gaily.

"I've settled about another thing, too; you're to have another plum
tree, or life wouldn't be the same thing to you. And you know they can
transplant quite big trees now-a-days and make them grow wonderfully.
Some one was telling me all about how it is done only a few days ago.
They dig them up ever so carefully, and when they put them into the
new hole, every tiny root is spread out and laid in the right
direction in the ground, and patted and coaxed in, and made firm, and
they just catch hold on the soil in the twinkle of an eye. Isn't it
marvellous? Well, I'll have a fine new tree planted for you so
cleverly that perhaps by next year you'll be having a few plums, who
knows? And the next year more plums! And the next year, jam!"

"'Twill be beautiful, sure enough," said the old woman, kindling at
last under the description of all these joys. "And do you think,
Missie, as the new cottage will really be curing of me rheumatics?"

"Why yes, Nurse. Whoever heard of rheumatism in a dry new house?"

"The house be new, but the rheumatics be old," said Mrs. Prettyman
sagely.

"Well, we can't make _you_ entirely new, but we'll do our best. I'm
going to enquire about a nice cottage not very far from here; there's
plenty of time before this one is sold. It shall be dry and warm and
cosy, and you will feel another person in it altogether."

"These new houses be terrible dear, bain't they?" the old woman said
anxiously.

"Not a bit; besides that's another matter I want to settle with you,
Nursie. I'm going to pay the rent always, and you're going to have a
nice little girl to help you with the work, and there will be
something paid to you each month, so that you won't have any
anxiety."

"Oh, Missie, Missie, whatever be you sayin'? _Me_ never to have no
anxiety again!"

"You never shall, if I can help it; old people should never have
worries; that's what young people are here for, to look after them and
keep them happy."

Mrs. Prettyman lay back on the pillow and gazed at Robinette
incredulously; it wasn't possible that such a solution had come to all
her troubles. For seventy odd years she had worked and struggled and
sometimes very nearly starved and here was some one assuring her that
these struggles were over forever, that she needn't work hard any
more, or ever worry again. Could it be true? And all to come from Miss
Cynthia's daughter!

Robinette bent down and kissed the wrinkled old face softly.

"Good-night, Nursie dear," she said. "I'm not going to stay any longer
with you to-day, because you're tired. Have a good sleep, and waken up
strong and bright."

"Good-night, Missie, good-night, dear," the old woman said. Her face
had taken on an expression of such peacefulness as it had never worn
before.

She turned over on her pillow and closed her eyes, scarcely waiting
for Robinette to leave the room.

"I've been allowed to do that, anyway," Robinette said to herself,
standing in the doorway to look back at the quiet sleeper, and then
looking forward to a little boat nearing the shore. The cottage
sheltered almost the only object that connected her with her past; the
boat, she felt, held all her future.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The river, when Lavendar rowed himself across it, was very quiet. "The
swelling of Jordan," as Robinette called the rising tide, was over;
now the glassy water reflected every leaf and twig from the trees that
hung above its banks and dipped into it here and there.

Mooring his boat at the landing, Mark sauntered up to Mrs. Prettyman's
cottage, and having tapped lightly at the door to let Mrs. Loring
know of his arrival, as they had agreed he should do, he went along
the flagged pathway into the garden, and sat down on the edge of the
low wall that divided it from the river. Just in front of him was the
little worn bench where he had first seen Robinette as she sat beside
her old nurse with the tiny shoe on her lap. It was scarcely a
fortnight ago; yet it seemed to him that he could hardly remember the
kind of man he had been that afternoon; a new self, full of a new
purpose, and at that moment of a new hope, had taken the place of the
objectless being he had been before.

Everything was very still; there was scarcely a sound from the village
or from the shipping farther down the river. Lavendar fancied he heard
Robinette's clear voice within the cottage; then he started suddenly
and the blood rushed to his heart as he listened to her light steps
coming along the paved footpath.

"Here you are!" she whispered. "Let us not speak too loud, for Nurse
was just dropping asleep when I left her. I've put a table-cover and
a blanket over 'Mrs. Mackenzie' to keep her from quacking. Mrs.
Prettyman has not been very well, poor dear, and is in bed. We've just
talked about the lovely new home she's going to have, and the
transplanted plum tree; small, but warranted to bear in a year or two
and give plums and jam like this one. I left her so happy!"

She stopped and looked up. "Oh! can any new tree be as beautiful as
this one? Was ever anything in the world more exquisite? It has
just come to its hour of perfection, Mr. Lavendar; it couldn't
last,--anything so lovely in a passing world."

She sat down on the low wall, and looked up at the tree. It stood and
shone there in its perfect hour. Another day, and the blossoms, too
fully blown, would begin to drift upon the ground with every little
shaking wind; now it was at its zenith, a miracle of such white beauty
that it caused the heart to stop and consider. Bees and butterflies
hummed and flew around it; it cast a delicate shadow on the grass, and
leaning across the wall it was imaged again in the river like a bride
in her looking-glass.

Robinette sat gazing at the tree, and Lavendar sat gazing at her. At
that moment he "feared his fate too much" to break the silence by any
question that might shatter his hope, as the first breeze would break
the picture that had taken shape in the glassy water beneath them.

"I feel in a better temper now," said Robinette. "Who could be angry,
and look at that beautiful thing? I've left dear old Nurse quite happy
again, and I haven't yet offended Aunt de Tracy irrevocably, and all
because you persuaded me not to be unreasonable. All the same I could
do it again in another minute if I let myself go. Doesn't injustice
ever make people angry in England?"

Lavendar laughed. "It often makes me feel angry, but I've never found
that throwing the reins on the horses' necks when they wanted to
bolt, made one go along the right road any faster in the end."

"I often think," said Robinette, "if we could see people really angry
and disagreeable before we--" She hesitated and added, "get to know
them well, we should be so much more careful."

"Yes," said Mark, bending down his head and speaking very deliberately,
"that's why I wish you could have seen me in all my worst moments.
I'd stand the shame of it, if you could only know, but, alas, one
can't show off one's worst moments to order; they must be hit upon
unexpectedly."

"I don't believe thirty years of life would teach one about some
people--they are so _crevicey_," said Robinette musingly. She had
risen and leaned against the plum tree for a moment, looking up
through the white branches.

Lavendar rose and stood beside her. "Thirty years--I shall be getting
on to seventy in thirty years."

A little gust of wind shook the tree; some petals came drifting down
upon them, like white moths, like flakes of summer snow, a warning
that the brief hour of perfection would soon be past ... and under it
human creatures were talking about thirty years!



