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Title: A Humble Enterprise
Author: Cambridge, Ada, 1844-1926
Language: English
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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 "A Humble Enterprise" ***

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    A HUMBLE ENTERPRISE

    BY ADA CAMBRIDGE


    AUTHOR OF
    "THE THREE MISS KINGS," "FIDELIS,"
    "A LITTLE MINX," ETC.


    _WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY ST. CLAIR SIMMONS_


    Second Edition


    LONDON
    WARD, LOCK, & BOWDEN, LIMITED
    WARWICK HOUSE, SALISBURY SQUARE, E.C.

    NEW YORK AND MELBOURNE
    1896

    [_All rights reserved_]



[Illustration: "Pinned the fragrant morsel to her throat."

_A Humble Enterprise._ _Page 97._]



CONTENTS.


    CHAP.                                     PAGE

    I. THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL                      9

    II. HER FIRST FRIEND                        24

    III. AFLOAT                                 33

    IV. THE HERO                                45

    V. HE MEETS THE HEROINE                     56

    VI. THE INEVITABLE ENSUES                   69

    VII. THERE ARE SUCH WOMEN IN THE WORLD      82

    VIII. ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW                 92

    IX. THE POTENTIAL HUSBAND                  105

    X. AS THE WIND BLOWS                       115

    XI. NATURE SPEAKS                          125

    XII. TWO WISE MEN                          138

    XIII. TWO UNWISE WOMEN                     150

    XIV. A WEAK FATHER                         159

    XV. A STRAW AGAINST THE TIDE               171

    XVI. A STAR IN TWILIGHT                    184

    XVII. "YOU NEED NOT EXPECT ME BACK"        193

    XVIII. JENNY IS TREATED LIKE A LADY        204

    XIX. WOMAN'S RIGHTS REFUSED                216

    XX. SHE CARES NOT                          228

    XXI. THE BEST AVAILABLE                    236



A HUMBLE ENTERPRISE



CHAPTER I

THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL


Joseph Liddon was deaf, and one day, when he was having a holiday in the
country, he crossed a curving railway line, and a train, sweeping round
the corner when he was looking another way, swept him out of existence.
On his shoulder he was carrying the infrequent and delightful
gun--reminiscent of happy days in English coverts and stubble
fields--and in his hand he held a dangling hare, about the cooking of
which he was dreaming pleasantly, wondering whether his wife would have
it jugged or baked. When they stopped the train and gathered him up, he
was as dead as the hare, dissolved into mere formless tatters, and his
women-folk were not allowed to see him afterwards. They came up from
town to the inquest and funeral--wife and two daughters, escorted by a
downy-lipped son--all dazed and bewildered in their suddenly transformed
world; and a gun and a broken watch and a few studs, that had been
carefully washed and polished, were the only "remains" on which they
could expend the valedictory kiss and tear. Their last memory of him was
full of the gay bustle of farewell at Spencer Street when he set forth
upon his trip. It was such an event for him to have a holiday, and to go
away by himself, that the whole family had to see him off. Even young
Joe was on the platform to carry his father's bag, and buy him the
evening papers, his train being the Sydney express, which did not leave
till after office hours. When they knew how the holiday had ended, their
bitter regrets for not having accompanied him further were greatly
soothed by the knowledge that they had gone with him so far--had closed
their life together with an act of love that had made him happy.

He had been born a gentleman in the technical sense, and had lived a
true man in every sense. In spite of this--to a great extent, probably,
because of it--he had not been very successful in the world; that is to
say, he had not made himself important or rich. Money had not come to
him with his gentle blood, and he had not had the art to command it, nor
ever would have had. It is a pursuit that requires the whole energies of
one's mind, and his mind had been distributed a good deal. He was fond
of books, which was a fatal weakness; he was fond of little scientific
experiments, which was worse; he was indifferent to the sovereign rule
of public opinion and the advantages enjoyed by those who can cut a
dash, which was worst of all. And, besides, he was deaf. He had begun to
grow deaf when quite a young man, after having a fever, and by the time
he was fifty one had to shout at him.

So, when at fifty-six he met his untimely end, because he could not hear
the train behind him, he was in the position of a clerk in a merchant's
office, highly valued and trusted indeed, but worth no more than £370
per annum, which salary he had received for sixteen years. The £70 had
paid the rent of the little house in which he had dwelt with his family
for the greater part of that time, and on the remainder they had lived
quite comfortably, in a small way, by dint of good management, without
owing a penny to anybody. Mrs. Liddon, otherwise a comparatively
uncultured person, was an accomplished cook and domestic administrator;
Jenny, the eldest daughter, in whom the qualities of both parents
blended, got up early in the morning to buy provisions at the market,
and did all the dressmaking for the family; Joe, a junior in his
father's office, paid something for his board, and otherwise kept and
clothed himself; and Sarah, the youngest, who had a bent spine, was
literary, like her father, in whose intellectual pursuits she had had
the largest share, and morally indispensable, though not practically
supporting, in the economy of the household.

When the father was gone, the income was gone too, and the home as it
had been. Mother and children found themselves possessed of £500, paid
by an insurance office, and their little family belongings, and a few
pounds that had been kept in store for the casual rainy day. To this the
firm who had employed him would have added a gift of £100 had the pride
of these humble folks allowed it; and their relatives were also
prepared to "do something" in the way of what seemed necessary help. But
the first resolution come to by the bereaved ones, when resolutions had
to be taken, was to decline all such help and depend upon themselves.
That being settled, they sat down to consult together as to how they
might invest their capital to the best advantage, so as to make it the
foundation of their future livelihood. Jenny called the meeting a few
days after their return from the funeral, and insisted that all should
rouse themselves to a sense of the extreme seriousness of the situation.

"We must at once set to work," she said impressively; "and we must not
shilly-shally about it either. Make your suggestions first, and then, if
I don't like them, I will make mine. What is your notion, mother?"

"Oh, my dear, I'm sure I don't know," quavered Mrs. Liddon, as she drew
forth the constant handkerchief; "I have no heart to think of anything
yet." She sobbed. "I suppose a boarding-house--that's the usual thing.
We _must_ have our own house and keep together; I could never bear to
part with any of you--all I've got now!" The handkerchief went to her
eyes, "Certainly we will all keep together," the children declared,
extending arms towards her. "That's understood, of course. That's what
we are planning for, first of all."

"And seeing that I can _cook_," whimpered the widow, "if I can't do
anything else----"

"Yes, dear," Jenny broke in. "But I don't think a boarding-house would
do, somehow. We haven't enough to make a good one, and to make it safe.
You see Melbourne simply swarms with them already."

"And you'd have to take men--women are no good, and, besides, there
aren't any--and I won't have all sorts of clerks and cads making free in
the house with my sisters," said young Joe severely.

"We needn't let them make free," said Jenny, smiling.

"And you're only a clerk yourself," said Sarah.

"And I don't think there's a boarding-house in the town that would have
a table like mine for the money," said his mother, with spirit, and with
the air of having considered the subject.

Jenny thought for a minute or two, rapidly; then she shook her head.
"Too much outlay," she objected, "and the result too uncertain."

"Everything is uncertain in this world," sighed Mrs. Liddon,
disappointed and discouraged. "Then what do you propose yourself, my
dear? A school?"

Jenny shook her head again. "The place is literally _stiff_ with them,"
she replied. "And, even if there were room for us, we are not
qualified."

"Let us have a four-roomed cottage," said Sarah, "and keep ourselves to
ourselves; have no servant, and take in sewing or type-writing."

"We should be insolvent in a couple of years or so," her sister replied,
"and we should cripple Joey."

"As to that," said Joey, "I'm not afraid. I _want_ to take care of you,
and I _ought_. I am the only man in the family, and women have no
business to work and slave while they have a man to do for them."

"My poor boy! On a hundred and thirty pounds a year!"

"It won't always be a hundred and thirty."

"No, Joe. We can do better than that. Thank you all the same, old
fellow."

"Well, tell us how you can do better."

He squared his arms on the table and looked at her. Her mother and
sister also looked at her, for it was evident that she was about to
bring forth her scheme, and that she expected it to impress them.

"What I should have _liked_," she began, "if there had been money enough
for a fair start--which there isn't--is a--quite a peculiar and
particular--not in any way a conventional--_shop_."

"Oh!"

"Good gracious!"

"Go _on_!"

"You needn't all look so shocked. A shop such as _I_ should have would
be a different kind of thing from the common, I assure you. I have often
thought of it. I have always felt"--with a smile of confidence--"that I
had it in me to conduct a good business--that I could give the
traditional shopkeeper 'points,' as Joey would say. However, like the
boarding-house, it would swallow up all the money at one gulp, so it
can't be done."

"A good job too," said Joey with a rough laugh.

"Don't say that without thinking," rejoined the girl, whose intelligent
face had brightened with the mention of her scheme. "I daresay you would
rather be a millionaire--so would I; but you must remember we have to
earn our bread, without much choice as to ways of doing it. It would
have been nice, after a day's work"--she looked persuadingly at
Sarah--"to have had tea in our own back parlour, all alone by ourselves,
free and comfortable; and in the evening to have totted up our takings
for the day--all cash, of course--and seen them getting steadily bigger
and bigger; and by-and-by--because I _know_ that, with a good start, I
should have succeeded--to have become well enough off to sell out, and
go to travel in Europe, and do things."

"Ah--_that_!" sighed Sarah, who had a thin, large-eyed, eager face that
betokened romantic aspirations.

"If I had only myself to consider, I would do it now," said Jenny. "But
there are you three--_your_ money must not be risked."

Joey thought of an elegant little cousin up country, the daughter of a
bank manager, who naturally turned up her nose at retail trade; and he
said that, as the present head of the family--he was afraid Jenny was
over-looking the fact that he held this position by divine right of
sex--he should certainly withhold his sanction from any such absurd
project, risk or no risk. "Thank the Lord," he blustered angrily, "we
have not come down to _that_--not yet!"

She laughed in his face. "You talked about cads just now," she said;
"take care you don't get tainted with their ideas yourself. And don't
forget that you are only nineteen, while I am twenty-four, and mother is
just twice as old as that; and that what little we have is hers; and
that women in these days are as good as men, and much better than boys;
and that you are expected to allow us to know what is best for a few
years more."

She was a diminutive creature, barely five feet high; but she had the
moral powers of a giantess, and was really a remarkable little person,
though her family was not aware of it. Joey loved her dearly in an
easy-going brotherly way, but maintained that she "bossed the show"
unduly at times, and on such occasions he was apt to kick against her
pretensions. Lest he should do so now, and an unseemly squabble ensue,
Mrs. Liddon interposed with the remark that it was useless to discuss
what was impracticable, and begged her daughter to come to business.

"Well," said Jenny then, fixing her bright eyes on the boy's sulky but
otherwise handsome face, "this is my proposal--that we open a
tea-room--a sort of refined little restaurant for quiet people, don't
you know; a kind of----"

Joey rose ostentatiously from his chair.

"Sit down, Joey, and listen to me," commanded Jenny.

"I'm not going to sit down and listen to a lot of tommy-rot," was Joey's
scornful reply.

"Very well--go away, then; we can talk a great deal better without you.
Take a walk. And when you come back we will tell you what we have
decided on."

This advice had its natural effect. Joey sat down again, stretched out
his legs, and thrust his hands into his trousers' pockets. Jenny
proceeded to unfold her plan to her mother and sister, taking no notice
of his sarcastic criticisms.

"Now, dears," she said earnestly, "you know we _must_ do something to
keep ourselves, and at the same time to keep a home; don't you?"

They sighed acquiescence.

"And that isn't playwork--we don't expect it to be all pleasure; and we
can't afford to have fine-lady fancies, can we?"

They agreed to this, reluctantly.

"Well, then, if we can't do what we would like, we must do what we can.
And I can't think of anything more promising than this. I would have
quite a small place to begin with--one room, and some sort of kitchen to
prepare things in--because rent is the only serious matter, and we must
make the thing self-supporting from the first; that is the attraction of
my plan, if it has an attraction--the thing I have been specially
scheming for. Because, you see, then, if we fail, there won't be any
great harm done."

"The publicity!" murmured Mrs. Liddon; and Joey took up the word, and
drew offensive pictures of rowdy men invading the establishment, calling
for food and drink, and addressing these born ladies as "my dear."

"There will be nothing of that sort," said Jenny calmly. "The place
will have no attractions for that class. We must not prohibit men, for
that would discourage general custom----"

"Oh--custom!" sneered Joey, with an air of loathing.

"But it will be a woman's place, that men would not think of coming to
except to bring women. Just a quiet room, mother; not all rows of chairs
and tables, like a common restaurant--the best of our own furniture,
with some wicker chairs added, and a few small tables, like a
comfortable private sitting-room, only not so crowded; and floored with
linoleum, so that we can wash it easily. Then just tea and coffee and
scones--perhaps some little cakes--nothing perishable or messy; perhaps
some delicate sandwiches, so that ladies can make a lunch. Only these
simple things, but _they_ as perfectly good as it is possible to make
them. Mother, _your_ scones----"

Mrs. Liddon smiled. She saw at once that her scones alone would make the
tea-room famous.

"We must do everything ourselves," said Jenny, "_everything_; no
out-goings except for rent and our few superfine groceries.
Consequently we must not undertake too much. Say we open at eleven
o'clock and close at eight--no, at seven. That will give us time to
prepare in the morning, and our evenings for rest. Mother, dear, you
must cook. I will wait. We cannot accommodate more than twenty or so at
first, and I can manage that. Sarah can get ready the tea and coffee,
and perhaps take the money when we are busy. A few dozen of nice white
cups and saucers and a lot of plates--I could get them wholesale. I wish
we could afford nice table covers, but I am afraid they, and the
washing, would cost too much; we must have American cloth, I suppose.
And butter--we must be very careful what arrangements we make for
butter, to be sure of having it new every morning; and we must keep it
cold--_that_, above all things. Though we only give tea and scones, let
everybody say that they never bought such tea and scones before. Eh,
mother?"

"They won't buy better, if I have anything to do with it," said Mrs.
Liddon, putting her handkerchief in her pocket.

Thus Jenny unfolded her scheme, and gradually talked her family into a
conditional agreement with it. Only Joey was persistently hostile, and
he, when she begged him to suggest a better, was fain to acknowledge
that no better occurred to him. All he hoped and trusted was that his
sister would not drag the family name into the mire--that was to say,
not more so than the wretched state of things necessitated. "The
Liddons," said the boy, as he rose from the interview, "have never been
in trade before."

"And wouldn't you rather be a proprietor in Churchill & Son's than a
junior clerk?" was Jenny's quick retort, as he left the room.

The only possible rejoinder was to bang the door, and Joey banged it
heartily.



CHAPTER II

HER FIRST FRIEND


The chief of Churchill & Son suffered no social disadvantage from being
in trade, and enjoyed many satisfactions that are unknown to the wealthy
who have nothing to do. His mind was alert and keen, his large,
wholesome-looking body a picture of well-being and contentment, his
attitude towards the world and things in general one of consistent
self-respect. He was one of that numerous band of perfectly-dressed and
exquisitely clean old gentlemen who pervade the city-wending tram-cars
of a morning between 9 and 10 o'clock, and are a delight to the eyes of
all true lovers of their country, as comprising the solid base of its
material prosperity. Solid in every sense was Mr. Nicholas Churchill, a
sound, just man, whose word was his bond, and whose signature was good
for six figures at the bank; a man who had succeeded in life and
commerce without cheating anybody, and was esteemed according to his
deserts, as we all are--though we don't always think so.

He walked into the breakfast-room of his little palace at Toorak, on a
certain spring morning, and, having kissed his children and shaken hands
with the governess, sat down to table and propped his newspaper before
him. His wife, a smart young lady in a long-tailed lace-frilled gown,
poured out his coffee, and his married daughter helped him to fish; for
it was a rule of the house to save him all trouble of helping himself or
others at this end of the day. The married daughter, Mrs. Oxenham, was
rather older than his wife, and was not now a member of the household,
but a visitor from a large station in the north-eastern hills; she had
come down to meet the mail which was bringing out her brother, Mr.
Churchill's eldest son, from home, and the arrival of which at
Adelaide had been telegraphed the day before. She was a tall,
distinguished-looking woman, a source of great pride and enjoyment to
her father, who addressed to her the most of what little conversation he
had time for.

"This is curious," he remarked, between two mouthfuls of buttered
toast. "Look here, Mary--poor old Liddon's wife, I'll bet you anything.
Read this."

She leaned over to him, and looked at the newspaper where he had fixed
it to the table with a broad thumb. After a short silence she
ejaculated, "Oh, _poor_ things!" It was her comment upon the following
advertisement:--

     "TO LADIES SHOPPING. Quiet room, with good tea and scones. Open
     from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. MRS. LIDDON, No. ----, Little Collins
     Street, W."

"Well," said Mr. Churchill, "it is not our fault. We were ready and
willing to assist them."

"As was only right," Mrs. Oxenham murmured, "seeing how long he was with
the firm."

"And as good a servant as it ever had. Yes, I felt that it was our duty
to do something for the widow and children, and I sent them a little
sum--a cheque for a hundred it was--thinking it might be acceptable.
You'd have thought so, wouldn't you? I've done it before, dozens of
times, and always found 'em grateful. But here--well, they just sent it
back by return of post."

"Oh!" A faint flush overspread his daughter's face. "Did you put it
nicely, do you think?"

"_I_ didn't put it at all, but it was a very proper letter--I read it
before I signed it--speaking most highly of the old fellow's character
and services, and all that sort of thing. In fact, they thanked us for
what we said of him, and didn't seem to feel insulted--it was a nice
little note enough----"

"Whose?"

"Janet Liddon was the name--his daughter, writing on her mother's
behalf. But the money they wouldn't touch with a pair of tongs. Too
proud, of course."

"Of course. Oh, I do like to hear of that kind of pride! I was afraid it
had died right out in these sordid times."

"So was I. I can tell you it struck me uncommonly; I thought about it a
good deal; it was so unusual. I spoke to the young fellow, and he said
it was his mother and sister--his sister chiefly--who wouldn't have it.
And now they've opened this little place--it is they, I am convinced--to
keep themselves. I'll tell you what it is, Mary, they're fine women,
that mother and daughter--fine women, my dear. I'd like to look them
up--sort of apologise for offering alms, as it were--eh? They'll want
custom for their tea-room. Maude--I say, Maude"--the young lady of the
house was so deep in talk with the governess about house decorations for
a party that it was difficult to gain her ear--"Maude, my child, can't
you take some of your friends to tea there, and give them a start?"

Mrs. Churchill's vague eye roamed for a moment, and she said,
"What--where--I wasn't listening," like one in a dream.

"Never mind," said Mrs. Oxenham, "I will. I am to have some dresses
fitted this morning----"

"Oh, are you going to Mrs. Earl?" cried her stepmother, suddenly alert
and glowing. "Oh, Mary, dear, _would_ you take a message for me? Tell
her I must, I simply _must_ have my pink gown to-morrow." To look at
her, one would have imagined it a matter of life and death.

Half an hour later her husband and stepdaughter, two highly-finished,
perfectly-tailored figures, sober and stately, severely unpretentious,
yet breathing wealth and consequence at every point, set forth together
through spacious gardens to the road and the tram--which appeared to the
minute, as it always does for men of the Churchill stamp, who are never
too soon or too late for anything. They rode together to Collins Street,
and there separated and went east and west, the daughter to have her Cup
dresses tried on at one end of that thoroughfare, and the father to
resume command of his commercial kingdom at the other.

He had not been in his office many minutes before he sent for Joseph
Liddon. When the young man appeared, neat and spruce, as became a clerk
of the great house, Mr. Churchill held out the _Argus_, folded, and
pointed to the advertisement of the tea-room.

"I wanted to ask you, Liddon, if this is your mother?" he said, in his
quick, business way.

Joey did not need to look, but dropped his eyes to the paper, and
crimsoned to the roots of his hair. For a dreadful moment he was in
danger of saying, "No, sir," but was mercifully spared from the
perpetration of what would have been to him and his a most disastrous
lie. Then he was on the point of saying he didn't know, but had the
sense to perceive that such an evasion would but make the inevitable
disclosure worse; and finally braced himself to the agony of confession.
He had implored the relentless Jenny not to allow their name to appear
in connection with her undertaking, and lo, here it was, published to
the world of supercilious fellow-clerks and magnificent proprietors. He
was ready to sink into the ground with shame.

"I'm sorry to say it is, sir," he mumbled, cringing and quivering.
"Quite against my wishes--I've had nothing to do with it. It's my
sister--she would do it--she's a very odd girl----"

"It was your sister who insisted on returning our cheque, was it not? I
remember she wrote the note that enclosed it."

"Yes, sir. She's the eldest. She's--she's very odd."

"She _is_ odd," said the merchant, keenly smiling. "And I should like
very much to have the honour of her acquaintance."

Joey stared, doubtful whether this was joke or earnest. And the clerk
who now occupied his father's place coming in with papers, the chief
bade him good-morning, and he retired, much puzzled as to how that
potentate had really taken the news of his (Joey's) social downfall. And
his mind resumed its effort to concoct suitable explanations for his
office colleagues, when they should come and ask him whether that Mrs.
Liddon was his mother--from which the summons of "the boss" had
disturbed him.

Mr. Churchill's mind, bent, as it supposed, upon business, did not turn
out Miss Liddon as easily as it had dismissed her brother. It was taken
with the idea of a girl who would not receive money, and dared to risk
her little conventional title to be a lady for the sake of making an
honest living; his own business rectitude and high-mindedness qualified
him to appreciate a woman of that sort--so different from the swarm of
idle damsels with whom he was in daily contact, who lived for nothing
but their own pleasures, and on anybody who would keep them, with no
sense whatever of any responsibility in life, whose frivolities he was
always denouncing, more or less, in a good-natured way, though his own
dear wife was one of them. So greatly was he interested in this
exception to the rule that he presently conceived the wish to go and
see her, to see what she was like. He looked at the advertisement again;
the place was quite close by. He looked at his watch; it was eleven
o'clock. Tea and scones were about the last things he could desire at
that hour, but he might try them. She had announced that they would be
good, and he did not think she was the person to make a vain boast. And
Mary would probably be there, to keep him in countenance. The invitation
was addressed to "ladies shopping," but gentlemen were not prohibited;
if there should be any difficulty on the ground of his sex he could say
he had called for his daughter. No, he would tell Miss Liddon and her
mother who he was, and give them the encouragement of his good wishes in
their plucky enterprise. Taking down his smart brown hat, which matched
his smart heather-brown suit, he stole across to Little Collins Street
in search of the tea-room.



CHAPTER III

AFLOAT


It was discovered over a basket-maker's shop at the top of a rather dark
staircase; a deterring approach, as Mr. Churchill reflected, but he
rightly supposed they had not had much choice of premises. On reaching
the room, however, he was surprised to see how nice it looked, and how
very unlike a restaurant. It had been used to warehouse the
basket-maker's stock, and had a spacious floor, though a rather low
ceiling, and, like the staircase, was ill lighted for its present
purpose. But Jenny and her mother had papered it with a yellow paper,
and draped yellow muslin around, not over, the dim windows; by which
means they had put light and brightness into it, as well as an air of
elegance not to be expected in such a place. It was the day of art
muslins, and this was very pretty art muslin, with a brownish pattern
meandering through the yellow; and it had little frills at the edges,
and brown bands to draw the curtains to the wall, which had a cultured
look. And, although these decorations were comparatively perishable and
soilable, they had cost little, and would last a considerable time, if
not for ever. The floor was covered with plain brown linoleum, that
looked like brown paint, and scattered in inviting groups about it were
a number of low chairs and tables in brown wickerwork, supplied by the
basket-maker downstairs, who had been glad to deal reasonably in this
matter as in other arrangements, with a view to mutual benefits from the
amalgamation of the new enterprise with his own struggling trade,
hitherto crushed by the weight of central city rents. The chair bottoms
were cushioned in various pretty chintzes of æsthetic hue, and each
table-top furnished with a Japanese tray, containing cups and saucers
and a little glass sugar-basin and milk-jug, protected by a square of
muslin from the wandering fly. Heavier chairs and more solid tables,
furniture from the old home, were mixed with these, and a capacious
family sideboard bore a multitude of brown earthen teapots of different
sizes. The whole effect of these inexpensive arrangements was soothing
to the cultivated eye and the instructed mind.

"I wish I had known," said Mr. Churchill to himself, as he calculated
the rough cost in one comprehensive glance. "I would have supplied them
with all they wanted at first cost."

He looked for his daughter, but she was still detained by Mrs. Earl, a
lady more rushed by clients than a fashionable doctor, and he found that
he was the only customer of the tea-room, and the first. His heavy step
stumbling on the staircase had announced his approach, and two of the
proprietors received him with an anxious air. One of these, a
bent-backed, immature girl with a sharp-featured face, retired to a
table in a corner, where she began to sew, watching him the while; the
other came forward to play the hostess with a charming dignity of mien.
He did not know her, but she knew him--Joey had pointed out "the boss"
to her in a hundred crowds; Mrs. Liddon, peeping from behind the screen
that masked the passage to her kitchen, nervous at the approach of a
lone man, knew him also, and pardonably remained in ambush to learn
what he had to say. She did hope he was not one of those gay old
gentlemen who were worse than the young ones in their pursuit of
defenceless girls.

Jenny was looking very sweet at that moment, with the flush of
excitement in her small, bright face. She had clear, straight-browed
eyes, and a slightly tilted nose, and an assertive chin, which somehow
combined to make a whole that nobody said was beautiful and yet
everybody was attracted by; it was piquant and spirited, finely finished
and full of life. Her small figure was as refined as her face, and the
plain black gown and bibbed holland apron that she wore became it
perfectly. She was a picture of neatness and capability as she stepped
forward to receive her unexpected guest, and his business-like soul
warmed towards her. Though he was not the philanderer so much dreaded by
Mrs. Liddon, he admired her as a mere woman with that part of his soul
which was not business-like. She looked so sincere and wholesome.

"Miss Liddon, I presume?"

"Yes, sir."

They bowed to each other.

"Hm--ha--I must introduce myself--Mr. Churchill, my dear--excuse my
freedom--I am not exactly a stranger----"

"Oh no, sir!"

She was violently crimson, thinking of the returned cheque; so was he,
from the same cause.

"I--I--I was reading my paper this morning--I wasn't sure if it was the
same--I thought it might be--and--and I owe much to your good father, my
dear--his long and faithful services--a heavy loss to the firm--there,
there! I beg your pardon for mentioning it--all I meant to say was that
we take a great interest in his family, and I thought--I fancied
perhaps--in short, my dear, I have come to congratulate you on your
courage and energy. I see it all--I understand--I am a business man
myself--I should have done the same in your place, though it grieved me
to have it come back--it did, indeed; I was so anxious to do something.
Anyway, I thought you wouldn't mind my coming to see how you were
getting on--your father's old friend--and to offer you my good wishes,
and whatever assistance you will honour me by accepting. Oh, not
money--I know you won't have that--but advice as to buying goods, and
so on--matters in which my experience might be of help to you. It would
be a pleasure to me, my dear, I do assure you."

Jenny listened with heaving breast and drooping head, and tears began to
well up, overflow, and fall; seeing which, the old man took her little
hand and paternally patted it. Whereupon Mrs. Liddon rushed out from
behind her screen.

Jenny received her with emotion--a swift whisk of a handkerchief across
her eyes and an impassioned smile.

"This, mother, is Mr. Churchill. He is so good as to take an interest in
our experiment. He has come to wish us success."

