Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Eldest Son
Author: Marshall, Archibald
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Eldest Son" ***

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



THE ELDEST SON



BY

ARCHIBALD MARSHALL

Author of "Exton Manor"



NEW YORK

DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY

1919



COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY

DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY

Published September, 1911



To

KATHLEEN



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

      I  The Squire Is Infernally Worried
     II  A Question of Matrimony
    III  Exit Miss Bird
     IV  The Dower-House
      V  Lady George
     VI  Blaythorn Rectory
    VII  The Squire Puts His Foot Down
   VIII  The Squire Feels Trouble Coming
     IX  Dick Pays a Sunday Visit
      X  The Meet at Apthorpe Common
     XI  Dick Leaves Kencote and Makes a Discovery
    XII  The House Party
   XIII  The Hunt Ball
    XIV  A Shoot
     XV  The Guns and the Ladies
    XVI  The Money Question
   XVII  Sunday and Monday
  XVIII  Mrs. Clinton Chooses a Governess
    XIX  Mrs. Clinton In Jermyn Street
     XX  Aunt Laura Intervenes
    XXI  An Engagement
   XXII  Dick Comes Home
  XXIII  Humphrey Counts His Chickens
   XXIV  Virginia Goes to Kencote
    XXV  A Lawn Meet
   XXVI  What Miss Phipp Saw
  XXVII  The Run of the Season
 XXVIII  Property
   XXIX  Brothers
    XXX  Miss Bird Hears All About It



CHAPTER I

THE SQUIRE IS INFERNALLY WORRIED

"Nina," said the Squire, "I'm most infernally worried."  He was sitting
in his wife's morning-room, in a low chair by the fire.  In front of
him was a table set for tea for one--himself.  There were buttered
toast and dry toast and preserves, a massive silver teapot, milk jug,
cream jug, and sugar basin, a breakfast cup of China tea, and two
boiled eggs, one of which he was attacking, sitting forward in his
chair with his legs bent.  He had come in from hunting a few minutes
before, at about six o'clock, and it was his habit thus to consume
viands which most men of his age and bulk might have been afraid of, as
likely to spoil their dinner.  But he was an active man, in spite of
his fifty-nine years and his tendency to put on flesh, and it would
have taken more than a tea that was almost a meal to reduce his
appetite for dinner at eight, after a day in the saddle and a lunch off
sandwiches and a flask of sherry.  When his tea was over he would
indulge himself in half an hour's nap, with the _Times_ open at the
leader page on his knee, and go up to dress, feeling every inch of him
a sportsman and an English country gentleman.

His tea was generally brought to him in his library.  This evening a
footman had followed him into that room immediately upon his entering
the house, as usual, had unbuckled his spurs, pulled off his boots for
him, and put on in their place a pair of velvet slippers worked in
silk, which had been warming in front of the fire.  Only when his coat
was wet or much splashed with mud did the Squire change that.  He
considered smoking-jackets rather effeminate, and slippers, on ordinary
occasions, "sloppy."  It was only in his dressing-room or on these
evenings after hunting that he wore them.  Otherwise, if he had to
change his boots during the daytime he put on another pair.  He was
particular on little points like this.  All his rules were kept
precisely, by himself and those about him.

This evening he had told the footman, and the butler who had followed
him into the room with the tray, that he would have his tea in Mrs.
Clinton's room, and he had marched across the hall with a firm and
decisive step, in his red coat and buckskin breeches, between which and
his hand-knitted heather-mixture socks showed a white expanse of
under-drawers round a muscular calf.

Mrs. Clinton sat opposite to him in another low chair, at work on a
woollen waistcoat.  He always wore waistcoats made by her, thick for
the winter, light for the summer, and she knitted his socks for him, of
which he required a large number, for he hated them to be darned.  He
liked to see her working for him like this.  He was a rich man, but a
woman ought to work with her hands for her husband, whether he was rich
or poor.  It was her wifely duty, and incidentally it kept her out of
mischief.  Mrs. Clinton, at the age of fifty-four, with her smooth
yellow-grey hair and her quiet and composed face, did not look as if
she would be up to serious mischief, even if this and other
restrictions were removed from her.  She looked up when her husband
addressed her, and marked the furrow between his heavy eyebrows.  Then
she looked down again at her work and waited for him to unbosom himself
further.

"How old is Dick?" asked the Squire, leaning forward to put a spoonful
of yolk of egg into his mouth with one hand, while he shielded his grey
beard with the other.

She knew then the subject upon which he had expressed himself as
infernally worried, for he was not accustomed to keep the first
stirrings of discontent to himself.

"He was thirty-four last April," she said.

"Thirty-four," he repeated.  "Yes; and I was _twenty_-four when I
married you.  That's early.  I shouldn't advise any young man to marry
at that age, unless, perhaps, he was the only one to keep a name
going--as I was, of course--at least in my immediate family.  But
thirty-four!  It's really time Dick thought about it.  He's the eldest
son.  It's his duty.  And as far as I can see he never gives the matter
a thought.  Eh?"

"As far as I can see he is not thinking about it," said Mrs. Clinton.

"Well, if _I_ couldn't see _you_ couldn't see.  I say it is time that
he did begin thinking about it.  I'm getting on now--good for another
twenty years, I should hope, but I want to see the succession assured.
Walter is the only one of the boys that's married, and he's only got
two girls.  Of course, he may have a son--they're coming pretty
quick--but I've never got over that doctoring business.  I shouldn't
like the heir of Kencote to be brought up in a place like Melbury Park,
and I say so freely--to you."

This was the echo of an old disturbance.  The Squire's third son had
refused to take Orders, with a view of occupying the family living, but
had studied medicine, and was now practising in a suburb of London, and
not one of the most genteel suburbs either.  That furrow always
appeared faintly in the Squire's brow when he was forced to mention the
distasteful words Melbury Park.

"I think it would be a good thing if Dick were to marry," said Mrs.
Clinton.

"Good thing?  Of course it would be a good thing.  That's just what I'm
saying.  There's Humphrey; he doesn't look much like marrying, either.
In fact, if he doesn't pick up a wife with a pot of money, I'd rather
he didn't.  He spends quite enough as it is.  I've no opinion of that
London life, except for a bit when a man's young and before he settles
down.  Dick has been in the Guards now for--what?--twelve years.  I
never meant that he should take up soldiering as a profession.  Just a
few years spent with a good regiment--as I had myself, in the
Blues--that's all right for a young fellow who has a good property to
succeed to.  But an eldest son ought to settle down, _on_ the property,
and get married, and have sons to succeed _him_."

"Dick comes here a good deal," said Mrs. Clinton, "and he takes an
interest in the property."

"Well, I should hope he did," responded the Squire.  "The property will
belong to him when my time's over.  What do you mean?"

"I only mean that Dick is not wrapped up in London life and all that
goes with it, as Humphrey seems to be."

"Oh, Humphrey!  I've no patience with Humphrey.  If Kencote isn't good
enough for him let him stay away.  Only I won't pay any more bills for
him.  He has a good allowance and he must keep within it.  I've told
him so.  Now if I'd put _him_ into the army, instead of the Foreign
Office, he might have stuck to it and made a profession of it.  I wish
I had--into a working regiment.  It would have done him all the good in
the world.  However, I don't want to talk about Humphrey.  I don't
expect an heir to come from him; and Frank is too young to marry yet.
Besides--a sailor!  It's better for him to marry later.  Dick _ought_
to marry, and there's an end of it.  And when he comes down to-morrow I
shall tell him so."

Mrs. Clinton made no immediate reply, but after a pause, during which
the Squire came to the end of his eggs and began to attack the buttered
toast, she said, "I have to tell you something, Edward, which I am
afraid will disturb you."

"Besides," pursued the Squire in his loud, resolute voice, "there's the
dower-house standing empty now.  If Dick were to get married soon I
need not bother about finding a tenant for it.  I don't _want_ to let
it; it's too near here.  If we got people there we didn't like it would
be an infernal nuisance.  Eh, Nina?  What were you saying?"

"I am sorry to say," said Mrs. Clinton, "that Miss Bird is going to
leave us."

The Squire was just about to put a piece of toast into his mouth, which
was half open for its reception.  It remained half open while he looked
at his wife, the toast arrested halfway.  "Miss Bird!  Leave us!" he
exclaimed when he had found his voice.  He could hardly have been more
astounded if his wife had announced that _she_ was going to leave him,
and indeed Miss Bird had lived at Kencote nearly as long as Mrs.
Clinton, and had initiated into the mysteries of learning all the young
Clintons, from Dick, who was now thirty-four, down to the twins, Joan
and Nancy, who were fifteen.

"She has talked about it for some time," said Mrs. Clinton.  "She has
felt that the children were getting beyond her, and ought to have
better teaching than she can give them."

"Oh, stuff and nonsense!" exclaimed the Squire.  "I don't want the
children turned into blue-stockings.  I'm quite satisfied with what
Miss Bird is doing for them, and if she wants telling so, for goodness'
sake tell her, and let's have no more of such rubbish.  Miss Bird
indeed!  Who's she to upset the whole house?"

"I am afraid she has determined to go, Edward," said Mrs. Clinton in
her equable voice.  "Her invalid sister, you know, has lost her
husband, and there is no one else to look after her."

The Squire grunted.  "Well, if that's the reason," he said, rather
grudgingly, "I suppose we can't complain, although it's a most infernal
nuisance.  I've got used to Miss Bird.  She's a silly old creature in
some respects, but she's faithful and honest.  Now we shall have to get
used to somebody else.  Really, when one thing goes wrong, everything
goes wrong.  Life is hardly worth living with all these worries.  One
never seems to get a moment's peace.  I'm going into my room now, Nina,
to read the paper for a bit."

"I should like to talk to you for a few minutes longer about the
children," said Mrs. Clinton.  "As a change has to be made, I want to
make a thorough one.  It is quite true that they are beyond Miss Bird,
even if she could have stayed.  I should like to send them to a good
school for two or three years, and then to France or Germany for a
year."

The Squire bent his brows in an amazed frown.  "What on earth can you
be thinking of, Nina?" he exclaimed.  "France or Germany?  Nice healthy
English girls--teach 'em to eat frogs and horse-sausage--pick up a lot
of affected nonsense!  You can put that idea out of your head at once."

Mrs. Clinton's calm face flushed.  "There is no need to talk of that
for two or three years," she said.  "I should like them now--when Miss
Bird leaves us--to go to a really good school in England, where they
can learn something."

"Learn something?  What do you mean--learn something?  Haven't they
been learning something all their lives--at least since Miss Bird began
to teach them?  What does a girl want to learn, except how to read and
write a good hand and add up accounts?  I don't want any spectacled,
short-haired, flat-chested females in _my_ house, thank you.  The
children are very well as they are.  They're naughty sometimes, I've no
doubt, but they're good girls on the whole.  Girls ought to be brought
up at home under their mother's eye.  I can't think what you want to
send them away from you for, Nina.  It isn't like you.  I should have
thought you would have missed them.  I know _I_ should, and they're not
going to school."

"I should miss them very much," said Mrs. Clinton.

"Very well, then, let them stop at home.  It's quite simple."

Mrs. Clinton was silent, bending her head over her work.

"You would miss them and _I_ should miss them," pursued the Squire,
after a pause.  "No, there's no sense in it."

There was another pause, and then the Squire asked, "Why do you want to
send them to school?"

Mrs. Clinton laid down her work and looked at him.  "I should be
satisfied," she said, "if they could get the teaching they ought to
have at home.  Perhaps I should prefer it.  But it would mean a
first-class governess living here, and----"

"Well, there's no objection to that," interrupted the Squire.  "I dare
say old Miss Bird is a little out of date.  Get a good governess by all
means; only not a blue-stocking, mind you."

Mrs. Clinton smiled.  "I'm afraid she would have to be what you would
call a blue-stocking," she said.  "But she needn't show it.  Clever
girls don't wear spectacles and short hair necessarily nowadays."

"Oh, don't they?" said the Squire good-humouredly.  He was leaning back
in his chair now, looking at the fire.  "How are you going to set about
getting one?"

"I should ask Emmeline to help me."  Emmeline was Lady Birkett, the
wife of Mrs. Clinton's brother, the judge.

"Not a bad idea," said the Squire.  "But I won't have any of your
suffragettes.  Herbert is a very good fellow, but he's a most pestilent
Radical."

"You would let me offer a good salary, I suppose."

"What do we pay Miss Bird?"

"Only thirty pounds a year.  She has never asked for more."

"She's a good old creature.  I'm sorry for her sister.  Is she well
off, do you know?"

"I'm afraid very badly off."

"Then how will they get on?  I suppose Miss Bird has saved a bit.
She's had no expenses here except her clothes for many years."

"She told me she had saved about four hundred pounds."

"_Has she_?  Out of thirty pounds a year!  It's extraordinary.  Still,
that won't give her much, capitalised, poor old creature.  I'll tell
you what, Nina, I'll talk it over with Dick and see if we can't fix up
a little annuity for her.  She's served us well and faithfully all
these years, and we ought to do something for her."

"Oh, Edward, I am so glad," said Mrs. Clinton.  "I hoped you might see
your way to helping her.  She will be so very grateful."

The Squire lifted himself out of his chair.  "Oh yes, we'll do
something or other," he said.  "Well, get another governess then, Nina,
and pay her--what do you want to pay her?--forty?"

Mrs. Clinton hesitated a moment.  "I want to get the best I can," she
said.  "I want to pay her eighty at least."

The Squire, in his moods of good humour, was proof against all
annoyance over other people's follies.  He laughed.  "Oh, I should make
it a hundred if I were you," he said.

"When the boys had Mr. Blake in their holidays," said Mrs. Clinton, "he
had five pounds a week, and only had to teach them for an hour a day."

"That's a very different thing," said the Squire.  "Blake was a
University man and a gentleman.  You have to pay a private tutor well."

"I want to get a lady," said Mrs. Clinton, "and I should like one who
had been to a University."

"Oh, my dear girl," said the Squire, moving off down the room, "have it
your own way and pay her what you like.  Now is there anything else I
can do for you before I go and write a few letters?"

"You are very kind, Edward, in letting me have my way about this.
There is one more thing.  If the children went to school they would
have extra lessons for music and drawing or anything else that they
might show talent in.  Joan and Nancy have both got talent.  I want to
be able to have masters for them, from Bathgate--or perhaps even from
London--for anything special that their governess cannot teach them."

The Squire was at the door.  "Well, upon my word!" he said, nodding his
head at her.  Then he went out of the room.



CHAPTER II

A QUESTION OF MATRIMONY

Dick Clinton, the eldest son, arrived at Kencote at a quarter to eight,
and went straight up to his room to dress.  This young man--for, with
his spare, upright frame, sleek head, and well-fitting clothes, he
looked less than his thirty-four years--was as well served as his
father, although he did not get his will by the same means; and the
little wrongs of life, each of which the Squire, as they came along,
dealt with as "a most infernal nuisance," he took more equably.  He had
brought his own servant with him, but had no need of him for the time,
for his evening clothes were laid out for him, his shirt, with studs in
and a collar attached, was hung over the back of a chair in front of
the piled-up fire, and he had only to slip out of one suit and into
another as if he had been in the house all day instead of having just
reached the end of a journey of over three hours.  These things were
all a matter of course to him.  The warm bright room, red-curtained,
and quiet from the deep stillness of the country, gave him no
particular sensation of pleasure when he entered it, except that he was
cold from his journey and there was a good fire; nor, consciously, did
the fact that this was his home, which he liked better than any other
place, although he was more often than not away from it.  He was
thinking, as he began immediately in his quick neat way to change his
clothes, that there was no apparent sign of the frost yielding, and
fighting off his annoyance--for he hated to feel annoyed--at the
stoppage of the morrow's hunting.  He had very much wanted to hunt on
the morrow, more than he usually wanted anything.

And yet he was, though he hardly knew it, pleased to be at home, and in
this room, which had been his ever since he had left the nursery.  The
little iron bedstead was the one on which he had slept as a boy; the
flat tin bath, standing against a wall with the bath-mat hung over it,
was only rather the worse for wear since those days; the worn carpet,
now more worn, was the same; and the nondescript paper on the walls,
which were hung with photographs of his "house" at Eton, showing him
amongst the rest in five stages, from the little fair-haired boy in his
broad collar sitting cross-legged on the grass, to the young man with
folded arms in a place of honour by his tutor.  There were later
Cambridge groups too, exhibiting him as Master of the Drag, in the
eighteenth-century dress of the True Blue Club, and in other
conjunctures of pursuits and companions, but nothing to mark a later
date than his University days, unless it were the big photographs in
silver or tortoise-shell frames on the mantelpiece and writing-table.
Probably nothing had been added to the decoration of the room for a
dozen years, only a few things for use--a larger wardrobe and
dressing-table from another room in the house, a big easy-chair, a fur
rug by the bed.  The room contained everything he needed in such a
room, and since he needed nothing there to please the eye, it had
received nothing all these years, and would receive nothing until he
should leave it for good, when he should be no longer the eldest son,
but in his turn the head of the house.

He had nearly finished dressing when there was a knock at the door, and
a voice, "Are you there, Dick?  Can we come in?"

His rather expressionless face changed a little, pleasantly.  "Yes,
come along," he called out, and his young sisters came in in their
fresh muslin frocks, their masses of fair hair tied back with big blue
ribbons.  They had that prim air of being dressed, which is different
in the case of girls not quite grown up from that of their elder
sisters.  They were remarkably alike and remarkably pretty, and Dick,
who stood at the dressing-table in his shirt sleeves tying his tie,
although he did not turn round to greet them, noticed their appearance
with approval through the glass.

"Well, Twankies," he said affably, as they went up to the mantelpiece
and stood one on either side of the fire, "what's the news with you?"

"We are to have a new preceptress," said Joan, the elder, "_vice_ the
old Starling, seconded for service elsewhere."

Dick turned and stared at her.  "Old Miss Bird leaving!" he exclaimed.
"Surely not!"

"You can't be more surprised than we were," said Nancy--the twins
generally spoke alternately.  "She broke it to us in floods of tears
this afternoon.  Joan cried too."

"So did you," retorted Joan.  "You blubbered like a seal."

"And it did me credit," said Nancy, accepting the charge with complete
equanimity.

"What is she going for?" asked Dick.

"She has to go and look after her sister, poor old thing!" said Joan.
"And she doesn't think she knows enough to take us on any further."

"We denied it hotly, to comfort her," continued Nancy.  "But it's quite
true.  We have the brains of the family, and are now going to leave
childish things behind us.  I wish you'd make your watch ring, Dick."

Dick pressed the spring of his repeater, and the twins listened to its
tinkle in silence.  Nancy sighed when he put it into his pocket.  "Even
that isn't the treat that it used to be," she said.  "We are getting
too old for these simple pleasures.  Joan is beginning to take an
interest in dress, and I am often to be seen absorbed in a book.  Dick,
shall you kiss Miss Bird when you say good-bye?  There's nothing she
would love better."

"When is she going?" asked Dick, ignoring the question.

"In about a week," Joan replied.  "Dick, I think you ought to kiss her,
if you possibly can.  You are the eldest, and nearer her heart than any
of us.  She told us so."

"I'll give you both a kiss and you can pass it on," said Dick, with an
arm round each.  "Come along down."

They went down to the morning-room, and on the stroke of eight Dick led
his mother into dinner, the Squire following.

The twins settled themselves each in a corner of the big sofa in front
of the fire.  They usually read during the half-hour before they were
summoned to dessert, but this evening they had something to talk about.

"I wonder what she'll be like," Nancy began.

"If Aunt Emmeline chooses her I should think she would be all right,"
said Joan.

Nancy considered this.  "Yes," she said.  "But she will have to be kept
in her place.  Of course we have always been able to do exactly as we
like with the old Starling.  Joan, we must conserve our liberties."

"Oh, I think we shall be able to do that," said Joan.  "We must remain
calm and polite."

"And keep up our reputation for eccentricity," added Nancy.  Then they
both giggled.

"You know, Joan, I think it's rather fun," Nancy proceeded.  "I shan't
a bit mind learning things now.  I should have hated it a year or two
ago.  But you can't deny that it is rather slow at home."

"That's why Cicely ran away," said Joan.  "She simply couldn't stand it
any longer.  But it doesn't worry me like that.  We have a pretty good
time on the whole."

"Yes, we see to that.  But, of course, Cicely was much older.  And
after all, she didn't run very far--only to London, to see Walter and
Muriel.  And she soon came back."

"She had to.  I believe there was more in that than we knew about."

Nancy looked up sharply.  "Do you?  Why?" she asked.

"Oh, I don't know.  I believe it had something to do with her
engagement to Jim.  She was married pretty soon after, anyhow, and
there was no talk of it at the time."

"I wonder if we could find out."

"What's the good?  And it's over two years ago now.  I wonder if Dick
would drive us over to Mountfield to see the babies to-morrow.  He
won't be able to hunt."

"He won't want to see the babies.  Men are so silly in that way.  They
pretend they don't care for them."

"Father doesn't.  He's just as silly about them as we are."

"It isn't silliness in us.  We are women, and we understand.  If a man
does like a baby it's just as a toy."

"All the same, I think it does father credit liking his grandchildren.
I should hardly have expected it of him."

"He's getting softer in his old age.  Nancy, I wonder how mother
persuaded him to let us have a really good governess.  He'd think it
quite absurd that girls should want to learn anything."

"My dear child, you could get anything you wanted out of father if you
tackled him in the right way."

"Only some things."

"Anything, I said."

"I'll bet you four weeks' pocket-money that you couldn't get him to let
us hunt."

"Oh, well! that's part of his religion.  'I may be old-fashioned--I
dare say I am--but to see a pack of women scampering about the country
and riding over the hounds--eh, what?  No, thank you!'  I didn't mean I
could make him become a Roman Catholic, or anything of that sort.  But
I'll bet you what you like I'll get him to let us have a pony."

"Four shillings?"

"Right."

"Do you think you really can, Nancy?  It would be jolly."

"I don't see why he shouldn't.  Cicely always rode old Tommy, and so
did we till he died."

"Only surreptitiously, and bare-backed.  We should have to have habits
and all that, now."

"Mother would see to that.  Anyhow, I'll tackle him."

"How shall you manage it?"

"I shall think out a scheme."

"Dick might help.  Nancy, I'll bet you eight weeks' pocket-money you
can't get two ponies."

"I'll begin with one, and see how I get on.  Now I think I'll immerse
myself in a book."

Presently they were called into the dining-room and sat, one on each
side of their father, cracking and peeling walnuts for him and eating
grapes on their own account, demure and submissively responsive to his
affectionate jocularity.  "What big girls you're both getting!" he
said.  "And going to be turned into blue-stockings, eh, what!  Have to
buy you a pair of spectacles each next time I go to Bathgate."  He
laughed his big laugh, drank half a glass of port, and beamed on them.
He thought they were the prettiest pair of young feminine creatures he
had ever seen, and so little trouble too!  It was a good thing for a
man to have sons to carry on his name, but young girls were an
attractive addition to a family, and to the pleasures of a big house.
He had thought it rather ridiculous of his wife to present him with the
twins fifteen years before, and seven years after his youngest son was
born, but he had long since forgiven her, and would not now have been
without them for anything.

When he and Dick were left alone over their wine there was a short
pause, and then he cleared his throat and began: "I want to talk to you
about something, Dick."

Dick threw a glance at him and took a puff at his cigarette, but made
no reply.

The Squire seemed a little nervous, which was not usual with him.  "Of
course I don't want to interfere with you in any way," he said.  "I've
always given you a pretty free hand, even with the property, and all
that sort of thing.  I've consulted you, and you've had your way
sometimes when we've differed.  That's all right.  It will belong to
you some day, and you're--what?--thirty-four now."

"Yes," said Dick.  "Thirty-four.  Time to think of settling down, eh?"

The Squire brightened.  "Yes, that's just it," he said.  "Time to think
of settling down.  You've had enough soldiering--much more than I had.
I never expected you would stick to it so long."

"I don't want to leave the service yet," said Dick calmly.  "I'm down
here pretty often--almost all my leave."

"Yes, yes, I know," said the Squire.  "But if--if----  Well, look here,
Dick--no use beating about the bush--why can't you get married?"

Dick smiled.  "It wouldn't be a bad scheme," he said.

The Squire was pleased.  He was getting on splendidly.  "You feel
that," he said.  "Well, I haven't liked to say anything, but it's been
on my mind for a long time."  He then recapitulated the reasons why he
thought Dick should marry, as he had enunciated them to Mrs.
Clinton--his position as eldest son and heir to a fine property, his
advancing age, the inadvisability of looking to Melbury Park as the
cradle for a successor to the emoluments and amenities of Kencote, or
of leaving it to Humphrey, the second son, to provide an heir.  "The
fact is, you ought to do it for your own sake," he wound up, "as well
as for the sake of the place."

"Whom do you want me to marry?" asked Dick, with a shade of flippancy.

"Oh, well, I'd leave that to you," the Squire conceded handsomely.
"You've a lot to offer.  I should think you could pretty well take your
pick--must have had plenty of opportunities all these years.  You
needn't look for money, though it's always useful.  Any nice girl of
good birth--of course you wouldn't want to marry one who wasn't.  Good
heavens! there must be a score of them presented every year, and you
have been about London now for ten or twelve years.  Do you mean to say
you haven't got one in your mind?"

"Haven't you?" asked Dick.

"Well, if you like to consult me, why not Grace Ettien?  Old Humphrey
Meadshire would be delighted.  She is his favourite granddaughter, and
I'm sure he would like to see her married before he goes."

"Grace is a charming girl," replied Dick.  "But I don't want to marry
my cousin."

"Cousin!  My dear fellow, old Humphrey and your grandfather were first
cousins.  You're surely not going to let that stand in the way."

"I've known her ever since she was a baby.  She's a baby now.  It would
be like marrying one of the Twankies."

The Squire began to get fussed.  "You're talking nonsense, Dick," he
said.  "She must be at least twenty-one.  The fact is you have left it
so long that an ordinary girl of a marriageable age seems a child to
you.  You'll be taking up with a widow next."

There was an appreciable pause before Dick asked, "Well, should you
object so much to that?"

"Of course I should," said the Squire, "--for you.  I shouldn't mind in
the case of Humphrey, if she wasn't too old, and had enough money for
the pair of them.  I'm not going to pay any more of his debts.  I'm
sick of it."

Dick allowed the conversation to travel down this byroad for a time,
and when the Squire brought it back to the original track, said, "Well,
I'll think over what you say.  But I don't know that I should care,
now, about marrying a young girl."

The Squire turned this over in his mind, looking down on his plate, and
his brows came together.  "What do you mean?" he asked shortly.  "You
wouldn't want to marry an old woman."

Dick took his cigarette out of his mouth and looked at it.

"When I marry," he said decisively, "it will probably be a woman of
nearer thirty than twenty."

The Squire made the best of it.  "Oh, well--as long as she's not over
thirty," he said.  "Girls don't marry so young as they used to.
But--well, you must think of an heir, Dick."

Dick made no reply to this, and the conversation ended.



CHAPTER III

EXIT MISS BIRD

Miss Bird arose on the next morning to find her window glazed with
frost, and it was characteristic of her and of the house in which she
had lived for over thirty years that her first thought was, "No hunting
to-day"; although the deprivation could not be expected to hold any
disappointment for herself, or indeed to affect her in any way.

Her second thought marked a drop to the sombre uneasiness in which she
had spent wakeful hours during the night.  She would not rise many more
times in this familiar room, nor look out on to a scene which she had
come to know so well at all seasons of the year that she could not help
loving it.  She would have liked to see the trees of the park, for a
farewell, in their early June dress, the grass about them powdered with
the yellow of buttercups.  But she hoped so to see them again.  She had
been made to feel that she was parting from friends, that she was by
virtue of her long and faithful service part of the family, that she
would not lose them altogether.  The Squire had said the day before,
when he had made known to her that he had heard of her projected
departure, "You must come and see us, you know, Miss Bird.  The house
won't be like itself without you."

Could anything be more gratifying--and from such a man?  Mrs. Clinton,
of course, had been kindness itself, had said just the right things to
make a person feel herself valued, and said them as if she meant them,
as no doubt, dear lady, she did, for she was always sincere.  And the
darling children had cried--she should never forget that as long as she
lived--when she had told them that she was going.  Here the simple lady
found a tear trickling down her own sharp nose, and put a hairpin in
her mouth while she wiped it away.

It seemed impossible that she should really be going.  It was just upon
thirty years since she had first come to Kencote, and it seemed like
yesterday.  She summoned up a rueful little smile when she recalled, in
the light of her now assured position as "a member of the family," her
palpitating nervousness on her introduction to the great house, so
different from anything she had known.  She had never been "out"
before.  She had had a good education, for those days, in the day
school that her mother, the doctor's widow, and her elder sister had
carried on in a little town in which she had been born, and had taught
in it till she was twenty-eight.  Then, after deep consultation, she
had answered Mrs. Clinton's advertisement, and, her references having
proved satisfactory, had been engaged to impart the rudiments of
education to a child of five, which she had modestly thought she was as
capable of doing as anybody, and at a salary that seemed to her
munificent.

She remembered arriving at Kencote on a spring evening and being
received by Mrs. Clinton, the pretty young wife and mother, who had
been almost as shy as herself, but had been so anxious that everything
should be "nice" for her that she had soon lost her awe of the big
house and the many servants; and even the figure in the background from
which all the splendour around her emanated lost some of its
imaginative terror, since the lady of the house had proved so
accessibly human.  She had thought the little boy, whom she had been
taken to see in bed, a darling, and so quaint when he asked her
solemnly if she could jump a pony over a log, because he could.  She
had liked his quiet, elderly nurse, who had come to talk to her in her
schoolroom when he had gone to sleep.  She had called her "miss," and
shown that she had no wish to "presume," but only the wish to be
friendly, and they had, in fact, remained friends for years.  She had
been greatly pleased with the size and comfort of her schoolroom, which
she had entirely to herself, to read or write or play the piano in,
outside hours of lessons, which were at first as short as was
conceivably possible.  And she had not in the least expected that there
would be a maid for the schoolroom, who was, as she wrote to her
sister, practically her own maid, calling her in the morning and
bringing her a cup of tea, lighting a fire for her every evening in her
bedroom as a matter of course, and indeed treating her as if she might
be the mistress of the house.

She had been happy at Kencote from the first, although she had been a
good deal alone, for until her little pupil had grown bigger she had
had all her meals sent up to her in the schoolroom, except on Sundays,
when she lunched downstairs in charge of little Dick.  Those were
nervous occasions, for it took her a long time to get used to the
Squire--the young Squire, as he was then--with his loud laugh and
hearty ways, who used to chaff her at table in a way to cause her
uneasiness, although he was never anything but kind, and she was
assured, even when she blushed deepest, that his manner was only
intended to put her at her ease and make her feel "one of the family."

She had soon lost any awe she may have started with of Mrs. Clinton,
although her respect for that lady's character had only grown with the
passage of time.  Mrs. Clinton used to sit with her sometimes in the
schoolroom, and in the summer time they would work under the big lime
in the garden while little Dick played about on the lawn.  Miss Bird's
simple gaiety of heart had had play, and her rather breathless
volubility had never been checked by any stiffness on the part of Mrs.
Clinton.  Mr. Beach, the Rector of Kencote, and the Squire's
half-brother, had always treated her with consideration, and his wife
had made her feel at home in the rectory, and expected her to visit
there occasionally on her own account.  The Squire's six maiden aunts
at the dower-house, all but one of whom were now dead, had also treated
her kindly, but in a rather more patronising manner.  She had not
minded that.  She had quite agreed with the opinion which underlay
everything they said and did, though it was seldom expressed in words,
that the Clintons of Kencote were great people in the land, and her
native humility had led her to accept gratefully the attentions paid to
her by them and their neighbours, and to "presume" on it no more than
little Dick's nurse had presumed on her own mild gentility.

She had found little Dick rather a handful as he grew older, but she
had coped successfully with him, by the expenditure of much energy of
speech and action, and had courageously beaten the beginnings of
learning into his brain, so that he took a good place at his first
school, and she was not disgraced.  By that time Humphrey was ready for
her guiding hand, and then Walter, and a few years later, Cicely,
hailed with joy as a pupil whom she might train up to the fine finish;
for there could be no talk of school for a girl Clinton, and Miss
Bird's success with Dick had given her a high place as an instructress
in the Squire's estimate of her abilities, so that there was never any
idea of her being some day superseded, and the years at Kencote
stretched happily in front of her.

Cicely was nine, and Frank, the sailor, seven, when the twins arrived.
The day of their birth was a good day in Miss Bird's annals.  It meant
more years still at Kencote, and by this time the idea of living with
any other family would have been most distressing to her.  And yet she
would have had to seek another situation but for the arrival of the
twins, for when she should have finished with Cicely she would be fifty
only, and would not have put by enough money to enable her to retire.
These are the hardships of a governess's lot, and Miss Bird had them
fully in her mind, saving and skimping all through the fruitful years
for a time when not only the opulences of existence in a house like
Kencote should be hers no longer, but it might be difficult to make
ends meet at all.  The twins lifted a weight off her mind, which, with
all her daily cheerfulness and courage, had never been quite absent
from her; for another nine or ten years would just enable her to
provide for her old age, and she knew that those nine or ten years
would be hers if she could only keep her health, of which there seemed
no reasonable doubt.  "It is not many women in my position who are as
fortunate as I," she had written to her sister at the time.  "The
Squire, who _roared_ with laughter when he heard of the birth of the
darling babies, said to me the first time he saw me afterwards, 'Well,
that fixes _you_ for another twenty years, Miss Bird.'  And he added in
a way which you might think profane if you had not heard him say it,
'Thank God, eh?'"

Well, here was the end of those happy years, which seemed to have sped
like a week or two since the birth of the twins.  She had seen Walter
and Cicely married and had dandled their babies.  She had shared Mrs.
Clinton's daily anxiety during the long months Dick had served in South
Africa, and had taken his award of a D.S.O. almost as a personal
compliment.  She had been glad at all the joys of the family and
saddened with their sorrows.  She had seen the Squire grow from a
handsome young man to an elderly one, and Mrs. Clinton's hair turn
nearly white.  She had boxes and drawers full of the presents she had
received at Christmas and on her birthdays, which had never been
forgotten, and the photographs of Clintons of all ages from babyhood
upwards were displayed on every available standing place in her room.
They were more to her than her sister or her sister's children, but the
call had come to her to leave them and to go to a place where she would
have to work hard and anxiously for the rest of her life on a very
small pittance and in very narrow surroundings, and it had never
occurred to her to shirk it.  It had all fitted in--she felt that she
had been "guided."  The teaching which she had never doubted that she
was able to give to Cicely now seemed to her inadequate for the finish
of the twins' education, but she did doubt, now that her departure had
been settled for her on other grounds, whether she would have had the
strength to say so and cut herself adrift of her own accord.  Here was
matter for thankfulness--that she had been led to see what her duty
was, and to do it.  She would always have Kencote to look back to, and
she was indeed fortunate to have spent the best part of her life in
such a place, and with such people.

The twins came in as she was finishing her toilette, to take her down
to breakfast.  This was a reversal of the procedure of the past, when
it had been the first of her daily duties to hunt them out of whatever
spot out of doors or in to which their vagrant fancy had led them, and
see that they appeared to the public eye duly washed, combed, and
brushed.  They embraced her, enveloping her wizened form with their
exuberant youth, like flowers round a peastick, and she was moved to
the depths of her being, though all she said was, "Now, Joan 'n' Nancy,
don't be rough.  You can love a person without untidying her hair."

"Are your nails quite clean, Starling darling?" asked Joan, taking one
of her hands and examining it.

"And are you quite sure you've brushed your teeth properly?" enquired
Nancy.

"Now don't _tease_, Joan 'n' Nancy," said Miss Bird, disengaging
herself.  "I shall only be here another week and you must try and be
_good_ girls and let me go away remembering that."

"Joan was saying this morning as we were dressing," said Nancy, "that
she was very sorry now to think of all the trouble she had given you,
Starling darling, and if she could have the time over again she would
behave very differently."

"Idiot!" retorted Joan.  "It's you who have given the trouble.
Starling has often said that if it weren't for your example I should be
a very good girl, haven't you, Starling darling?"

"You would _both_ be good girls if it wasn't for the other's example,"
replied Miss Bird.  "And you can be dear good girls as good as gold and
I hope you will when the new governess comes to teach you."

"I hope we shall, but I doubt it," said Joan.

"You see, Starling darling, what we would do for you we couldn't be
expected to do for a stranger whom we didn't love, could we?" said
Nancy.

Miss Bird was moved by this, and would have liked to embrace the
speaker, with words of endearment.  But she had grown rather wary of
exhibiting affection towards her pupils, who were apt to respond so
voluminously as to leave her crumpled, if not actually dishevelled.

"Well, if you love me as much as you say you do," she said, "you will
remember all the things I have told you; now are you _quite_ ready for
breakfast, because it is time to go down?"

"We told Dick you would like him to kiss you before you went, and I
think he will," said Joan innocently, as they went down the broad
staircase all three abreast.

"Now, Joan, if you _really_ said a thing like that--oh, take care! take
care!"  Miss Bird had tried to stop on the stairs and withdraw her arm
from Joan's, who, assisted by Nancy on the other side, had led her on
so that she tripped over the next step, and would have fallen but for
the firm grasp of the twins.  She was led into the dining-room,
protesting volubly, until she saw that Mrs. Clinton and Dick were
there, when the episode ended.

When breakfast was over the Squire surprised her by asking her
immediate attendance in his room, to which she followed him across the
hall in a flutter of apprehension.  It would not be quite true to say
that she had never been into this room during the thirty years of her
sojourn at Kencote, but it was certainly the first time she had entered
it on the Squire's invitation.  He did not ask her to take a seat, nor
did he take one himself, but stood in front of the fire with his coat
tails over his arm and his hands in his pockets.

"There's a little matter of business I should like to settle with you,
Miss Bird," he said.  "You've lived here a considerable number of
years, and you've done remarkably well by us and the children.  If
everybody did their duty in life as well as you, Miss Bird, the world
'ud be a better place than it is, by George!  Now I want to do a little
something for you, as you've done so much for us, and I've talked it
over with Dick, and we are going to buy you a little annuity of fifty
pounds a year, which with what my wife tells me you've saved will put
you out of anxiety for the future; and I'll tell you this, Miss Bird,
that I never--Eh, what!  Oh, my good woman ... God's sake ... here,
don't take on like that ... Gobblessme, what's to be done?"

For Miss Bird, overcome by this last great mark of esteem, had broken
down and was now sobbing into her handkerchief.  Knowing, however, the
Squire's dislike of a scene she succeeded in controlling herself, and
addressed him with no more than an occasional hiccup.  "I beg your
pardon, Mr. Clinton; I couldn't help it and it's too much and I thank
you from the bottom of my heart and shall never forget it as long as I
live and it's just like all the rest of the kindness I've received in
this house which I could never repay if I lived to be a hundred."

"Well, I'm very glad it meets your views, Miss Bird," said the Squire,
greatly relieved at the subsidence of emotion, and anxious to escape
further thanks.  "And I assure you the obligation's still on our side.
Now, I must write some letters, and I dare say you've got something to
do, too."

Miss Bird retired to her bedroom where, unrebuked, she shed her tears
of thankfulness, then wiped her eyes and sponged her face and went
about the duties of the day.

These did not, this morning, include lessons for the twins, for it was
Saturday, which was for them a holiday, when complete freedom was
tempered only by the necessity of "practising."  Dick had refused to
drive them over to Mountfield to see their sister and her babies, but
had offered them a walk to the dower-house during the course of the
morning.

"I wonder what he wants to go there for?" said Joan, as they went
upstairs.

"There's more in this," said Nancy, "than meets the eye."

There did not, however, seem to be more in it than a natural desire to
see a house empty which one has always known occupied, and this desire
the twins shared.  They found Dick in an affable mood as they walked
across the park together--the sort of affectionately jovial mood of
which they had occasionally taken advantage to secure a temporary
addition to their income.  Indeed, it seemed to have brought Dick
himself a reminder of his young sisters' financial requirements, for he
asked them, "Have you saved up enough money for your camera yet,
Twankies?"

Neither of them replied for the moment, then Joan said rather stiffly,
"We shan't be able to buy that for some time."

"Why, you only wanted twenty-five shillings to make it up a month ago,
and I gave you a sovereign towards it," said Dick.

Another short pause, and then Nancy said, "You gave it us!"

"Yes," said Dick, "to buy a camera.  I'm not certain you didn't screw
it out of me.  I never quite know whether it's my idea or yours when I
tip you Twankies.  Come now, what have you done with that sovereign?"

"We have spent it on a good object," said Joan.  "But we do want the
camera most frightfully badly, and if you would like to contribute to
the fund again it would save us many weary months of waiting."

"To say nothing of a severe economy painful to our generous natures,"
added Nancy.

"Not till I know what you spent the last contribution on," said Dick.
"You're getting regular young spendthrifts.  I shall have to look into
this, or you'll be ruining me by and by."

"Won't you give us anything more unless we tell you?" enquired Joan;
and Nancy amended the question: "Will you give us something more if we
do tell you?"

"I'll see," said Dick.  "Come, out with it!"

"Well, it's nothing to be ashamed of," said Joan.  "We wanted to buy
the old Starling a really good present, and out of our own money."

"It took the form of a pair of silver-backed brushes with cupids' heads
on them, and cost three pounds seventeen and sixpence," added Nancy.

"They are not cupids, but angels," said Joan, "which are much more
adapted to Starling's tastes."

"Well--cupids or angels--it cleaned us entirely out," concluded Nancy.

Dick put an arm round the shoulders of each and gave them a squeeze as
they walked.  "You're a pair of topping good Twankies," he said.  "I'll
start your new camera fund.  I'll give it you now."

"Thanks awfully, Dick," said Joan, as he took out his sovereign purse,
"but I think we'd rather you didn't.  You see, it's rather a special
occasion--the poor old Starling going away--and we wanted to give her
something that would really cost us something."

"I agree with my sister," said Nancy.  "But thanks awfully all the
same, Dick.  You're always a brick."

"Well, I respect the delicacy of your feelings, Twanks," said Dick.
"But isn't anybody ever going to be allowed to contribute to the camera
fund?  How long does the embargo last?"

"There's a good deal in that," said Joan thoughtfully.  "Of course we
can't refuse tips for ever, can we, Nancy?"

Nancy thought not.  "Let's say in a month from to-day," she suggested.
"If Dick likes to give us something then and happens to remember it--of
course, we shan't remind him--then I think we might accept without
feeling pigs."

"I'll make a note of that," said Dick gravely, "when I get home."



CHAPTER IV

THE DOWER-HOUSE

Surrounded by its winter woods and an over-thick growth of evergreens,
the little Jacobean hall, which had for centuries been the second home
of the Clintons of Kencote, had an air slightly depressing as Dick and
the twins came to it through the yew-enclosed garden at the back.
White blinds were down behind all the leaded mullioned windows, only
one thin thread of smoke rose into the sky from the carved and twisted
chimney-stacks.

Forty years before, when the Squire had succeeded his grandfather, his
six spinster aunts had left him in undisturbed possession of the great
house and taken up their abode here, very seldom to leave, until one by
one they had been carried off to their grave in Kencote churchyard.
Aunt Ellen, the eldest of them all, had died at a great age a few
months before, and Aunt Laura, the youngest, who was now seventy-eight,
had removed herself and her belongings to a smaller house in the
village.  Neither Dick nor, of course, the twins had ever known the
dower-house unassociated with the quiet lives of the old ladies, and
they shared in their different degree the same feeling of strangeness
as they stood under the porch and listened to the bell echoing in the
empty house.  It was like a human body from which life had departed,
but with its age and many memories it still kept a soul of its own
which could be revivified by fresh occupancy.

They went through all the rooms.  There was a great deal of fine old
furniture in them, things which Clintons of past centuries had bought
new, never thinking that they would some day acquire merit as
antiquities.  There were few such things in the great house, which had
been rebuilt after a fire in the reign of Queen Anne and refurnished
later still, in the reign of Queen Victoria.  Nor had the beautiful
things of which the dower-house was full been valued in the least by
their owners until long after the six maiden aunts had gone to live
there.  They had been simply old-fashioned in the eyes of the Squire,
their owner, and were so still, for he had no knowledge of such things,
and no appreciation of them.  Dick knew a little more, and as he looked
at one fine old piece of furniture after another, standing forlorn on
the carpetless floors, or against the dark panelling of the walls, he
said, "By Jove!  Twankies, there's some good stuff in this old shanty."

"Who is going to live in it?" asked Joan.

"Ah, that's the question!" replied Dick.  "Tell you what, Twankies,
let's play a game.  Supposing I ever got married, _I_ should live here,
you know.  Let's see how the rooms would pan out."

The twins were quite ready to play this or any other game, although it
did not promise much excitement, because there were only quite a
limited number of rooms, and most of them were more or less obviously
labelled.  It seemed, however, that Dick was prepared to play the game
seriously, for after they had fixed the dining-room, drawing-room,
morning-room, and smoking-room, and a tiny oak parlour which the aunts
had used for garden chairs and implements and Dick said would do for
his guns if a baize-lined glass cupboard were put up in a recess by the
fireplace, he inspected the kitchen premises with some thoroughness.

"I say, Dick, _are_ you going to get married and come and live here?"
asked Joan, as he began to make notes on the back of an envelope.

"There's more in this than meets the eye," observed Nancy.

"Small Twankies mustn't ask impertinent questions," replied Dick.  "But
I'll tell you exactly how it stands, and you mustn't let it go any
further."

"Oh, rather not," said Joan.

"Our ears are all agog," said Nancy.

"You see, Twankies, _some_body has got to live in this house, haven't
they?  Well, then, it must be done up, eh?  And if _I_ come and live in
it some day, I don't want to have to do it up again--see?  So there you
have it all in a nutshell."

"Yes, I see," said Joan; "but it's a little disappointing."

"It all sounds very reasonable," said Nancy, "but I still think there's
more in it than meets the eye."

They were in the great stone-floored kitchen, which still retained its
cavernous hearth and open chimney.

"You could roast an ox here," said Dick.  "We'll turn this into a
servants' hall, Twankies, and rig up the other place for cooking.  The
cellar's all right, so is the pantry--and big enough for two.  We'll
divide it up, eh? and one part will do for a brushing-room.  There's
nowhere at present where a servant can brush your clothes."

"What wonderful domestic knowledge you display, Dick!"' observed Nancy.
"Where are the maids to brush their mistresses' clothes?  In here with
the valets?"

"Yes, of course," said Dick.  "This isn't a palace.  People who come to
stay must expect some inconveniences.  I don't see any place for a game
larder.  We must see about that outside.  Now we'll go upstairs."

They went up the broad shallow stairs of age-worn oak, and through the
hive of rooms, which opened into one another, and led out into little
passages, closets, and stairways in the most confusing way, and made
you wonder what scheme of daily life the old builder had in mind when
he planned them.  He had certainly wasted a great deal of room.  The
main corridor opened out here and there into broad spaces, where there
was perhaps a bookcase, or a low seat under a latticed window, or only
the rich emptiness of the square of oak panelling, the polished floor,
and the plastered ceiling.  Whatever his aims, he had gained his effect
of gracious ease and warm shelter.  However varied might be the needs
of its occupants through the succeeding years, the dower-house would be
as much of a home as on the day it was first built.

"A man might make himself very comfortable here, Mr. Copperfield,"
quoted Nancy, as they stood at a window of the biggest bedroom, which
had panels of linen pattern, with a plastered frieze and an oak-beamed
ceiling.  There was also a heavy carved oak bed, in which Aunt Ellen
had recently looked her last upon surroundings that had continually
reminded her of the age and importance of the family of which she was a
member.

"I shall have all these beastly laurels grubbed up, and some of the
trees cut down," said Dick.  "The place is like a family vault.  And
I'm not sure that I won't have this woodwork painted white."

Joan looked doubtfully round her.  She knew nothing of the value of old
good things, but she felt dimly that the carved panelling, dark with
age, ought to remain as it was.  Nancy felt so still more strongly.
"It would be wicked to do that," she said.  "This is a lovely room, and
tells you stories.  If you like I'll give you a rhapsody."

Joan grinned.  "Have you ever heard one of Nancy's rhapsodies, Dick?"
she asked.  "They're awfully good."

Dick had not, but expressed himself willing to listen to whatever
foolishness might be in store for him for the space of one minute
precisely.  Nancy stood against the dark woodwork on the other side of
the room.  Her pretty, mischievous face was framed in the thick fall of
her fair hair and the fur round her throat.  She wore a little fur cap
and a red coat, and a big muff hung from her shoulders.  Dick, always
affectionately disposed towards his young sisters, thought he had never
seen a girl of her age look prettier, and put his arm vicariously round
Joan, who was exactly like her, as they sat on the window-seat.

"In this old house," began Nancy, using her right hand for
gesticulation and keeping the other in her muff, "lots of old Clintons
have died, and lots of new Clintons have been born.  Think, my
children, of the people who have come here to live.  Some of them were
gallant young men Clintons who had just taken to themselves fair young
brides, and they were full of hope for the future, and pleasure in
having such a jolly house to live in with her they loved best in the
world.  A few years would pass and the rooms would echo with the voices
and steps of little children, and all would be gaiety and mirth.  Then
a change would come over the spirit of the scene.  The young couple
would go with their family to the great house, and in their stead would
come a sad-faced figure in deep black, a Clinton widow, who had had her
day of glory, and would now spend the rest of her years here in peace
and seclusion.  But all would not be dark to her.  She would have great
fun in suiting the dear old house to her taste, she would be cheered by
the constant visits of the younger members of her family, and she could
do a good deal more what she liked than she had done before."

"Well, upon my word!" interposed Dick.

Nancy held up her hand.  "Hear, all ye Clintons!" she concluded.  "Old
men and women, young men and maidens, and especially the gallant
warrior knight and the sweet young maiden I see before me--ye belong to
a race which has its roots far back in history, and has been
distinguished for many things, but not particularly for brains, as far
as I can make out from my recent researches.  But at last there has
arisen one who will make up for that deficiency.  You now behold her in
the person of Nancy Caroline Clinton, who addresses you.  See that ye
cherish her and tip her well, or ye will be eternally disgraced in the
eyes of posterity."

She ended with a ripple of laughter, shaking back her hair.

"Well, you're the limit," said Dick, with a grin.  "Come on, let's go
and look at the stables.  Is it true that you suddenly find yourself
possessed of brains, Twanky?  I never suspected it of you."

"My dear Dick," said Joan, as they went down the stairs, "she has been
talking about nothing but her brains for the last month, ever since
Uncle Herbert last came here to shoot."

"They were always there," explained Nancy, "but he put the match to the
tinder.  I'm going to write books when I get a little older.  But of
course I must be properly educated first.  I suppose you know we're
going to have a really up-to-date, top-hole governess, Dick?"

"Yes, I've heard that," said Dick, "although I don't admire your way of
describing her.  Lord, what a place to put a horse!"

"If it is the expression 'top-hole' you object to, I learnt it from
you," said Nancy.  "My ears are receptive."

"Two loose-boxes and three stalls," said Dick.  "We can make that do,
but they're all on the slant.  We'd better begin by altering this at
once; the house can wait for a bit."

"Of course the stables are more important than the house," said Joan.
"I say, Dick, there is something we want to ask you.  Do be a brick and
say, yes."

Dick was pursuing his investigations.  "Coach-house isn't bad," he
said.  "Harness-room wants refurnishing.  Let's see what the rooms
upstairs are like."

They climbed up the steep staircase.  "Dick, will you persuade father
to do something?" asked Joan.

"What?" asked Dick.  "This would be all right for an unmarried groom."

"We want a pony.  We've never had anything to ride since poor old Tommy
died."

They were clattering down the stairs again.  "You want--you want--you
want everything," said Dick.  "You'll want a four-in-hand next.  I
don't know whether you want a pig-stye, by any chance.  I'll give you
this one if you do--ridiculous place to put it!  This is where we'll
build the game larder.  Come on, Twankies, we'll go and look up old
Aunt Laura.  I want to see what she's taken away from here."

He set off at a smart pace, the twins on either side of him.  "I don't
know why _you_ want to go putting your oar in about the pony," said
Nancy.  "I was to tackle father about that."

"Tackle father!" repeated Dick.  "Look here! that's not the way to talk
about the governor, Nancy."

"Oh, Dick darling, don't call me Nancy.  I feel that I'm trembling
under the weight of your displeasure."

Joan hastened to her relief.  "When she said 'tackle,' she only meant
that I betted her four weeks' pocket-money that father wouldn't let us
have a pony," she said.

"You mean well, but you've done it now," said Nancy.

"Really, it's about time that you two had somebody to look after you,"
said Dick.  "Who on earth taught you to bet, I should like to know?"

"Humphrey," replied Nancy promptly.  "We were standing by him, and he
betted us a shilling each that he would bring down the next bird that
came over.  He didn't, and he paid up promptly."

"We wanted him to bet again, but he refused," said Joan.

"But it gave us a taste for speculation which we shall probably never
overcome," said Nancy.

Dick grunted.  "Humphrey oughtn't to have done it," he said.  "You are
not to bet with each other, you two.  And that bet about the
pony--which was infernal cheek to make, anyhow--is off.  Do you hear?"

"Yes, Dick dear," said Joan obediently.  "But what does a bet being
'off' mean, exactly?"

"Is it the same as hedging?" asked Nancy.

"It means--well, it means it's off.  You know what it means as well as
I do.  And I don't like your arranging with each other to get things
out of the governor, either--or anybody else.  You get plenty given
you, and it isn't nice for girls of your age to be always on the make."

"But, Dick darling," expostulated Joan, "there are such lots of horses
about the place.  I think we might be allowed to ride now.  Of course,
we didn't mean a pony, really.  We are big enough to stick on a horse,
and father wouldn't have to buy another one for us."

"We are about to embark on an arduous course of study," said Nancy,
"and horse exercise would be the best possible thing for us."

"You stick to your golf," said Dick.  "We spent a lot of money making
those links in the park, and you get more fun out of them than anybody."

"Then you won't help us about riding?" asked Joan.

"No," said Dick.  "All the nags are wanted for hunting, and I'm not
going to advise the governor to increase the stables."

Nancy breathed a deep sigh.  "It's all your fault, Joan," she said.
"You don't know how to treat a man.  You must never blurt things out
that you want.  You must remember women are a subject race."

"But you won't mind our asking father, Dick, will you?" pleaded Joan.

Dick gave his ultimatum.  "You'd better give up the idea," he said.
"And remember what I told you about being on the make.  You're nice
kids, but you want keeping in order.  I hope the new lady will do it."

"I hope she will," said Nancy; "but she's got a hard row to hoe.  I
can't help feeling a little sorry for her."

Aunt Laura had taken up her abode in a little old house on the village
street, with a square, brick-walled garden behind it.  The agent had
occupied it before the death of Aunt Ellen, but had now removed to a
farm which was in hand.

They found the old lady sitting by the fire in her parlour, knitting.
She was frail and shrunken, and looked as if she might not long survive
her transplantation.  Mrs. Clinton or the twins came to see her every
day, but a visit from the Squire or one of his sons, and especially
Dick, was an honour which never failed mildly to excite her.  She was
now in a flurry, and told the elderly maid who had shown her visitors
in to bring wine and cake, in the fashion of an earlier day.  The men
of the family never refused this entertainment, either because they
were averse to wounding Aunt Laura's susceptibilities, or because they
liked it.

"Well, I hope you've made yourself pretty comfortable, Aunt Laura,"
said Dick in a loud, clear voice, for the old lady was rather deaf,
although she did not like to acknowledge it.  He was looking round the
room as he spoke.  Its panelled walls were painted light green, and
were hung with coloured prints.  A recessed cupboard was full of
beautiful old china; but there was nothing else of much value in the
room, which was furnished with a Victorian drawing-room suite and a
round rosewood table.  The old lady had a pretty modern French table by
her side with conveniences for her work and her books.  She had also
her old cottage piano, with a front of fluted red silk, upon which she
sometimes played.  A canary hung in the window, which faced south and
let in, between the curtains, a stream of wintry sunshine.

"It is a bright little house," said Aunt Laura.  "I sometimes wish that
your dear Aunt Ellen had spent the last few years of her life here
after your dear Aunt Anne died.  The dower-house was a very dear home
to us, and we were greatly attached to it, but in the winter it was
dark, and this is much more cheerful.  It is cold to-day, and I am
sitting over the fire, as you see.  But I often sit by the window and
see the people going by.  You could not do that in the dower-house, for
nobody did go by."

"Did you bring all the furniture you wanted to make you comfortable,
Aunt Laura?" asked Dick.

Aunt Laura looked up over her spectacles.  "I am quite comfortable, I
thank you, Dick," she replied, "although I have not got quite used to
things yet.  It is not to be expected that I should, all at once, at my
age, and after having lived with the same things round me for close
upon forty years.  But your dear father has been kindness itself, as he
always is, and allowed me to have all my bedroom furniture brought
here, so that in my room upstairs I feel quite at home.  And for the
downstairs rooms he told me that any pictures or china and so forth
that I had a fancy for I might have, and I hope I have not taken
advantage of his generosity.  I shall not want the things for very
long, and they are being well taken care of.  He did not want me to
take any of the furniture, as he said this house was furnished already,
but he wanted me to feel at home here."

Dick seemed to consider for a moment.  "If there's anything special you
want in the way of furniture, Aunt Laura," he said, "anything you've
got attached to and like to use, we'll see if we can't get it brought
down for you."

"Well, of course, I got attached to it all," replied Aunt Laura.  "But
I can't expect to have it all, and what is here will do for me very
well.  Hannah is making some pretty loose chintz covers for the chairs
and sofa in this room, which will give it a more home-like appearance.
I do not like the carpet, which is much worn, as you see, and was never
a very good one, but I have half formed a plan of going over to
Bathgate when the spring comes and seeing if I can get one something
after the pattern of that in the morning-room at the dower-house, which
your aunts and I used much to admire.  It was old and somewhat faded,
but its colours were well blended, and I have heard that it was brought
straight from Persia, where they have always made excellent carpets,
for my grandfather, who was in business in the city of London.  He
would be your great-great-grandfather, and they used to call him
'Merchant Jack,' even after he succeeded to Kencote."

If Dick had known the true value of the carpet in question he might not
have offered to have it sent down for Aunt Laura's use, but he
immediately did so, and the old lady's gratitude ought sufficiently to
have rewarded him.  "Now is there anything else, Aunt Laura?" he asked.

"Well, as you are so extremely kind, Dick," she said, "--and I hope
your dear father will not mind, or think that I have been grasping,
which I should not like after all his generosity--I think if I might
have the use of the old bureau upon which your aunts and I used to
write our letters and in which we used to keep our few business
papers--for there was a very good lock--not that there was any
necessity to lock things up at the dower-house, for everything was
under Hannah's charge, and, although she is apt to be a little flighty
in her dress, and your dear Aunt Ellen sometimes rebuked her for that,
but always kindly, she was quite reliable, and _anything_ might have
been left about in perfect safety.--As I was saying, if I might have
the use of the old bureau for as long as I live--I should not want it
longer--I do not think I should regret anything, except of course that
your dear aunts are all gone now, and I am the last of them left."

Dick had prepared himself, during the foregoing speech, to promise,
immediately it came to an end, that Aunt Laura should have the old
bureau, although it was a very fine specimen of Dutch marquetry, and
the piece of furniture that had struck him as the most desirable of all
he had just seen in the dower-house.  "Oh, of course, Aunt Laura," he
said.  "You shall have the bureau and the carpet sent down this
afternoon.  Then you'll feel quite at home, eh?"

"Well, perhaps not this afternoon, Dick," replied Aunt Laura.  "It
might upset the house for Sunday to make a change, and I should not be
quite ready to superintend it.  But on Monday, or even Tuesday--I am
not particular--I could make ready.  There is no immediate hurry.  It
is enough for me to know that I am to have the things here, and I shall
think upon them with very great pleasure.  I'm sure I cannot thank you
enough, dear Dick, for your kindness.  It is of a piece with all the
rest.  Why, I do not believe you have yet seen my beautiful table.
Children dear, see here!  Is it not convenient?  I can place my
favourite book here by my side, and when I am tired of reading, without
moving from my seat, I can lay it down, and there is my work ready for
me underneath, and in this pocket, as you see, are all sorts of
conveniences, such as scissors, little tape-measure in the form of a
silver pig, and so on; and here an ivory paper-knife.  It is indeed a
handsome present, is it not?"

"It's lovely, Aunt Laura," said Joan.  "Who did it come from?"

"On Thursday," replied Aunt Laura.  "Thursday morning.  No, I am
telling you a story.  It was Thursday afternoon, for Hannah was just
about to bring in the tea."

"Who gave it you, Aunt Laura?" asked Joan again.

"Did I not tell you?" said Aunt Laura.  "It was dear Humphrey.  He sent
it down from London.  He came in to see me when he was last at Kencote
and described to me such a table as this, which I admit I _did_ say I
should like to possess, but certainly with no idea that he would
purchase one for me.  But there! all you dear boys and girls are full
of kind thoughts for your old aunt, and I am sure it makes me very
happy in my loss of your dear Aunt Ellen to think I have so much left
to be thankful for."

When the twins were in their bedroom getting ready for luncheon Joan
said, "I wonder why Humphrey is so attentive all of a sudden to Aunt
Laura."

"There's more in it than meets the eye," said Nancy.  "Did you notice
how surprised Dick looked when she said Humphrey gave it her?  And then
he frowned."

"I expect Dick thinks Humphrey is too extravagant.  It must have been
an expensive table.  And I know Humphrey has debts, because he asked me
to open a tailor's bill that came for him and tell him the 'demnition
total,' as he was afraid to do it himself.  It was more than a hundred
pounds, and he said, 'I wish that was the only one, but if it was I
couldn't pay it.'"

"Poor old Humphrey!" said Nancy.  "I say, Joan, do you think he is
making up to Aunt Laura, so that she will pay his bills for him?"

"What a beastly thing to say, Nancy!" replied Joan.  "Of course, none
of the boys would do a thing like that.  Besides, Aunt Laura hasn't got
any money."

"No, I don't suppose so," said Nancy reflectively.  "I expect father
gives her an allowance, poor old darling!"

But Aunt Laura had money.  She had the thirty-six thousand pounds which
her father had left to her and her sisters, and she had, besides, the
savings of all six ladies through a considerable number of years.



CHAPTER V

LADY GEORGE

The Squire had a touch of rheumatism, and was annoyed about it, but
also inclined to give Providence due credit for so visiting him, if he
must be visited at all, at a time of hard frost.  "If I coddle myself
up to-day and perhaps to-morrow," he said over the luncheon table, "I
shall be able to hunt all right on Monday, if the frost breaks.  I
suppose you wouldn't care to go over those Deepdene Farm figures this
afternoon, Dick, eh?"

"We might have an hour with them before dinner," replied Dick.  "I
thought of riding over to Mountfield to see Jim this afternoon.  I want
a little exercise."

"I don't know whether you will find Jim in," said Mrs. Clinton.
"Muriel, and I think Mrs. Graham, are coming over here this afternoon."

"I'll take my chance," said Dick.

The twins saw him off from the hall door.  He rode a tall bay horse,
which danced with impatience on the hard gravel of the drive as he
looked him over, drawing on his gloves.

"Dear old Cicero! doesn't he look a beauty?" said Nancy.  "What was his
figure, Dick?"

"You will never be able to get on him," said Joan.  "Shall I bring a
chair?"

But Dick was up and cantering over the crisp grass of the park,
managing his nervous powerful mount as if he and the horse were of one
frame and as if nothing could separate them.

"He does look jolly," said Joan admiringly.

"He's a good man on a horse," acquiesced Nancy.

"All the boys are.  So they ought to be.  They think about nothing
else."

"You know, I think Dick is just the sort of man a girl might fall in
love with," said Joan.  "He's very good-looking, and he has just that
sort of way with him, as if he didn't care for anybody."

"I expect lots of girls have fallen in love with him.  The question is
whether he is ever going to fall in love with them.  I'm inclined to
think he's turning it over in his mind.  I dare say you were blinded by
all that business at the dower-house this morning.  I wasn't.  You mark
my word, Joan, Dick is going to get married."

"I shouldn't wonder.  He's grown softer somehow.  See how interested he
was in the kitchen.  Who do you think it is, Nancy?"

"My dear!  Don't you know that?  It's Grace Ettien.  Didn't you notice
what a fuss father made of her when she last come over?  Took her all
round, and almost _gave_ her the place.  He doesn't treat girls like
that as a rule."

"You didn't say so at the time."

"No; but I've put two and two together since.  You see if I'm not
right.  By this time next year the dower-house will be occupied by
Captain and Lady Grace Clinton--and oh, Joan! perhaps there'll be
another baby in the family!"

The ecstasy of the twins at this prospect was broken into by Miss Bird,
who appeared behind them in the doorway and promised them their deaths
of cold if they did not come indoors _at once_.

In the meantime Dick was trotting along the hard country lanes, between
the silent silvered winter woods and the frozen fields, always with an
eye about him to see what things of fur and feather might share with
him the winter solitude, what was doing in the hard-bound soil, and
what in the clear spaces of the air.  He had the eye of the countryman,
trained from boyhood to observe and assimilate.  He had lived for years
the life of court and camp, had adapted himself as readily to the
turmoil of London gaieties as to regimental duties in other stations at
home and abroad, or to months of campaigning in Egypt and South Africa.
He had skimmed the cream of all such experiences as had come in his
way, but here in the depths of the English country, just here where his
ancestors had lived for generation after generation, were placed the
foundations of his life.  Here he was at home, as nowhere else in the
world.  All the rest was mere accident of time and place, of no account
as compared with this one spot of English soil.  Here alone he was
based and firmly rooted.

Mountfield lay about four miles from Kencote, and the two estates
marched, although the one was small as compared with the other.  Two
years before, Jim Graham, the owner of Mountfield, had married Cicely
Clinton, and his only sister just before that had married Walter
Clinton, the doctor of Melbury Park, where the Squire was so averse to
looking for an heir.  So the Clintons and the Grahams were bound
together by close ties, and there was much coming and going between the
two houses.

Cicely's carriage was before the door as Dick rode up, and she herself
came out as he dismounted.  She looked very pretty in her thick furs,
young and fresh, and matronly at the same time.

"Oh, Dick, I'm so glad to see you," she said.  "Have you come to see
Jim?  I'm afraid he's gone over to Bathgate, and won't be back for some
time."

"H'm!  That's a bore," said Dick.  "You're going over to Kencote,
aren't you, Siskin?"

"Yes.  I'm going to fetch Mrs. Graham and drive her over.  But do come
in for a minute or two."

"Oughtn't to keep the horses long in this weather," said Dick.  "Drive
'em about for a few minutes, Carter.  I'll just come in and throw my
eye over the babies, Siskin."

Cicely's face brightened.  She led the way into her morning-room, and
turned to kiss her brother, her hands on his shoulders.  "Dear old
Dick!" she said.  "Do you really want to see the babies?"

"Of course I do," he replied.  "You've given us the taste for them over
at Kencote.  The Twankies foam at the mouth with pleasure whenever the
babies are mentioned, and even the governor looks as if a light were
switched on in his face when anything is said about them."

Cicely rang the bell.  "He is a doting grandfather," she said, with a
smile.  "I would take them over this afternoon, but it's too cold."

"Nice room, this!" said Dick, looking round him.  "Are you glad to be
settled down in the country again, Sis?"

"Yes.  Awfully glad," she said.  "I hated London, really.  At least, I
liked meeting the people, but you can only feel at home in the country."