XXI

CARNABY CUTS THE KNOT


That afternoon, Carnaby was having what he called "an absolutely
mouldy time," and since his leave was running out and his remaining
afternoons were few, he considered himself an injured individual.
Robinette and Lavendar seemed for ever preoccupied either with each
other or with some subject of discussion, the ins and outs of which
they had not confided to him.

"It's partly that blessed plum tree," he said to himself; "but of
course they're spooning too. Very likely they're engaged by this time.
Didn't I tell her she'd marry again? Well, if she must, it might as
well be old Lavendar as anyone else. He's a decent chap, or he was,
before he fell in love."

Carnaby sighed. This effort of generosity towards his rival made him
feel peculiarly disconsolate. He had fished and rowed on the river all
the morning; he had ferreted; he had fed Rupert with a private
preparation of rabbits which infallibly made him sick, the desired
result being obtained with almost provoking celerity. Thus even
success had palled, and Carnaby's sharp and idle wits had begun to
work on the problem which seemed to be occupying his elders. Neither
Robinette nor Lavendar could expatiate to the boy on his grandmother's
peculiarities, but Carnaby had contrived to find out for himself how
the land lay.

"Why is Waller R. A. so keen on the plum tree?" he had enquired.

"He wants to make a quartette of studies," answered Lavendar. "The
Plum Tree in spring, summer, autumn, and winter."

"What a rotten idea!" said Carnaby simply.

"Far from rotten, my young friend, I can assure you!" Lavendar
returned. "It will furnish coloured illustrations for countless
summer numbers of the _Graphic_ and _The Lady's Pictorial_, and fill
Waller R. A.'s pockets with gold, some of which will shortly filter in
advance into the Stoke Revel banking account, we hope."

"I'm not so sure about that!" said Carnaby; but he said it to himself,
while aloud he only asked with much apparent innocence, "Waller R. A.
wouldn't look at the cottage or the land without the plum tree, I
suppose?"

"Certainly not," Lavendar had answered. "The plum tree is safeguarded
in the agreement as I'm sure no plum tree ever was before. Waller R.
A.'s no fool!"

Digesting this information and much else that he had gleaned, Carnaby
now climbed to the top of a tree where he had a favourite perch, and
did some serious and simple thinking.

"It's a beastly shame," he said to himself, "to turn that old woman
out of her cottage. Cousin Robin thinks it's a beastly shame, and
what's more, Mark does, and he's a man, and a lawyer into the
bargain."

Carnaby thought remorsefully of a pot of jam which old Mrs. Prettyman
had given him once to take back to college. What good jam it had
been, and how large the pot! He had never given her anything--he had
never a penny to bless himself with; and now his grandmother was
taking away from the poor old creature all that she had. "It's
regular covetousness," he thought, "and that infernal plum tree's at
the bottom of it all. Naboth's vineyard is a joke in comparison, and
What's-his-name and the one ewe lamb simply aren't in it." He grew
hot with mortification. Then he reflected, "If the plum tree weren't
there, Waller R. A. wouldn't want the cottage, and old Mrs. Prettyman
could live in it till the end of the chapter." A slow grin dawned upon
his face, its most mischievous expression, the one which Rupert with
canine sagacity had learned to dread. He felt and pinched the
muscle of his arm fondly. (_Mussle_ he always spelled the word
himself, upon phonetic principles.)

"I may be a fool and a minor" (generally spelt _miner_ by him), he
said, as he climbed down from his perch, "but at least I can cut down
a tree!"

He became lost to view forthwith in the workshops and tool-sheds
attached to the home premises of Stoke Revel, and presently emerged,
furnished with the object he had made diligent and particular search
for; this he proceeded to carry in an inconspicuous way to a distant
cottage where he knew there was a grindstone. He spent a happy hour
with the object, the grindstone, and a pail of water. _Whirr_,
_whirr_, _whirr_, sang the grindstone, now softly, now loudly--"_this
is an axe, an axe, an axe, and a strong arm that holds it_!"

"You be goin' to do a bit of forestry on your own, Master Carnaby,
eh?" suggested the grinning owner of the grindstone.

"I am; a very particular bit, Jones!" replied the young master,
lovingly feeling the edge of the tool, which was now nearly as fine as
that of a razor.

"You be careful, sir, as you don't chop off one of your own toes with
that there axe," said the man. "It be full heavy for one o' your age.
But there! you zailor-men be that handy! 'Tis your trade, so to
speak!"

"Quite right, Jones, it is!" replied Carnaby. "Good-afternoon and
thank you for the use of the grindstone." He was already planning
where he would hide the axe, for he had precise ideas about everything
and left nothing to chance.

Carnaby went to bed that night at his usual hour. His profession had
already accustomed him to awaking at odd intervals, and he had more
than the ordinary boy's knowledge of moon and tide, night and dawn.
When he slipped out of bed after a few hours of sound sleep, he put on
a flannel shirt and trousers and a broad belt, and then, carrying his
boots in his hand, crept out of his room and through the sleeping
house. He would much rather have climbed out of the window, in a
manner more worthy of such an adventure, but his return in that
fashion might offer dangers in daylight. So he was content with an
unfrequented garden door which he could leave on the latch.

The moon, which had been young when she lighted the lovers in the
mud-bank adventure, was now a more experienced orb and shed a useful
light. Carnaby intended to cross the river in a small tub which was
propelled by a single oar worked at the stern, the rower standing.
This craft was intended for pottering about the shore; to cross the
river in it was the dangerous feat of a skilled waterman, but Carnaby
had a knack of his own with every floating thing. As he balanced
himself in the rocking tub, bare-headed, bare-necked, bare-armed,
paddling with the grace and ease of strength and training, he looked
a man, but a man young with the youth of the gods. The moon shone in
his keen grey eyes and made them sparkle. A cold sea-wind blew up the
river, but he did not feel its chill, for blood hot with adventure
raced in his veins.

Wittisham was in profound darkness when he landed, and the moon having
gone behind a bank of cloud, he had to grope his way to Mrs.
Prettyman's cottage, shouldering the axe. The isolated position of the
house alone made the adventure possible, he reflected; he could not
have cut down a tree in the hearing of neighbours, and as to old
Elizabeth herself, he hoped she was deaf. Most old women were, he
reflected, except unfortunately his grandmother!

Soon he was entering the little garden and sniffing the scent of
blossom, which was very strong in the night air. He could see the dim
outline of the plum tree, and just as he wanted light, the moon came
out and shone upon its whiteness, giving a sort of spiritual beauty
to the flowering thing that was very exquisite.