"Madam," said the old gentleman, who was thoroughly enjoying himself, "I
am proud and happy to make your acquaintance. And let me say that
success is assured to an enterprise undertaken in such a spirit and with
so much good sense. I don't know when I have been so interested as in
seeing this young lady--this delicate young creature"--indicating Jenny,
who was as tough as perfect health and an active life could make
her--"turning to, and setting her shoulder to the wheel, in this--this
gallant fashion. Your husband, ma'am, was one of the best of men and
gentlemen--I always knew that; but I did not know that he was so blessed
in his family. I did not, indeed."

"You know his son, sir," murmured the widow, who was very proud of her
handsome boy.

"Your son," said Mr. Churchill, "is very well--a very good son, I make
no doubt; but he's not half the man that your daughter is. My dear, I
mean that for a compliment, though it may not sound like one." He gazed
at Jenny's now smiling face, and added abruptly, "It was you who
wouldn't be beholden to us for a trumpery hundred pounds, wasn't it?"

She looked down, and again coloured violently.

"Ah, I see. You felt yourself grossly insulted. I am sure you did."

"Oh, no, no," the mother eagerly interposed. "Pray don't think that. We
were all most grateful--indeed, we were. But Jenny said----"

"Yes, I understand. Her name is Jenny, is it? I think I can guess what
Miss Jenny said. She's as proud as Lucifer--I can see that; but I
honour her for it. I honour you for it, my dear. It's the sort of pride
that a good many would be the better for. You are a born lady, my dear,
and that's the short and the long of it."

Then he asked to be shown the premises, and the happy women took him
over them, and displayed all their economical contrivances, which quite
bore out his preconceptions of Jenny's excellence as a business manager
and a woman. He attributed it all to Jenny, and indeed it was her hands
which had made the frilled curtains and the restful chair cushions, and
devised whatever was original in the commissariat arrangements. Mrs.
Liddon's kitchen was her own great pride, and also her store of new-made
scones, which were as light as feathers.

"You must give me some tea and scones," said Mr. Churchill, "that I may
taste what they are like. I must do that, you know, before I recommend
them to my friends."

"Of course," said Jenny; and she quickly arranged a table, with two
scones on a plate and a tiny pat of iced butter; and her mother handed
her a small, hot teapot from behind the screen.

"Earthen pots seemed sweeter than metal, for so much use," she said,
placing it before him; "and we thought these trays nicer to eat from
than anything else we could afford. Both are liable to break, but they
were cheap."

"They would have been cheaper," he said, "if you had come to me. Mind
you come to me when you want some more."

Then he ate and drank and smacked his lips, gravely, as if judging wine
for experts. The women hung upon the verdict with trembling anxiety.

"Excellent," he exclaimed, "excellent! Never tasted better tea in my
life--nor scones either. And butter delicious. Keep it up at this, my
dear, and you'll do. I'll send everybody I know to have tea with you, if
you'll only promise to keep it up. All depends on that, you know."

"I know," said Jenny. "And that we may do it, we have undertaken nothing
_but_ tea and scones at present. By-and-by we will have coffee, and,
perhaps, cakes and other things. But at present, doing everything
ourselves, we have to be careful not to get muddled--not to try more
than we can do well. We can't run out of tea and scones, nor need we
waste any. Mother _can_ make a batch in a quarter of an hour, if
necessary."

"Good," said the merchant, to whom the smallest details were important
in matters of business; and he began to fumble in his pocket. "Who's the
cashier?" he asked.

"I am," replied Sarah, from behind her little table, on which stood two
wooden bowls and neat piles of paper tickets.

"And what's to pay?" he inquired, advancing with his hand full of loose
silver.

"Sixpence," said she shyly.

"Sixpence," he repeated, with a meditative air, "sixpence; yes, that
will do. Neither too much nor too little--though that's expensive tea.
When you want a fresh stock of tea, Miss Jenny, let me know, will you?
Come, you needn't hesitate; I'm not offering to give it to you. I'm as
much a business man as you are."

"You are very good," murmured Jenny; "and I will."

He took change for the shilling, which was his smallest coin; and then
he began to think it time to return to his office, from which he had
been absent nearly an hour. As he was stumbling downstairs, after warmly
shaking hands with the family, he met his daughter coming up.

"What! you, Mary?" he exclaimed, for he had forgotten all about her.

"What! you, father?" she responded. "Are you here before me? That is
kind of you. Oh, I'm so tired! Two frocks in one morning! But I suppose
I ought to be thankful that she'll do them. Is the tea really good,
father? If it is, I think I'll make my lunch here, instead of going
home, and Maude can pick me up at the office when she comes in this
afternoon. Telephone to her when you go back, and say so, will you,
dear?"

"I will," said Mr. Churchill. "And the tea and scones are all that they
profess to be. A charming little place, and people too. Come, I will
introduce you before I go."

He took her in, introduced her, and left her. She stayed till nearly one
o'clock, talking much as her father had done, with all his kindness and
her own more dignified reserve, and rejoined him at the office, after
some shopping, much impressed with Jenny. Later, Mrs. Churchill,
resplendent, drove into town, and her big carriage got itself into
Little Collins Street, and she was made to take tea and scones in her
turn, and found them so excellent that she spent the rest of the
afternoon in talking about them to her friends, and about the pretty,
poky place that was so sensationally opposed to all one's ideas of a
restaurant. It was the amusement of the day, and resulted in making the
tea-room fashionable.



CHAPTER IV

THE HERO


The junior Churchill partner returned home next day from a six months'
trip, and the house at Toorak was much excited by the event, for he was
a great man in its eyes. He lived an independent life at the club and in
a suite of sumptuous chambers in East Melbourne, when on this side of
the world, but was received by his father and stepmother on his first
arrival, and entertained until his own establishment was ready for him.
His stepmother, before she was his stepmother, had badly wanted to be
his wife, and it was a source of extreme satisfaction to her that he
still remained unmarried and disengaged, though thirty-five last
birthday, and one of the greatest catches in the colony. She never would
have a pretty governess in the house, lest Anthony should be tempted;
and she kept a sharp eye upon the girls who sought and sighed for
him--their name was legion--when able to do so, and systematically
circumvented them. He was too good, she said, to be thrown away. In
other words, it would be too dreadful not to have him at dinner on
Sundays, and in and out of the house all the week through, petting her
(in a strictly filial manner), and escorting her about when his father
was busy.

"People talk of the troubles of stepmothers," she used to say, with her
most maternal air. "_I_ have never had any trouble. My stepchildren
never objected to me for a moment, and they are just the comfort of my
life."

Of the two, Anthony was her greatest comfort; he was always there--when
he was not in England. Mary Oxenham was a dear woman, but she seldom
came to town.

Mary and her father went to meet the ship that brought Anthony back.
Mrs. Churchill stayed at home, to put flowers into his bedroom, and be
ready to welcome him on the doorstep in a twenty-guinea tea-gown,
designed on purpose. The boat, they had been informed by telephone from
the office, was expected at five o'clock, but when Mrs. Oxenham called
for her father at half-past three, he told her it would not be in before
six at the earliest; and he was in rather a state of mind lest
Anthony's dinner should be spoiled. He sent a message to his wife to
postpone it to half-past eight, and Mrs. Oxenham said she would kill
time by going to the tea-room.

She drove thither in Maude's carriage, which had brought her in, because
she thought that its appearance at the door would be good for custom.
She was much interested in Miss Liddon and her praiseworthy efforts, and
anxious to assist them; and she and Maude had agreed that it would be
very nice if they could keep the tea-room select--a place where they
could meet their friends in comfort. They thought this might be managed
if they made a little effort at the start, and that, once established on
those lines, the coming season would provide as much custom of the right
sort as the Liddons could manage. Mrs. Oxenham desired it rather for
Jenny's sake than their own; she did not like to think of that lady-like
girl having to wait on rough people.

On entering the yellow room, it was evident to her that all was well, so
far. Several people were taking tea and scones, and the newcomer was
more or less acquainted with them all. A frisky matron whom Maude had
introduced there yesterday had come again, and she had a frisky man
along with her--having promptly recognised the possibilities of the new
establishment as a place for meeting one's friends. She was lounging at
great ease in one of the low, cushioned chairs, with her feet crossed
and her gloves in her lap, and he was sitting in another, with his arms
on his knees, which touched her pretty gown; they both sat up very
suddenly when Mrs. Oxenham appeared. Two other ladies, with two other
gentlemen, made a group at the furthest possible distance from them; and
three smart girls in another corner were letting their tea grow cold
while they chaffed and were chaffed by a couple of high-collared youths,
who certainly had no business to be with them in their unchaperoned
condition.

"So this is the first result," said Mrs. Oxenham to herself, as she
bowed slightly in response to unnecessarily cordial smiles. "Oh, well,
it don't matter to her, I suppose."

"Her" was Jenny Liddon, who came forward with a glowing face, and
directed her patroness to a particularly nice chair in Sarah's
neighbourhood. Mrs. Oxenham sat down, and made kind inquiries of her
_protégée_ as to how she was getting on.

"_Beautifully_," Jenny replied with fervour, "thanks to you and Mr.
Churchill. We have had quite a number of customers already--we are
paying our way, even now--and they all say that the tea and scones are
good."

"Get me some, dear."

Jenny flitted round the screen, and came back with the fragrant teapot
and the pat of sweet butter that she was so careful to keep cool; and
Mrs. Oxenham ate and drank with the enjoyment of a dainty woman
accustomed to the best, and not always finding it where it should be.
She talked to her young hostess as the girl passed to and fro, with the
object of making her feel that she was still recognised as a lady as
well as a restaurant-keeper; for Mrs. Oxenham had ideas as to the status
of women, and what determined it, which were much in advance of those
popularly held.

"I am on my way to meet the mail steamer," she said, rising when she had
finished her tea, and looking at her watch.

"Yes," said Jenny. "My brother told me Mr. Anthony Churchill was
expected." She added with a little sigh, "The sea will be looking lovely
now."

"You ought to get down to it when you can," said Mrs. Oxenham. "The air
in this street is not very wholesome. You should have a blow on the St.
Kilda pier of a night, when work is over."

"By-and-by," said Jenny, "when we can afford it, we will have a little
home there, and come in and out by tram. At present we do not spend a
penny more than is quite necessary. We walk to the house where we sleep,
and back. We just keep a room to sleep in; our landlady at this place is
a fixture, and takes charge in our absence. But we live here."

"Not wholly on tea and scones, I hope?"

"No," smiled Jenny. "Mother sees to that."

"You must take care to play no tricks with your health. Mind that."

"I am as careful as I can be, Mrs. Oxenham."

"Take my advice, and don't grudge sixpence for a blow on the pier; it
will be the most paying investment of all, you'll find. Where's your
brother? What does he do for you?"

Jenny blushed slightly. "There's nothing he wouldn't do for us if we
would let him," she said. "But we won't allow him to cripple himself."

"Does he live with you?"

"Not now. He has taken lodgings for himself."

"He doesn't approve of the tea-room, does he?"

Jenny blushed a deeper hue. "He is only a boy," she murmured
indulgently. "He doesn't understand. He will some day."

She saw some of her customers make a movement to rise, and Mrs. Oxenham
smiled farewell and departed, glad to be blocked on the dark staircase
by new people coming up.

"Brave little creature!" was her inward ejaculation, as she stepped into
her carriage, which seemed to block the narrow street. "I see what she
has had to fight against. Ah, well, women are not all talking dolls, as
Tony calls them. I wonder what Tony will say to her?" She paused to
consider, and thought it would be as well not to take Tony there. "I
hate to see all those men lounging about on her little chairs," she said
to herself. "They are not meant for men. I do hope and trust they won't
any of them take it into their empty heads to make love to her. She is
not exactly pretty, but she is very attractive--dreadfully attractive,
for such a place. She doesn't know it in the least, but she has a face
that one can hardly take one's eyes off."

The carriage clattered up to the door of the palatial business premises
of Churchill & Son, and the chief stepped out with the alertness of a
young man.

"It's early," he said, "but we may as well catch the 4.30. Better be too
soon than too late."

Mrs. Oxenham agreed, and they were driven to the neighbouring station,
where they bade the coachman return to meet the special, and took train
for Williamstown. Arrived there, the old gentleman buttoned his
great-coat and helped his daughter into a sealskin mantle; and they
prepared for a long pacing up and down the breezy pier, between the
rails and trucks, while they waited for Tony. But in half an hour the
ship appeared, and for another half hour, while she was being warped
into her place, they had the bliss of seeing the dear fellow, though
they could not reach him, and of hearing the beloved voice shouting
greetings and questions at them. Amongst the swarm of passengers hanging
over the rails, Anthony Churchill, with his red beard on a level with
the hats of ordinary men, was easily distinguishable. He was a fine man,
and a handsome one, as well as amiable and rich; so it was no wonder
that the girls, of whom there seem such a terrible number in proportion
to their possible suitors, ran after him.

"How well he looks!" exclaimed Mrs. Oxenham--meaning how beautiful and
distinguished, compared with other women's brothers.

"Splendid!" said the father proudly.

Then the gangways were fixed, and he came hurling down through the
ascending and descending crowd, and the majestic woman put her arms
round his neck and kissed him.

They climbed into the special, and sat there and talked till it filled
up and was ready to start. They wanted to know what was doing, and how
everybody was. Anthony inquired after "Mother," as he facetiously called
her, and his father and sister after that young lady for whom he had
been searching so long. For they had a desire to see him settled with a
nice wife, and bringing up sons and daughters, though Maude had not.

"I have not found her yet," the young man confessed. "I suppose I am
hard to please, but I don't seem to have met anybody with enough in her
to make it worth while to go so far as matrimony."

"What should she have in her?" asked Mrs. Oxenham, smiling.

"What you have in you, Polly," he replied. "Some sense. Some ideas
beyond dressing and smirking at men."

"Oh, well, you had better put yourself in my hands," said she. "As I
know there are plenty of such women, I'll undertake to find you one."

"Thanks; but I'd rather find her for myself."

"A man never finds a woman of that sort. He doesn't know her when he
sees her. He doesn't know _any_ woman when he sees her. You leave it to
me, Tony. Time is getting on, and we can't allow you to degenerate into
a selfish old club bachelor, thinking of nothing but your dinner. I
shall begin at once. I know what would suit you far better than you can
know yourself."

The wild idea that Jenny Liddon would suit him never crossed her mind
for a moment, as a matter of course.

It was not quite seven o'clock when they reached town, and they got home
to Toorak before it was time to dress for dinner. As the carriage rolled
up to the door, Mrs. Churchill swam into the hall, with her fine laces
foaming about her, and cast herself into her stepson's arms, as she was
lawfully privileged to do.

"Well, mother," he cried gaily, as he kissed her curly-fringed brow--a
thing he never did unless she made him--"and how's your little self? And
how are the brats?"

The brats came headlong downstairs, and flung themselves upon him from
all sides at once.

"Oh, Tony! Tony! We are so glad you are back, dear Tony! What have you
brought us, Tony?"



CHAPTER V

HE MEETS THE HEROINE


"Polly, come and have a look round, and give me your advice, will you?
My fellow says he's got all the luggage up, and he wants to know where
to put some of the new things."

Mr. Anthony Churchill would have felt himself insulted if you had called
his "fellow" a valet. Australian gentlemen don't keep valets. The person
in question had certainly filled that office in England, where his
master had picked him up, but was now merely a sort of private male
housemaid of superior quality, who waited on his employer in the East
Melbourne chambers, and made him more comfortable than anybody else
could have done. When he was away travelling, Maude took on his servant
as an extra footman, in order to guard him against the seductions of
other wealthy bachelors who were known to covet him; but when Tony was
at home, Jarvis was his indispensable attendant. Mary Oxenham used to
say that Jarvis was the main cause of that celibacy which she could not
but deplore in a man of thirty-five, who could so well afford a wife and
family.

"Yes, dear," she said, in response to his proposal; "I shall be
delighted." She rose from the Toorak luncheon-table to dress for the
expedition.

"Oh, Tony, you are _not_ going away?" cried Mrs. Churchill,
prettily aghast. "When I have hardly had a word with you! And when you
know it is my day at home, and I can't come with you! Mary, it's very
nasty and selfish of you, to carry him off and keep him all to
yourself--especially when he has been in town the whole morning."

"I'll come back to dinner," he said soothingly. "And we'll have a game
of billiards together in the evening, if you like."

"But I want you _now_, Tony! All the world is coming this afternoon,
just on purpose to see you, and I did so want to show you off."

"The very reason, madam, why I go. I don't like being shown off."

"But you know what I mean, Tony--you can do exactly what you like--go
away and smoke, or anything. And there are several new girls--pretty
girls--whom you haven't seen before."

"Pretty girls have ceased to interest me very much. I've seen such a lot
of them."

"You are a nasty, horrid, disagreeable boy! I suppose _I_ have ceased to
interest you--that's what you'd like to say if you weren't too polite."

"I'd cut my tongue out before I'd say such a thing."

He smiled down upon her, strong, calm, amused, indifferent, as if she
were a kitten frisking. He was always interested in her, if only because
he had to be always on his guard to keep her from making a fool of
herself. She looked up at him, with a pout and a laugh, and proceeded to
make hay while the sun shone--to make the most of the little time that
Mary gave her for the enjoyment of his company.

Brother and sister departed as soon as the latter was ready, preferring
the homely tram to the carriage that Mrs. Churchill desired to order for
them; and spent a quiet hour together in Tony's chambers, where Jarvis
had left nothing to find fault with. There were pictures for Mrs.
Oxenham to see, and a multitude of pretty things that Tony had brought
out to adorn his rooms, or as presents for his friends; and these were
very interesting to a lady of modern culture, as she was, secretly proud
of and confident in her discriminating artistic sense. And she much
enjoyed an uninterrupted gossip with her brother, he and she having been
close comrades for many years before Maude was heard of. They had a
great deal to say that they didn't care to say when she was present.

Jarvis offered tea, but it was declined. "No, thank you," said Mary.
"There's a little place where I make a point of having tea whenever I am
in town--kept by some people whom I am interested in. And it isn't good
for me to drink too much. I think, Tony, I'll be going, as I have a
commission to do for Maude."

"I'll go with you," said Tony, "if you'll just let me finish my pipe.
It's the sweetest pipe I have had for a long time. After all"--with a
luxurious sigh--"there's no place like home."

"Don't call _this_ a home," his sister retorted.

He cast a complacent eye around the handsome room, which had witnessed
so many masculine symposiums. "I might go further and fare worse," he
said, with a comfortable laugh. "Do you remember the man in _Punch_ who
didn't marry because he was so domesticated? I think I am like him. I
love a quiet life. I like my armchair and my fireside of an evening." He
puffed meditatively, while Mary drew on her gloves. "What's your errand
for Maude?" he asked abruptly.

"She wants me to tell Mrs. Earl something."

"I could have sworn it. Now, if I had a wife who thought of nothing but
her clothes----"

"Who _wants_ you to have a wife who thinks of nothing but her clothes?
Do you suppose they are all Maudes? Come along, and don't aggravate me."

He heaved himself out of his deep chair, retired to take off his
smoking-jacket, and escorted her to the tram and to Collins Street.

"If you are going to be long," he said, at Mrs. Earl's door, "I'll look
into the club for a few minutes."

"I'm not going to be a second, but don't wait for me," she answered, "Go
to your club, old fogey, but be home in good time for dinner."

However, when she had done her errand, which was only to deliver an
urgent message concerning the trimming of a Cup gown--to which Mrs. Earl
was not likely to pay the least attention, knowing her business better
than any lady could teach her--there was Tony on the pavement, still in
devoted attendance.

"Where do you want to go now, Polly?" he asked, as if clubs were nothing
to him.

"Oh, nowhere--except just to get my tea. Don't wait, dear boy."

"Where do you go for your tea?"

"To a room in Little Collins Street."

"What an extraordinary place to have one's tea in!" He signalled for a
hansom. "I'll go with you."

"Oh, no; don't you bother. It's not a place for men."

"I'll take you to the door, at any rate."

He took her to the door, and the outside of the basket-maker's premises
made him curious to see the inside, and he begged to be allowed to
escort her upstairs. "If only to see that you are not robbed and
murdered," he said.

"No fear of that," she returned, laughing. "You go and amuse yourself at
the club. This is a ladies' place."

"Men prohibited?"

"Not prohibited, but they don't want them."

"All right. I'll leave the cab for you."

He went to his club, and she to her tea and scones (the room was
satisfactorily full, and Jenny too busy to be talked to); and they met
again at Toorak in time to entertain Maude for half an hour before she
had to dress.

Next day Maude was determined to have her stepson for
herself--especially as there was a dark rumour that he was going to
desert her the day after for the superior attractions of Jarvis and his
bachelor abode; and Anthony was quite willing to gratify her.
Recognising that she would be _de trop_, Mary Oxenham chose to stay at
home and amuse the children; and he and his pretty stepmother (seven
years his junior) drove away after luncheon for the ostensible purpose
of paying calls together.

They paid two calls, and then, being in East Melbourne, Maude proposed
that they should go and have some tea.

"What!" exclaimed Tony. "Haven't you had enough tea for one afternoon?"

"It was horribly bad tea," said she, "and I know a place where you can
get it exceptionally good. I am just dying for a cup."

"Where is your place?"

"In Little Collins Street. The funniest place you ever saw."

"Why, that must be the place Mary wouldn't take me to yesterday. She
said men were not admitted."

"Oh, what a story!"

"Well, she said the people there didn't want them."

"Stuff! Of course they do. Didn't you hear Mrs. Bullivant say she was
there yesterday with Captain what's-his-name, that charming new A.D.C.?
No, you were flirting with Miss Baxter--oh, I saw you!--and had no eyes
or ears for anybody else."

"Then I presume I may accompany you, and have some tea too?"

"Of course you may. You'll be charmed--everybody is. There are dear
little chairs, in which you can actually rest yourself, and tables so
high"--spreading her hand on a level with her knee. "And it's awfully
retired and peaceful, if you want to talk. I only hope"--regardless of
her previous efforts to compass that end--"that it won't get too well
known. That would spoil it."

Anthony stalked through the basket-maker's shop (that customers passed
that way, in view of his wares, was a consideration that largely
affected the rent, to Mrs. Liddon's advantage), and knocked his head and
his elbows on the dark staircase, and thought it was indeed the funniest
place of its kind that he had ever seen. But when he reached the
tea-room, and looked round with his cultured eyes upon its singular
appointments, he was quite as charmed as Maude had expected him to be,
and more surprised than charmed.

"How very extraordinary!" he ejaculated. "What an oasis in the howling
desert of Little Collins Street!"

"Yes, isn't it?" returned Maude, jerking her head from side to side. "I
knew you would like it. But, oh, do look how full it is! How tiresome of
people to come flocking here, as if there were no other place in the
whole town! There's hardly a table left. Oh, here's one! I'll get that
girl to put it in the corner yonder. She knows me."

"It will do here," said Anthony, with a little peremptory air that she
was quite accustomed to. "Sit down."

He dropped himself into a basket-chair, and it creaked ominously.

"What a very extraordinary place!" he repeated, as his stepmother drew
off her gloves in preparation for prolonged repose and conversation.
Then, as Jenny advanced, blushing a little--for she knew this was the
junior partner, and he stared at her intently--"What a very----" He left
that sentence unfinished.

"Tea and scones for two, if you please. Yes, she's quite a new type,
isn't she?--like her tea-room. She's the daughter of old Liddon, who
used to be in the office, and who was killed by being run over on the
railway the other day. Mary says she's quite well educated."

"What!" cried Anthony. He sat bolt upright in his chair. "Old Liddon
dead! Good heavens! And his daughter keeping a restaurant! Why, I
thought they rather prided themselves on being gentlefolks. The old man
used to tell me he was an Eton boy--quite true, too."

"He married his cook," said Mrs. Churchill--which was a libel, for poor
old Mrs. Liddon's family was as "genteel" as her own--"and I suppose the
girl takes after her. Mrs. Liddon's cooking talents are now exercised on
the tea and scones that they sell here, and they do her credit, as you
will see. I'm sure I wish to goodness I could find a good cook!"

"If that is Miss Liddon," said Anthony, who was watching the screen for
her reappearance, "I think I ought to speak to her."

"Oh, no, you oughtn't, Tony. It would never do. Mary doesn't want men to
talk to her. Mary is taking a great interest in her, you must know, and
she'd like to keep men out of the room altogether--only she doesn't want
to hinder custom--just for Miss Liddon's sake, for fear she should be
taken liberties with, or annoyed in any way, as if she were a common
waitress."

This was a very injudicious speech, but then Maude was nearly always
injudicious.

"I don't annoy women," said her stepson severely; "and I am not 'men.' I
am a partner of the firm that has lost her father's services--if we have
lost them."

"Oh, yes; he was killed on the spot--all smashed to little bits."

"I would merely say a word--of sympathy, you know."

"Don't do it, Tony; it would be most improper. If you attempt to scrape
acquaintance with her I'll never bring you here again. Mary would blame
me, and make a dreadful fuss."

"Mary is so much in the habit of making a fuss, isn't she?"

"I assure you she would. You see she wouldn't let you come yesterday.
You can make your condolences to the brother in the office."

So Anthony did not say anything to Miss Liddon, except "Thank you," in a
very gentle tone. As she approached with the tea and scones, he rose and
stood--her little head was not much above his elbow--and he took the
tray from her hands. The unwonted courtesy brought a flush to Jenny's
pale cheeks--they were pale with the weariness of being on her feet all
day--and Mrs. Churchill had her first suspicion that the young person
was pretty. She determined that she would not bring Tony to the tea-room
again.

Nevertheless, being there, and very comfortable, she would have sat on
with him indefinitely, had he allowed it; but he would not allow it. Her
meal finished, she was taking the place and time of paying clients, as
several others were doing, causing Jenny to wonder if she had not made a
mistake in providing cushioned chairs. He proposed to call at the office
for his father, and drive the old gentleman home--an attention from his
charming wife that always gratified him; and Maude did not see her way
to object. They returned to Toorak quite early, and Tony lit a pipe and
went off with his sister for a saunter in the shrubberies (to get the
history of the Liddons up to date), while his stepmother was hastily
getting into a yellow satin tea-gown with a view to an ante-dinner
_tête-à-tête_ on her own account.



CHAPTER VI

THE INEVITABLE ENSUES


Yes! The world became a changed place to Jenny Liddon from the moment
when Anthony Churchill stood up to take her tray, and to say "Thank you"
in that indescribably feeling voice. That very moment it was, and she
never marked it in her calendar.

    "The hour has struck, though I heard not the bell!"

Very seldom do we hear the bell. And therefore we are not really so
silly as we seem. Jenny was quite unaware that she had fallen in love as
suddenly as you would fall downstairs if you did not look where you were
going; being the most proper little heroine that ever lived in a proper
family story the idea of such a thing would have covered her with shame.
Oh, she would have died sooner than so forget herself! She was merely
conscious of some new, sweet scent in the atmosphere of life, some
light ether in the brain, some--but what's the use of trying to
describe what everybody understands already?

When the hero had ceased to watch her out of the corner of his eye, had
vacated his basket-chair and vanished from the scene, the tea-room
became a place of dreams, and not a place of business. She took the
orders of customers with an empty, far-away, idiotic smile; she drifted
about with plates and teapots like an active sleep-walker. Oh, how
handsome he was! How big and strong! How considerate and kind! What
perfect courtesy--taking her tray from her, and thanking her in that
way, as if she were a condescending queen! How thoroughly one's ideal of
a gentleman and a man! These impassioned thoughts absorbed her.

She went down to St. Kilda in the evening, and sat upon the pier. It was
absolutely necessary to have the sea to commune with, under the
circumstances--darkness and the sea.

"You're tired, duckie," the old mother said, aware of a difference and
vaguely anxious. "Oh, don't deny it--I can see you are quite done up."