"There was a time," said Dick.

She blushed.  "Oh, don't talk about that, Dick," she said, in some
distress.  "I was all wrong.  I didn't know what I wanted.  I know now.
I want just this, and Jim, and the babies.  I was overjoyed when our
two years in London were up, and Jim said we could come back here if we
kept quiet and lived carefully.  Here they are--the darlings!"

The tiny morsels of lace and silk-clad humanity--Dick, the boy, Nina,
the baby girl--who were brought into the room in charge of a staid
elderly smiling nurse, looked as happy babies ought to look--as if they
belonged to the house and the house belonged to them.  Dick took up his
namesake and godson in his arms and his keen face softened.  "He's
getting a great little man," he said.  "When are you going to cut his
hair, Cicely?"

Cicely scouted the idea.  "Men are always in such a hurry," she said.
"Dick, you ought to marry and have babies of your own."

"Ah, well! perhaps I shall some day," said Dick.  "Now I must be
pushing on, and you oughtn't to keep the horses waiting, Sis.
Good-bye, little chap."

"Aren't you coming back to Kencote?" Cicely asked.

"Not just yet.  Going to hack a few more miles.  I haven't been on a
horse for three weeks."

So Cicely got into her carriage and Dick's horse was brought round, and
they went off in different directions.

Cicely picked up her mother-in-law at her house just outside the park.
Mrs. Graham was waiting for her at her garden gate, in company with a
deerhound, a spaniel, and an Irish terrier.  She had on a coat and
skirt of thick tweed, and a cloth hat with a cock's feather.

"I suppose there won't be a tea-party," she said, as she got into the
carriage.  "I did intend to put on smart clothes, but I found I
couldn't be bothered when the time came.  They must take me in my rags
or not at all.  _You_ look smart enough, my girl."

"If I had your figure," said Cicely, "I should never want to wear
anything but country clothes."

"Ah! now that's very nice of you," said Mrs. Graham.  "I do wear well
for fifty-three, and I'm not going to deny it.  My face is a bit
battered, of course.  I must expect that, riding and tramping about in
all weathers.  But I'm as fit as if I were thirty years younger, and I
don't know what more you can ask of life--unless it's to have your own
people round you instead of a pack of molly-coddles."

Cicely laughed.  Jim Graham had let Mountfield for two years after
their marriage to a rich and childless couple, who spent most of their
time in working at embroidery, and motoring about the country in a
closed-in car, for neither of which pursuits Mrs. Graham had found it
in her heart to forgive them.

"Well, _they're_ gone," she said.  "And thank goodness for it.  I
should have let the Lodge and gone away myself if they had stayed here
any longer.  Cumberers of the ground, I call them, and what they wanted
with a country house beats me.  But you never know who you're going to
get for neighbours nowadays.  By the by, have you heard that old Parson
Marsh has let Blaythorn Rectory for the hunting season?"

Blaythorn was about three miles from Mountfield, on the opposite side
to Kencote.  Cicely had not heard this piece of news.

"Yes," said Mrs. Graham, "and to a lady of title, my dear--Lady George
Dubec--no less.  I haven't the ghost of an idea who she is.  But no
doubt your father will know.  He is a regular walking peerage--knows
who everybody is and whom everybody has married to the third and fourth
generation.  What accommodation poor old Parson Marsh has for hunters I
don't know.  I should think the lady must have been done in the eye.
And as for the house--the last time I was in it it smelt so of dogs and
tobacco-smoke that even I couldn't put up with it, and Lord knows I'm
not particular."

"Where is Mr. Marsh going to live?" asked Cicely.

"Oh, I believe he has sacked his curate on the strength of it, and has
taken his rooms.  I don't know why he should have wanted a curate at
all, except that he's so bone-idle, and I'm sure he can't afford one.
He owes Joynes the butcher over forty pounds.  But, good gracious,
Cicely, don't encourage me to gossip.  I'm getting a regular old hag.
It's the influence of your late tenants, my dear.  They _loved_ village
tittle-tattle, and I had to join in with it whenever we met, because
there was nothing else in the wide world I could talk to them about.
The worst of it is I was acquiring quite a taste for scandal.  But I've
turned over a new leaf.  So has old Marsh I suppose, and is going to
pay up all his debts.  I wish him well over his difficulties."

With such sprightly talk did Mrs. Graham pass away the time till they
reached Kencote, when she began all over again with Mrs. Clinton as
audience.  Cicely had gone upstairs to see the twins and Miss Bird, and
Mrs. Graham asked point-blank that Mr. Clinton might be informed of her
arrival.  "I have lots to tell him," she said, "and I want to ask him
some questions besides."

Mrs. Clinton rang the bell, without saying anything, and a footman was
sent with a message to the Squire, who presently came in, bluff and
hearty, but walking with a slight list.

"Ah, Mrs. Graham!" he said as he shook hands.  "Come to cheer us up
with a little gossip--what?  But where are the grandchildren?"

"Dear me!  I forgot to ask," said Mrs. Graham.  "I suppose it is too
cold for them.  But I've brought the dogs, Mr. Clinton."

"Oh, the dogs!" said the Squire, with his loud laugh.  "No dogs in
_this_ house."

"I know," said Mrs. Graham.  "And it's such a mistake.  Kencote is the
only country house I know where there isn't a dog indoors.  I never
feel that it's properly inhabited."

"It was swarming with them in my grandfather's time," said the Squire,
"and I dare say would be now if that mongrel hadn't gone for Dick when
he was a little fellow.  Always kept 'em outside since.  Outside is the
place for a dog."

"I don't agree with you," said Mrs. Graham.  "And it isn't like a
sportsman to say so.  However, we needn't quarrel about that.  Who is
Lady George Dubec, Mr. Clinton?"

"Lady George Dubec?" repeated the Squire.  "I suppose she's the
wife--or the widow rather--of George Dubec, the Duke of Queenstown's
brother, and a pretty good rascal _he_ was.  Got killed in a railway
accident in America two or three years ago, and it was the best thing
that could have happened to him.  Wish they'd kill off a few more like
him.  I didn't know he was married.  Why do you ask?"

"She has taken Blaythorn Rectory to hunt from.  She came down yesterday
or the day before."

"Blaythorn Rectory!  To hunt from!'" exclaimed the Squire.  "Well,
that's the most extraordinary thing!  Are there any stables there?  I
never heard of Marsh keeping anything but an old pony, and the whole
place must be in the depths of dilapidation."

"Well, I don't know.  But there she is.  And you don't know _who_ she
is.  I thought you knew who everybody was, Mr. Clinton."

"Wait a minute," said the Squire, and he went over to a table where
there were books of reference.  "No, there's no marriage here," he
said, turning over the pages of one of them, "except his first marriage
thirty years ago.  Poor Lady Bertha Grange that was, and he drove her
into her grave within five years.  The fellow was a brute and a
blackleg.  I was at school with him, and he was sacked.  And I was at
Cambridge with him and he was sent down, for some disgraceful business,
I forget what.  Then he was in the Guards, and had to clear out of the
service within a year for some precious shady racing transaction.  The
fellow had every possible chance, and he _couldn't_ run straight.  He
went abroad after that, but used to turn up occasionally.  Nobody would
have anything to do with him.  I believe he settled down in America, if
he could ever be said to settle down anywhere.  I know he was in some
scandalous divorce case.  One used to hear his name come up
occasionally, and always in an unsavoury sort of way.  He was a wrong
'un, through and through, but a good-looking blackguard in his young
days, and women used to stick up for him."

"Well, he seems to be better out of the world than in it," said Mrs.
Graham.  "But what about his widow?  You say she isn't down there."

"No, but this book is out of date.  I've got a later one in my room.
I'll send for it."

The new book gave the information required.  Lord George Dubec had
married five years before Miss Virginia Vanreden, of Philadelphia.

"Oh, an American!" said Mrs. Graham.  "Well, I suppose I must go and
call on her.  Even if I don't like her I shall be doing my duty to my
neighbours in providing them with gossip.  Not that I like gossip--I
detest it.  Still, one must find _some_thing to talk about.  Shall you
call on her, Mrs. Clinton?"

The Squire answered.  "Oh, I think not," he said.  "I don't like
hunting--er! hum! ha!"

"You don't like hunting women," said Mrs. Graham imperturbably.  "I
know you don't, Mr. Clinton.  That's another point between us.  But
we're very good friends all the same."

"Oh, of course, of course," said the Squire.  "Nearly put my foot in it
that time, Mrs. Graham, eh?  Ha! ha!  Well, with such old friends one
can afford to make a mistake or two.  No, I think we'll leave Lady
George Dubec alone.  She won't be here long, and I've no wish to be
mixed up with anybody belonging to George Dubec--alive or dead.  I had
the utmost contempt for the fellow.  Besides, I don't like Americans,
and any woman who would have married him after the life he'd led ...
well, she may be all right, but I don't want to know her--that's all.
I _should_ like to know, though, how she got hold of Blaythorn Rectory,
of all places, or why she has come to Meadshire to hunt.  The country
pleases _us_ all right, and we're quite content with our sport, but
we're not generally honoured by strangers in that way."

"I dare say I can find out all about it," said Mrs. Graham.  "And when
I do I'll let you know."

Cicely was sitting on the great roomy shabby sofa in the schoolroom,
with a twin on either side of her, and Miss Bird upright in the corner,
alternately tatting feverishly a pattern of lace thread and dabbing her
eyes with her handkerchief.  For the subject of conversation was her
approaching departure, and, as she said, with all the kindness that had
been showered on her and the affection that she felt she never would
lose, it was no use pretending that she was glad she was going away,
for she was not, but, on the contrary, very sorry.

"Nancy and I are going to write to her once a week regularly," said
Joan.  "We did think of writing every day at first, but we probably
shouldn't keep it up."

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh might be weak," said Nancy.  "And
there's no sense in overdoing things.  Anyhow, we have promised that we
will never love Miss Prim half as much as we love our darling Starling,
and she is pleased at that, aren't you, Starling darling?"

"Of course I am pleased to be loved," replied Miss Bird; "but indeed,
Nancy, I should not like you to set yourself against your new governess
on my account; it is not necessary and you can love one person without
visiting it on another and I do not like you to call her Miss Prim."

"She is sure to be," said Nancy elliptically.  "We must call her
something, and that's as good a name as any till we see what she is
like."

"If you don't treat her respectfully she won't stay," said Cicely.

"We haven't treated Starling respectfully, but _she_ has stayed all
right," said Joan.  "I suppose you know we are going to have lessons
besides, Sis--drawing, and music, and deportment, and all sorts of
things."

"Oh, we're going to be well finished off while we're about it," said
Nancy.  "We shall be ready to fill _any_ position, from the highest to
the lowest."

"We shall be the ornament of every drawing-room to which we are
introduced," said Joan.  "I think we're worth polishing off handsomely,
don't you, Sis?  Have you noticed how awfully pretty we're getting?"

"Now that is a thing," broke in Miss Bird, "that no well-brought-up
girl ought to say of herself, Joan."

"But, Starling darling, it's true, and you can't deny it," replied
Joan.  "We must tell the truth, mustn't we?"

"The new booking-clerk at the station casts admiring glances at us,"
said Nancy.  "At first it made us uncomfortable; we thought we must
have smuts on our noses.  But at last we tumbled to it.  Cicely, we are
loved, not only for our worth, but our beauty."

"You are a couple of donkeys," said Cicely, laughing.  "Well, I'm glad
you're going to apply yourselves to learning, although it's a dreadful
thing to be losing our dear old Starling.  Kencote will be quite
changed."

"There are many changes coming about at Kencote," said Nancy.  "Joan
and I can feel them in the air.  We'll let you know when there's
anything more to tell you, Cicely."

"Thank you very much," said Cicely.  "I think I had better go
downstairs now."

The twins went with her, and on the stairs Cicely said, "I didn't like
to say it before Starling, but I think you're awfully lucky children,
to be going to be taught things.  _I_ never was.  I do hope you'll take
advantage of it."

"Oh, I _do_ hope we shall," said Joan.  "It is such a chance for us.
We feel that."

"Deeply," acquiesced Nancy.  "If we don't we shall never forgive
ourselves--never."



CHAPTER VI

BLAYTHORN RECTORY

Dick, when he had left Mountfield, trotted on at a slightly faster pace
than he had hitherto come, in the direction of Blaythorn, and did not
draw rein until he came to that rectory concerning whose occupancy his
relations and connections were so exercised.  It was a dull house, with
a short, weed-grown drive behind a rather shabby brick wall and an
overgrown shrubbery, on the outskirts of the village.  He got off his
horse and rang the bell, which was presently answered by a smart
parlourmaid, who gave him a discreet smile of welcome, and whisked off
at his request, with a flourish of petticoats, to fetch a groom from
the stableyard hard by.  Then she showed him into the drawing-room,
where two women were sitting by the fire, one of whom rose to greet him
with an exclamation of pleasure, while the other gathered up her work
deliberately and prepared to leave the room.

Lady George Dubec was a tall, slender woman in the early thirties, or
possibly only in the late twenties.  Her face was a little worn, but
her eyes were deep and lustrous, and her features delicate.  When she
smiled she was beautiful.  Her dark hair was elaborately braided; her
slim figure looked well in a black gown of soft folds.  She had thin,
almost transparent hands, covered with jewels.  She moved gracefully,
and her voice was low, but clear and musical, with only the suspicion
of an un-English intonation.

"Oh, Dick, what a godsend you are," she said as she gave him both her
hands.  "Toby and I were wondering how on earth we were going to get
through the rest of the afternoon and evening."

"I wasn't wondering at all," said the other lady, who had now also
risen and shaken hands with the visitor.  "I knew you would come.  So
did Virginia, really.  We were talking about you.  I will now retire to
another apartment and leave you alone."

"Indeed you'll do no such thing," said Virginia Dubec, taking her by
the shoulders and pushing her back into her chair.  "We will have the
lights and tea--although it is early--and a talk of three together.
We're all friends, and you're not going to sit alone."

"Of course not," said Dick.  "A nice sort of state you'd work yourself
up into against me!  I know you, Miss Dexter."

She took her seat again and unrolled her work.  She was short and
rather plain, with sandy-coloured hair and square-tipped fingers.  She
had not smiled since Dick had entered the room.

"Oh, I don't deny that I'm jealous," she said.  "I've had her to myself
for three years, and you have come and stolen her away from me.  But
it's a harmless sort of jealousy.  It doesn't make me object to you.
It only makes me wonder sometimes."

"What do you wonder?" asked Dick, standing up before the fire and
looking down at her with a glance that immediately transferred itself
to her companion, on whom his eyes rested with an expression that had a
hint of hunger in it.

Virginia answered for her.  "She wonders what there is in a man for a
woman to cling to--and especially after _my_ experience.  She thinks a
woman's friendship ought to be enough.  _She_ wants no other.  We talk
over these things together, but we don't quarrel.  She knows that I
shall always love her, don't you, Toby?"

"Perhaps I do, perhaps I don't," said Miss Dexter.  "But we needn't
discuss these matters before Captain Dick.  I'll ring for the lights
and the tea."

Dick breathed an inaudible sigh of relief.  He was not at home in the
discussions of abstract questions.  "How do you find yourself here,
Virginia?" he asked, looking round him.  "You have made this room very
jolly, anyhow."

"That's what Mr. Marsh said, in his own particular way," she said, with
a smile.  "He said, 'If I'd known a woman could do this sort of thing
to a house, I'd have married a wife years ago.'"

"And of course Virginia immediately suggested he should marry me," said
Miss Dexter.  "She is so generous with her belongings."

"It made us very good friends," said Lady George.  "A joke of that sort
always does.  We shall carry it on till the end of my tenancy, and then
he will propose to Toby.  You'll see, Dick."

"I shouldn't blame him," said Dick.  "The stables aren't so very bad,
are they?"

"Oh, Wilson says they'll do.  But I wish you had been able to get me a
brighter house, Dick.  It is rather depressing, in spite of all my
furbishing and knick-knacks."

"My dear girl, it was absolutely the only one within reach.  We don't
let houses for hunting hereabouts.  You wait till you see the
dower-house.  I was there this morning, and really I'd no idea what a
jolly little place it is.  With the few alterations I'm going to make,
and all the jolly old furniture, it will be a topping place.  You'll
fall in love with it, Virginia."

She sighed.  "There are some fences to take before we land up there,"
she said.  "I'm rather frightened about it all, Dick.  When will your
mother come and see me?  Have you told her I am here yet?"

"No," he said shortly.  "I shall tell them this evening."

Miss Dexter dropped her work in her lap with a gesture of impatience,
and looked up at him.  "_Why_ haven't you told them?" she asked.  "Are
you ashamed of her?"

Dick's face flushed and his lips tightened.  "That isn't a proper
question to ask, Miss Dexter," he said.  "I know what I'm about, and so
does Virginia."

"My dear Toby, for goodness' sake don't make him angry," said Lady
George.  "I'm frightened of him when he looks like that."

Dick forced a smile.  "My father is a good sort, but he wants
managing," he said.  "I'll state the case quite plainly once more, as
Miss Dexter sees fit to question my action."

"Oh, good gracious!" put in that lady, "I'm not worth all these heavy
guns."

"Toby!  Toby!" expostulated her friend.

The maid came in at that moment with a lamp and stayed to draw curtains
and light candles.  Dick dislodged himself from his stand in front of
the fire and took a chair, but left it to the two women to carry on a
desultory conversation until they were left alone again.  Then he rose
once more.  "Look here," he said.  "We've got to have this out once for
all.  I'm not going to be twitted for my actions, Miss Dexter."

"Well, please have it out," she said.  "I'm listening."

"You are the most tiresome creature in the world," said Lady George.

"I don't want to say anything to hurt you, Virginia," Dick went on,
"but the name you bear would set my father against you--violently."

"Oh, my dear Dick!" she said, "you don't hurt me in the least, but why
go into all that?  We understand each other.  Toby, I feel as if I
could beat you."

"Well," said Dick.  "I won't say any more about that, but you have got
to remember it.  But there are prejudices to get over besides.  He
wants me to make the usual sort of marriage with a--oh, you know the
sort of female child fellows like me are supposed to marry--his mind is
running on it now, and he actually tackled me about it last night.
He's got the young person all ready--that's the sort of man he is--my
cousin, Grace Ettien.  I said, No, thank you, and I told him I didn't
want to marry a youngster--wouldn't, anyway.  It's no good beating
about the bush, Virginia--until he sees you--_until_ he sees you,
mind--you don't fill the bill."

"That's a pleasant way of putting it," said Miss Dexter.

"I won't have another word," said Lady George decisively.  "You two are
just annoying each other.  Dick, my dear, I think it's just sweet of
you to put all your faith in that seeing of me.  I adore you for it.
It eases all my spiritual aches and pains.  Toby, you irritating
creature, can't you see how lovely it is of him?  If he were all wrong
about having me come down here, I shouldn't care.  He has done it
because he believes in his heart of hearts that his people have only
got to set eyes on me and all their objections will vanish into thin
air."

"I don't say that quite--I don't know," said Dick.

"Well, you needn't go and spoil it," said Miss Dexter.  "I was just
going to say that it did make up for a good deal."

"Look here, Miss Dexter," said Dick.  "If I were to go and tell my
father straight off that I am going to marry Virginia he would be all
over bristles at once.  All the things that don't matter a hang beside
what she is, and what every one can see she is who knows her, would be
brought up, and he'd put himself into a frantic state about it.  He
wouldn't let me bring her to Kencote; he'd fight blindly with every
weapon he could use.  I'm heir to a fine property, and I'm as well off
as I need be, even while my father is alive, as long as I don't set
myself against all his dislikes and prejudices.  If I do, he can make
me a poor man, and he'd do it.  He'd do anything by which he thought he
could get his way.  I shouldn't even be able to marry, unless I lived
on my wife's money, which I won't do."

"No, you're too proud for that," said Miss Dexter.

"Put it how you like.  I won't do it.  I'll take all a wife can give me
except money.  That I'll give.  If there were no other way, I'd break
down his opposition.  I know how to treat him, and I could do it; but
it would take time; I should cut myself off from Kencote until I had
brought him under, and Virginia's name would be bandied about here, in
the place where we are going to live all our lives, in a way that would
affect us always, and in a way I won't subject her to.  He'd do that,
although he might be sorry for having done it afterwards, and I don't
think I should be able to put up with it.  We might quarrel in such a
way that we shouldn't be able to come together again, and the harm
would be done.  As I say, if there were no other way I would run the
risk.  But there is another way, and I'm taking it.  You asked me a
foolish question just now--if I was ashamed of Virginia.  It is because
I am so far from being ashamed of her--because I'm so proud of
her--that I asked her to come down here, where he can get to know her
before he has any idea that I'm going to marry her.  _She_ can make her
way, and make him forget all the rest.  Now, what have you got against
that?  Let's have it plainly."

"Dear Dick!" said Virginia softly.  "I have had many compliments paid
me, but that is the best of all.  Answer him, Toby, and don't keep up
this tiresome irritation any longer.  It spoils everything."

"Well, I'll give in," said Miss Dexter.  "But in my inmost soul I'm
against all this policy, and if your father isn't quite blind, Captain
Dick, he will see through it, and you will be worse off than before."

"My father can't see through anything," said Dick.  "Besides, there's
nothing to see through.  I shouldn't mind telling him--in fact, I
_shall_ tell him--that it was I who advised Virginia to come down here.
He knows I have heaps of friends all over the place that he doesn't
know of.  Virginia is one of them, for the present."

"I hope everything will turn out well," said Miss Dexter after a slight
pause.  "I won't say I think you're right, but I'll say you may be, and
I hope you are.  And I won't worry you with any more doubts."

Virginia Dubec rose from her chair impulsively and kissed her.  "My
darling old Toby!" she said.  "You are very annoying at times, but I
couldn't do without you."

After tea Miss Dexter went out of the room, and they did not try to
stop her.  When they were left alone Dick held Virginia in his arms and
looked into her eyes.  "What have you done to me," he asked her, with a
smile, "after all these years?"

"Am I really the first, Dick?" she asked him.

"You are the first, Virginia--and the only one.  You have changed
everything.  I have always thought I had everything I wanted.  Now I
know I've had nothing."

"And I have had nothing, either," she said.  "Every morning I wake up
wondering what has happened to me.  And when I remember I begin to
sing.  To think that at my age, and after my bitter experience, _this_
should come to me!  Oh, Dick, you don't know how much I love you."

"I know how much I love _you_," he said.  "If there were no other way I
would give up Kencote and everything else for you.  I love you enough
for that, Virginia, and the things I would give up for you are the only
things I have valued so far.  But we won't give up anything, my girl.
My good old obstinate old father will fall at your feet when he knows
you."

"Will he, Dick?"

"_I_ have fallen at your feet, Virginia, and I'm rather like my father,
although I think I can see a bit further into things, and I have a
little more control over my feelings--and my speech."

They had sat down side by side on a sofa, and Dick was holding her
slender hand in his brown one.

"I used to think you had so much control over yourself that it would be
impossible ever to get anything out of you," she said.  "You are so
frightfully and terrifyingly English."

He laughed.  "That gnat-like friend of yours has the power to make me
explain myself," he said.  "I've never tried to talk over any one to my
side as I do her.  I have always taken my own way and let people think
what they like."

"I think it is sweet of you to put yourself--and me--right with her,
Dick.  She has been the best friend that I ever had, except you, dear
Dick.  She stood by me in the worst days, and put up with untold
insults without flinching, so that she could stay with me.  Of course,
at first, she was terrified lest I should make another mistake.  She is
like a grim watch-dog over me.  But she likes you, and trusts you.  You
must put up with her little ways."

"Oh, I do, my dear, and I will.  She's a good sort."

"Dick, will your mother like me?  You have never told me very much
about her.  I think I feel more nervous about her than about your
father."

"You needn't, Virginia.  She is one of the best of women.  I think she
is perhaps a little difficult to know.  She is rather silent and keeps
her thoughts to herself; but I know we shall have her on our side.  She
has only to know you.  But in any case she wouldn't give us any
trouble."

"That sounds rather hard, Dick.  Don't you love your mother?  I loved
mine."

"Of course I do.  But she doesn't interfere with us.  She never did.
It was my father we had to consider, even when we were boys."

"Interfere with you!  I don't like the sound of it.  Dick, I don't
think I will talk to you about your mother.  I will wait until I have
seen her.  You don't help me to know what she is like.  I hope I shall
get on with her.  I shall know soon.  Will she be at the meet on
Monday, if there is one?"

"No.  But my father will.  I shall introduce him to you then.  I told
you he had a foolish prejudice against women hunting, didn't I?  It
won't be quite the most propitious of times.  But we can't help that."

"Well, I won't hunt on Monday, then.  I will drive Toby to the meet
instead, and follow on wheels."

"H'm.  Perhaps it would be better--just at the first go off.  And I
don't believe you really care as much about hunting as you think you
do, Virginia."

She looked into his face with her dark, sweet eyes.  "I don't care
about anything, except to please you, Dick," she said.  "As for
hunting--it was the excitement--to keep my mind off.  It was the only
thing he let me do, over here.  I believe he would have liked me to
kill myself, and sometimes I used to try to."

He put his hand before her mouth.  "You are not to talk about those bad
times," he said.

She kissed his hand, and removed it.  "I like to, sometimes," she said.
"It is such a blessed relief to think of them as quite gone--it is like
the cessation of bad neuralgia--just a sense of peace and bliss.
Perhaps I didn't really try to kill myself, but certainly I shouldn't
have cared if I had.  It was not caring that gave me my reputation, I
suppose, for I didn't mind where I went or what I did.  I do care now.
I don't think I should very much mind giving it up altogether."

"Well, you mustn't do that for this winter, at any rate.  You shall do
what you like afterwards.  And as for your reputation, my dear, I'm
afraid we are so out of the smart hunting world in South Meadshire that
you will find very few of us aware of it.  So you needn't run any risks
in trying to keep it up."

"Very well, Dick.  But I expect when the hounds begin to run I shall
forget that I have to be cautious.  Yes, I do love it.  I don't want to
give up hunting.  And there won't be much for me to do here outside
that, will there?"

"I'm afraid I am condemning you to a dull three months, my poor
Virginia.  But I want you to get to know the country, and love it, as I
do.  Kencote means a lot to me.  I want it to mean a lot to you too."

"So it shall.  I love it already, for your sake, and it seems a
wonderful thing to me that you and all the people you have sprung from
should have been settled down just in this little spot in the world for
all those centuries.  Dick dear, I know you are giving up a lot for me.
I know, although I wasn't brought up in all these traditions, that your
father is right, really, and that it is not a woman like me you ought
to choose for your wife."

Dick raised her hand and let it fall with his own.  "I have chosen you
for my wife, Virginia, out of all the women I have known.  I love and
honour you, and I wouldn't have you different--not in the smallest
particular.  No Clinton of Kencote has ever chosen a wife more worthy
to bear his name.  Let that be enough for you, and don't worry your
pretty head about anything, except to make love to my old father when
you meet him."

When Dick had ridden away, in the gloaming, and the two women were left
to themselves for the long evening, Virginia Dubec said to Miss Dexter,
"Toby, tell me the truth; don't you think I am the most fortunate woman
in the world?"

"If all goes well," said the other soberly and decisively, "I think you
will be happy.  But your Dick, Virginia, is the sort of man who will
want to rule, and to rule without question.  He is very much in love
with you now--that is quite plain, although he is one of those men who
hold themselves in.  But you won't get your way, my dear, when you are
married, unless it is his way too--any more than you did before."

"Oh, my own way!  What do I care about that?  My way shall be his way.
I love him and I can trust him.  He is a strong man, and tender too.
Toby, I adore him.  I will do everything in the world that I can to
make him happy.  He has raised me out of the dust, and given me to
myself again.  When I am married to him I shall forget all the pain and
misery.  It's a new life he is giving me, Toby, and the old unhappy
life will fall from me and be as if it had never been."

"You are expecting a great deal, Virginia," said Miss Dexter; "I hope
some part of it will be realised."



CHAPTER VII

THE SQUIRE PUTS HIS FOOT DOWN

Kencote was three hours' journey from London by a fast train, and it
had always been the custom of the sons of the family--those of them
whose avocations made it necessary for them at any time to live in
town--to come down whenever they pleased, to spend a night or a few
nights, without announcing their arrival.  Their rooms were there ready
for them.  Kencote was their home.  Dick or Humphrey, and, in the days
before he was married, Walter, would often walk into the house
unexpectedly and go upstairs and dress without any one but the servants
knowing they were there until dinner-time.  The Squire liked them to
come and go in that way.  It seemed to give him, in his retired,
bucolic life, a tie with the world.  He would always give them a hearty
welcome, even if he had to object to something they had done, or had
left undone, before they left again.

It was Humphrey who arrived on this Saturday afternoon, reaching
Kencote by the half-past four train, and walking up from the station
and into the morning-room, for his cup of tea.  The Squire's greeting
was a shade less hearty than it would have been in the case of his
other sons.  Humphrey had given him a good deal of trouble in the way
of money.  It is true that there had never been any big catastrophe, no
sudden demand for a large sum to meet a debt of honour, from racing or
cards, as fathers were sometimes confronted with by extravagant sons.
Humphrey was too cautious to run those sorts of risks.  The Squire,
perhaps, would have preferred that the demands upon him should have
come in that way rather than from the constant, rather cold-blooded
exceeding of an allowance which he told himself, and Humphrey, was as
large as any younger son had a right to expect, and a good deal larger
than most of them got.  Humphrey did not deny this.  He simply said,
whenever he did ask his father for more money, that he had not been
able to do on it, but if his father would clear off his debts for him
and give him a fresh start, he would try to do on it for the future.
He had made the endeavour three times, and each time with less success
than before, for the debts had been bigger.  And now the Squire was
getting angry about it.  It had always been the same.  Humphrey's debts
after he had left Cambridge had been about twice as large as Dick's,
although Dick had been Master of the Drag and had had expenses that
Humphrey had not.  Walter had left Oxford with no debts at all.  And
since their University days, Humphrey had actually had more money than
either of the others, although Dick was the eldest son and a
considerable sum had been paid to buy Walter his practice.

Now it was not the Squire's way to bear malice or to let any annoyance
rankle when once it had been met and dealt with.  In the ordinary
course he would have expressed himself very strongly and felt very
strongly on the subject when one of Humphrey's periodical crises of
debt was disclosed to him, but when he had so relieved his mind he
would have paid up and forgotten all about it.  He had done so the
first time, and even the second, after a rather stronger explosion.  It
was the third, now nearly two years ago, which had rankled; and the
reason was not only that Humphrey, as seemed quite obvious, was living
in just such a way as had brought him to exceed his income and get into
trouble before, with the consequence that a new crisis and a new demand
would probably arise before long.  It was so much in the air that the
Squire was continually calling the gods to witness that _he_ was not
going to pay any more of Humphrey's debts.  But he would not have felt
so sore, when he did think about it, if it had not been for Humphrey's
attitude towards him in particular, and towards Kencote and all that it
represented in general.

The fact was that Humphrey, from the serene heights of his career as a
very smart young man about town, patronised them.  It is to be supposed
that he could not help it, that it was an attitude which he would have
corrected if he had been aware of it, for it was quite certain that,
when once his father became aware of it, it would not help him in any
plan he might have to make for further pecuniary assistance.  The
Squire merely had a feeling of irritation against Humphrey, which
slumbered while he was away and always became sharper during his
somewhat rare visits to Kencote.  It was not yet formulated, but was
nearer to getting to a head every time they came together.  The young
man, if he had had an adviser, might have been told that if he acted in
such a way as to bring it to a head, it would be time for him to look
out.

Humphrey walked into the morning-room with a cool air, as if he had
come from another room in the house instead of from London.  He was the
only one of all the Clintons who was dark.  He was not so good-looking
as Dick, but he was well set up, and his clothes were always the
perfect expression of the requirements of the moment.  So were Dick's,
but Dick wore old clothes sometimes, Humphrey never.  He was a young
man of the highest fashion, whenever and wherever he appeared.

The Squire was standing in front of the fire, as his habit was, Mrs.
Clinton sitting behind her tea-table and Mrs. Graham near her.  The
twins were on the sofa on either side of Cicely.  Humphrey kissed his
mother, shook hands with his father and Mrs. Graham, and sat down by
his sisters.  "The frost is going to break," he said.

"Is it?" said the Squire.  "Well, that's the best news you could have
brought.  Look here, we were talking of Lady George Dubec.  Do you know
anything about her?"

"Virginia Dubec?" said Humphrey.  "She is a very beautiful lady."

"Well, but who is she?  Who _was_ she?  An American they say.  Is she
all right?"

"She was an actress.  Musical comedy, or something of the sort.  But
that was some years ago.  Old George Dubec married her in New York, and
led her an awful life.  She used to hunt with the Quorn.  Went like a
bird, and didn't care how she went or where she went.  People used to
say she wanted to break her neck and get away from George Dubec.  But
Dick knows her better than I do.  He'll tell you all about her."

Mrs. Clinton looked up from the teacups, Mrs. Graham arched her brows
and her mouth twitched, the twins caught the sense of surprise and
gazed open-eyed at their father.

"Dick knows her!" exclaimed the Squire.  "Then why on earth----!  Does
he know she has settled down here?"

"_Has_ she settled down here?" asked Humphrey.  "Where has she settled,
and what for?"

"Taken old Marsh's rectory at Blaythorn," said Mrs. Graham.  "Going to
hunt with the South Meadshire."

"That seems an odd proceeding for one of the brightest ornaments of the
Shires," said Humphrey.

The Squire knit his heavy brows.  "We can show her very good sport," he
said, "if that's what she wants.  But I should like to know why she
came here, all the same."

"There's more in this than meets the eye," said Nancy, very unwisely,
for she and Joan were instantly sent out of the room.

"What are you children doing here?" asked the Squire sharply.  "Why
aren't you with Miss Bird?  Run along now; you've got lessons to do, or
something."

"We don't have lessons on Saturday.  Can't we stay with Cicely,
father?" asked Joan.

"I must be going directly," said Cicely, rising.  "But I'll come with
you and pay a last farewell to the dear old Starling."

So the three of them retired, and directly they got out of the room
Joan fell upon Nancy.  "What an idiot you are!" she said.  "If you had
kept quiet we should have heard everything.  When you get hold of a new
speech you must always be poking it in.  We've had enough of 'There's
more in this than meets the eye.'  I wish you'd get hold of a new one."

"I own it was foolish of me," said Nancy.  "I'm at the mercy of a
phrase.  Still, it was quite true.  We know who Dick is in love with
now.  Of course he got her down here.  Humphrey said she was very
beautiful."

"You are not to talk like that, children," said Cicely.  "You know
nothing about these things."

"Darling!" said Joan, squeezing her arm.  "Don't be so frightfully
grown-up.  We are not children any longer, and we know a good deal more
than you think."

"We are a force to be reckoned with now," said Nancy, "and it's no use
trying to keep family secrets from us, sending us out of the room, and
all that.  It's too transparent, and makes us talk all the more."

There was a pause in the morning-room when the three sisters had left.
Humphrey's quick brain was adjusting many things.  He knew Dick admired
Virginia Dubec, although it had not hitherto occurred to him that that
admiration betokened anything serious.  He suspected also, that since
somebody must have suggested to the lady that she should spend a season
hunting in Meadshire instead of in Leicestershire, that somebody was
probably Dick.  But if his brother had not seen fit to disclose that
fact at Kencote, not even the fact of his acquaintanceship with Lady
George Dubec, it was not for him to do so.  Therefore, when his father
asked him whether Dick knew that she had come to Blaythorn, and why she
had come, he said, "I don't know in the least.  He'll tell you if you
ask him."

The Squire bent his brows on him.  "You said he knew her very well."

"I didn't say he knew her very well.  I said he knew her better than I
did.  Lots of people know her.  She goes about everywhere in London."

"She was an actress, you say?"

"Well, that's what I've heard.  It may not be true."

"It is true," said Mrs. Graham.  "Virginia Vanreden.  I remember quite
well now.  I saw her when I was in New York with my husband ten years
ago.  And a lovely creature she was.  I shall go and call on her at
once."

The Squire frowned again.  "What sort of an actress was she?" he asked.
"Was she a chorus girl?"

"It was a play called _The Flower of Florida_," replied Mrs. Graham, "a
very silly play with catchy music, only it didn't catch me, because I
hate music, and I was bored to tears.  No, she wasn't a chorus girl,
and she wasn't the Flower of Florida either--I remember the Flower, an
exuberant lady with gold teeth, who seemed to be very popular, but I
should have said she was past her job.  This girl danced--oh, I
remember her very well; she was the best of the bunch, and the Flower
grinned at her with her teeth and scowled at her with her eyes while
she was performing.  When we got back to New York on our way home she
had caught on, and all the richly gilded youth was crowding to see her.
The Flower had departed, mad with jealousy."

"A dancing girl!" said the Squire.  "Of course!  Just the sort that
George Dubec would have married.  Well, you may call on her if you
like, Mrs. Graham, but----"

"Oh, I shall," said Mrs. Graham.  "Perhaps she will dance for me.  I
liked her immensely.  She was certainly beautiful, and I like beauty.
She was quite young too.  She can't be very old now."

"What I want to know is what brings her to Blaythorn," said the Squire,
which closed the discussion, for Cicely's carriage was announced at
that moment, and the welfare of the Mountfield horses being of
paramount importance it was not many minutes before she and Mrs. Graham
had driven away.

Dick returned shortly after six o'clock, and when he had changed his
clothes, came into the library where his father was sitting at his big
writing-table looking over papers, his gold-rimmed glasses perched on
his straight nose.

"Oh, here you are," he said, looking over them at his son.  "I say,
what's this about Lady George Dubec taking the rectory at Blaythorn?"

Dick took a cigarette out of his case and went over to the
smoking-table by the fire to get a match.  "I've just been to see her,"
he said; "she's a friend of mine."

"Well, but----"  The Squire was puzzled, vaguely uneasy, though he
could not have told why.  "What on earth has she come _here_ for?  Who
brought her?  You didn't, I suppose?"

Dick sat down with rather elaborate unconcern in one of the big
easy-chairs facing his father, who had turned round sideways in his
seat.  "I suppose you may say I did bring her, in a way," he said.
"She wanted to do a bit of mild hunting somewhere, and I told her she'd
better try the South Meadshire."

"But they tell me she's well known with the Quorn and all that sort of
thing."

"Now I should like to know who told you that," said Dick to himself,
but he did not ask.  "She hasn't hunted there for two seasons," he
said.  "She wanted something a bit quieter.  I said I'd see if I could
find her a smallish house, and I wrote to Wylie, the agent at Bathgate.
Blaythorn Rectory was the only place he could get hold of, and the
stables there aren't much."

"I should think not."

"They are better than you'd think, though, and she has only brought
three horses."

"Why didn't you tell us you were springing this strange lady upon us?"
asked the Squire, as a beginning out of all the questions he wanted to
ask.

"I haven't been home for a month," said Dick, "and I'm not much of a
correspondent."

"You didn't say anything about it last night, and you didn't say you
were going over to see her this afternoon."  The Squire's uneasiness
was beginning to take shape, and Dick realised with annoyance that he
had given it something to feed on.

"I'm sorry," he said.  "But we were talking about other things.  The
poor lady had a brute of a husband--I expect you knew him, didn't you?"

"Oh yes, I knew him.  A pretty sort of rascal he was too."

"I've always heard so, though I never met him.  He behaved like a swine
to her, at any rate, and she's a very charming woman.  I think you'll
like her, father.  I want to ask the mater to go over and see her as
soon as she can.  She doesn't know any one hereabouts, and it's a bit
lonely for her."

He could not keep the note of appeal, rarely heard from him, out of his
voice, but it escaped the Squire, who only saw himself at issue with
his eldest son--a position he exceedingly disliked.

"Oh, my dear boy!" he said.  "A woman that blackguard George Dubec
picked up off the music-hall stage!  You can't be serious."

"That's not true," said Dick sharply.  "Who said she was on the
music-hall stage?"

"Well, on the stage, anyhow--dancing on the stage--it's the same thing."

"Who told you that?"

"Humphrey said she had been on the stage, and Mrs. Graham remembered
seeing her when she was in America."

"Is Humphrey here?"

"Yes, he came this afternoon.  An American dancer, you know, Dick, and
a woman who would marry George Dubec--really, you might have thought
twice before you brought a person of that sort here; and as for your
mother calling on her--that's out of the question.  Surely you can see
that."

The Squire's tone was conciliatory.  He would not have spoken in that
way, upon a subject on which he felt strongly, to any one else in the
world, and when he had spoken he threw a glance at his son, whose face
betokened nothing of all he was thinking at that moment.

Dick did not speak at once.  When he did he said quietly, "When I
suggested to Lady George, who has been a friend of mine for some time,
that she should spend a month or two in this part of the country, I
told her that my people would be glad to see her and do what they could
for her.  It never crossed my mind that you would refuse to acknowledge
a friend of mine.  It is not my habit to make friends of women I
couldn't introduce you or my mother to."

"But, my dear boy!" expostulated the Squire.  "A woman who has danced
on the stage, the widow of a notorious profligate and swindler--George
Dubec was a swindler, and he wasn't received latterly even in men's
society--decent men.  _I_ wouldn't have received him, for one."

"You can say what you like about George Dubec," replied Dick.  "It was
the way he had treated her that made me sorry for her, first of all.
Then I found she was a good woman, as well as a very charming one.
There isn't a soul who knows her--and lots of people know her--who
could have a word to say against her.  It isn't generally known that
she was on the stage--it was for a very short time--and I wish to
goodness Humphrey had minded his own business and kept that to himself.
Her father was a planter in the South, and lost everything he had in
the war.  She had to support her mother, and that was the only way.
She was very young.  I honour her for what she did."

"Yes, oh yes, that's all right," said the Squire, who was coming more
and more to feel that it was all wrong.  "But it's no good, Dick.
Plenty of people in their different lines of life do things that you
can honour them for, as you say, but you don't welcome them to houses
like Kencote.  We live a quiet enough life here, I know that.  We're
not one of the modern smart country houses, thank God, and never will
be as long as I'm alive.  But we're of some account in this part of the
world, and have been for generations.  And the long and the short of it
is, Dick, that if you want to make friends with ladies of that sort, I
can't stop you--I don't want to--it's your affair and you're old enough
to look after yourself--but I won't have them at Kencote."

Inwardly, Dick was raging, and it needed all his self-control to keep
his feelings from showing themselves in his face or in his speech.  But
he knew that if he did so everything was lost.  It had been no vain
boast that he had made to Virginia Dubec, that he could manage his
father.  He had the advantage over him that a man who controls his
speech and his temper always has over a man who habitually controls
neither.  For many years past the Squire, who pictured himself as the
wise but undisputed autocrat of his household, had gone to his eldest
son for advice upon any matter that bothered him, and had always taken
his advice.  In questions of estate management he had never taken a
step of any importance without consulting Dick, and Dick had been the
virtual ruler of the estate, although the Squire did not know it.  In
his father's eyes Dick was a model son.  He had never once had to
exercise his paternal authority over him since his schooldays.  He knew
that Kencote, which was the apple of his own eye, was also the apple of
Dick's, and that he would have as worthy a successor as any head of an
old-rooted family ever had.  In course of years he had come to treat
his eldest son with a respect and consideration which he gave to no
other being alive.  Except that none but an eldest son who was some day
to step into his place could have aroused the feelings he had towards
him, his attitude towards Dick was what he might have felt towards a
brother, almost, it might be said, towards an elder brother.

Now Dick was quite aware of all this, and he knew also that in his last
speech his father had crossed a line that had never yet been crossed
between them.  He had done what he did almost every day of his life
with some member or other of his family or household, but had never
done with him since he was a child, because he had never given him the
opportunity.  He called it putting his foot down, and although in
reference to other matters Dick had frequently, by the exercise of his
peculiar gift of cool tact, caused the taking up again of a foot that
was announced to have been put down, and by no means despaired of being
able to do so in this instance, he knew that this was not the time to
undertake the removal.  Something of his moral supremacy had already
disappeared if his father could take it into his hands to give an
ultimatum against his expressed wishes.  There was no knowing how much
further it would be damaged if he were encouraged, as he would be by
opposition now that he had once delivered himself, to back up his
revolt by strong speech.  It was what he always fortified himself with
either before or after the process of putting his foot down, and Dick
had no mind to undergo it.

"Very well," he said quietly.  "If you feel like that about it, there's
no more to be said.  It's damned awkward for me, but I suppose I took
too much on myself."

The Squire immediately recrossed the line, on the other side of which
only opposition could possibly make him wish to keep his footing.  "Oh,
well," he said, "of course I don't say--in this instance--what I mean
is--well, look here, Dick, I don't say anything one way or the other.
I'll say this, my boy, you've never given me the slightest trouble, and
we've always seen eye to eye in pretty well everything, and where we
haven't at first you have always come to see that I was right in the
end--eh?  Better let me think the question over--what?  I don't want
you to feel you can't ask your friends to this house, which will be
your own some day."

"I can hardly help feeling that, can I?" said Dick, with a short laugh.

"Eh?  Well, I must think it over, and talk it over with your mother.
You'd better think it over too, old boy.  I can't help thinking you'll
feel you haven't been very wise.  We're Clintons of Kencote, you know.
We owe something to ourselves."

But Dick could stand no more.  "All right," he said, rising.  "I think
I'll go up and have a bath before dinner.  I'm a bit stiff."



CHAPTER VIII

THE SQUIRE FEELS TROUBLE COMING

Dick went out of the room angry with himself, angry with his father,
and still more angry with his brother.  He wanted to meet Humphrey and
have it out with him, and he knew that Humphrey at that hour--about
seven o'clock--would be in the smoking-room.  But he went upstairs, not
because he wanted a bath before dinner as he had told his father, and
certainly not because he was stiff after trotting a dozen miles or so
along the roads, but because he knew that it was not wise to have
anything out with anybody unless you had complete command over
yourself.  So he went into his big comfortable bedroom, where a bright
fire was burning, lit some candles, and threw himself into an
easy-chair to think matters out.

That his father would give way, that he was already in process of
giving way, he was well assured.  He knew how to work that all right,
and he had taken no false step, as far as he could remember, in dealing
with him.  But that little fact of Virginia's having once danced on the
stage, of which she had told him in the early days of their friendship,
as she had told him everything else about her varied, unhappy life, he
had never thought that he--and she--would have to face.  If it had not
been for that, his father, so he told himself, would have given way
already.  Knowing it, it was surprising that he had left anything to be
said on the subject at all.  He need never have known it; so few people
did know it, even in London, where Virginia was beginning to be well
known, or in Leicestershire, where she was very well known indeed.  Of
course, Humphrey knew it--he knew all that sort of gossip about
everybody--and Dick's anger against him began to burn as he imagined
the way in which he would have let it out.  He was like a spiteful old
woman, fiddling about in drawing-rooms, whispering scandal into other
old women's ears and receiving it into his own in return.

At this point Humphrey came into the room.  "Hullo, old chap!" he said.
"What on earth are you doing up here?  It isn't time to dress yet."

Dick got up quickly out of his chair and faced him.  He had better have
gone to him in the smoking-room at once before he had begun to think
things over.  "What the devil do you mean by meddling with my affairs?"
he said angrily.

Humphrey stopped short and stared as if he had held a pistol to his
head.  He and Dick and Walter had been closer friends than most
brothers are.  Their ways for some time had begun to diverge, but they
had remained friends, and since their boyhood they had never
quarrelled.  Such a speech as Dick's was in effect more than a pistol
held to his head.  It was a pistol shot.

"I suppose you mean what I told them downstairs about Virginia Dubec,"
he said.

"Virginia Dubec?  Who gave you the right to call her Virginia?" said
Dick hotly, and could have bitten out his tongue for saying it the
moment after, for of course it told Humphrey everything.

But Humphrey was too deeply astonished at the moment to take in
anything.  He thought he knew his brother; he had always rather admired
him, and above all for his coolness.  But if this was Dick, passionate
and indiscreet, he did not know him at all, and it was difficult to
tell how to deal with him.

But Humphrey was cool too, in his own way, hating the discomfort of
passion, and he certainly did not want to have a row with his elder
brother.  "I don't know why you're up against me like this," he said.
"I should have thought we knew each other well enough by this time to
talk over anything that wants talking over, sensibly.  I'm quite ready
to talk over anything with you, but hadn't we better go and do it
downstairs?  They'll be up here putting out your clothes directly."

"We'll go down to the smoking-room," said Dick, not sorry to have a
minute or two in which to pull himself together.

So they went downstairs without a word, and along a stone passage to a
big room which had been given over to them as boys, because it was
right away from the other rooms, and in which they knew no one would
disturb them.

Neither of them spoke at once, but both took cigarettes from a box on a
table, and Humphrey offered Dick a match, which he refused, lighting
one for himself.

"Lady George Dubec," said Dick--"Virginia Dubec, if you like to call
her so--I've no objection--is a friend of mine, as you know.  She
wanted a quiet place to hunt from for a month or two, and I said I
would try to find her a house here.  Of course I told her that they
would make friends with her from here.  I went to see her this
afternoon, and I come back to find you have been talking scandal about
her, and giving the governor the impression that she's an impossible
sort of creature for respectable people to know.  Upon my word,
Humphrey, you ought to be kicked."

Humphrey grew a shade paler, but he asked quietly, "What scandal do you
accuse me of spreading about her?"

"Well, it isn't scandal in the sense that it's untrue; but I don't
suppose a dozen people know that she was ever on the stage.  It was
only for a few months, and the circumstances of it did her credit.  But
if it gets about, it will do her harm.  As far as the governor goes, of
course, it puts him up on his hind legs at once, and here am I in the
position of getting this quite charming lady, against whom nobody can
say a word, down here, and my own people refusing to go near her.  It's
too bad.  If you happened to know that about her, which, of course, is
just the sort of thing you would find out and remember and talk about,
out of all the other things you might say about a woman like that, you
ought to have kept it to yourself.  And you would have done if you had
had a spark of decent feeling."

"I _should_ have kept it to myself if I had had any idea it was through
you she came here."

"You ought to have kept it to yourself in any case.  You know her, you
know what she is, and the first thing you find to blurt out about her
when you hear she has come down here is the very thing that you know
will put everybody against her!"

"Look here, Dick, there's no sense in you going on blackguarding me
like this.  I hadn't a ghost of a notion she was anywhere near here
when I told them what I did.  The moment I came into the room the
governor said, 'We've been talking about Lady George Dubec.  Do you
know her?'  I said, 'Yes, she's a very charming lady.'  That was the
very first thing I said.  Then I said, 'She was an actress once upon a
time.'  There's nothing in that.  You say very few people know it.
You're quite wrong.  Lots of people know it.  Why, even Mrs. Graham
knew it, and had seen her.  Nobody thinks anything the worse of her for
it.  Why should they?  And anyhow it wasn't until afterwards that they
told me that she had come down here.  Then I said, 'Dick knows her
better than I do; he'll tell you all you want to know.'  Really, old
chap, you're a bit unreasonable."

Both of them had been standing so far, but now Humphrey, feeling
perhaps that the crisis had been disposed of, threw himself into a
chair.

So it was, on the surface.  Dick stood for a time looking down on the
floor.  If it was as Humphrey had said, and he had not known that
Virginia Dubec was in the neighbourhood until after he had let out that
fact about her, it was impossible to carry the attack further.  But
Dick was no more satisfied with him than before.  The hostility he had
felt remained, and was destined to grow.  From that moment the common
ground of easy, tolerant brotherhood upon which they had both stood for
so long was left behind.  Dick had begun to criticise, to find cause
for dislike; Humphrey had received an affront, and he did not easily
forgive an affront.

But the cement of their years of frictionless companionship still held,
and could not be broken in a moment.  Dick also took a chair.  "Well,
if you didn't know----" he said rather grudgingly.

"No, I didn't know, and I'm sorry," said Humphrey; "the governor won't
hold out, Dick; he's only got to see her."

It was the best thing he could have said.  Dick was inwardly gratified,
and some of his resentment departed.  "You needn't say anything unless
he opens the subject," he said.  "But----"

"Oh, I know what to say if he does," said Humphrey.  "I say, Dick, old
chap, is it a case?"

Dick was not at all ready for this--from Humphrey, although if Walter
had asked him he might have admitted how much of a case it was, and
gained some contentment by talking it over.  "I like her, of course,"
he said, somewhat impatiently; "I've never disguised it.  I suppose one
is permitted to make friendship with women occasionally?"

"Oh yes," said Humphrey, with rather elaborate unconcern.  Then Dick
said he was going up to dress, and left the room without further word,
while Humphrey sat a while longer looking at the fire and turning
things over in his mind.

Over the dinner-table that evening there was talk of the forthcoming
Hunt Ball, and the one or two others which made the week after
Christmas a short season of gaiety in South Meadshire.  The Birketts
were coming to stay for them, the Judge and his wife and unmarried
daughter, and his other daughter, Lady Senhouse, with her husband.
These were the only guests invited so far, and the Squire, who liked a
little bustle of gaiety about him now and again, said that they must
ask one or two more people.

"We shall be unusually gay this year," he said, "with the ball for
Grace at Kemsale, which is sure to be well done.  We must take a good
party over from Kencote.  Who can we ask?"

It was a somewhat extraordinary thing that a question like that could
not easily be answered at Kencote.  The Squire very seldom left home,
Mrs. Clinton practically never, and in the course of years the families
from whom they could draw for visitors had dwindled down to those of
relations and county neighbours.  The Squire was quite satisfied with
this state of things.  There were plenty of people about him with whom
he could shoot, and who would shoot with him; and an occasional dinner
party was all or more than he wanted in the way of indoor
sociability--that, and this yearly little group of balls, the Hunt
Ball, the Bathgate Ball, and whatever might be added to them from one
or other of the big houses round.  Kencote had never been one of those
houses.  Its women had never been considered of enough importance to
make the trouble and expense of ball-giving worth while, and the men
could get all the balls they wanted elsewhere.  Before Cicely was
married her brothers had generally brought a few men down for these
local gaieties, but for the past two years there had been no party from
Kencote.

"I think Lady Aldeburgh would bring Susan Clinton if you were to ask
her," said Humphrey.  "In fact, I'm pretty sure she would."

Now the Countess of Aldeburgh was a person of some importance in the
social world, and her husband was sprung from the same race as the
Squire, sprung, in fact, some distance back, from Kencote, and
represented, as the Squire not infrequently pointed out, a junior
branch of the family of which he himself was the head.  He was
accustomed to speak rather patronisingly of the Aldeburgh Clintons on
that account, although not to them, for he did not know them, the
present Lord Aldeburgh having been a small boy at school at that period
of the Squire's life when he had been about London and known everybody.

"Are they friends of yours?" he asked, not displeased at the idea.

"Yes," said Humphrey.  "I told Susan Clinton that she ought to see the
home of her ancestors--I was lunching with them--and Lady Aldeburgh
said they couldn't see it unless they were asked."

"No difficulty about asking them," said the Squire.  "Very pleased to
see them, and show them what there is, although I dare say they won't
think much of it after the sort of thing they're accustomed to.  They
must take us as they find us.  Did you say anything about these balls?"

"Well, yes, I did--threw out feelers, you know.  I think they would
come if mother were to ask them."

"Oh, write by all means, Nina," said the Squire.  "Include Aldeburgh,
of course."

"Oh, _he_ won't come," said Humphrey.  "He never goes where they do.
He doesn't like them."

The Squire frowned.  He knew there were people like that, but he didn't
want to hear about them.  According to his old-fashioned ideas,
husbands and wives, if they went visiting at all, ought to go visiting
together.  Of course it was different where a man might have to go up
to London for a day or two.  There was no necessity always to take his
wife along with him.  Or he might perhaps go to a house to shoot.  That
was all right.  But for women to make a point of going about by
themselves--why, they had much better stop at home and look after their
household duties.  "Well, ask him, of course," he said.  "He can refuse
if he likes.  We can do very well without him.  Are either of you boys
going to ask any men?"

Dick had thought of bringing a friend, Captain Vernon, who had been to
Kencote before and would be very welcome.  And Humphrey was going to
ask Lord Edgeware.

"What, that young fool who lost all his money racing?" asked the Squire.

"He didn't lose it all," said Humphrey, "and he's had a lot more left
to him."

"We don't want that sort of person here," said the Squire decisively.

"All right," said Humphrey.  "But he's a very good chap all the same,
and has finished sowing his wild oats."

"He's an absolute rotter," said Dick.  "I quite agree; we don't want
that sort of fellow here."

Humphrey threw a glance at him and flushed with annoyance, but he said
lightly, "I beg to withdraw his candidature.  Is there any objection to
Bobby Trench?  He hasn't spent money racing because he has never had
any to spend."

Dick was silent.  The Squire enquired if Mr. Trench was one of Lord
So-and-so's sons, and being informed that he was, said that he had
known his father and should be pleased to see him at Kencote.  So the
party was made up, and the men went on to talk about pheasants and
hounds, until the twins came in for dessert, when they went on talking
about pheasants and hounds.

The Squire and Dick went into the library to go over their farm papers
together almost immediately after dinner, leaving Humphrey with his
mother and the girls in the morning-room.  When they had finished they
betook themselves to easy-chairs to talk, as their custom was in the
evening.  They were very good friends, and had enough in common to make
their conversation mutually agreeable.  Neither of them read much, and
when Dick was at Kencote they usually spent their evenings talking.
But Dick was rather silent to-night, and the Squire was uneasily
conscious of the shadow that had fallen on their intercourse.  And when
he was uneasy about anything his uneasiness always found expression.

"I say, my boy, I hope you don't take it amiss what I said about this
Lady George Dubec this afternoon," he said.  "You see my point all
right, don't you?"

"I see your point well enough," said Dick.  "Only I don't think it's
much of a point."

He was accustomed thus to address his father on equal terms, and the
Squire liked to have it so.  He was now only anxious, while having his
own way, to avoid the unpleasantness of leaving a grudge against
himself in Dick's mind.

"Well, we needn't go all over it again," he said.  "I haven't made up
my mind yet.  I don't say your mother shan't call and I don't say she
shall.  I must think it over.  Of course it's a bit awkward for you."

"It's more than a bit awkward for me," said Dick uncompromisingly.
"When you do think it over you might consider how particularly awkward
it is, after having helped this lady to a house here, to have to tell
her that my people don't consider her respectable enough to know."

"H'm!  Ha!" grunted the Squire, at a loss how to meet this.  Then he
made a clutch at his authority.  "Well, I think you ought to have asked
me first, Dick," he said, "and not taken things for granted.  If I'm
putting you in an awkward position now, it's because you have put me in
an awkward position first."

There was reason in this, perhaps more than the Squire usually
displayed in discussing a subject in which his feelings were already
engaged, and Dick did not want to go over the ground again until
matters had advanced themselves a stage.

"She will be at the meet on Monday--driving," he said.  "You will see
what she is like, and that she isn't in the least like what you
probably think she is.  I should like to introduce you to her, but that
shall be as you please."

The Squire did not reply to this.  He sat looking at the fire with a
puzzled frown on his face.  Then he turned to his son and said,
"There's nothing between you and this lady, Dick, is there?  You hadn't
got her in your mind last night when you said that you did not want to
marry a young girl?"

Dick cursed himself inwardly for having made that unlucky speech.  He
was not cut out for however mild a conspiracy, and he hated to have to
fence and parry.  But he must answer quickly if suspicion, which would
be disastrous at the present stage, were not to rest on him.  He gave a
little laugh.  "Is that what you have been thinking of?" he asked.  "Is
that why you don't want mother to call on Lady George?"

The Squire had only to push his question, and he would have learnt
everything, for Dick would not have denied Virginia.  But he did not do
so.  "No, of course not," he said.  "But if it were so--if that's how
the land lay----"

Dick did not tell him that that was not how the land lay.  He said
nothing, and the Squire relinquished the subject, not to open it up
again until he was alone with his wife that night.  Then his
disquietude came out, for Dick's reply to his question had not
satisfied him, and putting two and two together, as he said, and
impelled towards dreadful conclusions by his habit of making the most
of vague fears, he had now fully convinced himself that the land did
indeed lie in the direction of Lady George Dubec, now settled within a
mile or two, at Blaythorn, and that, unless he could do something to
stop it, a most dreadful catastrophe was about to overtake the house of
Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton could do little to calm his fears.  Privately she thought
that he was making a mountain out of a mole-hill, and that Dick was as
little likely as the Squire himself to marry such a woman as she
imagined Lady George Dubec to be.  For she knew how much alike her
husband and her son were in all the essential aims and ambitions of
their lives, although she knew also that Dick had a far cooler head and
a better brain than his father's.  For that very reason he was the less
likely to make a marriage which would be beneath the dignity of his
family.  She said what she could to persuade her husband that Dick
might be trusted in a matter of this sort, but he was in that stage of
alarm when however much a man may desire to find himself mistaken he
resists all attempts to prove him so.  "I tell you, Nina," he said,
"that he told me himself that when he did marry it would be a
middle-aged woman, or words to that effect.  And he gets this woman
down here without saying a word to us about it, and they say she's
good-looking--you heard Humphrey say that yourself, and Mrs. Graham
too--and he goes over there this afternoon without mentioning it.--By
Jove! didn't he say he wanted to go and see Jim at Mountfield?  Yes, he
did,--you remember--at luncheon.  Nina, I'm afraid there's no doubt
about it.  Can't you _see_ what a dreadful thing it would be, and that
we _must_ stop it at any cost?"

"I hope it will not come about," said Mrs. Clinton.  "Dick is
level-headed, and he sees questions of this sort in much the same light
as you do, Edward."

"It would be intolerable," wailed the poor Squire.  "And Dick of all
people!  I'd have trusted him anywhere.  And now I shall have to stand
up against him, and it will be one of the hardest things I have ever
had to do.  But I won't let him throw himself away and drag the old
name in the dust if I can possibly prevent it.  And, God helping me, I
will prevent it, whatever it costs me.  Nina, you are not to go near
this woman.  The only way is to keep her at arm's-length.  If we stand
firm the affair will fade out, and Dick will forget all about it.  He
has always been a good boy.  I've been proud of my son.  He will thank
me some day for saving him from himself.  Good-night, Nina, God bless
you.  There's a difficult time coming for us at Kencote, I'm afraid."

So night and silence fell on the great house.  Its master, always
healthily tired after his day, spent mostly in the open, soon forgot
his troubles in sleep; its mistress lay awake for a long time,
wondering if trouble were really going to befall her first-born, who
had gone so far from her since she had first hugged him to her breast.
And in other rooms in the house there were those who lay awake and
wearied themselves with the troubles of life or slept soundly without a
care, some of them of account in the daily comings and goings, some of
very little, but one and all acting and reacting on one another,
concerned in some degree in a common life.



CHAPTER IX

DICK PAYS A SUNDAY VISIT

It did not take Dick long to find out on that next (Sunday) morning
that his diplomacy had failed, that his father, urged by his fears, had
discovered what he would have hidden from him for a time, or thought he
had discovered it, which came to the same thing, since it was true, and
that he might just as well have announced his intention of marrying
Virginia Dubec, and entered at once upon the struggle which was now
bound to come in any case.

Nothing was said on either side, and the Squire did his best to behave
as usual.  But the attempt was too much for him, and there was no one
who did not know before breakfast was over that there was a disturbance
in the air.  He would enter upon a course of conversation with gaiety,
and relinquish it immediately to frown upon his plate.  He grumbled at
everything upon the table, and testily rebuked the twins for fidgeting.
They took the rebuke calmly, knowing quite well what it portended, and
were only anxious to discover the cause of the upset.

"It's this Lady George Dubec," said Joan, when they were alone
together.  "There's something fishy about her; it must have come out
after we were sent away yesterday.  Father thinks he's Emperor of this
part of Meadshire, and he doesn't like her coming here without his
being consulted."

"I don't think it's that at all," said Nancy.  "I believe it's
Humphrey's debts.  Father has got pots of money, but he hates shelling
it out.  He was snappy with Humphrey this morning."

"So he was with everybody but Dick.  That proves nothing.  A week's
pocket-money that it's this Lady George."

"Dick said we weren't to bet."

"Oh, well, perhaps we'd better not, then.  He was a brick about the
camera.  I don't suppose he's concerned in it, whatever it is.  With
father, Dick does no wrong."

"I'm not sure.  Joan, supposing Dick has fallen in love with Lady
George and father is upset about it!"

"Oh, my dear, do talk sense.  Dick in love with a widow!"

"Stranger things have happened.  Anyhow, we'll leave no stone unturned
to find out what it is."

"Oh, we'll ferret it out all right.  It will add to the interest of
life."

There was one thing that the Squire always did on the rare occasions on
which he found himself in a dilemma, and that was to consult his
half-brother, the Rector.  Consequently when, after church, meeting
Mrs. Beach, the Rector's wife, in the churchyard, he asked her if she
and Tom would come up to luncheon, Dick, overhearing him, smiled
inwardly and a little ruefully, and pictured to himself the sitting
that would be held in the afternoon, when the Rector would be invited
into the library and the Squire would unbosom himself of his
difficulties.  Dick himself had often joined in these conclaves.
"Let's see what Tom has to say about it," his father would say.  "He
has a good head, Tom."  Dick would be left out of this conclave, but as
he thought of the line that his uncle was likely to take, he half
wished that he had had a conclave with him himself beforehand.  The
Rector was a man of peace, a lovable man, who hated to see any one
uncomfortable, and perhaps, for a churchman, hated a little too much to
run the risk of discomfort himself.  Probably he would have
sympathised.  Certainly he would have brought no hard judgment to bear
on Virginia, whatever she had done and whatever she had been.  However,
it was too late to think of that now, and when Joan asked him at
luncheon if he would go for a walk with them in the afternoon, he took
the bull by the horns and said that he was going to drive over to
Blaythorn.

"By the by," said Mrs. Beach, not noticing the Squire's sudden frown,
"have you heard that Mr. Marsh has let his rectory to a hunting lady?"

"Yes," said Dick, "Lady George Dubec.  She is a friend of mine, and I'm
going over to see her."

Never had the Squire spoken with more difficulty.  But it behoved him
to speak, and to speak at once.  "I am very sorry she has come," he
said.  "She is a friend of Dick's in London, but we can't recognise her
here at Kencote."

Except that the servants were not in the room it was a public throwing
down of the gage of battle.  It amounted on the Squire's part to an
affront of his son, the being beloved best in the world, and he would
have put it on him if the whole household had been present.  But what
it cost him to do so could be told from his moody fits of silence
during the rest of the meal, his half-emptied plate and his
twice-emptied glass.

Dick took the blow without flinching, although he was inwardly consumed
with anger, not at the affront to himself, but to Virginia.  "We are a
little behind the times at Kencote," he said lightly.  "But we shall
probably fall into line by and by."

The Squire made no answer.  He had shot his bolt and had none of the
ammunition of repartee at hand.  The awkward moment was covered by the
immediate flow of conversation, but he took little or no part in it,
and it was a relief when the meal was over.

When the Squire had led the way into the library and shut the door upon
himself and the Rector, he broke out at once.  "Tom, you heard what
happened.  Dick is out of his mind about this woman.  Unless something
can be done to stop it, a dreadful day is coming to Kencote."

The Rector, tall, fleshy, slow in movement, mild of speech, was
astonished.  "My dear Edward!" he exclaimed.  "I did not gather from
what passed that--that this meant anything serious."