"What price, Waller R. A. now?" thought Carnaby impishly. "The plum
tree in moonlight! eh? Wouldn't he give his eyes to see it! But he
won't! Not if I know it!" The boy was as blind to the tree's beauty as
his grandmother had been, but he had scientific ideas how to cut it
down, for he had watched the felling of many a tree.

First, standing on a lower branch, you lopped off all the side shoots
as high as you could reach. This made the trunk easy to deal with, and
its fall less heavy, and Carnaby set to work.

"She goes through them all as slick as butter!" he said to himself in
high satisfaction. The axe had assumed a personality to him and was
"she," not "it." "She makes no more noise than a pair of scissors
cutting flowers; not half so much!" he said proudly. Branch after
branch fell down and lay about the tree like the discarded garments of
a bathing nymph. The petals fell upon Carnaby's face, upon his hair
and shoulders; he was a white figure as he toiled. Frightened birds
and bats flew about, but he did not notice them. His only care was the
cottage itself and its inmate. If _she_ should awake! But the little
habitation, shrouded in thatch and deep in shadow, was dark and silent
as the grave.

"She must be sound asleep and deaf," thought the boy. "Yes, very
deaf." He paused. The first stage in his task was accomplished.
Shivering and naked, one absurd tuft of blossom and leaves at the
tip--the murdered tree now stood in the moonlight, imploring the _coup
de grâce_ which should end its shame.

"Jolly well done," said the murderer complacently. He stretched his
arms, looked at the palms of his hands to see if they had blistered,
and addressed himself to the second part of his business. Thud! thud!
went the axe on the trunk of the tree, and the sweat broke out all
over Carnaby's skin, not with exertion but with nervous terror.

"If that doesn't wake the dead!" he thought--but there was no awaking
in the cottage. Its tiny window blinked in the moonlight, and Carnaby
thought he heard the drowsy quack of a duck in an out-house. But the
danger passed. Thud! went the axe again. The slim severed shaft of the
tree was poised a moment, motionless, erect before it fell. Then it
subsided gently among its broken and trodden boughs, and Carnaby's
task was done.



XXII

CONSEQUENCES


Early that morning before the sun had risen, when the light was still
grey in the coming dawn, Robinette was awakened by a bird that called
out from a tree close to her open window, every note like the striking
of a golden bell. She jumped up and looked out, but the little singer,
silenced, had flown away. Instead, she caught sight of a figure
stealing across the lawn towards the side door which opened from the
library. Even in the dim light she could distinguish that it was
Carnaby, Carnaby with something in his hand. What he carried she could
not quite make out, but the sleeves of his flannel shirt were rolled
up above his elbows in a fatally business-like way, and he walked with
an air of stealth.

"What mischief can that boy have been up to at this time of day?"
thought Robinette as she lay down again, but she was too sleepy to
wonder long.

She forgot all about it until she saw Carnaby at the breakfast table
some hours later. Sometimes the gloom of that meal--never a favorite
or convivial one in the English household, and most certainly neither
at Stoke Revel--would be enlivened by some of the boy's pranks. He
would pass over to the sideboard, pepper-pot slyly in hand, and
Rupert, whose meal at this hour consisted of grape-nuts and cream,
would unaccountably sneeze and snuffle over his plate.

"Bless it, Bobs!" his tormentor would exclaim tenderly. "Is it
catching cold? Poor old Kitchener! Hi! _Kitch!_ _Kitch!_" (like a
violent sneeze) and the outraged Rupert would forget grape-nuts and
pepper alike in a fit of impotent fury. But this morning the dog fed
in peace and Carnaby never glanced at him or his basin. Robinette,
looking at the boy and remembering where she had seen him last,
noticed that he was rather silent, that his cheeks were redder than
common, and that under his eyes were lines of fatigue not usually
there.

"What were you doing on the lawn at four o'clock this morning?" she
began, but checked herself, suddenly thinking that if Carnaby had been
up to mischief she must not allude to it before his grandmother.

No one had heard her. The meal dragged on. Robinette and Lavendar
talked little. Miss Smeardon was preoccupied with the sufferings and
the moods of Rupert. Mrs. de Tracy alone seemed in better spirits than
usual; she was talkative and even balmy.

"The work at the spinney begins to-day," she observed complacently,
addressing herself to Lavendar and alluding to the rooting up of an
old copse and the planting of a new one--an improvement she had long
planned, though hitherto in vain. "The young trees have arrived."

"But where is the money to come from?" enquired Carnaby suddenly, in
a sepulchral tone. (His voice was at the disagreeable breaking stage,
an agony and a shame to himself and always a surprise to others.) His
grandmother stared: the others, too, looked in astonishment at the
boy's red face.

"I thought it had all been explained to you, Carnaby," said Mrs. de
Tracy, "but you take so little interest in the estate that I suppose
what you have been told went in at one ear and out at the other, as
usual! It is the sale of land at Wittisham which makes these
improvements possible, advantages drawn from a painful necessity," and
the iron woman almost sighed.

"There won't be any sale of land at Wittisham,--at least, not of Mrs.
Prettyman's cottage," said Carnaby abruptly.

"It is practically settled. The transfers only remain to be signed;
you know that, Carnaby," said Lavendar curtly. He did not wish the
vexed question to be raised again at a meal.

"It _was_ practically settled--but it's all off now," said the boy,
looking hard at his grandmother. "Waller R. A. won't want the place
any more. The bloomin' plum tree's gone--cut down. The bargain's off,
and old Mrs. Prettyman can stay on in her cottage as long as she
likes!"

There was a freezing silence, broken only by the stertorous breathing
of Rupert on Miss Smeardon's lap.

"Repeat, please, what you have just said, Carnaby," said his
grandmother with dangerous calmness, "and speak distinctly."

"I said that the cottage at Wittisham won't be sold because the plum
tree's gone," repeated Carnaby doggedly. "It's been cut down."

"How do you know?"

"I've seen it." Carnaby raised his eyes. "I cut it down myself," he
added, "this morning before daylight."

"Who put such a thing into your head?" Mrs. de Tracy's words were ice:
her glance of suspicion at Robinette, like the cold thrust of steel.
"Who told you to cut the plum tree down?"

"My conscience!" was Carnaby's unexpected reply. He was as red as
fire, but his glance did not falter. Mrs. de Tracy rose. Not a muscle
of her face had moved.

"Whatever your action has been, Carnaby," she said with dignity--"whether
foolish and disgraceful, or criminal and dangerous, it cannot be
discussed here. You will follow me at once to the library, and
presently I may send for Mark. A lawyer's advice will probably be
necessary," she added grimly.