"My legs do ache," the girl confessed, with a tear and a trembling lip
and an ecstatic smile. "Running after so many customers. I am not going
to complain of that. Let me sit here and rest, while you and Sarah walk
up and down. _Your_ legs want stretching."

They thought not, but she was sure of it. "Go, go, dears--_do_ go; I am
all right--I am quite happy by myself--I _like_ it!"

They wrapped her up and left her; and while they perambulated the
pleasant platform, talking of their commercial successes, and how dear
Joey would come round when he heard of them, she sat quite still and
stared at the sea. It murmured musically in the cold, clear night, full
of sympathy for her.

All at once she seemed to catch an inkling of the truth. She turned hot
and cold, sat bolt upright and shook herself, and inwardly exclaimed,
with a gust of rage, "Oh, what a _fool_ I am!" then walked home briskly
to give renewed attention to business.

Business prospered as well as heart could wish. The little push given by
the powerful Churchill family to her humble enterprise, without which it
might have struggled and languished like so many worthy enterprises,
floated it into fashion within a week; and, though she had plenty of
hard work, insomuch that the basket-maker's wife's niece had to be hired
to wash cups and saucers and hand the teapots round the screen, all
anxiety as to income was set at rest. Nothing remained to make the
tea-room a sound concern but to "keep it up" as it had begun; and she
and her mother were resolute to do that. Not a pot of ill-made tea nor a
defective scone was ever placed before a customer by those conscientious
tradeswomen. Mrs. Liddon, who was happily of a tough and active
constitution, laboured to sift her fine flour and test the temperature
of her oven, as if each batch of scones was to compete for a prize in an
agricultural show. They were not large, substantial scones, like those
of the common restaurant, but no bigger than the top of a wineglass, and
of a marvellous puffy lightness. She never made more than an ovenful at
a time, mixing and cutting one batch while the previous one was baking;
and this rapid treatment of the dough, with her previous elaborate
siftings, and a leavening of her own composition, produced the perfect
article for which she became justly famous. Two scones were put before
each customer, and if only one was eaten the other was not wasted.
Churchill & Son soon began to provide the tea, which was of the best
quality, at a price no storekeeper could buy it for; and the very
boiling of the water was watched and regulated, that the freshness
should not boil out of it before it was used. The principle on which
this establishment was conducted was to do little, and to do that little
well--an admirable system, too rarely observed in the commercial world;
but, as Jenny had not unjustly boasted, she had the instincts of a good
woman of business in her. She resisted all her mother's pleadings for
coffee and cakes, when the number of customers seemed to call for larger
transactions. Coffee and tea, she said, would be too much upon their
minds (since coffee as well as tea must be absolutely perfect), and
cakes could be bought anywhere. Let them be content to know, and have it
known, that for tea and scones that were always good they were to be
invariably depended on. So Mrs. Liddon sifted and baked till eleven in
the morning, while Sarah prepared the trays and Jenny washed the
tea-room floor; and then the latter, having tidied her dainty person,
trotted about with hardly a pause till seven at night, while the
bent-backed sister received the little stream of coin that steadily
poured in, and dreamed all day of growing rich enough to go to Europe
and do things.

Jenny had no fears about the success of her undertaking; it seemed
almost too successful sometimes, when her back was aching and her legs
too tired to carry her; but she had one constant and ever-increasing
anxiety, which beset her every morning, after keeping her more or less
awake through the night. This was lest Mr. Anthony Churchill should not
come to the tea-room during the day.

His stepmother never took him again, after the first visit; and she
herself lost interest in the place, which had been but the fad of an
hour or two. She could get a cup of tea whenever she wanted, without
paying for it, or putting herself out of the way; and the Little Collins
Street premises were very stuffy as the summer came on. They were too
crowded for comfort--_i.e._, for a sentimental _tête-à-tête_; and the
girl was too good-looking to expose Tony to, with his absurd ideas of
her being a lady. So Mrs. Churchill gave the tea-room up.

Tony, however, did not give it up. Several days elapsed between his
first visit and the second, because it was so difficult to go and sit
down there and ask Miss Liddon to wait on him. He quite agreed with Mary
that men should not be admitted. A girl like that, brought up as she had
been, ought not to be at the beck and call of those coarse creatures.
Nevertheless, as men did go, he wanted to be one of them. As
representing the firm with which her father had been so closely and for
so long connected, it was only right that he should keep an eye on her,
and lend her a helping hand if she seemed to need it.

He said nothing of his purpose to Mrs. Oxenham, who continued to refresh
herself with the admirable tea and scones at hours that could be fairly
calculated upon and avoided. The first she heard of his having gone to
the tea-room on his own account was from her little half-sisters, who
did not happen to mention it to their mother. These children were much
attached to him, and he to them, and one day he took them to the Royal
Park, and treated them to tea and scones on their way home. He thought
scones were better for them than sweets, he said, and he was able to get
them milk instead of tea. Mary commended him for his fatherly care of
their digestions, and thought no more of the matter.

The fact was that he had given the small creatures an outing on purpose
that they might introduce him to the tea-room. It seemed so much easier
to appear before Miss Liddon on their behalf than on his own, and their
presence was calculated to attract that notice and interest which he did
not imagine he would receive for his own sake. He was not desperately
anxious to see Miss Liddon, but he was curious. What he had seen of her,
and what Mary and his father had told him (particularly about the
hundred pounds that had been offered and refused), had struck his fancy;
that was all--at present.

When he appeared at the door of the yellow chamber, with a
Liberty-sashed, granny-bonneted mite clinging to either hand, Jenny saw
him at once, and experienced that strange shock of leaping blood which
makes heart shake and eyes dim for an ecstatic moment--such as we all
understand much better than we can describe it. For days she had been
aching for a sight of him, despite her savage mortification that it
should be so; and here he was at last in the charming guise of a man
loving and caring for little children, which, as every woman knows, is a
guarantee of goodness that never proves false.

It was after six o'clock, when people were thinking of dinner rather
than tea--when little Grace and Geraldine should have been on their way
to Toorak, where their nursery meal awaited them--and the tea-room crowd
had thinned to half a dozen, all of whom had their plates and brown pots
beside them. This also he had in a measure anticipated. Jenny was free,
and came forward a step or two to meet him, glancing at the children
with a soft, maternal look, as it seemed to him.

"I hope these little people will not be troublesome," he said, bowing
with his best politeness. "They have been to see the lions and tigers
fed, and I think it has made them hungry."

"Oh, yes," said Jenny flutteringly. "I will get them some scones--not
quite the newest ones. And--and don't you think they are too young for
tea? May I get them some milk instead?"

"Thank you--thank you very much--if you are sure you can spare it. I
daresay it would be better for them."

"I am sure it would, and we have plenty. It is very good milk."

She set the children into chairs, took off their smart bonnets, tucked
napkins (napkins were kept for occasions, though not for general use)
round their little chins, and put two scones into their hands; Anthony
watching her with eyes that she felt piercing like two gimlets through
the back of her head. He was noticing what fine, bright hair she had,
and what delicate skin, and remembering that her father had been an Eton
boy.

"I am awfully sorry to give you so much trouble," he mumbled.

"It is no trouble at all," she replied. "Now I will get them some milk."
She dared to glance up at him. "You, sir--will you have some tea for
yourself?"

"Oh, if you please--if it won't be troubling you. It's such perfectly
delicious tea."

Jenny danced off--trying not to dance--and was back in a twinkling, with
the tray in her arms. Her trays were light, and did not drag her into
ungraceful attitudes, but he objected to see her carrying one for him.
As before, he took it from her! and the little courtesy made her cheeks
flush and her heart swell.

"Only he," she said to herself, "would do that."

And he would not sit to drink his tea, while she stood by, as she did,
to wait upon the children--to see that they didn't butter their sashes
and slop milk down their frocks; and under the circumstances it was
impossible not to talk to her.

"Will you allow me to introduce myself?" he ventured to say, during a
pause in her ministrations, when she seemed uncertain whether to go or
stay. "I am Anthony Churchill--of the firm, you know. I hope I am not
taking a liberty, but your father was such an old friend. I grieve
indeed to hear--I knew nothing about it when I came the other day----"

Jenny flushed and fluttered, and, because she was physically weary,
could not bear to be reminded of her father, who used to take such
tender care of her. For an instant her eyes glistened, warning him to
hurry from the subject.

"I think it is so brave of you to do what you are doing. My sister has
been telling me about it."

"Oh, thank you--but my mother and sister do more than I do, in
proportion to their strength. My sister is delicate; I'm afraid it is
not good for her to sit here all day." After a pause, she added, "Mrs.
Oxenham has been very, very kind to me; your father too."

"I am sure they were only too glad, if they had the chance. I wish--I
wish I were privileged to be some help."

"Oh, thank you! The only help we wish for is for people to come and
drink our tea, and show themselves satisfied with it."

"May I come and drink it sometimes? I feel as if men were out of place
here; I am sure you would rather not have them--but I am a very quiet
fellow, and I have a woman's passion for tea." He had nothing of the
sort, but that didn't matter.

"Anyone has a right to come who chooses," she answered, turning from
him to attend to little Grace.

The words were discouraging, but he thought the tone was not; and he
determined to come again, and alone, at the earliest opportunity.



CHAPTER VII

THERE ARE SUCH WOMEN IN THE WORLD


Duly carrying out his intention on the very next day, Anthony was
annoyed to find the room full, and Jenny flitting hither and thither
like the choice butterfly that defies the collector's net. More than
that, the basket-maker's wife, who was acquiring an ever-deepening
interest in the restaurant business, was being initiated into the art of
serving customers, in preparation for the expected crush of race time;
and this unattractive person it was who brought him his tea and scone.

Very sedately he sat in the chair that looked best able to bear his
weight until his tray was placed beside him, and it became evident that
he was to get no satisfaction out of Jenny beyond that of looking at
her. He looked at her for some minutes with an interest that surprised
himself, and she was conscious of the direction of his eyes, and of
every turn of his head, as if she had herself a hundred eyes to watch
him. Then he quietly took up cup and plate, and passed over to Sarah's
table. Sarah's table was a common, four-legged cedar affair, with an
æsthetic cloth on it, and bore only her money bowls and the needlework
that she was accustomed to occupy herself with at odd moments. It stood
in a retired corner, partly sheltered by the screen.

"Do you mind if I sit here with you?" he said pleasantly--with proper
respect, of course, but not with the deference she had noted in his
attitude to Jenny. "I feel so out of it, with no lady to excuse my
presence, monopolising one of those pretty little tables that were never
meant for such as me."

Now Sarah was a child in years, but she was old in novel-reading and
like exercises of the mind; and she had already cast a hungry eye upon
Mr. Anthony Churchill and her sister, scenting a possible romance before
a thought of such a thing had occurred to either of them. During their
interview on the previous afternoon she had observed them with quite a
passionate interest; and all through the night she had listened to
Jenny's restless movements in her adjoining bed, like a careful doctor
noting the symptoms of incipient fever. She had been all day watching
for his return to the tea-room, as for a potential lover of her
own--lovers, she knew, were not for her--abandoning her dreams of
European travel to build gorgeous air-castles on Jenny's behalf. "If
_this_ should be the result of keeping a restaurant--oh, if _this_
should be the reward of her goodness and courage, and all her hard
work!" she sighed to herself, in an ecstasy of exultation. "Oh, if he
should marry her, and make a great lady of her--as she deserves to
be--what would Joey say to the tea-room _then_?"

So, when Mr. Churchill presented himself, he found no difficulty in
making friends with her. She swept her work-basket from the table, to
give him room for his cup and plate, and responded to his advances with
a ready self-possession that surprised him in a girl so young; for
Sarah, under-sized and crippled, did not look her age by several years.
For herself she would have been shy and awkward, but for Jenny she was
bold enough. She had determined that, if she could help to bring about
the realisation of her new dream, her best wits should not be wanting.

He soon began to speak of Jenny.

"Your sister seems very busy," he said, with a lightness of tone that
did not deceive the listener.

"Yes; too busy. She gets very tired at night sometimes."

"I am afraid so. She has not been used to so much running about."

"No. She never expected to have so many customers. I am sorry now that
we did not open for the afternoon only; it would have been quite enough
for her."

"I suppose the afternoon is the busiest time?"

"Oh, yes. There are very few in the morning. Sometimes she is able to
sit down and sew for a few minutes."

Mr. Churchill made a mental note of that. "I should have thought she had
enough to do at the slackest time without doing sewing," he said,
watching the flitting figure furtively.

"Oh, she must be doing something; she is never idle. She makes her own
dresses always--and the most of ours."

"You don't say so!" He stared at Jenny boldly now. "Do you mean to say
she made that one that she's got on?"

"Certainly. And it looks all right, doesn't it?"

"Mrs. Earl couldn't beat her," he said absurdly; and he really thought
so, not knowing anything about it, except that Jenny's frock was simple
and neat--a style that men are always partial to. "But then Mrs. Earl
doesn't often get such a figure to fit, does she?"

"Oh, I suppose so. Plenty of them."

"I am sure she doesn't. It's so very graceful and--and high-bred, you
know. Nobody but a lady could move and turn as she does. I hope you
don't think I'm very impertinent to make these remarks."

"Oh, no," laughed Sarah, who glowed with satisfaction. "I like to hear
her praised. To me she's the best and dearest person in the world. _I_
don't think there is anybody like her."

"Well, there can't be many like her," said Anthony, seriously reflecting
upon the girl's energy and high-mindedness.

Jenny was quite aware that she was being talked of, and presently she
approached them, flushed, bright-eyed, vividly charming, as she had
never been in the days before Mr. Anthony appeared. He rose at once, and
stood while she asked him whether he had been properly attended to.

"Yes, thank you," he replied; and Sarah noticed his change of tone. "I
have been taking the liberty of making myself acquainted with your
sister."

Jenny laid a hand on Sarah's shoulder. "You are very kind," she said.
"I'm afraid she is a bit dull and lonely in this corner by herself all
day."

"The kindness has been the other way," said he, but was grateful that
she otherwise regarded it, perceiving a future advantage to himself
therein. "I fear you are tired, Miss Liddon."

"Not a bit," she said--and said truly--for his presence had filled body
and soul with life. "And if I am, it's a pleasant way of getting tired."

"You must not over-exert yourself," he urged, with a serious solicitude
that thrilled her. "What profiteth it to gain custom and lose your
health?"

"That's what I am always telling her," said Sarah.

"My health is excellent," Jenny said, smiling happily. "And we are
taking our landlady into the firm, you see, with a view to
contingencies."

"Yes, I was so glad to see that. It would take twenty of her to do what
you do, but still it's something; and she'll get more alert in time, I
hope. If necessary, you must take in still more helpers, Miss
Liddon--_anything_, rather than overstrain yourself and break down. You
must see to that"--turning to Sarah; "you must make her take care of
herself. And if she won't, report her to me, and I'll bring my father to
bear upon her. He looks on her as his special charge, I know."

As they were standing apart from the tea-drinkers, and as it were in
private life, he held out his hand in farewell, bending his tall head in
a most courteous bow. He could not sit down again, after getting up, his
own tea and scone being disposed of, and thought it wise to resist his
strong desire to linger.

Being still afraid of taking liberties, he kept away from the tea-room
for a day or two, taking his pleasures in other walks of life. Then the
spirit moved him to return thither, and he chose the morning for his
visit, when Jenny might be finding time to sit down to sew. Busy little
bee! What a contrast to the girls who courted him at Maude's tennis and
theatre parties--girls who appeared to have no motive or purpose in the
world beyond stalking husbands, and bringing them down, if possible, by
fair means or foul--women whose brains and hands seemed never to be
nobly exercised. He found himself continually drawing comparisons, to
their disadvantage.

Since it was obviously impossible that a man could want tea and scones
in the morning, he had to invent another excuse for going to see Miss
Liddon at that time of day, and the happy thought occurred to him of
taking some flowers to Sarah. He selected from Paton's beautiful window
a wisp of moss and ferns and lilies of the valley, which was the
choicest thing he could see there, hid it in his hansom as he went
through the street, and carried it with some shamefacedness to the table
of the money-changer, where the two sisters were sitting together,
awaiting customers.

"Good morning, Miss Liddon. Don't get up. I have not come for tea this
time. It just struck me that it would refresh Miss Sarah, sitting here
all day, if she had a flower to look at." And he presented his bouquet
to the crippled girl, pretending that Jenny had nothing to do with it.

"Oh!" she breathed deeply. "How good! How lovely!" And, "Oh, oh--h!"
cried Sarah simultaneously. They smelt the flowers in ecstasy, and Jenny
ran to draw a tumbler of water from her big filter.

"It's only rubbish," he mumbled disparagingly, "but it's sweet. I'm
awfully fond of the smell of lilies of the valley myself."

"So am I," said Sarah. "And I don't know how to thank you."

"Oh, it's nothing! I just thought you might like it, don't you know. It
seemed a weary thing for you to sit here for hours, with nothing but the
money-boxes to look at."

He opened and shut his watch. Jenny was standing beside him, visible
palpitating, touching the white bells with the tips of her fingers,
saying nothing. There was a sound of footsteps and rustlings on the
stairs. It was impossible to prolong the interview.

"Well, good-bye," he said suddenly, extending his hand. "I must go back
to work."

As he plunged down the dark stairs into the narrow street his heart was
beating in quite a new style, and he was distinctly aware of it. "Little
bit of a hand!" he said to himself, opening and shutting his own broad
palm, that had just swallowed it as if it had been a baby's. "Little
mite of a creature! I could crush her between my finger and thumb--and
she's got the pluck of a whole army of men like me. I used to think
there were no such women in the world nowadays; but there are--there
are, after all. Little wisp of a thing! I could take her up in my arms
and carry her on my shoulder as easily as I do the children. I wish to
Heaven I _could_ carry her--out of that beastly place, which will kill
her when the summer comes. Hullo! If I don't look out, I shall be
falling in love before I know where I am. And with a restaurant-keeper,
of all people! A pretty kettle of fish that would be!"



CHAPTER VIII

ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW


He turned into Collins Street, and made his way back to his office,
still musing in this dangerous fashion: "What a housekeeper she would
make! What a mother! What a pride she'd take in her home! Those other
girls, once they'd got a house, would let it take care of itself, and
their husbands too, while they ruffled about, like peacocks in the sun,
and entertained themselves with Platonic love affairs. As long as there
was a useful person to pay the bills they wouldn't bother their heads
about the butcher and baker. Oh, I know them! But _she's_ not that sort.
She wouldn't take our money, honest money as it was--she wouldn't be
beholden to anybody--brave little thing! And such a ridiculous mite as
it is, to go and do battle with the world for independence!"

Passing through a small army of busy clerks, his eye lit on Joey, who
was regarding him with the veneration due from a mortal to an Olympian
god.

"Oh, Liddon--you are Liddon, aren't you?--how are you getting on?" he
demanded suddenly.

"Very well, sir, thank you. I believe I am giving every satisfaction,"
said Joey, with his young complacency.

Anthony regarded him for a moment in deep thought, and then asked him
how long he had been in the firm's employ.

"About two years," said Joey.

"And what's your salary?"

"A hundred and thirty, sir."

"Oh, well, I must make inquiries, and see if it isn't getting time to be
thinking of a rise." Nobody had thought of a rise for poor Liddon,
senior, who had been worth a dozen of this boy. "And how is your mother
getting on with the--the little business she has entered into?"

"I hardly know," said Joey, with a blush and a stammer. "I don't see
very much of them now."

"Why not?"

"I'm sure I don't know, sir. Somehow I can't take to the tea-room
scheme. I can't bear to see my mother and sisters doing that sort of
thing, when our family has never been connected with trade in any way."

"Don't despise trade, young man. You are connected with it yourself--and
not at all to your disadvantage, it strikes me--as your father was
before you."

"Yes, sir; but this is a very different sort of thing, and my father, as
you may have heard, sir, was an Eton boy."

"I have heard so. Well, you follow in your father's steps, my lad, and
do your duty as well as he did. And your first duty is to look after
your womenkind, and save them in every way you can. Out of office hours
you could do a great deal for them, couldn't you?"

"I'm sure," complained Joey aggrievedly, "I'm ready to do anything--only
Jenny won't let me. She will manage and control things, as if she were
the head of the family. She would go into this low tea-room business in
spite of all I could say. However"--drawing himself up--"I hope it won't
be very long before she is in a different position."

A stinging thought flashed into Mr. Churchill's mind, and changed his
amused smile into an anxious frown. "Do you mean by marriage?" he asked;
saying to himself that she was just the woman to take up with a loafing
vagabond, who would live upon her at his ease, while she worked to
support him.

"No, sir. But my father's uncle, who is a great age, is rich, and we
expect to come in for some of his property when he dies."

"Oh!" in an accent of relief. "I wouldn't advise you to count on any
contingencies of that sort. Just stick to business, and depend on your
own exertions--as your sister does. Take pattern by her, and you won't
go far wrong."

Joey looked at his young chief with a new expression.

"Do you know my sister?" he inquired.

"I know _of_ her," said Anthony warily. "My father and Mrs. Churchill,
and my sister, Mrs. Oxenham, have taken a great interest in the tea-room
ever since it was first opened; I have heard from them of her noble
efforts to help her family."

This was a new view of the case to Joey, who decided to go and see his
mother and sisters in the evening.

Just before Anthony passed out of the tea-room, after giving his flowers
to Sarah, two stout countrywomen with children came in; people who had
arrived by train, with the dust of travel in their throats, and to whom
a cup of tea never came amiss at any time. Jenny made them comfortable
in soft chairs, and gave them a pot and a pile of scones; then she came
back to Sarah's table, and, kneeling down, encircled the lilies of the
valley with her arms. She inhaled deep breaths of perfume, and gave them
forth in long sighs, with her eyes shut. Sarah watched her.

"They are the very dearest flowers you can buy," she remarked. "And I
know they are bought, because of the wires on the stalks."

Jenny opened her eyes and gloated on them. "You have seven, Sally," she
said wistfully. "You might give me one."

"For the matter of that, they are more yours than mine," said Sarah.
"But take all you like."

Jenny took one green stalk in her fingers, and, walking to the
fireplace, over which their old family pier-glass, its gilt frame
swathed in Liberty muslin, afforded customers the opportunity of seeing
that their bonnets were on straight, pinned the fragrant morsel at her
throat. The white bells lay under her chin, and she was looking down her
nose and sniffing at them all day.

Anthony came for tea at five o'clock, and saw them there, and, one
minute after, saw them not there. On that occasion he had no
conversation with the wearer, but talked for twenty minutes with her
sister, becoming very confidential. On the following day he came also,
bringing violets and English primroses in a little basket from the
Toorak garden; having given Maude to understand that they were for the
adornment of his own rooms. On the day after that he came again; and
Mrs. Oxenham, whom he had imagined to be paying calls with her
stepmother, came at the same hour and caught him. He was comfortably
taking his tea at Sarah's table, when he was suddenly made to feel like
a little schoolboy playing the truant.

Mary beckoned him to her, and took him to task forthwith.

"My dear boy, what are you doing here?"

"Having tea and scones. It's what everybody does who comes here."

"But you have not brought any one?"

"No; I had a fancy for a solitary cup."

"Oh, solitary! You think I didn't see you, lolling with your arms on
that girl's table and talking to her--looking as if you had been sitting
there for hours."

"I really hadn't been sitting there for hours; I have not been in the
room five minutes."

"In that case, you are evidently very much at home here. Now, Tony dear,
it _doesn't do_, you know."

"What doesn't do? What iniquity am I accused of? Maude brings me here,
and gives me the taste for tea; and I find the Liddons keeping the
place, and take that interest in the fact which we all do, and are in
duty bound to do; and I talk a little to that poor crippled child--I
can't talk to the other one, because she's always too busy; and here you
look at me as if I were a shameless profligate----"

"Hush--sh! don't talk so loud. Some tea, dear, please,"--to Jenny, who
approached to serve her patroness. "There's no real harm in your coming
here by yourself, of course--you don't suppose I am not quite aware of
that; but it's the look of the thing, Tony. A man alone does _not_ look
well in a place like this."

"I don't think I ever thought of how I looked."

"You know what I mean. _We_ come here, father and Maude and I, to help
the place, and because we _do_ want tea, Maude and I, at any rate----"

"So do I. I want tea occasionally, as well as other mortals sweltering
in the city dust; and I'm sure I want to help the place."

"Don't be provoking, Tony. You never want tea--it's nonsense. When you
are thirsty you want whisky and soda. And as for helping the place, you
do exactly the other thing--and you must know it."

"What is the other thing?"

He lowered his voice, and Mrs. Oxenham did not answer him for some
minutes, Jenny being present, looking rather unusually dignified,
arranging the tray on the table. A faint perfume of violets exhaled from
that small person as she passed him, whereby he knew that she had his
flowers about her somewhere--in her breast, he fancied. He rose and
stood, as he always did, when she was moving about him.

"The other thing," continued Mary, when he again took his seat, "is that
you expose that poor girl to injurious suspicions."

"Good Heavens!" he ejaculated.

"It is of her that I think, and of whom you ought to think--not of your
own idle man-about-town whims. You see she is a lady, Tony, not the sort
of person one usually finds in these places--really a lady, I mean."

"Certainly. And I never thought of her as anything else, I assure you."

"She is quite helpless, poor child. She can't prevent men from coming in
by themselves and loafing here, if they choose to do it. I don't think
she ever sufficiently considered what she might be exposing herself to
in that way, when she entered upon this business; but I know she
intended the place to be a ladies' place."

Mrs. Oxenham sipped her tea with a vexed air, while Tony looked at her
gravely, drawing his moustache between his lips, and meditatively biting
it.

"You see, Tony, a number of people come here who know you, at any rate
by sight--I can count at least half a dozen at this moment--and what do
you suppose they say when they see you as I saw you just now?"

"I don't think I care much what they say."

"No; it doesn't affect _you_. It never does affect a man; but it affects
my little Jenny, whom I have been so anxious to protect from anything of
the sort. In the absence of all other reasonable attractions--to a man
like you--they will say that you come here to amuse yourself with her."

"Anybody must see that it is impossible for a fellow to say a word to
her. No will-o'-the-wisp could be more difficult to catch hold of."

"There are plenty of slack times--there are opportunities enough, of
course, if one chooses to make them. Nobody will be so silly as not to
know that. And it's not fair to her, Tony dear. _You_ would not be
blamed--oh, not in the least, of course; but she would be held cheap, on
your account. They would forget that she was a lady--a great number
don't remember it, don't know it, as it is; and the tea-room might lose
some of its repute as a select little place. If she could help
herself--if she could choose whether you are to be let in or not--it
would be different. Don't you see?"

"I see," said Tony thoughtfully.

He sat back in his chair, absently gnawing his moustache, while Mrs.
Oxenham, satisfied that she had explained herself and was understood,
concluded her repast; and he even allowed her to go to Sarah's desk to
pay for it. Then, at a signal from her, he perfunctorily escorted her
downstairs, put her in the carriage, and saw her smilingly depart to
pick up their stepmother, who was paying a visit to Mrs. Earl.

Walking meditatively into Elizabeth Street by himself, it suddenly
occurred to him that he had not paid for his own tea and scone, in the
peaceful enjoyment of which he had been so rudely interrupted. He
hurried back to Sarah, with his sixpence in his hand, and apologies for
his absent-mindedness.

Something in the intelligent face, as she looked keenly at him, prompted
him to say--what he had not dreamed of saying--"My sister has been
scolding me. She says I am not to come here any more, because Miss
Liddon does not want men--men on their own account, I mean."

"I don't think she does--as a rule," said Sarah.

"I am sorry."

"Yes, so am I."

"I--I wonder whether I might call on you some day--where you live?"

"Unfortunately, we don't live anywhere--except here--we only sleep."

"Not on Sundays?"