"Oh, serious!" echoed the Squire, half distraught.  "It's as serious as
it can be, Tom."  And he told him in his own decisive manner exactly
how serious it seemed to him to be.  "A hunting woman!" he ended up.
"I could have forgiven that.  I can't deny that women do hunt, now, who
wouldn't have done in our young days.  An American!  Well, people do
marry them nowadays--but an American at Kencote after all these
generations!  Think of it, Tom!  And if that were only the worst!  But
a stage dancer!  A woman who has shown herself before the public--for
money!  And a widow!--a woman who has been married to one of the worst
blackguards in England.  You remember him, Tom--at Eton."

"No," said the Rector.  "He was before my time."

"Before your time--yes, and three or four years older than I am.  He'd
have been an old man if he'd been alive now.  And it's the widow of
that man my son wants to marry.  Isn't it too shameful, Tom?  What can
have come over him?  He has never acted in this sort of way before.  My
boy Dick!  In everything that has ever happened to annoy me, he has
always behaved just exactly as I would have my son behave.  And now he
brings this trouble on me.  Oh, Tom, tell me what on earth I'm to do."

The poor gentleman was so overcome with distress that it was pitiful to
witness.  The Rector knew how he took things--hard at first, and
bringing his heaviest weight of resistance to bear upon the lightest
obstacles, but calming down after he had been humoured a bit, accepting
the inevitable like a sensible man, and making the best of it.  But
this was beyond the point at which he could be humoured.  It struck at
all that he held dearest in life, the welfare of his son, the dignity
of his house.  He would not give way here, whatever distress it cost
him to hold out.

"Have you seen this lady, Edward?" asked the Rector.

"Oh, seen her!  No," replied the Squire.  "Why should I want to see
her?  She may be good-looking.  They say she is.  I suppose Dick
wouldn't have fallen in love with her if she were not, and at any rate
women who are not good-looking don't become pets of the stage, as I'm
told this woman was.  Pah!  It's beyond everything I could have
believed of Dick.  I would rather he had married the daughter of a
farm-labourer--a girl of clean healthy English stock.  To bring a
creature from behind the footlights and make her mistress of Kencote--a
soiled woman--that's what she is, even if she has never sold
herself--and who knows that she hasn't?  She _did_ sell herself--to a
broken-down _roué_, a man old enough to be her father--for his wretched
title, I suppose.  And now she wants to buy Kencote, and my son, Dick,
the straightest, finest fellow a father ever had reason to be proud of.
I tell you, Tom, the world ought to be delivered of these harpies.
They ought to be locked up, Tom, locked up, and the wickedness whipped
out of them."

"Has Dick said that he wanted to marry her?" asked the Rector, anxious
to bring this tirade, which was gathering in intensity, to an end.

"It's as plain as it can be.  He has brought her down here, and he
wants us to take her up."

"Well, but is that all, Edward?  Surely you have more to go on than
that, if you have made up your mind that he wants to marry her."

"I _have_ more to go on.  He told me only two nights ago that he was
quite ready to marry, and that he wouldn't marry a girl.  That's plain
English, isn't it?  And this comes just on top of it.  Why, he had her
down here--fixed it all up for her--and never said a word to us till
after we'd heard from outside that she was there.  There are a lot of
things.  I can put two and two together as well as anybody, and I
haven't a doubt of it.  And I asked him definitely, yesterday, and he
didn't deny it."

"He didn't acknowledge it, I suppose."

"I tell you he didn't deny it.  He gave me an evasive answer.  That
isn't like Dick.  She has had a bad influence on him already.  Don't
waste time in trying to persuade me that black is white, Tom.  Tell me
how I am to stop this."

The Rector could not tell him how to stop it.  He knew very well that
Dick was a stronger man than his father, and that if he had made up his
mind to do a thing he would do it.  But he still doubted whether he had
made up his mind to do this particular thing.  He thought that the
Squire was probably alarming himself needlessly, and with all the art
that lay in his power he tried to persuade him that it was so.  "Young
men," he ended, "do make friends with women they wouldn't want to
marry.  You know that is so, Edward.  It is no use shutting your eyes
to facts."

"Yes, but they don't bring them down to their homes for their mothers
and sisters to make friends with," retorted the Squire.  "It's the last
thing Dick would do, and I'd rather he did what he's doing now, bad as
it is, than do a thing like that.  He's hypnotised--that's what it
is--he thinks she's a good woman--everything she ought to be----"

"And perhaps she _is_ a good woman, Edward, and everything she ought to
be," interrupted the Rector, speaking more emphatically than was his
wont, for in his simple unworldliness it had not occurred to him that
his last words could bear the interpretation the Squire had put upon
them, and he was rather scandalised.  "I say that you ought to hold
your judgment until you have seen her, and know something of her at
first hand.  I do not believe that Dick would expect his family to make
friends with a lady who was not above reproach, and I certainly never
meant for a moment to imply that he would do such a thing as make love
to a woman he did not intend to marry.  When I said that men make
friends with women, I meant no more than I said."

"Well, you're a parson," said his brother, "and you've got to keep your
eyes shut to certain things that go on, I suppose."

"No, Edward, that is not the duty of a parson," returned the Rector.
"I shut my eyes to nothing.  It seems to me that you do.  It seems to
me that you shut your eyes to what you know of Dick's character.  You
picture to yourself a vulgar, scheming adventuress.  I say that if Dick
is in love with this lady, as you say he is, she is not that, but
something very different, and I say again that you ought to withhold
your judgment until you have seen her."

"As far as seeing her goes," grumbled the Squire, "there's nothing
easier than that.  I shall see her at the covert-side, and I dare say I
shall see her scampering all over the county covered with mud, and
getting in the way of the hounds.  Women are an infernal nuisance in
the hunting-field.  Well, you don't give me much comfort, Tom.  Still,
it does one some good to talk over one's troubles.  I'm afraid this is
going to be a big trouble--the biggest I've ever had in my life."

"Then don't meet it half-way," said the Rector.  "You don't know for
certain that Dick wants to marry her, and if he does she can't be
anything like you have imagined her.  I'm afraid I must go now, Edward.
I have to look in at the Sunday-school."

"Well, good-bye, Tom, my dear fellow.  Tell 'em in the Sunday-school to
obey their parents.  Yes, for this is _right_, by George! the Bible
says.  And so it is; if children would obey their parents, half the
trouble in the world would disappear."

Dick was not best pleased, when he drove up to the door of Blaythorn
Rectory, to hear that her ladyship had gone for a walk with Miss
Dexter, and would not be back for an hour or more.  He had not told her
that he was coming over, and had not intended to do so.  Horses were
not taken out of the Kencote stables on Sundays without necessity.  He
said he would wait, and went into the drawing-room to get what
consolation he could out of his own thoughts until Virginia should
return.

He had been there about half an hour, sometimes walking up and down the
room, sometimes reading a few pages of a book and throwing it
impatiently on one side, sometimes sitting staring moodily into the
fire, when he heard voices in the hall.  A look of relief came over his
face and he got up, prepared to greet Virginia, when the door was
opened and Mrs. Graham was shown into the room.  She was dressed in her
usual serviceable walking clothes and had a dog-whip in her hand,
although she had left her dogs for the time being outside.

"Good gracious, Dick!" she exclaimed.  "They told me there was nobody
here."

"The other maid let me in," said Dick.  He could not for the life of
him prevent himself feeling and looking shamefaced.

Mrs. Graham took no notice of it.  She walked straight to a little
writing-table in the corner of the room and sat down.  "As I suppose
you are wondering what on earth I am doing here," she said, "I'll tell
you.  I had a letter this morning from Anne Conyers, who asked me to
come and see Lady George, as she didn't know a soul in the county.  I'm
only too pleased to; we're such a set of rustics here that it does us
good to get somebody new, if they're not nincompoops like those people
we've just got rid of at Mountfield.  I thought I would drop in this
afternoon.  If she's sensible she won't mind my coming in these
clothes.  If she isn't I don't want to know her.  You know her; you
don't think she'll mind, eh?"

"Oh, of course not."

"I'm just going to write her a note asking her to dine to-morrow.  Jim
and Muriel are coming, and Roddy Buckstone.  Will you and Humphrey
come, Dick?  We don't want too many women."

"I don't know about Humphrey.  I shall be pleased to."

"Well, that's all right.  You might take a message from me to Humphrey."

"I'd rather you wrote a note to him--and posted it."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Graham in a voice that invited explanation.

But Dick gave none.

"Lady George has a friend staying with her--Miss Dexter," he said.
"You'd better ask her too, I think."

"Oh, of course.  Thank you for telling me.  Miss Dexter."

She wrote her note, fastened and directed it, dwelling rather
deliberately on the process as she neared its completion.  She seemed
as if she were turning over in her mind something to say, but finally
rose, and said, "Well, I suppose she'll get that when she comes in.
I'll take myself and the dogs back to Mountfield now."

"Why don't you wait and see her?" asked Dick, rather grudgingly, for he
didn't want Mrs. Graham to stay.  "She can't be long now."

Mrs. Graham looked at him shrewdly.  "I don't think I will," she said.
"She'll be out with the hounds to-morrow, I suppose.  Look here, Dick,
I don't know whether I'm a fool to say anything or not, and I don't
want to mix myself up in other people's business, but Anne Conyers told
me that Lady George was a friend of yours, and that you had got her
this house.  We'll see that she gets on here all right."

She gave him a knowing nod which made him reply--

"Oh, you mean that there's likely to be trouble at Kencote.  Well, I
don't mind telling you that there _is_ trouble.  My father announced
to-day before Tom and Grace and the whole family that Lady George Dubec
might be good enough for me to know in London, but she wasn't good
enough for him or anybody to know at Kencote."  He spoke bitterly, and
as Mrs. Graham, who knew him well, had never heard him speak of his
father.

"Did he?" she said.  "Well, that's what, if I were a man, I should call
rather thick.  Still, he'll probably come round, and if he doesn't he
is not the only person in South Meadshire, though he sometimes behaves
as if he thought he was.  Good-bye, Dick; to-morrow at eight o'clock,
then.  I'll write to Humphrey, though I shan't break my heart if he
doesn't come."

Dick let her out at the front door, where she was vociferously greeted
by her pack, and then returned to the drawing-room.  "And I wonder what
_she'll_ be thinking as she goes home," he said to himself.

Virginia came into the room alone when she and Miss Dexter returned.
Dick could hear her glad little cry of surprise outside when she was
told he was there, and it made him catch his breath with a queer
mixture of sensations.  She brought a cool fresh fragrance into the
room with her, and he thought he had never seen her look sweeter, with
her rather frail beauty warmed into sparkling life by the exercise she
had taken in the sharp winter air and her pleasure at finding him there
on her return.

Sitting by her side on the sofa he told her what had happened, and she
took the news thoughtfully and sadly.  "He must be rather terrible,
your father," she said, "and cleverer than you thought too, Dick, if he
suspects already what is between us."

"Oh, I suppose it's I who am not so clever as I thought myself," he
said.  "When he asked me point-blank I couldn't tell him a lie.  But I
own I never thought he would ask me.  It was from something I had said
to him the night before, about not wanting to marry a youngster.  I
don't know why on earth I was fool enough to say it, and put him on the
scent.  I suppose I was thinking such a lot of you, my girl.  I can't
get you out of my head, you know.  But the fact is I'm not cut out for
a conspirator, Virginia, and now that all my carefully laid plans have
come to nothing, I'm not sure that I'm not rather relieved."

"You think they have quite come to nothing, Dick?"

"It looks like it.  We shall know to-morrow.  I still think--what I've
always thought and built upon--that if he once sees you----"

"Dear Dick!  But it's rather late for that now, if he has heard all
about me, and has made a picture of me in his mind."

"Well, it's such a preposterous picture, that the reality can't help
striking him.  We won't do anything until after we know what has
happened at the meet.  And by the by, there's a dinner invitation for
you for to-morrow evening."  He told her about Mrs. Graham and gave her
her note.

"That is very kind of Mrs. Graham," she said.  "I forgot to tell you
that I knew her sister-in-law.  I'm afraid we shan't have much
opportunity of talking there, Dick."

So they talked where they were for a long time, until the dusk fell and
the maid came in with the lights and the tea, and Miss Dexter after
her, and the result of their talk was that they felt things were not as
bad as they looked.  Dick's father would relent some day, and until he
did they had each other.



CHAPTER X

THE MEET AT APTHORPE COMMON

The meet on Monday was at Apthorpe Common, a distance of nine miles
from Kencote, and the three men appeared at breakfast in boots and
breeches.  The Squire always did so, and donned his red coat, with the
yellow collar of the South Meadshire Hunt, when he dressed for the day.
Dick came to breakfast in a tweed jacket, and Humphrey in a quilted
silk smoking-coat, and both had linen aprons tied round their waists to
preserve their well pipe-clayed breeches.  But the Squire belonged to
an older generation, having been born when boots and breeches still
lingered as the normal dress of country gentlemen, and a red coat was
as easy in the wearing as any other coat.  He looked a fine figure of a
man, as he stood up at the end of the table to read prayers to his
household, and ready to go with the best if he got a horse up to his
weight.

At a quarter to ten punctually the Squire stood at the front door
enveloped in a heavy ulster, a serviceable but not very shiny hat on
his head, a cigar in his mouth, drawing on his gloves, and looking over
the handsome pair of greys in his phaeton.  Humphrey, whose hat lacked
nothing in polish, stood by him in a fur coat.  As the stable clock
chimed the quarter, the Squire turned to the butler, who stood behind
him with a rug, and asked where Captain Clinton was.

"Dick is driving himself," said Humphrey.  "He started five minutes
ago."

The Squire's face darkened, but he climbed up to his seat and took the
reins.  Humphrey got up by his side, and with a clatter and jingle they
started, while the groom swung himself into his seat behind.

If Humphrey's thoughts had not been taken up with his own affairs he
might have felt sorry for his father.  It was an unfailing custom at
Kencote that when there were only three to go to a meet far enough off
to necessitate a drive, they should go in the phaeton.  The Squire
enjoyed these drives, with his eldest son sitting by his side,
especially on such a morning as this, soft and mild, and holding out
every prospect of a good day at the sport that he loved.  Now he drove
along at his usual steady pace without saying a word.  The brightness
had gone out of his day's pleasure before it had begun, and he would
just as soon as not have turned his horses' heads and gone home again.
There had been constraint between him and Dick since the day before,
but not unfriendliness, and he had thought that perhaps they might have
come as closely together as usual during this drive, or at any rate
have buried for a time the thought of what lay between them in the
prospect of the day's sport.  But Dick had gone off alone without a
word, and his heart was sore within him.  Dick might have spared him
this, he thought.  It meant, as nothing else he could have done would
have meant, that their pleasant, almost brotherly, intimacy was to
cease.  Each was to go his own way, until one or the other of them gave
in.  And the Squire knew, although he may not have said as much to
himself, that Dick could support this sort of estrangement better than
he could.  Dick had his friends, scores of them, and when he came down
to Kencote he was only leaving them behind him; while to him,
surrounded by his family, but very much alone as far as the society of
men of his own interests was concerned, Dick's visits to his home were
the brightest times in his life, when everything that was to be done
seemed better worth the doing, because so much of it was done in his
company, and the pleasures of life were redoubled in value because they
shared them and could talk about them, beforehand and afterwards.

His mind too was turned to what lay before him, which he had thought
about as little as possible.  He was going to where he could see this
woman who had enslaved Dick.  She was to be there, spoiling for him
even the pursuit he liked best.  And Dick no doubt would be at her
side, piloting her, making himself conspicuous by his attentions to the
whole county, providing food for gossip, perhaps for scandal.  If this
creature was to be hanging to his coat-tails, his son, who had followed
hounds since his childhood, and whom he had always taken a pride in
seeing well mounted and going with the best of them, would be pointed
at as a man who had always been in the first flight until he had been
caught by a woman, but was now of no account in the field.  The Squire
had seen that happen before, and it covered him with shame and anger to
think that it would happen to Dick.

His anger was directed against Virginia alone.  He felt none against
his son, but only a kind of thwarted tenderness, which would have led
him to do anything, short of allowing him to throw himself away and
spoil his life, to bring back the old happy state of feeling between
them.  It crossed his mind that he might even be obliged to let him
have his way in this matter.  He knew that he would be sorely tried if
he were to hold out, and that he might not have the power to do so.  He
thought that perhaps he would do as Tom had advised and see this woman
first, see if there were any saving grace in her which would enable him
to give way, and comfort himself with the idea that things might have
been worse.  At any rate, he was bound to see her shortly, and without
making any decision he could dismiss the subject from his mind now and
prepare to enjoy himself as much as possible under the circumstances.
He sat up straighter, drew the reins more firmly and laid his whip
lightly across the flanks of the greys.  "Well, Humphrey," he said as
the horses quickened their pace, "I think we shall have a good day.
Scent ought to lie well, and we're sure to find a fox in that spinney
of Antill's.  I've never known it draw blank yet."

"Yes, we ought to get off pretty quick," said Humphrey, also rousing
himself.  "I say, I'm in rather a quandary."

"Well, what is it?" asked the Squire rather shortly.  Humphrey's
quandaries were generally of a financial nature, and he had no wish to
add one of them to his present troubles.

"Mrs. Graham has asked me to dine to-night."

"Well, why not?  You can have something to take you over."

"Oh yes.  Dick is going.  It is to meet Lady George Dubec."'

The Squire's face darkened instantly.  Here he was, plunged straight
into it again, when he wanted to free his mind for the time being of
Lady George Dubec and anything that had to do with her.

"Mrs. Graham seems to have lost no time," he said.  "She hadn't called
on her on Saturday.  I suppose she must have done so yesterday.  And
she knows perfectly well that I don't want to have anything to do with
the woman.  Are Jim and Cicely going?"

"I don't know.  She only mentions Dick."

"If she mixes Cicely up with--with this lady, I shall be very much
annoyed.  Not that I can say anything, I suppose, now she's married,
but I think Mrs. Graham might respect my wishes a little more.  Well,
you can do as you like.  I suppose the modern way is to disregard the
wishes of the head of the house entirely."

"I don't want to disregard your wishes," said Humphrey.  "I think as
long as one remains at home one ought to respect them."

The Squire was mollified at this, but he only said rather gruffly,
"Well, if you can put up with eating your dinner at home this evening,
I'd rather you should.  Dick has taken the bit between his teeth, and
he certainly doesn't think that my wishes should be respected.
Apparently nothing that I can say will influence him.  He seems to me
to be heading straight for the nastiest kind of fall.  What sort of a
woman is this, Humphrey?  You said you knew her, didn't you?"

"Oh, I've met her," said Humphrey.  "She's a very pretty woman.  Nobody
can deny that."

"People who have made a success on the stage generally are," said the
Squire; "at least, they used to be in my time.  Is she--well, is she a
lady?"

"Oh Lord, yes," said Humphrey.  "I'm sorry I let out that about her
having been on the stage.  You couldn't possibly guess it to look at
her.  Dick tackled me about it yesterday and said that nobody knew it.
People do know it, but there's no necessity to spread it all over the
place."

The Squire thought for a moment.  Then he put his question point-blank.
"Does Dick want to marry this woman, or doesn't he?"

"If you had asked me that two days ago," replied Humphrey glibly, "I
should have smiled at the idea.  Now, I believe he does."

"What has made you change your mind, then?"

"Well, his getting her down here, for one thing.  Then, as I told you,
he was furious with me for letting out what I did about her.  In fact,
if I hadn't kept my head we should have had a devil of a row about it;
and Dick and I have never had a row since we were kids."

The Squire digested this information.  It confirmed his worst fears and
made his heart the heavier.  "Can't you help to stop it?" he asked
shortly.  "You and he have always been pretty good friends."

"I can't do any more than the twins could," replied Humphrey.  "As I
told you, we nearly had a row about it as it is.  If I tried to
interfere we should have one without a doubt."

"I suppose you don't want a thing like that to happen in the family?"
asked the Squire, throwing him a side glance.

"Of course I don't want it," said Humphrey.  "I've nothing against the
lady as she is, but I don't want her for a sister-in-law."

"I should think not," said the Squire emphatically.  "Well, I suppose
_I'm_ the only person who can stop it, and by George! I will."

Again he stroked the greys with his whip, and their pace quickened.
"Look here, Humphrey," he said, "tell me how on earth I _can_ stop it."

Humphrey smiled into his thick fur collar.  It was so like his father,
to issue a bold statement of his intentions and then immediately to ask
for advice as to how to act.  But he had not been accustomed to ask
advice of Humphrey.

"Well, it doesn't seem to be a very difficult matter," he said.

"What do you mean?" asked the Squire shortly.  "He's not paying much
regard to my wishes now."

"I dare say you can't stop him amusing himself with the lady," said
Humphrey.  "I don't know why you should want to.  If you make it
awkward for him he'll be all the keener; if you give him his head he's
quite likely to come to his senses.  But it will be a different thing
if it comes to marrying."

"Why?"

"Well, what's he to marry on--his pay as a captain in the Guards?  What
can any of us marry on if you don't see us through?"

The Squire's attitude towards his eldest son was such that, through all
his anxiety and all his cogitations, he had never yet thought of this.
He was a rich man, and he gave all his sons good allowances and Dick a
very handsome one.  He did this as a matter of course, and never looked
upon it otherwise than as rightly due from him.  And, equally of
course, he was prepared largely to increase the allowance when Dick
should marry.  But it was quite true that there was nothing to prevent
him from stopping it altogether.  If the worst came to the worst he
could exercise the power of the purse, but it would be extremely
repugnant to him to do it, and the suggestion struck him like a
temptation to act unworthily.  "What on earth put that into your head?"
he asked.

Humphrey was a little taken aback by his tone.  He was annoyed with
Dick, as he had never been annoyed with him since their childhood,
although he had often been jealous of his seniority.  But they had been
on such good terms together that he could not feel quite comfortable in
putting a spoke in his wheel, as he felt he was now doing.

"It doesn't want much putting there," he said.  "The idea of marriage
does cross one's mind occasionally, and one naturally wonders what you
would do to make it possible.  It wouldn't be possible at all without
you."

"Well, I should be very sorry to have to take a step like that," said
the Squire after further consideration.  "And I don't want to talk
about it."

Now they came to the foot of a long hill, bounded on one side by a deep
wood, on the other by open grass-land, which fell away gradually, and
some distance off swelled again into a long undulating rise, dotted
with pieces of woodland, arable fields, and farms here and there, and
ended in the far distance in a range of hills lying mistily under
parallels of soft grey clouds.  It was the best bit of country the
South Meadshire could boast, and to the Squire surveying it largely, as
he walked his horses up the hill, every square mile within reach of the
eye spoke of some remembered episode in the long course of years during
which he had enjoyed his best-loved sport.

There--a line of grey at the bottom of the green valley--was the brook
into which he and his pony had soused head over ears when as a small
boy he had thought to follow his grandfather over a place which that
redoubtable sportsman himself had felt some qualms about taking.  The
old man, warned by the shouts, had looked round and trotted back to the
brook, where he must have made up his mind that neither the small boy
nor the small pony was in danger of drowning, for he had said, "Well,
if you're such a fool as to get in, let's hope you're not too much of a
fool to get out," and had turned his horse's head and galloped off
without further ado.  There was the covert from which a cunning old dog
fox had been hunted three times in two seasons, and had given them
three separate runs, which were talked of still when the old stagers of
the South Meadshire got together at one end of the table over the port,
although it was nearly thirty years ago.  There was the fence over
which, as a hard-riding subaltern, at the end of a season during which
he had hunted for the most part in Leicestershire, he had broken the
back of the best mare he had ever owned, through over-anxiety to show
his neighbours what riding straight to hounds really meant, and nearly
broken his own neck into the bargain.  There was the grass field in
which, many years before, although it seemed like yesterday, hounds had
pulled their fox down, and Dick, riding his first pony, had been in at
the death, had won his first brush, and had been duly blooded.  He
smiled within himself and remembered how his little boy had ridden home
at his side with the smears on his face and shown himself proudly to
his mother, and how, forgetting his new-found manhood, he had howled
when it was proposed to wash them off.

There were other exploits of Dick's and of his other sons', who had all
taken to the sport as he would have had sons of his take to it, which
this wide stretch of country recalled.  In fact, Dick and he, driving
up this long hill to a meet at Apthorpe, or beyond it, had been wont to
recall episodes which they both remembered, pointing out this and that
spot, near or far.  He liked best to recall the doings of his boys,
although his own and those of his hard-bitten, redoubtable old
grandfather had not been forgotten in the long tale.  It was as if a
sudden chill had struck him when the thought came to him, that if he
and Dick were to be kept apart by what had come between them, they
would perhaps never drive together again up the Apthorpe Hill.  The
hoarse note of a motor-horn behind him, and the necessity of drawing to
the side of the road as the machine swirled by, enabled him to relieve
his feelings by an expression of abhorrence stronger than he usually
allowed himself, although his ordinary language on the use of
motor-cars in connection with hunting did not lack vigour.  And this
particular motor-car contained the Master of the South Meadshire
himself, who waved to him as he passed, and received no very warm
greeting in return.  The Squire had had a grudge against Mr. Warner
during the greater part of his life.  His grandfather had kept the
hounds for forty years, hunted them himself, and spent money lavishly
on the upkeep of kennels and general equipment.  When he had died the
Squire had been too young to follow him, and Mr. Warner, who had made
his money in trade as the Squire averred, although he had actually
inherited it, and was but recently come into the county, had taken
them.  He was now an old man getting on for eighty, and had kept them
ever since, hunting with them as regularly and riding as straight as he
had ever done--a wonderful old man, already beginning, in his lifetime,
to pass into a proverb, as the Squire's grandfather, Colonel Thomas
Clinton, had done.  But the Squire had never had a good word for him.
Of all the positions in life which he might have filled, he felt it
hard that the Mastership of the South Meadshire should have been kept
out of his hands.  And that was his grudge against Mr. Warner,
carefully nourished by that gentleman's late acceptance of mechanical
traffic, and sundry other causes which need not be enquired into.

Other motor-cars passed them before they got to the top of the hill,
and the Squire had a word or two of condemnation to spare for each, as
they forced him to draw aside and control his horses, which shared his
dislike of the new-fangled things.

At the top of the rise the wood curved away to the right, and there was
nothing before them but the wide gorse-speckled common, with the broad
highroad running through it.  They drove on for a mile and came to a
high-lying inn by the roadside, appropriately named the "Fox and
Hounds," with a sign-post and a water-trough in front of it, and a
broad piece of grass, which was now the centre of the best of all
English country sights in the winter.  The hounds were grouped about
their huntsman, George Winch, a grey-whiskered, weather-tanned man
sitting upright on his tall bay horse, the two of them quiet and
unmoved, ready for what was to come, but not unduly excited over it,
and his three young Whips, two of them his sons and the other his
nephew.  The Master had already hoisted himself on to his horse and sat
as straight as his huntsman, although he was twenty years his senior.
And all round were the faithful followers of the South Meadshire, some
of whom had ridden with those hounds for as long as, or longer than,
the Squire himself, some of whom had only begun that season.  The men
were mostly in pink, with the yellow collar, and dressed for work and
not for show, their breeches spotless, their boots well polished and
their tops of the right mellow shade, but their coats not of the
newest, and their hats lacking the mirror-like shine which was imparted
to those of the young bloods such as Humphrey.  There was a sprinkling
of ladies, amongst whom was Mrs. Graham, in a workmanlike habit that
had seen better days, but many more of them had come on wheels than on
horseback.  There were boys on ponies, their round hats jammed on to
their heads, their round legs in wrinkled cloth gaiters, and the
Master's two little granddaughters riding astride.  On the outskirts of
the loosely knit crowd was a good sprinkling of farmers, solid elderly
men in hard felt hats, drab coats, corduroys and brown gaiters, and
slim, active young men in smarter editions of the same attire, but not
always so well mounted.

The Squire drove up to the front of the inn, where his horse and
Humphrey's were being walked up and down by their grooms, and climbed
down from his seat with a side-look that was half a frown at the crowd.
Amongst the women on horseback he saw none that he did not know, and
hoped that the dreaded lady had not come; but immediately he had
satisfied himself that she was not riding he caught sight of Dick,
already mounted, standing by a smart little pony-cart which contained
two women, and his frown deepened.  When he was on his horse and had
seen that his flask and sandwich-case were in place, he had another
moment of indecision.  Through all his discomfort and annoyance, his
heart yearned towards his son, and he was alternately and from minute
to minute swayed by opposite impulses, to hold out firmly for Dick's
sake or to give way for his own.  As he walked his horse on to the
green it was in his mind to cross over to where Dick was standing by
the pony-cart and, with what graciousness he could, end it all.

But he was stopped by one of his old friends, who had something quite
unnecessary to say about the weather and the prospect of the day's
sport, and before he could disengage himself he saw Dick leave the
pony-carriage and the two ladies, and come towards him.  He did not pay
much attention to his friend, but sat on his horse facing his son.  He
saw Dick also stopped, and waited impatiently, hoping that he was
coming to speak to him.  Then he saw a very smartly attired young man
trot up to the pony-carriage, arms and legs akimbo, to be greeted, as
it seemed to him, with complete cordiality by the lady who held the
reins, but not so effusively by the lady by her side.  This young man
was his pet abomination, the vacuous, actress-hunting, spendthrift son
of a rich father, already notorious for his "goings-on," and likely to
be more so if he continued as he had begun.  He heard his loud foolish
laugh over something he had said to the lady, or something she had said
to him, and saw, although he could not hear, her laugh in reply.  Then
he saw him take out his cigarette-case and offer it to her, and at that
he wrenched round his horse's head and exclaimed, apparently in answer
to a question which he had not heard addressed to him, much to his
friend's surprise, "No, I'm damned if I do."

He had seen enough.  If that vicious young fool was the sort of person
the woman was on terms of intimacy with, then she was just what he had
pictured, and there was no saving grace in her.  A cigarette-smoking,
loose-tongued, kind-to-everybody creature of the stage!  He would
rather be at enmity with his son all his days, he would rather see him
dead, than married to such a woman.

He walked his horse, not knowing where he was going to, except that he
wanted to get as far as possible away from Lady George Dubec, to the
outskirts of the crowd and beyond them, his mind in a ferment of
disgust.  He heard the creak of saddlery and the thud of a horse's
hoofs on the hard turf behind him.  Dick trotted up to him, and said,
as he reined up his horse, "I wish you'd let me introduce you to Lady
George."  He spoke as if there had been no controversy between them on
the subject.  He knew his father, and he was giving him his chance.
Two minutes earlier and the Squire would have taken it.  Now he turned
round sharply, his face red.  "I have no wish to be introduced to Lady
George, now or at any time," he said.

"Oh, all right!" said Dick coldly, and turning his back on him, trotted
off again.



CHAPTER XI

DICK LEAVES KENCOTE AND MAKES A DISCOVERY

There was not much pleasure for the Squire that day, although they
found a fox without delay, and with one check hunted him across the
best of the South Meadshire country and killed him in the open after a
fast run of forty minutes.  The hounds got him out of the spinney where
he was known to reside, in no time, but he immediately took refuge in
another and a larger one half a mile or so off.  The hunt straggled
after him, those who had been on the wrong side of the covert when the
music of the hounds first announced their prompt discovery riding hard
to make up for lost time, the carts and carriages streaming along the
road.  Then there was a pause while the hounds worked to and fro
through the wood, and the groups formed again and waited for what
should happen.  The Squire, more by instinct than design, for his
thoughts were on far other matters, edged down the skirts of the wood
to where he could see the fox break cover if he behaved as his
experience told him most foxes would behave in like circumstances, and
keeping well under cover he soon saw the cunning nose poking out of the
brushwood and the furtive red form steal out to cross the road and make
a bold bid for freedom.  Just at that moment, as he was preparing to
give the view-hulloa when my gentleman should have taken irrevocably to
the open, a cart drove smartly round the opposite corner of the wood
and pulled up, but not before the fox had seen it and slunk cautiously
back into shelter.  The Squire smothered a strong exclamation of
disgust, but gave it vent and added something to it when he recognised
the cart and its driver.  If Lady George Dubec had come into the South
Meadshire country to head the South Meadshire foxes, as well as to
annoy him grossly in other ways, then good-bye to everything.  But she
should be told what she had done.  With rage in his heart and a black
scowl on his face he cantered along the strip of grass by the roadside,
and lifting his hat and looking the offending lady straight in the
face, said in an angry voice, "Would you mind keeping behind the
hounds, madam?  You have just turned the fox back into covert."  Then
he turned his back and rode off, leaving Virginia and Miss Dexter
looking at each other with horrified faces.

However, Reynard's caution did not save him long.  He was bustled out
of shelter again within ten minutes, and realising that his only chance
of escape was to run for it, run he did and gave the hounds all they
knew to catch him.  The Squire was away with the first, and, riding
hard and straight, did for what would have been otherwise a blissful
forty minutes succeed in losing the sharp sense of his unhappiness,
although black care was perched all the time behind him, and when the
fox had been killed, seized on him with claws so sharp that he had no
heart left for anything further, and leaving the hounds to draw a gorsy
common for another fox turned his horse's head round and rode off home.

Humphrey, not far away at the start, had been in at the finish, with
half a dozen more, but he had seen nothing of Dick, and no one who had
set out to follow on wheels had been anywhere within sight for the last
half-hour.  The Squire felt a grim satisfaction in the thought of Lady
George Dubec left hopelessly out of it, but he also thought of Dick
missing the best run, so far, of the season to keep behind with her,
and his satisfaction turned into sad disgust.  His long ride home was
the most miserable he had ever taken, and he wished before it was ended
that he had seen out the day, on the chance of another burst of
excitement which for the time would have eased his pain.

He reached Kencote about three o'clock, and expected to find the house
empty, for he knew that Mrs. Clinton had been going to lunch at
Mountfield and he did not expect her to be back yet.  But she met him
in the hall and said, "I thought you might be home early, Edward, so I
did not go out."

Now the Squire was never home early.  He always saw out the day's
sport, however bad it might be, and the number of times he had returned
from hunting before dark during the last thirty years might have been
counted on his ten fingers.  He looked at his wife apprehensively and
followed her into the morning-room, where she turned to him.

"Dick has gone," she said.

He stared at her, not understanding.

"He came back about twelve," she went on, "and changed his clothes.
His servant was out, but he left word for him to pack and follow him to
Blaythorn.  He wrote you a letter before he went."

"Where is it?" asked the Squire.  "Didn't you see him before he went?
Didn't you speak to him?"  He went out of the room and into his own,
and Mrs. Clinton followed him.

"I did see him," she said, as the Squire went to his writing-table
where an envelope was lying on the silver-mounted blotting-pad.  "He
said that you had made it impossible for him to remain at home, and he
bade me good-bye, but he did not tell me anything more."

But the Squire was not listening to her.  He turned the page of the
letter and then put it into her hand.  "Read that," he said.


"Dear Father" [it ran],

"I had hoped at least that you would have consented to meet the woman I
am going to marry.  If you had you would have seen how unlike she is to
your ideas of her and that I am doing myself honour by my choice.  You
have made the situation impossible now, and I cannot return to Kencote
until you consent to receive my affianced wife with the respect due to
her.

"Your affectionate son,
    "RICHARD CLINTON."


The Squire's face was purple, but he controlled the violent expression
of his anger.  "His affianced wife!" he exclaimed scornfully.  "So now
we have it all, and I was right from the beginning.  Well, if he waits
till I receive her he may wait till I'm in my coffin.  I told him this
morning I would not recognise her, now or at any time, and I'll stick
to my word.  He has chosen to fight me, and he will find that I'm
ready."  He spoke bitterly, but firmly, and as if he meant everything
that he said.

Mrs. Clinton laid the letter on the table.  Her face was serious, and
paler than its wont.  "Have you seen her, Edward?" she asked.  "Is she
so impossible?"

"Seen her!  Impossible!" echoed the Squire, with a return to the
unbridled violence he usually showed when he was disturbed.  "Yes, I've
seen her, and she's as impossible as a wife for the heir of Kencote as
any woman on the face of the earth--a painted hussy, hand in glove with
the worst sort of vicious loafer, puffing cigarettes in the face of a
whole crowd of respectable people, shamelessly breaking up sport--oh,
I've seen her, and seen enough of her.  To my dying day I'll never
willingly see her again, and if that means breaking with Dick I'll
break with him till he comes to his senses.  I mean it.  If she is
going to stay here to hunt with the South Meadshire, then I'll go and
hunt somewhere else until she's gone; or I won't hunt at all.  Yes,
she's impossible.  You've spoken the right word.  I shouldn't be doing
my duty if I left any stone unturned to put an end to Dick's
unaccountable folly.  He'll thank me for it some day, and I'll put up
with all and every unhappiness until that day comes."

He had calmed down during the course of his speech, as he often did,
beginning on a note of unreasonable violence and ending on one
completely different.  But he did not usually end on a note of strong
determination, as now, and Mrs. Clinton looked at him as if she hardly
recognised him, with lines of perplexity and trouble in her smooth,
comely face.  She did not ask him what he was going to do, such
questions being apt to provoke him to impatient anger and seldom
bringing a direct reply.  She said hesitatingly, "If he says definitely
that he is going to marry her----" and left him to supply the end of
her sentence.

"I shall not let him marry her," he said quietly.  "He can't marry on
his pay, and I shall stop his allowance from to-day."

This statement, revolutionary of all fixed notions that had their rise
in Kencote, affected Mrs. Clinton as nothing before in her married life
had affected her.  It showed her her husband as she had never known
him, bent on a course of action, not ready to take advice about it, but
prepared to turn his back on the most cherished principles of his life
in order to carry it out.  She had nothing to say.  She could only look
down and wonder apprehensively what her world was coming to.

"I don't think I should have thought of doing such a thing," the Squire
admitted.  "It gives me more pain to take a course like that than
anything else could have done.  It was Humphrey who suggested it.  He
said, quite truly, that none of them could marry unless I saw them
through.  And I won't see Dick through this.  I'll do anything to stop
it, however much I suffer by what I have to do.  Don't you think I'm
right, Nina?"

This was more what Mrs. Clinton was accustomed to.  She could not say
that she thought he was right, nor that he was wrong.  She could only
say, as she did, that such a proceeding would be distressing to him.

"I know that," said the Squire, with a new simplicity.  "I'm not
thinking of myself.  I'm thinking of Dick.  I love the boy, Nina.  He's
got himself into trouble and I've got to help him out of it."

"Do you think this is the best way?" was all that she could find to say.

"It's the only way.  If there were any other I would take it.  If it
doesn't bring him to his senses at once, I shall keep the money for him
till it does.  God knows _I_ don't want to touch it."

"He will have to give up the Guards," said Mrs. Clinton.

The Squire had not thought of this, and he digested the statement.
"He's not an absolute fool," he said, "although he has lost his head
over this.  As far as the service goes, I shouldn't mind if he did give
it up.  I never meant him to go on soldiering so long.  Still, if he
does give it up, what's he to do, poor fellow, till he comes round?  He
wouldn't have a penny.  I shall tell him that I will continue his
allowance as long as he remains unmarried."  He brightened up as this
idea struck him.  "Yes," he said, "that will be the best way, and just
as effective.  I couldn't bear to think of Dick hard up.  I'll write
now."

He sat down to his table, muddy boots, spurs, and all, and Mrs. Clinton
left him, a little relieved in her mind that he saw a gleam of light,
but otherwise solicitous for his sake and unhappy on her own.  She
loved her firstborn too, although it was very long since she had been
able to show it.  She would have liked to have helped him now, but he
had not asked for her help, had told her nothing, and had left her with
scarcely more than a formal word of farewell.

The Squire, left to himself, wrote quickly, and sealed up his letter
after he had read it over once, as if first thoughts were best, and he
was uncertain to what second would lead him.


"My dear Dick" [his note ran],

"I can only repeat that nothing will induce me to give my consent to
the marriage you propose.  If you marry in a way to please me I shall
provide for you handsomely, as I have always intended to do, but if you
persist in the course you have begun on I shall withdraw your allowance
entirely.  It will be paid to you for the present, but only as long as
you remain unmarried.  I am very sorry to have to take this course, but
you leave me nothing else to do.

"Your affectionate father,
    "EDWARD CLINTON."


When he had closed and directed the envelope an unpleasant thought
struck him, and he leant back in his chair and looked out of the window
while he considered it.  "I suppose she must have _some_ money," he
said to himself; and then after a time, "But Dick would never do that."

The note was taken over to Blaythorn, as all notes were that were
despatched from Kencote, by a groom on horseback.  The Squire was
impatient of the workings of the penny post, except for distances
impossible for a horse, and he would not ask if Dick's soldier-servant
had yet left the house with his master's belongings.  "Tell one of the
grooms to take that over," were his curt instructions, and so well was
the letter of his orders always obeyed that a groom rode off with it
within a quarter of an hour, although another one was already
harnessing a horse to the cart that was to take Dick's servant to
Blaythorn as soon as he should be ready.  But having got safely outside
the park gates he dawdled till his fellow caught him up, and the three
of them then continued the journey together and discussed the situation.

Dick's servant was loyal to his master, but it was not in human nature
that he should have refrained from speculating upon what was doing, and
between them they managed to attain to a fairly clear idea of what that
was, their unanimous conclusion being that if the Captain had made up
his mind to marry the lady the Squire might take what steps he liked,
but he would not stop him.  In this way began the rumours that
presently spread all over the county and thence all over England, or to
such of its inhabitants as are interested in the affairs of its Captain
Clintons and Lady Georges.

Dick and Virginia were alone together when the note was brought in, the
mounted groom having ridden on when he got within a mile of his
destination.  "That means war," said Dick, laconically, when he had
read it; "but I didn't think he would use those tactics quite so soon.
I wonder who put him up to it."  He thought for a moment.  "Humphrey
wouldn't have done it, I suppose," he said reflectively.

Virginia's eyes were serious as she looked up from the note written in
the Squire's big, rather sprawling hand on the thick white paper.  "I
wonder why he hates me so," she said a little plaintively.  "Is it
because I headed the fox, Dick?"

Dick took her chin between his thumb and finger and his face grew
tender as he looked into her eyes.  "You were a very foolish girl to do
that, Virginia," he said.  "I should have thought you would have known
better."

"I didn't know there was such a sharp turn," she said.  "I pulled up
the moment I got round the corner."

"Oh, well! never mind about that," said Dick.  "It was unfortunate, but
it wouldn't have made him want to disinherit me.  He can't disinherit
me, you know.  It's just like him to go blundering into a course like
this, which he hasn't got the firmness to keep up."

"That letter doesn't look as if he lacked firmness," Virginia said.
"Dick dear, what shall you do?"

Dick did not answer this question directly.  He had his father's habit
of following out his own train of thought and ignoring, or rather not
noticing, interruption.  "He must know perfectly well," he said, "that
I can raise money quite easily on my prospects.  I dare say he hasn't
thought of that, though.  He never does think a thing thoroughly out.
He wouldn't be happy if I threatened to do it."

"Oh, Dick, Dick!" exclaimed Virginia, "why do you want to worry about
money?  I have plenty for both of us."

"My dear, I've told you that's impossible," said Dick a little
impatiently.  "Don't keep harping on it."

It gave her a thrill of delight to be spoken to in that way--by him.
She had been used to being ordered to do something or not to do
something by a man, but not by the man she loved.  She kept obedient
silence, but gave Dick's arm a little squeeze.

"I'm not going to do it, though," he went on.  "I should hate it as
much as he would.  Let's sit down, Virginia.  I'll tell you what I'm
going to do."

They sat down on the sofa, and Dick took a cigarette out of his case.
Virginia held it open.  "Couldn't I have just one?" she pleaded.

"No," said Dick, taking it from her.  "You promised you would give it
up when you came down here."

"So I have," she said.  "I think you are very cruel."

Dick put the case back into his pocket.  "Of course I'm not unprepared
for this," he said, "though I hoped it wouldn't come to it.  I shall
have to give up the service and get some work."

"Oh, Dick!" she said.  "You don't want to give up the service."

"No, I don't want to.  I should have got my majority next year, and I
wanted to go on till I commanded the regiment, though I never told
_him_ so.  But it's got to be done, and it's no use grizzling about it."

"And you're doing this for me!" she said softly.

"I am doing a great deal more than that for you," he said.  "I'm giving
up Kencote, at least for a time."

"Do you think I'm worth it?" she asked drily.

He looked down at her, and then took her hand in his.  "You must get
used to my little ways," he said, with a kind smile.  "I must be able
to say to you what is in my mind."

"Oh, I know," she said repentantly.  "It was horrid of me.  But I do
know what you're giving up, and I love you for it.  I hope it won't be
for long--Kencote, I mean.  I suppose if you give up the army you won't
be able to go back to it.  I hate to think of that because it's your
career.  And what else can you work at, dear Dick?  Fancy you in an
office!"

"The idea of me in an office needn't disturb you," said Dick.  "I don't
intend to go into an office.  There are two things I know about.  One
is soldiering, the other is estate management.  If I'm to be prevented
from managing the estate that's going to be my own some day, then I'll
manage somebody else's in the meantime.  There are lots of landowners
who would be only too glad to give me a job."

"Tell me what it means exactly, Dick.  Have you got to be a sort of
steward to some rich person?  I don't think I should like that."

He laughed and patted her hand.  "You must get rid of some of your
American ideas," he said.  "The 'rich person' wouldn't want to treat me
as a servant.  And it isn't necessary that he should be very rich.  I
might not be able to get a big agency all at once.  I don't know that I
should want to, as long as there was enough work to do.  As far as your
money goes, Virginia, I shouldn't have any feeling about using it to
help run the show.  What I won't do is to live on it and do nothing.
There ought not to be any difficulty in finding a place that would give
us a good house, and enough money to run the stables on, and for my
personal expenses, which wouldn't be heavy, as we would stick there and
do our job.  It would be just what I hoped we should be doing at
Kencote from the dower-house.  With luck, if there happened to be a
vacancy anywhere, I could do better than that.  But that much, at any
rate, it won't be difficult to get, with a month or so to look round
in."

"Then all our difficulties are done away with!" she exclaimed.  "Oh,
Dick, why didn't you tell me before?  I thought, if your father held
out, we should have a terrible time, and you would be as obstinate as
possible about my money.  I'll tell you what I have.  I have----"

"I don't want to know what you have--yet," he interrupted her.  "I
didn't tell you before because I hoped it wouldn't come to that.  I
didn't want to face the necessity of giving up the service, and still
less of having to give up Kencote.  But now there's no help for it;
well, we must just let all that slide and make the best of things."

She still thought his scruples about using her money to do what he
wanted to do, and his absence of scruples about using it to do what he
didn't want, needed more explanation.  But she gave up that point as
being only one more of the inexplicable tortuosities of a man's sense
of honour.  She was only too glad that the question could be settled as
easily as that.  But Dick must have felt also that it needed more
explanation, for he said, "When I said that I had no feeling about
letting you help run the house--of course, I really hate it like
poison.  But there is just the difference."

"Oh, of course there is--all the difference in the world," she made
haste to reply, terrified lest they should be going to split, after
all, on this wretched simulacrum of a rock.  Then she had a bright
thought.  "But, Dick dear, you told me once how lucky your ancestors
had been in marrying heiresses--not that I'm much of an heiress!"

"You're not an heiress at all," he said impatiently.  "I suppose
everything you've got comes from--from that fellow.  Can't you see the
difference?  I hate touching his beastly money.  And I won't, longer
than I can help."

"But, Dick!" she exclaimed wonderingly.  "Didn't you know?  He never
left me a cent.  He hadn't a cent to leave."

He stared at her.  "Then where _did_ it come from?" he asked.

"Why, from pigs--from Chicago," she said, laughing.  "My father was of
an old family, my mother wasn't, and one of her brothers made a fortune
in a bacon factory.  Unfortunately, he did not make it until after she
was dead and I was married, or it might have stopped--oh, many things.
But he left it to me--the bacon factory--and I sold it for----  But you
won't let me tell you how much."

"Oh, you can tell me if it's yours," he said.

"Well, they told me I had been cheated.  But what was I to do with a
bacon factory?  And I sold it for as much as I wanted to live
comfortably on.  I sold it for a quarter of a million dollars."

Dick's stare was still in evidence.  "A quarter of a million!
Dollars!" he repeated.  "That's--what?  Fifty thousand pounds.  By the
Lord, Virginia, you're an heiress after all."



CHAPTER XII

THE HOUSE PARTY

"My dear Emmeline," said the Judge, "if I hadn't such a profound
contempt for Edward's intellect and for everything represented or
misrepresented by him, I could feel it in my heart to be very sorry for
him."

"My dear Herbert," replied Lady Birkett, "if you weren't as deeply
sorry for him as you actually are, you wouldn't be your own kind,
sympathetic, would-be-cynical self."

Sir Herbert and Lady Birkett with their two daughters and their
son-in-law had arrived at Kencote that afternoon to make part of the
company gathered there for the South Meadshire Hunt Ball.  Other guests
had arrived by a later train, but there had been an interval during
which the Judge had been closeted with his brother-in-law, the Squire,
and heard from him everything that had taken place within the past
month, which was the interval that had elapsed since Dick had abruptly
left Kencote.  He had now come into his wife's bedroom, where she was
in the later stages of dressing for dinner, although dinner was as yet
half an hour off.

"I know you want to tell me everything," she said, "and although the
lady who is doing my hair does not understand a word of English as yet,
you will probably be able to talk more freely if she is not present.
If you will come back in five minutes she will have gone to Angela."

So the Judge went into his dressing-room and, finding his clothes
already laid out, dressed and repaired again to his wife, not quite in
five minutes, but in little more than ten.

"I suppose you have heard all about it from Nina?" he said, taking up
the conversation where he had left it.  "Have you seen this Lady George
Dubec?"

"Yes," said Lady Birkett.  "She is not in the least what Edward
pictures her, according to Nina.  As far as her looks tell one
anything, I should say she was a charming woman."

"Edward paints her as a voluptuous siren of the ballet.  I suppose one
may put that down as one of his usual excursions of imagination."

"She certainly isn't that, and it was news to me that she had ever been
on the stage.  Poor Nina is very distressed about it.  She says that
they have had no word from Dick since he left the house, that Edward
has only heard through Humphrey that he has sent in his papers, but
even Humphrey doesn't know where he is or what he is doing."

"I had the same news from Edward, with the additions which might be
expected of him.  He takes it hard that after all he has done for Dick
he should be treated in that way, and I don't know that I shouldn't
take it hard in his place.  It makes me increasingly thankful that I
haven't any sons."

This was a polite little fiction on the Judge's part which his wife
respected.  It was the chief regret of his life that he had no son.

"Nina says he is fretting himself into a fever," said Lady Birkett,
"lest Dick should be raising money on his expectations."

"Fretting himself into a fever," replied the Judge, "is not the
expression I should use of Edward.  But he certainly feels deep
annoyance, and expresses it.  He had not thought of that when he
delivered his ultimatum, and, as he says, it would be the easiest
possible thing for Dick to do.  But I was mercifully able to relieve
his mind on that point.  I did not exactly tell him that Dick, although
he has more brains in his little finger than his father has in his
head, is so much like him that he would shrink from taking so sensible
a step as much as Edward himself would; but I gave him the gist of it.
My dear Emmeline, to men like Edward and Dick, land--landed
property--is sacrosanct.  Dick would give up _any_ woman rather than
embarrass an acre of Kencote.  Kencote is his religion, just as much as
it is Edward's.  Edward gained comfort from my assuring him of the
fact.  He said that Dick was behaving so badly that right and wrong
seemed to have no distinction for him for the time being, but probably
there were crimes that he would not commit, and this might be one of
them."

"I am glad you told him that," said Lady Birkett.  "I should think it
is probably true.  But what is he doing, or thinking of doing?"

"He may be thinking of doing a little honest work," said the Judge, who
had sat for some time in the House of Commons as a wicked Radical.  "I
put the suggestion to Edward for what it was worth, but he scouted it.
As he indicated, there is nothing that a man who has been through a
public school and university training, and has been for ten or fifteen
years in a position of responsibility in His Majesty's army, can do.
He has no money value whatever.  I did not contradict him."

"_She_ has money, I suppose," said Lady Birkett.

"She must have some.  But there again I felt able to reassure Edward.
I know the Dicks of the world pretty well.  They are not without their
merits, and there are certain things they don't do.  Of course, if he
were working, and making some sort of an income, with his prospects it
would be different."

Lady Birkett let this go by.  "Will Edward hold out, do you think?" she
asked.

"Well," said the Judge reflectively, "I'm bound to say it surprises me,
but there is every sign of his holding out till Doomsday, or, which
puts a more likely period to it, till something unforeseen happens."

"Till he hears that Dick has married her, for instance."

"There wouldn't be much object in his holding out after that.  But
there is seldom much object in Edward's divagations.  He is swayed by
his prejudices and by the impulses of the moment.  Still, I'll do him
justice: he is acting as sensibly as he knows how in this crisis.  I
believe he loves Dick better than any being upon earth, with the
possible exception of himself.  I really believe he loves him better
than himself.  Of course Dick represents Kencote, and the family, and
the line, and all the whole clamjamphrie, which partly accounts for it.
At any rate he is causing his stupid old self an infinity of worry and
annoyance, and all for the sake of what he considers a principle.  I
should say that Dick is acting foolishly in holding off altogether.  I
dare say Nina told you he has not answered a single letter.  It has
always struck me that he had Edward completely under his thumb, and I
should have said that he had only to hang on here and play his cards
well and Edward would have given way.  Now he is stiffening himself up."

"I suppose they are both stiffening themselves up."

"You put it in a nutshell.  Fancy Edward giving up his season's hunting
so that he shan't be obliged to set eyes on his aversion!  That
impresses me.  He is in dead earnest.  He will stop this marriage if he
can."

"But Dick is just as obstinate."

"It is the case of the irresistible body and the immovable force."

"Didn't you make any suggestion?"

"Yes, I did.  I suggested that he should stipulate for a year's delay.
I pointed out that if the lady was the bad character he supposes her to
be, Dick, with the sense he has inherited from his father--I said that,
God forgive me--would come to see it in that time."

"Did he take to the idea?"

"Not at all.  When did Edward ever take to any idea at first sight?
But it will sink in, and I shall give Tom Beach a hint to follow it up."

"I believe it will be the best way, and Nina is going to try and see
Dick when she comes up with me next week."

The Judge stroked his chin.  "H'm!" he said.  "I'm afraid Nina has very
little power to help matters."

"I am much more sorry for Nina than I am for Edward."

"Oh, so am I," interpolated the Judge.

"It is the thing I can least forgive Dick--his treating his mother
practically in the same way as Edward treats her--as if she were of no
account.  It doesn't promise well for the happiness of this Lady
George, or whoever he does come to marry."

"Let's hope for her own sake that she won't make Nina's mistake."

"You mean----"

"Oh, Nina laid herself down to be trampled on from the very first.  She
had plenty of character.  She could have stood out.  Now, whatever
character she has has been buried under a mountain weight of stolid
stupidity.  She can't call her soul her own."

"I think she would act--and against Edward--if she saw her way to act
effectively."

"She would be laying up a pretty bad time for herself if she did act
against Edward in any way."

"Oh, but she wouldn't mind that if she thought it was her duty."

"Well, she can try.  And she might put that idea of mine to Dick.  Let
him promise not to marry the lady for a year.  He has been a bachelor
for thirty-five or so, and he can stand another.  I believe it might be
the solution.  I suppose we had better be going down now."

It was an unusually large party for Kencote that assembled at dinner.
The Squire took in Lady Aldeburgh, who must have been five-and-forty if
a day, but either by a special dispensation of Providence, or by
mysterious arts marvellously concealed, was still enabled to present
herself to the world as eight-and-twenty.  The Squire did not quite
approve of this, but the illusion was so complete that he found himself
talking to her as if she were a girl.  She was beautifully gowned in
blue and silver, and wore the Aldeburgh diamonds, which sparkled on the
clear white skin of her neck, on her corsage, and in the smooth ripples
of her hair.  She was attractive enough to the eye to make it possible
for her to indulge in moods for the heightening of her charm.
Sometimes she was all childish gaiety and innocence; sometimes the deep
melancholy of her soul looked out of her violet eyes, which were so
good that they had to be given their chance; sometimes she was ice.
This evening she had begun on a pouting note, which she had often found
effective with elderly gentlemen, but finding the Squire impervious to
its appeal and plainly puzzled by it, remembering also that she had on
her diamonds, she had exchanged it for the air of a _grande dame_,
humanised by maternal instinct.

"Mother is telling Mr. Clinton how she has devoted herself to my
bringing-up," whispered Lady Susan to Humphrey.  "Is he likely to be
impressed at all, do you think?"

"He is likely to be bowled over by the result," replied Humphrey
gallantly, and Lady Susan, who was not so pretty as her mother, and
only slightly more sensible, told him not to be an idiot.

Of Lady Birkett's two daughters, Beatrice, the elder, had been
accompanied by her husband, Sir George Senhouse, the rising young
politician, whose handsome, intellectual head would have made him
remarked anywhere, but whose bent shoulders, grey temples, and
carelessness of dress made him seem older than his years.  The younger,
Angela, sat by the man she was going to marry, Hammond-Watt, the
youngest K.C. at the Bar.  The inclusion of these two men in the party
had caused Bobby Trench, Humphrey's friend, to ask if he had come to
Kencote for a ball or a political meeting, and to suggest the
advisability of clearing out again before he should be asked for a
speech.  This young gentleman, to whom the accident of birth had
brought the privilege of taking in his hostess, and whose other
neighbour had been Beatrice Birkett, asked himself before dinner was
over what he had come for, ball or no ball.  He was accustomed to shine
in smart country houses, and Kencote was not at all smart.  He had
found Mrs. Clinton unresponsive to his light chatter, and Angela
Birkett so taken up with the conversation of her K.C. that she had
little attention to spare for him.  George Senhouse, who sat opposite
to him, made no effort to follow his lead, and, in fact, ignored him as
far as possible, which secretly annoyed him.  Lady Aldeburgh, who would
have permitted him to flirt with her, was beyond his reach, and her
daughter was too much taken up with Humphrey to do more than exchange a
light sally or two with him.  He was reduced to eating his dinner,
which was a very good one, and, in large intervals of silence, to
gazing around upon the company and inwardly ejaculating, "Never again!"

When the ladies had left the room the Squire, with old-fashioned
courtesy, brought the decanters down to his end of the table and
engaged him in conversation about his father.

"I recollect very well," said the Squire, in his loud, confident tones,
"when Cane Chair won the Derby at thirty-to-one, by George!--dear me, I
should be afraid to say how many years ago.  He belonged to your
grandfather, and of course we were all on him.  Your father and I----"

"Oh yes, he's told me that story dozens of times," said Bobby Trench.

"Oh!" said the Squire, somewhat disconcerted.  "Yes, I suppose he has."

"We haven't heard it dozens of times," said George Senhouse.  "What was
the story, Mr. Clinton?"

The Squire turned towards him and his face lightened.  "I haven't
thought about it for years," he said.  "It's just come back to me.  Jim
Trench and I made up our minds we would go and see the horse run, so we
got out of a window at four o'clock in the morning--did I say it was
when we were at Cambridge together?--and drove tandem to Hitchin, where
we got a train to London.  I recollect we had sent on a change of
horses to--to some place half-way.  We slunk about amongst the crowd,
as Jim's father was particular--wouldn't bet even on his own horses and
all that sort of thing, and I don't blame him; I haven't had a bet on a
horse since I was in the Blues;--and he wouldn't have taken it well to
see Jim at Epsom when he ought to have been at Cambridge.  Well, we saw
the horse win, and, by George!  I should be afraid to say how much
money your father"--here he turned again towards Bobby Trench--"took
off the bookies."

"Pots," said Bobby laconically.  "But he lost it all over the Leger."

"Ah, well, the best thing he could have done," said the Squire.  "I had
put on a tenner, and both of us had had a little ready-money
transaction on the course after we'd seen the horse canter; so we went
back to London with a pocketful each, and by George!"--here the Squire
laughed his great laugh--"we'd dropped it all to a pack of
card-sharpers before we got there.  We were pretty green in those days,
and it was all our own fault, so we didn't quarrel with the
fellows--we'd tried to have them, and they'd had us instead.  We made
'em show us how it was done, so that we shouldn't be had again, and I
recollect they said we were a couple of good sportsmen and gave us a
sovereign or two back to get us to Cambridge, or we should have had to
walk there, by George!

"But that wasn't the end of it," proceeded the Squire after he had done
justice to his youthful memories with a hearty laugh.  "We celebrated
the occasion with a supper of the True Blue Club, in your father's
rooms--has he told you that?"

"I don't know whether he's ever told me the truth about it," admitted
Bobby Trench.

"Weil, it's a long time ago," said the Squire, "and we were all young
and foolish.  It was a lively supper, and your father went out for a
little fresh air.  They used to keep the college buttery stores in
barges on the river in those days, and after wandering about a bit and
climbing a few fences and gates for purposes of his own he found
himself on the St. John's barge.  Then he thought he'd like a bath, and
it didn't somehow occur to him to go in over the side, so he knocked a
hole in the bottom of the barge and sank her, by George!"

Here the Squire interrupted himself to laugh again.  "He had all the
bath he wanted, and the wonder is he wasn't drowned," he concluded.
"Well, we had some pretty lively times in those days, and it doesn't do
you any harm to recall them occasionally.  I should like to see your
father again.  It must be thirty years since I set eyes on him.  Wonder
if he'd care to come and shoot one of these days?"

Bobby Trench said he was sure he would be delighted, and undertook to
deliver a message, which he fulfilled later on by informing his father
that his one-time friend had developed into a regular old turnip-hoer,
and if he wanted to sit and listen to long-winded yarns about nothing
Kencote was the place to go to.



CHAPTER XIII

THE HUNT BALL

The Assembly Room of the Royal Hotel at Bathgate had been the scene of
many fashionable gatherings in days gone by, when London had not been
so easy of access, and the rank and fashion of South Meadshire had been
wont to meet there for their mutual enjoyment, on nights when the moon
was round and roads not too deep in mire.  The Regent had once shown
his resplendent presence there, having been entertained at Kencote by
Beau Clinton, who hated the place and spent its revenues in London, but
had furbished it up at rare expense--to the tradesmen who did the
work--for the reception of his royal patron.  The Prince had expressed
himself pleased with what had been done, and told his host that it was
surprising what you could do with a damned dull hole like that when you
tried; but he had not repeated his visit, and Beau Clinton's
extravagance had soon after been redeemed by his brother the merchant,
who succeeded him as Squire of Kencote, and just in time, or there
would have been nothing to succeed to.

The royal visit to the Assembly at Bathgate was still to be recalled by
the lustre chandelier in the middle of the room which was surmounted by
the Prince of Wales's feathers.  The landlord of those days had
followed the example of Beau Clinton, except in the matter of
forgetting to pay his tradespeople, and spent a large sum in decorating
the room; and he thought himself well repaid when the princely patron
of the arts had remarked that it was "devilish chaste."  It had hardly
been touched since.  The red silk panels on the walls were faded, and
here and there frayed, and the white paint which surrounded them was
much the worse for wear.  Of the Sheraton settees that had once
surrounded the walls only one remained, on the daïs at the end of the
room.  It was that on which the royal form had reposed, and the present
landlord had refused, it was reported, a large sum for it.  There was a
musicians' gallery at the opposite end of the room, and sconces for
candles between the panels.  It was still a handsome room, and on the
annual occasion of the South Meadshire Hunt Ball, its shabbiness
disguised with flowers, it had quite an air.  But it was small for
these latter days, and, for the dancers, apt to be inconveniently
crowded.  Bobby Trench, after he had had his toes trodden on and his
shirt-front crumpled, inwardly repeated his ejaculations of
dinner-time, "Never again!"

But he was, fortunately, in a minority.  The bulk of the healthy
open-air-looking young men and the pretty country-bred girls who footed
it to the strains of a brisk and enlivening string band were not so
particular as he.  They smiled at the mishaps of others and laughed at
their own, and enjoyed themselves thoroughly, as young men and women do
who are not surfeited with pleasure.  Their elders looked on from the
rout seats placed round the room, or from their place of vantage on the
daïs, and in the intervals of the babel of talk--for nearly all of them
knew one another and had a great deal to say--thought of their own
young days and were pleased to see their pleasure repeated by their
sons and daughters.  There is no ball like a country ball, not too
overwhelmingly invaded from London or elsewhere.  It has the essence of
sociability, where people meet who do not meet too often, and there is
something for the young ones to do and the old ones to look on at.  If
the Bobby Trenches who happen upon it compare it unfavourably with more
splendid entertainments, it is to be doubted if those entertainments
are so much enjoyed by those who take part in them, except perhaps by
the novices, to whom all gaiety is glamour.

The Squire, sitting on the daïs as became a man of his position in the
county, scanned the assembly after having conducted Lady Aldeburgh
through the mazes of the opening quadrille, and the frown which had
left his face for the past few hours, but had sat there almost
invariably during the past month, appeared again.  Lady Aldeburgh was
talking to old Lord Meadshire, his kinsman, who in spite of age and
chronic asthma was still an inveterate frequenter of local festivities,
and he had a moment's interval in which his trouble rolled back upon
him.  He had had a dim hope that Dick, who for the first time in his
life, except when he was in South Africa, had not come home for
Christmas, might show up at Bathgate for this occasion.  It had been a
very small hope, for nothing had been heard from him, and he had even
left them to take it for granted that he had put off Captain Vernon,
the friend whom he had asked to stay at Kencote for the balls.  And,
furthermore, if he should be there it would be as a guest of Lady
George Dubec, who was known still to be at Blaythorn.  But even that
disagreeable condition did not entirely do away with the Squire's
desire to set eyes on his son, for whose presence he longed more and
more as the days went on.  But there was no Dick to be seen amongst the
red-coated men in the room, and as yet there was no Lady George Dubec.

But as he looked over the moving crowd of dancers, and the bordering
rows of men and matrons sitting and standing, his bushy brows
contracted still more, for he saw her come in beneath the musicians'
gallery at the other end of the hall with Miss Dexter, and, which
caused him still further disquietude, saw her instantly surrounded by a
crowd of men.  He turned his head away with an impatient shrug and
broke into the conversation between Lady Aldeburgh and Lord Meadshire.
But this did not save him, for Lord Meadshire, whose old twinkling eyes
were everywhere, said in his low husky voice, "There's the lady I met
driving yesterday.  Tell me who she is, my dear Edward, and relieve my
curiosity."

The Squire, mumbling inaudibly, got up from his seat and, turning his
back upon the hall, entered into a conversation with the wife of the
Master of the South Meadshire, whom he disliked, but who happened to be
the only lady disengaged at the moment.  But she said, when she had
answered his first remark, "There is Lady George.  She looks handsomer
than ever"; and turning his back again he went out into a room where
there was a buffet and swallowed a glass of champagne, although he knew
that a tablespoonful would have brought him discomfort.

Virginia was dressed in a gown of shimmering blue green which had the
effect of moonlight.  She had a row of turquoises round her slim neck.
Her colour was higher than usual and her eyes sparkled.  No one of
those who pressed round her admiring her beauty and gay charm could
have guessed that it was excitement of no pleasurable sort that brought
the light to her eyes and the laughter to her lips.  But Miss Dexter,
standing demurely by her side, dressed in black, her light hair combed
unbecomingly back from her broad forehead, and receiving with
equanimity the crumbs of invitation that fell from her friend's richly
spread table, knew with what shrinking Virginia had brought herself to
make her appearance here.  Both of them knew very well why the Squire
had no more been seen in the hunting field since that first day; both
of them had been aware of him the moment they had entered the room, had
seen his movements, and interpreted them correctly.

Virginia was soon dancing with Bobby Trench, who had drawn her
impatiently away from her suitors, telling her that the valse was half
over and that she could fill up her card later.

"Jove!" he said, when they had danced once round the room in silence,
"it's a relief to come across a friend amongst all these clodhoppers.
How on earth do you find yourself here?"