Carnaby said not a word. He opened the door for his grandmother and
followed her out; but as he passed Robinette, he looked at her
earnestly, half expecting her applause; for one of the motives in his
boyish mind had certainly been to please her--to shine in her eyes as
the doer of bold deeds and to avenge her nurse's wrongs. And all that
he had managed was to make her cry!

For Robinette had put her elbows on the table and had covered her eyes
with her hands. As he left the room, Carnaby could hear her
exclamation:--

"To cut down that tree! That beautiful, beautiful, fruitful thing! O!
how could anyone do it?"

So this was justice; this was all he got for his pains! How
unaccountable women were!

Lavendar awaited some time his summons to join Mrs. de Tracy and her
grandson in what seemed to him must be a portentous interview enough,
trying meanwhile somewhat unsuccessfully to console Mrs. Loring for
the destruction of the plum tree, and exchanging with her somewhat
awe-struck comments on the scene they had both just witnessed. No
summons came, however; but half an hour later, he came across Carnaby
alone, and an interview promptly ensued. He wanted to plumb the depth
of the boy-mind and to learn exactly what motives had prompted
Carnaby to this sudden and startling action in the matter of the plum
tree.

"Had you a bad quarter of an hour with your grandmother?" was his
first question. Carnaby, he thought, looked subdued, and not much
wonder.

The boy hesitated.

"Not so bad as I expected," was his answer. "The old lady was
wonderfully decent, for her. She gave me a talking to, of course."

"I should hope so!" interpolated Lavendar drily.

"She jawed away about our poverty," continued Carnaby. "She's got
that on the brain, as you know. She said that this loss of the
money--Waller R. A.'s money, she means, of course--is an awful blow.
She _said_ it was, but it seemed to me--" Carnaby paused, looking
extremely puzzled.

"It seemed to you--?" prompted Lavendar encouragingly.

"That she wasn't so awfully cut up, after all," said Carnaby. "She
seemed putting it on, if you know what I mean." Lavendar pricked up
his ears. Mrs. de Tracy's intense reluctance to sell the land recurred
to him in a flash. To get her consent had been like drawing a tooth,
like taking her life-blood drop by drop. Could it be that she was not
very sorry after all that the scheme had fallen through, secretly
glad, indeed? It was conceivable that this was Mrs. de Tracy's view,
but her grandson's motive was still obscure.

"Why did you do it, Carnaby?" Lavendar asked with kindness and gravity
both in his voice. "You have committed a very mischievous action, you
know, one that would have borne a harsher name had the transfers been
signed and had the plum tree changed hands."

"But then I shouldn't have done it--you--you juggins, Mark!" cried the
boy. "I've no earthly grudge against Waller R. A. If he'd actually
bought the tree, it would have been too late, and his beastly
money--"

"You need the money, you know," remarked Lavendar. "Remember that, my
young friend!"

"It would have been dirty money!" said Carnaby, with a sudden
flash that lit up his rather heavy face with a new expression.
"You and Cousin Robin have been jolly polite when you thought I was
listening, but _I_ know what you really thought, and the kind of
things you were saying to one another about this business! You
thought it beastly mean to take the cottage away from old Lizzie
in the way it was being done, and sheer robbery to deprive her of
the plum tree without paying her for it. I quite agreed with you
there, and if I felt like that, do you think I could sit still and
let the money come in to Stoke Revel--money that had been got in
such a way? What do you take me for?" Lavendar was silent, looking
at the boy in surprise. "Oh," continued Carnaby, "how I wish I were
of age! Then I could show Cousin Robin, perhaps, what an English
landlord can be! I mean that he can be a friend to his tenants, and
kind and generous as well as just. As it is, Cousin Robin will go
back to America and tell her friends what selfish brutes we are
over here, and how jolly glad she was to get away!"

"Mrs. Loring will carry no tales, I am sure," said Lavendar. "But tell
me, my dear fellow, did you imagine that Mrs. Prettyman would be a
gainer by your action?"

"Well, why not?" answered the boy. "Didn't you tell me yourself that
Waller R. A. wouldn't look at the cottage without the tree? What's to
prevent the old woman living on where she is? Do you think there'll be
a rush of new tenants for that precious old hovel? Go on! You know
better than that!"

"But the tree, Carnaby, the plum tree!" cried Lavendar. "My young
Goth, hadn't you a moment's compunction? That beautiful, flowering
thing, as your cousin called it; could you destroy it without a
pang?"

"The _tree_?" echoed Carnaby with unmeasured scorn. "What's a tree?
It's just a tree, isn't it?"

                    "A primrose by a river's brim
                    A yellow primrose was to him,
                    And it was nothing more!"

quoted Mark, despairingly.

"Well; and what more did he expect of a primrose, whoever the Johnny
was?" asked the contemptuous Carnaby.

"At any rate," commented Lavendar, "it isn't necessary to search as
far as Peter Bell for an analogy for your character, my young friend!
You are your grandmother's grandson after all!"

"In some ways I suppose I can't help being," answered Carnaby soberly,
"but not in all," he added, and suddenly turning red he fumbled in his
pocket and produced a coin which he held out to Lavendar. "It's only
ten bob," he said apologetically, "and I wish it was a jolly sight
more! But please give it to old Mrs. Prettyman to make up a bit for
the loss of her plums. Daresay I'll manage some more by and by.
Anyway, I'll make it up to her when I come of age.--I'm nearly sixteen
already, you know. Be sure you tell her that!"

But Lavendar refused to take the money.

"Mrs. Prettyman is provided for, my boy," he said. "She has become
your cousin's especial care. You need have no fear about that. The
poor old woman is very happy and will have a cottage more suited for
her rheumatism and her general feebleness than the present one. But I
think your cousin will understand your motives and believe that you
meant well by old Lizzie in your little piece of midnight madness."

"Though I was a bit rough on the plum tree!" said Carnaby, with a
broad smile.

"You think it's a laughing matter?" Lavendar asked indignantly. "I
wish you had my father to deal with, and Waller R. A.! It's all very
well for you."

But Carnaby only laughed. The blood was still hot in his veins, and
the joy of his night's adventure. Mark told him that he and Mrs.
Loring were crossing the river at once to see for themselves the
extent of his mischief and what effect it had had upon old Mrs.
Prettyman. Carnaby observed with diabolical meaning that as he had not
been invited to join the party, he would make himself scarce.
Gooseberries, he said, were very good fruit, but he wasn't fond of
them; so he lounged off with his hands in his pockets. Suddenly he
turned. "See here, old Mark! You'll speak a word for me with Cousin
Robin, won't you? It's hard on me to have her hate me when I was
trying to do my best to please her."