"We have not made ourselves comfortable, even for Sundays, yet. She was
so afraid of incurring expense till she saw how the business was going
to answer. Now she is talking of a proper sitting-room, but of course it
will take a little time. We used up our furniture for this." Sarah
looked at him again, and, after an inward struggle, added in a lower
tone, "We spend nearly all our fine evenings on the St. Kilda pier.
Being kept in all day, we want air when we can get it, and sea air, if
possible. She loves the sea, and it is easy to get down there when the
tea-room is shut. Mrs. Oxenham recommended it."

He held out his hand--though the room was full, and three women who
wanted his attentions for themselves were watching him--and his eyes
said "Thank you" as plainly as eyes could speak. Carefully looking away
from the spot where Jenny was busy, but hungrily observing him, and from
the faces of his lady acquaintances, he plunged down the stairs, and
swung away to his club, with a light step.

At the top of Collins Street he encountered the carriage, with Maude and
Mary in it, and they stopped to speak to him.

"Come home to dinner with us, Tony," his stepmother entreated, with all
her smiles and wiles.

"Can't," he briefly answered her.

"Oh, why not? We are just going out."

"Another engagement, unfortunately."

"What engagement? There's nothing on to-night, I'm sure."

He didn't know what to say, so he nodded in the direction of the club.
For all the engagement he had was to go and walk up and down the St.
Kilda pier.



CHAPTER IX

THE POTENTIAL HUSBAND


Sarah found herself obliged to go home when the tea-room closed. It was
absolutely necessary, she said, to wash her hair. She would not be
longer than she could help, and if Jenny liked to go to the pier by
herself--for _she_ should not lose the refreshment of the sea air, so
fagged as she looked--her mother and sister could join her there when
the hair was dried sufficiently.

Jenny did not feel called upon to forego the recreation of which she was
so much in need, and had long been accustomed to go about at all hours
by herself, safe and fearless, though Sarah was not allowed to do so. So
the proposition was agreed to; in fact, it was jumped at.

"And if you find it late before you are ready, dears," said Jenny,
fixing her hat by the tea-room pier-glass, "don't mind about fetching
me. I can bring myself back quite well. It isn't worth while to waste a
shilling on mere going and coming."

"All right," said Sarah; and mentally added, "I ought to be ashamed of
myself, I know--but I don't care!"

She set out briskly to walk home with her mother, glad of the exercise
after sitting for so many hours; and her sister spent an extra penny to
ride from Spencer Street to the bridge because of her over-tired legs.
It was their habit to take the tram to St. Kilda in preference to the
train, in order to be freely blown by such air as there was on the
journey to and fro; and she seated herself on the fore end of the dummy
on this occasion, quite unaware of the fact that a man in the following
vehicle was in chase of her. She anticipated a long evening of lonely
meditation, which was the thing above all others that she desired just
now--two whole hours in which she might hug the image of Mr. Anthony
Churchill in peace.

That gentleman in his proper person watched her flitting down the
seaward road. He had not seen her in her hat before, and daylight was
failing fast, but he knew the shape and style of the airy little figure
a long way off. He suspected Sarah of having contrived that it should
be alone to-night; but he knew that Jenny was guiltless of any knowledge
that lovers were around. Was he her lover? He put the question to
himself, but shirked answering it. He would see what he was a couple of
hours hence. One thing he was quite clear about, however, and that was
that her defencelessness was to be respected.

Unconscious of his neighbourhood, she made her way to the pier, which
was almost deserted, and seated herself on the furthest bench. There she
composed herself in a little cloak that she had brought with her, and
began to stare into the grey haze of sky and sea, starred with the
riding lights of the ships at Williamstown, never once turning her head
to look behind her. Anthony sat down at the inner angle of the pier,
stealthily lit a pipe, crossed his legs, laid his right arm on the rail,
and watched her.

"After all," he thought, "her father was an Eton boy; he really was--I
have proved it--and he had a marquis to fag for him. His people were
gentlefolks; so was he; showed it in every word he spoke, poor old boy.
Maude, now--her grandfather was a bullock-driver, and couldn't write
his name; and her father's a vulgar brute, in spite of his knighthood
and his money-bags. And Oxenham is a Manchester cotton fellow--got the
crest for his carriage and tablespoons out of a book. I don't see why
they should want to make a row. Trade is trade, and we are all tarred
with that brush. Goodness knows it would be a better world than it is if
we all conducted business as she does--were as scrupulous and
high-minded in our dealings with money. We are in no position to look
down upon her on that ground. As for money, there's plenty; I don't want
any more."

He puffed at his pipe, and the little figure grew dimmer and dimmer; but
he could see that she had not stirred.

"Little mite of a thing! No bigger than a child she looks, sitting
there--like a baby to nurse upon one's knee. In the firelight ... in the
dusk before the lamps are lit ... gathered up in her husband's arms,
with that little head tucked under his ear----"

He tapped his pipe on the pier-rail, rose, and walked up and down.

"Why not?" he asked himself plainly. "Could I regret it, when she is so
evidently the woman to _last_? Beauty is but skin deep, as the
copy-books so justly remark, but her beauty is not that sort; she's
sound all through--a woman who won't be beholden to anybody for a
penny--who makes her own frocks--takes care of them all like a
father--stands against the whole world, with her back to the wall----"

Such were his musings. And, my dear girls--to whom this modest tale is
more particularly addressed--I am credibly informed that quite a large
number of men are inclined to matrimony or otherwise by considerations
of the same kind. _You_ don't think so, when you are at play together in
the ball-room and on the tennis-ground, and you fancy it is your "day
out," so to speak; but they tell me in confidence that it is the fact.
They adore your pretty face and your pretty frocks; they are immensely
exhilarated by your sprightly banter and sentimental overtures; they
absolutely revel in the pastime of making love, and will go miles and
miles for the chance of it; but when it comes to thinking of a home and
family, the vital circumstances of life for its entire remaining term,
why, they really are not the heedless idiots that they appear--at any
rate, not all of them.

I was talking the other day to a much greater "swell" than Anthony
Churchill ever was--a handsome and charming bachelor of high rank in the
Royal Navy, about whom the young ladies buzzed like summer flies round a
pot of treacle--and he was very serious upon the subject, and
desperately melancholy. He was turning forty, and wearying for a haven
of peace. There must have been any number of girls simply dying to help
him to it, and yet he considered his prospects hopeless. "I see nothing
for it," he said, "but to marry a good, honest cook, or spend a
comfortless old age in solitude,"--not meaning by this that his dinner
was of paramount importance to him, for his tastes were simple, but that
he despaired of finding a lady whom the home of his dreams--and of his
means--would hold. His dreams, he seemed to think, were out of date. In
fact, he shared the views of the man in _Punch_, who was prevented from
getting married by his love of a domestic life. And many others share
those views. And thus the army of old maids waxes ever bigger and
bigger--and they wonder why.

Not, of course, that I wish to disparage the old maid, especially if she
can't help it; and far be it from me to teach the pernicious doctrine
that a girl's business in life is to spread lures for a husband. I only
say that an unmarried woman is not a woman, but merely a more or less
old child; that marriage should come at the proper time, like birth and
death; and that if it doesn't--if it falls out of fashion, as everybody
can see that it is doing, in spite of nature and the parties
concerned--then something must be very rotten somewhere. We will leave
it at that.

Anthony Churchill had had a hundred butterfly sweethearts, and been a
few times in love. Earlier in life he might have bartered his future
income for an inadequate sum down, had not happy accident intervened.
Now he was experienced enough to know the risks he ran, old enough to
understand what was for a man's good and comfort in his ripe years--that
is, partly. No man can be quite wise enough until too late for wisdom to
avail him anything. It must be a terrible thing to have the right of
practically unrestricted choice in selecting a mate that you may never
exchange or get rid of! To find, perchance, that you have blundered in
the most awful possible manner, entirely of your own free will!

Though, as to that, free will is an empty term. We are purblind puppets
all. To see through a glass darkly is the most that we can do. There was
a long and slender shadow on the sea--a mail boat coming in, bringing
travellers home--and as our hero watched it, standing with his back to
the unconscious heroine, he thought how he had been as one of them but a
few days ago.

"And little thinking that I was coming back to do a thing like this!"

He walked up and down once more, feeling all the weight of destiny upon
him. And Jenny sat and thought of him, and thought that never, never
would he give a thought to her!

"What _would_ they say," he asked himself, "if I really were to
do it? I--I! And she the daughter of one of my clerks, and a
restaurant-keeper!" He put the question from the Toorak point of view,
and at the first blush was appalled by it.

Then he sat down again, and looked at the shadow of her hat against the
sky.

"What do I care? They will see what she is--little creature, with that
deer-like head!" He went off into dreams. "She shall not make her own
frocks again, sweet as she looks in them--her children's pinafores, if
she likes--monograms for my handkerchiefs--pretty things for her house.
What a house she'll have!--all in order from top to bottom, and she
looking after everything, as the old-fashioned wives used to do. I think
I see her cooking, in a white apron, with her sleeves turned up. When
the cooks are a nuisance, like Maude's, that's what she'll do--turn to
and cook her husband's dinner herself. Catch Maude cooking a dinner for
anybody! By Jove, I shouldn't like to be the one to eat it." The pipe
had been set a-going unconsciously, and he puffed in happy mood. "A real
home to come back to of a night, when a fellow's tired--when a fellow
grows old.... Sitting down with him after dinner, with her sewing in her
hands--not wanting to be at a theatre or a dance every night of her
life--not bringing up her daughters to want it. How quickly she sews! I
watched her at it--able to do anything with those little hands, no
bigger than a child's. But she's no child--not she; no doll, for an
hour's amusement, like those others. A woman--a real woman,
understanding life--a mind-companion, that one can tell things to; knows
what love is too, if I'm not mistaken--or will do, when I teach her. Oh,
to teach it to a woman with a face like that--with living eyes like
those!"

He was at the end of the main pier, looking over the bulwark at the
narrow shadow on the sea. It was nearly abreast of St. Kilda now,
gliding ghostly, so dim that he only knew where it was by seeing where
it was not. Standing sideways to Jenny's bench, he saw her get up, and
saw the living eyes shine in the light of the green lamp.

He stepped towards her in a casual way.



CHAPTER X

AS THE WIND BLOWS


"Is that you, Miss Liddon? Getting a breath of sea air? That's right.
Where are Mrs. Liddon and Miss Sarah?"

"Good evening, Mr. Churchill. Yes--a whiff; it is so pleasant when the
sun is gone. My mother and sister were not able to come to-night, I--I
am just going back to them."

"That you are not," said Mr. Churchill mentally; "not if I know it. But
I must be careful what I'm about. She's shaking like a leaf--I can hear
it in her voice. I mustn't be brutal and frighten her. Little lady that
she is! She mustn't get the idea that I'm a Don Juan on the loose." He
half turned as he dropped her hand, and said quietly, "I've been
watching the mail boat. She's late. Do you see her over there?"

"Where?" asked Jenny; not that she wanted to see it, but that she
didn't know what else to say at this upsetting moment.

"Just over there. But it's almost too dark to distinguish her. How glad
they'll all be to get home in time for supper and a shore bed! Have you
ever had a voyage?"

"Never."

"Then you don't know what a tedious thing it is."

"I only wish I did know," responded Jenny, who had gathered herself
together. "I don't fancy _I_ should suffer from tedium, somehow."

"Why? Do you want so much to travel? But of course you do, if you have
never done it."

"Above all things," she said earnestly. "It is the dream of our life--my
sister and I."

"You are happy in having it to come--in not being satiated, as I am.
_My_ dream just now is to settle down in a peaceful home, and never stir
away from it any more."

The green light was on her face, and he saw her smile, as if no longer
afraid of him.

"You can have whatever you dream," she said. "We shall probably never
realise ours. Still, we can dream on. That costs nothing."

"Oh, you will realise it--never fear." He abandoned his peaceful home
upon the spot, and determined to take her travelling directly they were
married. And there was no prospect of tedium in that plan either, for
his experience, full as it was, had never included the charm of such a
companion, the delight of educating and enriching the mind of an
intelligent woman who was also his own wife.

"Meanwhile," said Jenny, "we get books from the library, and read about
the places that we want to see, and the routes to them. We know the
Orient Line guide by heart. We hunt for pictures, and photographs, and
illustrated books. There are some nooks and corners of Europe we know so
well that we shall never want a guide when we get there--if we ever do
get there."

"You'll get there," said Anthony confidently; "don't doubt it."

It never occurred to him that she might decline to be personally
conducted by him, but that was natural in a man of whom women had always
made so much. He added, struck by a bright thought, "If you are fond of
looking at pictures of places, I will send you a portfolio of photos
that I have--mementoes of my many wanderings--if I may. They would
amuse Miss Sarah. I should like to give her some amusement, if I could,
poor little girl." But he never thought of Sarah in his plan for
becoming the showman of the world, except that she must be disposed of
somehow--she and her mother and that young ass in the office--so that
Jenny might be free, and at the same time easy in her mind about them.

Jenny received the offer of the photos in silence; then said, "Thank
you" with a perplexed expression, indicating that a "but" was on its
way. He hastened to intercept it.

"There's the steamer--do you see? Patience rewarded. They have a Lord on
board and a returning Chief Justice, and the loyal citizens down to meet
them have had no dinner. They've been waiting on the pier at
Williamstown for hours. Come and sit down, won't you? I'm sure your
little feet must be tired."

He used the adjective inadvertently, and Jenny shied at it for a moment,
like a dazzled horse. But she had not the strength to resist her intense
desire to be with him a little longer, especially with that word, that
tone of voice, compelling her.

"I must be going home," she murmured, but was drawn as by a magnet after
him when he turned to the bench on which she had before been sitting.

"It can't be more than eight o'clock, and now's the time you ought to be
out, when it's cool and fresh," said he. "Don't you find the heat of
that room very trying since the warm weather came?"

They talked about the tea-room in an ordinary way. Then they drifted
into confidences about each other's private lives and interests; and
from that they went on to discuss their respective views as to books,
creeds, and the serious matters of life; and all the time Anthony
Churchill kept a tight hand upon himself, that he might not frighten
her. It had to be a very strenuous hand indeed, for it was a sentimental
night, with the sea and the stars and the soft wind, and she had never
looked so sweet as now, away from all the associations of the tea-room,
which he had grown to hate, sitting pensively at rest, with her little
hands in her lap. More than that, he had never known how well she was
educated, how much thinking she had done, how intellectually
interesting she was, until he had had this talk with her.

At last, in an unguarded moment, he said more than he had meant to say.
Laying his hat beside him, that he might feel the cool fan of the wind
over his slightly fevered brain, he drew a long breath, and exclaimed in
a burst, "Well, you have given me a happy hour! I wonder when you'll
give me another like it?"

Immediately she began to recollect how late it was, and to be in a
flurry to get home to her mother. All at once the suspicion that he
might be divining her feeling for him, and that she might be running
wicked risks, assailed her. She rose from her seat without speaking.

"Not yet!" he pleaded impulsively, as she looked for him to rise too;
"not yet! Five minutes more!" And he took her hand, which hung near him,
and tried to draw her back to his side, looking up at her in all the
beauty of his broad brows, and his bold nose, and his commanding
manliness, with eyes that burned through hers to her shaking heart. This
was love-making, she knew, though not a word of love was spoken, and,
under all the circumstances surrounding him and her in their social
life, it terrified her.

"I have stayed too long already," she said. "I ought not to have been
here alone--so late."

The tremble in her voice, as well as the implication of her words,
shocked him, and he pulled himself up sharply, regretting his
indiscretions as much as she did hers.

"Oh, it's not late. But I'm imposing on good nature, trying to keep you
merely to talk to me. Fact is, I seldom come across people that I care
to talk to." He held his watch open under a lamp. "Later than I thought,
though--late for you to be about alone, as you say, Miss Liddon. You
don't mind my seeing you home, do you?"

She thanked him, and they walked to the tram together, without saying
anything except that they thought rain was at hand; and the tram set her
down almost at the door of her lodgings, where Mrs. Liddon and Sarah
awaited her on the doorstep--Sarah in an ecstasy of secret joy at the
apparent success of her manoeuvres.

Jenny never went alone to the pier after that night, and her admirer
sought for another happy hour in vain. On the two occasions that he went
to St. Kilda in the hope of a meeting, she had her family with her, and
not all Sarah's artifices could disintegrate the party. Jenny loved him
more distractedly than ever, but, having no assurance that he loved her
in the right way, or loved her at all, she knew what her duty was. And
she had the resolution to act accordingly, though it was a hard task. He
had scruples about going to the tea-room by himself, after what Mary had
said to him; and he found it no fun to go with her, or other ladies.
Then the rush of the races set in. Mr. Oxenham and other guests arrived
from the country; horses had to be inspected; betting business became
brisk and absorbing; lunches, garden parties, dinners, balls, crowded
upon one another in a way to carry a society man and bachelor off his
feet. In short, for a few weeks Mr. Anthony Churchill almost forgot the
tea-room. Almost--not quite. The portfolio of photographs arrived by the
carrier (and the formal note of thanks for it was preserved, and is
extant to this day); flowers for Sarah came from Paton's, at short
intervals, with all the air of having been specially selected; Joey
swaggered into the new sitting-room with news of his rise to £200 a
year, imagining it to be the reward of transcendent merit. But poor
little Jenny, harried with great crushes of tea-drinkers, worn with
fatigue and heat and bad air and a restless mind, ready to go into
hysterics at a touch, but for the fact that there was no time for such
frivolities, sighed for the refreshment of her beloved's voice and face
in vain. Day after day, week after week, she watched for his return, and
he came not. She concluded that her effort to do her duty had been
successful, and--though she would have done the same again, if
necessary--she was heart-broken at the thought.

To tell the honest truth, as a faithful chronicler should do, our hero
very nearly _did_ abandon her at this juncture. When love, even the very
best of love, is in its early stages, it is easily nipped by little
accidents, like other young things. It wants time to toughen the tender
sprout, and develop its growth and strength until it can defy
vicissitudes; nothing but time will do it, let poets and novelists say
what they like to the contrary. And so Anthony, not having been in love
with Jenny Liddon for more than a few days (and having been many times
in love), was seduced by the charms of the stable and the betting-ring
and the good company in which he found himself, when deprived by
circumstances of the higher pleasure of her society. More than that, her
image was temporarily superseded by that of a beautiful and brilliant
London woman who was on a visit to Government House, and whom in this
time of festivity he was constantly meeting. She was a lady of title and
high connections, and she singled him out for special favour because he
was big and handsome, travel-polished and proper-mannered, and
altogether good style as an attendant cavalier. His family (barring his
stepmother), proudly aware of the mutual attraction, and pleased to hear
it joked of and commented on amongst their friends, formed the confident
expectation that a marriage would result, whereby their Tony would have
a wife and a position of a dignity commensurate with his own surpassing
worth.



CHAPTER XI

NATURE SPEAKS


At the end of the gay season, when races were over, and multitudinous
parties had become a weariness to the flesh, a few people of the highest
fashion went on a yachting cruise, to recruit their strength after all
they had gone through. Of these Tony was one, and Lady Louisa, whom he
was expected to bring back as his affianced bride (she was a widow of
thirty-five), was another; and Maude Churchill (without her husband, and
bent on circumventing Lady Louisa) was a third. They were got up
elaborately in blue serge and white flannel and gold buttons, and the
smartest of straw hats and knotted neckties, and they set off on a hot
morning of late November, when the breeze was fair.

Mary Oxenham saw them start. She had refused to accompany them, partly
because she felt she was too quiet for such a party, and partly because
she wanted to return to her own household and children, whom she seldom
left for so long. As she bade the voyagers good-bye she said to her
brother, "What are you going to do at Christmas, Tony?"

"Stay with us--in his own father's house--of course," Mrs. Churchill
interposed promptly. "You can come down, Mary."

"I can't, Maude; I must be at home, as well as you. You won't come to me
for Christmas, Tony?"

"I don't think so, Polly--many thanks," he answered. "I expect my father
will want me here." The fact was, he had too many interests in Melbourne
to wish to leave at present.

"Well, come when you can, dear old fellow. I want to have you all to
myself, if it's only for a few days."

"I will, Polly, I will. Good-bye, and take care of yourself. Are you
really going away before we come back?"

"At the end of the week, Tony. I have been away too long--all your
fault, bad boy. Well, good-bye again. _Bon voyage_, everybody!"

The town clock was striking the quarter before noon when she re-entered
her carriage at Spencer Street, and it occurred to her to drive to the
tea-room, to see how Jenny was getting on. Like Tony, she had been
forgetting and deserting her _protégée_ during the bustle of the last
few weeks, and felt a twinge of self-reproach in consequence.

Entering the room, which fortunately chanced to have no customer at the
moment, she was surprised to see Jenny sitting, or rather lying, in one
of the low chairs, with her head laid back and her eyes closed, her
chest slowly rising and falling in heavy, dumb sobs--evident symptoms of
some sort of hysterical collapse. Sarah and her mother were hanging over
her in great alarm and distress, as at a spectacle they were wholly
unused to, Mrs. Liddon persuading her to drink some brandy and water
which the landlady had hastily produced.

"Oh, what is the matter?" cried Mrs. Oxenham, hurrying forward. "What
ails Jenny? Oh, poor child, how ill she looks!"

"She's just worn out," said Mrs. Liddon. "I've seen it coming on for
weeks, and nothing that I could say would make her take care of
herself. She _will_ come here and work when she's not fit to stand. We
wanted her to stay at home this morning, but no--she wouldn't listen to
us."

Jenny struggled to sit up and shake herself together. "Oh, mother, don't
scold me," she said. "It's just the heat, I think. It's nothing. I shall
be right in a moment I--I--oh, I _am_ a fool! Mrs. Oxenham, I am so
sorry--so ashamed----"

Her mother held the glass between her chattering teeth, and she drank a
little brandy and water, and choked, and burst out crying.

"Jenny," said Mrs. Oxenham, in a voice of authority, "you come away out
of this immediately. I have the carriage here, and I will drive you
home." In a flash she remembered that the mother and sister could not be
spared from the tea-room, that the girl should not be left alone in
lodgings, and that Maude and Tony were safely off to sea. "Home with me,
I mean," she continued. "I will send you back to your mother to-night,
when you are all right again. You can do quite well without her, can't
you"--turning to Mrs. Liddon--"now that you have Mrs. Allonby's help?"

Mrs. Allonby, who was the basket-maker's wife, volubly assured Mrs.
Oxenham that she could easily manage Miss Liddon's work now that the
crush of race time was over, and if she couldn't, there was her niece to
fall back upon. Mrs. Liddon and Sarah said the same as well as they
could, but were almost speechless with gratitude. Sarah did not know
that Mr. Anthony had sailed away, and she began to see visions and to
dream dreams of the most beautiful description. She had a shrewd idea as
to what Jenny's complaint arose from, though not a word had been
breathed on the subject, and this seemed the very medicine for it. She
ran to get her sister's hat and gloves, when they had composed her a
little, and would not regard any protests whatever.

"It is the very, _very_ thing to set her up," she cried, in exultation.
"And, oh, it _is_ good of you, Mrs. Oxenham!"

"Come, then," said that lady. "I will take care of her for the rest of
the day, and you see if I don't send her back to you looking better than
she does now. Quite a quiet day, Jenny dear; you need not look at your
dress--it is quite nice. There's nobody in the house but my father and
husband."

Before she had made up her mind whether to go or not, Jenny found
herself dashing through the streets in Mrs. Churchill's landau, having
been half-pushed, half-carried down the stairs and hoisted into it--she,
who had been the controlling spirit hitherto. Joey, on the way to his
dinner, saw her thus throned in state, and could scarcely believe his
eyes. "There's my sister having a drive with the boss's daughter," he
casually remarked to a couple of fellow-clerks, as if it were no new
thing; but the spectacle deeply impressed him. That day he patronised
the tea-room for the first time, to the delight of his adoring mother,
and began to identify himself with his family.

Jenny recovered self-possession in the air. She was agitated by the new
turn in her affairs--by the wonderful chance that had snatched her out
of the turmoil of her petty cares into the serene atmosphere of the
world of the well-to-do, who were untroubled by the necessity of earning
their bread, into the enchanted sphere where her beloved's life
revolved; but she no longer trembled and cried, like the weakly of her
sex, because her nerves were too many for her. Nothing more
discouraging than a discovery that the milk-jugs had not been washed by
Mrs. Allonby's niece, whose duty it now was to prepare them overnight,
had broken down the spirit that had withstood long wear and tear of
strenuous battle like finely-tempered steel; and a like trifling
encouragement was sufficient to lift it up again. The ease of the
carriage was delicious; the relief of having nothing to do unspeakable;
the sight of the beautiful gardens and stately rooms of the house that
entertained her as a guest and equal, more refreshing than either. The
day was such a holiday as the girl had never had before.

Mrs. Oxenham made her lie on a springy sofa for an hour, while they
quietly talked together; then they had a _tête-à-tête_ lunch--delicate
food and choice wine that comforted soul and body more than Jenny knew;
and again she was made to rest on downy pillows--to sleep, if she
could--while Mary in an adjoining room played Mendelssohn's _Lieder_,
one after another, with a touch like wind-borne feathers. By-and-by the
girl was shown about the house, made acquainted with precious pictures
and works of art brought together from all quarters of the world, such
as she had never seen or dreamed of; and great photographs, scattered
about in costly frames, were named to her as she moved in and out
amongst them.

"This is my husband, whom you have not seen--but he will be here to
dinner, and you needn't be at all afraid of him, for he is one of the
gentlest and dearest of men," said Mrs. Oxenham, taking up a mass of
_repoussé_ silver that enshrined the image of a burly fellow with a
plain but honest face. "And this is my young stepmother, whom I think
you _have_ seen; she is in the dress she wore when she was presented at
Court. This is my brother--I have a little half-brother, the sweetest
baby, that we will have down to amuse us presently, but this is my only
_own_ brother; him, I think, you have also seen."

She passed on to others, and Jenny passed on with her; but presently,
while Mrs. Oxenham was writing a note, the girl returned to the table on
which stood the counterfeit presentment of her red-bearded hero, in
peaked cap and Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers and hob-nailed
boots--such a magnificent figure in that crowd of distinguished
nobodies! Looking up when she had finished her note, Mrs. Oxenham saw
her standing, rapt and motionless, with the heavy frame in her hands,
and was struck by the expression of her face and attitude.

"Good heavens!" she mentally exclaimed. "I do hope and trust that boy
has not been thoughtless!"

She remembered how she had found him in the tea-room, and his proneness
to amatory dalliance of a fleeting kind, inevitable in the case of a man
so handsome, and so much sought after by flirting women; and she had a
moment of grave uneasiness. Then she reflected upon Jenny's soberness of
nature and Tony's opportune departure with Lady Louisa, and was at ease
again.

Tea was served at five, and the children came down to be played with.
Then Mr. Churchill and Mr. Oxenham returned from their club to dinner,
and the latter was introduced to Jenny, and both did their part to put
her at ease and make her feel at home and happy. The old gentleman took
her in to dinner on his arm, and was concerned that she did not eat as
she should, and told her she wanted a change to the seaside, racking
his brains to think how he could manage to cozen her into accepting some
assistance that would make such a thing practicable. Soon after dinner
was over the hansom Mrs. Oxenham had ordered was announced, and the good
old fellow, bustling in from his wine, declared his intention of seeing
Miss Liddon home in person. He blamed Mary for sending her away so soon,
but Mary said it was better for her to go to bed early; and then Mr.
Churchill said he hoped Miss Liddon would soon come again--forgetting
that his daughter was on the point of leaving him, and that his young
wife would be little likely to endorse such an invitation.

Jenny left in a glow of inward happiness, and of gratitude that she
could not express, though she tried to do so. Mrs. Oxenham wrapped her
in a Chuddah shawl, and kissed her on the doorstep.