"I'm living near here at present," she said.  "How do you?"

"Oh, I'm a visitor--a non-paying guest in a house like a Hydropathic
Establishment, or what I imagine one to be like.  Fine house, but mixed
company."

"Then if you are a guest you ought not to say so," said Virginia, whose
thoughts so ran on Kencote that it was the first house that occurred to
her as possibly affording him hospitality.

"Oh, they're all right, really," he said, "only they're the sort of
people who take root in the country and grow there, like
cabbages--except the chap who asked me.  He's one of the sons, and he'd
smarten 'em up if he had his way.  Humphrey Clinton!  Do you know him?"

"No," said Virginia.  "Well, yes, I've met him in London.  I don't like
him."

"Eh?  Why not?  I'll tell him."

"Very well.  Let's go and sit down.  The room is too crowded."

But Bobby Trench, who saw the end of the dance in sight, and knew that
directly Virginia sat down other men would come up to her, continued to
dance.  "I haven't bumped you yet," he said.  "We'll steer through
somehow.  Are you going to Kemsale on Monday?"

"No," said Virginia, and left off dancing, having come to the end of
the room, where Miss Dexter was still standing.  As her partner had
foreseen, she was immediately besieged again, and as for some, to him,
unaccountable reason, she refused to book another engagement with him,
he went away and left her in a huff.

He came across Humphrey, who was partnerless for the moment.  "Let's go
and get a drink," he said.  "I'm dry.  I say, you didn't tell me that
Virginia Dubec lived in these parts."

"She doesn't," replied Humphrey as they made their way towards the room
with the buffet.  "She has taken a house here for a few months.  My
brother Dick got it for her."

"Oh, I thought she said she didn't know your people.  Where is your
brother, by the by?"

Humphrey considered for a moment as to whether he should enlighten him
as to the state of the case, and decided not to, but wished almost
immediately that he had, for as they went into the refreshment-room
they met his father coming out, and Bobby Trench, who always spoke what
was passing through his mind to the nearest available person, said,
"I've found a friend, Mr. Clinton--Lady George Dubec.  Didn't know she
was in your part of the country."

The Squire scowled at him, and went out of the room without a word.

"Nice manners!" commented Bobby Trench to himself.

"The fact is," said Humphrey, "that the governor won't know the lady."

"Why not?  What's the matter with her?" asked his friend.  "I should
have thought she'd have been a godsend in a place like this.  I thought
you said your brother got her down here."

"So he did," said Humphrey, making a clean breast of it.  "That's what
the row's about.  Governor wouldn't have anything to do with her, and
so Dick has retired from the scene for a time.  But don't say anything
about it, old chap.  Little family disturbance we don't want to go any
further."

"Course not," said Bobby Trench, delighted to get hold of the end of a
piece of gossip and determined to draw out the rest as soon as
possible.  "So that's how the land lies, is it?  Now I see why she
didn't want to have any more truck with this engaging youth.  Well,
your brother's taste is to be commended.  Why does your father object
to her?"

"Oh, I don't know.  Old-fashioned prejudice, I suppose; and he knew
George Dubec."

"And he was a daisy, from all accounts.  Come on, we'd better be
getting back."

Old Lord Meadshire, who had been Lord-Lieutenant of the county from
which his title came for over forty years, and took an almost fatherly
interest in its inhabitants, learnt from Mrs. Graham who the unknown
lady was.

"Oh, I can tell you all about her," she said.  "She's making a fine
disturbance in this little duck-pond."

"Well, she's pretty enough to make a disturbance anywhere," said the
old lord, whose kindly eye for youth and beauty was not dimmed by his
eighty years.  "And if there is anything going on, I know I can trust
you to tell me all about it."

"There it is again," replied Mrs. Graham.  "I'm getting the reputation
of a tale-bearer, and there's nothing I hate more.  Still, I think
_you_ ought to know."  And she told him who Virginia was, and what was
happening because she was what she was.

The old man grew rather serious as the story was unfolded to him.
"Edward Clinton was always headstrong," he said, "but it's unlike him
to quarrel with Dick.  I think he ought to have waited to see what she
was like first."

"Of course he ought," said Mrs. Graham.  "I've no patience with him.
He had the impudence to take me to task for asking her to dinner, and
Jim and Cicely to meet her.  But he didn't get much change out of me."

"You told him what you thought about him--what?"

"I told him what I thought about her, and left him to infer the rest.
There's nothing wrong about her, if she did marry Lord George Dubec,
and all the rest of it.  I like her, and I told him so.  And if I can't
ask my own son and daughter-in-law to meet whom I like in my own house
without being hauled over the coals by Mr. Clinton--well, he'll be
expecting me to ask him what I'm to wear next."

"He couldn't improve on that," said Lord Meadshire, with an
appreciative glance at her pretty gown of pale blue silk under brown
net.

"Thank you," returned Mrs. Graham.  "I hate clothes, but I can get
myself up if I'm flattered enough beforehand.  Cicely does that for me.
I've no complaint to make of her as a daughter-in-law."

"Well, you had better introduce me to Lady George," said Lord
Meadshire.  "She must be asked to Kemsale on Monday.  And I'll find an
opportunity of dropping a word of common sense into Edward's ear, eh?"

"It will go out at the other.  There's nothing to stop it," said Mrs.
Graham.  "But it will be a good thing to show him he's not going to
have it all his own way."

The introduction was duly made, and Virginia, palpitating under her air
of assured ease, talked to him for some little time, sitting with him
on the daïs.  She knew that this kind old man who chatted pleasantly
with her, making feeble little jokes in his asthmatic voice, which his
eyes, plainly admiring her, asked her to smile at, was the most
important of all Dick's relations, besides being the most important man
in the county, and that if she could win him to like her his influence
might well avail to ease her lover's path.  That he did like her and
was prepared to accept her in friendly wise as a neighbour was plain.
But she had a moment of fright when he said, "We are dancing at Kemsale
on Monday night.  You must come.  Where is Eleanor, I wonder?"  And he
looked round for Lady Kemsale, his widowed daughter-in-law, who kept
house for him.

"I am not sure," she said hurriedly.  She did not know in the least how
much he knew, or whether he knew anything.  "Captain Clinton found me
my house here, but----"  She did not know how to go on, and feared she
had already said too much in her confusion, but he turned towards her.

"Oh, I know, I know," he said kindly, and then beckoned to his
daughter-in-law, a stout, rather severe-looking lady in steely grey,
who greeted Virginia without smiling and gave the required invitation
rather coldly.

"I will send you a card," she said, "and please bring any friends you
may have with you."

Lady Kemsale had just heard the story of his troubles from the Squire,
who had found in her a sympathetic listener, and she had heard that
Virginia had once danced on the stage.  She would have preferred to
have ignored her, but Lord Meadshire's commands must be obeyed, and
even as she obeyed them and gave the invitation her sympathy with the
Squire's troubles began to wane and she said to herself that he must
have made a mistake.  There was nothing of the stage-charmer about this
woman, and Lady Kemsale thought she knew all about that class of
temptress, for her own nephew had recently married one of them.  She
preserved her stately, unsmiling air as she turned away, but she was
already softened, if Virginia had only known it.

But Virginia's sensibilities had already taken renewed fright at her
manner, and in a way the exhibition of which now somewhat disturbed old
Lord Meadshire.  She rose to her feet, and her air was no less stately
than that of Lady Kemsale.  "It is very kind of you to ask me to your
house," she said, "but I think under the present circumstances I would
rather not come."  Then she made him a bow and stepped off the daïs,
and was immediately seized by her partner of the dance that was then in
progress.  She was angry, but did not speak to him until they had
circled the room twice.  She was willing to pay court to the people
amongst whom she was going to marry if they treated her properly.  She
was willing to do even more than that for Dick's sake, and to run the
risk of slights, and she had done so by staying at Blaythorn, as he had
asked her to do, and by coming here to-night.  But she was not going to
put up with slights from women who chose to treat her as of no account
and as if she were anxious at all costs to obtain their countenance.
There might be women who would be glad to gain entrance to a house like
Kemsale even after such an invitation as Lady Kemsale had given her,
but she was not one of them.  The invitation, if it came after what she
had said to Lord Meadshire, should be refused.  The woman whom Dick was
going to marry would not be recognised on those terms.  She would wait
until she could go to Kemsale as an equal, and if that time never came
she would not go at all.  In the meantime she was spending a very
wearing evening, and had an impulse to cut it all short and summon Miss
Dexter to accompany her home.  But the thought that she was going
through it for Dick's sake sustained her, and she said to herself that
since she had wrought up her courage to come she would not run away.

The person who did run away, before the dancing was half over, was the
Squire.  He could stand it no longer.  He could not remain in the
refreshment-room all the evening, and, as he hated cards, the solace of
the tables, set out quite in old Assembly-room style in another room,
did not avail him.  If he led out a dowager to take his part in a
square dance there was always the haunting fear that Virginia might be
brought into the same set, and if he sat and looked on at the round
dances the hateful sight of her dark head and slender form was always
before him.  Moreover, he had not yet talked to any one who had not
either made some remark about her or asked him why Dick was not there,
or, worse still, maintained an ominous silence on the subject of both
of them, showing plainly that he or she was aware of the disturbance in
his household, which galled him exceedingly, although to sympathetic
and assumedly secret ears like those of Lady Kemsale he was ready to
talk his fill, and gain relief from doing so.  He could not keep what
he felt out of his face, and he saw people looking at him with furtive
amusement as he sat there glowering at the assembly, or trying his best
to talk as if he had nothing on his mind.  He felt instinctively that
the story was being put all about the room, as indeed it was, for
rumour was already in the air, and had gained impulse by Dick's absence
and his own behaviour.

And then Lord Meadshire--Cousin Humphrey, as he had called him ever
since he was a child, and called him still--had talked to him about
Dick and about Virginia, coupling their names together, as he
disgustedly said to himself, showing plainly that he knew what was on
foot, and inviting confidences if the Squire felt disposed to give
them.  He did not feel so disposed.  He was angry with his kinsman for
so publicly giving his countenance to Virginia, flouting him in the
face--so he felt it--making it appear as if he, in the place where he
had all his life cut a distinguished figure, and his wishes, were not
worth regarding.  "I don't know the lady and don't want to," he said,
one might say petulantly.  "And as for Dick--she wanted to come here
and he told her of a house.  Considering he has scarcely been near the
place since she came, it's most annoying to hear him talked about as if
there was something between them.  I hope you'll do what you can to
contradict that report.  You can do a lot if you want to."

Lord Meadshire glanced at him quizzically.  He knew well enough his
ostrich-like habit of burying one fact in a Sahara of words and leaving
a dozen for all the world to see.  "Come now, my dear Edward," he said
persuasively, "why not make friends with the lady?  You will find her
everything she ought to be, and a charming woman into the bargain.  If
Dick is a little struck with her charms, I don't wonder at it, and
there's nothing to be alarmed at.  The best thing you can do is to keep
your eye on her while he is away."

But this was a little too much.  Cousin Humphrey had been his boyhood's
idol, and was the only member left of an older generation of his family
with the exception of Aunt Laura, but if he thought that he could treat
him as an obstinate child who was to be coaxed into good behaviour, he
was mistaken.  "Nothing will induce me to make friends with her or to
recognise her in any way," he said, with decision.  "Where's Nina?  I'm
going home.  I can't stand this any longer."

Mrs. Clinton, who was enjoying herself in a quiet way, talking to
people whom she seldom saw, and infinitely relieved in her mind to find
Virginia what she was, and not what she had feared she might be, even a
little fascinated by her grace and beauty, and watching her all the
time even when she was talking, was disagreeably surprised at the curt
request of her lord and master that she should instantly accompany him
home.  "But, Edward!" she exclaimed, "we have not ordered the carriage
until one o'clock, and it is not yet eleven.  Aren't you well?"

"We can get a fly," snapped the Squire.  "Yes, I'm quite well.  But I
can't put up with any more of this."

Still she hesitated.  There were her guests to think of.  How could she
go off and leave them?

"If you like I will go home with Uncle Edward," said Angela Senhouse,
to whom she had been talking.  "I think it would make people uneasy if
you were to go."  She looked at the Squire with her calm, rather cold
eyes, and he suddenly grew ashamed of himself.  "I'll get a fly and go
by myself.  You had better stay here, Nina."  And he took himself off
without further ado.



CHAPTER XIV

A SHOOT

On the morning after the Hunt Ball the Clinton twins rose, as usual
with them in the winter, about half-past eight o'clock.  In the summer
they were up and out of doors at all sorts of unorthodox hours, but in
the cold long nights they slept like young hibernating animals,
snuggling amongst their warm coverings, and occasionally having to be
extricated by all the powers of persuasion, moral and physical,
possessed by Miss Bird.  Miss Bird had now departed and the new
governess had not yet arrived, so they were their own mistresses within
limits, and responsible for their own tidy and punctual appearance at
the breakfast-table.

Hannah, the schoolroom maid, brought in their tea and bread and butter
at eight o'clock, drew up their blinds, set out their bath (for there
were no bathrooms at Kencote), and then applied herself to the task of
arousing them.  "Now, Miss Joan and Miss Nancy," she said in a loud,
confident voice, as if she had only to tell them to get up and they
would get up immediately.  "I've brought your 'ot water.  Miss Joan!
Miss Nancy!  Eight o'clock!  Time to get up!  Miss Joan!  Miss Nancy!"

Joan stirred, opened her eyes, closed them again, turned over and
buried herself in the bedclothes again.  "Now, Miss Joan," said Hannah,
quick to pursue her advantage, "don't go dropping off to sleep again.
'Ere's yer tea all ready and yer 'ot water gitting cold.  Miss Nancy!
Time to get up!"

"Go away," said Joan in a sleepy voice.  "I'm awake."

"Yes, and you'll be asleep again in a minute if you don't set up and
drink yer tea.  Now, Miss Joan, you don't want me to stand 'ere all the
morning wasting me time with the whole 'ouse full and me wanted to
'elp."

"Then go and 'elp, and don't bother," replied Joan sleepily.

"Miss Nancy!" cried Hannah.  "I know you ain't asleep.  Set up and
drink yer tea.  Miss Nancy!  Lor'! the trouble I 'ave now Miss Bird's
gone, and only me to see that everything's right up 'ere and you ain't
late downstairs, which you know I should be blamed and not you if you
wasn't down in time."

This roused Joan, who opened her eyes again and said, "It's nothing to
do with you whether we're late or not.  You're always full of your own
importance.  I'm quite awake now and you can clear out," and she sat up
in bed, and took her cup from the table between the two beds.

"Not till Miss Nancy sets up I won't," said Hannah.  "I know she's
awake and it's only contrariness as makes her pretend not to be."

"Nancy, do sit up and let her go," entreated Joan, "or she'll go on
jabbering like a monkey for hours.  My nerves won't stand it at this
time of the morning."

Nancy sat up suddenly and reached for her cup.  "Depart, minion!" she
commanded.

"Now you won't go to sleep again after you've 'ad yer tea," said
Hannah.  "I shall come back in 'alf an hour to do yer 'airs, and if you
ain't up and ready for me, I shall acquaint Mrs. Clinton, for reelly
the trouble I 'ave in this very room every morning as sure as the sun
rises, no young ladies as calls theirselves young ladies wouldn't
be'ave so."

"Parse that sentence," said Nancy, and Hannah, with a toss of the head,
left the room.

"Hannah's getting above herself," said Joan.  "She seems to think now
Starling's gone she's been promoted to her place."

"We'll let her go a little further," said Nancy, "and then we'll pull
her off her perch.  What's the weather like?  Not raining, is it?  I
say, we ought to have some fun to-day, Joan.  Who shall you stand with?"

The Kencote coverts were to be shot over that day, and the twins were
allowed to accompany the guns on such occasions as these.

"I don't know; Uncle Herbert, I think.  He's the most amusing."

"Joan, you know quite well I bagged Uncle Herbert in the schoolroom
yesterday," said Nancy.

"Did you?  I'd forgotten.  You can have him in the morning and I'll go
with him in the afternoon.  I think I shall go with Bobby Trench, and
see if he's as clever as he thinks he is."

"You can't, my dear; you're too old.  It would be considered forward.
Besides, he's an awful little ass."

"That's what I wanted to convey to him.  But I think I'll go with
Humphrey.  He hasn't tipped us for ages, and _one_ of us must attend to
business."

"You can't do that either.  He'll want that simpering Lady Susan.
Joan, I believe there's more in that than meets the eye."

"Penny, please," said Joan, holding out her hand.  "You said you would
if I caught you saying that again."

"All right, when I get up.  I forgot.  Why don't you go with George
Senhouse?"

"He's too serious, and this is a holiday.  Besides, he doesn't hit
them.  I hate bloodshed, but I like to see _something_ done.  I wish
dear old Dick were here.  He'd bowl them over all right."

"I wonder," said Nancy, "when all that bother is going to stop.  Dear
papa will have to give way in the end, you know.  He might just as well
do it now and save time."

"If I were Dick I should just marry her and let him make the best of
it.  I wish he'd do something.  Father has really been too tiresome for
words for the last month.  If you and I behaved like he does we should
be sent to bed, and serve us right.  I wonder what happened last night.
I expect she was at the ball."

"He wouldn't take any notice of her if she was.  I wish we could set
eyes on her.  I should like to see what she's really like."

"Cicely says she's very pretty."

"Well, I suppose she'd have to be that if Dick wants to marry her.
Aren't men funny about women, Joan?  Now I suppose you'd call that
silly little Bobby Trench good-looking, but I should no more want to
marry him than the ugliest man in the world."

"That isn't much of a discovery.  You needn't have lived very long to
find out that women are much more sensible than men."

With this aphorism Joan rose and proceeded to her toilette, and Nancy,
after indulging in another short nap, followed her example.

The Squire, refreshed by his night's slumber, rose determined to do his
duty by his guests and put from him for the day all thoughts of Lady
George Dubec and, what was more difficult, of his son Dick.  Mrs.
Clinton, when she had returned from the ball, very late, had found him
in a deep sleep in the great canopied bed which she had shared with him
for so many years.  He had not awakened during her long muffled process
of undressing, nor when she slipped, careful to make no noise and as
little movement as possible, into bed by his side.  But before she
slept he had turned over and, half asleep still, murmured, "Good-night,
Nina.  God bless you."  It had been his nightly farewell of her for
nearly forty years, uttered often with no special meaning, sometimes
even without interval at the end of some unreasonable expression of
annoyance.  But last night the words had come softly and
affectionately, as if, returning for a moment from the pleasant land of
oblivion, where he had been wandering and to which he was immediately
returning, he had been glad to find her waiting for him, his close
companion, valued above others.  She had put her hand softly on to his,
and lain for a long time, in the deep silence of the night, in that
light contact.

The common life of the household at Kencote began with family prayers
at a quarter-past nine, at which, on this Saturday morning, Lady
Aldeburgh and her daughter, Sir Herbert Birkett, Bobby Trench, and
Humphrey failed to put in an appearance.  The Judge had been up at
seven, reading in his bedroom, and appeared with the breakfast dishes,
but Humphrey did not arrive until five minutes later, and the presence
of guests did not avert from him the invariable rebuke of
unpunctuality.  "I wish you'd manage to get up in decent time when
you're here," said the Squire.  "Where's young Trench?"

"In his bedroom, I suppose," replied Humphrey coolly, inspecting the
dishes on the side-table.

The Squire said nothing further, but when he, with most of the party,
was leaving the room half an hour later, and met Bobby Trench, to whom
the morning light had apparently brought a renewal of self-content,
entering it, he greeted him with an earnest enquiry after his health.

"Oh, I'm as bobbish as possible, thank you," replied Bobby Trench
brightly.

"I'm glad of that," said the Squire, passing on.  "I thought as you
didn't come down at the proper time you must have been feeling poorly."

Bobby Trench stared at his broad retreating back in amazement.  "Lor'!
What a house!" was his inward exclamation, as he went on into the
dining-room.

Humphrey, who was deliberate in his meals, was still at the table, and
Joan was leaning on the back of his chair.  She was making some
suggestion as to pecuniary profit to herself and Nancy from the day's
sport, which yet should not amount to a bet.

"Hullo, old man!" said Humphrey.  "Joan, ring the bell.  Everything
must be cold by this time."

Joan hesitated.  Such a proceeding was unheard of at Kencote, where, if
people came down late for breakfast, they must expect it to be cold.
But Bobby Trench politely anticipated her.  "Don't you trouble, Miss
Joan," he said, going to the bell himself.  "I say, are you going to
stand with me to-day and see me shoot?"

If Nancy had been there to support her she would have asked innocently,
"Can you shoot?" for although she liked being addressed as "Miss Joan,"
she did not like Bobby Trench's free and easy air.  But maiden modesty
replied for her, "I think I'm going with Humphrey."

"She wants me to give her a shilling for every bird I miss, and she'll
give me sixpence for every one I knock over.  How does that strike you
for a soft thing?"

A footman came in at that moment, and looked surprised at the order
that was given him.

"Do you want heverythink cooked, sir, or only some fresh tea?" he
asked, with a glance at the table where the lamps were still sizzling
under the hot dishes.

"We live a life of rigid punctuality in this house," Humphrey
apologised, when he had retired with his order.  "They don't understand
renewing the supplies."

"Sorry to give so much trouble," replied Bobby Trench, "but I'm pretty
peckish, to tell you the truth.  Dancing always gives me a twist.  Look
here, Miss Joan, I'll bet you half a dozen pair of gloves I kill more
birds than Humphrey."

"Take him, Joan; it's a certainty," said Humphrey.

Joan was secretly enchanted at being treated as of a glovable age, but
she answered primly, "Thank you, Mr. Trench, I'm not allowed to bet."

"Oh, ho!" jeered Humphrey.  "What about that shilling you and Nancy got
from me?"

"Dick said we ought not to have done it, and we weren't to do it any
more," said Joan.

Humphrey was silent.  Bobby Trench, who was good-natured enough to take
pleasure in the innocent conversation of extreme feminine youth,
especially when it was allied to beauty, as in the case of the twins,
said, "Well, of course, you must always do what you're told, mustn't
you?  But I'll tell you what, we won't call it a bet, but if I don't
kill more birds than Humphrey I'll give you six pairs of gloves--see?
Only you'll have to stand by me half the time and him half the time, to
count."

"Oh, she doesn't want gloves," said Humphrey, with some approach to his
father's manner.  "Cut along upstairs, Joan, or you'll have Miss Bird
after you."

"Miss Bird has departed," said Joan, but she went out of the room,
somewhat relieved at the conclusion of what might have developed into
an embarrassing episode.

At half-past ten the big shooting-brake appeared at the door, and the
whole party, men and women, got into it, with the exception of Mrs.
Clinton, and Lady Aldeburgh and her daughter, who had not yet made an
appearance.  The Squire had been extremely annoyed at this.  "She's as
strong as a horse," he had said of his kinsman's wife, "and when she
stays in other people's houses she ought to keep their hours.  And as
for the girl, if she can't get up to breakfast after a ball, she
oughtn't to go to balls.  I'll tell you what, Nina, I'm hanged if I'm
going to keep the whole party waiting for them.  We start at half-past
ten sharp, and if you can't rout 'em out by then, you must wait and
bring 'em on afterwards in the carriage."

Mrs. Clinton had not felt equal to the task of routing out her guests,
and the brake had driven off, within three minutes of the half-hour,
without them.

It was a deliciously mild morning.  The sun, shining palely in a sky of
misty blue, gave it an illusive air of spring; blackbirds whistled in
the copses; the maze of tree-twigs in distant woods showed purple
against the wet green of the meadows; the air was virginally fresh, and
had the fragrance of rich moist earth and a hint of wood smoke.  Brown
beech leaves still clung to the hedges on either side of the deep muddy
country lanes, and blackberries, saturated with dew, on the brambles.

Servants and dogs and guns had been sent on a quarter of an hour
before.  The Squire, on these important occasions, when he took the
cream of his preserves and began at an outlying wood, to finish up just
before dark with the home coverts, liked to drive up to the place
appointed and find everything ready for an immediate start.  Beaters
must be in place ready for the whistle on the instant.  Guns must be
posted for the first drive with no delay whatever.  There was a lot to
get through before dusk, and no time must be wasted.  If those who were
asked to shoot at Kencote on the big days did their parts, he--and
Dick--and the keepers would do theirs and show them as pretty a
succession of drives, with an occasional walk over stubble or a field
of roots to vary the proceedings, as they would get anywhere in
England.  Only there must be no dawdling, and the women who were
permitted to look on must subordinate their uncontrolled natures to the
business in hand.

All the arrangements necessary to make the machinery run without a
hitch, so that none of the full day's programme should be hurried,
meant a great deal of preliminary consultation and adjustment.  Bunch,
the head-keeper, admirable in his capacity for generalling his little
army of beaters and for faithfully carrying out instructions, had no
initiative of his own, and the Squire had always relied upon Dick--and
relied on him much more than he knew--for arranging the plan of
campaign.  This time he had had to do it alone, with much consequent
irritation to himself and bewilderment and head-scratching to honest,
velveteen-clad Bunch.  And he had relied on Dick's coolness--also much
more than he knew--to get the guns posted expeditiously and with as
little friction of talk and enquiry as possible.  To-day he would have
to rely on Humphrey to help him, and Humphrey was as yet untried in
this capacity.  He was anxious and worried as he drove, sitting on the
high box-seat beside his coachman, and itching to handle his horses
himself as he always did except on shooting days, when he wanted to
save his hands.  Usually he sat behind, but this morning he felt he
could not take his part in the talk and laughter that went on in the
body of the brake.  He was not at all sure how the day would turn out.
There were several points at which a hitch might occur.  Following a
light suggestion of Dick's, he had arranged to take High Beach Wood the
opposite way to that in which it had always been taken, and he was not
at all sure that Bunch had fully understood his testily given
instructions--or, indeed, that he fully understood them himself.  Nor
was he quite certain of his guns, and he wanted to kill a respectable
head of game.  The two local notabilities whom he had invited, old Mr.
Wilkinson, of Birfield, and Colonel Stacey, who lived in a villa in
Bathgate, and shot steadily through the season within a radius of forty
miles, he could rely on.  Humphrey was a good shot, though not so good
as Dick.  Sir Herbert Birkett was surprisingly good, for a Londoner, on
his day, but when it wasn't his day he was surprisingly bad, and didn't
even care enough about it to make the usual lamentations.  George
Senhouse enjoyed it thoroughly, but never touched a feather.
Hammond-Watt and Bobby Trench he knew nothing whatever about, but it
was unlikely that either of them would turn out above the average.  He
could only hope that they would not turn out very much worse.  At any
rate, at the best, it was not a team that could be expected to create a
record in the Kencote preserves, and at the worst might bring disgrace
on them.

He could not help thinking of these things and worrying about them.  If
Dick had been there he would have calmed those uneasy tremors.  He
would have told him that the birds would show up well, even if the guns
didn't, that the experts were at least equal to the duffers and the
doubtfuls, putting everything in a hopeful light, not anticipating any
possible hitch, but quite ready to deal with it if it should come.
Dick never lost sight of the fact that they were out for a day's sport;
the Squire fussed and worried so about trifles that all such sense of
pleasure was apt to leave him.  He had an uneasy, half-defined feeling
that his temperament caused him to err in this way, and it made him
want Dick, who could relieve him of the weight of small anxieties, all
the more.  He was learning how much he had been wont to depend on his
son.  One of the impulses of appeal and affection, which continually
shot across the stiff web of his obstinate determination, came to him
now, and if Dick could have appeared at that moment he would have
welcomed him with open arms, and given way in everything.  But Dick was
away, he did not know where, and with a sigh he resigned himself to the
prospect of a day of anxiety.

They came to an open gate by the roadside and drove in through a strip
of wood until they came to an open space in front of a keeper's
cottage.  It stood, backed by trees, facing a wide sloping meadow,
which was completely surrounded by a wood of oak and beech, intermixed
with spruce and some firs.  The little group of loaders with their
masters' guns and cartridge-bags stood ready by the palings, the glossy
coated retrievers waved welcoming tails as the brake drove up, the
hoof-beats of the horses muffled on the thick grass.  The beaters were
already in line at the other end of the wood, far out of sight, waiting
for Bunch's signal.  There was nothing to do but place the guns and
prepare for the stream of pheasants which would presently begin to fly
over them.  Except that neither Mr. Wilkinson nor Colonel Stacey had
yet arrived.

It was the first check to the prompt orderly proceedings of the day.
The Squire, taking his gun from the hands of an under-keeper and
filling the pockets of his wide shooting-jacket with cartridges, gave
vent to a forcible expression of irritation.  "Now there we are, held
back at the very start!" he exclaimed.  "'Pon my word, it's too bad of
those fellows.  I told 'em eleven o'clock sharp, and they've shot here
dozens of times before and know the place as well as I do."

"It's only just five minutes to eleven," said Humphrey, and as he spoke
Mr. Wilkinson's dog-cart drove in from the wood, bringing himself and
Colonel Stacey, all ready for immediate business.  Before eleven
o'clock struck from the cuckoo-clock in the keeper's kitchen the whole
party was walking down the meadow to line the borders of the wood and
do what execution they might.

Humphrey showed himself efficient in translating the Squire's
intentions as to the placing of the guns, from the notes he had jotted
down on a sheet of letter paper.  He knew that inextricable confusion
would arise later if those notes were to be followed literally, but
trusted to be able to arrange things by word of mouth when the time
came, as most people were content to do.

So they stood and waited.  From the keeper's cottage up the hill you
could have seen the eight little groups, standing expectantly on the
grass at a short distance from the wood, following the curve of its
line.  Behind each stood a gaitered loader with another gun ready to
hand to his master.  The women, in clothes not distinguishable in
colour from those of the men, stood with them; the dogs squatted by the
side of their masters or tugged at leashes held by the men.  Blackbirds
popped in and out of the wood, and thrushes, but there were few sounds
of life.  There was a hush of expectancy, and otherwise only the deep
winter stillness of nature, and the pale sun, and the wet odour of the
soil.



CHAPTER XV

THE GUNS AND THE LADIES

Nancy stood with her uncle, as she had announced her intention of
doing.  Sir Herbert, in a Norfolk jacket of voluminous tweed and a
green Tyrolean hat, would hardly have been recognised by those who had
only seen him in his Judge's robes.  He asked Nancy as they were
waiting whether she thought he was properly attired.  "I like to do the
thing thoroughly while I'm about it," he said.  "I notice that nobody
but myself is wearing these buttoned things--spats I think they call
them.  I think you might have written, Nancy, to tell me they had gone
out of fashion.  Do you think I could take them off and throw them away
presently?  I don't know what good they are.  It is only a passion for
being correctly dressed that induced me to put them on."

"I think they look very nice," said Nancy.  "And as for your hat, Uncle
Herbert, I'm sure it's the very latest thing, because Humphrey has got
one just like it.  But it wants a woodcock's feather in it."

"Oh, does it?  Thank you for telling me.  I shall direct my attention
to-day to shooting a woodcock if one turns up, and robbing him of his
feather.  It is very unpleasant and takes away your conceit of yourself
not to have everything exactly right.  With your intelligence you no
doubt understand that."

"Joan understands it better than I do," replied Nancy.  "She likes to
be well dressed.  I don't care about it one way or the other."

"Ah! but that's such a mistake," said Sir Herbert, "especially for a
female, if I may call you so.  When your body is well dressed your mind
is well dressed.  You should look into that."

"I have," said Nancy.  "It's all a question of buttons."

What she meant by this aphorism did not appear, for a shot from the
right of the line made Sir Herbert spring to attention, and immediately
after, with a sudden whir, a high pheasant shot like a bullet over his
head, and flying straight into the charge from his gun, turned over in
the air and fell with a thud on the grass far behind him.

"Glorious!" exclaimed the Judge.  "I'm in form."  But although he fired
many barrels during the next few minutes, in which a hot fusillade was
going on on the right and on the left, and birds were falling, clean
shot, or sliding to the ground with wings outspread, or continuing
their swift flight unshaken, he brought only one down, with a broken
wing, which ran off into the shaugh at the top of the hill.

"Now that is most disappointing," he said, when the tap-tap of the
beaters' sticks could be heard, and they began to emerge from the wood
one by one.  "I really did think I was going to shoot well to-day.
Life is full of such delusive hopes."

"I'm glad you didn't shoot too many," said Nancy.  "They're such pretty
things, and I like to see them get away."

"So do I, in theory," said Sir Herbert.  "In practice, no.  Do you
think it is the lust for killing, as some people say?"

"Oh no," said Nancy.  "I have thought about that.  If it were, I
shouldn't want to come out.  It is the skill."

"I think you're right, Nancy.  That, and what remains of the primitive
instinct of the chase.  You had to kill your food, and you kept your
health by doing so.  You killed two birds with one stone."

"And now you don't even kill one bird with two barrels," said Nancy,
with a side-glance at his eye.

He met her mischievous gaze.  "Nancy," he said, "if you had said that
on the bench they would have put it in the papers--with headlines; as
it is, I've a good mind to commit you for contempt of court."

The divided groups began to congregate.  The Squire came round the
corner very well pleased with himself.  In spite of his preoccupation
he had shot quite up to his form.  And his good-humour was confirmed at
the discovery that Hammond-Watt could be classed as a doubtful no
longer, for he had killed more birds than anybody, and killed them
clean, and that Bobby Trench had also given a fair account of himself.
The day had begun well, and the fact that Sir Herbert had only shot two
pheasants, one of which had got away, and George Senhouse had shot
none, although, as is the unaccountable way of driven birds, they had
come over him more thickly than over any one else, did not avail to
dash his satisfaction.  He led the way to the next stand, down a
woodland ride, in high good-humour, walking with great strides, which
Lady Birkett, who accompanied him, found some difficulty in keeping up
with.  "I hope Herbert will pick up," he said, laughing good-humoredly
at his brother-in-law's misfortune.  "Now I'm never very much away from
my form, either above or below.  Funny thing--form!  Even when I'm
worried to death about things it don't seem to make much difference to
my eye."

But when the next drive was over, and he had only shot two pheasants,
neither of them clean, and a rabbit, he said, "It's all this infernal
worry.  No man on earth, I don't care who he is, can shoot straight if
he's got something weighing on his mind."

Lady Birkett was consolatory.  "My dear Edward, don't think about it,"
she said.  "It will all come right."

"I wish I thought so," said the Squire.  "I think if I had that woman
here I'd put a charge of shot into her."

During the course of the morning the twins came together to compare
notes.  "Humphrey is shooting quite well," said Joan, "but, all the
same, if he had fallen in with my suggestion we should have scooped
twenty-four shillings.  I reckon it up after every drive and tell him
the result.  I am hoping that he will be so pleased with himself that
he will offer to settle up at the end of the day of his own accord."

"Don't make it too much," advised Nancy.  "Ten shillings in our pockets
are better than twenty in his."

"Bobby Trench offered to take over the arrangement," said Joan.

Nancy threw back her fair hair.  "It's a pity to waste an opportunity,"
she said, "but of course you can't accept a tip from him."

"My dear, as if I would!" exclaimed Joan.  "But he's very pushing.
It's difficult to keep him at a distance.  I think I shall go and stand
with Mr. Wilkinson.  He's a dear old thing, and I think he'd be
flattered."

"Oh, don't forsake Humphrey, for goodness' sake, if he's in a good
temper," advised Nancy.

"Well, Bobby Trench is such a nuisance.  He comes over and talks to us
while we're waiting."

"If you stick on till lunch-time I'll change with you after.  Uncle
Herbert is shooting very badly, but he's full of conversation.  And I
didn't tell you--he asked after the camera fund.  I don't know who can
have told him--Dick, I suppose.  Dear old Dick; I wish he was here!"

"So do I," said Joan.  "Did Uncle Herbert show any signs of
contributing?"

"I expect he will.  But I didn't want to appear too mercenary; I
skilfully changed the subject."

"That ought to do the trick," observed Joan.  "I don't mind a bit
taking it from relations.  They ought to be encouraged to do their
duty."

"All old people ought to tip all young ones," said Nancy largely.  "You
might convey that truth delicately to Mr. Wilkinson."

"I might, but I'm not going to."

"Or Colonel Stacey.  Why not try him?  He's old enough."

"You can do your own dirty work," said Joan, preparing to leave her.
"Colonel Stacey is very poor.  He lives in a tiny little house.  I
shall sit next to him at luncheon, and see that he gets a jolly good
one."

The Squire shot worse and worse as the morning went on, and through
over-anxiety and confused instructions the birds were not driven
properly out of High Beech Wood, which ought to have afforded the best
drive of the day.  They streamed away to the right of where the Squire
was standing, where there was neither a gun nor a stop, or went back
over the heads of the keepers.  Humphrey had suggested placing a gun
where those that were got out of the wood eventually came over, and
because he had pooh-poohed the suggestion the Squire was furious with
him.  Dick would have put a gun there without asking him.  But Humphrey
now could do nothing right.  After this fiasco he suggested sending to
the keeper's cottage, where luncheon was to be served, to tell them to
set the tables outside.  There was a warm grove of beeches at the back
of it, where they sometimes did lunch earlier in the season, and to-day
it was fine and sunny enough to have made it more pleasant to sit in
the open than in a crowded room in a cottage.  But the Squire said,
"For God's sake, don't be altering arrangements now, and throwing
everything out," so Humphrey had retired and told Bobby Trench that his
governor was like a bear with a sore head.

"I thought he seemed rather passionate," said Bobby Trench pleasantly.
"Not pulling 'em down, I suppose.  It does put you out, you know."

"He'd better manage for himself," said Humphrey sulkily.  "If he likes
to make a mess of it, let him."

Joan, who was with them, grew red at this discussion.  "Father has had
a lot of worries," she said.  "I think you ought to help him all you
can, Humphrey."

Humphrey stared at her, and Bobby Trench said, "Bravo, Miss Joan, you
stick up for your own."

"I'm going to," said Joan, and turned back to join Beatrice Senhouse,
who was just behind them.  At the next stand, the last of the morning,
she went up to her father and said, "I'm going to count your birds,
daddy, and I'll give you a kiss for every one you let off."

The Squire's worried face brightened.  "I thought you'd forsaken your
poor old father," he said.  "Well, I'm letting plenty of them off, but
we'll see what we can do this time."

Whether encouraged or not by his prospective reward, he acquitted
himself well during the ensuing drive, in the course of which he got
two high birds with a right and left, and another one going away with a
quick change of guns; and when the drive was over he handed his gun to
his loader, and put his hand on Joan's shoulder to walk towards the
cottage, with a face all smiles.

Mrs. Clinton, with Lady Aldeburgh and her daughter, met them at the
garden gate.  "I have told them to put the table outside," she said, as
they came up, and the Squire said, "Capital idea, Nina, capital idea!"
and turning to Lady Aldeburgh twitted her on her late appearance.
"You've missed some good sport," he said.  "But we'll see what we can
show you this afternoon."

Lady Aldeburgh, in a costume of Lincoln green with a short skirt bound
in brown leather, looked younger than her own daughter, and felt no
older than a child.  "Oh, do let me stand by you, Mr. Clinton, and see
you shoot," she said, clasping her hands appealingly.  "I'll promise
not to chatter."

"That woman's a fool," said Joan, who had withdrawn from the group to
join Nancy.

She sat next to Colonel Stacey at luncheon, as she had undertaken to
do, and was assiduous in attending to his bodily wants.  He was of the
skeleton-like, big-moustached order of retired warrior, and looked very
much as if he suffered from a lack of nutriment, although as a matter
of fact he was accustomed to "do himself" remarkably well, shirking
nothing in the way of food and drink that other men of his age were apt
to look askance at.  He made an extremely good meal, and Joan took
credit to herself for his doing so, although he did not repay her
attentions with much notice, being well able to forage for himself.
Mr. Wilkinson, who sat on her other side, was far more communicative
and friendly, in a sort of pleasant, grandfatherly way; and as the
three of them were standing together when luncheon was over, he took
half a sovereign out of his pocket and said, "Now if I know anything of
young women of your age, and I ought to by this time, I dare say you
and Nancy will find some use for that."

Joan accepted it with gratitude.  Her mind was at ease; she had not
worked for it in any way.  It was a most acceptable windfall.  "Oh,
thank you so much, Mr. Wilkinson," she said.  "Now we shall be able to
buy our camera.  We have been saving up for it for a long time."

"That's capital," said old Mr. Wilkinson, patting her on the shoulder
and moving off.

Colonel Stacey, now that he had satisfied the claims of appetite, had
some attention to spare for his late neighbour, who was really a very
nice-mannered child, and not greedy as most children are, but
well-behaved towards her elders.  He in his turn pulled out a well-worn
leather purse and extracted half a sovereign from it.  Joan, seeing
what was coming, had a moment of panic, and turned quickly away.  But
he stopped her and said, "There, take that; that makes one for each of
you."

Joan's face was scarlet.  "Oh, thanks most awfully," she said
hurriedly.  "But we've got quite enough now," and then she fairly ran
away, leaving Colonel Stacey, surprised at the curious ways of young
girls, to put his half-sovereign philosophically back into his purse.

Lady Aldeburgh accompanied the Squire during most of the afternoon, and
by a judicious use of flattery and girlish charm kept him in so good a
humour with himself that he shot much better than in the morning, and
fussed considerably less over details of arrangement than he would
otherwise have done.

He could not have told how it came to pass, although Lady Aldeburgh
might have been able to enlighten him, that as they were walking
together down a muddy country lane, with the rest of the party
straggling after them, he poured into her sympathetic ear the story of
what he was now accustomed to call Dick's entanglement.

Lady Aldeburgh bounded mentally over five-and-twenty or thirty years
and became matronly, even maternal.

"I have heard something about it, dear Mr. Clinton," she said, "and
have been longing to tell you how much I sympathised with you.  But I
hardly liked to until you had spoken first.  Of course one's children
do give one trouble in many ways, and an old married woman like myself
who has had a long experience can often help, with sympathy if not with
advice.  So I am very glad you have told me."

The Squire found this attitude right, and soothing besides.  "Well, of
course, it's an impossible idea," he said.  "I shan't give in about it.
Have you seen this woman, by the by?"

"I saw her last night," said Lady Aldeburgh, "and of course I've heard
of her.  She is not the sort of woman that I should care for a son of
mine to marry.  She seemed to me an affected, underbred minx."

"You thought that, did you?" exclaimed the Squire, his eyes
brightening.  "Now it's the most extraordinary thing that the people
round here can't see that.  Even my cousin, old Humphrey Meadshire,
seemed to be quite taken in by her."

"Oh, well--men!" said Lady Aldeburgh meaningly.

"Ah, but it isn't only men," said the Squire.  "It's the women too.
They're all ready to take her in as if she was one of themselves.  Now
I saw at once, the first time I set eyes on her, what sort of a woman
she was.  I don't profess to be more clear-sighted than other people,
but--but, still, there it is.  You saw it, and of course you go about
more than the women do here, most of 'em, and know more of the world."

"I should hope I do, the frumps!" was Lady Aldeburgh's inward comment,
but she said, "I know your Dick--not so well as I do Humphrey, but
pretty well--and I say that he is much too fine a fellow to throw
himself away like that.  Still, if he has made up his mind about it,
what can you do?"

He told her what he could do, and to some extent had done--withdraw or
threaten to withdraw supplies, and she commended this course warmly.
"That ought to bring him to his senses," she said.  "And if it
doesn't--well, you have other sons."

The Squire did not quite like this implication.  He had never yet faced
the question of what he would do after Dick got married, if he should
get married in spite of him.  But certainly, the prospect of
disinheriting him had never crossed his mind.

"I have never met your second son, I think," said Lady Aldeburgh.
"He's a doctor, isn't he?"

"Oh, that's Walter," said the Squire.  "You'll see him this evening.
He's the third.  Humphrey comes next to Dick."

"Oh!" said Lady Aldeburgh, who had the same means of access to works of
reference dealing with the County Families of England as other people,
and used them not less frequently.

"You know we had to stop the same sort of thing with Clinton a few
years ago," said Lady Aldeburgh.  "He was wild to marry one of the
Frivolity girls--pretty creature she was too, I must admit that, and
quite respectable, and it really went to my heart to have to stop it.
But of course it would never have done.  And what made it so difficult
for a time was that we had no hold over Clinton about money and that
sort of thing.  He _must_ come in for everything."

"Oh, well," said the Squire airily, "I couldn't cut Dick out of Kencote
eventually, whatever he did.  But he wouldn't find things very easy if
Kencote were all there was to come into."

Lady Aldeburgh took this, and took it rightly, as meaning that there
was a good deal of unsettled property which the Squire could leave as
he liked, which may or may not have been what she had wanted to find
out.  "Then you have an undoubted hold over him," she said.  "Of
course, I know it must be very unpleasant for you to have to exercise
it, but, if I may say so, it seems to me that simply to threaten to
withdraw his allowance if he should marry against your wishes won't
stop him if he can look forward to having everything by and by."

"He wouldn't have everything, anyhow," said the Squire.

"Well, whatever he is going to have besides the place.  You don't mind
my talking of all this, do you?  I've not the slightest desire to poke
into affairs that don't concern me."

"Very good of you to take such an interest in it all," said the Squire.
"I don't mind telling you in the least--it's quite simple.  Kencote has
always been entailed, but there's a good deal of land and a
considerable amount of other property which doesn't go with it.  Dick
won't be as well off as I was when I succeeded my grandfather, because
there was nobody but me, except some old aunts, and I've got a large
family to provide for.  Still, he'll be a good deal better off than
most men with a big place to keep up, and there'll be plenty left for
the rest."

"That's if he does as you wish," said Lady Aldeburgh.

"Well, I hadn't thought of it in that way," admitted the Squire.

"But, my dear man," she exclaimed, "you are not using your best
weapon--your only weapon.  If he is infatuated with this woman do you
think he will be prevented from marrying her by your stopping his
allowance?  Of course he won't.  He can get what money he wants for the
present, and she has some, I suppose.  He only has to marry and sit
down and wait."

"Then what ought I to do?" asked the Squire grumpily.  He knew what she
meant, and hated the idea of it.

"Why, tell him that if he makes this marriage you won't leave him a
penny more than you're obliged to."

"If I said that I should commit myself."

"You mean if you threatened it, you'd have to do it.  Well, I think you
would.  Yours--ours, I should say--is one of the oldest families in
England, and you are the head of it.  You can't see it let down like
that."

This was balm to the Squire, but it did not relieve the heaviness of
his heart.  "I believe I shall have to do something of that sort," he
said, "or threaten it anyhow," and having arrived at the place for the
next drive, he turned with a sigh to the business in hand.

The short winter day came to an end, and at dusk they found themselves
on the edge of the park, after having shot the birds out of the last
covert.  They strolled home across the frosty grass, under the
darkening sky already partly illumined by a round moon, merry or quiet,
pleased or vexed with themselves, according to their several natures
and the way they had acquitted themselves in the day's sport, and the
warm, well-lighted house swallowed them up.

Joan and Nancy went up to their room.  "You haven't been near me all
the afternoon," said Nancy.  "Here's half a crown from Humphrey.  It's
disappointing.  Did you do any business with Uncle Herbert?"

For answer Joan burst out crying.  "I hate all this beastly cadging for
money," she said through her tears, "and I won't do it any more."

"Well, don't howl," said Nancy, "or you'll look awful when we go
downstairs.  What has happened?"

"Mr. Wilkinson gave me ten b--bob," sobbed Joan.  "I didn't ask him for
it.  And then poor old Colonel Stacey thought he must do the same, so
he took out a sh-shabby old purse and offered me another one, and I
believe it was the only one in it.  And I wouldn't take it."

"Do pull yourself together, old girl," entreated Nancy.  "Well, if he's
so hard up, I think it was rather a delicate action."

Joan turned on her, and her tears were dried up by the heat of her
indignation.  "You're always talking about your brains," she said, "and
you can't see anything.  Of course, I should have felt a beast anyhow,
but I feel much more of a beast for taking Mr. Wilkinson's tip and
refusing his."

"Why?" asked Nancy.

"Because he'd know I thought he was too poor," said Joan, her tears
breaking out afresh.

Nancy considered this.  "I dare say he didn't think much about it," she
said.  "But why didn't you go and make up to him afterwards, if you
felt like that?  Do leave off blubbering."

Joan took no heed of this advice.  A physically tiring day and the
distress she had kept down during the afternoon had been too much for
her, and now she was lying on her bed sobbing unrestrainedly.  "I
w-would have gone to stand with him," she said.  "P-poor old d-darling,
he looked so lonely standing there all by himself, for no one went near
him, except m-mother, once.  B-but I thought he'd think I wanted the
t-tip after all, so I d-didn't.  Here's Mr. Wilkinson's half-sovereign.
You can take it.  I don't want it."

"Well, if you don't, I don't," said Nancy, picking up the coin which
Joan had thrown on to the floor, nevertheless, and putting it on to the
dressing-table.  "I don't know why you're always trying to make me out
more hard-hearted than you are.  Shall I fetch mother?"

"N-no.  Y-yes," said Joan.

So Mrs. Clinton was fetched, and heard the story, sitting on the bed,
while Joan sobbed on her shoulder.  Nancy leant on the rail and helped
to explain matters.  She now felt like crying herself.  "We have a sort
of joke with the boys," she said.  "They understand it all right, but,
of course, we wouldn't go asking everybody for money, mother."

"I think you are getting rather too old to accept money presents from
any one outside the family," Mrs. Clinton said, "although it was very
kind of Mr. Wilkinson to give you one, and I don't mind your having
taken it in the least.  And I'm sure Colonel Stacey didn't think
anything of your refusing, Joan dear.  So I shouldn't worry any more
about that; and I think you had better have some tea up here and lie
down till dinner-time."

So Joan's tender heart was comforted, and Colonel Stacey kept his
half-sovereign, which if he could not have afforded to lose he would
never have thought of offering.



CHAPTER XVI

THE MONEY QUESTION

Walter Clinton, with his wife and two little girls, arrived at Kencote
an hour or so before dinner-time, and the Squire instantly seized upon
him for a confabulation.  "George Senhouse is in my room," he said,
"and the rest are playing pool.  Come into the smoking-room.  I want to
speak to you."

Walter followed him through the baize door and down the stone passage.
He was not so handsome as Dick nor so smart-looking as Humphrey, but he
was tall and well set up, with an air of energy and good-humour that
was attractive.  "It's jolly to be here for a bit again," he said.
"I've been working like a nigger.  We've got a regular plague of
influenza at Melbury Park."

The Squire grunted.  He was pleased enough to see his son, but he
always shied at the words Melbury Park, and rather disliked mention of
Walter's profession, which had been none of his choosing.

"Well, I suppose you've heard of this wretched business of Dick's," he
said, as he lighted a big cigar.

Walter filled his pipe, standing by the fire.  "Yes.  I've seen him,"
he said.

The Squire held the match in his hand as he exclaimed, "You've seen
him, eh?"

"Yes, he spent Christmas with us," said Walter.

The Squire threw the match, which had begun to burn his fingers, into
the grate.  "Why on earth didn't you let me know?" he asked.

"He didn't want me to," replied Walter, taking his seat in one of the
shabby easy-chairs.

The Squire thought this over.  It affected him disagreeably, making him
feel very far from his son.  "Was he all right?" he asked.

"Of course, he was worried," said Walter.  "He was all right otherwise."

"Well, now, don't you think he's behaving in a most monstrous way?"
asked the Squire, anxious to substitute a mood of righteous anger for
one of painful longing.

"Well, I can't say I do," replied Walter.

"Oh, he's talked you over.  But I'll tell you this, Walter, he shall
_not_ marry this woman, and drag us all in the mud.  You ought to be
doing what you can to stop it, too, instead of encouraging him."

"I'm not encouraging him," said Walter.  "It wouldn't make any
difference whether I encouraged him or discouraged him, either.  He has
made up his mind to marry her and he's going to do it."

"I tell you he is _not_ going to do it."  The Squire hitched himself
forward out of the depths of his chair to give more weight to his
pronouncement.

Walter remained silent, with a mental shrug, and the Squire was rather
at a loss to know how to proceed.  "Do you know what this woman is
like?" he asked.

"I've seen her photograph and heard what Dick has to say about her,"
said Walter.

"Oh, Dick!  Dick's infatuated, of course.  I should have thought you
would have had more sense than to swallow his description of her
blindly.  She's--oh, I can't trust myself to say what she is.  But I'll
tell you this.  I'd rather Kencote passed out of the Clinton family
altogether than that she came to be mistress of it."

"Well, that won't happen for a great many years, I hope," said Walter.

"It will _never_ happen," said the Squire, with immense emphasis.

Again Walter was silent, and his father slightly embarrassed.  "How is
he going to get married, I should like to know," he asked presently,
"if I don't help him?  I've told him that the moment he does marry I
shall help him no longer.  I don't suppose he's got a couple of hundred
pounds in the world.  He can marry with that, but he can't live on it.
He's not going to live on her money, I suppose."

"No, he's got a job," said Walter calmly.

Again the Squire stared.  "Got a job!" he repeated.  "What sort of a
job?"

"Quite a good one.  Agent to John Spence up in Norfolk--the chap who
was in his regiment."

The Squire's surprise, and what must be called, in view of his thwarted
diplomacy, discomposure, were indicated by his dropped jaw.  Walter
went on in even tone.  "He's to get six hundred a year and a house.
There's a place in Warwickshire too, which he'll have to look after.
He was just going to take quite a small thing in Ireland, but Spence
heard he was available and rushed up and booked him.  You see, he knows
his job well."

Of course he knew his job well.  Hadn't the Squire taken a pride ever
since he had been the smallest of small boys in initiating him into it?
Hadn't he seen to it that if he learned nothing else during his long
and expensive school and university education, he should learn all that
could be learnt about the land and the intricacies of estate
management?  And hadn't he rejoiced in seeing him take kindly to it
ever since?  He had been quite content to spend the greater part of his
leave at home, often working as hard as if he were a paid agent, even
taking papers up to London, working at them there, and writing long
letters.  He had not been content to take a general interest in the
property to which he was one day to succeed, riding or walking about
the place and leaving details to the agent and the estate staff.  Why,
it had been possible, ten years before, when the old agent had been
superannuated, to dispense with one altogether for six months, nobody
suitable having come forward; and the present one, Mr. Haydon, was
hardly more than a bailiff.  And more convincingly still, lately, had
the Squire discovered that Dick knew his job.  He thought he knew it
himself, but he had been lost without him, and if Dick continued to
keep away from Kencote, he would have to make new arrangements
altogether, and get some one in the place of Mr. Haydon to help him.

And now all Dick's knowledge and experience were to be used to thwart
him.  It would no longer be available for the benefit of Kencote.  That
was bad enough in itself, but it was far worse to know that it had made
Dick independent of him and himself powerless.  For the first time in
this unhappy business he felt an impulse of pure anger against his son.
Hitherto he had been grieved about him, and only angry against others.
Now, as these thoughts passed through his mind, he broke out, "That's
the most disgraceful thing I've heard of yet.  Going to throw the whole
place over, is he, and leave me to do the best I can, while he goes and
takes service under somebody else?  Very well, then.  If he is going to
throw Kencote over, Kencote will throw him over.  I've had as much as I
can stand.  Now I'll act, and act in a way that will surprise him."

Walter looked up in alarmed surprise.  He thought he knew his father,
and exactly how far he would go.  He had known in discussing matters
with Dick that he would make a fuss, and go on making it, until things
were accomplished which would make it useless for him to fuss any
further.  But he had always taken it for granted that Dick had the
cards in his hand, and that in the long run he must win the game.  But
this looked as if they had both miscalculated Dick's hand, and that a
trump they had thought to be in his possession was really in his
father's.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean," said the Squire boldly, "that if Dick persists in the course
he is taking, I shall make a new will, and I shan't leave him a penny
or an acre of land beyond what he gets under the entail."

This was plain enough, but Walter could scarcely believe his ears as he
heard it, so entirely subversive was it of all ideas in which he had
been brought up.  He had never bothered himself much about money.  He
knew that he would have something by and by, something probably more
substantial than the average younger son's portion, that there was,
indeed, plenty of money for all of them.  But he had taken it for
granted, in the same way that he took the daily rise of the sun for
granted, that the bulk of it would go with the place--go, that is, to
Dick.  And, knowing his father as he did, and the principles that
guided him, he could not, even now, believe that he really meant to act
in a way so destructive of all Kencote ideals as he had indicated.

"Surely you're not going to break the place up!" he said.

"If Dick doesn't come to his senses that's what I will do," said the
Squire.  "And if I once do it I shan't alter it.  I shall have the will
prepared, and the day Dick marries this woman I shall sign it.  You can
tell him that.  I'll have nothing more to do with him, directly.  He
has behaved disgracefully to me, never sending a line for over a month,
and letting me know his plans through you.  Now you can tell him mine,
and you can tell him I'm in earnest."  He marched out of the room
without further words, leaving Walter with the feeling of a man who has
just passed through an earthquake.

Late that night when everybody had gone up to bed Walter went into
Humphrey's room.  They had not had a chance of speaking together
before.  He told him of what had happened, of what Dick had told him at
Melbury Park, and the Squire that evening downstairs.

Humphrey received the news in silence, and with mixed sensations.  "I
didn't know Dick had been with you," he said presently.

"He won't come here," said Walter.  "He doesn't say much about the
governor, but he's furious with him."

"I'm afraid he's furious with me too," said Humphrey.  "And really it's
rather unreasonable."

"He didn't say much about you," replied Walter perfunctorily.

"Well, I can't help it.  I've done nothing I'm ashamed of, as far as
he's concerned.  And as for Virginia Dubec, I don't care if he marries
her to-morrow."

Walter was busy with his own thoughts.  "I say, do you think the
governor can really mean it?" he asked.

Humphrey gave rather an unpleasant little laugh.  "I hope he does, for
our sakes," he said.

Walter looked at him uncomprehendingly.  "What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well, I suppose if Dick doesn't get whatever it is, we shall.  I could
do with it very well."

Walter eyed him askance.  "I never thought of that," he said rather
coldly.  "I should be very sorry to have Dick cut out for my sake."

"It's all very well for you," Humphrey said.  "You have your job, which
you like, and plenty to get on with.  And you're married."

"There's no reason why you shouldn't get married if you want to," said
Walter.

"I don't know whether it would surprise you to know that I do want to,"
replied Humphrey.

Walter looked at him in surprise.  "My dear chap," he said, "I'm
awfully glad.  Who is it?"

"Well, I hadn't meant to say anything until I saw how the land lay, so
keep it to yourself for the present.  It's Susan Clinton."

Walter looked a little blank.  He had not been particularly charmed
either with Lady Aldeburgh or her daughter, and he was too
straightforward to feign an enthusiasm which he did not feel.  "Will
she have you?" he asked.

"Oh, I think so," said Humphrey.  "We're very good pals.  But, of
course, there's Aldeburgh to settle with, or rather her ladyship,
because he lets 'em go their own way and he goes his.  It can't be said
to be much of a match.  Still, there are four other girls, two of them
out and about, and if the governor sees his way to greasing the wheels,
I ought to be able to pull it off."

There was something about this speech which displeased Walter.  He knew
Humphrey's way of talking and he knew that his dwelling on the
financial side of a marriage, even before he was engaged, might
possibly hide a feeling which he would not want to express.  But
somehow he found it difficult to believe that this speech did hide any
particular feeling for Lady Susan Clinton, and equally difficult to
infuse any particular warmth into his congratulations.

"Well, I'm glad you told me," he said.  "If you want to pull it off I
hope you will, and I shouldn't think there would be much difficulty
about money.  Besides, you want far less when you're married than you'd
think.  Muriel and I aren't spending anything like what we've got, and
we're as happy as possible.  I'd advise every fellow to get married, if
he finds a girl who'll fit in with him."

"Susan and I will fit in together all right," replied Humphrey, "but
we've both been used to crashing about a good deal, and I'm afraid we
shouldn't save much on your income.  Besides, Muriel brought you
something, and I don't think Aldeburgh will be likely to cough up much
with Susan.  We shall be as poor as church mice, anyhow.  But if she
don't mind that I don't particularly, as long as we have enough to get
along on."

Walter knew well enough that Humphrey hated above all things to feel
poor, and decided that if he was not wishing to marry Susan Clinton for
what she could bring him, he must really love her, in spite of his
mercenary speech.  "Well, old chap," he said, with more warmth, "I'm
sure I hope you'll be happy.  I haven't spoken to her much, but she
seems a jolly good sort, and she's a sort of relation already, I
suppose.  So we ought all to get on with her.  Well, I think I'll go
and lie down for a bit before breakfast."

But Humphrey still had something to say, something which he seemed to
find it rather difficult to say.  "Dick and I are not particularly good
friends now," he began.

"Oh, he was annoyed at your letting out something or other about his
Lady George," said Walter.  "But he's all right, really."

"I shouldn't like him to think," said Humphrey, "that I was working
against him with the governor.  But, of course, if he does marry her,
and the governor does what he's threatened to do--well, it would make a
lot of difference to me."

"He's not likely to think you worked that," said Walter rather coldly.
"And I hope it won't happen.  Good-night."

The next morning the whole party went to church, with the exception of
Lady Aldeburgh, who was averse to making engagements as early as eleven
o'clock.  The Squire was displeased at this defection on her part, and
when Bobby Trench came into the hall, as they were setting out, on his
way to the smoking-room, with a pipe in his mouth and a novel under his
arm, he said to him, "Haven't you got a watch?  It's ten minutes to
eleven.  You'll be late for church."

"To tell you the truth, I wasn't thinking of going," replied Bobby
Trench.  "Still, I may as well.  I can write my bits of letters
afterwards."

The Squire grunted and went out.  "I'll see that that young cub behaves
himself as long as he's here, at any rate," he said to Mrs. Clinton.

Bobby Trench winked at Lady Susan, who was standing alone in the hall.
"Cheery sort of place to come to, isn't it?" he said.  "Makes you think
yourself back at school again."

She turned away from him without smiling.  "I'm enjoying myself very
much," she said.

"The deuce you are," said Bobby Trench to himself as he went to deposit
his pipe and his book in the smoking-room.  "Sits the wind in that
quarter?  But never again, Robert, never again!"

After church Humphrey said to Susan Clinton, "Come and see old Aunt
Laura with me.  She can't get out much in the winter, but she likes to
see people."

So they went to the little house in the village and found Aunt Laura
nursing the fire, with a Shetland shawl round her bent old shoulders
and a large Church Service on the table by her side.

She was flattered by the visit of Lady Susan, but a little anxious lest
she should be carrying about any false impression of the relative
importance of the various families of Clinton.  "It must be very nice
for you to come to Kencote, my dear," she said.  "I dare say you have
often thought about it and wished to see the place.  Your
great-grandfather--oh, but I suppose he was much more than that,
great-great-great, very likely--did not behave at all well, but that is
all forgiven and forgotten now, and I am sure there is nobody at
Kencote now who is not pleased to see you."

"What did my great-great-grandfather do, Miss Clinton?" enquired Lady
Susan indulgently.  "I'm sorry he didn't behave well."

"Oh, my dear, haven't you read about it?  It is all in the book about
the Clintons--a very interesting book indeed.  He was a younger son and
he fought for the Dissenters against King Charles the First, and when
King Charles was beheaded Oliver Cromwell turned his eldest brother,
who of course was a Royalist, out of Kencote and gave it to your
ancestor.  When King Charles the Second came to the throne he gave it
back to its rightful owner, but your ancestor had made a good deal of
money, I'm sure I don't know how, and he was ennobled in the reign of
King William and Queen Mary, but I don't know what for.  I dare say the
Clintons of Kencote could have been ennobled many times over if they
had liked, but for my part I am glad they never were.  There are very
few commoners' families in England who have gone on for so many years
in one place."

"Oh, I know," said Lady Susan, with an arch glance at Humphrey.  "I
have been told that."

"Only once by me," replied Humphrey.  "I thought you had better know
where you stood once for all.  You belong to quite the junior branch,
you know, and you must be properly humbled when you come to Kencote."

"Oh, there is no necessity for humility," said Aunt Laura, who so long
as she felt that matters were thoroughly understood was anxious that
her visitor should not be unduly cast down.  "There are other good
families in England besides the Clintons, and of course you do belong
to us in a way, my dear."

"We like her to feel that she belongs to us, don't we, Aunt Laura?"
said Humphrey, looking at the girl and not at the old lady.

Lady Susan blushed.  "Oh, of course I belong to you," she said
hurriedly, not meeting his gaze.  "And I think Kencote is a lovely
place, much better than Thatchover, where we live."

"Ah, I have never seen that," said Aunt Laura.  "I have seen Kemsale,
my cousin Humphrey's place.  I hear there is to be a ball there
to-morrow night, and I suppose you are all going.  I shall not be able
to be present, although I have received an invitation.  It was very
thoughtful of Eleanor Kemsale to send me one.  She must have known that
my advanced age would make it impossible for me to accept, but she knew
also that I should feel it if I were left out, for for a number of
years there was no entertainment of that sort at Kemsale to which I and
my dear sisters, who are now all dead, were not invited."

Lady Susan had been looking round the room.  "What lovely old prints
you have!" she said.

"They are old-fashioned things," replied Aunt Laura, "but I like them.
They do not actually belong to me.  I brought them from the
dower-house, where I and my sisters lived for a number of years.  But
wait--if you will come into the dining-room, where there is a fire and
you need not be afraid of catching cold, I will show you something that
does belong to me, and very pleased I am to have it."

"Oh, I think we'd better stay here, Aunt Laura," said Humphrey.

But Aunt Laura had already risen.  "No, Humphrey," she said.  "I must
show Lady Susan the present you gave me, which has afforded me the
greatest pleasure."

So they followed her into the little square, panelled dining-room,
where she led them to an old engraving of "Kencote Park, Meadshire, the
Seat of John Clinton, Esq.," which showed, besides the many-windowed,
rectangular house, a large sheet of water with a Grecian temple on its
banks, and certain gentlemen in tall hats and ladies with parasols
feeding swans and apparently refusing the invitation of one of their
number, who was seated in a boat, to go for a nice row.

"That is the house," explained Aunt Laura, "as it was when my
grandfather altered it, and made the lake, which is now all grown round
with rhododendrons and other trees, so that you cannot see it, as it is
represented there.  But I think it is a fine picture."

She put her little grey head crowned by its cap of lace and ribbons on
one side, bird-like, as if she were trying to judge how the house might
strike a stranger.  "It was not in that house your ancestor lived," she
told Lady Susan.  "That was burnt down, more's the pity, for I believe
it was still larger and finer than the present one.  I should like to
possess a picture of it, but that is impossible because none exists.
At any rate, it was very kind of Humphrey to find this one for me and
have it well framed, as you see, and give it to me for a Christmas
present.  It is such little attentions as that that people value, my
dear, when they come to my age."

As they walked away along the village street Lady Susan said to
Humphrey, "I do think it was nice of you to give the old lady that
picture.  It seems to have pleased her very much."

"Oh, it was nothing," said Humphrey.  "And she's worth pleasing."

"Yes, I think she's very nice," Lady Susan agreed.

"I'm glad you like her," said Humphrey, "and I think she's disposed to
like you.  I say, I wish you'd go and look her up with the twins some
time to-morrow--without me, I mean.  They go to see her every day, and
she'd take it as a compliment if you went again of your own accord."

"Oh, certainly I will," said Lady Susan.