"She won't hate you; she couldn't hate anybody," said Lavendar
absently, watching first the door and then the window.

"You say that because you're in love with her! I've a couple of eyes
in my head, stupid as you all think me. You can deny it all you like,
but you won't convince me!"

"I shan't deny it, Carnaby. I am so much in love with her at this
moment that the room is whirling round and round and I can see two of
you!"

"Poor old Mark! Do you think she'll take you on?"

"Can't say, Carnaby!"

"You're a lucky beggar if she does; that's my opinion!" said the boy.

"Put it as strong as you like, Carnaby," Lavendar answered. "You can't
exaggerate my feelings on that subject!"

"If you hadn't fifteen years' start of me I'd give you a run for your
money!" exclaimed Carnaby with a daring look.



XXIII

DEATH AND LIFE


While these incidents were taking place at the Manor House, village
life at Wittisham had been stirring for hours. Thin blue threads of
smoke were rising from the other cottages into the windless air: only
from Nurse Prettyman's there was none. Duckie in the out-house quacked
and gabbled as she had quacked and gabbled since the light began, yet
no one came to let her out and feed her. The halfpenny jug of milk had
been placed on the doorstep long ago, but Mrs. Prettyman had not yet
opened the door to take it in.

Outside in the garden, where the plum tree stood yesterday, there was
now only a stump, hacked and denuded, and round about it a ruin of
broken branches, leaves, and scattered blossoms. Over the wreck the
bees were busy still, taking what they could of the honey that
remained; and in the air was the strong odour of juicy green wood and
torn bark.

The children who brought the milk were the first to discover what had
happened, and very soon the news spread amongst the other cottagers.
Then came two neighbours to the scene, wondering and exclaiming. They
went to the door, but Mrs. Prettyman did not answer their knock or
their calling. Mrs. Darke looked in through the tiny window.

"She be sleepin' that peaceful in 'er bed in there," she said, "it 'ud
be a shame to wake 'er. She's deaf now, and belike she never 'eard the
tree come down, 'ooever's done it. But I'll go and see after Duckie:
she's makin' noise enough to rouse 'er, anyway."

Then Duckie was released and fed and departed to gabble her wrongs to
the other white ducks that were preening themselves amongst the deep
green grass of the adjacent orchard.

"You can 'ear that bird a mile away--she's never done talking!" said
Mrs. Darke as the indignant gabble grew fainter in the distance. "But
'ere's my old man a-come to look at the plum tree. Wonder what he'll
say to it? This be a queer job, sure enough!"

Old Darke, on two sticks, hobbled towards the scene of desolation with
grunts of mingled satisfaction and dismay. 'Twas a rare sensation,
though a pity, to be sure!

Mrs. Darke stood by the well at the turn of the road, keeping a sharp
eye on the cottage while she gossiped with the neighbour who was
filling her pitcher. She did not want to miss the sight of Mrs.
Prettyman's face when she opened her door and found out what had
happened.

"She be sleepin' too long; I'll go and waken her in a minute," said
Mrs. Darke. "'Tis but right she should be told what's come to 'er
tree, poor thing."

Then a beggar woman selling bootlaces came along the shore of the
river; she mounted the cottage steps and the gossips watched her
trailing up the pathway in her loose old shoes, and knocking at the
door. She waited for a few minutes: there was no answer, so she turned
away resignedly and trailed off along the sun-lit lane, in-shore,
leaving the garden gate swinging to and fro.

"There's summat the matter!" Mrs. Darke had just whispered with
evident enjoyment, when some one else was seen approaching the cottage
from the direction of the pier. It was the young lady from the Manor,
this time. She wore a white dress and a green scarf, and her face was
tinted with colour. She looked like a young blossoming tree herself,
all lacy white and pale green, a strange morning vision in a
work-a-day world! Robinette ran quickly up the pathway and knocked at
the door, but there was no answer to her knock. She called out in her
clear voice:--

"Good morning, Nurse! Good morning! Aren't you ready to let me in?
It's quite late!" But there was no answer to her call. She was just
trying to open the door, which seemed to be locked, when a gentleman
came up from the boat and followed her to the cottage. That, the women
who were watching her thought quite natural, for surely such a young
lady would be followed by a lover wherever she went! Indeed, Mrs.
Darke said so.

"'Tis in that there kind," she observed philosophically, "like the
cuckoo and the bird that follows; never sees one wi'out the other!"

"'Tis quite that way, Mrs. Darke," agreed the neighbour, approvingly.

Robinette turned a white face to Lavendar as he approached.

"Nurse won't answer, and I can't get in!" she cried. "Something must
have happened. I--I'm afraid to go in alone. The door is locked,
too."

"It's not locked," said Lavendar, and exerting a little strength, he
pushed it open and gave a quick glance inside. "I'll go in first," he
said gently. "Wait here."

He came again to the threshold in a few minutes, a peculiar expression
on his face which somehow seemed to tell Robinette what had happened.

"Come in, Mrs. Robin," he said very gravely and gently. "You need not
be afraid."

Robinette instinctively held out her hand to him and they entered the
little room together.

She need not have feared for the old woman's distress over the ruined
plum tree, for nothing would ever grieve Nurse Prettyman again. Just
as she had lain down the night before, she lay upon her bed now,
having passed away in her sleep. "And they that encounter Death in
sleep," says the old writer, "go forth to meet him with desire." The
aged face was turned slightly upwards and wore a look of contentment
and repose that made life seem almost gaudy; a cheap thing to compare
with this attainment....

Robinette came out of the cottage a little later, leaving the
neighbours who had gathered in the room to their familiar and not
uncongenial duties. She went into the garden, where Mark Lavendar
awaited her. He longed to try to comfort her; indeed, his whole heart
ran out to her in a warmth and passion that astounded him; but her
pale face, stained with weeping, warned him to keep silence yet a
little while.

"I just came for one branch of the blossom," Robinette said, "if it is
not all withered. Yes, this is quite fresh still." She took a little
spray he had found for her and stood holding it as she spoke. "Only
yesterday it was all so lovely! Oh! Mr. Lavendar, I needn't cry for my
old Nurse, I'm sure! How should I, after seeing her face? She had come
to the end of her long life, and she was very tired, and now all that
is forgotten, and she will never have a moment of vexation about her
tree. I don't know why I should cry for her; but oh, how could
Carnaby destroy that beautiful thing!"