"Good-night, dear child," she said, quite tenderly. "Go straight to bed
and to sleep, and don't go to the tea-room to-morrow. I shall come and
see you early."

Having watched her charge depart in her father's care, this kind woman
returned to her husband, whom she found alone in the dining-room,
smoking, and reading the evening paper, with his coffee beside him.

"Harry, dear," she said, "I want to ask you something."

"Ask away," he returned affably.

"Would you have any objection to my having that girl to stay with me for
Christmas--that is, if she will come?"

He laid down his paper and thought about it. Though he was a Manchester
cotton man, he was no snob, or he would not have been Mary Churchill's
husband; but this was, as he would have termed it, a large order.

"Who else is coming?" he inquired.

"Nobody. That is, I have not asked anybody at present. I think I'd
rather we were quietly by ourselves. She's a lady, Harry, you can see it
for yourself. Her father was an Eton boy."

"Eh? You don't say so!" This was certainly a strong argument.

"And she is thoroughly out of health. I never saw a girl so
altered--shattered with hard work, poor little soul. I believe if she
doesn't get a long rest and a change that she will have a severe
illness, and then what would become of her mother and sister, and the
business she has managed so splendidly? Now that Cup time is over, it is
possible for them to do without her for awhile, and country air and good
feeding and a little looking after would set her up, I know. And I don't
see how else she is to get it. I am sure the children would like to have
her, Harry; and she is so modest and quiet that she would never be in
the way."

"What about Tony?" asked Mr. Oxenham.

"He is not coming. I asked him, but he said he couldn't leave town. He
is too much engaged with Lady Louisa, I suppose; and if she didn't keep
him, Maude would. Oh, if there was the slightest chance of Tony being at
Wandooyamba, of course I shouldn't ask Miss Liddon there."

"Well, my dear, I'm sure I don't care, one way or another. Do just what
you think best."

"You are quite sure you don't mind, Harry?"

"Not in the least. What's good enough for you is good enough for me,
and, personally, I think she's an awfully nice little thing."

"Then I shall go and settle it with her mother in the morning," said
Mrs. Oxenham, "and we will take her back with us."



CHAPTER XII

TWO WISE MEN


It was not far from Christmas when Anthony returned from his cruise,
which he did in a listless, yawning, world-weary frame of mind. He had
not enjoyed himself as he had expected to do, and wished he had remained
in Melbourne at work, and given his old father a holiday instead.
Tasmania had looked beautiful, to be sure, but he had seen too many
things that were more so, and seen them too recently, to be impressed by
its hills and streams; while the sea had no charm after his recent
voyage. He had wholly depended on his company for entertainment, and his
company had disappointed him. Few, indeed, can stand the test of such
conditions as those under which they were expected to shine, as under a
microscope, with double lustre and meaning (he had not stood it
himself); and it was not surprising that the brilliant Lady Louisa had
failed to substantiate her pretensions to be a clever woman, or that
Mrs. Churchill had contrived to make a most kindly-disposed stepson hate
her. Not, of course, that it was necessary for Lady Louisa to show
herself clever in order to captivate our hero, or any man; it was
because her stupidity had led her to waste her blandishments on a
brainless idiot of a whisky-drinking globe-trotter, whose name was his
only title to be called a gentleman, that it had manifested itself so
unmistakably to her superseded slave. When the bookless, newspaperless,
trifling time was over, he stepped ashore with a sense of being released
from an irksome bondage, and determined to keep clear of his late too
close companions for many a long day. One only was excepted--an old chum
and crony, who had accompanied him on the voyage from England, a
Queensland squatter, who lived nine months of the year in
Melbourne--Adam Danesbury by name. Mr. Danesbury had afforded much
amusement on board the yacht by boasting modestly of his recent
engagement to a girl at home; showing her likeness, worn in a locket on
his watch-chain, to the ladies, and confiding to them his plan for
returning to marry and fetch her out as soon as he had got his northern
shearing over. The ladies thought it was so very funny of him; any other
man, they said, would have kept such a thing as dark as possible, under
the circumstances. But Anthony Churchill, who had always made a friend
of Danesbury, had never liked him so well as he liked him now.

"Come up to my place and dine with me to-night," he said to him, as the
party were dispersing in the yard of the railway station; "and let's
have a quiet pipe and a little peace, after all this racket."

"All right," said Mr. Danesbury, "I'm on."

They spoke in low tones, like a couple of conspirators.

"Mr. Churchill! Mr. Churchill!" called Lady Louisa from a Government
House carriage, to which a callow aide had escorted her. "What have I
done that I should be neglected in this manner? Are you not even going
to say good-bye to me?"

Anthony advanced with his man-of-the-world courtliness, and pressed her
outstretched hand. "No," he said, "I never mean to say good-bye to
you--until I am obliged."

"_Au revoir_, then," she laughed. "You will come and see me soon?"

He bowed as to a queen, while the young A.D.C., whose enchantress she
was at the moment, notwithstanding the fact that she was almost old
enough to be his mother, glared ferociously.

"These conceited colonials!" he muttered to himself; "these trading
cads, putting on the airs of gentlemen! What presumption of the fellow
to speak in that tone to HER!"

"Tony," cried Maude, from the midst of her bags and bundles, which her
maid was counting into the hands of a cabman, "you will see me safe
home, Tony?"

"Well, really, Maude, I don't see how you can help getting home safely,
with your own husband to take care of you," Tony replied, a little
irritably (his father, delighted to get his young wife back again, was
calling her carriage up). "You don't want me now."

"Tony, you know I _always_ want you. And you _might_ come just for a cup
of tea and to see the children. They'll be expecting you."

"I'll see them on Sunday. I must go home and get washed and decent."

"As if you couldn't get washed in our house, where you've got your own
rooms, and dozens of suits of clothes lying in your drawers!"

"Oh, I know; but you must excuse me now, really. There'll be letters and
all sorts of things at my chambers, waiting for me, and I telegraphed to
Jarvis to have my dinner ready."

He detached himself from her clutches, and, when her carriage drove off,
called up his hansom and flung himself into it with a sigh of relief.
"Thank God, that's over!" he ejaculated, drawing his cigar-case from his
pocket. "What fools women are! The more I see of them, the more sick of
them I get."

It was great luxury to find himself in his own bachelor home, where the
priceless Jarvis had everything in order and ready for him, and where he
was his own man, as he could never be elsewhere. He had an iced drink,
and read his letters, and glanced at half a dozen newspapers, lolling
bare-armed upon a sofa, with a pipe in his mouth and slippered feet in
the air; and then he had a bath and elaborately dressed himself, putting
a silk coat over his diamond-studded shirt; and Jarvis set the dainty
dinner-table, and Danesbury arrived.

"Come in, old fellow!" shouted the emancipated one, hearing his friend
in the hall. "Now we'll enjoy ourselves! Take off that black coat--no
ladies to consider now; we may as well be cool and comfortable when we
do get the chance. Dinner ready, Jarvis? All's vanity and vexation of
spirit, old man, except one's dinner. Thank God, we've still got that to
fall back upon!"

"We've got something more than that to fall back upon, let us hope,"
said Mr. Danesbury, smiling. "At any rate, I have."

"Oh, _you_! You've got Miss Lennox to fall back on, of course. But we
are not all so lucky."

"What's happened to you, that you should class yourself with the unlucky
ones? But I know; Lady Louisa hasn't appreciated you. I can quite
understand that you feel bad about it, being so little accustomed to
such treatment."

"Hang Lady Louisa! A battered old campaigner, with no more heart or
brains than a Dutch doll! I should be sorry to feel bad over a woman of
that sort."

"What then?"

"Lord knows. A troubled conscience, perhaps, for having wasted so much
valuable time. Dinner, as I said before, will restore me. Sit down."

They sat down, and did justice to Jarvis's preparations. Anthony's
little dinners were famous amongst dining men, who knew better than to
disturb enjoyment and digestion with too much conversation while they
were in progress; but when this meal had reached the stage of coffee and
cigarettes, the two friends fell into very confidential talk.

"What you want," said Adam Danesbury, "is to get married, Tony."

"Why," said the host, "you've been the loudest of us all in denouncing
those bonds--till now. Because you've lost your tail, is that any reason
why we should cut off ours?"

"That's all very well while we're young and foolish," said Mr. Danesbury
sedately (he was a sedate person always, but "a devil of a fellow," all
the same, at times). "And I denounce the thing still, when it's nothing
but a buying and selling business, like what we so often see. But get a
good girl, Tony--a girl like _my_ girl--one who doesn't make a bargain
of you, but loves the ground you walk on, though you may go
barefoot--_then_ it's all right. Think of our advanced age, if you
please. Byron was in the sere and yellow leaf before he was as old as I
am, and you are close up. Twenty years hence we shall be old fogies, and
we shall have lost our appetite for cakes, if not for ale, and they will
shunt us into corners; then we shall want our girls and boys to ruffle
it in our place. If we don't look sharp, those girls and boys won't be
there, Tony, and it will feel lonely--I know it will."

"These be the words of wisdom," said Tony reflectively. "I must confess
I had forgotten about the girls and boys."

"Oh, but, apart from them, it's a mistake to put it off, after a certain
time of life--that is, of course, if you can find the right sort of
woman. For God's sake, don't go and throw yourself away on one of these
society girls. What a fellow wants is a home, and they don't seem to
know the meaning of the word."

"How would you describe the right sort of woman?" asked Anthony, pushing
the wine towards his friend.

"I would say, a woman like Rose Lennox."

"Yes, of course--naturally. Only, unfortunately, I don't know Miss
Lennox."

"I wish you did, Tony. If you had come down to my father's place, as I
wanted you to, you would have met her. However, you will see her before
long, I trust."

Anthony spread his arms over the table, and looked curiously at the man
in whom Miss Lennox had wrought so great a change.

"Tell me about her, will you, old fellow?" he said. "Tell me, so that I
may know what the right woman is like, when I do happen to see her."

Mr. Danesbury was nothing loth. He, too, spread his arms on the table,
with an air of preparation, having placed his unconsumed cigarette in
the ash-tray beside him.

"Well, in the first place, I must tell you she is poor," he began. "But
she's none the worse for that."

"No, the better--the better!" cried Anthony, delighted. "I believe it's
just money that spoils them all."

"Though she's poor, she's the most perfect lady that ever stepped."

The host nodded comprehendingly.

"Her father has the parish next to my father's; old Lennox got the
living after I left home. It's supposed to be worth two-fifty, but if he
gets two it's as much as he does; and there are seven children. My Rose
is the eldest--twenty-three next birthday."

"Yes?" Anthony had left off smoking, and was listening as men seldom
listened to this love-sick swain.

"The way I knew her first--my sisters gave a garden party--you know
those little clerical garden parties?--parsons and their wives and
daughters from miles round, coming in their washed frocks and their
little basket carriages; and two of the Lennox girls were there--nice,
interesting little things, but not Rose. We had three tennis afternoons
before I knew of her existence. I used to hear my sisters say, 'Why
don't you make Rose come?' but never took any heed; until one day I had
to drive some of them home, because a storm was coming, and they hadn't
any carriage; and just as I got there the storm burst, and I went in to
wait till it was over. And there I saw that girl--my Rose--sitting at a
table, mending stockings, with half a dozen little brats saying their
lessons to her. This was what she did every day--sewed, and kept house,
and taught the children, while her sisters went out to play tennis. She
said it was so good for them to have a little recreation--as if _she_
wasn't to be thought of at all. That's the sort of woman she is."

Anthony stretched out his hand. "Show me that locket again, will you?"

Adam Danesbury detached watch and chain, and pushed them over the table.
"It don't do her justice," he said tenderly. "She's got hair that you
can see yourself in, and a complexion like milk; the colour comes and
goes with every word you say to her, and her expression changes in the
same way. Photography always fails with people of that sort.
Still--there she is."

Photography had evidently not done justice to Miss Lennox. The ladies on
the yacht had called her dowdy, and insignificant, and plain, wondering
at Mr. Danesbury's taste; but, helped by that gentleman's description of
her, Anthony made out a sweet and modest face, which held his gaze for
several minutes. Her lover watched him eagerly--this accomplished
connoisseur--and swelled with pride to see her so appreciated.

"Well?" he said challengingly.

"Well," said Anthony, as he snapped the locket, "she's a charming
creature, and you are an enviable fellow."

"I am that," rejoined the lover, re-opening the case before hanging it
to his button-hole. "And I shall be a great deal more enviable this time
next year, please God."



CHAPTER XIII

TWO UNWISE WOMEN


This conversation haunted our young man all night, and drove him in the
morning to the tea-room, in serious pursuit of the right kind of woman,
if haply she might be found there. To his surprise and consternation the
bird had flown.

"Not ill, I trust?" he said in alarm, at the end of five restless
minutes, during which he had scarcely taken his eyes from the screen.

Sarah was arranging the flowers he had just brought her. She had
patiently waited for this question. "No," she said, with a nonchalant
air. "She _was_ ill--very ill indeed--but she is all right now."

"Is she--she is not away?"

"Just now she is. She wanted a change so badly, poor dear."

"With friends?"

"Yes. They are most kind to her. It was just what she wanted, for she
was quite worn out. The hard work at Cup time prostrated her."

"I'm awfully sorry to hear it. You are sure she is all right again?"

"Oh, quite. They weigh her every now and then, and she has gained half a
stone."

"In this hot weather, too! Evidently it is doing her good. The sea, I
suppose?"

"No. Mountains. At least I suppose they are mountains--I never was there
myself."

"You must miss her very much?"

"Dreadfully. And I am afraid she worries about us. But the room goes on
all right. Lucinda Allonby is a cat, but she is smart at waiting; and
her aunt is a good soul. She is regularly in the partnership now."

"Yes. Did you say your sister had gone to Healesville?"

"No, I didn't."

She laughed mischievously, and Anthony laughed too, his bronzed cheek
reddening.

"What then?" he pleaded. "Come, tell me, there's a good child."

"I should have thought you'd known," said Sarah, playing with his
growing impatience.

"How was I to know anything, away on the sea?"

"I should have thought Mrs. Oxenham would have written to you."

"Of course she has written to me. I got two letters from her last night.
But she has been out of town as long as I have."

"Not quite as long. She stayed a few days after you left, and then she
went home; and she took Jenny with her."

"_What!_" Anthony almost bounded from his chair. "Took Jenny to
Wandooyamba? As her guest?"

Sarah nodded carelessly. "Wasn't it good of her? She found Jenny looking
very ill, and she said she must have a change and rest. And we hurried
to get her clothes ready and fix up an evening dress for her, and off
she went, and there she has been ever since."

"Ever since," groaned Anthony; "while I have been dawdling on that
cursed yacht. If I'd only known----"

"I don't see," said Sarah demurely, "what it has to do with you."

She was a little sore about his long desertion, and wanted to know what
it meant before she permitted herself to be confidential.

He plumped down on his seat in front of her. "It has everything to do
with me," he said; "everything. Sarah--I am going to call you Sarah from
this moment--shall I tell you something?"

She looked at him, holding her breath.

"You must keep it a secret for a little while, until I know whether she
will have me. I am going to ask Jenny to be my wife."

He met her eyes boldly, for he had made up his mind; and she, seeing him
serious and determined, clasped her hands in a speechless ecstasy of
gratitude to Heaven for its goodness to her.

Then he went home and wrote a letter.

     "DEAR POLLY,--

     "Many thanks for yours, which I got both together last night. We
     only returned yesterday, or I would have written before. I am glad
     you found all well at home, and that the kiddies were pleased with
     their presents. Give them my love. Tell Harry I will see about the
     buggy and the stores at once; the latter shall go up by goods
     train to-morrow. I suppose he wants the waggonette big enough to
     hold you all--something like the old one, only lighter. It might
     have been rather serious, that smash. He's too risky with his
     half-broken cattle and his fancy driving, and that Emily always was
     a fiend incarnate. If she belonged to me I'd shoot her.

     "I didn't have such a gaudy time as you seem to think. I'm sure I
     don't know what I went for, unless it was to get cool, which there
     was little chance of in a boat so crowded. Lord Nettlebury made a
     beast of himself as usual, regardless of the ladies, who pretended
     not to see it just because it was Nettlebury. I told Maude they
     disgraced themselves more than he did, by their indulgence of him;
     but women are all alike--or nearly all. It was sickening to see
     them fawning over the disgusting little brute, who ought to have
     been pitched overboard.

     "Danesbury is the best of fellows--mad on his little English
     _fiancée_, and with no eyes for anybody else. They chaffed him
     unmercifully, but he liked it. She has wonderfully improved him. He
     says they are going to live in the country when she comes out, and
     he's looking for a place in this colony not too fatiguingly far
     from town. He's in the right there. Melbourne isn't wholesome. I'm
     sick of it myself--that is, I'm sick of streets, which are the same
     everywhere, and of sea, and of men and women who make a child's
     game of life. I want a sniff of the bush air before I settle down,
     and I think I'll run up to you to-morrow night, when I've seen
     about Harry's commissions. We have hardly had a good talk since I
     came back, and the kids will be forgetting me. Our stepmother has
     been rather getting on my nerves lately; it will be a relief to be
     out of her reach for a day or two. And my liver (perhaps that's why
     I've been so bored) wants horse exercise after so much loafing. Hal
     and I will have some rides together, tell him. I suppose the poor
     little beggars have done school, and are in the full swing of
     holidays by now. They won't object to a few more toys for Santa
     Claus's stocking, I daresay. I will bring you up some fish in ice,
     if I can get them fresh enough.

     "Yours affectionately,

     "A. CHURCHILL."

The writer of this letter posted it at the G.P.O. while spending his
afternoon about town, buying buggies and Christmas presents for his
sister's family, consequently it went up country by the five o'clock
express, and Mrs. Oxenham received it before noon next day. No answer
was expected or required, and therefore Tony was surprised and annoyed
to get a telegram from her, just as he was thinking it time to change
his clothes for his journey, to say,--

     "Come to-morrow if equally convenient. Meet you night train."

"What the deuce--oh, here, Jarvis, hold on a bit. Confound the--what on
earth does she mean? Can't have got that great house full of guests, so
that there isn't a corner for me to sleep in--that would be too absurd.
Going out, perhaps--but she wouldn't stop me for that. Can't be
Jenny--she'd stop me altogether if she meant _that_. It's a dashed
nuisance anyhow."

The packing was stayed, and he mooned away to the club, because he
didn't know what else to do with himself. He was lost for want of
occupation, and ridiculously angry at having to kick his heels for
twenty-four hours for no earthly purpose that he could see. There was
nothing to do or to interest one--there never is under these
circumstances; his journey put back at the last moment, he was stranded
until it could be put on again. So he drifted to the club.

There he found his father. It was the old gentleman's habit to play
tennis after business, to keep his fat down--a habit formed long years
before the lawn variety of the game had been invented; and Tony found
him hard at it, and watched him listlessly.

As soon as Mr. Churchill was aware of his son's presence, he exclaimed:
"Why, I thought you were off to Wandooyamba to-night!"

"Going to-morrow," returned Tony.

And when the game was over, the father said, "Come out and dine with us
to-night, boy. You are deserting us altogether these days, and I've got
a lot of business I want to talk over with you."

Tony recognised that it was his duty to accede, because he really had
been neglecting his father (but that was Maude's fault); and he acceded
accordingly, as cheerfully as he could. Jarvis having been informed by
telephone, the two gentlemen took tram together, and were presently
seen by Maude from her bedroom window sauntering up the garden,
affectionately arm in arm. She dashed aside the gown that had been
chosen for the evening, and called for Mrs. Earl's latest--a white
brocade, full of gold threads, that was very splendid.

Anthony had leisurely dressed himself in the clothes he kept at Toorak
for these chance occasions, and was pulling his coat lappets straight
over his big chest when he heard her knock on his door.

"That you, mother?" he called. "How are you?"

"Oh, Tony! Are you ready, Tony?" she called back.

"Yes--no, not quite, I sha'n't be long."

"Do--do make haste and come downstairs. I've something I want to say to
you--very particularly--before the others come down."

"All right. I won't be a minute."

He thought he would dawdle on until he heard the "others"--_i.e._, his
father--on the stairs; then he thought he might as well hear what the
wonderful secret was. It was never safe to put her off. She was liable
to burst at wrong times if kept bottled up too long.



CHAPTER XIV

A WEAK FATHER


He found her pacing up and down the long drawing-room with excitement in
her face, all the gold drops on the crape front of her dress swinging
and twinkling, the stiff train scratching over the carpet. She almost
rushed at him when he appeared.

"Tony," she said, laying her heavily diamonded hand upon his arm, "your
father says you are going up to Wandooyamba."

He flushed a little, admitting that he was. "And what then?"

"Tony, you--are--not--to--go."

"Oh, indeed! And pray, madam, who are you, to give me orders--_me_, that
was dux of my school when you were in your cradle?"

"I am your mother, sir. It is a mother's business to give orders, and a
son's to obey them. And I say you are not to go to Wandooyamba."

"If a mother is to issue commands of that sort, and in that tone of
voice, the least she can do is to give her reasons for them."

"The reason is that Mary has company up there--people--a _person_--a
person that I don't choose you to associate with."

"And who may that person be? A he or a she?"

"You know quite well, so don't pretend you don't."

"I know nothing," said Tony mendaciously, "and am most anxious for
information. I cannot imagine Mary associating with anybody who isn't
fit to associate with me. But perhaps it is I who am not fit? Who's the
almighty swell that I'm not good enough for?"

"No swell at all--quite the contrary. It's that tea-room girl--oh, Tony,
I believe you knew all the time, only you like to put that mask on,
because you know how I hate to see you look at me like a wooden image!
It's that Liddon girl, that she made such an absurd fuss about. She
wasn't well, and Mary took her to Wandooyamba to recruit, and she's
there now."

"I don't see what that has to do with me," said he in a stately way;
and he tried to move away from her.

Maude clutched him with both hands round his arm, and moved with him.
"If it doesn't matter now, it will matter when you get under the same
roof with her. Oh!"--looking up at him--"you _did_ know she was there,
and you _are_ going after her! You used to sneak to the tea-room on the
sly--heaps of people have told me--and now you are going to Wandooyamba
just on purpose to make love to her--I can see it in your face, though
you have your mask on! Oh! Tony dear, don't--_don't_ be a naughty, bad
boy--for my sake!"

"If I have ever been bad--bad to women," said Tony, removing his mask,
"that time is over. Don't distress yourself. If I should by chance make
love to Miss Liddon, it will be quite respectably, I assure you."

"But that would be _worse_!" shrieked Maude, coming to a standstill in
the middle of the room, horrified. "Oh, Tony, what are you talking
about--you, that have always been so fastidious! A tea-room girl! Oh,
you are only trying to aggravate me! I didn't save you from Lady Louisa
to have you throw yourself away on a tea-room girl!"

He almost shook her, he was so angry with her. "May I ask you to be so
very good as to mind your own business, and allow me to manage mine?" he
said, with a sort of cold fury in his voice and eyes. It was not the way
a son should speak to his mother--indeed, it was quite brutal--but he
could not restrain himself; and she, looking at him, guessed what the
sudden rage portended.

"It _is_ my business," she retorted, with equal passion. "It is my
family's business--it is all our businesses--to see that we are not
disgraced."

"Disgraced!" he drawled, with bitter amusement. "Good Lord!"

The white gauze over her bosom heaved like foam on a flowing tide, the
gold drops studding it shook like harebells in a breeze.

"Tony," she burst out fiercely, "I shall tell your father of you."

She swept out of the room, and he heard her long tail scraping over the
tiles of the hall, and rustling up the broad stairs.

"Little devil!" he muttered in his teeth; and then he laughed, and his
eyes cleared, and he went out upon the colonnaded verandah and walked up
and down, with his hands behind him, till the gong clanged for dinner.

Sedately he marched into the dining-room and stood by the table, he and
the servants, all silent alike, waiting for host and hostess to come
downstairs. Then in flounced Maude, in her glittering whiteness, with
her head up, and a wicked flash of triumph in her eyes as she met the
wooden stare of her stepson; and her husband followed at her heels,
furtive, downcast, troubled--pretending for the present that all was
well, and failing to convince even the footman that it was so. Tony was
at once aware that Maude had "told his father of him," and all through
dinner he was trying to forecast what the result would be. She sparkled
balefully for a time, trying to tease him into disputatious talk; but
his cold irresponsiveness cowed her into silence too, and the resource
of wistful glances that hinted at remorse and tears. It was a dismal
meal. When it was happily at an end, and she rose from her plate of
strawberries, he marched to the door and held it open for her, standing
stiffly, like a soldier sentinel. She looked at him appealingly, and
whispered "Forgive me," as she swept slowly out; but he stared stonily
over her head and took no notice.

Shutting the door sharply behind her, he returned to his seat at the
table. The gliding servants vanished, and his father pushed the wine
towards him. There was a long silence, which he would not break. The old
man cleared his throat a few times, and smacked his lips over his old
port. At last their eyes met, and the spell was lifted.

"What's this, my boy, about--about poor Liddon's daughter?"

Anthony laid a broad palm over his father's hand resting on the table.
"Don't let us talk of it here, daddy," he said, with gruff gentleness.
"Finish your wine comfortably. Then we'll go into the smoking-room, and
I'll tell you all about it."

Mr. Churchill brisked up, tossed off his port, and was ready for the
smoking-room at once. It was detached from the house, and its French
doors opened upon a retired lawn, on which the moon shone between the
shadows of shrubs and trees. They drew armchairs towards the threshold,
and lit their pipes, but not the lamps, and talked and talked in the
cooling twilight, as men who had confidence in one another.

At first the father would not hear of the projected match. He belonged
to a vulgar little world that was eaten up with the love of money, and
could not despise the conventions of his caste. He argued, gently but
obstinately, that it would "never do, you know," for quite a long time,
thinking of what Maude would say to him if he failed to be firm; but a
mention of Maude's homely predecessor, and the days when there was no
high fashion in the family, touched his susceptible heart. Tony drew
comparisons between his dead mother, his stepmother and his proposed
wife, and morals therefrom.

"Well, well," the old gentleman admitted, "there's something in that."

"Where would you have been without _her_, all that time when you were
poor and struggling?"

"True. But you are not poor and struggling."

"I may be. No one can tell. Any sort of misfortune may come to a man.
And in the day of adversity--well, you can see what she would be."

"Oh, she's a good girl--I never denied it--as good as they make 'em."

"Suppose I should fall ill? Maude's sister was at a ball the night
before her husband died."

"She didn't know he was so bad, of course."

"She would have guessed if she'd been a woman of the right sort. Jenny
won't go to balls when I am ill in bed, if it's only a cold or a
headache."

"No doubt that's the sort to stick to you and comfort you." The old
father sighed as he reflected on his increasing gout. "And I
daresay--after all--in the long run perhaps----"

"Exactly. I am firmly convinced of it. She will last it out. And
meanwhile, think of the cosy home I'll have! Oh, I may have been a
careless, fast fellow, but I've had my ideas of what I would like to be,
and like my home to be. And then there's the children--if anybody has
got the makings of a good mother in her, she has. Don't you see it
yourself?"

"Certainly. A good daughter always makes a good mother."

"If you'd seen her with Maude's brats--washing the milk and butter
stains from their hands and mouths! And they took to her on the spot, as
if they'd known her for years. It is a sure sign."

"Oh, it is--it is! Your mother had that way. Poor old girl! Many's the
time I've seen her at the wash-tub, and ironing my shirts, and cooking
my dinner, and you children hanging round her all the while. But it's
odd to see a swell fellow like you caring for that sort of thing. You've
been brought up so differently."

"Perhaps it's my mother's nature cropping out in me. But, in fact, it's
because I've seen too much, sir."

"Too much what?"