CHAPTER XVII

SUNDAY AND MONDAY

On Monday some of the party assembled at Kencote hunted, but the
Squire, who had given up hunting for the season for reasons we know of,
went out with Sir Herbert Birkett and George Senhouse to walk up
partridges, and shoot whatever else came to their guns in an easy,
pottering way.  Although he would not have admitted it, he was getting
quite reconciled to the loss of his favourite sport.  His wide lands
afforded him plenty of game, and he enjoyed these small days with a few
guns, walking for miles through roots and over grass, and watching his
dogs work, descendants of the famous breed of pointers which had been
the pride of his sporting old grandfather.  He thought they had not
been given half enough to do of late years, and now that his mind was
turned in another direction he had begun to feel keenly interested and
to follow it up with vigour.  "Driven birds are all very well," he said
to his brother-in-law as they set out.  "They're more difficult to hit
and you get more shooting.  But you don't get so much sport.  Any
cockney who's got the trick of it can bring 'em down."

"Well, I can't, and I'm a cockney," said Sir Herbert.  "Still, I agree
with you.  This is the sort of day for pleasure."

So they spent the whole of the mild winter day in the open, lunched
simply on the warm side of a hedge, and came back at dusk, having
thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  The Squire had been at his best, the
country gentleman, busying himself in the open air with the pursuits
his forefathers had found their pleasure in for generations, allied to
his lands, simple in his enjoyment of what they provided for him,
companionable, master of field-craft, perfect as a host.  "I haven't
had such a day for a long time," he said as they stood before the hall
door being relieved of their paraphernalia.  "I've forgotten all my
troubles."

Sir Herbert was touched.  He found the man tiresome in so many aspects
of life, stupid and overbearing.  But he had also something of the
appealing simplicity of a child.  He was in trouble, and he had been
able to forget it all while he had amused himself.

"It's the best day I've had for a long time too," he said.  "You've
given me a great deal of pleasure, Edward."

But once in the house, the Squire's worries rolled back on him--not the
big trouble, which he had no time to brood over just now, although it
was always present in the background of his mind, but the little
annoyances incident to his entertaining a lot of people whose ways were
not his ways, and who interfered with the settled course of his life.

Lady Aldeburgh had given him great annoyance, and as for Bobby Trench,
it was as much as he could do to be civil to him.  On the other hand,
he was more pleased with his son Humphrey than he had been for a long
time, and he had also come to feel that his son Walter was a man to be
relied on, in spite of his obstinate choice of a profession unsuitable
for a son of his, and his management of his life since he had taken up
that profession.  If it had not been for this new-found satisfaction in
his younger sons, perhaps he would not have been able to prevent the
thoughts of his eldest son spoiling his day, and he would certainly
have been far more actively annoyed with Lady Aldeburgh and Bobby
Trench.

For neither of those gay butterflies of fashion had been able or cared
to adjust themselves to the Sabbath calm of a house managed in the way
that Kencote was.  Lady Aldeburgh, having spent the morning in her
room, written her letters and done her duty to privacy for the day,
came down to luncheon ready and willing to be amused.  And there was no
amusement provided for her.  After luncheon she had played a game of
running round the billiard-table and knocking balls into pockets with
the bare hand with Bobby Trench, and fortunately the Squire, at rest in
his room, with the _Spectator_ on his knee, had not known what they
were doing.  But this mild amusement had soon palled, and the problem
was to find something for two active young things to do in its place.
"Have you _ever_ stayed in a house like this before, Bobby dear?" asked
Lady Aldeburgh.

Bobby dear said that he never had, and the powers above being
favourable, never would again.

"It's perfectly deadly," said Lady Aldeburgh.  "What on earth are the
rest of them doing?"

"Slumbering on their beds," replied Bobby Trench; "and in half an hour
or so they will all appear, rubbing their eyes, and we shall go for a
nice long walk."

"Not me," said her ladyship, with a glance at the leaden sky outside
and the bare leafless trees shaking in a cold wind.  "Do let's get
somewhere by a cosey fire and have a rubber of bridge."

"Who's the four?" asked Bobby Trench.  "Shall we wake up old Clinton,
and ask him?  There are risks.  It might be amusing to see somebody in
an apoplectic fit, and again it might not."

"Don't be foolish," said Lady Aldeburgh, patting him on the arm.
"Humphrey would play, and I'll tell Susan she's wanted."

"They are going out for a walk together.  It's a case," said Bobby
Trench boldly.

"Whatever put that into your head?" enquired her ladyship, with
wide-open eyes.  "It's quite absurd."

"Oh, I think Susan's a very nice girl," replied Bobby Trench.  "Though
I admit it's absurd to take much notice of her while you're about."

Lady Aldeburgh hit his sleeve again with her jewelled hand.  "If you
talk like that I shall go away," she said.  "When I said it was absurd
I meant that neither of them has a shilling."

"Humphrey ought to have a good many shillings if he plays his hand well
with old Papa Beetroot just now," replied Bobby Trench.  "There's a
deuce of an upset.  I should hold for a rise if I were you."

"You shouldn't talk so disrespectfully.  You are disrespectful to me,
and to Mr. Clinton, who is a relation of mine--and the head of our
family, or so he says.  And as for Humphrey, he's a nice boy--certainly
the pick of this particular bunch--but Susan wouldn't look at him."

"Why not?  He's civilised, if his people aren't."

"She could do much better, and I shouldn't allow it.  Of course they
are friends, and I don't mind that.  You must remember that they are
cousins."

"Is it fifty-sixth or fifty-seventh cousins?" asked Bobby Trench
innocently.  "Well, you know best, of course, but you've got other
girls besides Susan to look after, and if you don't take care she'll
get left.  No, my dear lady, it's no use trying to deceive me.  You're
quite ready to let Susan marry Humphrey if Papa Mangel-Wurzel will put
up the stakes.  Aren't you, now?  Confess."

"I shan't confess anything so ridiculous," said Lady Aldeburgh
petulantly.  "What I want to do is to play bridge, and relieve myself
of this frightful boredom.  I shouldn't have come here if I'd known
what it was like.  _Can't_ we get a four?"

"I'll see about it later on," said Bobby Trench.  "Perhaps after tea.
Why not picquet in the meantime?"

"It's a stupid game," said Lady Aldeburgh.  "But if you make the stakes
high enough it would be better than nothing."

"I'll make the stakes what you like," said Bobby Trench.  "I'll pay you
if I lose, and if you lose you must pay me."

Lady Aldeburgh having consented to this not unreasonable arrangement,
Bobby Trench rang the bell and asked the servant who answered it to
bring a card-table and some cards.  Although somewhat surprised at the
order he presently fulfilled it, and the game proceeded until tea-time.

All the members of the house party met over the tea-table, and
afterwards Lady Aldeburgh, having whispered to her daughter, went out
of the room followed by Bobby Trench.  Lady Susan then whispered
something to Humphrey, who looked rather disturbed, and then also went
out of the room with her.  Now the whispers had not been in the least
obtrusive, or of the nature to arouse comment, but the Squire happened
to have observed them both, and told Joan as he went back into his room
to find Humphrey and send him to him, not anticipating hearing of
anything wrong, but thinking that he might as well know what was going
on as not.

Joan was delighted with the errand.  She also had observed the
whispers, and was at least as eager as her father to find out what was
on foot.  She went to several rooms before she opened the door of the
billiard-room, which was little used, and never on a Sunday.  There she
found Lady Aldeburgh and Bobby Trench seated at a card-table, and
Humphrey standing by them with Susan Clinton at his side.  "Humphrey,
father wants to speak to you for a minute," she said, and then ran away
to find Nancy and tell her of the terrible thing that was happening.

"Well, if you don't mind, then," said Humphrey, preparing to obey the
summons, and Lady Aldeburgh said, "Oh no, not in the least.  I didn't
know there would be any objection."

Joan, passing through the hall, was again stopped by the Squire, who
was standing at the door of his room.  "I told you to fetch Humphrey,"
he said irritably.  "Why have you been so long?  I want to speak to
him."

"I couldn't find him, father," said Joan.

"Where was he?" asked the Squire.

"He's just coming," replied Joan.

"I asked you _where_ he was," persisted the Squire, and when she said
he had been in the billiard-room, asked her what he was doing there.

"Talking to Lady Aldeburgh," said Joan; and the Squire asked her what
_she_ was doing.

Then it came out.  "Playing at cards with Mr. Trench," said Joan, who
disliked Lady Aldeburgh and Bobby Trench equally, and didn't see why
she shouldn't answer a plain question in plain terms.

Then the Squire went into his room, shutting the door decisively, and
Humphrey went in after him, Joan having escaped for the second time.

Inside the Squire's room there was an outbreak.  "I will not have it in
this house.  I simply _will not_ have it," was the burden of his
indignant cry.

"Well, look here, father," said Humphrey quietly.  "I didn't know what
was happening, and directly I did I stopped them.  They gave it up at
once when I said you wouldn't like it.  They couldn't tell, you know.
Everybody does it now."

The Squire spluttered his wrath.  "I call it disgraceful," he said.  "I
don't know what the world's coming to.  Cards on Sunday in a
respectable God-fearing house!  And you defend it!"

"No, I don't," said Humphrey.  "I told you that I had stopped them."

The Squire looked at him.  "Did they want you to play?" he asked.  "You
and a girl like Lady Susan!  You don't mean to tell me her mother
wanted her to play?  Is the girl accustomed to that sort of thing, I
should like to know?"

Humphrey did not want to give Lady Aldeburgh away, but rather her than
Susan, and rather Bobby Trench than either of them.

"Susan doesn't care about it," he said.  "Lady Aldeburgh--well, you can
see what she is, can't you?--nothing like as sensible as her daughter.
She'll do what anybody wants her to."

"Oh, then it's Master Trench I'm to thank for making my house a
gambling saloon on a Sunday!" exclaimed the Squire.  "If he wasn't my
guest, I would say something to that young cub that would surprise him.
Anyhow, he'll never come into this house again, and I must say, seeing
what he is, that I wonder at your asking him at all."

"I'm sorry I did," said Humphrey.  "But I hope you won't say anything
to him about this.  I'll take charge of them and see that they behave
themselves."

"Then you'll have your work cut out for you," said the Squire grumpily.
"You'd better set about doing it at once.  I wish to goodness I'd never
consented to people like that coming into the house.  I may be
old-fashioned--I dare say I am--but I don't understand their ways, and
I don't want to."

That had been the end of it as far as he was concerned.

If he could have heard what passed between Lady Aldeburgh and Bobby
Trench when deprived of their legitimate amusement--but that thought is
too painful.  What had happened further on that Sunday evening was that
feeling vaguely the need of some sort of comfort in the anxieties that
beset him he had suddenly taken it into his head to go to church to the
evening service, a thing he hardly ever did, and striding with firm and
audible steps into the chancel pew during the saying of the Psalms, he
had found, as well as most of the ladies from the house and George
Senhouse, assembled there, Humphrey and Susan Clinton sitting together,
and had come to the conclusion, during the sermon, that it was
creditable on Humphrey's part to have stopped the card-playing on his
behalf, instead of joining in it, as might have been expected of him,
and that he seemed to be turning over a new leaf, and was probably
exercising a good influence over the harmless daughter of a foolish
mother.

So he was pleased with Humphrey, but displeased with Lady Aldeburgh,
who had shown herself perverse at the dinner-table and in the
drawing-room afterwards, had refused to talk more than was necessary,
and had gone up to her room on the stroke of ten; and furious with
Bobby Trench, who had made no effort to disguise his yawns throughout
the evening, and fallen openly asleep in the library after the ladies
had retired.

As for Walter, he had talked to him very sensibly later still in the
evening about Dick.  "Don't do anything," he had said, "till I have
seen him again.  I don't know what can be done, or if anything can be
done.  But it's quite certain that if you threaten him you will drive
him straight into doing what you don't want him to do."  So he had
consented to Walter acting as his ambassador, and felt that he could
rely on him in that capacity, and even take some comfort in the hope
that he might do something to lighten the state of gloom and depression
in which most of his waking hours were now passed.

It was with a feeling of relief that he saw the whole party, with the
exception of Sir Herbert Birkett, set out later in the evening on their
ten-mile drive to Kemsale.  It had been his intention to go with them,
but the thought that Virginia, with whom he had seen Lord Meadshire
colloguing, would almost certainly have received an invitation, and
would no doubt eagerly have accepted it, deterred him.  When his wife's
carriage, containing herself, Lady Birkett, and Lady Aldeburgh, who
would far rather have been with the younger members of the party, had
driven off, and the omnibus, with the rest of them, had followed it, he
breathed a sigh of relief.  "To-morrow we shall be able to settle down
again, thank God!" he said to himself as the door was shut behind him.

Kemsale Hall, towards which carriages from every country house in South
Meadshire within driving distance, and motor-cars from far beyond, were
converging, was a very fine place, and the ball which Lord Meadshire
gave that evening was a very fine ball.  Amongst the numerous guests,
whose names were all chronicled in the _Bathgate Herald and South
Meadshire Advertiser_, were Lady George Dubec and Miss Dexter.

Virginia had gone home from the Hunt Ball vowing that nothing would
induce her to accept the invitation which Lady Kemsale had given her so
patronisingly when it should be confirmed by the promised card, and
Miss Dexter had backed her up in her own dry way, while professing to
combat her resolution.

"I don't know what you can be thinking of, Virginia," she said.
"Refuse an invitation to a house like Kemsale--the house of a Marquis,
a Lord-Lieutenant!  Why, lots of women would commit hari-kari
to-morrow--or at least the day after the ball--if they could get an
invitation."

"Well, I'm not one of them," said Virginia.  "To think that I would go
anywhere on sufferance!  Lord Meadshire's an old darling, but as for
his daughter-in-law, I should very much like to tell her what I think
of her."

The opportunity of doing so occurred no later than the following
afternoon, when Lady Kemsale came to Blaythorn Rectory to call, but
Virginia did not take it.

Lady Kemsale's manners were naturally stiff, but she did her best to
soften them when she was shown into Virginia's drawing-room.  "I
thought I would come over before Monday," she said, with a smile, "so
as to put everything on the most approved basis of etiquette.  We don't
often get new people in this part of the world, and when we do we must
make haste to show that we appreciate them."

This was handsome enough, and it rather took Virginia's breath away.
When Lady Kemsale had been announced she had jumped to the conclusion
that Lord Meadshire had sent her, which was true; but what was also
true was that she had been quite pleased to come, and to have the
opportunity of making amends for her frigidity at the Hunt Ball, which
had been caused by the Squire's tale and thawed again by her own
observations.  When she drove away half an hour later Virginia said
with a rare lapse into the American tongue, "Why, she's a perfectly
lovely woman, after all, Toby.  Now you can't say that I was wrong to
say I'd go, after the way she behaved."

"Just a little soft-sawder, and you fall at her feet," said Miss
Dexter.  But she was pleased, all the same, that Virginia should be
going to Kemsale, and that one more of Dick's people should have
acknowledged her charm and her worth.  She was pleased also to be going
herself, for she had a little scheme of her own, which she had not
imparted to her friend.

She had, in fact, made up her mind to speak to Mrs. Clinton, if she
could find an excuse to do so, unobserved by the Squire.  She had
watched her in the Bathgate Assembly Room, and she had seen her in her
turn watching Virginia with eyes whose meaning, whatever it was, was
not one of hostility.  "Now there's a woman with sense," she had said
to herself.  "_She_ wouldn't be tiresome.  I wonder how much she is
under the influence of her old bear of a husband?"

This was what she was going to find out, if she could, and she waited
her opportunity, refusing invitations to dance, and wandering about the
great string of rooms at Kemsale, stalking her prey, with a
whole-hearted indifference as to what might be thought of a single lady
so apparently friendless and partnerless.

It was Lord Meadshire himself, who, coming across her passing through
one of the smaller drawing-rooms, did what she wanted.  "What! not
dancing?" he asked in his friendly way; and with a searching glance at
his kind old face she said, "I have something else to do.  I want to
speak to Mrs. Clinton, but I don't know her."

He looked at her in return with a momentary seriousness.  "Want to gain
a convert, eh?" he asked.  He liked her plain sensible face, and the
way she stood, square to him and to the world.  "Tell me now, is this a
serious business?"

She did not answer him directly.  "She's one of the best women in the
world," she said.  "Perhaps I'm the only person who really knows what
she's been through and how she has taken it.  She has come out of her
troubles pure gold.  And anybody can see for themselves that she is
beautiful and has a charm all her own."

"Oh yes, anybody can see that," said Lord Meadshire.  "She's a sweet
creature.  And Dick Clinton wants to marry her.  _He's_ serious, eh?"

"I think he has proved it," said Miss Dexter.

Lord Meadshire considered this.  He had heard that Dick had retired
from the army, but not about his having taken an estate agency.  "I
suppose he is," he said.

"They ought to know her," said Miss Dexter.  "People ought not to hug
prejudices that have no reason."

Lord Meadshire looked at her with his mischievous smile.  "A matter of
abstract right and wrong--what?" he said.  "Well, come along, and I'll
introduce you.  But you must tell me your name, which I'm afraid I have
forgotten, although I know quite well who you are, you know."

"Yes.  I'm Lady George Dubec's companion, and my name is Dexter," she
said.

Lord Meadshire loved a little conspiracy.  His eyes twinkled at her as
he said, "This dance is coming to an end, and people will be here in a
minute.  You would like to talk to her by yourselves.  Go into the
conservatory there, and leave it all to me."

So Miss Dexter went and deposited herself on one of two chairs under a
palm.  Couples in search of privacy wondered, sometimes audibly, why on
earth the woman couldn't find some other place to sit and mope in, but
she sat on undisturbed.  A man whom she had danced with before, also
unattached, mooned in with his hands in his pockets, and showed a
disposition to take the vacant chair.  "Please go away," she said.  "I
have got toothache, and anybody who talks to me will have his head
snapped off," and he, being of a diffident nature, went.  Presently the
lilting sweep of strings and the sweet penetrating sound of horns came
sweeping in from the distant orchestra, and she was left alone once
more, except for one couple, who still sat on in a distant corner.  But
by and by she heard voices approaching.  These were from Lord Meadshire
and Mrs. Clinton, whom he had brought in to look at the flowers, which
were banked up in gay, scented masses underneath the spreading branches
of the great palms.  They came to where she was sitting, and Lord
Meadshire said again, "What! not dancing?"  She rose and stood before
them.  "I'm having a little rest," she said, with a smile; and then he
made the introduction.  "Do you know Miss Dexter, Nina?" he asked.
"She has come to live here for a time, Mrs. Clinton."

Mrs. Clinton acknowledged the introduction not without stiffness.  She
was taken by surprise, as was intended, but she was a woman whom it was
not wise to take by surprise, if you wanted her to show you what was in
her mind.

Lord Meadshire had intended to leave her with Miss Dexter, slipping
away on some excuse with a promise to return, but when he had borne the
brunt of a light conversation for a little time he perceived that he
could not do so.  He paused in some bewilderment, and Miss Dexter said,
"May I have a few words with you, Mrs. Clinton?"

"Ah yes," he said, visibly relieved.  "I'll leave you both here
together, and come back."

But Mrs. Clinton said at once, "If it is about Lady George Dubec, I
would rather not hear anything.  I think I will go back to the
ballroom, Cousin Humphrey."  Then she turned resolutely, with a bow to
Miss Dexter, who had plumped herself into her seat again and did not
return it, and Lord Meadshire had nothing to do but to go away with
her.  "But you mustn't sit here all the evening," he said kindly, over
his shoulder, to Miss Dexter.  "I shall come back and fetch you."

But when he returned five minutes later she was not there, and he saw
her dancing vigorously, and apparently anxious to avoid him.

But she could not dance the whole evening, owing to a lack of partners,
and he had an opportunity of speaking to her later.  "I'm afraid our
little scheme miscarried," he said, with some concern.

She showed him a pink, angry face.  "I wish to goodness I had left it
alone," she said.  "I don't like being snubbed."

"She won't go behind her husband," he said rather lamely.

"I thought, to look at her, she had a good deal more sense than he,"
said Miss Dexter uncompromisingly.  "It seems I was mistaken."



CHAPTER XVIII

MRS. CLINTON CHOOSES A GOVERNESS

Mrs. Clinton sat in Lady Birkett's drawing-room prepared to interview,
one by one, twenty or more of the ladies who had answered her
advertisement for a governess for the twins.  She expected to devote
two consecutive mornings to her task, and was prepared to listen, to
weigh, and to judge with all her faculties alert.  On the table by her
side was an orderly pile of letters, most of them running to two or
three sheets of notepaper.  They were the residuum of some scores, and
she had read the contents of each several times over.

Punctually on the stroke of ten entered Miss Winifred Player,
twenty-five, French, German, and Italian, elementary Hebrew, music,
drawing, thorough English and composition, botany, physiology, dancing
and calisthenics, needlework, swimming, elementary bookkeeping and
typewriting; daughter of a clergyman of the Church of England; bright,
persevering, and makes friends with pupils (see testimonials);
bicycles, good walker, tennis.  It was astonishing that she should have
acquired so much learning during her short term of life, and also spent
eight years in imparting it.  She proved to be a self-confident young
woman with a voluble tongue, and Mrs. Clinton had only to sit and
listen to her while she made it quite plain that she would not do at
all.  But by way of gaining experience which might be useful in dealing
with further applicants, Mrs. Clinton asked her a few questions when a
lull in the storm of words allowed her an opportunity, going through
her list of "subjects" from the letter she held in her hand.

Miss Player, it seemed, had not studied the languages she offered
abroad.  She had been neither to France, Germany, Italy, nor Syria.
French she had learned at school, German and Italian she had taught
herself in spare moments.  Hebrew--well, she had hardly supposed Hebrew
would be wanted, but she had put that in because she had learnt the
letters and helped her father by copying.  She knew the Greek alphabet
too.  Thorough English meant that she was fond of reading, and had once
reviewed a novel for a parish magazine.  She had the article in her
little handbag, and offered it as corroborating evidence.  Botany and
physiology she had "studied."  But she seemed rather anxious to get
away from her "subjects."  "I always get on with my pupils," she said,
"and I don't mind making myself useful in the house.  In fact, I enjoy
doing so, and feeling that I am one of the family.  How old are your
little girls, Mrs. Clinton?"

"They are fifteen," replied Mrs. Clinton.  "I am afraid your
accomplishments are not quite what I want."

There came a sudden droop.  Miss Player was "bright" no longer, but
plainly dejected.

"You offer a very high salary," she said somewhat inconsequently.

"Yes, you see I want a lady of high education."

"I'm bright in the house," said the girl.

Mrs. Clinton could not repress a smile.  "I hope you will get a good
place where your qualities will be valued," she said, and Miss Player
left her.

The interview had only lasted five minutes, and Mrs. Clinton had
allowed fifteen for each.  She went to find her sister-in-law.  "I
think you had better come and support me," she said, "and I think you
will be amused."  So when Miss Janet Phipp was shown in she found
herself confronted by two ladies instead of one, and both of them asked
her questions.

Miss Phipp was thirty, very plain--there was no denying that--but also
on her own showing very competent.  She had been educated at a High
School, and had taken the degree of Bachelor of Arts at the London
University.  She had taught in a High School ever since, but the work
was rather too hard for her.  Her doctor had advised her to go into the
country and avoid the strain of night as well as day work.  "I am not
an invalid," she said quietly, "and my health would give you no
trouble."

There was no doubt about her capacity, but she was quite uninspiring.
Mrs. Clinton hesitated.  "Have you been used to living in the country?"
she asked.

"Oh no," said Miss Phipp.  "I told you--I have been at the High School
for eight years.  In my holidays I went abroad mostly, or to my home in
Manchester, as long as my parents were alive."

"I am afraid you would find it very dull," said Mrs. Clinton.

"I think not," she said.  "But it wouldn't much matter if I did, would
it, as long as I did my work well?  I can teach, and I like teaching."

"My daughters are active young persons," said Mrs. Clinton.  "They are
out of doors a great deal.  Do you play golf, or lawn tennis, or
anything of that sort?"

Miss Phipp's face hardened a little.  "I don't care about games," she
said.  "I have always put work first.  I would undertake to make your
girls work, and if I were to look after them in their
play-time--wouldn't that be all that would be wanted?"

"I think not," said Mrs. Clinton.  "I want them to work, but I want
some one who would be a pleasant companion for them too, out of lesson
hours."

"Did you find it easy to make friends with your pupils at the school?"
asked Lady Birkett.

"A few of them," said Miss Phipp.  "The ones who wanted to get on.  I
used to have them in my rooms to help them.  With the others I found it
best to keep to work alone.  I got more out of them that way.  After
school hours they went their own way and I went mine."

"But that is just what you couldn't do in a private family," urged Mrs.
Clinton.  "You wouldn't have to be always with the children, but you
would be much more with them than with girls you taught in a school."

"Yes.  I know that," said Miss Phipp.  "Only I don't want to give you a
wrong impression of myself.  I would do my best to make friends with
your girls, only I fancy it would rest with them more than with me.
Some teachers find it quite easy to have girls hanging on to them and
adoring them, and my experience is that work suffers on account of it.
I wouldn't go anywhere where work wasn't the chief thing."

When she had gone out Mrs. Clinton said, "It is really very puzzling.
I'm not at all sure that she wouldn't do, although she is far from
being the sort of governess I had pictured."

"We shall do better," said Lady Birkett.  "There are plenty more to see
yet."

The next to arrive was Miss Judith Gay, twenty-three, pretty and rather
shy, daughter of an admiral deceased, perfect French, good piano and
singing, otherwise not up to the mark scholastically.

"If it were only a companion we wanted!" said Mrs. Clinton when she had
gone out.

"The twins would love her," said Lady Birkett, "but they would twist
her round their little fingers."

Miss Ella Charman was the next arrival.  She was thirty-four, well
dressed, and talked after the manner of a lady of fashion.  It was
apparently her object to set both Mrs. Clinton and Lady Birkett
thoroughly at their ease, and establish intimate relations before
coming to business.  "I have never been in that part of the world," she
said when she had enquired where Mrs. Clinton lived, "but I know the
Palmers very well.  I think they live in Meadshire, don't they?"

"Not in our part of Meadshire," replied Mrs. Clinton.  "At least I do
not know the name."

"Oh, you would know them, I should think, if they lived near you," said
Miss Charman.  "She was a daughter of Sir James Farley.  Lady Farley
was a sister of Mrs. Bingham, with whom I lived.  Mr. Bingham, you
know, is a brother of Lord Howley's.  Little Edward, whom I taught
until he went to school, will be Lord Howley some day.  I was sorry to
leave the Binghams, but Edward was the only child, and had to be sent
to school, of course.  Do you know Lord Dorman, Mrs. Clinton?"

"No," said that lady, taking up a letter, "you have not mentioned----"

"I thought you might," interrupted Miss Charman.  "He is only a new
creation, of course.  He was Sir John Thompson, the engineer or
contractor or something; Mrs. Cottering told me that he had paid a
hundred thousand pounds into the funds of the Liberal Party, and got
his peerage in that way.  The Dormans were very anxious that I should
go to them and take sole charge of their adopted niece.  They have no
children living of their own.  Mrs. Dappering told me that it was a
great sorrow to them.  Their only son was killed in the war.  Do you
know Lady Edith Chippering?"

"No," said Mrs. Clinton.  "Are you still thinking of going to----"

"She was a daughter of the Earl of Havering.  I thought you might.  She
was staying with the Binghams just before I left them.  She did say
something about my going to her.  Of course the Dormans would be
more----  By the way, do you know the Lodderings?  Don't they live in
Meadshire?"

Mrs. Clinton did not answer this question.  "I have a good many people
to see, Miss Charman," she said.  "I think we had better talk
about--about our business, hadn't we?"

"Oh, certainly," said Miss Charman.  "Should I have my meals with the
family or not?  That is rather a point with me.  At the Cotterings' I
had everything sent up and lived entirely in the schoolroom, which I
don't think a good arrangement.  One gets dull and mopy, you know.  At
the Binghams' I was one of the family, and used to help Mr. Bingham
with his farm accounts after dinner; in fact, he used to call me his
secretary.  He _would_ look after everything on his property himself.
Would there be anything of that sort I could help Mr. Clinton in, do
you think?  I don't know whether he has landed property or not, but I
should be delighted to do anything I could to help him."

"You were asking about meals," said Mrs. Clinton.  "You would have
breakfast and luncheon with us, and you would dine upstairs.  Now will
you kindly tell me what subjects you can teach?"

"Oh, the usual subjects," said Miss Charman.  "I am a Bachelor of Arts
of London University, you know, honours in French and mathematics.  And
there are the training certificates.  You have all that, haven't you?
I got Hilda Cottering into Girton.  Her father didn't want her to go.
With all that money coming he thought it was waste of time.  But she
was a clever girl, and we used to do a great deal of work, and have a
great deal of fun besides.  She married young Spencer-Morton, you know,
the nephew of Lord Pickering.  Do you know the Pickerings, by any
chance?"

And so it went on, and would have gone on interminably had not Mrs.
Clinton at last risen and held out her hand as token of dismissal.
Miss Charman retired affably, saying that she supposed she should hear
in a day or two.  She knew Mrs. Clinton must get through her list
first, but she should be glad to come to her, and she would no doubt
let her know the date later on.

When she had left them the two ladies looked at one another and
laughed.  "How delighted Edward would be with that flow of
conversation!" said Lady Birkett.  "It would be worth while engaging
her if only to see his face when she asked him if he knew the
Potterings."

"Miss Phipp is the only possible one so far," said Mrs. Clinton.

Miss Margaret Cunningham was the next.  Twenty-five, with an excellent
record, nice-mannered and good-looking, but the unfortunate possessor
of a cockney accent of remarkably pungency.  She had been a "dyly"
governess only, in "Straoud" Green, where she lived, but her father had
married again and she was not happy at home.  Her father was Scotch.
"I don't think I've got his accent, though," she said, with a smile.
If she had she might have beaten Miss Phipp out of the field.  Her own
made her impossible.

Miss Clara Weyerhauser was young, but spectacled, short-haired and
mannishly clothed.  "Edward would roar the house down if I took her to
Kencote," said Mrs. Clinton, when the tale of her numerous attainments
had been extracted from her and she had stamped out of the room.

"It seemed odd that she should keep her hat on in the house," said Lady
Birkett.

Miss Mary Mansell was too nervous, Miss Gladys Whiting too
delicate-looking to make it likely that they could cope successfully
with the twins.  Then came Miss Jessie Barton.  She was forty-two, and
looked older, a lady by birth and in speech and manner, but poorly
dressed, thin and worn.  She had been teaching for over twenty years in
good families, and had the best of references to show from each, but
admitted, with a flush on her pale cheeks, that she had left her last
place, over a year before, because the girls she had taught wanted a
finishing governess.

"But that is just what I want for my girls," said Mrs. Clinton.

"Ah, but they are younger," she said eagerly.  "Really, I am sure I
could get them on well, Mrs. Clinton.  And I am as strong and active as
ever I was, and much more experienced.  I am just coming to the time
when it will be difficult to get work, and if I don't get work I must
starve.  I have no home to go to now, and very few friends."

"I know those are the hardships of your calling," said Mrs. Clinton
gently.  "But I can't let them weigh with me, can I?  I must do the
best I can for my children."

"Well, I think a woman of my age can do better for them than a younger
one with less experience," said the poor lady.  "I _do_ hope you won't
let my age stand in the way, Mrs. Clinton.  I haven't taken a day off,
as some women do.  I am no older than I say."

"If I hadn't been ready to take a woman of your age, other things being
equal, I shouldn't have asked you to come and see me," said Mrs.
Clinton.  "But I cannot decide anything until I have seen every one I
have written to."

"Ah well!" she said, with a sigh.  "I know you won't choose me, or you
would have told me more about the children, and what you wanted.  I
suppose I must go on with the weary round until I drop."

"It is very depressing, poor thing!" said Mrs. Clinton when she had
gone.  "But I can't possibly engage a governess out of motives of pity."

"She would be all right for younger children," said Lady Birkett.  "It
is hard that she should begin to find it difficult to get work at that
age."

Miss Gertrude Wilson, twenty-nine, was brisk and business-like.  She
would have made an excellent commercial traveller, taking it cheerfully
for granted when she entered a shop that she was going to get an order,
and not leaving it until she had got one.  It was she who asked the
questions, not in the manner of Miss Player, obsessed by her own
personality and experiences, but rather like a doctor, anxious
thoroughly to diagnose a case so that he might do the best he could for
his patient.

"Now I should like to know, first of all," she said, "what the
characters of your girls are like, Mrs. Clinton.  Then one can form
some idea as to how to treat them."

"They are physically active," said Mrs. Clinton; "mentally too,
especially Nancy, who has developed greatly within the last year.  She
is a clever child, and is beginning to take a great interest in books,
and I think one might say in everything she finds inside them."

"Ah, a student!" said Miss Wilson.  "One ought not to let her overdo
that at her age, although one must take pains to encourage her in
anything she wants to take up, and try and concentrate her upon it.  I
don't believe much in desultory reading.  I should feel inclined to
curb that.  But that is not quite what I want to know.  I can deal with
all that when I see the girls.  It is their dispositions I want to get
at.  Are they bright as a general rule, or inclined to be subdued?"

"Not at all inclined to be subdued," said Lady Birkett, with a laugh.

"Not spoilt, I hope?" asked Miss Wilson.  "If they are, please say so.
I can deal with them all right."

"I don't think they are spoilt," said Mrs. Clinton.  "They are both
affectionate, and easily managed by any one they love.  They are apt to
be mischievous, perhaps, although they are growing out of that now.
They are rather overfond of making fun of people, but I think no one
would call them ill-natured."

"Well, that is a very satisfactory report on the whole," said Miss
Wilson.  "I expect I shall get fond of them.  I generally do get fond
of my pupils, and they of me.  May I ask what other members of your
family there are, Mrs. Clinton--brothers or sisters, older or younger?"

"Joan and Nancy are the only ones regularly at home," replied Mrs.
Clinton.

"Oh!  No brothers at school coming home for the holidays?"

"No," said Mrs. Clinton.

"It is apt to make things difficult sometimes.  Girls get out of hand.
Are there older brothers, may I ask?"

"Yes, but you would see little of them, Miss Wilson.  You need not take
them into account."

By the look of Miss Wilson's face, it might have been gathered that she
would have preferred to take them into account, at any rate to the
extent of hearing a little more about them.  But her momentary
dejection disappeared.  She had to keep her control of the situation.
"And now as to hours," she said.  "My plan would be to work the _whole_
of the morning, with perhaps a quarter of an hour off for a glass of
milk and a rock cake or something of that sort--say from nine o'clock
to lunch time; exercise and games in the afternoon, till four.  Then
three hours' work, with tea in between, and I should expect the girls
to do an hour or so's preparation later in the evening.  They do not
dine with you, of course."

"They come down to dessert," said Mrs. Clinton.

"That would be about eight o'clock, I suppose.  We can just fit in the
other hour before they go to bed.  I should like them to go to bed not
later than half-past nine, and----"

"I like them to go to bed at nine," Mrs. Clinton managed to break in.
"And they would not do any work after they have come downstairs; there
would not be time."

"Oh, well, we can settle all that later," Miss Wilson handsomely
conceded.  "I shall do my very best to get them on, Mrs. Clinton.
Wednesdays and Saturdays I suppose we shall have half-holidays, or do
you prefer a whole holiday on Saturday?  Perhaps we had better settle
that later too; it is all one to me.  I shall do my best to fit in with
the ways of the house.  Shall you wish me to take my meals downstairs?"

"Breakfast and luncheon, yes," said Mrs. Clinton.  "You would dine in
the schoolroom."

Miss Wilson's face again fell.  But she said, "That will suit me very
well.  I shall have time for my own reading when the children have gone
to bed.  When shall you wish me to come?"

"If I engage you, about the tenth.  Now I should like to ask you a few
questions, if you are ready to answer them."

The cross-examination Miss Wilson underwent as to her scholastic
attainments and previous experience, at the hands of both ladies, was
somewhat searching, and she came through it admirably.  She was, in
fact, the ideal governess, as far as could be seen.  And yet, neither
of them liked her, and they would have been pleased rather than
regretful to find some flaw which would give them an excuse to reject
her.  "Well," said Mrs. Clinton at last, "I have others to see, but I
will take up your references and write to you in a few days.  You have
given me all the addresses, I suppose?"  She took up Miss Wilson's
letter, which was shorter than the rest, confining itself to one sheet
of note-paper.

"Yes, you will find them there," said Miss Wilson, rising a little
hurriedly.  "Then I shall hope to hear from you, and I will say
good-morning, Mrs. Clinton."

Mrs. Clinton ignored her outstretched hand.  "I will just pencil the
dates at which you were with these three families," she said.  "Mrs.
Waterhouse was the first."

"Oh, I am very bad at dates," said Miss Wilson.  "But they are all in
order.  You will have no difficulty."

Mrs. Clinton looked at her in mild surprise.  "Surely you remember the
number of years you were with each family," she said.

"Oh, I dare say I can remember that," she said, with a rather nervous
laugh.  "I was with Mrs. Waterhouse about three years, Mrs. Simkinson
one and a half, I think it was."

"That is all I wanted to know," said Mrs. Clinton, but Lady Birkett
asked, "Are those three all the posts you have filled?"

Miss Wilson, who was still standing, drew herself up stiffly.  "I was
with some other people for about a year," she said.  "But they were
intensely disagreeable people, and I should be very sorry to have to
rely on a testimonial from them.  They behaved atrociously to me."

"In what way?" asked Mrs. Clinton.

"I prefer not to say," said Miss Wilson firmly.  "I have no wish to
talk about those people at all.  I only wish to forget them.  If you
will take up the references I have given you I think you will know
everything about me that you have a right to ask, and you will find it
thoroughly satisfactory; and anything else I shall be pleased to tell
you."

"I think, then, I must ask why you left these people.  Were they the
last you were with?"

"Yes," said Miss Wilson, "they were; and the whole subject is so
painful to me that I must refuse to go into it."

"You will not give me the name, so that I can at least hear their side
of the story?"

"Certainly not, Mrs. Clinton," replied Miss Wilson indignantly.  "If
those are the only conditions on which I may accept your offer, then I
must refuse it altogether."

"I haven't made you an offer yet," said Mrs. Clinton, "and of course,
under the circumstances, I cannot do so.  So I will wish you
good-morning."

Miss Wilson seemed about to say something more, but changed her mind
and left the room with her head in the air.

The two ladies looked at one another.  "What on earth can it have
been?" asked Mrs. Clinton.

"Carrying on," replied Lady Birkett, with a laugh.  "I can see it now.
She's the sort that carries on.  The details we must leave to the
imagination, but we're well rid of her."



CHAPTER XIX

MRS. CLINTON IN JERMYN STREET

It was about seven o'clock in the evening.  Mrs. Clinton stood for a
moment on the pavement, on which the light of a street lamp shone and
was reflected from the wet stone, and paid her cabman.  Then she turned
to the tall dull house and rang the bell.  In this house, in one of the
narrow streets just off St. James's, Dick had had rooms for many years,
but his mother had not been able to correct the cabman when he had
first stopped at a wrong number.  She had time to reflect on this fact
before the door was opened to her.  Captain Clinton was not in, said
the man, but he generally came in to dress not later than half-past
seven; and she said she would go to his room and wait.

The hall was narrow and dimly lighted.  On a table under a tiny gas-jet
were a dozen or so of bedroom candlesticks, and hanging on the wall a
rack for letters and telegrams.  The stairs were darkly druggeted.  The
man opened a door on the first floor, turned on the light and retired,
and she found herself in a furnished apartment such as is occupied by
men of fashion in London.  There was nothing to mark it off from
superior furnished apartments anywhere.  The furniture was of the solid
Victorian type, the paper on the walls ugly, the carpet of a
nondescript colour.  There was a gilt clock on the mantelpiece and two
coloured glass vases.  The pictures had no value or beauty.  On a
marble-topped sideboard were a collection of gloves, caps, and hats,
the silk ones beautifully ironed and brushed, and on the sofa were two
or three carefully folded overcoats.  These were all that spoke of
Dick's occupancy of the rooms, on which otherwise he had made no sort
of personal impress in a tenancy ranging over twelve years.  There were
no books, and not even a photograph belonging to him.  Yet he paid the
rent of a good house for this room and a bedroom behind the grained and
varnished folding-doors, and was quite content with them.  There was no
bathroom in the house, and he had to go out for all his meals except
breakfast; but he was valeted as well as if he had been at home.

Mrs. Clinton sat down in an easy-chair before the fire and looked
around her once, her gaze resting for a minute on the closed doors
between the two rooms.  She might have wished to see what sort of
bedroom Dick occupied, but she did not do so.  She sat still and waited
for half an hour, and then Dick came in.  She heard him humming an air
as he ran upstairs, but when he entered the room and saw her, half
risen from her chair to receive him, he stopped short in utter
surprise.  "Why, mother!" he exclaimed, and for a moment his face was
not welcoming.  Then he came forward and kissed her.  "Whatever wind
blows you here?" he asked lightly.

"I am staying with Eleanor Birkett," she said.  "I have come up to
engage a governess for the children."

"Time to break them in, eh?" he said.  "How are the young rascals?
Still raking in coins for their camera?"

She allowed herself a faint smile.  "They are very well," she said.

"Well, shall we go and have a little dinner somewhere together, or are
you dining in Queen's Gate?"

"I said I might not be back to dinner," she said.  "I didn't know
whether you would be engaged or not."

"No, I was going to dine at the club.  That's capital.  I'll just go
and shift, if you don't mind waiting, and in the meantime you consider
what Epicurean haunt you would like to go to."  He went into his
bedroom, giving her no time to say anything further if she had wished
to, and left her to sit by the fire again and wait for him.

He came out again in a quarter of an hour, during which time she had
heard splashings and movements, but no further humming of airs.
"Verrey's, I think," he said.  "You'll want to go somewhere quiet, eh?"

"Dick," she said, "I should like to have a little talk with you before
we go out."

He was already putting on his scarf.  "Let's dine first, mother," he
said.  "It's just upon eight, and I'm hungry.  We can come back here
afterwards, if you like."

Perhaps it was better that he should dine first, especially if he was
hungry.  "Very well," she said, and rose to go with him.

Driving through the streets, sitting over their dinner for an hour, and
driving back again, nothing was said between them of what was certainly
occupying Mrs. Clinton's mind, and must have been in Dick's.  It was
difficult for her to talk; they had so little in common besides the
externals of home life, and at every turn in the conversation something
came up that must not be said if there was to be no mention yet of the
only thing that mattered at Kencote.  But Dick seemed determined that
there should be no mention of it, and by and by they got on to the
subject of the twins and their new governess, and then the conversation
was easier.  She told him about the ladies she had interviewed, and he
laughed at her descriptions of them.  "Capital, mother!" he said.  "You
ought to write it all down."  He was pleased with her.  She was
entertaining him, where he had thought she would be a drag on his
well-meant efforts to entertain her.  And because he was very well
disposed towards her, it was gratifying to be able to feel that they
were getting on happily together.  His manner became warmer as the
dinner proceeded, reflecting his feelings, which also became warmer.
They had some quite sensible conversation about the twins and their
education.  Dick thought that the governess who had taught in the High
School--Miss Phipp--was the right one.  "They want discipline," he
said.  "That's what's missing in girls' education, especially when they
are taught at home.  It won't do those young women any harm to be made
to grind at it.  I'm for the school-marm, mother."

As they waited for a minute for a cab to be called up to take them back
to Jermyn Street, Dick said, looking at her appreciatively, "What a
pretty gown that is, mother!  I've never seen it before."  She flushed
with pleasure, but said nothing.  He handed her into the cab, and took
his seat beside her.  "We must have another little evening together
before----  When are you going back, by the by?"

"To-morrow," she said.

"What a pity!  Can't you stay till the next day, and come and do a
play?  I've got to-morrow night free."

But she said she must go back, and he did not press her further.

When they reached Dick's rooms and got out of the cab he told the man
to wait and then turned to the door with his latch-key in his hand.
"Please send him away," said Mrs. Clinton.  "I came on purpose to have
a talk with you, Dick."

"You needn't hurry away, mother," he said.  "But you will want a cab by
and by to go home in."

"I shan't feel comfortable while the minutes are ticking away," she
said.  "You can get me another one presently."

Dick laughed at her, but he paid the cabman, and they went up to his
room together.

"Now, then, little mother," he said, as he took off his overcoat and
scarf, "let's have it out.  I'll mix myself a little liquid
refreshment, and if you don't mind my smoking a cigar, I shall be in a
mood to give you my whole attention."

Now that the time had come to speak she was nervous, and did not know
how to begin.  Dick, apparently thoroughly at his ease, good-humoured
with her, but not prepared, it seemed, to take her very seriously, lit
another cigar, poured himself out whisky and undid the wire of a
soda-water bottle before she spoke, and as she was beginning he spoke
himself.  "I'm going to be married next month," he said; "will you come
to my wedding?"  As he spoke the cord of the soda-water bottle flew out
with a pop, and he said, "Steady now, steady!"

There was a pause, filled only with the sound of the water gurgling
into the glass.  Then Mrs. Clinton spoke.  "Oh, Dick!" she said, "why
do you treat me like this?"

He threw a glance at her, half furtive.  He had never heard her speak
in that tone.  She was looking at him with hurt eyes.  "I am your
mother," she said.  "Do you think I have no feeling for my children?
Have I been such a bad mother to you that it is right to put me aside
as if I were of no account when a crisis comes in your life?"

He walked to the chair on the opposite side of the fire to hers, his
glass in his hand, and sat down.  There was a frown on his face.  Like
his father, he hated a scene, unless it was one of his own making, and
especially he hated a scene with a woman.  But it was true that he had
treated his mother as if she were of no account.  In the presence of
the pain which her face and her voice had shown, he felt a sense of
shame at the easy mastery he had displayed towards her during the
evening, putting her wishes and her feelings aside, thinking only that
it was rather tiresome of her to have intruded herself into his plans,
and that her intrusion must be repelled with as little disturbance as
possible.

She spoke again before he could reply to her.  "You are always very
charming to me, Dick--on the surface.  You treat me with the greatest
possible politeness, always, as you have done this evening.  I know
that many young men do not behave with such courtesy towards their
mother, especially those who do not live in the same world as they do.
But that charming behaviour is a very poor return for what a mother
does for her children when they are wholly dependent on her.  You used
to come to me with all your troubles when you were a little boy, Dick.
Am I so changed that you must shut me out of your life altogether, now?"

Conflicting emotions caused him intense discomfort.  "No, mother, no,"
he said.  "But----"

She took him up.  "But you don't want me any longer," she said, "and
you haven't enough kindness in you to think that I may want you."

Underneath her smooth-flowing speech there was bitterness, almost
cruelty; certainly cruelty, if deliberately to pierce self-satisfaction
is cruel.  For if there were any qualities in Dick against which he
might have thought that no accusation could lie, they were his attitude
towards women and the essential kindness of his heart.  But she had
shown him that external courtesy towards her had only hidden a deep
discourtesy, and his kindness was base metal, not kindness at all.

But she had aroused, if not resentment, opposition.  Her words had
stung.  If she wanted anything from him, that was not the way to get
it.  "Oh, come now, mother," he said, with some impatience.  "I----"

But she would not let him go on until she had said all that she had to
say.  "If you don't care for me, Dick, if you have lost all the love
you had for me when you were a child, then I know it is of no use
saying these things.  Words can't bring back love, nor reproaches.  And
after all, it wasn't about myself that I came here to speak to you.
Your indifference has caused me pain, but I should not have taxed you
with it now; I should have kept silence as I have done for many years,
if it had not been that my love for you has been there ready for you if
you had ever wanted it, and I thought you might want it now.  But I can
do nothing to help you if you won't let me a little way into your
heart.  I must just stand aside and see the breach between you and your
father widen, when it might be healed, and you could restore him to
happiness as well as take your happiness yourself."

Dick's face became harder as she mentioned his father, who had not been
mentioned between them during the evening.  "What can you do with him?"
he asked, with a shade of scorn in his voice.  "He is utterly
unreasonable.  He gets an idea into his head, and nothing will get it
out."

Her voice was softer as she replied.  "Dick dear, you know that isn't
true."

He stirred uneasily in his chair.  "It is true in this case," he said.
"I suppose you mean that as a rule if you give him his head about
anything you can pull him up and make him go the other way if you treat
him carefully.  I know you can, as a rule.  This is an unfortunate
exception to the rule."

"You have driven him into opposition by everything you have done," she
said.  "If you had been a little patient----"

"Oh, I was as patient as possible, at first," he interrupted her.  "But
he went beyond everything.  The only thing was to go away until he had
come to his senses.  From what I have heard, through Walter, he is
worse than ever.  He is going to cut me off with a shilling.  Well, let
him.  I can't imagine anything that will bother him more during the
rest of his life than to have the prospect of Kencote divided up after
his death.  I can't imagine him thinking of such a thing.  I'm not
thinking of myself and what I'm going to get when I say it's a wicked
thing to do.  He's always looked upon the place as a sort of trust.  It
_is_ a trust, and he is going to betray it for the sake of scoring off
me.  He must know that a threat of that sort would be the last thing to
move me.  It is spite, and spite that hurts him as much as it hurts me."

"Oh, Dick!  Dick!" she said.

He gave another uneasy hitch to his body.  Her gentle admonition showed
him as no argument could have shown him from what source his speech had
come.

"Of course I'm sore," he said, answering her implied reproach.  "Any
man would be sore in such a case.  I believe you have seen Virginia.  I
ask you plainly, mother, if you are on his side--the sort of mud he
throws at her--you know.  Because if you are----"

"No, Dick dear," she said.  "I have seen her, and I am not--not on his
side, in that."

Her words, and the tone in which they were spoken, softened his anger.
"You would welcome her as my wife?" he asked.

"Oh yes, I would," she said.  "And I will, Dick, when this trouble is
over.  If she will love me I will love her.  Yes, I have seen her,
twice."

"Thank you very much, mother," he said quietly, after a short pause.

"Dick," she began again, "you know your father.  You know how unhappy
it must make him to be parted from you.  You are bearing very hardly on
him."

"And he on me, mother," said Dick.  "What do you want me to do?  Give
up Virginia?  You haven't come here to ask me to do that?"

"No, not that, Dick."

"Or to wait for a year?  That's Walter's scheme--at least, I believe
it's Herbert Birkett's.  Very kind of him to take a hand in the
discussion.  But I'm not going to wait a year.  I'm not going to wait
any time.  Why should I?  If I make concessions of that sort I'm giving
away my case, I'm admitting that there's some sense in the objections
made--some reason in them.  There's none.  I won't submit Virginia to
the indignity.  I'm sorry now I ever got her down to Meadshire.  I did
that because I knew what--what his prejudices would be, and I thought
he should have a chance of getting over them."

"Then you did think, at first, that there was something to be said for
his prejudices."

"Er--yes--to the extent that if I had put it baldly that I was going to
marry a widow, an American, who had been for a time on the stage--years
ago--although I confess I didn't think that would be known--there might
be trouble.  I thought then, and I think now, that if he had given her
a fair chance--if he had got to know her, he _couldn't_ possibly take
the line he has.  There isn't a soul down there--I've heard all about
it--who isn't at her feet.  It makes me furious--I hardly let myself
think about it--that he should behave as he does.  No, mother, it has
gone too far.  There is nothing I can do now, after all that has
happened, that wouldn't be an admission of weakness."

She did not speak immediately.  "Have you made up your mind," she
asked, "to cut yourself off from all of us--never to come to Kencote
again until your father dies--never to see him again?"

"When I am married," he said, rather sullenly, "he will come
round--sooner or later."

"Not to make the first advance, Dick.  If you marry now, without his
consent, definitely against his wishes, he will make the alteration as
to the succession that he has threatened.  That will be between you.
He will be very unhappy--for the rest of his life--but he will have
taken a step that will make it ten times more difficult for you to come
together than it is now, and----"

"As far as the alteration in his will goes," Dick broke in on her, "I
have thought all that over.  As I say, it's a step he has no right to
take under the circumstances, but if it is to come, if I am to come
into the place--or what's left of it--with my wings clipped for money,
then I say I'm ready to face it, and I don't mind as much as I thought
I should.  Perhaps I've thought too much about money--having everything
cut and dried, and nothing to do for it.  It was that that made me make
the mistake of getting Virginia to go down to Blaythorn.  I was afraid
of what might happen--what he might do.  It was rather mean, in a way.
I don't care what he does.  At least, I care, but it isn't a thing one
ought to think too much about.  Other fellows work to give their wives
a home.  I'm going to do that, and I like the idea of it."

"I think that is a good thing to do," she said rather slowly.
"But--well, you mustn't mind my speaking, plainly, Dick--I think, too,
that in your case you may make too much of it.  I mean that your mind
is probably full of it now, and it is a great relief to you that you
have found a way out of what might have been a serious difficulty, and
that you are not dependent on your father in your marriage.  But there
is Kencote to be thought of.  You are the eldest son, and your natural
place in the world is there.  At present, with your new happiness
coming to you, you are able to detach your mind from it.  But when the
novelty of your new life has worn off----"

"Oh, mother, I am not a child," he interrupted her.  "I know there is
Kencote to be thought of, but not for many years yet--at least, I hope
so.  And if I am to be partially disinherited, you know"--he looked at
her with a smile--"I think I had better detach my mind from it as much
as possible, don't you?"

Again she was silent for a time, and then she said, "Do you remember
when you were a little boy, Dick, and we were together in the garden
one summer evening, and I was telling you about the Clintons, who had
lived at Kencote for so many hundreds of years, and you asked me why
some people lived in beautiful places like that and others were poor
and had no nice homes?  And your father had come out to join us--he was
a young man then--and he answered your question, and told you that
things were arranged like that, and some day Kencote would be yours,
and you must learn to love every acre of it, and know all the people
who lived about you and do the best you could for them when you were
grown up and were the master of Kencote."

"Yes, I remember quite well," said Dick.  "It was the first lesson I
had in the duties of a landowner."

"We were very happy then," she said.  "We used to talk over things
together, and father took a pride in you, and did all he could to make
your childhood happy and make you take a pride in Kencote."

"Yes, he did," said Dick.  "He gave me a very good time as a boy.  And
so did you, mother.  I remember our talks in the garden and in the old
schoolroom, and going to church with you, and about the village.  I
shall never forget those days."

"You grew up at Kencote," she said.  "I know you have always loved it,
and have come home to us whenever you could.  Dick, you can't give it
up, and give us up, your parents who both love you.  You will make
yourself unhappy, as well as us."

He was thoughtful and uneasy.  "Of course, it's a blow," he said.  "I
do love the place."

"And us too, Dick, don't you--a little?"

"Oh, mother!" he said.  "You have always been very good to me.  Perhaps
I've been rather a brute to you--taking things for granted, and not
showing that I remembered.  I do remember, you know.  I had a good time
as a child, and I owe a lot to you."

"And to father too," she said.  "Think of all he did for you and how
proud he has always been of you.  He has made a mistake now--I think he
has, and I tell you so--but, Dick, you are not going to punish him--and
me and yourself--by destroying, for always, everything that keeps us
united as a family?"

Again he moved uneasily.  "Well, what on earth am I to do?" he asked.
"I've told you what I feel about it all."

"Well, don't you feel exactly as your father does?  Aren't you acting
just as you blame him for acting?  Don't you see how like you are to
him in many ways?"

"The poor old governor!" said Dick.  "I'm sorry for him in a way.  But
I hope I don't act with quite such disregard for common sense as he
does."

"You act from pique.  He thinks you are in the wrong, and won't give
way, although he would like to.  And you think he is in the wrong and
you won't move towards him.  There's something better even than common
sense, Dick, which he shows and you don't.  It is love."

"I don't think you can reasonably say he has shown me much of that
lately, mother," said Dick.

"You keep away from him," she said.  "If you were to come home you
would see how he has been longing for you, and you would be sorry for
him.  Even if people wrong us, if they love us and we see it, it is not
difficult to forgive them.  If you would come home I think all your
anger would disappear, however much you may think you are justified in
it.  I have never seen your father so unhappy and so troubled.  For his
sake, Dick, for the sake of all that he has done for you, come home to
us.  That was what I came here to ask of you."

He was silent for some time, struggling with himself.  "I'll come," he
said shortly, "but you must tell him, mother, that I am going to be
married soon.  I can't come to enter into that question again with him.
It is settled."

"Very well," she said quietly, and there was silence between them for a
time.

"And now tell me of your plans, Dick," she said presently in a lighter
tone.  "You must remember that I have heard nothing, and I want to hear
everything."

"Oh, I'm going up to Yorkshire next week to get the house ready.
Virginia is coming with me and we are going to stay with Spence.  It is
a nice old stone house with a big garden and a view of the moors, and
the sea beyond.  Look here, mother, can't you do anything?  You have
brought _me_ round, you know.  I'm going to do what you want, against
my own inclinations.  I shan't be very comfortable at Kencote.  Can't
you go and see Virginia?  It's rather hard luck for her, poor girl, to
be treated as if she were a pariah by all my people.  Something's owing
to her, and a good deal, I think."

"I should like very much to know her," she said.  "Whether I can go
definitely against your father's wishes, whether I should do any good
by doing so, is a difficult question to decide."

"Well, I suppose I can see that," he said.  "You have got to live with
him.  But if we are to make it up at all, he and I, which I own I
haven't much hope of, there'll have to be give and take on both sides.
You ought not to get me down to Kencote and then take his part against
me."

"We must wait a little," she said.  "What I can do I will do.  Oh, Dick
dear, I am so glad you are going to be happy.  I have thought about you
such a lot."

He came over to her and kissed her.  "You're a good little mother," he
said.  "I wish I'd carried you off bodily to see Virginia when she
first went down there.  You would have got on well together."

"Oh, and we shall," she said, "as soon as these unhappy difficulties
are over.  Now I shall go back home with a quiet mind.  I'm sure, Dick,
if you are patient with your father, all the difficulties will melt
away.  It rests with you, dear boy, and I'm sure you will act wisely.
Now I must be going back, if you will send for a cab for me."

"I'll take you back," said Dick.  "I want to tell you all about
everything, mother."



CHAPTER XX

AUNT LAURA INTERVENES

For an old lady who did not enjoy the best of health, who had lived all
her life in an atmosphere of congenial companionship and now lived
alone, who had no place of importance to fill in the world, and small
occupation except what she made for herself, Aunt Laura passed her days
in unusual contentment.

The life of an old maid blessed with a sufficiency of this world's
goods is a cheerful if rather pathetic object of contemplation.  You
would think they missed so much, and they seem to miss so little.
There is nothing that seems much worth their doing, unless they are
particularly gifted, and yet they are always busy.  If you had paid a
visit to Aunt Laura at any time of the day you would never have found
her sitting with her hands in her lap, idle, unless it happened to be
at those times, after a meal or, as she would say, between lights, when
a short period of contemplation was as ordered a part of the day's
duties as any more active occupation.  After breakfast she would be
busy with household duties, "ordering," or passing in review some or
other of her possessions, one of her three servants in attendance,
giving her whole mind to it, although the weakness of her ageing body
made it incumbent on her now chiefly to superintend from her habitation
in front of the parlour fire.  Sometimes she was induced to stay in bed
until the morning was well advanced, but it was a great trial to her.
"If the mistress is not about," she would say, "all the house goes to
pieces.  And although I have good and trustworthy servants, who have
been with me a long time, things go wrong if they are left too much to
themselves."  So even when in bed, she would sit propped up by pillows
with a dressing-jacket round her shrunken old shoulders, giving her
orders for the meals of the day to the stout, friendly cook, who stood
by her bedside with her head on one side and made suggestions, which
were sometimes accepted and sometimes overruled, and after that
important duty was over, go through the linen with Hannah, the
parlour-maid, or arrange with Jane, the housemaid, what room should be
"turned out," and when, or other matters of like moment.

Then she had her letters to write, quite a number of them, considering
that she had always lived at Kencote and knew very few people outside
it.  When she was quite well, and the weather was quite fine, she would
dress carefully and potter about her garden, giving minute directions
to the gardener, who followed her about slowly, and took all she said
in good part, although he went his own way afterwards.  Or she would
walk out into the village, leaning on Hannah's arm, sometimes go up to
the great house, or to the Rectory, sometimes into the cottages of her
friends amongst the villagers, who were always pleased to see her, for
she was of a charitable disposition, gave what rare financial aid was
required of her in a community where no one was poor, and, what was
valued more, ready sympathy and interest in trials or pleasures.

After luncheon she had her nap and her needlework, or a book from the
library at Bathgate--one a week sent over to her by post--to occupy
her.  Sometimes she played thin little pieces of music on the thin old
piano.  Tea was an event, requiring much manipulation of old silver
teapots, one for the leaves and one for the brew, and when she had
company much pressing of dainty, unsubstantial viands.  After tea there
were needlework and reading again until it was time for her
supper-tray.  She had given up dining; her luncheon was her dinner, and
a fairly substantial one.  She talked a good deal, in quite a ladylike
way, about her food.  Her state of health was gauged by whether she
could "fancy" it or not.  She always changed her gown in the afternoon,
and wore a silken shawl instead of the Shetland one without which she
was never seen in the morning.  In the evening she spent some time over
her devotions, and with Hannah's help made a long disrobing, beginning
at a quarter to ten and ending about half-past.  Then at last she lay
buried in the down of her great cumbrous bed, her night-light in the
basin, her glass of milk and her biscuits on the table by her side, all
ready for those long dead hours during which she might, if she were in
perfect health, sleep quietly, but of which she was more likely to
spend some patiently waiting for the blissful state of unconsciousness
which was so soon to close down on her for all eternity.

She had much to think of during those hours--scenes in the long-past
years of her life when she had been young and active and had lived in
her father's house with her sisters, or during the later but still
far-off years when they had all lived together at the dower-house; of
the quick passage of time which had brought age to them and robbed her
of one after the other; of those she loved at the great house; of her
nephew's early career, which seemed to her a most distinguished one; of
his marriage; and of the coming of the dear babies, and of their growth
and the things that had happened to them.  Here was abundance of
incident to provide food for a mind pasturing on memories--as much as
if she had known the great world and taken part in its many activities,
instead of passing her blameless days in a small, secluded sameness.

Sometimes, if sleep was very long in coming, she would say over to
herself some of the poetry she had learnt by heart, or some of her
favourite passages in the Bible.  And sometimes she would pray.  Her
faith was simple enough.  God was her Father, who knew best what was
good for her, and had a sublime tenderness for her, and for all whom
she loved.  Soon she would be with Him, praising Him with voice and
harp in Elysian fields and in endless happiness, joined to those who
had gone before, who were waiting for her, and probably knew all that
she was doing or thinking.  Life, for as long as she was spared, was a
precious gift, and she did not want to die; but she looked forward with
no dread to dying when her time should come.  She was quite convinced
that death was only a passing over, and her experience of death-beds
had taught her that nothing very terrible took place when the spirit
parted from the body.  She would cease to be, and she would join her
sisters in heaven; and whatever pain or weakness should come to her
before her departure she would have strength given to her to bear, as
her sisters had borne it.

Since she had come to live alone in the little old house in the village
Aunt Laura's wealth had considerably increased.  It did, now, amount to
wealth, for she lived on less than half her income, which at the time
of her sister's death had amounted to something like two thousand
pounds a year.

Her father had left her and her sisters six thousand pounds apiece, and
there had been six of them when they had first moved down to the
dower-house.  He had committed this rather extraordinary piece of
generosity because shortly before his death he had inherited intact the
considerable fortune of his brother, who had been a merchant in the
City of London, as his father had been before him.  Merchant Jack, of
whom Aunt Laura had spoken to Susan Clinton, had inherited Kencote as a
younger son, had passed on the estates and his own acquired store of
money to his eldest son, Colonel Thomas, and his business to his
younger son, John Clinton, who had lived and died a bachelor, having
little use for the wealth he amassed, beyond that part of it which
enabled him to live in solid comfort in his old house in Bloomsbury and
lay down a cellar of fine wine, the remainder of which still shed a
golden glow over the cobwebby bins at Kencote.  The thirty-six thousand
pounds with which Colonel Thomas portioned his daughters had still left
the great bulk of this windfall to go with the estate, to go rather to
the next heir, who was Edward, our Squire.

The Squire had succeeded at the age of nineteen to a large fortune, as
well as to many thousands of acres of land, and was a much richer man
than even his sons suspected.  He cared little about money, or if he
cared for it, it was not for the aggrandisement it might have brought
him.  He had an income far in excess of what was required to keep up
his establishment and his property in the way he wanted to keep it up,
and what was left over he had no further use for.  He had simply
allowed it to accumulate, investing the overplus of year after year in
gilt-edged securities on the advice of his old-established firm of
stockbrokers, whose forebears had also advised his, and not giving it a
thought when it was once so disposed of.  The bulk of his funded
property came from the money which his great-uncle had bequeathed to
his grandfather, and some of it was still invested in the securities
which the shrewd old merchant had himself selected.  It was this money
out of which, after his widow and younger children had been handsomely
provided for, Dick would inherit the sum necessary to enable him to
live at Kencote as he himself had done--if Dick behaved as he should
behave.  Otherwise it would go--well, he had not yet made up his mind
where it would go.

Now, if the jointure of the six maiden aunts had been chargeable on the
estate, as it would have been but for the old merchant's bequest, only
on a much lower scale, the Squire would no doubt have busied himself
about it, would have known exactly what proportion of it was being
spent and what saved, and might have had some suggestion to make as to
the disposal of what should remain after the death of the last sister
had caused it to revert to the estate.  As it was, he hardly ever gave
it a thought.  He knew that his aunts were well off, but he did not
know what sum had been left to them, although he could easily have
informed himself of it if he had cared to.  Nor did he know how Aunt
Laura, in whose frail hands the whole of it had now come to lie,
proposed to leave it.  It would not be quite true to say that he had
never given the matter a thought, but it would not be far from the
truth.  He had so much more than sufficed for his own needs that
although he would be gratified if after Aunt Laura's death he found
himself richer by several thousand pounds, the legacy would not
actually do for him more than slightly increase his lightly borne
business cares.  It would go eventually to the children, and the amount
of speculation he had ever expended on the subject was as to whether it
would come first to him, or, by Aunt Laura's direct bequest, to them,
as to which he did not care either the one way or the other.  The
possibility of its being left outside the family altogether never so
much as crossed his mind, because he knew Aunt Laura quite well enough
to know that, as to the bulk of it, there was no such possibility.

Happy Aunt Laura, to have been permitted to escape the siege which is
not seldom laid against rich maiden aunts!  And happy Clintons, to have
escaped, both in youth and age, those complications which the lack of
plentiful coin brings into the lives of so many of their
fellow-creatures!

But perhaps they had not altogether escaped them.  It was doubtful, as
yet, whether the Squire, who was now thinking of using his riches as a
weapon in a way in which he had never had to think of using them
before, was the happier for having that weapon ready to his hand.
Money was for the first time playing its part in Dick's life in a way
the outcome of which was still to be seen.  Humphrey, at least, had
never had enough of it to do what he wished to do, and was becoming
increasingly hungry for more.  And Aunt Laura, lying sometimes for
hours on a sleepless bed, was beginning to be a little worried about
her responsibilities as the steward of a considerable fortune,
concerning whose disposition she had to come to a decision before she
could peaceably leave this world for a better one, in which money and
the anxiety attendant on it would play no part.

She was surprisingly innocent about money, although amongst the six
sisters she had been considered the financial genius, and from the
first had kept all the accounts.  "Dear Laura," Aunt Ellen had been
used to say, "has a wonderful head for pounds, shillings, and pence.
Her accounts are never out by so much as a farthing, and she would be
an ideal wife for a poor man, such as a clergyman, with a fixed but
limited income."