"It was a genuine though mistaken act of conscience! You must not be
too hard on Carnaby!" pleaded Lavendar. "He would not touch the money
that was to come from the sale of Mrs. Prettyman's cottage under the
circumstances, so it seemed best to him that the sale should not take
place, and he prevented it in the directest and simplest way that
occurred to him. It's like some of the things that men have done to
please God, Mrs. Robin," Mark added, smiling, "and thought they were
doing it, too! But Carnaby only wanted to please you!"

"To _please_ me!" exclaimed Robinette, looking round her at the ruin
before them. "Oh dear!" she sighed, "how confusing the world is, at
times! I am just going to take this snowy branch and lay it on Nurse's
pillow. She so loved her tree! See; it's quite fresh and beautiful,
and the dew still upon it, just like tears!"

"That seemed just right," said Robinette softly as she came out into
the sunshine again, a few minutes later. "I laid the blossoms in her
kind old tired hands, the hands that have known so much work and so
many pains. It is over, and after all, her new home is better than any
I could have found for her!"

The two walked slowly down the little garden on their way to the gate.
As they passed, old Mr. Darke, who had hobbled around again to have
another look at the fallen tree, addressed Lavendar solemnly.

"Best tree in Wittisham 'e was, sir," touching the ruin of the
branches as he spoke. "'Ooever could ha' thought o' sich a piece of
wickedness as to cut 'im down? Murder, I calls it! 'Tis well as Mrs.
Prettyman be gone to 'er rest wi'out knowledge of it; 'twould 'ave
broken her old 'eart, for certain sure!"

"It nearly breaks mine to see it now, Mr. Darke!" said Robinette in a
trembling voice. But the old labourer bent down, moving his creaking
joints with difficulty and steadying himself upon his sticks till he
could touch the stump of the tree with his rough but skilful hands. He
pushed away the long grass that grew about the roots and looked up at
Robinette with a wise old smile.

"'Tisn't dead and done for yet, Missy, never fear!" he said. "Give 'im
time; give 'im time! 'E's cut above the graft--see! 'E'll grow and
shoot and bear blossom and fruit same as ever 'e did, given time. See
to the fine stock of 'im; firm as a rock in the good ground! And the
roots, they be sound and fresh. 'E'll grow again, Missy; never you
cry!"

Robinette looked so beautiful as she lifted her luminous eyes and
parted lips to old Darke, and then turned to him with a gesture of
hope and joy, that again Lavendar could hardly keep from avowing his
love; but the remembrance of the old nurse's still shape in the little
cottage hushed the words that trembled on his lips.



XXIV

GRANDMOTHER AND GRANDSON


The disagreeable duty of announcing Mrs. Prettyman's death to the lady
of the Manor now lay before Lavendar and his companion, and the
thought of it weighed upon their spirits as they crossed the river.
Carnaby also must be told. How would he take it? Robinette, still
under the shock of the plum tree's undoing, expected perhaps some
further exhibition of youthful callousness, but Lavendar knew better.

In their concern and sorrow, the young couple had forgotten all minor
matters such as meals, and luncheon had long been over when they
reached the house. They could see Mrs. de Tracy's figure in the
drawing room as they passed the windows, occupying exactly her usual
seat in her usual attitude. It was her hour for reading and
disapproving of the daily paper.

Robinette and Lavendar entered quietly, but nothing in the gravity of
their faces struck Mrs. de Tracy as strange.

"I have a disturbing piece of news to give you," Mark began, clearing
his throat. "Mrs. Prettyman died last night in her cottage at
Wittisham."

The erect figure in the widow's weeds remained motionless. Perhaps the
old hand that lowered the newspaper trembled somewhat, so that its
diamonds quivered a little more than usual.

"So Mrs. Prettyman is dead?" she said. Then, as the young people stood
looking at her with an air of some expectancy, she added with a sour
glance, "Do you expect me to be very much agitated by the news?"

"The death was unexpected," began Lavendar lamely.

"She was seventy-five; my age!" said Mrs. de Tracy with a wintry
smile. "Is death at seventy-five so unexpected an event?"

Lavendar said nothing; he had nothing to say, and Robinette for
the same reason was silent. She was gazing at her aunt, almost
unconsciously, with a wondering look. "At any rate," continued Mrs.
de Tracy, addressing her niece, "your _protégée_ has been fortunate
in two ways, Robinette. She will neither be turned out of her
cottage nor see the destruction of her plum tree. By the way--"
with a perfectly natural change of tone, dismissing at once both
Mrs. Prettyman and Death--"the plum tree _is_ down, I suppose? You
saw it?"

"Very much down!" answered Lavendar. "And certainly we saw it! Carnaby
does nothing by halves!"

A slight change, a kind of shade of softening, passed over Mrs. de
Tracy's stern features, as the shadow of a summer cloud may pass over
a rocky hill. She turned suddenly to Robinette. "Can you tell me on
your word of honour that you had nothing to do with Carnaby's action;
that you did not put it into his head to cut the plum tree down!"

"I?" exclaimed Robinette, scarlet with indignation. "_I?_ Why--do you
want to know what I think of the action? I think it was perfectly
brutal, and the boy who did it next door to a criminal! There!"

Mrs. de Tracy seemed convinced by the energy of this disclaimer. "I
have always considered yours a very candid character," she observed
with condescension. "I believe you when you say that you did not
influence Carnaby in the matter, though I strongly suspected you
before."

"Well, upon my word!" ejaculated Robinette when they had got out of
the room, too completely baffled to be more original. "What does she
mean? Has any one ever understood the workings of Aunt de Tracy's
mind?"

"Don't come to me for any more explanations! I've done my best for my
client!" cried Lavendar. "I give up my brief! I always told you Mrs.
de Tracy's character was entirely singular."

"Let us hope so!" commented Robinette with energy. "I should be sorry
for the world if it were plural!"

                  *       *       *       *       *

Carnaby was not in the house, and Lavendar proceeded to look for him
out of doors. He knew the boy was often to be found in a high part of
the grounds behind the garden, where he had some special resort of his
own, and he went there first. The afternoon had clouded over, and a
slight shower was falling, as Mark followed the wooded path leading up
hill. A rock-garden bordered it, where ferns and flowers were growing,
each one of which seemed to be contributing some special and delicate
fragrance to the damp, warm air. The beech trees here had low and
spreading branches which framed now and again exquisite glimpses of
the river far below and the wooded hills beyond it.

Lavendar had not gone far when he found Carnaby, Carnaby intensely
perturbed, walking up and down by himself.