"Too much woman--of the sort that I know _don't_ make good wives--at any
rate, not good enough for me."

"Ah, you're wise! I daresay you do take after your mother; she was
better than I am. You are wiser for yourself than I should have been for
you."

"I don't know that it's wisdom, consciously. It's pure selfishness, as
like as not. I know she'll be good to me, and take care of me, and
stick to me through thick and thin."

"You must stick to her, too, Tony."

"No fear. A man couldn't play the beast, with a wife of that sort; at
least, I hope not. I mean to be a pattern husband."

After the third pipe he rose up stealthily.

"I'll just go and change my clothes and get home to bed," he said. "Say
good-night to Maude for me. I won't disturb her again."

"Good-night, my boy. And you may tell her I've given my consent, if you
like. Only, mind you, we shall have to abolish the tea-room for the sake
of the family."

"We'll hand it over to the basket-maker's wife, and that fellow in the
office must make a home for his remaining relatives. Good-night,
dad--good old dad!"

He stole up to his room and changed his clothes, stole down again and
out into the moonlit garden. As the road gate clicked behind him he saw
the front-door open, and in the effulgent aperture a white figure that
glittered vaguely. A wailing note came through the scented dusk.

"_Tony!_"

"Good-night," he called back, and turned to run towards an approaching
tram. He made his voice as cheerful and kindly as he could, for he
forgave her now; but he said to himself, "Oh, you little Jezebel!" and
then, in a graver spirit, "Thank God, my Jenny is not one of that
breed!"

He went home to bed and slept like a new-born baby. Next morning he went
early to the tea-room to tell Sarah that his father had given his
consent and good wishes, and to inquire if Jenny was still at
Wandooyamba--because Mary's telegram had made him nervous. Sarah said
her sister was with Mrs. Oxenham still, and not to return till after
Christmas; and Sarah wept a little for pure happiness, and kissed her
potential brother behind the screen. He would have spoken to Mrs.
Liddon, as suitor to guardian, before going away; but she was busy with
her scones, and the girl declared they would all be spoiled and the
credit of the tea-room ruined if such a surprise were sprung upon her at
such a time. So he left the matter in Sarah's hands, and went away and
did some more shopping; bought a beautiful little ring with a pea-sized
pearl in it, in addition to fish and lollies. No more telegrams
arrived, and Jarvis took the portmanteau to the station, and stood the
crush of ticket-getting, and put his master's coat and the evening
papers into the best corner of the smoking carriage on the express; and
at 4.55 the happy man was borne upon his way, feeling certain that he
was to see the wife he had promised himself before he went to bed that
night.



CHAPTER XV

A STRAW AGAINST THE TIDE


Jenny was having an idyllic time at Wandooyamba. Mrs. Oxenham was not
the woman to do things by halves, and, having undertaken to restore the
girl to health, she set about the task with her native wisdom and
capability. New milk in the morning; broth at eleven o'clock; drives
behind Harry's wild teams, which never made her afraid; rides on a quiet
pony with him and little Hal; rambles in the wooded hills about the
house--the lone bush that she loved, but had never had her fill of;
these things, in conjunction with a kindness from all around her that
never allowed her to feel like an outsider, promptly brought a glow to
the magnolia-petal whiteness of the little face, and a clear light to
the eyes that had been so dull and tired.

She was so perfectly well-mannered and well-bred, and she looked so
pretty in her neat gowns--particularly when she wore the black silk
that had been cut low and frilled with lace for the evening, showing her
delicately-curved and fine-skinned throat--that neither host nor hostess
felt any incongruity in her position as their social equal and the equal
of their friends. If they remembered the tea-room, they remembered also
the father who had been an Eton boy; but soon they forgot all about her
antecedents and belongings, and esteemed her wholly on her own merits.
They wished they could have kept her altogether, as housekeeper, or
companion, or governess to the children (two sturdy boys, who loved her
with all the sincerity of their discriminating little hearts), because
she was so gentle, and so useful, and never in anybody's way.

She was never in anybody's way, and yet she was always at hand if there
was anything to be done that nobody else was ready to do. Until she had
left the house no one realised the amount of unostentatious service that
she represented. She made toys for the boys; she made sailor suits for
them (though nobody had wanted her to do that); she arranged the
flowers; she sewed and cut the weekly papers; she marked handkerchiefs;
she made the tea; she took the children for walks, and kept them good by
telling stories to them--a great relief to the house when school-time
was over and the governess had gone away.

"She's just my right hand," Mary said to her husband one day; "and I
don't know what I shall do without her when the time comes to send her
home. It's like having a younger sister to stay with one."

"It is," said Mr. Oxenham, who had just found his favourite driving
gloves, of which several fingers and thumbs had opened, mended so neatly
that they were as good as ever.

Nevertheless, neither of them had any idea of making an actual younger
sister of Jenny Liddon, and when Tony's letter arrived there was
consternation over its contents.

"Now, isn't that just _too_ bad?" Mary cried, as she dashed it on the
table, and stamped her foot with vexation (Jenny being in the
school-room with the boys). "When I wanted him to come, he wouldn't; and
now I don't want him he starts off, without giving me any warning, in
this way! Oh, it really is too provoking of him! To-morrow--that's this
very night, less than twelve hours from now--he will be here, Harry. And
that girl in the house!"

"It's awkward," said Harry, picking up the letter and perusing it for
himself. "A fetching little thing like her, and a handsome, fast fellow
like him, both under the same roof----"

"Oh, it must not be," Mrs. Oxenham declared impetuously. "It must be
prevented at all costs. I have a duty to Jenny as well as to my brother.
I only hope and trust he doesn't _know_ she is here--I asked them not to
mention it, and you see he says nothing about her; but, whether or no, I
am not going to let either of them make fools of themselves, if I can
help it."

"You can't very well tell him not to come, my dear."

"I know I can't. Besides, that would only make him the more determined."

"Nor yet pack Miss Liddon home, after asking her to stay over
Christmas--like a schoolgirl expelled for misconduct."

"I know that too. I must scheme and plot to deceive them, like the bad
women in novels; only they do it to harm people, while I shall do it
for their good. Go away, Harry, and let me think."

He went away, and was uncomfortable till lunch time, when she met him
with a calm face and a telegram in her hand, which she asked him to
despatch to the township for her.

"I have put him off till to-morrow," she said. "You can tell him the
horses were lame, or something."

Mr. Oxenham, who had scores of buggy horses, all jumping out of their
skins with the exhilaration of their spring coats and renewed
constitutions, said she must think of something that Tony would be more
likely to believe than _that_. And she said, "Oh, leave it to me!" And
he replied that he would do so with the very greatest pleasure.

The luncheon bell rang, and Jenny came into the pleasant dining-room,
with the children clinging to her. She put them in high chairs on either
side of her place at the table, and tied on their bibs, and cut up their
roast mutton and potato, like the little mother that her lover dreamed
of.

"Why do you bother about those brats, Miss Liddon, while the nurse
spends all her time flirting over the back fence?" their father said,
in a gay but compunctious tone. And he helped her to mayonnaise, and to
her special wine, and to cool soda-water, and to salt, and to anything
he could lay his hands on; for he feared they were going to treat her
badly, and he wanted to put in all the good treatment that he could
beforehand.

His wife regarded the girl with infinite kindness, but no compunction
whatever--for she was a woman, and not a man.

"Jenny, dear," she said, "do you think you would enjoy a little drive
this afternoon? I don't think it is too hot."

"I should, greatly," Jenny replied, the ready glow in her face. "But I
enjoy everything--whether out of doors or in--whatever you like best."

"Me, too," clamoured little Hal. "Let me go too, mother! Then I can tell
Miss Liddon some more about Uncle Tony's ship that he's gone to Tasmania
in."

With the explosion of this unexpected bomb the colour flew over Jenny's
face, and, because she knew she was blushing, it deepened to the hue of
a peony. Anthony had not been named in the family circle since her
arrival, except to and by this terrible infant; even Sarah had been
afraid to interfere with the march of events by any allusion to him in
her letters. So that Jenny believed him to be still upon the sea, and
that nobody knew how she thought about him.

Mrs. Oxenham flashed one lightning glance at her guest, and leisurely
helped her little son to gravy. "It isn't Uncle Tony's ship, as it
happens; it is Mr. Daunt's," she said. "And what do you know about
ships, you monkey?"

She looked at her husband, and he knew she looked at him, though he was
eating industriously, with his eyes upon his plate.

"I sha'n't be able to take you this afternoon, Mary," he mumbled, with
his mouth full, visibly shrinking. "I shall be busy."

"We shall not want you, dear," she calmly answered him. "Dickson can
drive us. I am going to the township to do a little shopping for
Christmas. And, Jenny, we will call on your aunt at the bank; it will be
a good opportunity."

Jenny's aunt, her mother's sister, chanced to live in the town which was
the Oxenhams' post-town and their railway terminus. Neither aunt,
uncle, nor cousins had communicated with the Liddons since the tea-room
was instituted, and had intended never again to do so; but when they
discovered that the arch-offender against the pride of the Rogersons was
a guest at Wandooyamba, the great house of the district, which had never
conferred such a distinction upon them, their attitude towards this
kinswoman changed completely. They rushed to call upon her, and to clasp
her in their arms, and to beg that she would go and see them while she
was so near. Their call had not yet been returned, and the invitation
had been disregarded, because Mrs. Oxenham had looked a little coldly
upon the connection, and Jenny had preferred her friend to her
relations; but now Mary considered that the time had come to attend to
them. "We will go and see your aunt and cousins," she said cheerfully.
"They must wonder what has become of you."

And Jenny thought it was so good of her to trouble about people she
didn't care for, for the sake of a guest who was of no account, and
thanked her gratefully.

They set out immediately after luncheon. They had six miles to go,
mostly up-hill, and the light breeze was behind them, carrying the dust
of hot December into their necks and ears. Mrs. Oxenham beguiled the way
with prattle about Mr. Daunt's yachting party and the beautiful Lady
Louisa who held her brother in bonds; and Jenny looked annoyingly pale
and tired when they arrived.

"We will go to the bank first," said the elder lady, "in the hope that
Mrs. Rogerson will give us a good cup of tea."

And the coachman was ordered thither.

The maid who answered his ring at the private door announced that Mrs.
Rogerson was in, and ushered the visitors upstairs into a stifling
drawing-room--only used for the reception of callers and an occasional
evening party. Here they sat for full ten minutes, fanning themselves
with their handkerchiefs, and looking round upon the art muslin
draperies, and be-ribboned tambourines, and Liberty-silk-swathed plates
and photographs, waiting for their hostess to appear. Mrs. Oxenham made
no remarks upon what she saw, nor upon the rustlings and whisperings
that she heard, because these people were Jenny's relatives; and Jenny
took no notice of anything.

Her aunt came in, damp and flushed with heat and haste and the weight of
a silk dress covered with beads. She was a great contrast to Mrs.
Liddon, as she was well aware; much more stylish in every way--much more
on a level with this distinguished squatter's wife, whom she gushed over
effusively.

"And you, too, Jenny!"--kissing the girl, who offered her cheek and not
her lips to the salute. "I really thought you had gone home without
coming to see us."

This was just what Jenny would have done, if left to her own devices,
having no desire for intimacy with Aunt Emma or her family after the way
they had treated her about the tea-room; and she made no reply.

Mrs. Oxenham answered for her, however. "I should not have allowed that,
you may be sure. Aunts and cousins"--disregarding Jenny's protesting
eyes--"are more to one than strangers."

"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Rogerson. "And I want to hear about my poor
sister--poor thing! When we were girls together, and papa and mamma
giving us every luxury that money could buy, I little thought what she
was to come to, Mrs. Oxenham. And we believed she had made a good
marriage too. Your father, Jenny, was an Eton boy."

"I know," said blushing Jenny, who often wished devoutly that her father
had gone to a state school.

"Mr. Liddon was a gentleman," said Mary, "and his daughter takes after
him. I'm sure I don't know what Mr. Oxenham and I will do without her
when she leaves us. It is like having one of our own."

Mrs. Rogerson gushed afresh--over her niece this time; and two smart
girl-cousins came in and gushed with her. They sat on either side of
Jenny and held her hands, until one of them (Joey's adored one) got up
to make the tea.

"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Rogerson. "She was always a favourite with us;
we always knew she was a lady born, in spite of her absurd notions about
tea-rooms and so forth--which, I must confess, _did_ make us a little
angry with her. You would have felt it yourself, Mrs. Oxenham, now
wouldn't you? But, after all, blood is blood, isn't it? You can't alter
that. Our own grandfather was nephew to a baronet--Sir Timothy Smith.
You may have heard of him?"

Mrs. Oxenham said she did not remember to have done so--that perhaps he
was before her time--and graciously took another cup of tea, which she
declared was delicious.

"And now, when are you coming to us, Jenny?" Cousin Alice inquired.
"Couldn't you come and spend the day to-morrow? And couldn't _you_ come,
Mrs. Oxenham? Our tennis club is having a tournament, and we are giving
a tea on the ground--under nice shady trees, you know. It would be such
an honour if you would come and look on at us."

"I'm afraid _I_ couldn't," said Mary, with a pretence of thinking it
over. "But Jenny, if she likes, I could send her in."

"Oh, yes! And couldn't she spend a few days with us when she was here?
We have seen nothing of her. We could drive her back to Wandooyamba."

This was what Mrs. Oxenham had fished for, had roasted herself in the
sun for, and she roused herself to deal with the timely opportunity. She
looked at Jenny, and Jenny looked back at her with eyes that said "No"
so unmistakably as to suggest the thought that perhaps she knew of
Anthony's coming to the mind of the suspicious woman. This made her
resolute.

"What do you say, dear?" she inquired genially; and in a moment Jenny
understood that her friend wished her to accept the invitation, and was
wondering in a startled way whether she had outstayed her welcome at
Wandooyamba. "Don't consider us--we must not be selfish--and you will
come back to us, of course. Dickson could drive you over when he goes
for the letters, and that would give you the afternoon to see the
tournament."

There was nothing to say but "thank you" all round, and Jenny said it
with good taste, determined to bring her holiday to an end as soon as
possible--not to return to Wandooyamba after leaving it, but to spend
Christmas with her own too-long deserted family. Mary had an inkling of
what was going on in the girl's mind, but said to herself that it
couldn't be helped. Anthony must be saved at all hazards.



CHAPTER XVI

A STAR IN TWILIGHT


Mrs. Oxenham was immensely kind to Jenny when the pair were again upon
the road.

"They seemed to want you so much, darling, and I thought your mother
would wish you to show them some attention," she said. "But goodness
knows what Harry and I will do without you! We shall be quite lost, and
the children too, till you come back again."

"You are too good to me," murmured Jenny, half inclined to cry. "I think
I am getting quite spoiled."

"Oh, no! You are not one of the spoilable sort," said Mary tenderly.

Jenny had but one portmanteau with her, and into this she packed all her
belongings before starting off next day. Mr. Oxenham put it and her into
the buggy with his own hands, and, because he was not directly
responsible for her departure, bewailed it loudly.

"I call it too bad of you--downright mean, I call it--to run away from
us like this, Miss Liddon," he said to her again and again, to the
unconcealed irritation of his wife.

"You go on, Harry, as if she were leaving us for ever. We haven't seen
the last of her yet--not by a long way, have we, dear?"

The parting guest was sped with warmest kisses and handclasps, and
bidden vaguely to come back again soon. But as she stood up to wave her
handkerchief to the children from the middle of the home paddock,
looking back upon the great, rambling house, where she had had such a
good time, she said to herself that she should go back no more. If
matters had turned out differently she would have called her conviction
of that moment a presentiment.

Aunt Emma and Cousins Clementine and Alice received her cordially, and
at once began to pelt her with questions concerning the Oxenham
household, and as to what she knew of the Churchills in town. Uncle
John, the bank manager, lunching with his family, asked about Joey, and
the state of the restaurant business, and other practical matters. In
the afternoon she helped to carry cakes and cream jugs to the
tennis-ground, and was there introduced to the rank and fashion of the
town, not as "My cousin, who keeps the tea-room in Little Collins
Street," but as "My cousin, who is staying with Mrs. Oxenham at
Wandooyamba," and she sat under a tree and watched the players, and
talked when she was obliged to talk, and, when she wasn't, thought her
own thoughts, which were chiefly concerned in devising some way of
getting home immediately.

The tennis-tea was followed by tea at the bank, composed of the remains
of the former, with cold meat and eggs; and by-and-by the moon got up,
and it was proposed that the young people should have a walk to enjoy
the pleasant night. A bank-clerk and a bachelor lawyer, who had "dropped
in," attached themselves to Clem and Alice, and Mrs. Rogerson and her
niece soberly chaperoned the party, and talked family affairs together.

The night train from Melbourne came in at ten o'clock, and the little
township loved to catch it in the act. All townships which have a train
do. It is a never-failing joy to them. And, finding themselves in the
neighbourhood of the station at about 9.35, the Rogerson girls exclaimed
with one voice, "Let's stay and see the train come in."

The motion was carried unanimously, and for half an hour they loitered
up and down the platform, looking into the vagueness of the moonlit
night, and talking and laughing rather loudly; all but Jenny, who,
though she was so much less genteel than these relations, did not think
it good manners to make a noise. And so it came to pass that she
presently saw a buggy dash into the station-yard, and recognised it as
the one that had brought her in in the morning.

"That's to meet somebody," said Clem to Alice, with intense curiosity.
"Jenny, who's expected at Wandooyamba to-night?"

"Nobody, that I know of," said Jenny. "They are always sending for
parcels and things."

The train signalled from a distance, hummed through the still night, and
clattered up to the platform, watched intently by all the eyes
available. It was not the great express, but a local off-shoot from it,
and the passengers it disgorged at this point were not very numerous.
The first to tumble out was a big man with a red beard.

"Oh! _Oh!_ OH! It's Mrs. Oxenham's brother! It's Mr. Anthony Churchill!
He hasn't been here for ages--they said he was in England. Oh, isn't he
handsome? Oh, I wonder if he will come to the town at all? Oh, Jenny,
just see what you have missed!"

Jenny drew back into the dim crowd, on which he cast no glance as he
strode to the buggy, calling to a porter to bring his things. She said
nothing, but she thought--it was a thought that stung like fire--"Now I
know why I have been sent away from Wandooyamba."

Anthony's journey had been a pleasant one--especially the latter part of
it, when the coolness of a dewy night had replaced the glare of day;
smoking quietly, and meditating upon his prospects, he would not have
changed places with a king. Since he had definitely made up his mind to
marry Jenny, and since his father had admitted the wisdom of that
proceeding, and consented to it, all seemed plain and clear before him;
for he had no fear of Mary, who was the first to know her worth, and
already treated her as a sister, and no fear at all that the girl
herself would for a moment dream of refusing him. He was too deeply
experienced in the signs and tokens of the supreme sentiment not to
recognise it when he saw it, and he had seen it very plainly once or
twice through the modest disguises that she flattered herself had
screened it from him.

All the way up he had been thinking of her, imagining their meeting at
Wandooyamba, and all that he would do on the morrow, which was Sunday,
and a most beautiful day for love-making. He planned the time and
circumstances of his marriage, and how the other Liddons should be
disposed of while he was showing the world to his bride, and where he
and she would live, and what sort of home they would have when they
settled down after their travels. Being Saturday night, which passengers
by the express who want to go all the way to Sydney don't choose for
starting on that journey, if they can help it, he had room to put up his
legs and make a rug pillow for his head; in which condition of bodily
ease, his mind, so to speak, went out to play, and amused itself
delightfully. Jenny would not have known herself had she seen how she
was pictured in the fancies of his dreaming brain.

Needless to say, he never dreamed of seeing her on the platform when he
arrived, and did not do so. At each of the country stations there was a
lounging crowd to see the train come in, people to whom it was the chief
entertainment in life, and who were a great nuisance occasionally to the
hungry and thirsty traveller with but a few minutes in which to get his
meal; but these had nothing to do with Jenny or with him, and were
ignored as far as possible. He distinctly heard the "Oh's" of Clementine
and Alice, and the sound of his name, and nothing was less likely to
suggest the presence of his little sweetheart, with her shy refinement.
He knew that a man would have been sent to meet the train, and looked
for him and him only. In two minutes his rug and luggage were in the
buggy, and the light vehicle spinning out of the town.

The groom was a youth who was not supposed to know anything about the
inside of his master's house, and Anthony heard no news that interested
him--except that Mr. Oxenham did not intend to drive Emily again with
ladies and children behind her; which was a great relief to him. He lit
his pipe afresh, and leaned back in his corner with arms folded, and
thought of what was coming, in a mood of mind that he had imagined
himself to have outgrown years and years ago. The night was very sweet
and still, with its delicate mixture of moonlight and shadow; a night to
make the most world-hardened man feel sentimental. And the spell of the
lonely bush is very strong upon those who are native to it, when they
have been away for a long time.

"There will be a moon again to-morrow night," he thought. "And all these
leagues of solitude to lose ourselves in! It shall be settled to-morrow
night, and then we will both stay for Christmas, while I teach her to
get used to it. Oh, this is better than the Richmond lodgings, or the
St. Kilda pier!"

Through the trees he saw a dark bank, crowned with a cluster of low
roofs, uplifted from the valley pastures to the palely shining sky. He
looked at it with kindling eyes, and thought of the little figure moving
about the many rooms, in the atmosphere of cultured people--its native
air--and how considerate and sagacious his sister Mary was. A light
like a star stole out upon the hill, and another, and another. He hoped
devoutly that Mary had not sent her charge to bed.

"What time do you make it, Pat?"

"About eleven, sir; not more."

Oh, that wasn't bed-time! And she was not ill now. Perhaps, however, she
would make an excuse to retire, lest she should be in the way at the
family meeting; it would be just like her. Perhaps she would go to bed
to avoid him, out of pure shyness. The doubt worried him, for he had set
his heart on seeing her that night--just to satisfy himself that she was
really alive and well, and had not been forgetting to care for him
during his long absence from her.



CHAPTER XVII

"YOU NEED NOT EXPECT ME BACK"


Harry Oxenham, pipe in mouth, stood at the open garden gate. Mary stood
on the step of the front door. Conscious of guilt, they greeted him with
more than usual cordiality.

"And so you have really come, after all, my dear old boy," his sister
cried, with her arms about his neck. "This _is_ good of you! A piece of
luck that I _never_ expected!"

"Yes, I've come. Awfully glad to get into clean air, out of those
stinking streets. How are the kids? Why didn't you let me come last
night?"

"Oh, the kids are as right as possible. You won't know them, they have
grown so. Of course they are in bed and asleep, or they would be pulling
you down between them."

She was hoping the tiresome brats wouldn't begin to talk of Jenny the
first thing in the morning, and he was anxiously peering over her
shoulder.

"Why did you stop me yesterday, Polly?"

"Oh, for reasons--never mind now, as long as you are here. Come in and
have some supper. You must be hungry and tired after your long journey.
Did you bring me some fish? Oh, thanks. It will be a treat, after weeks
of Murray cod."

He followed her across the hall into the dining-room, where half the
table was spread with a tempting meal. He looked around; there was no
one there. He looked at Mary, and he thought she blushed.

"Where is Miss Liddon?" he inquired coolly. "Has she gone to bed?"

This time Mary blushed unmistakably. She exchanged a faltering glance
with her husband, who sidled out of the room; then she rallied her
dignity, and quietly replied that Miss Liddon was not with her.

"She was here two days ago," said Tony darkly.

"How do you know that?"

"Never mind how I know it. Only I do, for a certainty."

"Not from me; I have told nobody. If _she_ has been writing to
you,"--Mrs. Oxenham, gentle woman that she was, flared up at the
thought--"all I can say is that I am shockingly deceived in her."

"She never wrote to me in her life. But that's neither here nor there.
The fact remains that she was in this house two days ago, and is out of
it now. What have you done with her?"

There was an irritating abruptness in his tone and manner, and his
sister threw up her head with a haughty gesture.

"_I?_ Is she a child, that anybody should do anything with her? She has
some relations living in the town, and has gone to stay with them."

"When did she go?"

"Oh, my dear Tony, you are too absurd! And I don't choose to be
catechised in this fashion. Miss Liddon is nothing to you."

"That's all you know about it. When did she go, Mary?"

He looked hard at her, and she at him, and she held her breath for a
moment, trying to grasp the situation.

"She went this morning."

"And knew that I was coming to-night?"

"How can I tell? I did not think it necessary to talk about it to her."

"You mean you kept it from her? And that you contrived that she should
go to her relations--having put me off to give you time to do it--so as
to have her out of my way. I know about those relations. They have
snubbed and spurned her in her struggles, like the cads they are, and
she can't endure them."

"They have been exceedingly attentive to her, and had asked her to visit
them a dozen times. They proposed to-day themselves."

"I have it from her sister. And also that she was expecting to stay on
here. It was in a letter, dated two days ago. I read it. Mary, it seems
to me that you have behaved abominably. You simply turned her out."

"Tony, I will not allow you to talk to me like that. And just let me ask
_you_ one question:--Supposing I did, what in the world can it matter to
you?"

"Well, I came up on purpose to see her, that's all."

"Oh! You are very complimentary to us. But you don't mean that, of
course. _You!_ A man in your position can't possibly have any concern
with a girl in hers; at least, you have no business to have any."

"That's worthy of Maude, Polly. In fact, the very words she said to me
yesterday."

"Maude? What does she know about it? Tony, you are talking riddles. I
can't understand you in the least."

"Oh, Maude knows. So does my father. But _he_ doesn't say those
insulting things. He says I have made a wise choice--as I know I
have--and has given us his consent and blessing in advance. Do you
understand now?"

She understood, and was momentarily stunned. Not Lady Louisa, after all,
but this little no-account tea-room girl! It was a heavy shock. She
dropped into a chair, flung herself back in it, and ejaculated,
"_Well!_"--adding with a long breath, "And she never gave me the least
hint of it all this time!"

"She couldn't very well, seeing that she hasn't the faintest idea of
such a thing herself--to the best of my knowledge."

"Then"--eagerly--"you have not spoken yet?"

"I am going to speak as soon as I can find her. And you are not going to
prevent me, though you may think you are."

He poured out some whisky, and began to survey the dishes on the table.
He was very angry, and consequently calm.

"Where's Harry?" he inquired. "I ordered the new buggy yesterday. I want
to tell him about it. Harry, where are you?"

Harry came in, sheepish, but blustering, and was delighted to go into
the buggy question without delay. They sat down to supper, and the men
discussed business matters throughout the meal. Then Mr. Oxenham
faint-heartedly proposed a smoke.

"No, thank you," said Anthony. "I'm off to bed. Same room, Mary?"

"Yes, dear." She followed him into the hall. "Aren't you going to say
good-night to me, Tony?"

He kissed her coldly in silence.

"I did not know," she whispered. "It is so sudden--so unexpected. We
will talk it over to-morrow, Tony."

"There's nothing to talk over," said he. And he marched off.

Mrs. Oxenham went to bed and cried. Then she thought deeply for a long
time. Then she woke her husband up to talk to him.

"After all," she said, "it might have been worse. Some men, gentlemen of
the highest class, marry barmaids and actresses--the vulgarest
creatures. And Jenny isn't vulgar. However unsuitable she may be in
other ways, personally she is a lady. That's one comfort. And--and it's
very noble of him, don't you think?"

She got up early in the morning, and wrote to Jenny.

     "DEAR CHILD,--

     "My brother came last night, and was in a great way to find you
     gone. Ask your aunt to be good enough to spare you again to us, for
     I want you to help me to entertain him. We are talking of a picnic
     to the ranges, and could not manage that without you. I am sending
     Dickson with the buggy. Come back with him, and your aunt can have
     you later.

     "Your affectionate friend,

     "MARY OXENHAM."