She remembered this as she lay, now, in the night, turning over in her
mind this question of money, and remembered it with pride.  She
remembered how upon their father's death old Mr. Pauncey, the Bathgate
solicitor, who was so old-established, and had had such a long
connection with Kencote that he might be regarded almost as an equal,
and only treated with the merest shade more of consideration than one
of the county neighbours, had explained to them all in conclave exactly
what their financial position was, and how the sum that had been left
to each of them was invested.  He had had a sheet of paper with him,
from which, after taking snuff, he had read out a long list of
securities, and figures, and percentages, and left them at the end of
it mentally gasping for breath, and no wiser at all than they had been
before.

Then it was she, the youngest of them all, who had summoned up courage
to say, "I think, Mr. Pauncey, if you would tell us exactly what sum of
money is brought in by all those--those things, we could make our
arrangements accordingly."

She could see now, in the darkness, the admiring looks of her sisters
bent upon her, and hear the ready acquiescence of Mr. Pauncey, as, with
gold pencil-case in his hand, he made some rapid calculations, and gave
her the figures required.

After that it was she who, with pencil in hand, secretary and treasurer
to a most serious committee, had set down on paper exactly how the
comfortable income they had had secured to them should be spent--so
much for the housekeeping, so much for wages, so much for stables,
garden, dress, charity, and so on--a delightfully interesting
occupation, as she well remembered, although readjustments had had to
be made later, and it required a good many hours a week with
account-books and paper ruled in money columns to keep unflinchingly to
the course laid down.  "Laura is busy with accounts; she must not be
disturbed.  The amount of trouble she gives herself to keep all our
affairs in perfect order you would hardly credit."  She remembered as
if it were yesterday sitting in the oak parlour on a warm September
morning with the casement open and a scent of mignonette coming through
it, and overhearing her eldest sister talking to the old Rector, so
many years since in his grave, and the thrill of happiness that the
words had brought to her, struggling with her task and with rows of
recalcitrant figures which would not add up twice alike.

And it had been she who had been the medium of all arrangements with
old Mr. Pauncey, who had been most attentive in coming over himself at
frequent intervals to explain any little matter that wanted
explanation, and had never changed an investment for them without
explaining exactly why he thought it ought to be changed, and, what was
perhaps more important still, giving her the exact alteration that
would be made in the figures, so that she should have no further
trouble with her accounts than was necessary.

After a bit it was young Mr. Pauncey who had attended to their affairs,
and she remembered very well that on the occasion of his first visit
her sister Ellen had considered it advisable to sit in the room while
he disclosed the business upon which he had come over.

"He is a very well-behaved _young_ man, my dear," Miss Clinton had
said, "although perhaps not the equal of his father, who is one of
nature's gentlemen.  But in case he should presume----"

Young Mr. Pauncey never had presumed, and he looked after Aunt Laura's
property to this day, and would continue to "attend on her" until her
death, if he survived her, although he had long since devised all his
other professional cases to his son and grandson.  She relied greatly
on young Mr. Pauncey's advice, and had long since forgiven him for the
slight disturbance he had once made in objecting to carry out certain
of their decisions.  It had been necessary for Aunt Anne, upon whom it
had always devolved to say the word that would put people in their
places when that word had to be said, to end the discussion with a
speech that shook a little in the middle: "Mr. Pauncey, we have asked
you to come here to take our instructions.  It will save time if you
will kindly write them down at once."

How splendid dear Anne had been on that occasion--quite polite, but
quite firm!  And young Mr. Pauncey, it had afterwards been agreed, had
behaved admirably too.  With a courteous smile he had said, "Very well,
ladies, I will say no more," and had then helped them most lucidly to
put their decision into proper form, and had since admitted handsomely
that their carefully considered plan had worked well, adding that he
had felt himself obliged to criticise it, entirely in their own
interest.

A trust had been formed with young Mr. Pauncey, in whom, as they
assured him, they had complete confidence, as sole trustee.  The six
separate estates were pooled and the income from the whole capital
could be drawn on by the cheque of any of the six beneficiaries.  The
disadvantage of this scheme, as young Mr. Pauncey had ventured to point
out at the time, was that if any one of them quarrelled with the other
five, or got married, it was in her power to cause them considerable
inconvenience by appropriating more than her share of the income, or,
if she wrote her cheques at the right moment, the whole of it.  It was
at this point that Aunt Anne had interposed with her famous speech, and
young Mr. Pauncey had ceased to make objections, probably consoling
himself with the reflection that, as trustee, he could put an end to
the inconvenience at any time that it should arise.

But the sisters had never quarrelled and none of them had married, and
young Mr. Pauncey at the age of seventy-five was obliged to admit to
himself that the most highly irregular arrangement he had ever
legalised had also turned out to have worked with the least possible
amount of friction.  No further adjustments had had to be made as one
sister after the other had died; none of them had made a will or had
needed to; and Aunt Laura, the last survivor, was now in automatic
possession of the whole, as all the sisters had wished that the last
survivor should be.  "We are agreed," Aunt Ellen had said in conclave,
"that the bulk of the money shall go back to dear Edward, or to his
children if he marries and has any; let the last of us who is left
alive carry out our joint wishes without being tied up by promises or
papers.  That to my mind is the ideal arrangement.  Circumstances may
arise which we cannot now foresee.  Let the one of us who is spared
longest have power to deal with them, under the kind advice of young
Mr. Pauncey, if he also is spared so long, and not be hampered by what
is called red tape."

And so the passing away of one sister after another had not been
harassed by questions of property, and it was not until Aunt Ellen the
eldest and Aunt Laura the youngest had been left alone together that
any discussion at all had arisen as to the disposal of the money which
they shared.  They had talked of it together, and had called young Mr.
Pauncey into advice.

Young Mr. Pauncey, now a little deaf and a little feeble in body,
though not in brain, and as courteous and helpful as ever, had advised
that the money should be equally divided amongst the Squire's younger
children.  "There are six of them," he had said very happily, "just as
there were six of you ladies.  Mr. Clinton would probably dispose of it
in that way if you were to leave it to him, and I shall not be
betraying confidence if I say that Captain Clinton is already very
handsomely provided for."

So it had been agreed upon provisionally, but the question of making a
will had been left in abeyance, and later on it had been thought that
Cicely might possibly have rather more than the others, because Jim was
not too well off, owing to those wicked death duties, and later still
that Dick, perhaps, ought to have some, because they were not supposed
to know what would be done for him, and they would not like him to feel
himself left out in the cold; and by and by that it might be better,
after all, to ask Edward to decide the matter himself.  But nothing had
been done.  Aunt Ellen had died, and Aunt Laura had postponed coming to
a decision at all for two years past, thinking over the matter
occasionally, but never finding herself, as she expressed it, "guided."

Now she had begun to feel that she must come to a decision, and the
guidance, in a dim sort of way, seemed to be making itself felt.  She
had never had any particular favourite amongst her nephew's children.
Cicely would have been the favourite if she had not been a girl, for
she had been much with her aunts before her marriage, and there had
been more community of interest with her than with the rest.  But it
was impossible to put a girl Clinton before a boy Clinton, and her
claim bulked no larger than those of Dick, Humphrey, Walter, or Frank.
And hitherto, except in the case of Dick, there had seemed to be no
reason for preferring one of the boys before the other.

But lately Aunt Laura had become considerably attached to Humphrey,
whom, in the past, she had perhaps liked least of all the boys,
although she would not have admitted as much to herself.  He had been
much away from Kencote, and had seemed so "grand" in his ways and ideas
that she had been a little nervous of him on the rare occasions on
which he had visited her.  But lately, she thought, he had "softened."
He must have felt, she told herself with a tremulous gratification,
that she was the last of all his great-aunts left, that she would not
be much longer with them, and that attention to her, although it could
not bring him anything, would be deeply appreciated, as indeed it had
been.  He had been so very kind, cheering up her rather lonely days
with constant visits, whenever he had been at home, making her those
little presents which, because they showed real appreciation of what
would give her pleasure, had meant so much to her, and latterly taking
her into his confidence and telling her things about himself of a sort
which no man, young or old, amongst her relatives, or indeed outside of
them, had ever confided to her before.

It was this which had caused her such intense gratification.
Throughout the whole of their lives she and her sisters had had to
fight against the feeling that, although they were kindly treated, and
even deferred to, by the members of their little world, they were of no
real account.  Slights, which had not been intended for slights, had
sometimes distressed them, and they had had on occasions to assure each
other that nothing could have been further from the intention of those
who had wounded them than to do so.  To ask their advice, to prove that
they were not unimportant members of a family to which they had given a
life-long allegiance--this was the straight way to their hearts, and it
had seldom been taken.  All the kindnesses that could be heaped on them
would have been outweighed by one cry for succour or sympathy.

That cry had never come--perhaps there had been nothing in the even
lives of their relations to bring it; but of all the talks she had ever
had with any of her great-nieces and nephews Aunt Laura had most
enjoyed those which she had lately had with Humphrey, for they had come
nearest to it.

He had, indeed, shared a secret with her.  He was in love, and nobody
in the family knew it but she.  And he was in love with that dear nice
girl who had come once or twice to see her, had shown her more than
friendliness, almost affection, and made for herself a warm little
corner in a warm heart.  Susan Clinton also had confided in her a
little.  At any rate she had permitted her to see that Humphrey's
feelings for her were returned.  And when she had bid her farewell she
had kissed her and said, "I have loved these talks with you, Aunt
Laura"--yes, she had called her that, although, of course, the
relationship was a very distant one--"it is so nice to feel that one
has a friend at Kencote."

But falling in love is one thing and getting married--the natural
result of falling in love--is another; and Humphrey had confided to her
that there were obstacles in the way of his getting married.

Of course, although Susan Clinton did not belong to the elder branch of
the family, facts must be looked squarely in the face, and the daughter
of an earl, even of an earl of no great wealth, had a right to expect
something more elaborate in the setting up of married life than a girl
of lesser lineage.  Humphrey very sensibly saw that.  "I can't very
well ask for her, you see, Aunt Laura," he had said, "unless I know
that I can give her the sort of thing, more or less, that she has been
accustomed to."

Aunt Laura had quite seen it, and he had put it still more clinchingly
when he had said on another occasion, "You see, it wouldn't do for them
to think she was taking a step downward in marrying me."

Good gracious, no!  A Clinton of Kencote was good enough to marry
anybody, short of royalty.  Rich enough too--or ought to be--even a
younger son, if the marriage was a desirable one, as this undoubtedly
seemed to be.  "I think your dear father would be pleased," she had
said.  "He would wish that all of you should marry in your own rank in
life, and he would be well aware that that cannot be done, in these
days when married life seems so much more expensive than it used to be,
without an adequate income.  I think, dear Humphrey, that I should tell
him if I were you, and throw yourself on his generosity, which I have
no reason whatever for thinking would fail you."

Yes, Humphrey had supposed that he would do that sooner or later; in
fact, he would have to, because his profession was not one out of which
a satisfactory income could be made, at any rate in its early stages.
Of course, if the worst came to the worst he could give up his
profession, and take to something else out of which money could be made.

Aunt Laura had resolutely combated this idea.  His profession was a
dignified and honourable one.  She was sure that he would make his name
at it and rise very high.  It seemed unfair that the country should pay
so badly for such important work, but it was an undoubted advantage in
these radical days to have men of family serving their country, and she
supposed that if diplomacy was a career out of which money could be
made it would be thrown open to everybody.  It was better as it was,
and at any rate if his father had not been willing to provide for him
he would not have put him where he was.  She saw nothing for it but a
frank opening up to him.  He could not possibly intend that Humphrey
should never marry.  He was of the age to marry, and the marriage he
proposed was satisfactory in every way.

Humphrey had again acquiesced, but lukewarmly, and had said no more at
the time.

Later on the reason of his lukewarmness and air of depression had come
out, not without pressure on Aunt Laura's part.  "Well, I'll tell you
how it is, Aunt Laura," he had said, "as you are so kind and have
listened to everything I've told you.  One likes unburdening one's self
occasionally, as long as one knows it doesn't go any further."

Of course it would go no further, Aunt Laura had told him, and then
came his story.  He had been extravagant.  He was in debt, rather
heavily, and not for the first time.  He blamed himself very much,
especially now he wanted to make an alteration in his life altogether,
and saw how important it was to keep strictly within one's income.  His
father had been good about it--over the other two crises--but she would
see that when a thing like this had happened twice, with promises of
amendment each time, which he must confess had not been kept, the third
time there was likely to be a considerable disturbance.  She knew what
his father was.  He would be much upset--naturally--he shouldn't blame
him.  He would most likely pay his debts and start him again, but he
would not be likely to pass immediately from such an undertaking to the
discussion of a large increase in Humphrey's allowance, such as would
enable him comfortably to contemplate married life with a wife who had
a right to expect as much as Susan.  He thought his father would not be
displeased with the marriage and not averse, eventually, to make it
possible for him.  If only these wretched debts had not been hanging
round his neck like a millstone--if he were a free man--he would go to
him at once.  As it was--well, he was in a mess, and, frankly, he
funked it.

Aunt Laura, listening to this rigmarole, and gathering from it only
that the poor boy was in trouble, not of a disgraceful sort, but in the
way that young men of good birth and necessarily expensive habits did
get into trouble, felt a warm pleasure rise, increase, and spread
itself in a glow all over her.  She had been deemed worthy of this
affectionate confidence, which in itself would have caused her joy.
How much more so when she felt herself capable of putting an end to it!
With a flush on her withered cheeks and a light in her old eyes she had
said, "I am so sorry for you, dear Humphrey.  Could you tell me--do you
mind--how much money your debts amount to?"

"Oh!" Humphrey had said in an offhand manner, "I suppose about seven
hundred pounds--no, more--nearer eight hundred.  It's a lot, I know,
considering that I was whitewashed a couple of years ago; but--oh,
well, I won't make excuses.  I've been very extravagant, and now I've
got to pay for it."

Then Aunt Laura had offered to pay his debts for him, and he had at
first refused, laughing at her, but expressing his surprise and deep
gratitude at the same time, then, taking the offer a little more
seriously, said that it was out of the question, because his father
would be annoyed, and finally when she had told him that his father
need not know, that it would be a little secret between them two, had
accepted with the most heartfelt expressions of gratitude, which
touched her, now, whenever she thought of them.

She had written him a cheque there and then--for eight hundred
pounds--and he had joked with her in his amusing way about her having
such a large sum at her immediate disposal, asking if she was quite
sure that the cheque would be honoured, because it would never do for a
Clinton to run any risks of that sort.  He had seemed, she remembered,
really surprised that she _should_ be able to draw a cheque for so
large a sum, without ever, as he had expressed it, turning a hair, and
she had explained that for the past two years she had not spent half
her income, and that a large balance was lying in the bank to her
credit, which young Mr. Pauncey had lately written to her about
investing.  "I have not been quite well enough to want to talk business
with him for some time," she had said, "kind and considerate as he is,
and I think it must have been ordained that I should not do so, for
when I did say that I should be able to see him on such a morning--oh,
I suppose now a fortnight ago, or perhaps three weeks--he was not well
himself and went away afterwards, and so it got put off.  I shall tell
him now there will not be so much to invest as he had thought, knowing
as he does about what my expenditure is, and I need not say, dear
Humphrey, how glad I am that it is so, for I do not want a larger
income, and I _do_ want to help those who are dear to me."

So that little episode was over and had been most agreeable to all
parties concerned.  Humphrey had not yet told his father about his
matrimonial projects, because, as he had explained to her, his debts
would take a week or two to settle up, and he did not want to make a
move until he was quite clear.  But he had come down to Kencote again
in the meantime, and had amused and pleased her by his accounts of his
debt-paying experiences, and of how he had told Susan of what she had
done, and of how grateful Susan was to her--for they had fixed it up
between them now.  "Whatever the governor does for us," Humphrey had
said, "we shall be able to get along somehow.  _You_ have made that
possible, Aunt Laura.  We may have to be very economical, but with a
clear run ahead of us we don't mind that.  She is just as keen now to
keep out of debt as I am."

And the end of their talks so far had been on a note of still further
possibility.  "I should like to know," Aunt Laura had said, "exactly
what your dear father is prepared to do for you, Humphrey, when you
tell him.  When I know, I should like a little talk with him.  For I
may be able to help matters."



CHAPTER XXI

AN ENGAGEMENT

Mrs. Clinton reached Kencote in the dusk of the January afternoon and
found the twins on the platform awaiting her.  With the station staff
and the other passengers in the train as audience, they gave her an
all-embracing and, indeed, somewhat vociferous welcome, and led her to
the carriage, one on each side of her, with little squeezings of the
arms and continued expressions of joy.

"We shan't let you out of our sight again, mother," said Joan as they
drove off.  "It has been perfectly awful without you.  We haven't known
what to do at all."

"I hope you haven't been getting into mischief," said Mrs. Clinton,
with an indulgent smile.

"We have been as good as gold," said Nancy.  "You would hardly have
recognised us.  Haven't you noticed our gardenias?  Humphrey gave them
to us.  He said they were the white flowers of a blameless life."

"Is Humphrey still at home?" Mrs. Clinton asked.

"Yes," said Joan; "and something has happened, mother; we don't quite
know what, but we think he has got engaged."

"Engaged!" exclaimed their mother.

"Yes.  Of course you know who it is."

Mrs. Clinton thought for a moment.  "What has put the idea into your
heads?" she asked.

"Father is very pleased with him," explained Joan.  "And that is the
only thing we can think of to account for it.  But we have seen it
coming for a long time."

"Well, for about a fortnight," corrected Nancy.  "It's Susan Clinton,
of course.  Do you like her, mother?"

Mrs. Clinton did not reply to this question, and Joan said, "We are
prepared to give her a sisterly welcome."

"If she treats us well we'll treat her well," said Nancy.  "And we like
the idea of Mr. Humphrey and Lady Susan Clinton.  It's so Morning
Posty."

"I think you are running ahead a little fast," said their mother.
"Don't you want to hear about your new governess?"

"Oh yes!  What is she like?" exclaimed the twins in one breath.

"She is very learned, and rather severe," said Mrs. Clinton.  "You will
have to work very hard with her."

"We are quite ready to do that," said Nancy.  "Is she ornamental?"

"Not at all," replied Mrs. Clinton.  "And her name is Miss Phipp.  She
is coming in ten days, so you must make the best of your holidays until
then."

Nancy sighed.  "Our happy childhood is over," she said.  "No more will
the house ring with our careless laughter.  In ten days' time we shall
become fevered students."

"I hope it won't be quite so bad as that," said Mrs. Clinton.

The Squire was waiting at the door.  He had never before kissed his
wife before the servants, but he did so now.  If they liked to go away
and talk about it they might.  "We'll have no more of this gadding
about," he said jovially.  "We want you at home, don't we, children?"

"Rather," said the twins, renewing their embraces; and Mrs. Clinton
felt that there was nothing lacking in the warmth of her welcome.

They went into the morning-room where the tea-table was already set and
the kettle boiling over its spirit-lamp.  "I told 'em to bring up tea,"
said the Squire; "I want a word with you.  Now run along, children.
You can talk to your mother afterwards."

The twins obediently retired.  "He's full of it," said Joan.  "What a
childish pleasure he takes in a piece of news!"

"If it is as we believe," said Nancy, "we mustn't call her Silky Susan
any more."

"She's all right, really," said Joan, "if you get her away from her
awful old mother."

The Squire, left alone with his wife, took up his favourite attitude in
front of the fire.  "I've got a piece of news for you, Nina," he said.
"What would you think of another marriage in the family?"

Mrs. Clinton, busy with her tea-making, looked up at him.

"I'm pleased about it," said the Squire, who, warming himself in the
Englishman's citadel, and keeping away the fire from his wife, who was
cold after her journey, looked thoroughly pleased.  "She's a nice girl,
although I can't say I took much to her mother, and don't want to see
more of her than is necessary.  It's Humphrey, Nina--Humphrey and Susan
Clinton.  It seems they've taken to each other, and if I can make it
all right for them, they want to get married.  I'm quite ready to do my
part.  I'm quite glad that Humphrey wants to settle down at last.  And
if things are going wrong in other quarters, as unfortunately they seem
to be, this will make up for it a little.  They can have the
dower-house, and if an heir to Kencote comes from this marriage--well,
it will be a very satisfactory arrangement."

This was going ahead with a vengeance.  Mrs. Clinton thought of Dick.
Was he, then, to be finally shouldered out of his place, and Humphrey
installed in it, securely, instead?  "Would he give up his profession?"
she asked.

"We haven't talked about it yet," said the Squire.  "But that is my
idea.  I want somebody here to help me, and if Dick has decided to cut
the cable, then we had better face facts and arrange matters
accordingly."

His face changed as he mentioned his eldest son.  That wound still
rankled, but it was plain that the salve was already working.  "I have
done my best," he said, "and it has all been no good.  Now what we have
to do is to forget all about it and do what we can in other directions.
Walter's a good boy, although a bit headstrong and obstinate.  Still,
he's made his own life and is happy in it, and I will say for him that
he's never given me any serious trouble.  I've had that with Humphrey.
He has been extremely tiresome about money matters, and I own that I
thought there was another storm of that sort blowing up, and haven't
been quite so friendly towards the boy as I might have been.  I'm sorry
for it now, and I'll make up for it; for he tells me he doesn't owe a
single penny."

Mrs. Clinton looked up in surprise.  "Did he tell you that definitely?"
she asked.

"Why, don't you believe him?' asked the Squire rather sharply.

"I should believe him if he said it plainly," she replied.

"Well, he did say it plainly.  'I don't owe anybody a penny,' he said,
'although I can't say I have much of a balance in the bank.'  I never
supposed he would have that.  If the boys keep out of debt on what I
allow them, that's all I ask.  But I'll own it surprised me, as it
seems to have surprised you, that he _has_ kept out of debt since the
last time, and I put it to him again.  'If there's anything to settle
up,' I said, 'you had better let me know now.  You don't want to begin
married life with anything hanging over you!'  And he said again,
'There's nothing at all.  I don't owe anybody a penny.'  So there it
is, Nina.  The boy's a good boy at heart, and I'm pleased with him.
And as for the girl, I think she'll turn out well.  Get her away from
all that nonsense she has been brought up to, and settle her down here,
in a pretty place like the dower-house, with a good income to keep
things going as they ought to be kept going--I'll do that for them--and
I believe she'll turn out trumps, and I hope we shan't be wanting a
grandson long.  That's what pleases me, Nina"--his face beamed as he
said it.  "I'm an active man, but I'm getting on a bit now, and I
should like to see my grandson growing up before I have to go and leave
it all.  That's been at the bottom of half I've felt about this
wretched affair of Dick's; and it made me more annoyed than perhaps I
need have been about Walter settling down in a place like Melbury Park.
To see a boy growing up at Kencote, as I grew up, and taking to it from
the time he's a baby--that'll be a great thing, Nina, eh?"

He was exalted by his rosy dream.  He saw himself leading a tiny child
by the hand, very tender with his littleness, showing him this and
that, hearing his prattle about familiar things, putting him later on a
pony, and later still teaching him to shoot, watching him grow, sending
him off to school, perhaps as an old man hearing of his doings at the
University or in the service,--a fine, tall, straight young Clinton,
fortunate inheritor of generations of good things, and made worthy of
them, largely through his own guidance.  So he had thought about Dick,
years before, sitting before the fire, or pacing his room downstairs,
while his wife and his little son, the centre of all his hopes, lay
sleeping above, or out of doors as he had followed his favourite
pursuits, and found new zest in them.  But in those days he had been
young, and his own life stretched immeasurably before him, with much to
do and many things to be enjoyed.  His own life was still strong in
him, to hold and enjoy, but what should come after it was far more
important now than it had been then, and he desired much more ardently
to see its beginnings.  And Dick had foiled his hopes.  This was to be
a new start, out of which better things should come.  He wanted it
keenly, and because he had had most things that he wanted in life, it
seemed natural that it should be coming to him, and coming from a
quarter whose signs he had not previously examined.  "Nina," he said
again, "I want to see my grandson grow up at Kencote."

She paused a moment before she said quietly, "As you saw Dick grow up
years ago."

His sunny vision was clouded.  He frowned.  "We must make up our minds
to do without Dick," he said; "he won't come here.  He has practically
thrown us off."

"No," she said.  "I have seen him, and he is coming here on Friday."

He stared at her, the frown still on his face.  He was moved by her
news, but not altogether to pleasure.  His mind was running on new
desires, and it was an effort to adjust it to old ones.

"You've seen him?" he said.  "What did you say to him?  You didn't make
him think that I was going to give way?"

"No.  He does not expect that, or, I think, hope for it now."

"Is _he_ going to give way, then?"

"No.  Not that, either.  He is going to be married very soon."

"Then what does he want to come here for?  I won't receive that woman,
whether he marries her or not.  And if he marries her I'll disinherit
him as far as I'm able to.  I don't go back from my word.  If he thinks
he's going to turn me--if he's coming here with that idea--he'd better
stop away."

"He doesn't think that," said Mrs. Clinton.  "I don't think he will
want to speak of anything that has been between you.  He knows, and he
has made up his mind to it.  Don't you want to see him, Edward?  He is
coming because he wants to see you."

The Squire's face showed a flush, and he looked down.  "I shall be very
glad to see him," he said, and went out of the room.

The next morning at breakfast time a note was handed to the Squire from
Aunt Laura, asking him if he could make it quite convenient to come and
see her during the day, as she wished to consult him upon matters of
business.

"Matters of business!" he echoed, reading out the note.  "Now it's a
remarkable thing that none of the old aunts has ever wished to consult
me on matters of business before, though I should always have been
ready to do what I could for them.  I wonder what the old lady wants."

"I think I know," said Joan.

Humphrey looked at her sharply from across the table.  "You can't
possibly know anything about it," he said.

"She wants to keep guinea-pigs," pursued Joan, unmoved.  "She told me
about some she had when she was little, and said she should like to
have them again."

"Humphrey might give her a hutch for a Christmas present," suggested
Nancy.

"Don't talk nonsense, children," ordered the Squire.  "You might run
down to her after breakfast and say I will come and see her at eleven
o'clock."

At the hour mentioned he marched into Aunt Laura's parlour, bringing
with him into the rather close atmosphere a breath of the cold bright
winter day.  "Well, Aunt Laura," he said in his hearty voice, "you want
me to help you settle your affairs, eh?  What about Mr. Pauncey?
Shan't I be making him jealous?"

Aunt Laura, with thoughts of "refreshment" filling her mind, did not
reply to this question until he was sitting opposite to her with a
glass of sherry and a dry biscuit by his side.  Then she said, "It will
be a matter for Mr. Pauncey by and by, Edward.  It is about Humphrey.
I wished to consult you about doing something for dear Humphrey and the
nice girl he is going to marry."

"Oh, you've heard about that already, have you?" exclaimed the Squire.
"Good news travels fast, eh?  Well, it isn't a bad thing, is it?
Another young couple settling down--what?  Who let you into the secret,
Aunt Laura?"

"Dear Humphrey has told me all about it," said the old lady, with some
pride.  "I was the first to know.  And he brought the nice girl to see
me when she was here at Christmas time, and she came by herself
afterwards.  I liked her very much, Edward, and I hope you do too."

"Oh yes, I like her," said the Squire.  "It's an engagement that
promises well.  So you want to give them a wedding present, eh?  Well,
now, if I might suggest, and you cared to spend the money, how about a
smart little pony dogcart, with harness and everything, and a pony,
which I'd look out for you and take some trouble about it?--very
pleased to.  That would be a very handsome present.  I don't know
whether you'd care to go up to it.  It would cost you about--about----"

"Thank you, Edward," Aunt Laura interrupted him.  "I think that might
be a good idea for one of my presents, and I will think it over and
very likely accept your very kind offer.  But it was not exactly a
wedding present that I had in my mind when I asked you to come and see
me, which you have so kindly and promptly done.  As you know, I have an
income far above my needs, and there is a considerable sum of money
belonging to me which will go to the children after my death.  How much
it is I could not tell you exactly without consulting Mr. Pauncey,
which I propose to do when I am better and he is better.  But what I
should wish to do is to make Humphrey an allowance to supplement what
you yourself propose to allow him, and in my will I should like--but
this I will not settle upon against your wishes, not by any means--I
should like to--well, if you understand what I mean--to make Humphrey,
as it were, more my heir, perhaps, than the other children."

Probably Aunt Laura had never before addressed a speech so long to her
nephew without being interrupted, but his surprise at the disclosure of
her wishes had kept him silent until she had finished.

"Well, that is certainly a generous proposal of yours, Aunt Laura," he
said; "the allowance, I mean.  As for the other----"

But it was Aunt Laura who interrupted now.  "You see, Edward," she said
eagerly, "it is like this--I have thought it over carefully--Humphrey
seems to me to want the money more than the others.  Dick, I take
it--but of course I do not want to pry in the very least into your
concerns--will be so well provided for that any little extra sum I left
to him would be more in the nature of a compliment."  She went on
through the others, explaining why she thought Humphrey might fairly be
preferred to them, and emphasising the fact that they would all get
_something_; but the Squire was not listening to her.  He was thinking
about Dick.  Dick, if he carried out his intentions, would not be well
provided for.  He would be, as the Squire thought, a poor man.  Here
were complications.  He did not want Aunt Laura to make Dick her heir
to the exclusion of the rest; but the weight of his own apparently now
fruitless threat to disinherit him was always growing heavier on him,
and he certainly did not want her to deny him his share under a false
conception of the true state of affairs.  He regretted now that all
news of what had been happening lately with regard to Dick had been
kept from Aunt Laura.  Must he give her a hint as to how the land lay?
He could not make up his mind, on the spur of the moment, to do so.  He
shirked the laborious explanations that would be necessary, the
surprise, and all that would follow.  And even when she had adjusted
her mind to the news, he did not know what he should advise her to do.

"As far as that goes," he said, "--making Humphrey your heir, as you
say,--I should like to think that over a bit.  Of course, you can do
what you like with your own money, but----"

"Oh, but I should not think of acting against your wishes, Edward,"
said Aunt Laura.

"No, you're very good about that," he said kindly.  "I've always known
you would do what was right, and I haven't interfered with you in any
way, and don't want to.  But let's leave that for a bit.  Don't make
any decision till we've had another talk.  As far as the allowance
goes, I'm going to treat the boy generously.  I haven't made up my mind
yet about the exact sum, but of course I needn't say it wouldn't be
altered by anything you liked to add.  That would be an extra bit of
spending for them, and I've no doubt they would make good use of it.
What was it you thought of, Aunt Laura?"

"Well," said the old lady slowly, "I think, Edward--if you don't
mind--you won't be offended with me, I do hope--I have no wish in the
_least_ to make it conditional--but I should take it as a great
compliment if you would tell me first--when you have made up your
mind--what allowance you yourself had thought of."

The Squire stared at her, and then burst out laughing.  In an unwonted
flash of insight he saw what she would be at, the diffident,
submissive, gentle old woman, to whom he and everything he did or said
were above all admitted criticism.  "Well, if you must push me into a
corner, Aunt Laura," he said, "I may as well settle the figure with you
now.  I'll start them with fifteen hundred a year and a house.  There
now.  What are you going to put to that?"

"I will put to that," replied Aunt Laura, equally prompt, "another five
hundred a year, and the dear young people will be very well off."

The Squire stared again.  "By Jove!" he said in astonishment, "I'd no
idea you meant to do anything of that sort."

"But you said it would make no difference to what you would do," she
said a little anxiously.

The Squire leant forward in his chair and touched her knee.  "Aunt
Laura," he said, "you are a very clever old lady."

"Oh, Edward," she expostulated, "I hope you don't think----"

"Oh, you knew," he said, leaning back again in great good-humour, "you
knew well enough.  If you had told me you were going to that figure at
first, you knew that I should be thinking that twelve hundred a year
from me instead of fifteen would do very well.  And that's just what I
should have thought, by Jove!  Any man would.  However, I have no wish
to save my pocket at the expense of yours, and we'll let it stand at
what I said.  But I say, are you sure you can manage it all right?
It's a good deal of money, you know.  You won't be narrowing yourself,
eh?  I shouldn't like to feel that you weren't every bit as comfortable
as you ought to be--what?"

Aunt Laura assured him that she would remain every bit as comfortable
as she ought to be, and finally he left her and walked home, whistling
to himself every now and then as he went over the points of their
conversation, and once or twice laughing outright at his memories.  "By
Jove! she had me," he said to himself, after he had gained the
comparative seclusion of his park and could stop in the road to give
vent to his merriment.  "Who'd have thought it of old Aunt Laura?"



CHAPTER XXII

DICK COMES HOME

As the time came near for Dick's visit the Squire's mood changed from
one of genial satisfaction to a nervous irascibility, which, as Joan
said to Nancy, made him very difficult to live with.

"I know," Nancy agreed.  "It is really rather degrading to have to try
and keep him in a good temper."

"Good temper!" repeated Joan.  "It is as much as one can do to keep him
from snapping off one's head for nothing at all; in fact, one can't do
it."

"I think," said Nancy reflectively, "that a time will come when we
shall have to take father in hand and teach him how to behave.  That's
darling mother's mistake--that she's never done it.  My view is that a
woman has got to keep a man in order, or he will tyrannise over her.
Don't you think that is so, Joan?"

"From what I have observed," replied Joan--they were sitting on the big
sofa before the schoolroom fire--"I should say it was.  And it's a bad
thing for men themselves.  Of course, we know quite well that father is
frightened to death of what Dick will say to him when he comes, but if
we were old enough--and mother cared to do it--to make him hide it up
when he's with us, it wouldn't have nearly such a bad effect on him.
He would have to forget it sometimes; now he never does."

Whether or no the Squire was frightened to death of what Dick would say
to him when he came, he was certainly upset at the idea of what lay
before him.  Although he had as yet taken no definite steps, he had
come to the decision that Dick, as far as was possible, should be
disinherited, if he made the marriage that now seemed inevitable.  The
news of Humphrey's desirable engagement had made the other look still
more undesirable, and it had taken off the edge of his strong aversion
to act in a way so opposed to all his life-long intentions.  It seemed
almost to have justified his decision, and it had certainly softened to
himself the sting of it.

But it was one thing to allow his mind to dwell on the unhoped-for
compensations of his decision, when Dick by his own choice had cut
himself off from Kencote and remained away from it, and it was quite
another to contemplate his coming back, before the decision was made
irrevocable, on a footing so different from the one he had hitherto
occupied.  The Squire was made intensely uncomfortable at the thought
of how he should bear himself.  He did now want to see his eldest son
again, and to be friends with him.  That desire had been greatly
weakened while his mind had occupied itself with Humphrey's affair, but
he saw, dimly, that it had only been sleeping, that he would always
want Dick, however much he might have reason to be pleased with
Humphrey, and that he was laying up for himself unhappiness in the
future in working to put Humphrey into Dick's place, as he had rashly
promised himself that he would do.

Humphrey, perhaps unwisely as regards his own interest, had announced
his departure for London soon after it was known that Dick was coming
down, and the Squire was left to turn things over in his mind with the
distraction of Humphrey's affairs and Humphrey's presence withdrawn
from him.

The twins went in the carriage to meet Dick at the station.  They
squeezed in on either side of him and made their pleasure at seeing him
both vocal and tangible.

"Dear, darling old Dick," said Joan, trying to seize his hand under the
bearskin rug, "it is very wrong of you to stay away from home.  We've
missed you awfully."

"You seem more of a fluffy angel than ever now we have got you back,"
said Nancy.  "How true it is what the old Starling used to say, that we
don't know our blessings till they have left us."

"Thanks very much," replied Dick.  "What's this I hear about Humphrey
being engaged?  But I suppose they wouldn't have told you yet."

"Told us!" echoed Joan.

"We told _them_!" said Nancy.

"Oh, you did!  Trust you for nosing out a secret."

"It wasn't much of a secret," said Joan.  "Silky Susan--oh, I beg her
pardon, we mustn't call her that now--I mean sweet Sue, was all
eyes--big round ones."

"And she took a great deal of trouble to ingratiate herself with us,"
said Nancy.  "We're not considered worth it as a rule, and of course we
see through it in a moment, because we're not really her sort."

"But we're going to be," said Joan.  "Humphrey told us that we ought to
copy her in the way we behave, and we said we would."

"Jolly glad to get the chance," added Nancy.  "We want to be sweet
girls, but nobody has ever shown us how, before."

"Oh, you're all right," said Dick.  "You needn't try to alter."

"Thank you, dear Dick," replied Joan.  "You are blind to our faults,
and it is very sweet of you.  But there is room for improvement, and
what with Miss Phipp to train our brains and sweet Sue Clinton to
improve our manners, we feel we're getting a tremendous chance, don't
we, Nancy?"

"Rather!" acquiesced Nancy; "the chance of a life time.  We lie awake
at night thinking about it."

Dick let them chatter on, and retired into his own thoughts.  He would
have liked to know how his father had taken the news of his coming, but
was unwilling to question them, and he had never allowed them to
exercise their critical faculties on their father before him; so they
were not likely now to volunteer enlightenment.  As the carriage rolled
smoothly over the gravel of the drive through the park, he too, like
his father, felt some discomfort at the thought of the meeting that lay
before him.

Except that he had come out of his room and was waiting in the hall to
receive his son, which had not been his usual custom, there was nothing
in the Squire's greeting which could arouse comment amongst the
servants who were present at it.  This was always a great point at
Kencote.  "For God's sake, don't let the servants talk," was a phrase
often on the Squire's lips; but he himself, in any crisis, provided
them with more food for talk than anybody else.

"How are you, Dick?" he said, shaking hands.  "We were beginning to
think we should never see you again."  (This was for the benefit of the
servants.)  "The meet's at Horley Wood to-morrow, but I'm not going
out.  I've got a touch of rheumatism.  Come in and have a cup of tea."

They all went into the morning-room.  "Mother, can't we begin to have
tea downstairs now?" asked Joan.  "We're quite old enough.  We don't
make messes any more."

Thus by a timely stroke a long-desired concession was won, for the only
obstacle hitherto in the way had been the Squire's firm pronouncement
that children ought to be kept in their proper place as long as they
were children, and the proper place for Joan and Nancy at tea-time was
the schoolroom.  But he was now so greatly relieved at having them
there to centre conversation on that he said with a strong laugh,
taking Joan by the shoulder and drawing her to him, "Now, there's
impudence for you!  But I think we might let them off the chain now,
mother, eh?"

"In holiday time," acquiesced Mrs. Clinton, "and on the days when
they're not at lessons."

"But if they get sticky with jam," said Dick, "they lose their
privilege for a week."

"And any one who drops crumbs on the carpet must have tea with us in
the schoolroom for a week," said Nancy.

The subject was discussed at some length on those lines until Mrs.
Clinton sent the twins up to take off their hats, when their elders
still went on discussing them.

"So you've chosen the blue-stocking, mother," said Dick.

"Yes; she is coming next week," said Mrs. Clinton.

"Mother didn't want anybody dangerously attractive about the house,"
said the Squire, hastening to take up that subject, which was continued
until the twins returned, when they were allowed to dominate the
conversation to an unusual degree.

But at last the time came when the Squire had always been accustomed to
say, "Well, we'll go into my room and have a cigar," or to go out
without saying anything, with the certainty of Dick's following him.
He could not now go out of the room without saying anything, for that
would have amounted to a declaration made before the children that he
did not want Dick's company, and he shirked the usual formula which
would precipitate the "talk" that he dreaded.

Dick relieved him for the time being.  "I'll go into the smoking-room
and write a few letters," he said.

"Ah, well, I'll go into my room and smoke a cigar," said the Squire,
making a move.

Mrs. Clinton asked Joan to ring the bell.  "They may not have lit the
fire in the smoking-room," she said.

The Squire looked back.  "Eh?  What!" he said sharply.  "Of course
they've lit it, if one of the boys is at home."

But it appeared that they had not lit it, and "they," in the person of
a footman, were instructed to repair the oversight immediately.  It was
a disturbing episode.  Dick had used the smoking-room less than the
others, having usually shared the Squire's big room with him as if it
were his own, and they had probably omitted to light the smoking-room
fire when he only of the boys was at home, on occasions before, without
the omission being noticed.  But it looked as if differences were
beginning to be made, as if the dread "they" had begun to talk; and the
Squire hated the suspicion of their talk like poison.  At any rate, it
drew attention to Dick's announcement that he would write his letters
in the smoking-room instead of in the library, and that would be food
for talk.  He said with a frown, "Hadn't you better come into my room?
You can write your letters there.  You generally do."

So Dick followed him, and the door was shut on them.

The spurt of annoyance had brought the Squire up to the point of
"tackling the situation."  After all, it had to be talked out between
them, and it was useless to put off the moment and pretend that things
were as usual.

"I suppose your mind is still made up?" he said, with his back to his
son.

"Yes," replied Dick.  "We needn't go over all that again."

"I don't want to," said the Squire.  "Only we had better have things
plain.  I won't receive her, either before marriage or after."

Dick put constraint on himself, but his face grew red.  "If you are
going to talk like that," he said after a pause, "I had better not have
come."

The Squire turned and faced him.  The frown was still on his face, but
it was one of trouble.  "Oh, my dear boy," he said, "I'm glad enough to
see you.  I wish you had never gone away.  I wish to God you'd drop it
all and come back, and let us be as we were before.  But if you won't
change, I won't change, and if we're to be comfortable together these
few days, let's know at the beginning where we stand.  That's all I
meant."

"All right," said Dick rather ungraciously.  "But I should like to know
how I stand in other matters as well.  You've sent me messages.  You're
going to make me pay pretty heavily for marrying the woman I've chosen.
I'm not complaining and I'm not asking you to change your mind.  But I
think I've a right to know exactly where I stand."

"Well, then, sit down," said the Squire, "and I'll tell you."

They were confronted in a way neither of them had been prepared for.
Certainly Dick had not come home to ask for explanations, nor had his
father meant to open up the now closed dispute.  Some underling in the
back regions, with his mouth full of bread and butter and tea and his
mind relaxed from his duties to his own insignificant enjoyments, was
responsible for what was now going to be said in his master's sanctum.
A match struck and put to the smoking-room fire would have altered the
course of affairs at Kencote, perhaps only for an hour or two, perhaps
for Dick's lifetime.  Now, at any rate, there was to be a discussion
which would otherwise have been deferred, and for their own future
comfort neither the Squire nor Dick was in the most tractable mood for
discussion.

"You know how the property stands and what goes with it?" the Squire
began.

"Yes, I know all that," said Dick.  "There's about eight thousand
acres, and a rent-roll in good times of perhaps a couple of thousand a
year.  Then there are a couple of livings to present to, a house which
might be let with the shooting by a fellow who couldn't afford to live
in it for, let's say, a thousand a year.  So I shall be fairly
comfortably off somewhere else as long as I do let, and I dare say
there won't be much difficulty about that.  There are plenty of rich
manufacturers who would like to take a place like Kencote."

Although his mind had been on other plans, and he had no sort of
intention of living anywhere but at Kencote after he should have
succeeded his father, still, in the background of his thoughts there
had lain great bitterness at this preposterous punishment that his
father was preparing for him; and the bitterness now showed plainly
enough in his speech.

It aroused in the Squire a curious conflict of emotions.  The picture
of a rich outsider settled in the house which had sheltered none but
Clintons for unnumbered years appalled him, and, if Dick had presented
it for his inspection without heat, must have turned him from his
purpose then and there; for that purpose had never been examined in its
ultimate bearings, and would not have been formed except with the view
of bending Dick to his will.  But, already ruffled, he became more so
at Dick's tone, and his uneasiness at the fearful idea which had been
evolved, although it was rejected for the moment, translated itself
into anger.

"You've no right to talk like that," he said hotly.  "If you would come
to your senses you could be as well off living here as I am."

"I know I could," said Dick more quietly, "if I were blackguard enough
to give up a woman for the sake of money.  But there's no use at all in
talking about that.  I'm quite prepared for what you are going to do,
and I haven't come here, as I told you, to ask you to change your mind.
It's your affair; only if you haven't looked what you're going to do in
the face yet, I'm interested enough to say that I think you ought to."

"You'll have enough money," snapped the Squire, not at all mollified by
this speech, "to make it possible for you to live at Kencote--you'll
have much more than enough money, as I told you--if you give up this
marriage.  You say you won't give it up.  Very well, then, you can go
and live somewhere else and Humphrey can take your place here."

Dick's astonished stare recalled him to his senses.  He had spoken out
of his anger.  He had never meant to go so far as this.  But having
gone so far he went on to make his position good.

"Now we won't beat about the bush any more," he said judicially.  "As
far as I'm concerned--what I'm going to leave him, I mean--Humphrey
couldn't afford to live at Kencote.  I'm not going to rob others to put
him in your place, although I tell you this, he's going to be put in
your place as soon as you get married, until my death.  I dare say you
have heard he's going to be married himself, and it's a marriage I'm
pleased with.  She won't bring him much money, I dare say, but that
will be put right in another quarter.  He'll be well off from the
first, and I shouldn't wonder if he weren't better off still before
long.  He'll live at the dower-house and work with me at the management
of the place, just as you have always done.  And when you succeed,
you'll probably find him a richer man than you are."

Dick rose from his chair.  "Thank you," he said.  "I know where I stand
now.  And as there doesn't seem to be much more to stop here for, I'll
get back to London."

It was the Squire's turn now to stare.  "What do you mean?" he gasped.
"You're not going!"

But Dick had already left the room.

The Squire remained sitting forward in his chair looking into the fire.
His face, which had been red and hard, gradually changed its colour and
expression.  He looked a tried and troubled old man.  He had burnt his
boats now.  He had allowed his anger to dictate words which he would
not have used in cold blood.  He had insulted his son, as well as
injured him.  Dick was going out of his father's house in anger, and he
would not return to it.  As long as he lived he would not see him again.

These thoughts were too much for him.  His own anger had disappeared.
He could not let his son go away from him like that.  He had not meant
what he had said--at least, he had not meant to say it in that way.  He
rose quickly and went out of the room.

When Dick had left him he had gone into the smoking-room, where the
belated fire was burning briskly, summoned his servant and ordered his
cart.  His intention was to drive straight over to Bathgate and wait
there for a train to London.  Virginia was not at Blaythorn, or he
would have gone there.  He had told her that he was going down to
Kencote to make one last effort at reconciliation with his father, and
she had said that she would pay an overdue weekend visit at the same
time, so that he should not complicate matters by coming over to see
her from Kencote.  "For I'm sure you won't be able to keep away if you
are so close to me," she had said, holding him by the lapels of his
coat and smiling up in his face.  It had been an old engagement between
them that he should have spent this particular week-end with her at
Blaythorn, and he now wished heartily that he had not changed his
plans.  "Kicked out of the house within ten minutes!" he said to
himself, standing in front of the fire, when he had given his orders.
He was consumed with anger against his father, and had an impulse to
get away from the house at once, to start on foot, and let his cart
catch him up.  But it was raining hard, and there were a couple of
notes that he had to write for the evening post.  He might as well
write them now, and he sat down at the table to do so.

The door opened, and Mrs. Clinton came in.  "Dick dear," she said in
her quiet voice, which hardly betokened the trouble that could be seen
in her face, "you are not going to leave us like this!"

He turned in his seat and faced her.  "I'm going in a few minutes," he
said, "and I'm not coming back again.  It's good-bye this time, mother."

"Oh, why can't you be a little patient with him?" she cried.  "He
wanted so to see you here again.  If he has said anything to offend you
he will be very sorry for it.  Dick, don't go like this.  It will be
the end of everything."

He got up from the table and put his arm round her shoulder, leading
her up to the hearth.  "You and I will see each other," he said kindly.
"It isn't the end of everything between us, mother.  But with him, and
with Kencote, it is.  There's no help for it.  He's definitely against
me now.  He's told me he's going to put Humphrey in my place--straight
out.  I can't stand that, you know.  If he's going to say things like
that--and do them--what's the good of my staying here?"

"He can't mean it," she pleaded.  "He is pleased with Humphrey now, but
he has always loved you best of all his sons.  It isn't in his power to
put any one in your place."

"I dare say he'll be sorry for having done it," he said, "but he's
going to do it, all the same.  I can put up with the idea, mother, as
long as I'm not at Kencote, but it's a bit too much to stay here and
have that sort of thing said to you."

He dropped his arm and turned round sharply, for the door had opened
again, and now it was his father who came into the room.

"Dick," he said, shutting the door and coming forward, "I said too much
just now.  For God's sake forget it!"

There was a moment's pause.  Then Dick said in a hard voice, "What am I
to forget?"

The Squire looked at him with his troubled, perplexed frown.  "Can't
you give it up, my boy?" he asked.

Dick turned away with an impatient shrug of the shoulders.

"God knows I don't want to make any changes," said his father.  "It's
worse for me than it is for you, Dick.  Humphrey won't be to me what
you have been.  If you would only meet me half-way, I----"

Dick turned suddenly.  "Yes, I'll meet you half-way," he said.  "It is
what I came here to say I would do, only you went so far beyond
everything that there was nothing left for me to say.  If you are going
to set yourself to make Humphrey a richer man than I, as you
said--well, that is beyond anything I had thought of--that you should
be thinking of it in that way, I mean."

"Dick, I've never thought of it in that way," said his father.  "And
you must forget that I said it."

Mrs. Clinton spoke.  "You have heard of Humphrey's engagement," she
said.  "Your father's idea is that he shall live here, at the
dower-house, and help him with the estate management."

"That's it," said the Squire.  "It was either that or getting a regular
agent in the place of Haydon.  I can't do it all myself.  But if you
would only come back, Dick----"

"I can't do that," said Dick, "at least, not now.  I'm tied.  And I
can't object to your getting Humphrey in, if you think he'll take to
the job.  It isn't that.  And it isn't that I mind much your leaving
money to the others instead of to me--as long as you don't leave it all
to one of them."

"I told you I wasn't going to do that," said the Squire.  "I'd never
thought of it.  What I said about Humphrey I said on the spur of the
moment, and I'm sorry for it."

"Oh, all right," said Dick; "we needn't worry about that any more.  Do
what you like for Humphrey.  I've no wish to put a spoke in his wheel,
and I wish I thought he felt the same about putting one in mine.  I'll
tell you what I told you at the beginning--I've more or less reconciled
myself to the change you're going to make.  At any rate, I shan't
grumble at it.  It'll only mean doing a bit more for myself instead of
looking to you for everything."

The Squire did not like this.  "You couldn't do much," he said, "to
make up for the loss of the unsettled property, if I left it away from
you."

"I could do something," replied Dick, "and I'm going to."

"Let us sit down," Mrs. Clinton said.  "Dick, if you have anything to
tell us, if you are going to meet us half-way, as you say, let us hear."

They sat down, and Dick considered for a moment, and then looked up at
his father.  "Neither of us has given way an inch yet," he said.

The Squire frowned.  "There can be no giving way on the point of your
marriage," he said.

Dick was about to reply, but Mrs. Clinton put her hand on his knee.
"Let him tell us what he has in his mind, Edward," she said.

"I was going to say," said Dick, with a gulp, "that I am quite prepared
to give way on the question of the property.  I wanted you to receive
Virginia, and to give me everything you were going to give me.  I don't
ask that now.  Do what you have said you would do.  I shan't grouse
about it.  I shan't let it make any difference between you and me.  I
promise you that.  That's where I'll give way."

The Squire felt very uncomfortable.  Conciliation was in the air, and
he was prepared to be conciliatory.  But how was he to meet this?

"What do you want me to do, then?" he asked, "short of----"

Dick took him up.  "I'm going to marry Virginia Dubec," he said
decisively.  "That is settled, and you can't stop me.  You haven't been
fair either to me or to her about it.  You have never given her a
chance to prove to you, as she could prove, that she is as unlike the
woman you take her for as any woman on earth could be.  And you have
gone to greater lengths in trying to stop me doing what I'm going to do
than I think you were justified in going."

The Squire broke in on him.  "Oh, if you're going to open up----" he
began; but Mrs. Clinton said, "Edward, let Dick finish what he has to
say"; and Dick went on quickly, "It's the last time I need mention all
that.  I'm ready to forget it, every bit of it, and you'll never hear a
single word more about it, if--if----"

The words that rose to his lips were, "If you'll undertake to behave
yourself from now onwards," but since he had to find other words to
express his meaning, and paused for a moment, the Squire put in, "Well,
if what?  I'm waiting to hear."

"You can't stop my marriage," said Dick.  "The only thing you can do is
to recognise it now, unless you deliberately choose that this shall be
the last time we are to see one another."

The Squire's frown of perplexity became a frown of displeasure.  "If
those are your terms----" he began; but again Mrs. Clinton interrupted
him.

"When Dick has been married some time," she said, "you will not want to
keep him at arm's length.  You will make the best of it.  It is
senseless for either you or him to talk of an estrangement that will
last a lifetime.  Such a thing could not happen.  There would be no
grounds for it.  Edward, you have done what you could to prevent Dick
from following his will.  Now you must accept his decision, and not go
on to make further unhappiness."

He turned on her a reproachful eye.  "What, you on his side, against
me!" he exclaimed.

"As long as there was a chance of your having your way," she said, "I
would not act in any way against you.  But now I say that I have seen
for myself, and I do not believe that you have anything to fear.  Dick
has chosen for himself, and we ought now to respect his choice."

Dick put out his hand and pressed his mother's.  The Squire, faced with
decision, almost with authority, from a quarter in which he had
hitherto expected and obtained nothing but submission, showed neither
surprise nor resentment.  He sat looking on to the ground, his frown of
displeasure now once again changed into a frown of perplexity.

In a moment or two he looked up and spoke, but without indignation.
"You want me, now, after all I've said and done," he said, "to give in
altogether and receive this Lady George Dubec as my daughter-in-law?"

"I think," said Mrs. Clinton, "that the time has come when you must."

"Oh, for God's sake, let's have an end of it, father," said Dick.
"Give her a chance.  It's all I ask of you.  Let me bring her here.  If
you haven't changed your mind after her visit--then both of us will
have done what we can for each other--and you need never see her again
as long as you live."

The Squire sat without replying for a long time.  Then he got up and
turned to leave the room.  "Very well, Dick," he said, "you may bring
her here."



CHAPTER XXIII

HUMPHREY COUNTS HIS CHICKENS

Humphrey went from Kencote to Thatchover, where Lady Aldeburgh was for
the time being residing with her numerous family.  This did not include
her husband, who preferred to play a Box and Cox game with her in
respect of his two houses; but on his way through London Humphrey
called on his prospective father-in-law to gain formal authorisation of
his suit.

Lord Aldeburgh had fitted himself up a suite of bachelor chambers on
the top floor of his great house in Manchester Square, and had
installed a lift, which no one was allowed to use without his
permission, as its rumbling disturbed him in his chosen occupations.
The chief of these was the collection of portraits of people and
pictures of places, which he cut out of illustrated papers and
magazines and pasted into large albums, indexing them up very
thoroughly as he went on.  He was also an ardent attender of plays and
concerts and a persistent but indifferent bridge-player.  He had found
a club where the stakes were half a crown a hundred, and there was
always a rubber to be had in the afternoon.  So in the winter, which he
spent mostly in London, his days were fully occupied.  Early in the
year he went to the Riviera or to Egypt, and about the time that his
family came up to London for the season he installed himself at
Thatchover and enjoyed his garden.  In the autumn he went abroad again
or travelled about England.  He was not a rich man, but he was an
entirely happy and contented one.

"His lordship is very busy this morning and I don't think he would like
to be disturbed," said the servant who opened the door.

"Well, take up my name and say I won't keep him long," said Humphrey.
"I'll come up with you."

"I don't think his lordship will see you, sir," said the man; but
Humphrey climbed the four flights of stairs after him and waited in the
hall of Lord Aldeburgh's self-contained flat until he was admitted to
the presence.

Lord Aldeburgh was in what he called his work-room.  It was a large
light room furnished chiefly with deal tables, each devoted to a
particular pursuit.  One had paste-pots and scissors and knives and
rulers and a sheet of glass and a pile of papers and albums.  Another
was for the making of jig-saw puzzles, a third for their elucidation, a
fourth was for typewriting; and there was a reduplicating apparatus,
and another table with materials for illuminating.  The walls were
covered with rubbings of monumental brasses, all ingeniously overlaid
with colour and gilding.  Lord Aldeburgh had hundreds more of these
rubbings rolled up and put away in labelled drawers, and hoped before
he died to have acquired one of every brass in England.

He was standing by his scissors-and-paste table when Humphrey went in,
and there was a slight frown of annoyance on his otherwise amiable
face.  He was a big man, clean-shaven except for the rudiments of a
pair of whiskers, and looked like an intelligent family solicitor,
preoccupied with affairs of moment.  His appearance had sometimes
caused him to be taken for a serious politician and had caused him some
annoyance.  "I'm all for the constitution and that sort of thing," he
was accustomed to say, "and my vote's safe enough when it's wanted.
But I will _not_ take the chair at political meetings.  It interferes
with my work.  Besides, if they interrupt I don't know what to say."
He had on a voluminous apron with bib and pockets over his tweed suit,
which rather detracted from his habitual air of weight; but paste was
sticky, and Lord Aldeburgh was careful of his clothes, which it was his
custom to wear until they were hardly worth passing on to his valet.

"Always pleased to see you," he said, shaking hands, his habitual
courtesy struggling with his annoyance at being disturbed.  "But if you
hadn't come straight up I should have asked you to call again
to-morrow.  Friday is a very busy day with me.  I have all these papers
to get through, and there are so many of them now that if I don't clear
them up at once the next week's are on me before I know where I am."

"I'm sorry," said Humphrey, looking with interest at the pile of
cut-out pictures on the table and the pile of disjointed papers on the
floor.  "But I'm going down to Thatchover this afternoon and I had to
see you first."

"Oh, you're going down to Thatchover!" repeated Lord Aldeburgh.  "I
wish I could get down.  There's a good deal of replanting being done,
and my gardener is such a fool that if I'm not on the spot something's
bound to go wrong, though I type him out the most detailed
instructions.  But I really can't get away at present.  I'll tell you
what you might do.  Just see whether he's put glass over the Androsaces
and things in the rock-garden, will you?  My wife's no good at that
sort of thing; she don't care about it.  I don't believe she knows the
difference between a saxifrage and a sedum; and you can't trust to
servants.  If you'll do that, like a good fellow, I shall be very much
obliged to you."

"Certainly I will," said Humphrey, taking out his pocketbook.  "Better
give me the name of the things."

"I'll type out a list from my garden book and send it down to you,"
said Lord Aldeburgh.  "They're all properly labelled, and if you'll
just go through them----  Thanks very much; you've relieved me of an
anxiety.  I very nearly threw everything up to go down for a day.  But
I'm glad I didn't now.  Well, if you don't mind I'll get on with my
work now that's settled."

He held out his hand with an engaging smile, but Humphrey said, "I
haven't told you what I came about yet.  I want to marry Susan.  She's
game, and Lady Aldeburgh doesn't object.  But I wanted to know what you
thought about it before we went ahead."

A frown of perplexity showed itself on Lord Aldeburgh's face.  "Marry
Susan!" he repeated.  "Well, I don't see any objection, if you think
she's old enough.  But----"

"She's twenty-four," interpolated Humphrey.

"Twenty-four!  Is she really?  Well, it shows what I've always said,
that time flies quicker than you think it does.  Twenty-four!  My
goodness!  Well, then, of course she's old enough, and I rather wonder
my wife hasn't seen to it before.  And what I was going to say was that
my wife looks after all that sort of thing, and I'm much too busy a man
to be worried about details.  If I give my consent, which you're quite
right in coming to ask for, I hope I shan't have any more bother about
it.  That's all I meant."

"I don't see why you should be bothered," said Humphrey.  "There'll be
questions of settlements, I suppose.  But the lawyers will fix up all
that."

"Oh, my goodness, yes!" said Lord Aldeburgh.  "Thank heaven all that
sort of thing was fixed up when I was married myself.  I don't want
ever to go through it again.  It was sign, sign, sign from morning to
night.  I've forgotten what the girls were to have when they married,
but I know it wasn't much, and I'm not in a position to increase it.
The rock-garden cost me an infernal lot of money last year, and I'm
going to enlarge it.  I suppose you don't know where I can get good
blocks of limestone fairly cheap, do you?  I don't care much about the
sandstone I've got.  At least, I don't want any more of it."

"No, I don't know," said Humphrey.  "You had better give me the name of
your solicitors, and we can get on to them.  I suppose I can settle all
the other points with Lady Aldeburgh."

"Oh, my goodness, yes!" said Lord Aldeburgh.  "I'm much too busy to
attend to it.  Look here, I'll show you an interesting thing.  It just
proves what we were talking about just now, how time flies.  You see
this picture of Miss Enid Brown, of Laurel Lodge, Reigate, who is going
to marry this fellow, Mr. Bertie Pearson, of the Cromwell Road?"

"Yes, I see," said Humphrey.  "I don't particularly envy Mr. Bertie
Pearson."

"Oh, I think she's a very nice-looking girl," said Lord Aldeburgh.
"But that isn't the point.  Now twenty-two years ago, when I first
began to make my collection, one of the first photographs I got was of
a Mr. Horace Brown, of Petersfield House, Reigate, who married--here he
is--I was just looking it up when you came in--see?--Miss Mary Carter,
of Croydon--turn to the C book for her--it's all carefully
cross-indexed--here she is.  Now you've only got to compare these two
faces--Miss Enid Brown and Mrs. Horace Brown--Miss Carter that
was--taking Reigate into consideration--to make it quite plain that
they are mother and daughter.  You see it at once, don't you?"

"Yes," said Humphrey.  "Same silly sort of simper."

"Oh, well, I don't know about that.  But that isn't the point.  The
point is that this particular work of mine, which I just took up
five-and-twenty years or so ago to amuse myself with, is developing
into something that will be of the greatest importance to the nation by
and by.  When I die I've a jolly good mind to leave it to the British
Museum; or if I could get some fellow to leave some money and have it
carried on--why, there's no telling what it wouldn't come to.  Here
you're beginning to have an illustrated register of every single soul
in the country that amounts to anything.  If you're good enough to have
your portrait in some paper you're good enough to go down to posterity
in my collection.  I tell you, it's monumental.  Already I've got
thousands and thousands of portraits--not only of people like ourselves
that you can look up in a book, but of thousands of others--quite
respectable people--and at all stages.  Why, if I were to begin to
publish the whole thing in parts I should make a fortune, and I've a
jolly good mind to see some publisher and get it done.  There isn't a
soul whose name was represented who wouldn't buy it.  I can tell you
it's turning into a jolly big thing."

"Well, it is rather interesting," said Humphrey.  "What have you got
about the Clintons?"

"Oh, of course, I've got a separate book about the Clintons.  Like to
see it?  You'll find some pictures of your little lot there."

"Well, if I may, some other time," said Humphrey.  "My train goes in
half an hour, and I must be getting off.  Then you've no objection to
my urging my suit?  I believe that's the correct expression."

"Not a bit in the world, my dear fellow," replied Lord Aldeburgh.  "I'm
not much of a family man.  I'm too busy.  But from what I've seen of
her I should say Susan would make you a good wife, and I'm sure you'll
make her a good husband.  So I wish you every sort of good luck.  And
now I must get to work again."

So, blessed with Lord Aldeburgh's approval, Humphrey went down to
Thatchover, and found a party of considerable size assembled there, all
bent on extracting as much amusement as possible out of the passing
hours.

He arrived at dusk and found the family and its guests assembled in the
big hall of the house.  The men had been shooting, the women playing
bridge, for the weather was too raw for them to care about leaving the
warmth of the house.  Humphrey received a somewhat vociferous welcome,
for there was no one in the house with whom he was not on terms of
intimacy, and felt cheered by the warmth of social intercourse into
which he was plunged.  "This really is rather jolly," he said to Susan
Clinton, with whom he found himself presently sitting a little apart
from the noisy central group.  "I don't know that I ever want anything
better than a big house in the country and to have it filled with jolly
people."

"I shouldn't like to live in the country all the year round," said
Susan.  "You'd soon get out of touch."

"Oh, lor', yes," said Humphrey.  "I didn't mean that.  Look at my
people at Kencote.  It's jolly enough there every now and then in the
winter when there's something to do, although it isn't exactly gay.
But to settle down there year in and year out for ever--I'd just as
soon emigrate.  And that's what I want to talk to you about.  Things
are going all right for us.  We shall have enough to get along on.  I
tell you, I'm in high favour.  But the idea is that we shall set up in
the dower-house, and----"

"Oh, but that will be delightful!" Susan interrupted him.  "With all
those jolly old things!  And the presents we shall have!  Humphrey, how
ripping!  And there's plenty of room to have people there.  If we can
afford to do things well----"

"Yes, that'll be all right," said Humphrey.  "But the idea is that we
shall cut all the rest.  I'm to give up my job, which I don't care
about either one way or the other, except that it keeps me about where
I want to be, and I'm to be sort of head bailiff.  That's the scheme,
as it's shaping itself out.  Question is whether it's good enough."

"Do you mean we shouldn't be allowed to go to London at all?"

"Oh, allowed!  We could go up for a day or two now and again--though if
I know my respected parent there would be black looks even at that, if
we did it too often--but as for anything more than that----  No, it's
meant and it's intended to mean that I join the governor in business.
He's really, if you look at it properly, a farmer in a big way, and
he's not very good at it, though he thinks he is.  It's where I come in
over Dick that he must have somebody to help him out of the muddles he
makes, and that will be a pretty stiff job, and there won't be much
running away from it."

"Then you mean we can't even pay visits?"

"Precious few of 'em.  We shall be expected to stay at home and lead
the domestic life.  Are we cut out for it, Susan?"

She smiled at him, and slipped her hand into his.  "I shan't mind very
much, Humphrey," she said.

Humphrey returned her pressure.  "Good girl!" he said.  "I don't know
that I shall either for a few years.  But we'd better look it all in
the face.  We shall feel cut off, there's no doubt of it.  But there's
this to be said, it won't last for ever.  If we're submissive
now--well, in the long run we shall come off all right.  Question is,
can you make up your mind to stand it for as long as may be necessary?'

"I can if you can," said Susan.

"Oh, I shall be better off than you.  I'm afraid there's no doubt
you'll be dull at times.  We'll have our own friends to stay with us,
but there won't be much going on at home to enliven us.  It isn't like
other big houses in the country.  Still, there are the kids.  They're
growing up, and they're pretty bright.  You ought to get some fun out
of them, and it'll be a godsend to them to have somebody like you about
the place."

"I'm not certain that they care for me much," said Susan; "and I'm a
little afraid of them.  In fact, I'm rather afraid of all your family,
Humphrey.  Do you think Mrs. Clinton likes me?"

"Oh, of course she does," said Humphrey.  "You'll get on well with the
whole bunch of them.  And as for the governor, you've only got to
flatter him a bit and avoid treading on his corns, and you can live in
his pocket--if you want to.  I say, Susan, excuse my asking, but is
your own papa all there?"

Susan laughed.  "He has never grown up.  That's all," she said.  "But
his tastes are harmless enough.  Think what it would be if he had a
taste for running after--well--er--you know--like Clinton.  He doesn't
really spend much money.  There are worse fathers."

Humphrey digested this point of view.  "Well, I think I would rather
have mine," he said, "tiresome as he can be, and is, sometimes.  Anyhow
he's going to do the right thing by us.  I needn't go into details, but
you'll be able to have some pretty frocks, old girl; and you may find
yourself in a big house before you've done, yet."

Their conversation was interrupted by the breaking up of the tea-party
and the setting up of the bridge tables.  Bridge was the serious
pursuit at Thatchover, and it was only, so to speak, at off times that
the household indulged in their tastes for romps.  There was never any
paltering with the valuable hours between five o'clock and eight
o'clock in the evening, and there were few of the present party who
showed any inclination to shirk their duty, even to the extent of
sitting out a rubber.  But as the total number of players was divisible
by two, but not by four, two of them were obliged to sit out, and Lady
Aldeburgh suggested to Humphrey that he and she should have a little
talk and cut in later.  "I hate doing it," she said, "because there's a
certain sense of satisfaction in sitting down to begin, which you miss
if you wait till everything is in full swing.  Still, it would look
well for me to appear self-sacrificing, and if you don't mind we'll get
our little chat over now, for I'm dying to hear what you've managed to
fix up."