"You don't need to tell me!" said the boy, with a quick and agitated
gesture of the hand. "Bates told me. Old Mrs. Prettyman's dead!" His
merry, square-set face was changed and looked actually haggard, and
his eyes searched Lavendar's with an expression oddly different from
their usual fearless and straightforward one. They seemed afraid. "Was
it my grandmother's--was it our fault?" he asked. "I, I feel like a
murderer. Upon my soul, I do!"

"Don't encourage morbid ideas, my dear fellow!" said Lavendar in a
matter-of-fact tone. "There's trouble enough in the world without
foolish exaggeration. Mrs. Prettyman was 'grave-ripe,' as she often
said to your cousin; a very feeble old woman, whose time had come. The
doctor's certificate will tell you how rheumatism had affected her
heart, and the neighbours would very soon set your mind at rest by
describing the number of times poor old Lizzie had nearly died
before."

"Think of it, though!" said Carnaby with wondering eyes. "Think of her
lying dead in the cottage while I hacked and hewed at the plum tree
just outside! By Jove! it makes a fellow feel queer!" He shuddered.
The picture he evoked was certainly a strange one enough: a strange
picture in the moonlight of a night in spring; the doomed beauty of
the blossoming tree, the blind, headstrong human energy working for
its destruction, and Death over all, stealthy and strong!

"What an ass I was!" said Carnaby, summing up the situation in the
only language in which he could express himself. "Sweating and stewing
and hacking away--thinking myself so awfully clever! And all the time
things ... things were being arranged in quite a different manner!"

"We are often made to feel our insignificance in ways like this,"
said Lavendar. "We are very small atoms, Carnaby, in the path of the
great forces that sweep us on."

"I should rather think so!" assented the wondering boy. "And yet, can
a fellow sit tight all the time and just wait till things happen?"

"Ask me something else!" suggested Lavendar ironically.

There was a short pause. "I'm awfully sorry old Mrs. Prettyman's
dead," Carnaby said in a very subdued tone. "I meant to do a lot for
her, to try and make up for my grandmother's being such a beast." He
stopped short, and to Lavendar's astonishment, his face worked, and
two tears squeezed themselves out of his eyes and rolled over his
round cheeks as they might have done over a baby's. "It's the j-jam I
was thinking of," he sniffed. "Once a pal of mine and I were playing
the fool in old Mrs. Prettyman's garden, pretending to steal the
plums, and giving her duck bits of bread steeped in beer to make it
s-squiffy (a duck can be just as drunk as a chap). She didn't mind a
bit. She was a regular old brick, and gave us a jolly good tea and a
pot of jam to take away.... And now she's dead and--and...." Carnaby's
feelings became too much for him again, and a handkerchief that had
seen better and much cleaner days came into play. Lavendar flung an
arm round the boy's shoulder.

"This kind of regret comes to us all, Carnaby," he said. "I don't
suppose there's a man with a heart in his breast who hasn't sometime
had to say to himself, I might have done better: I might have been
kinder: it's too late now! But it's never too late!" added Lavendar
under his breath--"not where Love is!"

The shower was over, and though the sun had not come out, a pleasant
light lay upon the river as the friends walked down; upon the river
beyond which old Lizzie Prettyman was sleeping so peacefully, the
sleep of kings and beggars, and just and unjust, and rich and poor
alike. Carnaby had dried his eyes but continued in a pensive mood.

"Cousin Robin's still angry with me about the tree," he said,
uncertainly.

"She won't be angry long!" Lavendar assured him. "You and your Cousin
Robin are going to be firm friends, friends for life."

Carnaby seemed a good deal comforted. "Mind you don't tell her I
blubbered!" he said in sudden alarm. "Swear!"

"She wouldn't think a bit the worse of you for that!" said Lavendar.

"Swear, though!" repeated Carnaby in deadly earnest.

And Lavendar swore, of course.

                  *       *       *       *       *

But an influence very unlike Lavendar's and a spirit very different
from Robinette's enfolded Carnaby de Tracy in his home and fought, as
it were, for his soul. That night, after the last lamp had been put
out by the careful Bates, and after Benson had bade a respectful
good-night to her mistress, a light still burned in Mrs. de Tracy's
room. Presently, carried in her hand, it flitted out along the silent
passages, past rows of doors which were closed upon empty rooms or
upon unconscious sleepers, till it came to Carnaby's door; to the
Boys' Room, as that far-away and most unluxurious apartment had always
been called. Mrs. de Tracy was making a pilgrimage to the shrine of
one of her gods. She opened the door, and closing it gently behind
her, she stood beside Carnaby's bed and looked at him, intently and
haggardly.

Mrs. de Tracy's was a singular character, as Mark Lavendar had said.
The circumstances of her widowhood with its heavy responsibilities had
perhaps hardly been fair to her. There had been little room for the
kindlier and softer feelings, though it is to be feared that they
would not have found much congenial soil in her heart. The personal
selfishness in her had long been merged in the greater and harder
selfishness of caste; she had become a mere machine for the keeping up
of Stoke Revel.

But to-night she was moved by the positively human sentiment which had
been stirred in her by Carnaby's startling act of cutting the plum
tree down. Ah! let fools believe if they could that she was angry with
the boy! She had never felt anger less or pride more. While others
talked and argued, shilly-shallied, made love, muddled and made
mistakes, her grandson, the man of the race that always ruled, had cut
the knot for himself, without hesitation and without compunction,
without consulting anyone or asking anyone's leave. That was the way
the de Tracys had always acted. And it seemed to Mrs. de Tracy a
crowning coincidence, a fitting kind of poetical justice, that
Carnaby's action should actually have prevented the sale of the land;
that dreaded, detestable sale of the first land that the de Tracys
had held upon the banks of the river.

So, since Carnaby was to be a man of the right kind, his grandmother
had come to look at him, not in love, as other women come to such
bedsides, but in pride of heart. The boy, after his "white night" at
Wittisham and the varied emotions of the succeeding day, lay on his
side, in the deep, recuperative sleep of youth whence its energies are
drawn and in which its vigors are renewed. His round cheek indented
the pillow, his rumpled hair stirred in the breeze that blew in at the
window, his arm and his open hand, relaxed, lay along the sheet.
Another woman would have straightened the bed-clothes above him;
another might have touched his hair or hand; another kissed his cheek.
But not even because he was like her departed husband, like the man
who five and fifty years before had courted a certain cold and proud,
handsome and penniless Miss Augusta Gallup, would Mrs. de Tracy do
these things. She had had her sensation, such as it was, her secret
moment of emotion, and was satisfied. She left the room as she had
come, the candle casting exaggerated shadows of herself upon the walls
where Carnaby's bats and fishing rods and sporting prints hung.