This note was delivered at the bank at breakfast time, with the message
that the man was waiting for an answer. Jenny took it to her room, read
it, and penned the following reply with a violently shaking hand:--

     "DEAR MRS. OXENHAM,--

     "Thank you very much for your kindness in wishing me to return to
     you, but I think I ought not to prolong my holiday further, now
     that I am quite strong again. I am sure they must be badly wanting
     me at home, and I have decided to go back to-morrow, with some
     friends of my aunt's who happen to be going down. I could not leave
     her to-day, as I have but just come, and the time is so short. I am
     very sorry you should have had the trouble of sending the buggy for
     nothing. Please accept my grateful thanks for all your kindness,
     which I shall never forget, and believe me,--

     "Yours sincerely,

     "JENNY LIDDON."

Anthony at Wandooyamba was restless and surly. Mary had always been his
ally in everything, and these devoted ones are the people we have no
compunction about punishing severely when they do happen inadvertently
to offend us. He would not forgive her for sending Jenny away.

"Can you lend me a horse, Harry?" was the first thing he said on coming
down to breakfast--before he had even noticed the children, whom he had
not seen for so long.

"A dozen, my dear fellow, if you want them," said Harry.

"Thank you. I only want one."

Mary leaned over the table and whispered to him, "Wait a little. She is
coming back to-day."

"Have you sent for her?" he asked, lifting his eyebrows.

She nodded.

He shook his head. "She will know what she was turned out for, and she
won't come back."

"She will--she will," said Mary, who devoutly hoped it. "Wait till
Dickson returns, at any rate."

Dickson had a wife and family in the township, and when he found that he
had not to drive the young lady to Wandooyamba, he concluded that he
need not hurry home, but might take his ease in his own house, as he was
accustomed to do on the day of rest; so he pocketed Jenny's letter until
the evening. When he then delivered it--at past six o'clock--he was very
much surprised and offended at being taken to task for presuming to
exercise his own judgment in the matter. He little knew what the
consequences had been to Mr. Churchill's temper and his mistress's peace
of mind. Tony was a handful that day, and sincerely did Mary regret
having tried to play Providence to him.

She went to church with her family--to her own little bush church which
her own money maintained; the parson, ritual, and general affairs of
which were wholly under her direction--hoping to find the lovers
together on her return. In the afternoon they all walked for miles on
the track of the expected buggy, and walked back again, casting wistful
looks behind them. Then Dickson came leisurely ambling home--they saw
him from the verandah sitting in solitary state--and Jenny's letter was
delivered and the suspense ended.

Mary tore it open, read it with distress, almost with tears, and handed
it to her brother. He perused it with a grim smile, put it into his
pocket, and ordered a horse to be saddled immediately.

"What, at _this_ hour?" she cried.

"I have wasted too many," he answered stiffly. "Good-night. You need not
expect me back again."



CHAPTER XVIII

JENNY IS TREATED LIKE A LADY


That night the Rogersons went to church in a body, as usual, for they
were a churchy family. Mrs. Rogerson was that power in the congregation
which only a self-asserting, middle-aged, highly-respectable female of
pronounced religious views can be, and fully recognised her
responsibilities as such; knew that she was expected to set an example,
and believed that the parochial machine would certainly get out of gear
if she did not keep a constant eye upon it. Alice and Clementine were
both in the choir, and particularly indispensable to it of an evening,
when anthems were performed. Mr. Rogerson carried round the plate and
counted the money in the vestry--most important function and functionary
of them all. When the early tea was disposed of, and the table prepared
for the substantial supper which was the concluding ceremony of the
day, whereat the minister and several leading church members assisted,
the family put on their best bonnets, and brushed their hats, and went
forth to their devotions, leaving a godless young clerk, with a cigar
and a novel, to keep guard over the bank's treasure in their absence.

Leaving also Jenny--not with the young bank-clerk, who was invisible,
but on a sofa in the hot drawing-room upstairs, complaining of a
headache, which she had legitimately come by through exciting her little
soul over Mrs. Oxenham's letter and the perplexing questions that it
raised. They had urged her to go to church, that she might hear the
anthem and see how well they did things, but her intense craving to be
alone to think gave her strength to resist their importunities. She was
provided with Drummond's _Natural Law_ and a smelling-bottle, and left
in peace.

Just as the church bells were silenced by the striking of the town
clock, Mr. Churchill reached the principal hotel; and he quickly
unpacked the small valise he had carried on his saddle, washed and
brushed, and fortified himself with whisky and a biscuit, in lieu of his
lost dinner, which he had not time to think of now. And at about the
moment when Clementine began her solo in the anthem he rang the bell at
the bank door. Somebody, he knew, would be upon the premises, and he was
prepared to explain the object of his visit to any whom it might
concern.

The young clerk thought of burglars, and was at first reluctant, but, on
recognising the untimely caller, admitted the great man, and did what in
him lay to be obliging. Jenny heard the ring and the little stir in the
hall, but took no notice. She was entirely absorbed in wondering why
Mrs. Oxenham wanted to throw her at Mr. Churchill's head to-day, after
taking such extreme measures to remove her from him yesterday; and why
Mr. Churchill, supposed to be engaged to Lady Louisa, should be in "a
great way" because he had not found at Wandooyamba the girl of whom he
had taken no notice while they were both in town and he was at liberty
to interview her at any time. She was lying all along on a sofa, with
her arms thrown up and her hands under her head. Her little figure was
clad in a white gown--a costume insisted on by Mrs. Oxenham in this
midsummer weather. The light from the window beside her touched her
chestnut hair and her pure skin and her bright eyes, that were fixed in
deep abstraction upon the wall. If she had posed to look her prettiest,
she could not have succeeded better.

A heavy step came up the stairs, and she did not stir, for _she_ had no
thought of burglars. Not until it slackened and paused at the open door
of the drawing-room, threatening an intrusion upon her precious hour of
peace, did she turn her head apprehensively. When she saw who it was
that stood there, looking at her, she bounded to her feet as if she had
been shot.

"Oh--h--h!" she breathed almost inaudibly.

"Miss Liddon, I am so glad to find you at home."

He was as sober as one could desire that a gentleman should be, but
probably it was whisky on an empty stomach which made him bold at a time
when most men are liable to be daunted; for, seeing her standing there,
trembling, cowering, but visibly glowing from head to foot, he made up
his mind that then and there would he settle the great question between
them. No, not _there_. As he took his resolution, he remembered how
short the evening service is, though it may not seem so to the persons
taking part in it, and how horrible it would be to be disturbed in the
middle of his proposal by the Rogersons and the parson and half a dozen
gossips of the township coming in. So he said to Jenny, holding her hand
very firmly, "As you wouldn't come to Wandooyamba, I have been obliged
to come to you. I have something of great importance to say to you; and
I want to know if you will come out for a little walk on the hills with
me? It is not very hot now."

Jenny's colour deepened, and her tremblings increased. She withdrew her
hand. "There is no one here," she said.

"But there will be soon. And I have a great deal to tell you--I want to
be free to talk. Come out for a walk. Your aunt won't object when she
knows it is I who am with you. Go and put your hat on--quick."

She hesitated still. "It is not--not anything the matter? Not anybody
ill? Nothing wrong at home?"

"No, no! Make haste and get ready, or they will be back before we can
get away."

She ran off to her room, and there stood still for a minute, clenching
her hands and drawing long breaths that shook her little frame. Thoughts
raced too fast to be followed, but if she could not think she could
feel. If she could not understand him she was sure she could trust him;
his sister's endorsement of his proceedings was a guarantee of that. She
put on her hat, snatched up a pair of gloves, and returned to him
speechless.

"You don't want gloves," he said, and took them from her, and laid them
on a table on the landing. They went downstairs, and the young clerk let
them out of the iron-lined door.

"You can tell Mrs. Rogerson that I will bring Miss Liddon home safely,"
said Anthony, with the air of a lawful guardian. It was nearly eight
o'clock, and daylight was fading fast. He had an idea that there would
be a moon, which would make a walk on the hills delicious, forgetting
that the moon was not due for another hour and a half. Jenny had no
ideas upon the subject; she left all to him.

Immediately behind the township the rocky ranges began to rise and to
break like waves into little valleys and gorges that were as lonely as
a desert island, though so near the haunts of men. He knew all their ins
and outs, and in his own mind had marked the group of boulders where he
and Jenny would sit while he asked her to marry him. He had found it
years before, when out on a picnic; it had wattle-feathered rock on
three sides of it, and in front the ground fell into a ravine that
opened the whole way to the sunset. Two quiet streets, a lane, and a
rather weary mountain path led to this airy solitude, and one could
reach it with steady walking in a little over half-an-hour. One might
have thought it would certainly be occupied or invaded on a Sunday
night, with so many wanderers abroad, but as a fact the townspeople
cared nothing for the beautiful scenery at their doors, and did not go
into the ranges from year's end to year's end. Anthony knew that, and
chanced finding his eyrie untenanted.

Through the streets where 'Arry and 'Arriet were strolling on the
footpaths and flirting over their garden gates, he led his spell-bound
companion, chatting commonplaces by the way.

"You know that I have been absent from town?" he said.

She replied that she had not known it till the other day.

"Yes, for several weeks. And I had no idea you were here all this time.
Of course I got no letters at sea."

"The sea must have been delicious in the hot weather," remarked Jenny,
thinking of her sufferings during the Cup season in the stifling air of
Little Collins Street.

"No, it wasn't. At least, I did not enjoy it. I daresay the sea was
right enough; I might have enjoyed it in other company."

"But I thought your company--Mrs. Oxenham told me----"

"What did Mrs. Oxenham tell you?" But he divined what it was. "That
there was a lady on board whom I was specially interested in?"

"She thought you were engaged to her."

"Oh, did she? People have no business to _think_ about those matters;
they ought to _know_, before they talk. That lady was just about the
last woman in the world to suit me. And they bored me to death--the
whole lot of them."

Jenny's heart leaped in her breast, but still she did not dare to ask
herself what his words and his visit portended. They had begun to climb
the mountain pathway, a devious and stony track through wattle bushes
and gum saplings, and it had grown almost too dark to see his face.

"Have we not gone far enough?" she asked him, pausing.

"It is the scrub that shuts the light out," he said quickly. "And there
will be a moon directly. Just a little further, and we shall get the
breeze from the top. Does it tire you? Let me help you up."

He offered his arm, but she declined it. She was not tired, but nervous
about being out so late and so far from home.

"Not with me," he said; and added, "There's nothing clandestine about
it. Mrs. Rogerson knows--at any rate, she will when I take you home--and
so does Mary."

"Does Mrs. Oxenham know that I am walking here with you?" she was
impelled to inquire, breathlessly.

"Most certainly she does."

Jenny climbed on blindly, with her head spinning round. Presently they
reached the top, and the cool air blew in their faces. The town, the
inhabited world, was behind them, cut off by a granite wall and the
obliteration of the track in the gloom of night; in front the ravine
stretched away to the pale saffron of the west, and, looking in that
direction, it did not seem that day was over yet.

"Now I must find you a place to sit and rest yourself," said Anthony.
"Take my hand over these rough stones."

Her hand shook, and so did his; his voice had begun to sound a little
breathless, like hers. His exultation was mounting to his head, and
something like terror was making her heart quake. "Ought I to have
allowed him? Ought I to have done it?" she was asking herself. But it
was too late for such questions now, and all doubts were settled within
the next five minutes.

"Here," he said. "This is the place. A flat stone to sit on, and the
sloping rock to lean against. Generally the rocks slope the wrong way,
but this slants back at the right angle exactly. Sit down here; you must
be tired after that climb. I will fan you with a wattle branch." He
began to break off boughs, while she sat down, because her knees
trembled so that it was difficult to stand. "Isn't this a charming
view? At sunset it is magnificent, when the tops of the ranges turn pink
and then indigo, like velvet. Can you hear the trickle of the creek down
there? It seems miles below us, in that depth of shadow, doesn't it? And
that humming sound--listen! It is a waterfall. What is the noise like?
Oh, I know--like a railway train in the distance. And the wind in the
gum leaves--can't you shut your eyes and imagine that is the sea? Do you
remember that night on the St Kilda pier, when you were so frightened?
You are not afraid of me now, Jenny?"

He flung himself on the ground beside her, and tossed his hat away.

"Yes, I am," she said, springing to her feet, and turning eastward
towards the town. "And I _must_ go home, Mr. Churchill; it is not right
for me to be out here at this hour. You should not have brought me. It
is not treating me like--like a lady," she burst out, in a tone of
reproach and distress which reminded him that he had not yet given her
proper notice of his intentions.

He sprang upright in an instant, and caught her arm, and, before she
knew it, had both his arms around her.

"Don't you understand?" he exclaimed, in a deep voice. "I thought you
did--I thought Sarah would have told you. And my coming in this way--my
dragging you up here, to get you to myself--and Mary's letter--oh, my
poor little woman, you _didn't_ think I was making an amusement of it,
_did_ you? That's not treating me like a gentleman, Jenny."

"But you can't----"

"I can--I do. I want you to marry me, Jenny--there it is; and you can't
misunderstand now. And, what's more, all my family know it, too, and my
father says he's glad, and told me to tell you that he says so. And Mary
is awfully sorry that she sent you away yesterday. And you--_you_ won't
say 'No'? It may be cheek and impudence to mention it, but I've seen it
in your dear little eyes a score of times."

"Oh, _what_ have you seen?" she asked, gasping, laughing, crying,
thrilling, all dazed and overwhelmed in this sea of joy.

"This," he answered, stooping his head and putting a hand under her
chin. "Take off your hat, Jenny, so that I can kiss you comfortably."



CHAPTER XIX

WOMAN'S RIGHTS REFUSED


The transcendent minutes passed, and presently found them sitting under
their sloping rock, talking with some measure of sense and
self-possession. Both heads were uncovered, and, as Anthony had
anticipated, gloves were not required. The saffron sky had hardly a
vestige of colour left, stars were out overhead, the gorge at their feet
might have been the valley of death itself, so impenetrably deep and
dark it looked, with the steep, black hills heaving out of it. Through
the delicate air came a faint chime from far away behind them, the clock
at the post office striking nine.

"Ought we not to go?" whispered Jenny.

"No, darling. We couldn't go if we tried. On the other side it would be
too dark to see a step; we should only lose ourselves. We must wait for
the moon."

"It won't be long, will it?"

"About half an hour. Aren't you content to sit here with me? We shall be
home before eleven."

She was quite content. Her head was not high enough to reach his
shoulder--it rested on his breast; he tucked away his beard that it
might not tickle her face. His own face he laid on her brown hair, or
stroked that hair with a big, soft hand. His arm supported her little
frame; it was so little and so light that he was afraid to hug it much,
for fear he should crush it.

"What a ridiculous mite it is!" he murmured. "If you are tired, Jenny, I
can carry you home quite easily."

She said she was not tired.

"But you have been tired, my poor little girl! When I think of what you
have been doing, all this hot summer, while I have been loafing around
and amusing myself----! However, that won't happen again."

"And yet you never came to the tea-room to see how I was getting on--not
for such a long, long time!"

"And don't you know why that was? Mary found me going, and scolded me
for it, because she said it was compromising you. It was for fear that I
might do that--that only--that I kept away. Whereby, you see, I have
_always_ treated you like a lady--from the very beginning. Oh, Jenny,
that _was_ an unkind thing to say!"

"But how was I to know? And you were so far above me----"

He put his hand over her mouth.

"But still I _do_ think," she proceeded, when the impediment was
removed, "I do think it _was_ cheek and impudence to make so sure. It's
like a Sultan and his slave--like Ahasuerus and Esther. And I never
_did_ run after you--you know I never, never did!"

Her voice was smothered in his moustache.

"Poor little mite! No more it did! It was the very pink and pattern of
all that was proper. And yet I knew it--I knew it, Jenny, just as
certainly as if you had said, 'I love you' in so many words."

"You had no business to know it--and you _couldn't_."

"I could and did. You shouldn't have eyes so clear that one can see your
heart through them." He kissed the lids down over them, and held them
shut for a space. "And you are not ashamed of it, are you?"

"I should have been ashamed if I had known it before, but I'm not now."
She stole an arm round his bent neck. "But you won't hold me cheap
by-and-by, because I gave myself away so easily, and was so far be----"

Again he laid his hand over her mouth. "I can't very well do it now," he
said gravely, "but when I am your husband, and you say things like that
to me, I shall simply smack you, Jenny."

He lifted her into a sitting posture, and fumbled in all his pockets.

"Oh, here it is," drawing forth the ring he had purchased in Melbourne.
"You can't see it by this light, but it's the very nicest I could find.
Neat, but not gaudy, you know. It has a pearl in it, threaded on a gold
wire because it's so big, as white and pure as your own dear little
soul. Yes, I got it on purpose--so you see how sure I was of getting
_you_. Don't let its poor little pride be hurt. You couldn't have helped
it, you know, anyhow; because, if you hadn't given yourself, I should
have taken you as a matter of course, as the giant took Tom Thumb."

"I don't think you would," said Jenny.

"You don't? Well, perhaps not I believe you are a match for any giant,
you little epitome of pluck! By-and-by we'll see. In the meantime let me
put this on your finger, and tell me if it's the right fit."

He put it on, and it was exactly the right fit.

"_There!_ By whatever means I have got you, you are mine from this
moment--signed, sealed, and delivered." He lifted the little hand, and
kissed the ring reverently. "Till death us do part."

She kissed it after him, and then flung herself on his breast, where he
held her, closely and in silence, until the moon rose and gave them
light enough to find their way home.

After all, it was past eleven before they arrived; for the right track
was difficult to find while the moon was shut off from it by the tall
scrub, and its many pitfalls had to be encountered with care. Hand in
hand, and cautious step by step, the affianced lovers came down from
their mount of transfiguration, and could hardly believe their ears
when, still high above the town, they counted the chimes that told them
they had been more than three hours together.

"Never mind," said Anthony. "In for a penny, in for a pound. And we
shall be able to give a good account of ourselves when we do get back."

"Shall you give an account to-night?" she asked.

"Certainly. In the first place, to justify this expedition; in the
second, to prove my right to take you home to-morrow, and otherwise to
control the situation. Isn't that what you wish?"

She assented with a pressure of his hand. "When I see my aunt's
face--when I see them all knocked backwards by the shock--then perhaps I
shall believe in the miracle of being engaged to you," she said. And he
replied with truth, that if she didn't believe it now, it was not his
fault.

The aunt's face it was which met them at the bank door. Mrs. Rogerson
believed that a deliberate assignation had been planned--and that on a
Sunday, when respectable young folks should have been at church--and
was properly concerned and scandalised. At the same time she was deeply
interested and flattered by the fact that it was Mr. Churchill who thus
took liberties with her household; and she felt there were mysteries to
be unravelled before she could decide upon any course of action. She
fell upon Jenny first, and her voice was a decided reprimand.

"My _dear_ child! where _have_ you been? And _do_ you know what time it
is?" Then with a gush, "Oh, Mr. Churchill, this _is_ an unexpected
pleasure! Won't you walk in?"

He shook hands and walked in. "I am afraid it's late," he said; "but you
must blame me, not Jenny. I took her for a little turn to see if the air
would do her headache good, and it got dark before we knew it, and we
lost our way. But I knew you would not be anxious, knowing she was with
me."

"Oh, no--certainly. Do come in. My husband will be so pleased to see
you. You are quite a stranger in these parts."

She led the way to the dining-room, where an entirely new supper had
been arranged, on purpose for him, and where he was impressively
received by the urbane father and his fluttering daughters.

"Our friends are gone, Jenny," said Clementine, all eyes for the great
man. "And Mrs. Simpson was so anxious to see you--to tell you she was
going down by Tuesday morning's train instead of to-morrow afternoon."

"Oh!" said Anthony, "that doesn't matter. I am going down myself
to-morrow afternoon, and I'll take care of Jenny. I know she is anxious
to get home--aren't you, dear?"

It was like an electric shock striking through the room. The eyes of the
startled family interrogated each other and Jenny's blushing face.

"Oh, it's quite proper," said Anthony lightly, "since we are engaged
people--engaged with the consent of our families, moreover. She could
not have a more eligible escort. _Is_ that chicken-pie, Miss Rogerson?
May I have some? I came away from Wandooyamba without my dinner, and I
am simply ravenous."

The effect of the plain statement was all that Jenny had anticipated.
They were so stupefied for the moment that they could only gape and
stare, marvelling at the inscrutable ways of Providence and the
incalculable caprices of rich men. Perhaps the first sensation was one
of personal chagrin, in that the virtue of consistent gentility had gone
unrewarded, while the enormity of a tea-room was so unjustly condoned;
but personal pride in the prospective connection was the permanent and
predominating sentiment. Exclamations, questions, interjections, kisses,
hugs, wrapped Jenny as in a whirlwind; while her lover calmly ate his
pie and drank his bottled ale, as if it were an old story that
interested him no longer. He was not ashamed to ask for a second
helping.

"And you never saw her on the platform last night?" said Clem archly, as
she waited upon him.

"Good heavens, no! What platform?"

"Our platform. She must have known you were coming--I know she saw you
jump out of the carriage--and she never made a sign! And she's never
given us the faintest hint at all!"

"That's her native modesty. And there are some things one doesn't talk
about, you know--except to one's nearest and dearest."

"Who can be nearer than we?" demanded Mrs. Rogerson, caressing her
niece.

"Oh, I don't know," he drawled carelessly. "There's nothing in being
mere relatives. I don't tell things to my relatives, and--a--you have
not been so _very_ intimate, you know--at least, not since I've known
her."

An uncomfortable pause was broken by a protest from Alice, who was given
to the saying of things that were better left unsaid. "I'm sure,
never--until the tea-room----"

The mention of that bone of strife brought angry blushes to the family
cheek, and glares which stopped her from going further.

"Don't speak ill of the tea-room, if you please," he said. "It is the
most admirable institution that I know. But for the tea-room I should
not have found my pattern wife--should not have known half her good
qualities."

Jenny's intimacy with _him_--years old since eight o'clock--made her
fearless of what she said or did, and, as has been intimated before, she
was a person of spirit, with a good deal of human nature in her. She
moved to his side, laid her hand on his shoulder for a moment, and
said, with an ineffable air of self-justification, "_He_ is not ashamed
of the tea-room."

"On the contrary, dear, I am proud of it," he responded quickly,
touching the little hand.

"Nevertheless," proceeded Jenny, "I will give it up now. It has been a
success--I have earned a great deal of money--but I will dispose of it
when I go home."

"We needn't talk about these things now," said Anthony, with a slight
frown.

"But, my dear sir," the urbane uncle interposed, "I am her natural
guardian, don't you see. Joseph is a good boy--a very superior youth, in
fact--but he is _only_ a boy. It is my duty, as her nearest male
relative, standing in the place of her father, to attend to her affairs
at this juncture."

"I merely wanted to say," proceeded Jenny, with an air of resolution,
"that I wish to please those who have been so good to me--who have not
despised me because of what I did to make a living. I will not wait in
the tea-room again--for their sakes; and of course my mother and sister
must not work there without me. I will think of something else, that
shall not--not be disagreeable to anybody."

"You don't want to think any more, Jenny," said Anthony quietly. "I am
going to do the thinking now."

"Still," urged Mrs. Rogerson, with tardy generosity and misguided zeal,
"we can't allow _you_ to be saddled with my sister and her children, Mr.
Churchill. They must not live on _your_ money."

"They won't," said Jenny.

"I know they won't," said Anthony, "if they are made of the same stuff
as you. But please leave all that now, dear. And go to bed, or you will
be tired for your journey to-morrow."

On the way to his hotel he confounded the impudence of her relatives in
many bad words, and laughed at the notion that she was going to "boss"
the family arrangements as heretofore.



CHAPTER XX

SHE CARES NOT


Next morning, while he was sitting with his _fiancée_ in the bank
drawing-room, the ladies of the house having discreetly pleaded domestic
engagements, Mrs. Oxenham was announced--to see Miss Liddon.

Jenny rose from the sofa, pale and palpitating. Anthony neither moved
nor spoke, but watched his sister narrowly.

"I have come," said Mary; and then she stopped, and held out her arms.
Jenny rushed into them, sobbing; and it was made evident that all
opposition was at an end, as far as this Churchill was concerned.

"I am not _de trop_, am I?" she inquired, with a tremulous laugh. "You
don't mind my sitting here with you for a few minutes, do you, Tony?"

He got up, and solemnly kissed her. "You are a good old girl, Polly," he
said, in a deep voice. "Sit down, and tell us that you wish us
joy--it's about the only thing that could make us happier than we are
already."

"I came on purpose," she replied, "to wish you joy, dears, and to fetch
you both back to Wandooyamba. Jenny, you will come back to me, my
darling? I understand now--I didn't before. And Harry--he is your
devoted admirer, you must know--he commissioned me to say that he
expects you."

Jenny looked at her lover, who shook his head.

"Can't," he said. "We have telegraphed to her mother, and have arranged
to go down by this afternoon's train."

"Oh, no, Tony!"

"Yes, Polly! we can't put it off now. I must see her mother. And we are
going to close the tea-room, and--and lots of things. But we can come
back again."

Mrs. Oxenham was then prevailed on to wait to see them off, and the
Rogersons sent out for champagne that lunch might be served in a style
befitting the occasion. Having made up her mind to support Tony, there
was nothing Mary would not do to please him; and she fraternised with
Jenny's relatives, invited them to Wandooyamba, drove them to the
station, and otherwise effaced herself and her social prejudices, in the
spirit of a generous woman who is also a born lady. On the platform she
kissed the lovers in turn, regardless of spectators.

"I declare," she said, aside to her brother, "it is ridiculous of you
two to be going away like this; you should have gone alone, Tony, and
left Jenny with me."

He laughed derisively.

"You could have come back for her when you had seen her mother, or I
could have brought her down. You look exactly like a bride and
bridegroom starting off on their honeymoon, with all this party seeing
you off."

"We'll be that when we come back again," said he.

"Oh, I hope you are not going to put off coming to me till then!"

He laughed again, and dropped his voice. "I'm going to take her to
Europe, Polly, and we must sail not later than March, you know, on
account of the Red Sea, and the English spring, which I don't want her
to miss."

"_Tony!_ You are _not_ going off again, before we've hardly got you
back!"

"She has never seen the world, as we have, and I'm going to show it to
her. It's what her little heart is set on. And time she had some
pleasure, after all her hard work."

"Ah, ah! 'She' will be everything, now!"

"She won't be everything, but she'll be first. Where is she, by the way?
Come, little one, jump in."

Jenny stepped into a small compartment of the ancient carriages provided
for this unimportant branch line, and he sprang in after her. Though it
was close to Christmas, and other compartments were fairly full, they
had this one to themselves--whether by fair means or foul did not
transpire. As soon as they were off Anthony proceeded to unfold in
detail the plans he had been hatching through the night, because, he
said, the main line train would be crowded, and he might not have
another opportunity.

"We'll go abroad, Jenny, first, and then settle----"

"But I am not going to desert my family all in a moment, as you seem to
think," she protested. "Indeed, indeed I cannot----"

He simply put his hand over her mouth.

"It won't take very long, and I shall want to have a house preparing for
us to come to when we get back. I shall want to feel that we have a
home, all the same--for we may get tired of wandering at any minute. And
this is a thing one can't leave to other people. One must choose for
one's self. So I shall at once look round for a nice place--Hush, Jenny!
Don't interrupt me when I'm speaking, it's rude--and then I shall see if
I can't persuade your mother and sister to look after it for us. You
see, we shall be sending home furniture and all sorts of odds and ends
from different places as we travel about, and we shall want somebody we
can trust to receive the things and take care of them. I hardly like to
ask such a favour of her, but for your sake I believe your mother would
like the job; and I daresay she will feel lonesome with nothing to do
when the tea-room is shut up. I shall take passages _immediately_,
because berths are bespoken months before at this time of year. For
February, if possible."