Humphrey, sitting with her in a corner by the fire away from the green
tables, put her in possession of the state of affairs.  "There'll be at
least fifteen hundred a year, and probably more," he concluded, "and
that ought to make it good enough."

"If that were all, it wouldn't be good enough," said Lady Aldeburgh
decisively.  "You and Susan couldn't live on fifteen hundred a year or
anything like it.  I shouldn't consider it for a moment."

"Oh yes, you would," said Humphrey calmly.  "Still, it isn't all.
We're to have a house, for one thing--a house more than half furnished,
and there'll be all sorts of perquisites.  I'm to go in for the land
agency business; and by and by, if I behave myself, as I mean to, and
Susan behaves herself, as _she_ means to do, we shall be very well off."

"What on earth are you talking about?" enquired Lady Aldeburgh,
thoroughly bewildered.  "The land agency business----'

"We are to live at the dower-house at Kencote," said Humphrey.  "I
don't think you saw it, but it's a topping little house.  And I'm to
help the governor look after things.  That's the scheme."

"My _dear_ Humphrey!  What absolute nonsense!" exclaimed Lady
Aldeburgh.  "You and Susan burying yourselves in the country!  Why,
you'd be bored stiff in a week, and you'd get sick to death of one
another in a month.  You can't seriously consider such a ridiculous
scheme."

"Why ridiculous?" enquired Humphrey.  "We're in the country at this
moment, and we're not bored stiff--far from it."

"That's entirely different, a big house, with crowds of people whenever
you want them--and in winter, when there's something for the men to do.
To settle down for good! and at a place like Kencote!  Well, I don't
want to be rude to your people, but I ask you, are they alive or dead?"

Humphrey flushed.  "My people are all right," he said, keeping his
voice level.  "And Susan will get on with them.  You needn't worry
yourself about that side of the question."

"I can't help it if you are angry with me," said Lady Aldeburgh, with a
slight recurrence to her infantile manner.  "I say what I think, and
although I have the greatest possible respect for your people, it would
drive me crazy to live in the way they do.  And I'm not going to let
Susan be killed and buried and made miserable for life."

"All right," said Humphrey.  "Then I'd better pack up and clear off."

"Oh, don't be silly.  If you can screw a couple of thousand a year out
of your father, with the little bit that Susan will have, which will
pay for her frocks, you could take a nice little flat and be fairly
comfortable.  I shouldn't mind your waiting for the rest to come later."

"If I do that, the rest won't come later; it won't come at all.  Dick
has kicked over the traces, and I'm to take his place--to a certain
extent.  I don't want to think too much about all that, but you force
me to say it.  You understand the situation well enough if you'd give
your mind to it.  I don't want to bury myself in the country all the
year round any more than you would; but, hang it! isn't it worth making
some sacrifice for a time?  Besides, it's such nonsense to talk as if
living in the country, and living comfortably too, within three hours
of London, were the same thing as going off to Siberia or somewhere.
Anyhow, we're going to live at Kencote.  I'm game and Susan's game.  We
don't ask you to come and live with us."

"Now you're positively insulting," said Lady Aldeburgh, entirely
recovering her good-humour, for this was the way she liked to be
treated by good-looking young men.  It implied that she appeared as
young as she felt.  "Of course if you have made up your mind to hoe
turnips for the rest of your life, you naturally wouldn't expect me to
come and hoe them with you, and I shouldn't come if you did.  The
question is, will Susan be happy hoeing turnips?  That's what I have to
look at."

"I dare say you will be pleased to do an occasional week-end's hoeing,"
replied Humphrey.  "And as for Susan, I've already told you she's ready
to hoe as long as is necessary.  Please don't upset her about it.  We
are going to eat our bread and butter quite contentedly for a few
years, and we shall get the jam by and by.  If you put your oar in and
try and upset things, we shan't get nearly so much bread and butter,
and we shall miss the jam altogether.  After all, it's a question for
us to decide; and we've already decided.  We're going to be a good
little boy and girl, and if all goes well, by and by we shall be little
county magnates.  I believe that's the proper expression."

"What is your father going to do?" asked Lady Aldeburgh.  "Let's put it
quite plainly, as we are talking confidentially.  Is he going to make
an eldest son of you?  Is Dick finally out of the way?  I know he's
going to marry Virginia Dubec in spite of everything.  Does your father
still refuse to see him--or to see her, which is more to the point, for
I'm not a cat like some women, and I'll say this, that I believe if he
were to see her she would get round him; for she's a beautiful creature
and could turn any man round her little finger if she cared to try."

"She won't have a chance of trying with him," replied Humphrey.  "You
may make your mind easy as to that.  As for Dick, I suppose he's seeing
him at this moment.  He was going down to Kencote this afternoon."

"What!  Oh, then they've made it up?"

"No, they haven't.  Neither side budges.  Dick is going to marry
Virginia, as you say, and Dick's father has sworn to leave all he can
away from him if he does.  Both of them will keep their word, for
they're both as obstinate as the devil.  But they are going to patch up
a sort of peace, and I'm not altogether sorry.  Dick hasn't behaved
particularly well to me, and I should be a humbug if I pretended that I
wanted him to get back what's now coming my way.  But I don't want him
to feel left out in the cold altogether."

"How very sweet and forgiving!  Are you sure that he won't persuade
your father to change his mind?"

"He won't try."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I know Dick."

"I suppose you wired to say you were coming down here because you
didn't want to meet him?"

"I suppose I did.  We might have had a row.  I haven't done anything to
persuade the governor to alter his will, as he's going to do, but it's
going to be altered in my favour, and Dick might not feel inclined to
do me justice over the matter.  I don't want a row with him.  We've
been fairly good pals so far, and I don't want to be open enemies with
him.  Besides, Kencote will belong to him some day, and----"

"Well, when it does you won't be there any longer."

"Yes, I shall.  I'm to have Partisham--that's pretty well settled.
There would be an explosion of wrath and surprise if I intimated that I
knew that and was counting on it; but you can see the governor's brain
working all the time.  He lets everything out, and he's let out that.
It's only a question of one farm at present.  I may get it with the
rest, or it may go to Walter, for there's an old manor-house on it, and
he thinks it would do for Walter to do up and live in when he gets
tired of doctoring.  He can't quite make up his mind, but it's only a
hundred and fifty acres out of about two thousand, and it doesn't much
matter one way or the other."

"Well, you seem pretty sure about it.  I hope you may not be making a
mistake.  If I were Dick I should certainly have a try at getting back
what he's lost.  Where is this place you're going to have?"

"The house is about four miles from Kencote, and the property adjoins.
My great-grandfather bought it with money his brother left him, and
some of it is good building land on the outskirts of Bathgate.  I've
never been inside the house; it's let to a doctor and used as a private
lunatic asylum."

"That's pleasant!"

"It's a fine house, and the property is rising in value every year.  I
shall be a richer man than Dick before I've done."

"How mercenary you are!  Well, I suppose it's all right, as you say so,
and I must give my consent.  Oh, look, there's a table up.  Come on!  I
feel as if I'm going to win stacks."



CHAPTER XXIV

VIRGINIA GOES TO KENCOTE

"My dear Lady George Dubec" [wrote Mrs. Clinton], "My husband and I
will be glad if you will come to us here when you return to Meadshire,
which Dick tells me will be next Wednesday.  We shall be pleased to
welcome you at Kencote and to make your acquaintance.  We shall be
pleased also to see Miss Dexter, and perhaps you will kindly tell her
so, and let me know if she will accompany you.

"With kindest regards to yourself and to her,

  "Believe me,
      "Very sincerely yours,
          "NINA CLINTON."


"There!" said Virginia, tossing this missive over to her companion.
She had opened Dick's much longer letter, which had come by the same
post, first of all, and half-way through its perusal had searched for
Mrs. Clinton's amongst the rest.  Now she returned to Dick's, while
Miss Dexter read Mrs. Clinton's.

"What on earth does it all mean?" asked Miss Dexter.  "Has the world
come to an end, or has that preposterous old bear come to his senses at
last?"

"It means, my dear Toby," said Virginia, looking up at her with a happy
smile, "that all this horrible business is at an end.  Dick has fought,
and Dick has won.  And we owe everything to the help that his dearest
of dear mothers has given us.  I knew I should love that woman from the
first time I set eyes on her, and now I adore her.  Three cheers for
Mrs. Clinton."

She waved Dick's letter over her head.  Miss Dexter looked down again
at Mrs. Clinton's, and then again in dry surprise at her friend.  "And
do you really mean to tell me," she asked, "that you are satisfied with
_this_ as an atonement for everything they have made you go through?  I
never read such a letter--as cold and unwilling as she is herself.
I'll tell you what will happen, Virginia, if you go to Kencote.  You
will simply be insulted.  Do you think people like that can change?
Not a bit of it.  'Kindest regards,' indeed!  She may keep her kindest
regards to herself as far as I'm concerned."

"Oh, Toby, don't be so tiresome!" Virginia adjured her.  "You know
you're just as pleased as I am--or very nearly.  Shall we go straight
to Kencote from London, or go to Bathgate and leave some things at
Blaythorn and pick up some others?  I think we'll do that.  I must take
my smartest frocks, and so must you.  For you are really quite
presentable if you would only give yourself a chance."

"You may leave me out of it," said Miss Dexter.  "I'm as likely to go
to Kencote as I am to Windsor Castle.  If _you_ like to put your head
into the bear's den and say 'Thank you for having tried to eat me up,
and now by all means finish me off,' you can.  I have a little more
self-respect, and nothing would induce me to go near those people."

"Ah!" said Virginia, "you are still huffy because Mrs. Clinton snubbed
you.  Quite right of her!  You are a dear, loyal, faithful creature,
and I know you would follow me to much more terrible places than
Kencote, where you will find yourself in a week's time; but you had no
business to go interfering without consulting me about it.  I'm too
fond of you to snub you, as you so often deserve, so I'm quite pleased
when other people do it for me."

"Yes, that's all I get for trying to help you," said Miss Dexter.
"What do you suppose has happened?  Has Captain Dick told them that you
have money?  That's the only thing I can think of that would make that
purse-proud old lunatic change his mind."

"He doesn't say anything about that, and I'm sure he hasn't told them.
_I_ shall tell Mr. Clinton, and it will make him love me even more than
I'm going to make him as it is.  I know I'm talking nonsense, but in
the state of mind I find myself in at present that can't be helped.
No, Toby dear, it is Mrs. Clinton who has done it all.  My Dick says
so.  She was always on our side.  She liked the look of me, Toby, odd
as it may seem to you; and if she could have got round the old bear's
prejudices--but I mustn't call him that any longer--she would have done
so before.  I knew I was right about her.  It was the only thing I
didn't _quite_ like about Dick--that he seemed always to think she was
of no account.  Now he has come round, and my cup of happiness is
brimming over.  Oh, Toby, I've never been so happy in my life before."
She put her handkerchief to her eyes, but she smiled gaily through her
tears.

"Quite so," returned Miss Dexter, unmoved by this show of emotion.
"You're all for the moment.  Next week, when you are alone amongst them
all, and they show you what they really think of you, you will never
have been so miserable in your life.  People like that don't change.
They haven't got it in them.  And you are laying up a most
uncomfortable time for yourself.  I give you solemn warning.  I know
what I'm talking about.  I'm not carried away by sentiment as you are.
Don't go, Virginia.  Don't make yourself cheap."

"My dear," said Virginia in gentle seriousness, "if I were really
making myself cheap by going to Kencote, I would go, if Dick asked me
to.  I can never be cheap to him.  He'll be there, and nothing that can
happen will touch me.  But nothing will happen--nothing disagreeable.
Why should you think so?"

Miss Dexter threw out her hands.  "Oh, when you talk like that!" she
said.  "Well, go, my dear, and good luck go with you."

"_You_ are my good luck, and you will go with me," said Virginia.
"Now, Toby darling, don't say no.  You have done so much for me.
Surely you can do this."

"I suppose I can," said Miss Dexter after a short pause.  "But if Mrs.
Clinton thinks I'm going to fall into her arms after her treatment of
me, she'll find herself mistaken.  And if the worst comes to the worst
I can tell Mr. Clinton what I think of him.  I should like an
opportunity of doing that.  Yes, I'll come, Virginia."

They went straight to Kencote from London, the state of Virginia's
travelling wardrobe having been decided to be capable of answering all
necessary calls on it, and Miss Dexter having declared that if she
appeared as a dowdy, she would find others to keep her company at
Kencote in spite of the airs they gave themselves.

At the railway terminus Humphrey Clinton came up to them.  "Hulloa!" he
said in the somewhat off-hand manner he adopted towards most ladies of
his acquaintance.  "Going back to Blaythorn?"

"No," said Virginia.  "We are going to Kencote.  So are you, I suppose?
We will travel down together, and you shall smoke to me."

Miss Dexter's sharp eyes were upon him, and she saw him flinch,
although Virginia did not.  It was the merest twitch of a muscle, and
he had recovered himself instantly.  "That's first class," he said.
"And this seems to be First Class too.  Shall we get in here?"

"That nice-looking porter with the grey beard has found us a carriage,"
said Virginia.  "If we all three spread ourselves over it nobody will
come in, and you can smoke when once the train has started."

"You had better sit at the other end of the carriage, then," said
Humphrey, "and pull your veil down, or else _everybody_ will want to
come in."

"Now, Toby, don't you call that a perfectly lovely speech?" asked
Virginia.

Miss Dexter emitted a sound indicative of scorn, but made no verbal
reply, and they walked down the platform.  A lady with spectacles, an
unbecoming felt hat and a short skirt, was coming towards them, and as
they approached one another she and Miss Dexter exclaimed,
simultaneously, and then shook hands with expressions of pleasure.
Miss Dexter then introduced the lady with the spectacles to Virginia,
as an old schoolfellow, Janet Phipp, whom she had not met for years and
years, and who had not changed in the least in the meantime, and asked
her where she was going.

"I am going to a place called Kencote," said Miss Phipp; "as
governess," she added uncompromisingly, with an eye on Virginia's fur
and feathers and Humphrey's general air of opulence.

"Oh, but that's where we are all going!" cried Virginia.  "How jolly!
And this is Mr. Humphrey Clinton, the brother of your pupils."

Humphrey shook hands with Miss Phipp.  "You'll find them a rare
handful," he said.

"That won't worry me in the least," said Miss Phipp.

"We'll all travel down together," said Virginia, "and you shall be told
all about the twins.  I've never met them, and I'm dying to."

"I'm going second class," said Miss Phipp, and Miss Dexter said, "I'll
go with you.  Virginia, I shall just have time to change my ticket."
She dashed off to the booking-office.

"That's so like Toby," said Virginia.  "Always impulsive.  She might
have thought of changing Miss Phipp's ticket.  What was she like at
school, the dear thing?"

"Excellent at mathematics," replied Miss Phipp.  "Languages weak, as
far as I remember."

The train slipped off on its two hours' non-stop run, with Virginia and
Humphrey in one carriage and Miss Dexter and Miss Phipp in another.
The two ladies had much to say to one another as to the course of their
respective lives since they had last met.  Miss Phipp's career had been
one of arduous work, punctuated by continental trips and an occasional
period of bad health.  "I suppose I have worked too hard," she said.
"The doctors all say so, although I can't say I've ever been aware of
it while I've actually been working.  If I can't work I'd just as soon
not live, and I've always had just the work that suited me.  It's a
blow to have to give it up.  If it hadn't been for my health I should
have been head-mistress of a big school long ago, and I'd have shown
them what women's education could be.  Now I've got to settle down to
take two girls instead of two hundred, and I suppose if I try to teach
them anything I shall be thwarted at every turn.  Girls ought to be
sent to school.  I've no opinion of home education, and these two don't
seem to have been taught anything.  I'm low about it, Margaret.  Still,
I've got to do it, for a bit anyhow, and if they've got any brains I'll
knock something into them, if I'm allowed to.  However, we needn't
worry ourselves about all that now.  What have you been doing?  Leading
a life of luxury and gaiety, I suppose."

The smile with which she asked her question was affectionate.  She had
been a big girl at the school when Margaret Dexter had been a little
one, and had mothered her.  Margaret Dexter's father had been a
consulting physician with a large practice.  She had lived in different
surroundings from most of her school-fellows.

"I've always had rather more luxury than I cared about," replied Miss
Dexter.  "As for gaiety, I don't care about that at all.  I'm not cut
out for it."

Her companion regarded her with more attention than she had yet
bestowed.  "You have grown to look very sensible," she said.

"Thanks," replied Miss Dexter.  "That means that my appearance is not
prepossessing.  I've always known that, and it doesn't bother me a bit."

Miss Phipp laughed.  "It is all coming back to me," she said.  "At
first, except that your face is much the same, I should hardly have
recognised you for the little girl I used to be so fond of.  But you
haven't altered, Margaret.  You are just as direct as ever.  I believe
I first taught you to be direct."

"If you did, you had easy ground to work on," replied Miss Dexter.

"I suppose I had.  But aren't you doing anything, Margaret?  You're not
just spending your life like other rich people--going about and amusing
yourself?  You weren't like that as a child."

"I'm not rich," returned Miss Dexter.  "My father died too young to
make a lot of money.  And as for doing something, I'm companion to Lady
George Dubec."

Miss Phipp was visibly taken aback.  "Oh!" she exclaimed; and after a
pause said, "I'm sorry.  Still, if you're obliged to earn your living,
I should have thought you might have done something more useful than
going out as a companion to a lady of fashion."

Miss Dexter coloured and then laughed.  "It's all coming back to me
too," she said.  "That's what you used to call talking straight, and we
used to call Janet's manners.  If it is any comfort to you to know it,
I don't have to earn my own living--I only said I wasn't rich.  I live
with Virginia Dubec because I love her, and I share some of the
expenses.  I'll tell you how much I pay if you like."

"Oh, don't be silly," said Miss Phipp.  "You said you were her
companion, and I took that to mean what anybody would.  Then you're
_not_ doing anything, and I'm sorry for it.  However, we needn't
quarrel about that.  What are these people like I'm going to?  I've
seen Mrs. Clinton, and on the whole I like her."

"Well, I don't," said Miss Dexter, "and if I weren't such a fool as to
follow Virginia about wherever she wants to go to, as if she were a
baby, I shouldn't go within a mile of Mrs. Clinton.  I don't mind
telling you, as you're bound to find out for yourself directly you get
to Kencote, that Virginia is going to marry Captain Clinton, the eldest
son, and the whole family have hitherto turned up their stupid noses at
her.  Now he seems to have persuaded them to inspect her and see
whether she'll do, after all.  She's worth a hundred of the whole lot
of them put together, except, perhaps, Captain Clinton himself, who has
behaved fairly well.  No, I'll do him justice--he's behaved quite well.
He's all right.  But Mrs. Clinton--well, you say you like her, but
you'll see; as for Mr. Clinton, he's the most odious, purse-proud,
blood-proud, ignorant old pig you'll find anywhere."

"H'm!'" commented Miss Phipp drily.  "Seems a nice sort of family I'm
going to.  What's that youth travelling with your Lady Virginia, or
whatever her name is--what's _he_ like?"

"What he looks like," replied Miss Dexter shortly.

"And the girls I'm going to teach?"'

"I don't know them, and don't want to."

"But you will, if you're going to stay in the house.  And you must have
heard about them."

"Well, I believe they're rather fun," admitted Miss Dexter grudgingly.
"And they're reported to be clever.  Still, they've been boxed up at
home all their lives, and can't know much.  I expect you'll have your
work cut out."

"They'll have their work cut out," returned Miss Phipp grimly, "and
they'll have to do it too.  I do hate having to go out as a governess,
Margaret."

Miss Dexter glanced at her friend, who was so plain as to be almost
unfeminine, and looked jaded and unwell besides; she had her eyes fixed
on the suburban landscape now flying past at sixty miles an hour, and
something in her aspect caused Miss Dexter's heart to contract.  "Poor
old Janet," she said, "I don't suppose it will be as bad as you expect.
I'm a brute to be trying to put you against them.  You won't see much
of Mr. Clinton, and he probably won't bother you when you do.  As for
Mrs. Clinton, if you want the truth, she once gave me a snub, and I
feel catty about her; so you needn't take any notice of what I say.
The children are real characters, with any amount of brains, and you'll
have a great opportunity with them if you can keep them in order."

Miss Phipp brightened up.  "Ah, that's better hearing," she said.  "As
for keeping them in order, after a class of thirty High School girls,
that's child's play."

"Well, I don't want to paint _too_ bright a picture," said Miss Dexter,
"and from what I've heard of them I don't think that it will be quite
that."

In the meantime Virginia and Humphrey were getting on very well in
their more luxurious compartment.  Humphrey had expressed his pleasure
at the opening up of the home of his fathers to his brother's expectant
bride, and in such a fashion that Virginia had warmed to him and told
him exactly how things stood.

"You see, I'm going on what the shops call 'appro,'" she said.  "If
they don't like me they can turn me out again."

"And if they _do_ like you," said Humphrey, "which, of course, they
will----"

"Then all will be well," concluded Virginia.

He looked out of the window before he asked, carelessly, "I suppose
Dick's there?"

"Of course Dick's there," said Virginia.  "You don't suppose I should
venture into the lion's den without my Dick to support me, do you?
Dear old Dick!  I'm glad he's made it up with your father."

"So am I," said Humphrey, after the minutest pause.  "Family quarrels
are the devil and all.  And there was no sense in this one.  I suppose
he's chucked the idea of Yorkshire, and he's returned to the bosom of
the fold."

"Oh, good gracious, no!" said Virginia.  "At least he hasn't said so.
Why should he, anyway?  I guess we shall want all the dollars we can
grab at.  A wife's an expensive luxury, you know, Mr. Humphrey."

"Especially a wife like you," returned Humphrey genially.  "Still, I
shouldn't be surprised if you find Yorkshire 'off' when you get to
Kencote.  If the governor has come round about you, he'll probably come
round about--about other things."

"You mean money?" said Virginia.  "We're not bothering ourselves about
that."

"_You're_ not, perhaps."

"You mean that Dick is?  I don't know anything about it, and I don't
care.  That's not what I'm going to Kencote for.  Why do men always
think such a lot about money, I wonder?"

"Ah, I wonder," said Humphrey.

The four travellers joined up at Bathgate, where they had to change,
and travelled to Kencote together in a second-class carriage, on
Virginia's decision, which Humphrey accepted with some distaste, but
did not combat.

Dick and the twins were on the platform at Kencote.  The twins were
inveterate train-meeters, whenever they were allowed to be, and Dick
had brought them this evening with the idea of packing them and Miss
Dexter and Miss Phipp into one carriage and accompanying Virginia in
the other.  But Humphrey had not been expected, and the greeting
between the brothers was not particularly cordial.  However, he grasped
the situation when he saw a landau and a brougham in waiting outside
instead of the station omnibus, which he had expected to see, and
solved it by announcing his intention of walking.

"We would come with you, darling," said Joan in an aside, "but we must
see it out with our image.  What's she like, Humphrey?"

"Oh, most lovable--as you can see," replied Humphrey, disengaging his
arm and setting out into the darkness.

When the carriage into which the twins had packed themselves with Miss
Phipp and Miss Dexter had rolled off in the wake of the other, Miss
Phipp said, "Well, girls, I hope we shall get on well together.  You're
not afraid of hard work, I suppose?"

"Oh no," replied Joan readily; "we're looking forward to it immensely."

"You will find our diligence one of our best points," said Nancy.  "If
at first we don't succeed we always try, try, try again."

There was a moment's silence, except for the sharp trot of the horse's
hoofs and the wheels rolling on the frosty road.  Then Miss Dexter
laughed suddenly.  "There, you're answered," she said to Miss Phipp.
"Let's put them through an examination.  What do you know of
mathematics?"

"Don't be foolish, Margaret," said Miss Phipp sharply.  "They must not
begin by making fun of their lessons."

"Oh, but we shouldn't think of doing that," said Joan.

"They're far too serious, and we have been taught not to make fun of
serious things," said Nancy.

Miss Dexter laughed again.  "What do you know of mathematics?" she
asked.

"Nancy is not good at them," replied Joan.  "She got as far as the
asses' bridge in Euclid, with the starling, our last governess, and
then she struck, as you might expect.  Her strong point is literature.
She writes poems that bring tears to the eyes."

"Joan's weak point is history," said Nancy.  "She thought Henry the
Eighth was a widower when he married Anne Boleyn, and Starling made her
learn all his wives in order before she went to bed."

"That will do, girls," said Miss Phipp firmly.  "And if Miss Starling
was the name of your last governess, please call her so."

The ensuing silence was broken by a smothered giggle from Joan, which
Nancy covered up by asking in a rather shaky voice of Miss Dexter
whether she and Miss Phipp had known each other before.

"Yes," said Miss Dexter, "we were at school together--oh, years
ago--and have never seen each other since, until we met on the
platform.  Funny, wasn't it?  I say, is there a ghost at Kencote?"

"Oh, no, it isn't old enough," replied Joan.  "But there's one at the
dower-house--an old man in one boot who goes about looking for the
other one."

"That's a jolly sort of ghost," said Miss Dexter.  "Do you know who he
was?"

"He is supposed to have been an ancestor in the time of Charles the
Second--he's dressed like that--who kicked his servant to death,
and----"

"We've got some topping ancestors," put in Nancy.  "There's a book
about them.  Joan and I read it the other day.  One of them was called
Abraham, and he said if he had a name like that he must live up to it,
so he called his sons Jacob and Esau----"

"He only had one and he called him Isaac," interrupted Joan.  "You have
got it wrong."

"That will do," said Miss Phipp decisively, and just then the carriage
clattered under the porch and came to a standstill.

The Squire had not been able to bring himself to meet his guests in the
hall, as was the hospitable custom at Kencote.  He had meant to do so.
He had given in on the main point on which he had held out so long, and
honestly intended to behave well about it.  He had gone to and fro
between his room and the morning-room across the hall, standing first
before the fire near which his wife was sitting, and then reading the
_Times_ for a few minutes in his own easy-chair, and when the wheels of
the first carriage had been heard, and Mrs. Clinton had put aside her
work and risen according to custom, he had gone out with her into the
hall.  But when the servants came through to the door he thought that
they cast curious looks at him, as possibly they did, and he bolted
suddenly back to the shelter of his room, and stood there listening,
until the door of the morning-room was shut and the noises outside had
ceased.

Then he grew ashamed of himself.  What would Dick think of him?  If he
delayed any longer it would look as if he were holding off, after
all--refusing to put at her ease and make welcome a guest in his own
house.  So he gathered up his courage, settled his waistcoat, and
walked boldly into the morning-room, and straight up to Miss Dexter,
who was nearest to the door, and with whom he shook hands warmly,
somewhat to her confusion, before he distinguished Virginia, who had
risen when he came in.

Her colour was high, and her eyes sparkling, but she smiled in his
face, and said, as Americans do on an introduction, "Mr. Clinton," and
then waited for him to speak, still standing and looking straight into
his eyes, with the smile that invited friendliness.

The Squire turned away from her somewhat confused, and said, "Tea
ready, Nina?  Lady George must be cold after her journey.  What sort of
weather was it in London?"

Miss Dexter replied to the question, as his brows had been bent upon
her when it was asked.  She said it was rather raw, and the answer
seemed to satisfy him, for he left that subject and remarked that the
Radicals seemed to be making a disgraceful mess of it as usual, and if
this sort of thing went on we should all be driven out of the country.

This led nowhere, and that awful pause seemed likely to ensue where
people ill at ease with one another search for topics to hide up their
discomfort.  But Virginia, who had sat down again, said, "Mr. Clinton,
have you ever forgiven us for heading back the fox?"

"Eh!  What!" asked the Squire, with a lively recollection of the rebuke
he had administered on the occasion referred to.

Virginia laughed.  "You were terrible," she said.  "But you had every
right to be terrible.  I'd never done such a thing before, and I hope I
shall never do such a thing again.  I feel like getting under the sofa
every time I think of it."

The Squire thought the last statement just slightly verging on
indelicacy, but its effect on his mind was only momentary, so relieved
was he at having a subject held out to him.  Deep down in his heart he
held to his aversion to Virginia, and nothing in her appearance or
attitude had in the least softened it.  But, externally, it had to be
covered up, and because she offered him a covering he was grateful, and
for the moment well disposed towards her.

"Ladies who come into the hunting-field," he said, with a near approach
to a smile, "and turn foxes, must expect to be spoken sharply to."

This was enough for Virginia to go on with, but not for Miss Dexter,
who had heard the words, but missed the smile.  "It is like interfering
with a child's toys," she said.  "He forgets his manners for the
moment."

The Squire bent a look of puzzled displeasure on her, but before her
words could sink in, Virginia said, "Toby, don't be tiresome.  You
don't know anything whatever about hunting, and you are so absurdly
vain that you can't bear to be corrected when you've done wrong."

Dick laughed and said to his mother, "Miss Dexter gets a good deal of
correction and puts up with it like an angel.  She's not in the least
vain, really."

"Nothing much to be vain of," said Miss Dexter, with complete
equanimity.

The Squire was still looking at her as if adjusting his mind to her
presence and potentialities, and she looked up at him and said, "Miss
Phipp, your children's governess, is an old friend of mine.  We were at
school together."  Then she looked down again and took a sip of tea.

The Squire seemed at a loss to know what use to make of this piece of
information, but Dick said, "She looks as if she would be able to
handle them all right."

"You mean that she is plain," said Miss Dexter.

"You seem to be in a very bad humour," Dick retorted.

"She's in an atrocious humour," said Virginia.  "She always is when
she's been travelling.  She will pick up and be thoroughly amiable when
she's had two cups of tea."

"Do let me give you another one," said Mrs. Clinton, with a kind smile,
and everybody laughed, including the Squire, a second or two late.

Conversation went fairly easily after that, and by and by Mrs. Clinton
took Virginia and Miss Dexter up to their rooms.  Never very ready of
speech, she had little to say as they went up the staircase and along
the corridors, but when she had shown them their rooms, which were
adjoining, she asked, "Would you like to come and see the children in
their quarters?  I hope they are making Miss Phipp feel at home."

"I should love to," said Virginia; and Miss Dexter said, "They ought to
have come to some understanding by now."

Joan and Nancy were sitting one on either side of Miss Phipp at the
tea-table.  Their demure air, which did not quite correspond to the
look in their eyes, probably warned Mrs. Clinton that if any
understanding had been come to it was of a one-sided nature, but Miss
Phipp looked comfortable both in mind and body, and said, as she rose
from the table, "We have been having a good talk about our future
plans.  We are going to do a great deal of hard work together, and put
all our minds into it."

The twins, for once, forbore to add to a statement of that nature.
Their bright eyes were fixed full upon Virginia, who smiled radiantly
on them and said, "What a lovely schoolroom you have!  I shouldn't mind
working in a room like this."

"It _is_ rather nice," said Joan.  "Miss Starling, our last governess,
taught us to keep it in order."

"Miss Starling seems to have taught them some very useful things," said
Miss Phipp, with firm complacency.  "She was with you for a good many
years, was she not, Mrs. Clinton?"

"Her name was 'Miss Bird,'" said Mrs. Clinton.  "We were all very fond
of her, and the boys gave her a nickname out of affection."

"Oh!" said Miss Phipp, casting a glance of disapproval on the twins,
who met it with eyes of blameless innocence.

Later on when the twins went to their room to change their frocks they
dismissed Hannah from attendance on them.  "We have something to talk
over," said Joan, "and we can do without you this evening."

"You had better wait outside on the mat and we'll call you if we want
you," said Nancy.

"Indeed, Miss Nancy, I should demean myself by doing no such thing,"
said the indignant Hannah.  "If you wish to talk between yourselves as
well I know what you want to talk about, though deny it you may,
straight downstairs do I go, and you may do your 'airs yourself, for I
shall not come up again till it's time to tidy."

"Hurry up," said Nancy.  "We'll ring if we want you."

When Hannah had departed Joan said, "Well, what do you think of her"

"Who do you mean--Virginia, or Pipp, or Toby?"

"Virginia, of course.  I think she's rather sweet.  She's worth ten of
sweet Sue Clinton, anyhow."

"That's not saying much for her.  I think she's all right, though.  But
I haven't seen any signs of the chocolates yet."

"What chocolates?"

"I thought she'd be sure, to bring us a great big expensive box tied up
with pink ribbons, so as to make friends with us and get us on her
side."

"I shouldn't have thought nearly so much of her if she had.  What I
like about her is that she doesn't toady.  She knows she's got to make
a good impression, but she doesn't show she's trying.  I'm sure mother
likes her."

"We haven't seen her with father yet."

"We shall at dinner.  I really think she's rather a darling, Nancy.  I
think I shall give in."

Nancy announced her intention of holding out a little longer just to
make sure.  "She's just the merest trifle too sweet for my taste," she
said.  "I must be quite certain that it's part of her first."

"I'm sure it's part of her," said Joan.  "She isn't any sweeter than
Aunt Grace, and you like her."

"Aunt Grace is too sweet for my taste, although it is part of her, and
isn't put on.  I like people with more character.  Toby, now--she's a
ripper."

"Yes, I like her," admitted Joan.  "She likes us too.  I think she
wants to egg us on to deal with Pipp."

"We shan't want much egging.  We've got her a bit puzzled already.  I
don't think she's a bad sort, you know, Joan.  I thought she'd give us
bread and water when mother went away."

"She's not quite sure of herself yet.  We'll go on playing at being
High School girls for a bit.  It's rather fun.  Don't they wear their
hair in pigtails?"

"We might plait our hair after breakfast to-morrow.  And they always
say 'Yes, Miss Phipp,' 'No, Miss Phipp.' You know that story we read?"

"We'll go through it again.  We'll do all the proper things at lesson
time, and outside the schoolroom we'll be our own sweet selves.  It
will be rather a bore going for walks with her."

"She can't be allowed to be instructive then."

"Rather not.  She'll want firm handling, but I think we shall be equal
to it."

"It may come to a tussle.  But we've only got to keep our heads.  There
are two of us, and there's only one of her.  We'll be kind but firm,
and when she's learnt her place I dare say we shall get on all right,
and everything will go swimmingly.  What _has_ Hannah done with my
hair-ribbon?  Ring the bell loud, Joan, and go on ringing till she
comes up."



CHAPTER XXV

A LAWN MEET

The Squire may have forgotten, when he gave his consent to Virginia
being asked to Kencote on this particular date, that on the following
day the hounds would meet at Kencote, and there was to be a hunt
breakfast.  He had his due share of stupidity, but he was clever enough
to see, when he did realise what had happened, that Virginia's presence
at Kencote on so public an occasion would spread abroad the fact of his
surrender as nothing else could do so pointedly.

He did not half like it.  He was not quite sure in his mind exactly
what he had surrendered by consenting to receive her, but he was quite
sure that he had never meant to give up his right to make her first
visit her last if he did not approve of her, and when the mild January
day dawned and he went into his dressing-room it was with a mind
considerably perplexed, for he did not know whether he approved of her
or not, and yet here were all these people coming, who would see her
there, and possibly--the more officious of them--actually go so far as
to congratulate him on the approaching marriage in his family.

He had gone as far as that.  He recognised that, whatever he thought
about the matter himself, the rest of the world, as represented by the
people amongst whom he lived, would, undoubtedly, hold that there was
cause for congratulation.  He even went a little further, without
admitting it to himself: he accepted the general verdict of his
neighbours, that Virginia was a very beautiful and a very taking
person.  Only he had not taken to her himself.  She had tried him hard,
during the previous evening, and several times, especially after his
first glass of port, he had nearly allowed himself to fall a victim to
her charm.  But he had just managed to hold out, and in the cold light
of morning, and removed from her presence, thinking also of the company
that was presently to assemble, he frowned when he thought of her, and
said aloud as he brushed his hair, which he always did the first thing
in the morning, even before he looked at the weather-glass, "Confound
the woman!  Infernal nuisance!  I wish the day was well over."

Presently, however, his thoughts grew rather lighter.  It was a perfect
day for his favourite sport, and he was going to hunt once more.  He
felt as eager as a schoolboy for it.  Having received Virginia in his
house, there was no object in seeking to avoid her in the field, and
the relief to his mind in having nothing before him actually to spoil
his pleasure in a day with the hounds was so great that it reacted on
his view of Virginia, and he said, also aloud, as he folded his stock,
"I wonder if she'll do after all."

But no; that was too much.  Of course she wouldn't do.  She was an
American--well, perhaps that could be forgiven her: she was not
glaringly transatlantic.  She had been a stage-dancer.  You had to
remind yourself of the fact, but there was no doubt that it was a fact.
Ugh!  She was the widow of a rascal, living on the money he had left
her, which had been got, probably, by the shadiest of courses, if not
dishonestly.  That was positively damning, and he could not understand
how Dick could complaisantly accept such a situation and prepare to
live partly upon it.  But perhaps she had very little money and was
deeply in debt, and there would be difficulty about that later on.  He
had not thought of that before, and slid away from the thought now, as
quickly as possible.  He did not want to spoil his day's pleasure.  But
a gloomy tinge was imparted to his thoughts, and again he frowned at
the idea of what lay before him when the neighbours for miles round
would be collected and he would have his difficult part to play before
them.

Virginia came down to breakfast in her riding habit, which is a
becoming costume to no woman unless she is on a horse.  The Squire had
an old-fashioned grudge against hunting-women in general, and he was
not cordial to Virginia, although he made every effort to act
conformably to his duties as her host.  Whatever inroads she might have
made on his prejudice against her on the previous evening when, in a
dress of black chiffon with touches of heliotrope about her neck and in
her lustrous hair, she had looked lovely and surprisingly young, she
held small charm for him now, and it was with difficulty that he
brought himself to be polite to her, as she sat at his right hand
during breakfast.

Fortunately some distraction was afforded to him by the presence of
Miss Phipp, to whom he had just been introduced for the first time.  He
found her astonishingly plain, and he was the sort of man who finds
food for humour in the contemplation of a plain woman.  But in his
present mild state of discomfort he found no food for humour in Miss
Phipp's obvious disregard of her proper position in the house.  Miss
Bird had never spoken at the breakfast table unless spoken to.  She
would have considered it immodest to do so.  Miss Phipp bore a leading
part in the conversation, and as she had only one subject--the
education of the young, in which the Squire possessed no overmastering
interest--by the end of the meal he was seriously considering the
necessity of giving her a snub.

Miss Phipp's thesis, which she developed with considerable force, and a
wealth of illustration drawn from her previous experience, was that a
woman's brains were every bit as good as a man's, and that she could do
just as much in the way of scholarship if her training began early and
was carried on on the right lines.

"What do _you_ think about it?" Miss Dexter asked of Nancy, who was
sitting next to her.

"I think," replied Nancy, with a side glance at Miss Phipp, "that it
depends a great deal on the teacher," at which Miss Dexter laughed,
thus giving the answer a personal application.

"_Of course_ it depends a great deal upon the teacher.  That is exactly
what I said," Miss Phipp went on.  "When I was at the High School there
was a girl who had taken the highest possible honours at London
University, but she was of no more use as a teacher than--than
anything.  Teaching is a gift by itself, and sometimes the best
scholars do not possess it."

"I think we shall find a fox in Hartover," said the Squire.  "I believe
that fellow they lost a month ago has taken up his quarters there."

"At the same time," said Miss Phipp, "for the higher forms of a school
you _must_ have women who are good scholars as well as with a gift for
teaching."

When breakfast was over the twins went out of the room one on each side
of Miss Dexter, to whom they had taken a warm fancy, and invited her to
visit their animals with them.  But Miss Phipp said at once, "Oh, but I
shall want you in the schoolroom, girls.  We are not to begin lessons
until Monday, but we must lose no time then, and I want to find out
beforehand exactly where you are."

The twins looked at one another.  They were all standing in the hall.
"Saturday is a whole holiday," said Joan.

"That I know," replied Miss Phipp, "but it is important that we should
begin work on Monday without any delay.  You can spare an hour.  I
shall probably not keep you longer."

The twins looked at one another again, and then at Miss Dexter, who
preserved a perfectly passive demeanour.  "I think, if you don't mind,"
said Joan, "we would rather get up an hour earlier on Monday.  We
always feed the animals ourselves on Saturdays, directly after
breakfast."

"Are you going to begin with me by showing disobedience?'" asked Miss
Phipp.  "I must insist now that you shall come upstairs with me."

The High School girls would have recognised this tone and quailed
before it.  But Nancy said, "We'll come if mother says we must," and
Miss Phipp lost patience, and without another word walked into the
morning-room, into which she had seen Mrs. Clinton go with Virginia.

The twins looked at one another once more, and then at Miss Dexter, who
received their glance with a twinkle in her eyes.  "Now you're in for
it," she said.

But the twins were rather alarmed.  "We weren't rude to her, were we?"
asked Joan.

"Hadn't we better go in to mother?" asked Nancy.

"No, it's all right; we'll wait here," said Miss Dexter, and they
waited in silence until Miss Phipp marched out of the morning-room,
passed them without a word, and went upstairs.

"Now we'll go and put our hats on and go out and see the animals," said
Miss Dexter; but just then Mrs. Clinton came out to them, looking
rather concerned, and Miss Dexter left them and joined Virginia in the
morning-room.

"What happened?" she asked eagerly.

"My dear Toby," replied Virginia, "are you going to foment a quarrel
between those darling children and the bosom friend of your childhood?"

"No, I'm not," replied Miss Dexter.  "I'm going to put her in the way
of settling down here.  What happened?"

"What happened?  Why, she came in looking as red as a tomato, and said,
'Mrs. Clinton, I want the children to come into the schoolroom for an
hour, and they refuse.  Is it your wish that they shall disobey me?' or
something like that."

"They didn't refuse.  What did Mrs. Clinton say?"

"She said, 'Oh, surely not, Miss Phipp,' and it turned out, as you say,
that they had only said that they would rather not.  Then Mrs. Clinton
said that she didn't want them to work on Saturdays, especially to-day,
because of the meet, and the friend of your childhood flounced out of
the room without another word.  Toby, that good lady is as hot as
pepper."

Then Mrs. Clinton came in again, and said, "I want the children to take
Miss Phipp out to see their animals too.  They have gone up to her.
Will you go too?"

But Miss Phipp was not in the schoolroom.  "You go and put on your
hats, and I'll go and find her," said Miss Dexter.

"Mother wasn't annoyed with us," said Joan.  "We said we were quite
polite.  We were, weren't we?"

"Your manners were a lesson to us all," said Miss Dexter.

Miss Phipp was in her bedroom, and Miss Dexter proffered the
invitation, of which she took no notice.  "It's perfectly
preposterous," she said, turning an angry face upon her.  "If this is
the sort of thing that is to happen my position here will be
impossible."

"My dear girl, you shouldn't lose your temper," said Miss Dexter.
"They were quite right.  You've no right to expect them to work in
their playtime.  Besides, you shouldn't have told Mrs. Clinton that
they were disobedient.  Come out and see their rabbits and guinea-pigs."

"I shall do nothing of the sort," said Miss Phipp.  "I shall reconsider
my position.  I will not stay and teach girls who are encouraged to set
my authority at naught."

"Look here, Janet," said Miss Dexter firmly.  "You are going the wrong
way to work here.  You have every chance of having a real good time,
and doing something useful besides, but you can't behave in a private
family as if you were in a school."

For answer Miss Phipp burst into most feminine tears.  "I'm not well,"
she sobbed.  "I've got a splitting headache after yesterday's journey,
and I've lost control over myself."

"Well, lie down for a bit," advised Miss Dexter.  "You'll have the
whole day to yourself, and you needn't begin to think about work until
Monday.  I'll put a match to your fire.  Is there anything you'd like?
If there is I'm sure you can have it."

"I'm a fool," said Miss Phipp, drying her eyes.  "For goodness' sake
don't let those two know I broke down.  I dare say I was wrong, but I
do want to do all I can to get them on quickly."

"I know you do.  And you'll have no difficulty when the proper time
comes.  They're clever girls, and nice ones too.  They are quite upset
at the idea of having upset _you_."

"Are they?" said Miss Phipp drily.  "Well, I think I _will_ lie down
for a bit and take some Phenacetin.  No, I don't want anything else.
If I do, I can ring the bell."

So she was left to herself, and Miss Dexter accompanied the twins in
their various errands of mercy, and expressed unbounded admiration of
the breeding and intelligence of the rodents submitted to her
inspection, after which they took her for a walk round the rhododendron
dell.

They, were a little less ready with their conversation than usual, for
the late episode had been something quite new in their experience and
given them occasion for thought.  At last Miss Dexter said, "If you are
worrying about Janet Phipp, I shouldn't, if I were you.  She's a good
sort, and you'll get on with her all right."

"I hope we shall," said Joan, "but I'm inclined to doubt it.  She's so
_very_ different to the old starling.  We had any amount of fun with
her, but then, we loved her."

"Well, you'll love Miss Phipp when you know her.  I've known her
for--well, I won't tell you how many years, but we're neither of us
chickens, as you can see."

"And do you love her?" asked Nancy.

"I used to, and I should again if I saw anything of her."

"Well, that's something in her favour," said Joan.  "But Nancy and I
will have to talk it over and settle our course of action."

"Well, talk it over now.  I shan't repeat anything you say."

"We like you very much," said Nancy.  "But as you're a friend of hers,
we might not like to speak quite plainly.  It's rather a serious
situation."

"Oh, you can talk quite plainly before me.  I can see the situation
well enough, and it isn't as serious as you think.  She has never been
in a private family before, and has had no experience except with a
horde of schoolgirls.  Of course you have to keep a tight hand over
them, and when they're at school nobody has authority over them except
the teachers.  She'll soon tumble to it that your mother has more say
in things than she can have.  But you mustn't always be appealing to
your mother against her."

"Of course we shouldn't do that," said Joan indignantly.  "We never did
with Starling, except in fun."

"Besides, we are quite capable of controlling the situation by
ourselves, when once we've settled on a course of action," said Nancy.

Miss Dexter laughed.  "I've no doubt you are," she said.  "Only give
her a chance.  That's all I ask."

"I suppose you don't object to our exercising our humour on her?" asked
Nancy.  "We have our reputation to keep up.  And you must admit that
she was rather trying this morning."

"Look here," said Miss Dexter.  "She's been ill, and she's not well
now.  You may think it funny, but when I went in to see her just now
she cried."

"Oh, poor darling!" exclaimed Joan.  "Of course we'll be kind to her,
won't we, Nancy?"

"We'll think it over," said Nancy.  "We mustn't be sentimental.  You're
rather inclined to it, Joan.  She may have shed tears of rage at being
thwarted."

"You're a beast," said Joan uncompromisingly.  "I hate to think of
people being unhappy."

"You see," Miss Dexter put in, "she's suffering under a great
disappointment.  She's a splendid teacher and was getting on awfully
well, and then she broke down and has had to take a private job.  Many
people would much prefer to live in a place like this, and have a good
time, instead of toiling hard at a school.  But, for her, it's good-bye
to a career in life, and she can't help feeling rather sore about it."

"Poor darling!" exclaimed Joan again.  "We'll take her to our hearts
and make up for it.  Don't you be afraid, Toby dear--you don't mind us
calling you that, do you?--if Nancy misbehaves I know how to deal with
her."

"I don't want to misbehave," said Nancy, "and if I did you couldn't
stop me.  If she treats us well we'll treat her well.  I shan't make
any rash promises.  I think we'd better be getting back now.  People
will begin to turn up soon, and it's such fun to see them."

They went back to the house, and presently there came riding up the
drive two men in pink, and immediately after there came a dogcart and
then a carriage and then more men on horses and a lady or two, and
after that a constant succession of riders and people on wheels and on
foot, until the open stretch of park in front of the house was full of
them.

And at last the huntsman and whips came trotting slowly along the drive
and on to the grass, and the hounds streaming along with them waving
their sterns, a useful, well-matched pack, much alike in the mass, but
each with as much individuality as the men and women who thronged
around them.

Then the members of the hunt began to drift by twos and threes into the
house and into the dining-room, where the Squire was very hospitable
and hearty in pressing refreshments on them--"just a sandwich, or
something to keep out the draught," he kept on repeating, full of
pleasure at being able to feed dozens of people who didn't want
feeding, and quite forgetting for the time being his fears as to the
effect of Virginia's presence.

Virginia, not wishing any more than he to make herself a centre of the
occasion, was on her horse already, and Dick was with her, and a
handsome pair they made.  So thought old Aunt Laura who had had herself
drawn up by the porch in her Bath chair, as far away as possible from
"the horses' hoofs."  She had just heard that a marriage was about to
take place in the family and was full of twittering excitement at the
news.

"My nephew," she said, meaning the Rector, "told me the glad news only
this morning, my dear.  I am overjoyed to hear it, and to have the
opportunity of seeing you so soon.  Please do not bring your horse too
close, if you do not mind.  I am somewhat nervous of animals."

"I'll bring her to see you this evening, Aunt Laura," said Dick, "or,
if she's too tired, to-morrow morning."

"I shan't be too tired," said Virginia, smiling at the old lady.  "Dick
has often told me about you, Miss Clinton, but you know I have never
been in Kencote before."

The Rector had given Aunt Laura some hint of the difficulty there had
been over the engagement, and she said soothingly, "I know, my dear, I
know.  But I have no doubt you will be here very often now, and I am
sure nobody will be more pleased to see you than I shall.  Dear me,
what with Walter and Cicely being married two years ago and Dick and
Humphrey about to be married, one feels one belongs to a family in
which things are always happening.  I only wish that my dear sisters
had been alive to take part in it all.  They would have been so
pleased.  But the last of them died last year, as no doubt Dick has
told you, and I am no longer able to welcome you in our old home.  But
I have a very nice little house in the village, and if you will come
and drink a cup of tea with me I shall feel great gratification, and I
will show you some of my treasures.  Tell me, Dick, for my eyes are not
quite what they were, is that our Cousin Humphrey?"

It was, in fact, Lord Meadshire, who in spite of a cold, which made him
hoarser than ever, had driven over with his daughter, and now, looking
frail and shrunken in his heavy fur coat, but indomitably determined to
make the best of life, came slowly across the gravel to greet once
again the only member of his own generation left alive amongst all his
relations.

"Well, Laura," he said, "this is like old times, eh?" and then he
recognised Virginia, and showed, although he did not say so, that he
was pleasantly surprised to see her there.

"You have heard, I suppose, Humphrey," said Aunt Laura, with obvious
pride in being first with the news, "that we are shortly to have yet
another wedding in the family.  I have not seen dear Edward yet; I have
no doubt he is busy indoors, but will be out soon--and I shall be able
to tell him how glad I am that everything is happily settled."

Lord Meadshire's sharp old eyes twinkled up at Virginia, and at Dick,
who said, "Don't you say anything to him about it yet, Aunt Laura.
He's not quite ready for it"; and Lord Meadshire added, "You've been
given early news, Laura.  We must keep it to ourselves until it is
published abroad--what?  My dear"--this to Virginia--"I needn't tell
you how glad I am, and I wish you every possible happiness and
prosperity."

He stayed to chat for a few minutes with Aunt Laura after Virginia and
Dick had moved away.  "It seems but yesterday," said Aunt Laura, "that
my dear father, who, of course, kept these hounds, entertained his
friends here in just such a way as this, and I was a little girl with
all my dear sisters, and you were a young man, Humphrey, very gay and
active, riding over and talking and laughing with everybody.  And it is
just the same pretty scene now as it was then, although all the people
who took part in it are dead, except you and I."

"My dear Laura," wheezed Lord Meadshire, "I'm gay and active now, if it
comes to that, and so are you, in your heart of hearts.  Come, let us
forget that tiresome number of years that lies behind us and go and
amuse ourselves with the rest.  If I stand out here in the cold, I
shall have Emily after me--what?"

So Aunt Laura was helped out of her Bath chair, and they went into the
house together slowly, and arm in arm.

The Squire hastened to meet them and find chairs for them, rather
uncomfortably near the fire.  He was loud in his expressions of
pleasure at seeing his kinsman there, and not unmindful, either, of the
comfort of Aunt Laura.  He would have been beyond measure scandalised
at the charge of treating her with increased consideration since he had
learnt of her wealth, and indeed he had shown himself, as has been
said, indifferent to the possibility of her being wealthy, but there
was no doubt that she had increased in importance in his eyes during
the last week or two, and she was accordingly treated more as a
personage at Kencote than she had ever been before in her life.

Lord Meadshire accepted a glass of champagne.  It was a festive
occasion, and he loved festive occasions of all sorts.  Everybody in
the room came up and talked to him, and he was pleased to talk to
everybody and said the right thing to each.  But presently he found the
opportunity of a word apart with the Squire.

"So you've given in, Edward--eh, what?" he remarked, with a mischievous
look in his old face, and before he could be answered, said, more
seriously, "Well, you were right to stick out if you thought it
wouldn't do--to stick out as long as you could--but you must be glad
all the bother's over now, and I feel sure you'll come to think it
isn't so bad as you thought it would be.  Come now, weren't all the
rest of us right?  Isn't she a dear creature?"

"I haven't given in," said the Squire shortly.  "I don't know yet what
I'm going to do.  Of course, if Dick has made up his mind, I'm not
going to keep him at arm's length all the rest of my life, however much
I may object to what he's doing.  That's why he's here, and why she's
here."

"Ah!" said Lord Meadshire wisely.  "That's the way to talk.  When you
say that you're nearly at the end of your troubles."

As he drove off a little later with Lady Kemsale he told her that
Edward was conquered, although he wouldn't acknowledge it.  "He's an
obstinate fellow," said Lord Meadshire, "and from what Nina told me I
should say that he's having hard work to hold out against the dear
lady.  Well, she's only got to keep on being herself and he'll be at
her feet like all the rest of us."

"Dear papa," said Lady Kemsale, "Lady George has bewitched you."

"My dear," said Lord Meadshire, "I admit it fully.  And if she can
bewitch me she can bewitch Edward.  She's half-way on the road already."



CHAPTER XXVI

WHAT MISS PHIPP SAW

Miss Phipp lay quite still on her bed for half an hour with her eyes
closed, while the pain in her head grew and became almost
insupportable, as she had known it would, and then, under the influence
of the drug, slowly ebbed away until, exhausted as she was, her state
was one of such relief as to amount to bliss.  She could not afford to
be angry, if she was to escape the punishment of these short-lived but
agonising bursts of pain, and she had been very angry.  Now she told
herself that she had been foolish to upset herself about nothing.  Her
friend's words had borne fruit in her robust and sensible mind.  It was
quite true that she could not expect to exercise the same undivided
authority in a private house as in a school, and she must find
compensations elsewhere, which she very speedily did.  At the school
she had herself been under authority, and had not been able to carry
out unchecked her favourite theories of education.  Here she would be
free of that check, for she did not suppose that Mrs. Clinton would
desire to interfere with her in her teaching.  And the children were
bright enough.  Surely there was opportunity here for doing something
in a small way, which she had never been able to do at all as yet!
They were nice children too, with some character.  They had not given
in to her, but they had held out without being in the least rude, and
it was good of them, after what had happened, to want her to go with
them to see their odious animals.

At this point Mrs. Clinton, who had been told of her bad headache,
knocked at her door and asked if she wanted anything.  She thanked her
and said "No," and Mrs. Clinton further asked if she would like to
drive with her, for, if she was well enough, it might do her good.

She got off her bed and opened the door, and when Mrs. Clinton saw the
dark circles under her eyes she exclaimed in sympathy, and insisted
upon fetching eau-de-Cologne, and performing various little services
for her, which, although she now scarcely needed them, made her feel
that she was cared for.  She was instructed to lie still for a while
longer, and something should presently be sent up to her.  Then she was
to lunch quietly by herself, and in the afternoon, if she was well
enough, to take a short walk in the park.  "It is so fine," said Mrs.
Clinton, "that I expect we shall be out all day, and you will have the
whole house to yourself, and can be as quiet as you like.  And mind you
ask Garnett--my maid, you know--for anything you want.  I will tell her
to keep an eye on you."

Then she went away, and left Miss Phipp in a more comfortable frame of
mind and body than before.  She was not used to being looked after in
illness, for she had lived a lonely life, and her near relations were
long since dead.  She felt extraordinarily grateful to this kind,
thoughtful, sensible woman, who treated her as if she were a human
being and not like a mere teaching machine, and the thought began to
dawn upon her, that perhaps she might come to look upon Kencote as a
home, such as she had never hitherto had, and in the days of her health
had scarcely missed.

Her bedroom was in the front of the house, and she had heard, without
much heeding them, the wheels and the beat of horse-hoofs and the
voices outside.  Now she began to be a little curious as to what was
going on, and rose and drew up her blind and looked out.

The scene was quite new to her, and in spite of herself she exclaimed
at it.  Immediately beyond the wide gravel sweep in front of the house
was the grass of the park, where the whole brave show of the South
Meadshire Hunt was collected.  It is doubtful if she had ever seen a
pack of hounds in her life, and she watched them as if fascinated.
Presently, at some signal which she had not discerned, the huntsman and
the whips turned and trotted off with them, and behind them streamed
all the horsemen and horsewomen, the carriages and carts, and the
people on foot, until the whole scene which had been so full of life
and colour was entirely empty of all human occupation, and there was
only the damp grass of the park and the big bare trees under the pearly
grey of the winter sky.  She saw the Squire ride off on his powerful
horse, and admired his sturdy erect carriage, and she saw Dick and
Virginia, side by side, Humphrey, the pink of sartorial hunting
perfection, Mrs. Clinton in her carriage, with Miss Dexter by her side
and the twins opposite to her, and for a moment wished she had accepted
her invitation to make one of the party, although she did not in the
least understand where they were going to, or what they were going to
do when they got there.  All this concourse of apparently well-to-do
and completely leisured people going seriously about a business so
remote from any of the interests in life that she had known struck her
as entirely strange and inexplicable.  She might have been in the midst
of some odd rites in an unexplored land.  The very look of the country
in its winter dress was strange to her, for she was a lifelong
Londoner, and the country to her only meant a place where one spent
summer holidays.  Decidedly it would be interesting--more interesting
than she had thought--to gain some insight into a life lived apparently
by a very large number of people in England, if this one little corner
could produce so many exponents of it, but curiously unlike any life
that she had lived herself or seen other people living.

She went through the course prescribed for her by Mrs. Clinton, and
enjoyed the quiet of the big house and the warm airy seclusion of the
schoolroom, where she read a book and wrote a little, and after lunch
went to sleep on the sofa before the fire.  Then at about half-past
three, although she hated all forms of exercise and would have much
preferred to stay indoors, she went out for a little walk.

She went down the drive and through the village, and was struck by the
absence of humanity.  If she had to take a walk on a winter afternoon
she would have wished to take it on pavements and to feel herself one
of a crowd.  Here everybody she did meet stared at her, wondering,
obviously, who she was, which rather annoyed her.  But when she got out
on to the country road and met nobody at all, she liked it still less,
and walked on from a sheer sense of duty.  She had no eyes for the mild
beauty of the winter evening, nor ears for the breathing of the
sleeping earth.  She plodded doggedly on, hating the mud, and only
longing to get back again to her book by the fireside.  When she met a
slow farm cart jogging homewards, she made no reply to the touch of the
hat accorded her by the carter, but showed unfeigned terror at the
friendly inquisitiveness of his dog.  In her soft felt hat, black
skirt, and braided jacket, she was as much out of place in the wide
brooding landscape as if she had been in the desert of Sahara, and
disliked the one as much as she would have disliked the other.

As she was going up the drive on her return, she felt a little glow at
the sight of the lighted windows of the house.  If she had thought of
it she would have known that it was her first experience of the
pleasures of the country in winter, for a house in a city does not
arouse exactly that feeling of expectant warmth, however much one may
desire to get inside it.  But, even if she had been prepared to examine
the causes of the impulse, she would not have been able to, for it was
immediately ejected from her mind by one of terror.  It was caused by
the sudden sharp trot of a horse on the gravel immediately behind her.
She turned round, terribly startled and prepared for instant
annihilation.  But the horse had only crossed the drive, and was now
cantering across the turf away from her.  It was riderless, the
stirrups swinging against its flanks, the reins broken and trailing.

At first she did not, so entirely ignorant was she of such things,
attach any meaning at all to the empty saddle.  For all she knew,
horses without riders might roam the wilds of the country, adding
greatly to its dangers, as a matter of recognised habit.  But when she
had recovered from her shock, some connection between what she had just
seen and something she had read or heard of or seen in a picture formed
itself in her mind, and it occurred to her that probably the horse had
got rid of its rider, and there might conceivably have been an
unpleasant accident.  Then she made a further rapid and brilliant
induction, and came to the conclusion that a riderless horse which made
his way home to his stable at Kencote had probably set out from Kencote
with some one on his back, and, as his saddle had no pommels, that
either the Squire or Dick or Humphrey had been thrown.  She knew
nothing about grooms and second horses, and narrowed her convictions
still further by the recollection of Dick's having ridden a grey.  The
riderless horse was brown--it was really a bright bay, but it was brown
to her.  Therefore either the Squire or Humphrey must have been thrown
from his horse in the hunting-field, and from scraps of recollection of
old novels in which hunting scenes had occurred the outcome of such
accidents presented itself to her alarmed mind as probably fatal.

She stood at the door after having rung the bell--it did not occur to
her to open it and walk in--a prey to the liveliest fears, and when she
had waited for some time and rung again and then waited some time more,
she was not at all relieved by the face of the servant who opened it to
her.  "The horse!" she said quickly.  "Whose horse?"

"I'm afraid it's Mr. Clinton's, miss," said the man.  "Mrs. Clinton and
the young ladies are in the morning-room and nobody's told 'em yet.  We
don't know what to do."

It was not the grave and decorous butler who had answered the bell, but
the same young footman who had omitted to see to the smoking-room fire
a week or so before, or Miss Phipp would not have had the unpleasant
duty thrust upon her of breaking the news to Mrs. Clinton.  But she
accepted it at once, and went straight into the morning-room, where
Mrs. Clinton, still in her furs, and Miss Dexter and the twins were
drinking tea.

"Oh, Miss Phipp, I do hope you are better," said Mrs. Clinton.  "Sit
down and have some tea and tell me how you have been getting on."

"May I speak to you for a moment?" said Miss Phipp, standing at the
door, and Mrs. Clinton rose from her seat and came out into the hall
with her, where some of the servants were beginning to collect.  Their
scared faces did not reassure her, and she put her hand to her heart as
she turned to Miss Phipp for an explanation.

"I saw Mr. Clinton's horse galloping across the park," said Miss Phipp.
"I am afraid he must have had an accident."

Mrs. Clinton showed no further signs of weakness, but asked at once for
Porter, the butler; and when it was explained to her that he was in his
cottage in the park, but had been sent for, she asked for Probyn, the
head coachman, who came pushing through the group by the service door
as she spoke.  He had already done what she would have ordered, sent
out grooms on horseback, and got a carriage ready to go to any point on
the receipt of further news.

"Then there is nothing more to do," said Mrs. Clinton after a moment's
consideration, "and we must wait.  Send Garnett to me upstairs."

She asked a few more questions and then made a step towards the
staircase, but turned again towards the morning-room.  "I must tell the
children," she said.  "Please come in and have some tea."

Miss Phipp followed her, in admiration of her calm self-control.  Mrs.
Clinton said, "I am afraid your father has had a fall, as Bay Laurel
has come back to the stable without him.  But he has fallen before and
not hurt himself, so there is no need to be frightened.  I am just
going upstairs for a minute and then I will come down again."

The twins looked at one another and at their two elders with frightened
eyes.  "Bay Laurel was father's second horse," said Joan.  "He rode
Kenilworth this morning and we passed him coming home, so it can't have
been the groom."

Nancy got up from her chair.  "Oh, I wish mother would come down," she
said.

"Sit down, dear," said Miss Dexter.  "Your mother told you not to be
frightened."

But Nancy went to the window, and Joan followed her.  They drew aside
the curtains and looked out on the park, lying still and empty in the
now fading light.  "Isn't that something near the gate?" asked Joan.
"No, it is only a tree.  Bay Laurel is as quiet as any horse in the
stable, Nancy.  He must have fallen at a fence."

"I should have thought he would have stood until father got up," said
Nancy.

"It looks as if he had been too much hurt to get up," said Joan, and
then began to cry.

Miss Dexter came over to them and drew the curtains again firmly.
"Don't make a fuss," she said, "or you will make your mother anxious.
Pull yourselves together and come and sit down.  Joan, give Miss Phipp
some tea."

Joan did as she was told, still crying softly.  Nancy said, "Father has
never had a bad fall, and he has been hunting all his life.  He knows
how to take a toss.  Don't be a fool, Joan.  I expect it will be all
right."

"Don't talk like that," said Miss Phipp sharply, her nerves on edge,
"and, Joan, stop crying at once."

Upon which Joan cried the more.  "I'm sure he's badly hurt," she said,
"and he's lying out in the c-cold, or they'll b-bring him home on a
shutter."

Mrs. Clinton came in, looking much the same as usual, except that she
was paler.  She sat down at the tea-table and said, "Don't cry, Joan
dear.  Probyn says that there are no signs of Bay Laurel's having come
down, so it was probably not a bad fall, and I expect father will be
home soon."

But Joan knew too much to be comforted in this way, and her imagination
was working.  She threw herself on her mother and sobbed, "If f-father
had fallen and B-bay Laurel hadn't, he'd have kept hold of the reins,
unless he was too b-badly hurt."

Mrs. Clinton said nothing, but drew her to her, and they sat, for the
most part in silence, and waited, for a long time.

Presently Joan, who had been sitting with her head on Mrs. Clinton's
shoulder, started up and said, "There! there!  I heard wheels."  Then
she began to sob uncontrollably.

Mrs. Clinton got up.  The sound of wheels was now plain outside.  Joan
clung to her, and cried, "Oh, don't go, mother.  You don't know what
you may see.  Oh, please don't go."

Her cries frightened the rest.  They heard the clang of the heavy bell
in the back regions and voices and steps in the hall outside.  None of
them knew what would be brought into it.  Even Mrs. Clinton was
paralysed in her movements for a moment, and did not know what to do
with the terrified child clinging to her.  The door opened and Joan
shrieked.  Then the Squire walked into the room with his hat on and his
arm bound up in a black sling over his red coat.  "Hulloa!  What's
this?" he exclaimed in a voice not quite so strong as ordinary.
"Nothing to make a fuss about.  I took a nasty toss, and I've broken my
collar-bone."



CHAPTER XXVII

THE RUN OF THE SEASON

The breaking of a collar-bone is not a very serious matter.  Men have
been known to suffer the mishap and continue for a time the activity
that brought it about without being any the worse.  But to a man of the
Squire's age and weight the shock he had sustained was not altogether a
light one, and when he had reassured his anxious family as to his
comparatively perfect safety, he retired to his bed and kept to it for
a few days.  It was the first time in his life that such a thing had
happened to him, and he did not take kindly to the confinement.  But it
was eased of some of its rigour, after the first day, during which he
suffered from a slight fever, by his making his big bedroom an audience
chamber, in the manner of a bygone age, and most people in the house,
as well as a good many from outside it, were bidden to sit with him and
entertain him in turn.