It is sad to be old as Mrs. de Tracy was old, but her age was of her
own making, a shrinkage of the heart, a drying up of the wells of
feeling that need not have been.

"I should be better out of the way," her bitterness said within her,
and alas! it was true. Her great, gaunt room seemed very lonely, very
full of shadows when she returned to it. Rupert, who always slept at
her bedside, awaited her. Disturbed at this unwonted hour, he stirred
in his basket, wheezed and gurgled, turned round and round and could
not get comfortable, whined, and looked up in his mistress's face. She
stood watching him with a sort of grim pity, and, strangely enough,
bestowed upon him the caress she had not found for her grandson.

"Poor Rupert! You are getting too old, like your mistress! Your
departure, like hers, will be a sorrow to no one!" Rupert seemed to
wheeze an asthmatical consent, and presently he snuggled down in his
basket and went to sleep.



XXV

THE BELLS OF STOKE REVEL


On Sunday morning Robinette and Lavendar were both ready for church,
by some strange coincidence, half an hour too soon. He was standing at
the door as she came down into the hall. Mrs. de Tracy and Miss
Smeardon were nowhere to be seen; even Carnaby was invisible, but the
shrill, infuriated yelping of the Prince Charles from the drawing room
indicated his whereabouts only too plainly.

"We're much too early," said Robinette, glancing at the clock.

"Shall we walk through the buttercup meadow, then--you and I?" asked
Lavendar. His voice was low, and Robinette answered very softly. She
wore a white dress that morning without a touch of colour.

"I couldn't wear black to-day for Nurse," she said, in answer to his
glance, "but I couldn't wear any colour, either."

"You're as white as the plum tree was!" said Lavendar. "I remember
thinking that it looked like a bride." Robinette made no reply. He
ventured to look up at her as he spoke, and she was smiling although
her lip quivered and her eyes were full of tears. Lavendar's heart
beat uncomfortably fast as they walked through the meadow towards the
stile which led into the churchyard.

"It's too soon to go in yet," he said. "The bells haven't begun."

"Let's stop here. It's cool in the shadow," said Robinette. She leaned
on the wall and looked out at the shining reaches of the river. "The
swelling of Jordan is over now," she said with a little smile and a
sigh. "The tide has come up, and how quiet everything is!"

The water mirrored the hills and the ships and the gracious sky above
them. There was scarcely a sound in the air. At the point where they
stood, the Manor House was hidden from view, and only the squat old
tower of the church was visible, and the yew tree rising above the
wall against the golden field. A bush of briar covered with white
roses hung above them, just behind Robinette, and Lavendar looking at
her in this English setting on an English Sunday morning, wondered to
himself, as he had so often done before, if she could ever make this
country her home.

"Yet she has English blood as well as I," he thought. "Why, the very
name on the old bells of the church there, records the memory of an
ancestress of hers! We cannot be so far apart." Looking at her
standing there, he rehearsed to himself all that he meant to say, oh,
a great many things both true and eloquent, but at that moment every
word forsook him. Yet this was probably the best opportunity he would
have of telling her what was burning in his heart: telling her how she
had beguiled him at first by her quick understanding and her
frolicsome wit, because all that sort of thing was so new to him. She
had come like a mountain spring to a thirsty man. He had been groping
for inspiration and for help: now he seemed to find them all in her.
She was so much more than charming, though it was her charm that first
impressed him; so much more than pretty, though her face attracted him
at first; so much more than magnetic, though she drew him to her at
their first meeting with bonds as delicate as they were strong. These
were tangible, vital, legitimate qualities--but were they all? Could
lips part so, could eyes shine so, could voice tremble so, if there
were not something underneath; a good heart, fidelity, warmth of
nature?

"For the first time," he thought, "I long to be worthy of a woman. But
I would not tell her how I love her at this moment, unless I felt I
need not be wholly unequal to her demands. I have never desired
anything strongly enough to struggle for it, up to now; but she has
set my springs in motion, and I can work for her until I die!"

All this he thought, but never a word he said. Then the church clock
struck and the clashing bells began. They shook the air, the earth,
the ancient stones, the very nests upon the trees, and sent the rooks
flying black as ink against the yellow buttercups in the meadow.

"We must go, in a few minutes," said Robinette. "Oh, will you pull me
some of those white roses up there?"

Lavendar swung himself up and drawing down a bunch he pulled off two
white buds.

"Will you take them?" he asked, holding them out to her. Then suddenly
he said, very low and very humbly, "Oh, take me too; take me,
Robinette, though no man was ever so unworthy!"

Robinette laid the roses on the wall beside her.

"For my part," she said, turning to Lavendar with a little laugh that
was half a sob; "for my part, I like giving better than taking!" She
put both her hands in his and looked into his face. "Here is my
life," she said simply. "I want to belong to you, to help you, to live
by your side."

"I oughtn't to take you at your word," he said, his voice choked with
emotion. "You are far too good for me!"

"Hush," Robinetta answered, putting a finger on his lip; "it isn't a
question of how great you are or how wonderful: it's a question of
what we can be to each other. I'd rather have you than the Duke of
Wellington or Marcus Aurelius, and I believe you wouldn't change me
for Helen of Troy!"

"I have nothing to bring you, nothing," said Lavendar again, "nothing
but my love and my whole heart."

"If all the kingdoms of the earth were offered to me instead, I would
still take you and what you give me," Robinette answered.

Lavendar laid his cheek against her bright hair and sighed deeply. In
that sigh there passed away all former things, and behold, all things
became new. Two cuckoos answered each other from opposite banks of the
river and two hearts sang songs of joy that met and mingled and
floated upward.

Again the bells broke out overhead, filling the air with music that
had rung from them ever since just such another morning hundreds of
years before, when they rang their first peal from the church tower,
bearing the legend newly cut upon them: "Pray for the Soul of Anne de
Tracy, 1538." And Anne de Tracy's memory was forgotten--so long
forgotten--except for the bells that carried her name!

Yet in these same meadows that she must have known, spring was come
once more. The Devonshire plum trees had budded and blossomed and shed
their petals year after year, and year after year, since the bells
first swung in the air; and now Hope was born once again, and Youth,
and Love, which is immortal!



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"A charming, witty, tender book."--_Kate Douglas Wiggin._

"It is a sunny, warm-hearted humorous story, that leaves the reader
with a sense of time well spent in its perusal."--_Brooklyn Eagle._

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

BOSTON AND NEW YORK





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