Jenny gasped. "Oh, talk of cheek and impudence--! Am I not to have any
say at all?"

"Certainly not. An infinitesimal little mite like you!"

"You seem to think that, because I am small, I'm not to be counted as a
woman with a will of her own."

"Oh, no. But you have had your turn of bossing people and managing
things. Now I'm going to have mine, and you must submit to be bossed in
your turn. Do you see? That's only fair."

The sort of bossing that she received that day was too delicious for
words. After her long toil and struggle to take care of others, the
being cared for herself, in this strong and tender fashion, was perhaps
the sweetest experience she ever had in her life. The main line train
was crowded, but no one crowded her. Refreshments, such as they were,
were produced without any trouble to herself, whenever she wanted them.
But the charm of all was to sit beside him, content and peaceful, and
know that she had nothing to do or to fear--that the combined world was
powerless to touch her through the shield of his protection.

Jarvis was at Spencer Street, and took her luggage and instructions what
to do with it. A hansom was waiting for his master, and into this he put
Jenny, and drove her home through the gas-lit streets to her impatient
mother and sister.

Mrs. Liddon had been prepared by Sarah for the tale they had to tell;
nevertheless, she wept with joy when she heard it, and was particularly
enchanted to know that her sister Emma had been properly taught not to
look down on them that were as good as herself and better. Likewise she
thanked God that Joey's future was assured. And she folded her eldest
daughter to her breast, and declared that Mr. Churchill had got a
treasure, though she said it that shouldn't; and bade him forgive her
for being an old fool and crying over it, when she was really that happy
that she didn't know if she stood on her head or her heels.

The tea-room had long been closed, and she had had time to exercise her
special talents in the production of a charming supper, to the
excellence of which he testified in the only satisfactory way. He ate
largely, and remarked that he had never enjoyed anything more in his
life.

"Well, I never enjoyed cooking things more," she said; and added, rather
pathetically, "I must say I do get a little tired of making nothing but
scones, day after day."

"You shall not make any more," said Jenny. "We are going to talk to Mrs.
Allonby in the morning, and see if she will not take over the tea-room,
and set us free."

"She'll be only too glad to jump at the chance," said Mrs. Liddon
proudly, "if we make the terms reasonable. But, ah!"--shaking her
head--"she'll never make scones like I do."



CHAPTER XXI

THE BEST AVAILABLE


So quickly did Jenny, aided by her impetuous lover, effect the transfer
of her business, that she was out of it before Christmas Day. The
basket-maker's wife had the benefit of the holiday custom, and the
ex-proprietors the pleasant consciousness of having laboured
successfully, in every sense of the word, and being now entitled to that
rest and recreation which only those who have worked well can
appreciate. They were all glad to be free. They had not realised the
severity of the constant strain until it was removed, and wondered that
people who could spend their days as they pleased were not more grateful
for the privilege.

"And now," said Anthony, "I want you all to be my guests for Christmas.
A friend has lent me his yacht, and we will go for a cruise wherever you
like--inside the Bay or outside--according to how you stand it. Sarah is
looking thin--she wants taking right out of this air; and the mother
will not be the worse for a sea blow after living at the oven-mouth so
long. Tell Joe to bring a mate--any male friend he likes. I have invited
one of my own--a very good fellow--who wants to know you. Jenny, is a
day long enough to get ready in? You don't want any finery."

"Quite," she replied, for she had been previously acquainted with this
plan for enabling him and her to enjoy long days together; and she set
to work to pack for the family with her business-like promptitude.

While thus engaged she was called into their little parlour to receive a
visit from Mr. Churchill. The old gentleman presented himself in his
most benevolent aspect, bearing a bouquet of flowers; and, while Jenny
could hardly speak for blushing gratitude, he asked her if she would
give an old man a kiss, and secured her doting affection for ever by
that gracious recognition of her new rights.

"And so you are going to be my daughter," he said, patting her head.
"Well, well!"

"I know I am unworthy of him," murmured Jenny.

"Oh, not at all! Just at first, perhaps----But then fathers are old
fools. They never do think anything good enough for their children. I am
quite pleased, my dear--quite satisfied and pleased. I am proud of my
son for making such a choice. He has looked for true worth, rather than
a brilliant match. Not many young men in his position have the
discernment, the--a--what shall I say?"

"I have no worth," repeated Jenny, who really thought so, "compared with
him. I know I am not fit for him."

"Tut, tut! He says differently, and so do I. It's your gallant conduct
since your father's death, my dear--that's what it is. And I'm proud of
my boy, to think he can fall in love for such a cause. He's got a bit of
his mother in him--a good seed that hasn't been choked with riches
and--and so on. The more I think of it the more I approve of him. We had
an idea of marrying him to a lady of title, and making a great swell of
him; but there--it's best as it is. A good wife is above rubies, doesn't
the Bible say?--something like it--a crown to her husband, eh? You'll
make a good wife, I'll warrant, and, after all, that's the main thing."

"I will indeed," declared Jenny solemnly, "if love and trying can do
it--though I shall never be good enough for him."

"Oh, he's not an angel, any more than other men; I know that, though he
is my son, and a good son too. You mustn't disparage yourself,
Sally--isn't your name Sally?--no, Jenny, of course--nice, old-fashioned
name. You are his equal, as I have been telling Mrs. Churchill--but
these young ladies go so much by appearances--his equal in all but
money, which anybody can have, and no credit to him. Your father
was"--she thought he was going to say an "Eton boy," but he spared
her--"a true gentleman, my dear, upright and honourable, the sort of man
to breed good stock--if you'll excuse the phrase--the sort of blood one
needn't be afraid to see in one's children's children. But there, I
won't keep you. You are getting ready for your little trip? I wish you a
happy Christmas, my dear, and a happy married life, you and him
together, and--and--and I hope you'll look on me as your father, my
dear----"

Emotion overpowered him, and a second kiss, warmer than the first,
concluded the interview. Jenny let him out of the house, and then ran
upstairs to tell her anxious sister that Anthony's father transcended
the winged seraphs for goodness. And Mr. Churchill returned to Toorak
with a swelling breast, to keep a careful silence towards his wife as to
what he had been doing. For Maude had declared that nothing should ever
induce her to recognise "that person" whom Tony had chosen to pick out
of the gutter; and her outraged family abetted her in this resolve.

The yacht sailed on Christmas Eve, with a party of seven in addition to
the crew; and Jenny had her first taste of the luxury that was
thenceforth to be her portion. She found herself a little queen on
board. Mr. Danesbury was introduced to her at the gangway, and rendered
a quiet homage that Maude and Lady Louisa, on the previous cruise, had
looked for at his hands in vain. Jarvis was there, in the capacity of
cabin steward, and was called up to be introduced to her as his future
mistress; and Jarvis waited on her as only he could wait, anticipating
her little wants and wishes before she had time to form them. He had
felt that, in the course of nature, he must have a mistress some day, if
he remained in his present service; and, from a first impression that
she might have been worse, he gradually adopted his master's view that
she could hardly have been better, and treated her accordingly.

"The best servant in the country," Anthony said to her. "And I think
we'll take him with us on our travels. You'd find him fifty times more
useful than a maid. When we come back and set up housekeeping, he is to
be our butler."

Jenny smiled at the prospect.

"How absurd it is!" she ejaculated.

"I don't see it," said Tony.

"I suppose not," she rejoined.

Lest unseasoned persons should have their appetites interfered with, the
yacht did not venture outside the Heads, but cruised about in quiet
waters, touching now and then at little piers, for the variation of a
shore ramble or a picnic in the scrub; and it was a beautiful time. Adam
Danesbury and Sarah became great friends. She talked to him by the hour
of the virtues of her beloved sister, and he to her of the equal
excellencies of Miss Lennox; topics of interest that never palled upon
them. Mrs. Liddon was happy, knitting a shawl for Jenny's trousseau,
and losing herself in sensational novels, and getting "wrinkles," as she
called them, from the very swell cook who daily concocted dishes that
she had never so much as heard of. If there was a fly in the sweet
ointment of her satisfaction, it lay in the fact that Joey was not taken
much notice of. But Mr. Churchill was not interested in Joey, and had
invited the friend on purpose to relieve himself of the obligation to
take much notice. The young men had each other's company, together with
tobacco, books, cards, chess, and Jarvis to bring them cool drinks when
they were thirsty; what could junior clerks require more? Joey was a
very good boy on this occasion, very subdued and inoffensive, keeping
all his swagger until he should return to the office to tell of his
doings and the high company he had kept; and he was undeniably a
handsome youth, with the proper bearing of a gentleman. But his sex was
against him. Crippled Sarah, wizened and sallow, was infinitely more
interesting to the distinguished host Between him and her a very strong
bond existed.

And, as he had foreseen, the yachting arrangement was perfect for
lovers on whose behalf every other member of the party was minded to be
unobtrusive and discreet. What days were those that he and Jenny had
together in the first bloom of their courtship! What fresh sea-mornings,
in which to feel young blood coursing to the tune of the salt wind and
the bubble of the seething wake! What dream-times under the awning in
the tempered heat, with soft cushions and poetry books! What rambles on
the lonely shores, and rests in ti-tree arbours, and talks and
companionship that grew daily fuller and deeper, and more and more
intimate and satisfying! In the quiet evenings four people sat down to
whist round the lamp in the little cabin, and the fifth dozed over her
knitting, so that the remaining two had the deck to themselves, and the
romantic hours to revel in undisturbed. Then Tony smoked a little
because Jenny wished it, and she leaned on his arm as they paced to and
fro; and they opened those sacred chambers of thought which are kept
locked in the daytime, and acquainted each other with dim feelings and
aspirations that expressed themselves in sympathetic silences better
than in speech.

Thus did they grow together so closely that Jenny's wedding-day came to
her with no shock of change or fear. After the Christmas cruise he
called to see her at all hours--to disturb her at her flying needlework,
which she would slave at, in spite of him--making her own "things" to
save expense, as if expense mattered; nightly taking her down to St
Kilda for that blow on the pier which still refreshed her more than
anything. And very soon they saw the mail boat come in--the very mail
boat in which he had taken berths for their wedding journey. As they
watched her passing in the falling dusk, they recalled their first
meeting in that place--how very few mails had arrived since then, and
what stupendous things had happened in the interval!

"What a funk you _were_ in!" said Tony, laying his big hand over the
small one on his arm. "Poor little mite! You took me for a gay devil
walking about seeking whom I might devour, didn't you? What would you
have thought if you had known I had followed you all the way--stalked
you like a cat after a mouse--eh?"

"You _didn't_, Tony!"

"I did, sweetheart. It was Sarah put me up to it."

"Sarah! I won't believe such a thing of my sister."

"Ask her, then. Sarah understood me a long time before you did. And I
made a vow that I'd repay her for that good turn, and I haven't done it
yet. What do you think she would like best?"

"I know what she would _like_," said Jenny wistfully. "To go abroad with
us. It has been the dream of her life."

"Not this time, pet. Next time she shall. This time I must have only
you, and you must have only me. Besides, she wouldn't go, not if you
went on your knees to her. She knows better. She's a deal cleverer than
you are--in some things."

"I know she is. Poor Sally! And she might have been like me, with
everything heart can wish for! Mother says she was a finer baby than
I--beautifully formed and healthy; but she had an accident that hurt her
back--a fall. And so all the sweetness of life has been taken from her,
while I--I am overwhelmed with it."

"Not all," said Tony. "We shall make her happy between us."

"If she can't have _this_," said Jenny, pressing his arm, "she can't
know what happiness means."

He drew the warm hand up, and kissed the tips of her fingers, on which
gloves were never allowed on these occasions.

"I foresee," he said gravely, "that I shall have to beat you and refuse
to give you money for new bonnets, to make you realise that your little
feet are standing on the earth, Jenny, and not on the clouds of heaven."

They were married in February, that they might have a quiet month before
sailing in March. Mrs. Rogerson wanted to undertake the wedding, but was
politely informed that there was to be no wedding; and there was none in
her sense. Jenny went out for a walk with her mother and sister, and
Anthony went out for a walk with Adam Danesbury; old Mr. Churchill and
his daughter Mary, who happened to be staying with him, took a hansom
from the office, Joey having been released from his desk therein; and
these people met together for a few minutes, transacted their business
briefly, and adjourned to the Café Anglais for lunch; after which the
bride and bridegroom, being already dressed for travel, with their
baggage at the station, fared forth into the wide world.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus ended the tea-room enterprise.

And I don't know whether the moral of Jenny's story is bad or good. It
depends on the point of view. Virtue, of course, ought to be its own
reward--at any rate, it should seek no other; and there are people who
think a husband no reward at all, under any circumstances, but quite the
contrary. For myself, I regard a rich marriage as rather a vulgar sort
of thing, and by no means the proper goal of a good girl's ambitions.
Also, however well a marriage may begin, nobody can foretell how it will
eventually turn out. It is a matter of a thousand compromises, take it
at its best, and all we can say of it is that there is nothing above it
in the scale of human satisfactions.

_That_ I will maintain as beyond a doubt, because it is the dictum of
nature, who is the mother of all wisdom. She says that even an unlucky
marriage, which is a living martyrdom, is better than none, but that a
marriage like that which arose out of Jenny's tea-room is a door to the
sanctuary of the temple of life, never opened to the undeserving--the
nearest approach to happiness that has been discovered at present.
Yes--although, without beating her or keeping her short of pocket-money,
the husband necessarily makes his wife feel that the earth is her
habitation and the clouds of heaven many miles away.


THE END.



    _Warwick House_
    _Salisbury Square LONDON E. C._

    A List of New and Recent
       COPYRIGHT NOVELS
    And other Popular Works
         PUBLISHED BY
   WARD LOCK & BOWDEN LIMITED


E. H. STRAIN

     _A Man's Foes._ A Tale of the Siege of Londonderry. New and cheap
     edition. With Three Full-page Illustrations by A. FORESTIER. Crown
     8vo, cloth, 6s.

"Quite the best historical novel of the day."--_The Sketch._

"A powerful and impressive historical novel.... A chronicle of intense
and unflagging interest."--_Daily Telegraph._

"'A Man's Foes' is the best historical novel that we have had since Mr.
Conan Doyle published 'Micah Clarke.' ... One of the most picturesque,
dramatic and absorbing historical romances we have read for a long
day.... An exceptionally fine romance."--_Daily Chronicle._


SHAN F. BULLOCK

     _By Thrasna River_: The Story of a Townland. Given by one John
     Farmer, and Edited by his Friend, SHAN F. BULLOCK. With Four
     Full-page Illustrations by ST. CLAIR SIMMONS. Crown 8vo, cloth
     gilt, 6s.

"This is a charming book, and affords quite the best picture of Irish
rural life that we have ever come across."--_The Athenæum._

"It is an Irish 'Thrums,' in which the character is drawn as straight
from life as in Mr. Barrie's delightful annals of Kirriemuir."--_The
Sketch._


GUY BOOTHBY

     _The Beautiful White Devil._ By GUY BOOTHBY, Author of "Dr.
     Nikola," "A Bid for Fortune," etc. With Six Full-page Illustrations
     by STANLEY L. WOOD. Crown 8vo, cloth gilt, 5s.

"A more lively, romantic and amazing bit of fiction than 'The Beautiful
White Devil' it would be hard to indicate.... It is full of surprise and
fascination for the fiction-lover, and is worthy of the reputation of
the creator of the famous Nikola."

By the same Author

     _A Bid for Fortune_; or, Dr. Nikola's Vendetta. With about Fifty
     Illustrations by STANLEY L. WOOD and other Artists. Crown 8vo,
     cloth gilt, 5s.

"He never allows the interest to drop from first page to the last....
The plot is highly ingenious, and when once it has fairly thickened,
exciting to a degree."--_The Times._

"It is impossible to give any idea of the verve and brightness with
which the story is told. Mr. Boothby may be congratulated on having
produced about the most original novel of the year."--_Manchester
Courier._

By the same Author

     _In Strange Company._ A Story of Chili and the Southern Seas. With
     Six Full-page Illustrations by STANLEY L. WOOD. Crown 8vo, cloth
     gilt, bevelled boards, 5s.

"A capital novel of its kind--the sensational adventurous. It has the
quality of life and stir, and will carry the reader with curiosity
unabated to the end."--_The World._

By the same Author

     _The Marriage of Esther_: A Torres Straits Sketch. With Four
     Full-page Illustrations by STANLEY L. WOOD. Crown 8vo, cloth gilt,
     5s.

"A story full of action, life, and dramatic interest.... There is a
vigour and a power of illusion about it that raises it quite above the
level of the ordinary novel of adventure."--_Manchester Guardian._


BERTRAM MITFORD

     _The Expiation of Wynne Palliser._ By BERTRAM MITFORD, Author of
     "The King's Assegai," etc. With Two Full-page Illustrations by
     STANLEY L. WOOD. Crown 8vo, cloth gilt, 3s. 6d.

Readers who wish to have a realistic picture of the South African life,
concerning which recent events have aroused such interest, should not
fail to get Mr. Mitford's new work. It brings the whole scene before the
reader's eye with startling vividness, and is an intensely interesting
story as well.

By the same Author

     _The Curse of Clement Waynflete_: A Story of Two South African
     Wars. With Four Full-page Illustrations by STANLEY L. WOOD. Crown
     8vo, cloth gilt, 3s. 6d.

"Telling us wonderful incidents of inter-racial warfare, of ambuscades,
sieges, surprises, and assaults almost without number.... A thoroughly
exciting story, full of bright descriptions and stirring
episodes."--_The Daily Telegraph._

By the same Author

     _A Veldt Official_: A Novel of Circumstance. With Two Full-page
     Illustrations by STANLEY L. WOOD. Crown 8vo, cloth gilt,
     3s. 6d.

"We have seldom come across a more thrilling narrative. From start to
finish Mr. Milford secures unflagging attention."--_Leeds Mercury._


MAX PEMBERTON

    _Jewel Mysteries I Have Known._ By MAX PEMBERTON, Author of "The
    Iron Pirate," "A Gentleman's Gentleman," etc. With Fifty
    Illustrations by R. CATON WOODVILLE and FRED BARNARD. Demy 8vo,
    cloth gilt, gilt edges, 5s.

"The most interesting and entrancing 'mystery' stories that have
appeared since the publication of the doings of Mr. Sherlock
Holmes."--_The Literary World._

"Mr. Pemberton has attempted a great deal more than to give mere plots
and police cases, and he has succeeded in capturing our attention, and
never letting it go, from the first story to the last."--_The Bookman._


ARTHUR MORRISON

     _Martin Hewitt, Investigator._ By ARTHUR MORRISON, Author of "Tales
     of Mean Streets," etc. With about Fifty Illustrations by SYDNEY
     PAGET. Crown 8vo, cloth gilt, 5s.

"Most people like tales of this sort, ... and no one writes them better
than Mr. Morrison does. The narratives are written not only with
ingenuity, but with conviction, which is, perhaps, even the more
valuable quality."--_Globe._

By the same Author

     _Chronicles of Martin Hewitt._ Being the Second Series of "Martin
     Hewitt, Investigator." With Thirty Illustrations by D. MURRAY
     SMITH. Crown 8vo, art canvas, 5s.

"Certainly the most ingenious and entertaining of the numerous
successors of Sherlock Holmes. There is not one of the stories in this
collection that is not ingeniously constructed and cleverly
written."--_The Academy._


FRANCIS PREVOST

     _Rust of Gold._ By FRANCIS PREVOST. Crown 8vo, art canvas, 5s.

"A series of nine _fin de siècle_ stories of great power and
picturesqueness.... A more appalling tale than 'A Ghost of the Sea' has
not been recounted for many years past, nor have the tragical
potentialities of modern life, as lived by people of culture and
refinement, been more graphically illustrated than in 'Grass upon the
Housetops,' 'The Skirts of Chance,' and 'False Equivalents.' As
word-pictures they are simply masterpieces."--_Daily Telegraph._

By the same Author

     _On the Verge._ By FRANCIS PREVOST. Crown 8vo, art canvas, 5s.

Mr. Francis Prevost has as pretty a gift for style as any living writer.
He touches often upon serious problems, but always with so graceful a
touch that his books seem the lightest of reading. Each story is as
distinct as an etching. The characters are alive, and the dialogue is
witty and diverting. There is not a tale in the book which has not
sparkle and spice.


HENRY KINGSLEY

     New Library Edition of HENRY KINGSLEY'S NOVELS. Edited by CLEMENT
     K. SHORTER. Well printed (from type specially cast) on good paper,
     and neatly and handsomely bound. With Frontispieces by eminent
     Artists. Price 3s. 6d. per volume, cloth gilt.

    1 _The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn._
    2 _Ravenshoe._
    3 _The Hillyars and the Burtons._
    4 _Silcote of Silcotes._
    5 _Stretton._
    6 _Austin Elliot and The Harveys._
    7 _Mdlle. Mathilde._
    8 _Old Margaret, and other Stories._
    9 _Valentin, and Number Seventeen._
    10 _Oakshott Castle and The Grange Garden._
    11 _Reginald Hetherege and Leighton Court._
    12 _The Boy in Grey, and other Stories._

"Henry Kingsley was born to wear the purple of romance.... Where will
any one who is ordinary and sane find better comradeship? Scarcely
outside the novels of Walter Scott.... Messrs. Ward, Lock & Bowden's
edition of this despotic and satisfying romancer is cheap, and well
printed, and comfortable to hold. Those who love Kingsley will love him
again and better for this edition, and those who have not loved have a
joy in store that we envy them."--_The National Observer._

"To Mr. Clement Shorter and to the publishers the unreserved thanks of
the public are warmly due; there can be no finer mission from the world
of fiction to the world of fact than the putting forth of these
ennobling novels afresh and in a fitting form."--_The Daily Chronicle._

"To renew your acquaintance with Henry Kingsley is for Henry Kingsley to
stand forth victorious all along the line. His work, in truth, is moving
and entertaining now as it was moving and entertaining thirty odd years
ago."--_The Pall Mall Gazette._


ETHEL TURNER

     _Seven Little Australians._ With Twenty-six Illustrations by A. J.
     JOHNSON. Crown 8vo, cloth gilt, bevelled, gilt edges, 3s. 6d.

"Ought to capture hearts young and old as 'Helen's Babies' captured
them--a book which both children and adults will love."--_The Queen._

By the same Author

     _The Family at Misrule._ A Sequel to the above. With Twenty-nine
     Illustrations. Crown 8vo, cloth gilt, bevelled, gilt edges 3s. 6d.

"Its charm consists in its simple and natural style, its mingled fun and
pathos, and in the delineation of the characters."--_The Standard._

By the same Author

     _The Story of a Baby._ With Two Full-page Illustrations by ST.
     CLAIR SIMMONS. Square fcap. 8vo, cloth elegant, gilt top, 2s. 6d.

"A very fetching little story."--_The New Budget._

"'The Story of a Baby' is charmingly written."--_Scotsman._

By the same Author

     _The Little Duchess, and Other Stories._ With Two Full-page
     Illustrations by SYDNEY COWELL. Square fcap. 8vo, cloth elegant,
     gilt top, price 2s. 6d.

The opening story, "The Little Duchess," is one of the most charming
pieces of work Miss Turner has ever done. A prettier and more pathetic
story has seldom been written. Some of the other stories in the book run
over with humour, and reveal Miss Turner in quite a new vein. To readers
who are weary of "problem-studies" and sex-stories--readers who want to
be delighted and amused--the volume will afford infinite pleasure.


OUTRAM TRISTRAM

     _The Dead Gallant_; together with "_The King of Hearts_" By OUTRAM
     TRISTRAM. With Full-page Illustrations by HUGH THOMSON and ST.
     GEORGE HARE. Crown 8vo, art linen gilt, 5s.

"Both stories are well written in faultless English, and display a
knowledge of history, a careful study of character, and a fine
appreciation of a dramatic point, all too rare in these days of slipshod
fiction."--_National Observer._


FRANCIS HINDES GROOME

     _Kriegspiel: the War Game._ A Novel. By FRANCIS HINDES GROOME,
     Author of "Two Suffolk Friends," "In Gypsy Tents," etc. Crown 8vo,
     cloth gilt, 6s.

"Seemingly at one bound Mr. Groome has taken rank among the most
promising novelists of the day, so full is 'Kriegspiel' of interest, of
stirring incident, and of vivid and varied sketches of men and manners
from contemporary English life."--_The Illustrated London News._

"As regards the pictures of gipsy life, the book is full of touches
which could only have come from a writer who has had intimate personal
contact with the Romanies, and who was at the same time deeply versed in
their traditional lore.... As a gipsy novel, as a novel depicting gipsy
life, 'Kriegspiel' is unrivalled."--_The Athenæum._


GEORGE MEREDITH

     _The Tale of Chloe_; The House on the Beach; and The Case of
     General Ople and Lady Camper. By GEORGE MEREDITH, Author of "The
     Ordeal of Richard Feverel," etc. Crown 8vo, cloth, 6s.

"'The Tale of Chloe' is one of the gems of English fiction.... We
question whether, even in Mr. Meredith's rich array of female
characters, there is any more lovable than Chloe."--_Daily Telegraph._

By the same Author

     _The Tragic Comedians_: A Study in a well-known Story. With Note by
     CLEMENT SHORTER, and Photogravure Portrait of the Author. Crown
     8vo, cloth gilt, 3s. 6d.

"One of the most brilliant of all George Meredith's novels."--_The
Speaker._


EDITH JOHNSTONE

     _A Sunless Heart._ Third and Cheap Edition. Crown 8vo, cloth, 6s.

"Mr. W. T. Stead, in his article on 'Women Novelists,' writes of 'its
intrinsic merit, its originality and its pathos, its distinctively
woman's outlook on life, and the singular glow and genius of its
author.' ... Lotus is a distinct creation--vivid, life-like, and
original" (_Review of Reviews_).


NORA VYNNE

     _Honey of Aloes, and other Stories._ By NORA VYNNE, Author of "The
     Blind Artist's Pictures." Crown 8vo, cloth, 3s. 6d.

"Not only do they abound in literary merit, but in thrilling interest,
and there is not one of them that is not instinct with intense and
veracious humanity."--_Daily Telegraph._

"Irresistibly amusing, full of character, humour, truth, with much
underlying pathos."--_The World._

By the same Author

     _A Comedy of Honour._ With Two Full-page Illustrations by BERTHA
     NEWCOMBE. Square fcap. 8vo, cloth elegant, gilt top, 2s. 6d.

"A bright and racy little story.... This charming and meritorious
story."--_Literary World._

"The story is as clever and as witty as previous works by Miss
Vynne,"--_The Scotsman._


CAPTAIN CHARLES KING

     _Fort Frayne._ A Story of Army Life in the North-West. With
     Portrait of the Author. Crown 8vo, cloth gilt, 3s. 6d.

"A rattling good story.... Keeps one interested and amused from first to
last."--_Pall Mall Gazette._

"A story of border warfare, so interesting that it is hard to lay it
down.... A very well-written story, full of keen interest and fine
character."--_Guardian._


THOMAS NELSON PAGE

     _In Ole Virginia_; or, "Marse Chan," and other Stories. By THOS.
     NELSON PAGE. With Introduction by T. P. O'CONNOR, M.P., and
     Frontispiece by GEORGE HUTCHINSON. Crown 8vo, cloth, 3s. 6d.

"Pathos and humour are mingled with singular felicity.... Few will read
'Marse Chan' with dry eyes."--_Leeds Mercury._

By the same Author

     _The Burial of the Guns_, and other Stories. Crown 8vo, cloth gilt,
     3s. 6d.

"Very beautiful and touching.... It is a heroic book, and also a most
pathetic one,"--_The Guardian._





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