Amongst the most welcome of his visitors was Virginia, for it was she
who had, by good fortune, released him from what might have been a far
worse predicament than was indicated by the slight damage he had
sustained, and although she would have done what she had for any other
member of the hunt, still, she had done it, and his gratitude to her
had the effect of removing from his mind the last vestiges of the
prejudice he had nursed against her, which in its latest stages had
been far weaker than he knew.  What had happened was as follows.

A stout fox had been turned out of Hartover Copse within a few minutes
of the hounds being put into it, and had made off straight across
country with a business-like determination that seemed to show that he
knew exactly where safety lay and was going to lose no time in making
for it.

The Squire, old in his knowledge of the ways of a fox and the lie of
the South Meadshire country, had posted himself hard by the point where
the fox broke covert, and was one of the first away.  For fifteen
minutes it was straight hard going, leaving little chance for those who
had not secured a good start to make up their distance, and none at all
for those who were following on wheels and hoped by taking short cuts
to come up with the hounds again at some point or other.  When the
score or so who were in front obtained a minute of breathing space,
while the hounds, which had been running so straight that they overran
the line where the fox had turned hard by Gorsey Common, five miles
from Kencote, were casting about to recover the scent, there was little
of the main field to be seen.  The Squire, with joy and exhilaration in
his breast, reined up and looked behind him.  They had come down a long
slope and up another, and in all the mile-wide valley across which they
had ridden there were not more than a dozen others to be seen, and some
of them very far away.  But amongst them were Virginia and Dick, who
were even now breasting the grassy, gorsey slope, at the top of which
he sat on his horse.  Taken unawares, he could not but admire
Virginia's slim, graceful figure, swaying so lightly to every move of
the mare under her, and he had ready some words to call out to her when
she should reach him.

But before that happened the deep note of Corsican, the oldest and
wisest hound in the South Meadshire pack, and the thrilling chorus
which immediately answered it, warned him that the hounds had found
what they had been looking for, and immediately he was off again, with
all thought of those behind him forgotten, and nothing in his mind but
that baying dappled stream that was leading him, now as fast as before,
straight across a country as well grassed as any in the Shires.

Right through the middle of it too; and when he had galloped across
half a dozen wide meadows, and Kenilworth had landed him, without the
least little vestige of hesitation or clumsiness, on the other side of
a stiffish bullfinch, his heart went up in a pæan of gratitude to
whatever power directs these matters, at the thought that he had taken
chances and had his second horse sent on to Beeston Holt, which lay
midway between Kencote and Trensham Woods, to which he now began
greatly to hope that this brave fox was leading them.

Only once before, during all the long years in which he had hunted over
this country, had such a thing happened.  The line between Kencote and
Trensham, a distance of twenty-five miles at least, pierced lengthwise
this stretch of low-lying grazing country, which, intersected by a
brook or two, by stout fences of post and rail, and thick hedges which
had no need of barbed wire to aid their defence, was like the fairway
of a golf-course, perfect while you were on it, but beset with hazards
on either side.  Only the most determined of foxes would keep to it for
the whole distance.  There was Pailthorpe Spinney to the left, before
you got to the first brook, and no stopping of earths there could
prevent Master Reynard from poking his nose amongst them to try, if he
were so minded.  And although he could always be bustled out again, it
was unlikely that, having once turned aside, he would take to the grass
again.  He might make for Greenash Wood across heavy ploughs, or for
Spilling, where thick orchards made it impossible to follow the hounds,
and you had to take one or two wide circuits.

But this fox had already scorned the delusive shelter of Pailthorpe
Spinney, and if he was not bending all his attention on the Trensham
Woods, where he probably would find safety, if he got there in time, he
was at least bound to lead them over grass for another four miles, to
where, at Beeston Holt, he might possibly decide to turn aside and
cross the river and the railway and try for the first of a long chain
of coverts which circled round towards Blaythorn.  In that case the
best of the day would be over, but if they could keep him on the move
there would be something to look forward to before they ran into him,
and the run would still be a memorable one.  Yes, he was most likely to
do that.  It was too much to hope for that that glorious day of
five-and-thirty years before would be repeated, when the high-stomached
ancestor of countless good Meadshire foxes had travelled straight as an
arrow, scorning all lesser chances of safety, for the high deep woods
of Trensham, and the Squire, not long since married, and in the very
flower of his tireless youthful vigour, mounted on his great horse
Merrydew, with no change, had kept with the hounds all the way and
shaken off master, huntsman, whips, and all, when they ran into him at
last within two fields of safety.

And yet!--there was that quick determined start, the sudden turn on
Gorsey Common, which meant contempt of the line pointing to the coverts
at Mountfield, the passing of Pailthorpe Spinney, and now this direct,
rattling run across brook and fence and hedge down the very middle of
the grasslands.  It might happen--the run of a lifetime repeated.  His
only fear now was that his second horse would not be up at Beeston Holt
in time, for there wasn't a horse in the country or in the wide world
which could carry his weight through to Trensham at the pace hounds
were running.

Beeston Holt lay on the bank of the river with the railway beyond it.
It was a straggling village, facing a stretch of common land, and there
was a wide space in front of its chief inn, where the Squire expected
to see his second horse waiting for him, if his groom had reached the
point.  The hounds swept across the common no farther than a couple of
hundred yards away, going as strong as ever, and even the time lost in
riding that distance away from their line and changing horses might
lose him the good place he had hitherto kept.

But there was no horse waiting for him, and with angry despair settling
down on him he sat and saw the hounds disappear out of sight and the
few who still kept with or near them following at ever-increasing
intervals.  Dick was one of them.  He was riding Roland, the best
horse, not a weight carrier, in the Kencote stables, who was quite
capable of carrying him to the end of the great run that now seemed
certain; for the fox had not turned aside towards the nearer coverts
and must have had Trensham in his cunning mind since he had first set
out.  Dick waved a hand to him as he galloped past.  There was no sign
of Virginia; on such an occasion as this women, even the best beloved,
must look after themselves.

The Squire fussed and fumed, and Kenilworth, his blood thoroughly up,
could hardly be held, so anxious was he to go on with what he had
begun.  In another second he would have let him have his way, but just
as he was about to do so he saw his man coming up the road, controlling
as best he could the antics of his horse, which had got wind somehow of
the passing of the hounds, in spite of the silence in which they were
now running.  The Squire beckoned him to hurry his pace and as he came
up jumped off Kenilworth and on to Bay Laurel with all the activity he
might have shown on that memorable run of five-and-thirty years before,
and was off on to the turf in a twinkling.  But not before he had seen,
out of the corner of his eye, Virginia, sailing gaily along on her
black mare, just behind him.

In a moment he had forgotten her; Bay Laurel was as fresh as if he had
just left his stable, for the groom had brought him along steadily
according to instructions, the fulfilment of which, however, had been
like to have cost him his place.  The Squire felt the spring and lift
of the powerful frame under him, as, keeping him well in hand, and
riding as if he had been five stone lighter and had not forsaken the
hunting saddle for weeks past, he pounded the short, springy turf and
sent it flying now and again far behind him.  There was a brook to take
just beyond the village, wide enough to have given him at his age
occasion for thought if it had come earlier in the day, and set him
casting about in his mind for the whereabouts of the nearest bridge.
But he went straight at it, and Bay Laurel took it like a skimming
swallow.  Then came a five-barred gate--the only way from one field
into another, unless valuable time was to be wasted--and the Squire had
not jumped a five-barred gate since he had ridden thirteen stone.  But
he jumped it now, and felt a fierce joy, as he galloped across the
meadow grass, at the surging up in him of his vanished youth, and all
the fierce delights that such days as this had brought him in years
gone by.  He was as good as ever.  His luck was in.  There must be some
check before long, and a check, however short, would bring him within
sight of them.

A sudden memory born of his long past experience came to him.  In a
field or two he would come to a footpath which led across stiles
through what had then been a peninsula of plough-land sticking out into
the pastures.  The old mid-Victorian fox had stuck to the grass and
gone round the heavy land in a wide circle.  If the Edwardian fox
should take the same line, that footpath would cut off half a mile, and
he made up his mind to follow it.

Ah!  There it was--the path across the crest of the field, the stile,
and, beyond the hedge to the left, the dark plough ribbons and the
footway running down them.  He jumped the stile and cantered carefully
down the narrow path, well content to go slow for the advantage to be
gained.  Bay Laurel hopped over another stile and they were on grass
again and galloping freely, still keeping to the line of the scarcely
discernible field path.  They topped a short rise, and the Squire just
caught sight of the hounds topping another away to the right.  His
heart gave another bound of gratitude.  He would be up with them yet.
There was the next stile and he knew the line to take.  He was already
in front of some of those who had passed him waiting before the inn.

But his time had come.  The last stile was flanked by a high thick
fence, on the other side of which, although he could not see it, was a
ditch wider and deeper than ordinary.  There was nothing formidable
about the stile itself; it was no higher than the two Bay Laurel had
just hopped over in his stride, but looked rather more dilapidated.
Just as the horse was rising to it, he saw that the ditch on the other
side ran right along and was crossed by a plank, and although the horse
saw it too and was preparing for it, he instinctively checked him, and
then saw that it was too late.  Bay Laurel blundered into the rotten
woodwork, and the Squire pitched forward over his shoulder, and the
next moment had rolled into the ditch with the stile, but fortunately
not the horse, on top of him.

The ditch was newly dug and nearly dry, or he might have been drowned,
for he was wedged closely in and could hardly stir.  Bay Laurel had
jammed the timbers down upon him, and without waiting to consider the
damage he had done was now off in the wake of the hounds, which he also
had seen topping the distant rise.  The Squire was left alone,
powerless to extricate himself, in the remote stillness of the fields.

He had heard a crack, different somehow from the crack of the timbers,
as he fell, but did not at first connect it with broken bones of his
own.  It was not until he realised that his left arm and shoulder were
lying under a beam in a very strange and uncomfortable position, and
tried to move them, that he knew what had happened to him and began to
feel any pain.  Then he felt, suddenly, a good deal, not only in his
shoulder, but in his side, upon which a corner of the stile was
pressing, and thought he had broken every bone in his body.

The pain and the shock and the loneliness frightened him.  Unless help
came he was likely to die at the bottom of this ditch, and he had a
moment of blind terror before he lifted up his voice and called for
help most lustily.

There was an instant answer.  Virginia, who had followed his lead
across the plough, at some little distance, because she knew he would
not like her riding in his pocket, came through the gap, and drew rein
by his side.  She was off her horse in a moment and trying her hardest
to lift the heavy timbers off him.  But she only succeeded in shifting
their weight from one part of his body to another, and under his
agonised expostulations soon desisted.  She stood up, white and
terror-stricken, the reins of her mare over her arm, and cried, "Oh, I
must get the weight off you, and then I will go for help."

Then she tried again, and did succeed in easing him a trifle, whereupon
he fainted, but soon came to again, to find her with her hat full of
water sprinkling his forehead.  "I'm all right now for a bit," he said.
"Go and get somebody.  Can you mount?"

"Yes, if you don't look," she said.

She led her horse a little way out into the field, threw herself across
the saddle, and scrambled up somehow.  Then she set off at a gallop
towards the chimneys of a farm peeping above a grove of trees a quarter
of a mile away.

The Squire lay still, and looked up into the sky.  Except for the
aching in his neck he was now free from pain, and having tested by
movement all the muscles of his body, was relieved to find that he had
got off rather lightly after all.  It was an awkward, and rather an
absurd predicament to be in, but with the certainty of getting free
very shortly, he was not overmuch disposed to grumble at it.
Virginia's appearance had been providential, and she had been as
concerned for him as he was for himself.  The stile was an old and very
solid one, and had come down on him _en masse_.  It was doubtful
whether a man could have done more with it, single-handed, than she had
done, and a man might not have thought of loosening his stock and
fetching water when he had fainted.  He had never fainted before.  It
was a curious, not wholly unpleasant, sensation.  He allowed his
thoughts to dwell on it, idly, as he lay still, staring up at the sky,
not now in great discomfort.

He became aware of something soft under his head.  When he had first
fallen into the ditch he had lain with his head in the mud and had had
to raise it to see what he could now see comfortably.  His right arm
had been disengaged, and he put up his hand to feel what it was that
was beneath him.  He felt warm silk and the smooth hardness of Melton
cloth, and then he remembered that Virginia had looked rather curious
as to her attire when he had come to himself after his little fainting
fit.  She had taken off her jacket and propped up his head with it.  At
that discovery he arrived definitely at the point of liking her.

It was not long before he heard her calling to him, and then the trot
of her horse across the grass.  "They are coming in a moment," she
cried out as she rode up to him; "two men from the farm, and they will
get you free in no time."

He looked at her a little curiously, and she blushed as she met his
gaze.  When a woman has taken off the coat of her riding habit she has
begun to undress, and whatever comes next to it is not meant for the
public gaze.  But she had not cared about that.  If she had he would
not have been lying with a pillow under his head and she looked down
upon him, so to speak, in her shirt sleeves.

"Put on your coat before they come," said the Squire.  "I'm all right
now; and thank you."

The two farm labourers who came running up the meadow made short work
of pulling the stile off him, and Virginia helped him to rise and to
climb out of the ditch.  He stood on the grass stiff, and rather dazed,
with his left arm hanging uselessly, and she supported him for a
moment, until he said, "I'm all right now.  I'll walk over to the farm,
and perhaps they'll lend me something to take me home in."

"The farmer has gone for the doctor," she said, "and they are going to
send a pony carriage up for you.  See, I've brought a rug for you to
sit on till they come."

She spread it on the ground, and he sat down heavily, giving an
exclamation of pain as he jarred the broken bone.  Virginia knelt
beside him and put the handkerchief she had already damped to his brow.
But he hitched himself away from her.  He did not want the men, now
staring at him with bovine concern, to see him dependent on a woman.
"Don't bother any more," he said.  "I'm all right now."

She got him to the farm, the doctor, who happened to be in the village,
bound up his arm, a fly was procured, and he set off for home,
Virginia, who had left her horse at the farm, by his side.  By the time
they had gone, half-way, his accident now being known, a neighbour's
motor-car was sent to meet him, and in it they performed the rest of
the journey.  But he refused to allow Virginia to send a telegram.
"It'll only upset 'em," he said, "and there's nothing the matter with
me now."

And that was why he arrived in on his wife and daughters and himself
brought the news that there was nothing to make a fuss about.



CHAPTER XXVIII

PROPERTY

It may be imagined that the high favour in which Virginia was now held
was extremely gratifying to Dick.  "I knew you could do it if you
tried," he said, smiling down on her, his arm round her shoulder, "and,
by Jove, you've done it to some tune.  He wouldn't have any one else
now for a daughter-in-law, if I were to offer him his pick of the royal
princesses of Europe."

"He's an old dear," said Virginia.  "You didn't give me in the least a
true picture of his character."

Dick laughed.  He could afford to let this feminine charge go by.  "He
wants me to talk business with him this evening, after dinner," he
said.  "But he wants to talk to you again first, in spite of the fact,
that he's been talking to you nearly all day.  Mind you keep calm, my
girl.  We're not going to throw up our job yet awhile.  If he wants us
here he'll have to wait for us."

Virginia went up with Mrs. Clinton to the big room, in the big bed of
which the Squire was sitting propped up with pillows, in a camel's-hair
dressing-gown, the seams of which had been slit up and tied again over
his bound-down arm.

"Ah, here you are," he said in his usual hearty tone.  "Nina, I want a
word or two with Virginia.  She'll call you when she goes."

Mrs. Clinton took her dismissal and Virginia her seat in a low chair by
the bed, facing him.

"Look here," he said; "no good beating about the bush any longer.
We're very good friends now, and I hope we shall remain so all our
lives.  But there's no good disguising that we've been at
cross-purposes, and I want all that put right now.  Let's look facts in
the face.  It was more my fault than yours, I dare say, but there have
been faults on both sides, and we shan't gain anything by pretending
that we've all behaved as we ought to have done."

"You're quite right," said Virginia, smiling at him.  "I'll listen to
anything you have to say, and you might begin by telling me where my
fault has been."

"Eh! what!" exclaimed the Squire.  "Well, I suppose you won't deny that
you came down here to steal a march on me?"

"I wanted to know you," said Virginia sweetly.  "I knew I should love
you if I did.  And I was quite right.  I do know you now, and I do love
you, better than any other man, except Dick."

The Squire thought this a very pretty speech, and, as it came from a
very pretty woman, its effect on him was beneficial.  "Well, you have
taken a liking to me," he said, "and I have taken a liking to you.  So
we're quits, and it's a pity both of us didn't do it before, for I tell
you frankly I have made certain promises which I shouldn't have made if
I had felt about you as I do now, and I don't quite see how I can get
out of them."

"You mean about money?" said Virginia.  "Dear Mr. Clinton, please don't
worry any more about that.  Dick and I have got over whatever
disappointment we may have felt about it--_I_ never felt any at all
except for his sake--long ago.  He has been lucky in getting this job,
and we shall be as comfortable as possible."

"This job!" repeated the Squire, with much distaste of the word.  "Dick
oughtn't to be wanting a job at all, and he won't be wanting one now.
He must give it up."

"I don't think he will do that at once," said Virginia.  "He will
consider himself bound, for a time at least, to Mr. Spence.  However,
that needn't worry you.  We shall hope to be here a good deal, if you
want us, and later on we may be able to be here, or hereabouts,
altogether, if you still want us."

"Of course I want you," said the Squire.  "I've wanted Dick all along,
in the place to which he belongs; I've never felt comfortable about
Humphrey taking his place, and as for my Lady Susan, I shall be very
pleased to welcome her as a daughter-in-law, but, if you want the
truth, my dear, you're worth six of her, and if _you_ can't live here,
well, I won't have _her_, and that's flat.  I'll keep the place empty."

"Oh, but surely!" exclaimed Virginia.  "You've promised, haven't you?
Humphrey told me it was arranged that he should live in the dower-house
when he was married."

"He did, did he?  Seems to me Master Humphrey is counting his chickens
before they are hatched.  No, I never promised.  I never promised him
anything.  At least, I believe I did promise him a certain allowance,
which is to be increased from another quarter.  But beyond that nothing
was said definitely."

"No, but it was implied.  Oh, Mr. Clinton, please don't make us the
cause of disappointment to others.  We don't want it.  We shall be very
well off as it is.  We don't want any more, really we don't.  Dick has
a fine position, handsomely paid, and I have money of my own too, you
know, and a good deal of it."

For the first time the Squire frowned.  "I suppose you have," he said
shortly.  "But to tell you the plain truth, I don't like the quarter it
comes from, and I very much doubt if Dick does either."

"I don't much, either," said Virginia, smiling to herself.

"I'm glad of that, at any rate.  No, you're loyal enough to Dick.
You'll be able to forget the past; it hasn't soiled you.  That's what I
was afraid of, and I see I was wrong.  Still, this money--it's stuck in
my throat as much as anything."

"Well, then," said Virginia, "it need not stick in your throat any
longer.  I know what you think as to where it came from.  Dick thought
the same, and it stuck in his throat too, till I told him the truth.
Now I'll tell it to you.  It's my own money, every cent of it, and it
came to me after--after my husband died.  I have nothing that comes
from him.  I wouldn't keep it if I had.  I'm an heiress, Mr.
Clinton--not a very heavily gilded one, it's true, and the money my
uncle left me was made out of pork-packing, which is a dreadful thing
to talk about in this house.  Still, you must forget that.  Only the
capital sum comes from pork, and it's all invested in nice clean things
like railways."

The Squire stared at her during this recital as if fascinated.  The
moment was almost too solemn for words.  "Well, my dear," he said after
a short pause, "you lifted one weight from me yesterday, and now you've
lifted another, and a bigger one.  Go away, and leave me to think about
it."

He thought about it for some time after she had left him, propped up on
his pillows, his mind growing ever lighter.  In the midst of all his
perversities, his dislike of the thought of his son living, in part, on
money that had come from "that blackguard" had been an honourable and
unselfish feeling, and the removal of the fear swept away with it every
other trace of his long-nurtured objections to Virginia as a wife for
Dick.  Now all he desired was that Dick should return to his honoured
place at Kencote, and all should be as it had been before, with only
the addition of Virginia's charming presence to complete the happiness
of the tie.  He did not think at all about Humphrey, nor of the new
interests on which, a week or so before, he had been anxious to pin his
anticipations.

But Humphrey had to be thought of, all the same.  Mrs. Clinton, coming
into his room, said that Humphrey would like to come and see him and
have a talk, and asked if he felt well enough to talk to him.

"Oh, well enough?  Yes," he said.  "Never felt better in my life.  I've
a good mind to get up for dinner.  Nina, Virginia has just told me
something that I wish I had known before.  It has pleased me beyond
measure."

He imparted to her Virginia's disclosure, and she expressed herself
pleased too, wondering a little at the ways of men about money, that
potent disturber of lives.

"That removes every difficulty," he said.  "And I'm very glad of it,
for Dick's sake.  I don't know how much it is and I haven't asked her,
but she must be pretty well off.  Dick won't need it, but it's always
useful."

"It will make it easier to do what you promised for Humphrey," said
Mrs. Clinton.

"For Humphrey?" he echoed.  "Oh yes.  Fifteen hundred a year is a
pretty big allowance for a younger son.  He's a lucky fellow, Master
Humphrey.  Did you say he wanted to see me?  Well, send him up."

Humphrey came in, and stood by his father's bedside.

"Well, my boy!" said the Squire pleasantly.

"Picking up all right, I hope?" said Humphrey.  "Might have been a
nasty business."

"Sit down," said the Squire.  "I've just heard a thing that has pleased
me amazingly.  Funny how one gets an idea into one's head when there's
no foundation for it!"  Then he told Humphrey about Virginia's money.

Humphrey had not much to say in answer to the information, but sat
thinking.

"Well, now," said the Squire, with the air of one turning from thoughts
of pleasure to thoughts of business.  "Of course, all this makes a
difference.  Dick and I have had a row--you may put it like that if you
please--and we've made it up.  He'll come back here, I hope, and settle
down, and things will be as they were before.  I don't think you're cut
out for a country life altogether, and dare say you won't be sorry for
the change.  So it will suit us all pretty well, taking one thing with
another, eh?"

Humphrey said nothing for a moment.  Then he asked shortly, "Do you
mean that I'm not to have the dower-house, after all?"

"Have the dower-house?" repeated the Squire, as if that were the last
thing that had ever crossed his mind.  "When did I ever say that you
were to have the dower-house?  It isn't mine to give you.  It goes with
the property--to Dick eventually; you know that perfectly well."

"Oh yes, I know that," said Humphrey, with some impatience.  "I meant,
have it to live in.  That's what was arranged, and I told Susan so, and
Lady Aldeburgh."

"Then I think you were in a bit of a hurry," said the Squire.  "I told
you I should settle nothing till Dick's marriage."

Humphrey found it difficult to keep his temper.  "If you'll excuse my
saying so," he said, with a slight tremor in his voice, "we've been
talking of nothing else for weeks past, and as to what part I was to
take in the management of the place.  I'd every right to tell them that
at Thatchover."

"Well, perhaps you had," assented the Squire tolerantly.  "And I don't
go so far as to say that you can't live there for a bit either.  I want
Dick and Virginia to live there, and I tell you so plainly, and I shall
do all I can to persuade him to.  But he may think he's bound to this
fellow, Spence, for six months or so, and if you get married in time,
and care to occupy the house for a bit and keep it warm for him, well,
you'll be very welcome.  But, on the whole, I think you'd be wiser to
settle down where you're going to stay.  With the very handsome
allowance I'm going to make you, and what old Aunt Laura has promised
to add to it, and whatever Susan brings you, though I dare say that
won't be much, you'll be exceptionally well off, and can live pretty
well where you like."

Humphrey choked down his anger.  "What about Partisham?" he asked, but
it was an unwise question, for whatever definite arrangement the Squire
had had in his mind and allowed to be talked about, Partisham had not
come into it, although it was true that he had let it be seen what was
in his mind.

"Do you mean to say you want me to leave Partisham away from Dick, and
give it to you?" he asked.

"I want you to keep to your promises," replied Humphrey doggedly.
"You've been feeding me up for the last month with all sorts of
statements as to what you were going to do for me; then you suddenly
make it up with Dick, and want to kick me out altogether, and expect me
to take it all without a word, and consider myself lucky.  I call it
grossly unfair.  I haven't only myself to think of.  You even want to
chuck the arrangement that you say I'd a perfect right, relying on what
you said, to tell Susan about."

"I think you're most infernally ungrateful," said the Squire angrily.
"Point me out another younger son in England who is given two thousand
a year to set up house on."

"That doesn't all come from you," said Humphrey, "and there are plenty
of younger sons whose fathers are as rich as you who would get that.
Besides, that isn't the point.  If that's all you'd said you'd do for
me, I'd have said thank you and cut my coat according to my cloth.  But
you know quite well it isn't all.  The dower-house was a definite
understanding at any rate, and if you didn't mean that Partisham was to
come to me eventually, and Checquers come either to me or go to Walter,
then your words don't mean anything at all."

The accusation had too much truth in it even for the Squire to
contradict it altogether.  "Partisham is likely to be one of the best
bits of the whole estate," he said.  "In ten years' time half of it
will be building land, and even with these wicked taxes, it will be a
very valuable piece of property.  It isn't likely, now Dick has come to
reason, that I'm going to leave it away from him, and you oughtn't to
expect it."

"Now Dick has come to reason!" repeated Humphrey bitterly.  "Dick
stands exactly where he's always stood.  It's you who've changed your
mind, and you expect me to fall in and take it smiling.  I say again,
it's grossly unfair."

"That's not the way to talk to me," said the Squire hotly.  "You're
forgetting yourself.  If you're not precious careful you won't get the
money I'd put aside for you, let alone anything else."

Humphrey got up from his chair.  "I'd better go," he said.  "If your
word means nothing at all, I may as well break off my engagement.  I
thought it was good enough to get married on," and he left the room.

The Squire lay and fumed.  A pretty return he was getting for all he
had promised to do for Humphrey!  Was ever such ingratitude?  His mind
dwelt wholly on the very handsome provision that was to be made for his
immediate marriage, and he grew more and more indignant as he asked
himself, again and yet again, what younger son of a plain country
gentleman could possibly expect more.  At last he rang his bell and
told his servant to ask Captain Clinton to come to him.

But before Dick arrived Mrs. Clinton came in again, and to her he
unburdened himself of some of his indignation at Humphrey's ingratitude.

She heard him without comment, and then said slowly, "I think Humphrey
and Susan ought to have the dower-house, Edward."

"What!" exclaimed the Squire.  "Turn Dick out of the place that has
always been his, and put a younger son into it!  You say I ought to do
that, Nina?  What can you be thinking of?"

"_Has_ Dick's place always been his, Edward?" she asked, with her calm
eyes on his.

"What do you mean?" he snapped at her; and then went on quickly in his
loud, blustering tone, "Dick and I fell out, it's true, and if he had
married without my sanction I should have acted in a way I'm not going
to act now.  I've come round--I don't deny I've come round--to be in
favour of his marriage, and I'm not going to make him suffer for the
misunderstanding."

At this point Dick came into the room, and the Squire said, "Well, I'll
talk to you later, Nina.  I want to get things settled up with Dick
now."

But Dick looked at her kindly.  "Mother may as well stay and take a
hand in the discussion," he said.  "We owe it to her that we're all
friends again, and I think she's got a better head than any of us."

"Your mother was just saying," said the Squire, "that I ought to let
Humphrey and Susan have the dower-house.  I'm not going to do anything
of the sort.  There _was_ a sort of an understanding that they should
live there when I thought you and I weren't coming together again.  I
had to make _some_ arrangements.  But even if I didn't want you there,
I don't know that I should consent to it now.  Humphrey has taken up a
most extraordinary attitude, and I'm very much annoyed with him.  He's
going to be most handsomely treated, more handsomely than he could ever
have expected.  Yet he's just been up here and flung out of the room in
a rage because I won't promise to leave him Partisham, if you please."

"Leave him what?" asked Dick.

"Partisham; and all the land that came in with it; and Checquers too.
No, I'm wrong; I'm instructed to leave that to Walter.  I say it's a
scandalous position for a son to take up.  I'm not an old man, and I
hope I've got a good many years to live yet, and I'm to have my sons
quarrelling already about what I'm to do with my property after I'm
dead."

"I suppose he saw his chance when I was out of favour," said Dick, "and
is wild because what he hoped for didn't come off.  What did you
actually promise to do for him?"

"I promised to make him an allowance of fifteen hundred a year, and I'm
prepared to keep my word, of course."

"Well, that's pretty good to begin with."

"But, good gracious me, that isn't all of what he's going to have.  Old
Aunt Laura is going to give him another five hundred, and she's
consulted me about leaving him the bulk of her money when she goes."

"Aunt Laura!  Five hundred a year!" exclaimed Dick, in utter surprise.
"Can she do it?"

The Squire gave a short laugh.  "I might have known that the old ladies
had saved a good deal," he said, "but I never thought much about it.
At any rate that's a definite offer from her--the allowance, I mean.
Whether I let her make a will almost entirely in his favour, is another
matter; and if he doesn't behave himself I shall do all I can to stop
it."

"He must have been pretty clever in getting round her," said Dick.  "I
know he's been working hard at it.  Rather a dirty trick, to my
mind--working on an old woman for her money.  Still, different people
have different ideas.  Did you promise him the dower-house?"

The Squire began humming and hahing, and Mrs. Clinton broke in.  "It
was a very definite understanding," she said.  "I must take Humphrey's
part there.  It was understood that he should give up the Foreign
Office as soon as possible, and settle down here to help look after the
property."

"_If_ things had been as we then feared they would be," said the
Squire.  "That was always understood."

Mrs. Clinton was silent, and Dick said, rather unwillingly, "You'd
better let him have the dower-house--say for two years.  I can't throw
Spence over now, and I can't do my best for him under that."

The Squire expostulated loudly.  He wanted Dick and Virginia near him.
He was getting on in years.  He might be in his grave in two years'
time.  But Dick remained firm.  "I don't want to rake up old scores,"
he said.  "But you mustn't forget that until a week or so ago you were
going to cut me off with a shilling.  I had to find a job, and I was
precious lucky to get this one.  I owe something to the fellow who gave
it to me."

"I think you do," Mrs. Clinton said before the Squire could speak;
"and, Edward, I think you must remember, in justice to Humphrey, that
what applies to Dick applies to him too.  You took a certain course,
very strongly, and both Dick and Humphrey acted on it."

"I don't want to hear any more about Humphrey," said the Squire.  "I
don't want him in the dower-house, nor Susan either."

"Well, you must settle that with him," said Dick.  "I dare say he'll be
quite ready to make a bargain with you.  He seems rather good at it.
He hasn't concerned himself much with my side of the question, and I'm
not going to stick up for his, especially as he comes off so well,
anyhow."

That was practically the end of the discussion, and the Squire was left
lamenting the frowardness of human nature.



CHAPTER XXIX

BROTHERS

When Dick went downstairs again he said to Virginia, "Put on your hat
and let's go and have tea with old Aunt Laura."  She went obediently
upstairs, and presently they were walking down the drive together in
the gathering dusk.

"Is everything going to be all right?" Virginia asked him.  "Are we
quite forgiven, and is our own to be restored to us?"

"I don't think we shall have much difficulty in getting all we're
entitled to," replied Dick.

Virginia put her arm into his.  "It's nearly dark and nobody's about,"
she said in apology.  "Dear Dick, it is nice to be here on these terms.
I do really feel that I belong to you, now--and to Kencote."

Dick pressed her hand to his side.  "I nearly had to give up Kencote to
get you," he said.  "Now I've got you _and_ Kencote, and I've nothing
left to ask for.  My experience in life is that you generally get all
you want if you go to work in a straightforward way."

"Then your experience in life is a very fortunate one," replied
Virginia.  "I've never had what I wanted before, although I think I've
been fairly straightforward.  But I've got it now, dear Dick, and _I_
won't ask for anything further, either.  I feel very happy and
comfortable, and if we weren't near the lodge I should lift up my voice
in song."

Aunt Laura was, it is needless to say, both flattered and genuinely
pleased at their visit, for this modest old lady liked company, but was
diffident of her own powers of attracting it.  "This is the nicest
thing that could have happened," she said, when she had settled down in
close proximity to her tea-table.  "The dear children came in this
morning with their new governess--a very competent person, I should
say, though not quite so respectful in her manner as Miss Bird used to
be--not that she was in any way _rude_, I don't mean that, but Miss
Bird was always cheerful and bright, and yet knew her place; and
Humphrey paid me a visit this afternoon; so I said to myself as I sat
down to tea, 'I have had two very pleasant visits to-day and can hardly
hope for a third.  I must drink my tea by myself.'  However, here you
both are, and I am very pleased indeed to see you, very pleased indeed.
Your dear father is none the worse since I last had word, I hope, Dick?"

"He's as well as can be, and talks about getting up for dinner,"
replied Dick.

"Oh, indeed, he must not do that," said Aunt Laura earnestly.  "It
would be the greatest mistake.  He has such courage and vitality that
he cannot realise what a terrible shock he has undergone.  His only
chance, if he is to escape all ill effects from it, is to keep as quiet
as possible for a long time yet.  I am sure when I think of what
_might_ have happened to him, if you, my dear, had not been, so
mercifully, on the spot, I go cold all over.  Indeed, his escape was,
in the highest sense of the word, providential, and I am sure we are
all deeply grateful for it, and can lift up our hearts in thanksgiving.
Humphrey told me the whole story, in the most graphic way, and while it
made me shudder it also made me rejoice, that you were there, my dear,
to give such ready assistance.  He made much of it."

"That was very kind of him," said Virginia.  "But it was nothing to
make much of.  I only went for help.  And I've been well rewarded, you
know.  Mr. Clinton didn't like me much before, and now he likes me very
much indeed.  That makes me very happy."

"Of course it does," said Aunt Laura kindly.  "Edward is a man whose
good opinion is worth having, for he does not give it without reason,
but, once given, it can be depended on.  Well, as I say, it is very
good of you to come and see me.  I'm sure the kind and thoughtful way
in which I am treated by one and all is highly gratifying.  You have
not met Susan Clinton, I think, dear Humphrey's bride that is to be?
She also visited me frequently while she was at Kencote, and Humphrey
comes to see me every day.  Since you are unable to live here, Dick, I
am very glad that we shall have him and his wife in our old home.  I
shall be very glad to see the dear place lived in again, for I spent
many happy years of my life there."

"Has he settled how he's going to arrange the rooms?" asked Dick, in a
tone that made Virginia look at him, although Aunt Laura noticed
nothing unusual in the question.

"Yes, he has talked a good deal about it," she said, "and I have given
him advice upon the matter, some of which he thinks it quite likely
that he will take."

"I hear you've been very generous to him, Aunt Laura," Dick said.

"Oh, but there was no need for him to have said anything to you about
that," said Aunt Laura.  "I wanted to help him to marry the girl he
loved, and it was quite true that a girl of her rank--not that her
branch of the family is better than ours, but they have rank and we
have not, although I have no doubt that we _could_ have had it if we
had wished--would expect rather more in her marriage than other girls,
and I told Humphrey that I quite understood that, as he seemed rather
low about his prospects.  I didn't want your dear father to have all
the burden, and he has responded wonderfully to my offer.  I am only
glad that it was possible for me to help Humphrey in his desire, and
that it should be possible for me to do so without doing _you_ or any
of the others an injustice, Dick; for I know you are well provided for,
and will not grudge your brother his share of good things."

"I don't grudge him anything that he's entitled to have," replied Dick.
"Now I want you to tell Virginia about Kencote in the old days, when my
great-grandfather was alive.  She wants to hear all about Kencote that
she can."

Aunt Laura was nothing loath, and poured forth a gentle stream of
reminiscence until it was time for Dick and Virginia to go.

As they let themselves out of the house and walked down the dark
village street, Dick said, "Humphrey ought to be kicked.  Fancy
sponging on that simple old woman! and getting her to leave the bulk of
her money to him, and away from the rest of us; because that's what it
means.  I'll have it out with him as soon as I get home."

"Oh, my dear!" said Virginia.  "Money, money, money!  What does it
matter to us?  We shall have plenty."

"We shouldn't have had plenty, or anything like it, if he'd had his
way.  It isn't only old Aunt Laura he's been working on.  He's taken
advantage of my being out of favour to get the governor to consider
leaving the best part of the property to him.  He was actually at it
this afternoon.  He tried to get a definite promise out of him to leave
him Partisham, which will be worth all the rest put together some day."

"But, Dick dear! you knew all that.  It was your father's own decision.
You told me so."

"Humphrey had no right to take advantage of his threats to work against
me.  That's what he's been doing.  It wasn't like the governor.  I can
see a good deal more daylight now.  I thought I'd only got his
obstinacy to fight against.  Now I see I've had an enemy at court,
who's been playing the sneak all along."

"I don't think so," Virginia said boldly.  "Humphrey isn't bad.  He has
been very nice to me.  He told me he was glad that all this quarrelling
was at an end."

"I dare say he did," said Dick, unsoftened.  "Now he sees that we can't
be kept out of it any longer he'd like to curry favour."

"Oh, what an uncharitable Dick!  That's not like you, Dick.  We're
going to be happy together, aren't we, my own beloved?"  She was
walking with her hands clasped over his arm.

"I hope so," said Dick.

"Well, then, think of him a little too.  _He_ loves a woman, and wants
to be happy with her."

"Oh, love!  I don't believe he loves her the least in the world.  I
know her well enough.  She's an insipid clothes-peg.  I don't believe
he'd look at her if she hadn't got a title.  He's like that.  I don't
know where he gets it from.  The governor likes a title too, but not in
that rotten way."

"You didn't choose me for _my_ title, did you?" asked Virginia.

He laughed at her.  "Your title will disappear when you marry me," he
said.  "Mrs. Richard Clinton will have to do for you, my girl, for the
present."

"You never told me that," she said.  "And I do love being called 'my
lady.'  Americans do.  However, I would rather be Mrs. Richard Clinton
than what I am now.  But, Dick dear, please don't have a row with
Humphrey.  Please don't.  Let's try and make everybody happy.  He must
be feeling disappointed, and perhaps angry.  We can afford to be
generous."

"I'll tell him what I think of him," said Dick.

"Then tell him what you really think of him.  He's your brother.  You
have been friends all your lives.  Tell him, if you must, that you
don't think he has behaved well.  But don't tell him that you think it
isn't in his nature to behave well.  There's a good deal to be said for
him.  Let him say it.  And, even if there wasn't----"

"Well, I don't think there is.  He's behaved in a selfish, underhand
way."

"Supposing he has, Dick!  Make allowances for him.  He's done himself
more harm than he's done you.  We ought to be sorry for people who have
done wrong.  That's what I believe Christianity means."

"Oh, well, yes; if they're sorry for it themselves."

"You can make them so; but not by being angry with them.  It isn't hard
to forgive people when they admit they're in the wrong.  It is hard,
otherwise, but that doesn't make it any less right to do it.  I'm
preaching, but we're going to be always together, Dick, and you must
put up with a little sermon sometimes."

"You're a sweet saint, Virginia, but what on earth are you asking me to
do?  Am I to go to Humphrey and say, 'You've acted like a cur, but I
forgive you; take all that you can get that has always been looked upon
as mine, and let's say no more about it'?"

"Oh, don't talk about the money or the property at all.  Let that look
after itself.  Only remember that you were little boys together, and
were very fond of each other, as I'm sure you were; and remember that
you have been made happy, and he has been disappointed.  That ought to
make you kind.  And you can be so kind, Dick."

"I believe you think I can be everything that's good."

"I know you can.  And it will make me love you even more than I do now,
if that's possible, if you make friends with Humphrey, instead of
quarrelling with him for good.  After all, we're rather tired of
quarrels, aren't we?"

"I think we are," said Dick.

He did not see Humphrey alone until the women had gone to bed.  He had
gone up to his father when they had left the dining-room, and Humphrey
had avoided speaking to him, if he could help it, all the evening.
Otherwise he had taken his part in the mild gaiety of the conversation
and hidden his wounds gallantly.  He was going upstairs with his candle
when Dick said to him, "Are you coming into the smoking-room?"

He looked at him with a momentary hostility.  "Yes, when I've changed
my coat," he said.

"Mine's down here," said Dick, turning away.

When his servant had helped him on with his smoking-jacket and gone
away, he stood in front of the fire and filled a pipe.  He was ready to
do Virginia's bidding and make friends with Humphrey, but he disliked
the job, and didn't know exactly how he was going to begin.  And he was
going to speak plainly too.  Humphrey had behaved badly, and he was
going to tell him so--kindly.

Humphrey came in and lit a cigarette before either of them spoke.  As
he threw the match into the fire he said, "I suppose you want to have
it out."

His tone was not conciliatory.  He was both angry and nervous.  Dick's
brain cleared as if by magic.  He had a situation to control.

"Well, I think we ought to have a talk," he said.  "Things have been
going wrong with me, and now they've come right, and you don't appear
to be quite as much rejoiced at it as you might be."

"If you put it like that, I'm not rejoiced at all," said Humphrey, "and
I'm not going to pretend to be."

"But you told Virginia you were," Dick put in.

Humphrey was for a moment disconcerted.  "I'm glad as far as she's
concerned," he said.  "She oughtn't to have been treated as she has
been, and I've always said so."

"Oh, have you?" commented Dick.

Humphrey flushed angrily.  "If you think I've been working against
you," he said, "it's quite untrue."

"Well, you've been working for your own hand, and it comes to much the
same thing."

"I haven't even been doing that.  The governor made me a lot of
promises, and I didn't ask him to make one of them."

"What about Partisham?"

"You know as well as I do that he'd definitely made up his mind to
leave as much away from you as he could, and that was the chief thing
he had to leave away.  I didn't ask him to do it, but----"

"It didn't occur to you to ask him not to do it, I suppose?  Because
it's a pretty stiff thing to do--to leave away most of what keeps up
the place."

"No, it didn't occur to me, and it wouldn't have occurred to you if
you'd been in my place.  I tell you I didn't ask for anything, except
for enough to get married on.  But when it came to having it chucked at
me--well, if you want the plain truth, it happened to suit my book."

"Yes, I dare say it did.  And what about Aunt Laura?  You've been doing
pretty well out of her too, haven't you?"

Humphrey flushed again.  "Look here," he said, "I'm not going to talk
to you any longer.  You stand there sneering because you've got
everything you want now, and you think you can amuse yourself by
baiting me.  I'm going upstairs, and you can do your sneering by
yourself.  Only I'll tell you this before I go.  I'm going to play my
hand, and I don't care whether I've got you up against me or not.  I
consider I've been precious badly treated.  I'm encouraged to go and
tell the Aldeburghs all sorts of things about what's going to be done
for me when I'm married, and I come back and am told coolly that none
of it's going to happen at all, and I'm to consider myself d----d lucky
to get just enough to live on."

"Well, you're going to have a bit more than enough to live on, and
you're welcome to it as far as I'm concerned.  And the dower-house
too--for a bit."

"Thanks very much.  I'm likely to take that on--live in a house by your
kind permission and get kicked out the moment you want it for yourself!"

"You won't get kicked out, as you call it, for two years at least.  I
should think that's good enough."

Humphrey threw a glance at him.  He was standing, looking down on the
carpet, with his hands in the pockets of his jacket.

"Look here," he said, looking up suddenly.  "We've had enough of this.
I don't think you've acted straight, and I was bound to say so before I
said anything else.  And now I've said it, I've said it for the last
time.  Let's forget all about it.  We've been pretty good pals up to
now, and there's no reason why we shouldn't go on being good pals up to
the end of the chapter."

Humphrey sat down and looked into the fire.  "Perhaps I haven't behaved
very well," he said slowly.  "It's precious easy to behave well when
you've got everything you want, as you've always had."

"It may be," said Dick.  "Anyhow, you're not going to do so badly now.
If you haven't got all you want, you'll have a good slice of it."

There was silence between them for a time, and then Humphrey said, "If
you don't want to quarrel, I'm hanged if I do.  Only, I must confess I
feel a bit sore.  The way the governor swings round from one position
to another's enough to make anybody sick.  You've had a dose of it
yourself; you know how you felt before you made it up with him."

Dick's self-esteem received nourishment from the recollection that he
had not behaved in the same way as Humphrey had, but he did not bring
forward the statement in that form.  "It was awkward," he admitted.
"It made him think of doing things that he'd never thought of doing,
and I don't think he'd any right to think of doing.  That's why I
haven't the slightest hesitation now in taking back whatever he may
have made use of to offer to--to, well, let's say to you, as a means of
getting his own way.  They have always been looked on as coming to me
eventually, and if this disturbance hadn't come about nobody would have
thought of their being disposed of in any other way.  So you're really
no worse off than you were before; in fact, you're a good deal better
off, and I'm quite agreeable, as far as it rests with me, that you
should be.  Can't you manage to settle it with yourself that what
you're going to have is as much as you could have expected, and give up
trying for the rest?"

"I dare say I can manage that feat," said Humphrey, "especially as I
suppose I've got to.  Still, when you look at it all round, there's a
good deal of difference in my expectations and yours.  Two thousand a
year on the one side, and--well, I don't know what, but say ten
thousand a year and a big property on the other."

"Oh, if you're going to kick against the law of primogeniture--!" said
Dick.  "Question is, would you kick at it if you happened to be the
eldest son?  If not, you oughtn't to bring it in."

Humphrey was silent.  They had been talking quietly.  Hostility had
gone out of their talk, but friendliness had not yet come in.

Dick seated himself and began again.  "Perhaps it isn't for me to say,
now that I've got everything I want, but I do say it all the same,
because I found it out when I didn't think I was going to have
everything I wanted.  Money isn't everything.  If you have as much as
you can live comfortably on, and something to do, you've just as much
chance of happiness as the next fellow.  'Specially if you're going to
marry the right woman."

"I dare say you're right," said Humphrey.  "If you're disappointed of
something you can always fall back on philosophy.  But it's just
because I am going to marry the right woman that I am disappointed.
I'd told her all sorts of things, and she was as ready as I was to
chuck the fun we've both had in London and other places, and settle
down here quietly."

"Well, my dear good chap!" exclaimed Dick.  "If you looked upon it in
that light, what on earth is there to grumble at if you're free now to
live as you like, and anywhere you like?  I don't know much about your
young woman, but I should imagine she'd rather settle herself in London
on a couple of thousand a year, which will give you enough to go about
with too, than bury herself down here."

"I don't think you do know much about her," said Humphrey.  "I believe
the general opinion here is that I'm going to marry her without knowing
much about her myself, though what I shall gain by it, considering that
she hasn't got a _sou_, isn't quite clear.  However, the general
opinion happens to be wrong."

Dick felt a little uncomfortable.  "She's the one girl in the world for
you, eh?" he said lightly.

"That's about what it comes to.  I know her mother's a fool; and she
suffers by it.  But she's quite different herself, and I know what a
jolly good sort she is, if others don't."

Dick was touched.  Humphrey's "poor thing but mine own" opinion of the
girl he was going to marry was so different from the pride he felt in
Virginia.  "Well, old chap," he said, "we'll do our best to make her
feel one of the family.  We're not a bad lot, take us all round, and if
she wants to, I dare say she'll get to like us.  We ought to be able to
have some fun together when we all meet.  I like her all right--what
I've seen of her--and now things have been more or less settled up I
should like to see more of her, and so would Virginia.  I believe in a
family sticking together, even after they begin to marry off, and
new-comers ought to get a warm welcome.  You've been very decent to
Virginia, and she likes you; and I should like to have an opportunity
of ingratiating myself with Susan."

Humphrey was conquered by this.  "You're a jolly good sort, Dick," he
said.  "I didn't know you were going to behave like that, or perhaps I
wouldn't have behaved as I have done.  I'm not proud of myself,
exactly, now I look back on it, and if you'll forget all about it, as
you said you were ready to do, I'll chuck the whole beastly business,
and we'll go back to where we used to be."

"There won't be any difficulty about that, old boy," said Dick.  "Peace
and goodwill is all _I_ want, and we may as well have it all round."



CHAPTER XXX

MISS BIRD HEARS ALL ABOUT IT

The twins were meeting a train, but the train was late.  They walked up
and down the platform, by the side of which the station-master's arabis
and aubrietia, primroses and daffodils, were making a fine show.  It
was the Thursday before Easter, which Miss Bird was coming to spend at
Kencote, Miss Phipp having already departed for a week in lovely
Lucerne; and the twins, out of the innumerable trains they had met, had
never met one with greater pleasure.  They had spent an arduous term
with Miss Phipp, with whom they had established relations amicable on
the whole, but not marked by the affection they had felt for Miss Bird;
and although they had rather liked working hard, they had had enough of
it for the present, and enough of Miss Phipp.

"I wish the train would hurry up.  I do want to see the sweet old
lamb," said Joan.  "Let's ask Mr. Belper when it's coming."

The station-master, jovially respectful, told them that she was
signalled, and they wouldn't have long to wait.

"But I think you ought to see that your trains are up to time," said
Nancy.  "Didn't you learn at school that punctuality was a virtue?"

"Ah!  I see you want to have one of your jokes with me, miss," said the
station-master.  "I don't know what it's about, but, bless you, have
your laugh.  I like to see young ladies enjoying themselves."

"Thank you very much," said Joan.  "But there's nothing to laugh at in
a train being _always_ unpunctual.  We want very much to see Miss Bird,
who is coming, and you keep her on the line somewhere between here and
Ganton.  You ought to turn over a new leaf, and see that people don't
get disappointed like that."

"Well, it isn't my fault, miss, and here she comes," said Mr. Belper,
snatching up a metal instrument in shape something between a sceptre
and a door-scraper and hurrying up the platform, as the engine fussed
up the last incline and snorted itself to rest.

Miss Bird--diminutive, excited, voluble--cast herself out of her
carriage and into the arms of the twins, who gave vent to their
affection in a series of embraces that left her breathless and
crumpled, but blissfully happy.  "That will do Joan 'n' Nancy for the
present," she said.  "Let me get my things out and then we can have a
nice long talk.  Oh dear to find myself at Kencote again it is almost
too good to be true the umbrella on the rack porter and the hat-box my
precious pets how you have grown a brown box with 'E.B.' in the van and
that is all.  How do you do Mr. Belper you see I have come back again
once more like a bad penny as they say and how is Mrs. Clinton darlings
and your father and all I have _such_ a lot to hear that I'm sure we
shall never leave off talking until I go away again."

"Precious lamb!" said Joan tenderly.  "_You_ won't leave off talking,
and I could listen to you for ever, like the brook.  You're such a
relief after Pipp."

"We didn't know when we were well off," said Nancy.  "We often lie
awake at night and cry for you."

They were now walking towards the booking-office.  "But surely Miss
Phipp isn't _cruel_ to you my pets Mrs. Clinton would never allow that
oh my ticket Mr. Belper now I _know_ I put it somewhere here it is in
my bag and I give up this half and retain the other, good-afternoon ah
to see these nice horses again it is like coming home indeed I have not
ridden in a private carriage since I left Kencote.  _Good_-afternoon
William I see you are still here and promoted to the box one more of
the old faces."

Thus expressing her pleasure, Miss Bird got into the carriage and the
twins after her, and they drove off.

"Well my pets," she began, "let me take a good look at you many's the
time I've longed to set eyes on you, and you have not altered at all
just a _trifle_ pale I do hope that you have not been working _too_
hard."

Joan and Nancy exchanged glances, and then heaved a simultaneous sigh.
They acted habitually so much in accord that the acceptance of an idea
striking them simultaneously could be indicated by a look.  "You were
often unkind to us, Starling darling," said Joan plaintively, "although
we've quite forgiven you for it; but in your most headstrong moments
you were never actually cruel."

"Don't cry, Joan," said Nancy.  "We have nearly three weeks' holiday,
and with Starling here we shall be able to forget everything, and be as
happy as possible."

Miss Bird's face showed perplexed horror.  "But surely it isn't
possible----" she began.

Nancy interrupted her.  "I don't mind so much for myself, because I'm
not so tender-hearted as Joan and don't feel things so much, and--oh,
Starling darling, please don't press that arm."

She winced realistically, and Joan took her up immediately.

"Nancy, I wonder if there's time to get long sleeves put into our
frocks for to-night.  Mother will ask what the marks are, and we
_can't_ tell her a lie, and if we tell her the truth----  Oh, Starling
darling, _don't_ go away from us again.  We can't _bear_ it any more;"
and she wept audibly on Miss Bird's inadequate shoulder.

Miss Bird was too overcome for the moment to give words to her horror,
but she put her arm round Joan, who winced in her turn, and said, "Not
that shoulder," through her convulsive sobs.

"Don't be silly, Joan," said Nancy firmly.  "William will wonder what
is the matter, and you know what you will get if you let it out.
Starling darling, you _won't_ say anything to anybody, will you?  It
will be much worse for us if you do, and after all when a bruise gets
blue and green it doesn't hurt so very much."

"Do you mean to say that she _beats_ you?" exclaimed Miss Bird, her
eyebrows almost up to her hat-brim.  "Then I shall go _at once_ to Mrs.
Clinton the _moment_ I get into the house and tell her that----"

Joan threw her arms round her neck and laughed.  "Angel lamb!" she
said, "it's too bad to tease her.  She's just as green and sweet as
ever."

"Oh, why do you spoil everything?" exclaimed Nancy.  Then she too
relented and added her embraces to Joan's.  "Oh, you're too priceless,"
she said.  "Are you really glad to see us again?"

"Well I suppose I must not be angry and I know your naughty ways too
well," said Miss Bird, "but you gave me quite a _turn_ and I suppose
really Miss Phipp is all she should be and you love her very much as
you ought to do and it is only natural that those who are near should
take the place of those who are far."

"I believe she's really disappointed that Pipp doesn't beat us black
and blue," said Joan.  "But she'll never take _your_ place, Starling,
my own.  You're the one and only.  I suppose you know we're aunts
again.  Walter and Muriel have got a boy."

"A boy!" exclaimed Miss Bird, enraptured.  "Now that _is_ good news and
how _delighted_ your father will be the pet how I should like to see
him."

"Starling _darling_," expostulated Nancy.  "You _will_ see him
directly, but father won't like your calling him a pet."

Miss Bird blushed.  "You know very well I should say no such thing,
Nancy," she said; "it was the baby I meant if you repeat that untruth
in the house I shall go _straight_ back where I came from."

The twins laughed.  "Isn't she pathetic and cherubic?" said Joan.
"_We_ haven't seen him yet, though we're going to to-morrow.  He was
only born yesterday.  We'll take you over."

"Isn't everybody very pleased?" asked Miss Bird, meaning by "everybody"
the Squire, but not liking to mention his name again.

"_We_ are," replied Joan, "and so is mother.  Father isn't quite
certain about it, although he is glad that he was born at
Mountfield--at the Lodge, you know--instead of at Melbury Park.  Unless
Dick or Humphrey have sons he'll succeed to the property, you see, and
it is very important that he should be touched by nothing common or
unclean.  We've got such a lot to tell you--all about the weddings and
the rows.  Everything is made up now, but we had the very deuce of a
time since you left."

"Now, Joan," said Miss Bird sharply, "if you talk like that I shall be
sorry I came and I am sure Miss Phipp would be very angry you must act
while she is away as if she were _present_, here we are and I declare
there is dear Mrs. Clinton at the door how pleased I am to see her once
more oh it is almost too much."  And she began waving her hand and
bobbing up and down and saying, "Oh how do you do how do you do," until
the carriage drew up under the porch, when she hopped out of it and
received a greeting from Mrs. Clinton which put the seal on her
happiness.

The Squire came out of his room as they were going into the
morning-room.  "Why, Miss Bird!" he exclaimed heartily, "here's a sight
for sore eyes!  How de do, Miss Bird, how de do!  'Pon my word, it
looks so natural to see you here that I wonder we ever allowed you to
go.  We've got a very learned lady in your place, and a dangerously
attractive one, by George--ha, ha!--but we don't forget you, Miss Bird,
and we often wish you were back again."

Now could anything have been handsomer than this! as Miss Bird asked of
her sister when she went back home again.  From such a man too! who had
so many important things and people to think of.

"I'm sure Mr. Clinton all your kindness I never shall forget and never
_can_ forget," she began; but Joan and Nancy stopped her by pushing her
into a chair, and the Squire laughed and said, "They don't play tricks
like that with Miss Phipp, the young monkeys!  How do you think they're
looking, Miss Bird?  Pretty good specimens for Kencote air, eh?  Well,
I suppose you've heard all our news--Dick married, and Humphrey going
to be.  You've never seen Mrs. Dick, I think; she was after your time."

"No but she wrote me the kindest possible letter Mr. Clinton when I
sent a small gift to Dick and there was really no necessity for
_anybody_ to write but Dick wrote at once and _she_ wrote too and said
she should hope to see me soon which touched me very deeply and made me
feel that I _knew_ her though I had never seen her."

"Ah, yes," said the Squire complacently; "she thinks of everybody and
identifies herself with all Dick's interests, and you're not the
_least_ of them, Miss Bird.  You'll see her to-night, for they're
dining here, and if you don't take to her out of hand, Miss Bird, I
shall be very much surprised.  We're all in love with her here--eh,
children?"

"Rather!" said the twins in one breath; and Mrs. Clinton said, "They
are at the dower-house for a week or two.  Dick is looking after some
other properties, but he has arranged it so that it does not take up
all his time.  They live chiefly in Yorkshire, but they will be able to
live at the dower-house for a week or two every now and then, and by
and by we hope that they will be able to live there altogether."

"And where is Humphrey going to live?" enquired Miss Bird, who had
gathered certain facts from her correspondence with the twins, and had
no wish to be indiscreet, but did wish to know.

"Oh, he'll settle down in London," said the Squire.  "It will suit him
and Lady Susan better; and he's getting on well with his work and has
to be near it," and Miss Bird was too discreet to indicate that she had
heard that he had been going to give up his work.

"We hope that they will come here often," said Mrs. Clinton.  "The idea
was that they should go to the dower-house when Dick and Virginia
didn't want it, but there is plenty of room here, as you know, and they
chose not to have the responsibility of another house."

Miss Bird was well posted in the general hang of family affairs when
she presently went upstairs with the twins, but it remained for them to
enlighten her on the events that had led up to the existing state of
things.

They took her to her old room, which had been in the occupancy of Miss
Phipp.  "We told mother we were sure you would like to sleep here,"
said Joan, "and we've cleared all her things out, and made it just like
it used to be for you."

"Darlings!" said Miss Bird.  "It will be like old times and I shall
scarcely be able to sleep for happiness oh, look at the daffodils under
the trees."

"We didn't think you'd want to be bothered up with her books," said
Nancy, "so we've put the ones you like instead.  _The Pilgrim's
Progress_ and Longfellow and _The Wide, Wide World_.  You'll be able to
cry over that to-morrow before you get up."

Miss Bird was nearly overcome again by these thoughtful preparations
for her happiness.  "Now I'll just take off my things pets and then
we'll have a cosey time in the schoolroom I'm so looking forward to
seeing it again you go and take off your things too and I'll come in a
minute."

"If you would like to look through her photographs," said Nancy, as
they were leaving the room, "they're all in this drawer; but they're
not very interesting.  Hullo, here's Hannah--always on the spot when
she isn't wanted, and never there when she is."

"Indeed, Miss Nancy," said Hannah, "and I suppose I may come and see
Miss Bird without stepping out of my place, which unwilling I should be
to do, and Miss Bird always treating me as a perfect lady, and very
pleased all are to see her back again, high and low."

"You treat her as a perfect lady, Starling darling, for a minute while
we go and take our things off," said Nancy, "and try and persuade her
to do her work better, or she'll have to go."

Hannah was left indignantly spluttering something about working her
fingers to the bone and getting small thanks for it, while Miss Bird
soothed her ruffled spirits, and told her that if she didn't know how
to put up with her young ladies' nonsense by this time she wasn't as
sensible as she had thought, but she was delighted to see her again,
and was sure that she was doing her duty as she always had done it.

A little later she was sitting between the twins on the schoolroom
sofa, having duly expressed her rapture at finding herself once more in
that dear old room.

"Now we'll tell you all about everything," began Joan.  "You heard
father say how much he liked Virginia, didn't you?"

"Yes," said Miss Bird, "and Mrs. Clinton too and very pleasant it is
when some one comes into a family to be welcomed so _lovingly_ and I
hope you and Nancy are equally fond of her Joan for I am sure she
deserves it so kind and considerate as she has shown herself."

"We adore her," said Nancy.  "It is very easy for people to make us
like them if they take a little trouble.  We are very simple-minded."

"It's a question of chocolates judiciously administered," said Joan.
"But we could do without them from her, because we like her immensely.
Well, you'd hardly believe, from the way father talked, that he
threatened to cut Dick off with a shilling if he married her, could
you?"

"Now Joan I don't want to listen to any nonsense," said Miss Bird.
"You have taken me in _once_ this evening and let that be enough."

"But, Starling darling, it's _true_.  It wasn't till she saved his life
out hunting that he would put up with her at all.  Of course, now he
thinks he always liked her, but that's what he is."

"I don't wish to hear any more of that tell me about the wedding," said
Miss Bird.

"Well, if you won't believe it, you won't," said Nancy.  "And it
doesn't much matter now, because it is all over, and we are a united
family once more; but you have no idea of the trouble Joan and I had
with them all.  Except mother, we were the only ones who kept our
heads."

"At one time"--Joan took up the tale--"Humphrey was going to be put in
to lord it over us, and sweet Sue Clinton; but directly Dick turned up
and took father in hand we didn't hear any more about that, and they
are going to have a scrumptious flat in town, and we are going up, one
at a time, to stay with them, because they only have one spare room."

"Sue isn't bad," said Nancy.  "We didn't care for her at first, but
she's got a horrible old painted dragon of a mother, and when she's
away from her she's quite decent, and I dare say we shall be able to
make something of her."

"Now I don't want to hear any more gossip about people Joan 'n' Nancy,"
said Miss Bird, "tell me about Dick's wedding."

"Ivory satin," said Joan, "with sable hats and stoles and muffs, which
Dick gave us, and shower bouquets of violets.  We were the admired of
all beholders."

"Toby Dexter acted as sort of best man to Virginia," said Nancy.
"She's up in Yorkshire now, keeping the house warm for them."

The twins gave the rest of their news in alternate sentences.

"Cousin Humphrey gave Virginia away.  He was very sweet, and made a lot
of jokes afterwards."

"It was a very quiet wedding--at Blaythorn.  Uncle Tom married them,
and made several mistakes in the service.  I suppose he was overcome.
Humphrey was Dick's best man.  They hadn't been very good friends at
one time, but they had made it up, and now they like each other very
much."

"We only had relations staying here for the wedding, except Mr. Spence,
Dick's friend, whose property he is looking after.  He was such fun.
We simply loved him.  He used to roar at all our jokes, especially at
Nancy's rhapsodies, and we egged him on to make love to Miss Phipp."

"She was immensely flattered.  She said he was a true gentleman, and
when we told him we thought he'd have had a fit."

"He didn't really make love to her.  He was too kind.  He used to pay
her a lot of attention, and asked her to teach him to spell."

"He wrote us a letter when he'd gone back and spelt appearance with one
'p.'"

"And other mistakes too.  But we did adore him."

"Old Mr. Marsh was at the wedding.  We _think_ he proposed to Toby
Dexter afterwards, but she would never tell us.  He drank too much
champagne."

"Now Nancy you are not to say things like that," said Miss Bird, quite
in her old authoritative manner.

Nancy embraced her warmly.  "You're too sweet for words," she said.
"Uncle Herbert and Aunt Emmeline and Angela came.  Angela is going to
be married in June at Holy Trinity, Sloane Street, and we're to be
bridesmaids; and to sweet Sue Clinton, too, at St. George's, Hanover
Square.  Our portraits will be in the papers, and we'll send you
copies.  We shall be much admired."

"Uncle Herbert was very angelic.  He talked about Ibsen to Miss Phipp,
and when she found out that he had been a Liberal member of Parliament
she almost wept for joy.  We didn't know she was a Radical before, but
if Uncle Herbert was one, they can't be as bad as father makes out."

"She's a suffragette too, but she has never been able to answer
father's question, 'Who would cook the dinner on polling-day?'"

"Well, she's answered it, but father won't listen to her."

"Aunt Laura is ill.  We'll take you to see her to-morrow.  She made us
promise to."

"Oh dear Miss Clinton," broke in Miss Bird, "I do hope it is nothing
serious."

"She's very old.  She can't live much longer, I'm afraid.  She
remembers the Battle of Trafalgar, or the Crimean War--I forget which."

They talked for some time longer, and when Miss Bird went to her room
to dress for dinner it was with a heart full of thankfulness to find
herself still so much beloved, and with a lively curiosity as to what
Virginia would be like when she should presently meet her.

She and the twins were together in the morning-room when Dick and
Virginia arrived.  While the twins were throwing themselves upon
Virginia, Dick came forward grinning and gave her a resounding kiss on
either cheek.  "There, old lady," he said.  "That's what you deserve
and what you'll get from me now I'm married.  Virginia, come and do
likewise."

Miss Bird, once more, was overcome almost to the point of tears.  "I'm
sure this is a very happy day for me," she twittered, but could get no
further.

"They're all happy days for all of us," said Virginia, who looked
radiant, and not much older than her young sisters-in-law.  "The twins
are to bring you down to see me early to-morrow morning, when Dick is
out.  I want to hear all about him when he was a little boy, and I'm
sure a very naughty one."

"Oh indeed," said Miss Bird; "he was high-spirited but as for
naughtiness what I call real naughtiness no child could have been freer
from it."

"If you think you're going to get anything against me out of Miss Bird,
you may save yourself the trouble and enquire elsewhere," said Dick.
"She thinks there was never such a family as the Clintons, don't you,
Starling?"

"I think they're rather nice too," said Virginia, with her hands on the
shoulders of Joan and Nancy and her eyes on Dick.

The Squire coming in at this moment with Mrs. Clinton greeted Virginia
as if she were his daughter, and it being on the stroke of eight
immediately led her in to dinner.  He was in the best of spirits, and
talked and laughed, during the whole of the meal, in his old, rather
boisterous fashion.  Gone were the moody silences and the frowning
perplexity of a few months back.  He had not, apparently, a care in the
world, and, with his healthy, rubicund visage, and active, though
massive form, looked as if he were prepared to enjoy the good things
with which his life was filled for a further indefinite number of years.

There was only one little shadow of a cloud.  As he got into bed that
night, he said, "I'm very glad you asked old Miss Bird here, Nina.
She's a faithful old soul, and it does me good to see her about the
place.  She seems to belong to it, and it brings us back to where we
were before all this infernal worry came to us."

"We are better off than we were then," said Mrs. Clinton, "for you were
worrying about Dick getting married, and now his marriage has come
about and you need worry over it no longer."

"Ah, yes," said the Squire.  "I remember I did say something to you,
and to him too, just before he sprang it on us--what was in his mind.
If I had known Virginia then it would have saved us months of bother.
I've never quite forgiven Dick for not introducing me to her at first.
I should have given way at once, of course.  However, we needn't think
about that now; but now this little chap of Walter's has come--I must
go over and have a look at him to-morrow--it does make me wish that we
were in the way of looking forward to a son of Dick's.  I suppose,
Nina----"

"There is plenty of time to hope for that," said Mrs. Clinton.

"I suppose there is, and we mustn't be impatient.  Still, I shan't be
quite easy in my mind about the succession until there are children at
the dower-house.  However, the matter is in higher hands than ours, and
there's never failed an heir to Kencote yet.  How long was Virginia
married before?"

"Seven years, I think," said Mrs. Clinton.

"Ah, well, if the worst comes to the worst, there's a boy Clinton
sleeping over at Mountfield now, and we must put up with our
disappointment.  Good-night, Nina.  God bless you!"





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Eldest Son" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home